Smacking ban could make criminals of ordinary parents, MSPs told during Skye visit


The committee gathering evidence in Portree. Pic, Andrew Cowan, Scottish Parliament

By Keith MacKenzie

A ban on smacking risks making criminals of ordinary families, a committee of MSPs was told in Portree yesterday (Friday 15th March).

During a public question and answer session held ahead of a formal meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s equalities and human rights committee, several concerns were aired about proposed legislation which would stop parents using the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ if they physically punish their child.

Former psychiatrist James Finlayson told the MSPs that the debate over smacking in Scotland mirrored discussions around similar legislation in New Zealand over a decade ago.

Concerns there were ignored, he said, arguing that the ban had failed to make children safer as “incidents of abuse got worse” in the years since.

All those raising points during the Q and A opposed the ban, while the five parliamentarians on the committee who had travelled to Portree are in support.

Others with concerns suggested the ban could foster fear and paranoia among parents, and would place greater pressure on already stretched police and social services.

The bill was brought forward by Highland Green MSP John Finnie last September, and his daughter – Cunninghame South SNP MSP Ruth Maguire – is the EHR committee convener.

Speaking to the WHFP prior to the meeting Ms Maguire said it was on record that her father had smacked her as a child, but both now disagreed with the practice.

Highland Green MSP John Finnie brought forward the bill. Pic, Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

“Concerns are strongly held,” she added. “Our job is to take cognisance of all submissions. It’s a matter of record that most MSPs support the aim of ending the physical punishment of children, however it’s really important to us to make sure there are no unintended consequences in the bill, and it is amended if necessary.”

Deputy convener, Lothian LibDem MSP Alex Cole Hamilton, said the bill’s purpose was not to introduce a new criminal offence, but to take out the defence which can be used if a child is assaulted.

The change in legislation would encourage a “cultural change” in parenting and wouldn’t result in a string of new prosecutions, he added.

After the public had their say, the committee gathered evidence from representatives of various faith and belief groups.

James Gillies from the Christian Institute, Rev Gordon Matheson from the Evangelical Alliance and Free Church (Continuing) minister Rev Richard Ross spoke against the legislation.

Speaking in favour were Inverness Church of Scotland minister Rev Peter Nimmo, Mairi Campbell Jack of Quakers in Britain and Fraser Sutherland of the Humanist Society Scotland.

More on this story will be in the West Highland Free Press, out on Thursday 21st March