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The Welsh Government unveils plans to ban smacking

Welsh government consultation opens

The Welsh government unveiled its plans on Tuesday, 9 January 2018 to introduce a smacking ban’ by developing legislation to remove the existing defence of reasonable chastisement, making smacking a prosecutable offense in Wales.

The consultation, which closes on Monday, 2 April 2018, proposes criminalising smacking as assault and battery” (Consultation, p.9), giving the government greater power to intervene in the life of any and every family in Wales.

This seems to stand in contrast to a ComRes poll of Welsh residents by the Be Reasonable campaign almost exactly a year ago, in which 76 per cent of respondents said smacking should not be criminalised. Details of the proposals were outlined in plenary (see here) by Minister for Children and Social Care (and former parliamentarian) Huw Irranca-Davies in the context of a wider focus on positive parenting. His statement in the Senedd led to a healthy and respectful discussion, with a number of Assembly members articulating their views, both in support and in raising concerns over the plans.

The issue had been raised and discussed on many other occasions in the National Assembly — but it is only recently that the Assembly has had the powers to be able to change the law.

Welsh Labour has for many years expressed what some saw as muted support for a change in the law and it was only in the run-up to the 2016 Assembly elections that the removal of the defence of reasonable chastisement became party policy. At the time, it was reported in Welsh media that a select few Labour AMs had imposed their will on the party (see here) against the party’s interests. 

Plaid Cymru have in many ways been the party spearheading a change in the law and their 2016 Assembly manifesto also pledged to introduce legislation to remove the defence of reasonable chastisement.

There has however been a gradual shift in some aspects of the debate over the years. In 2014, for example, former AM Jocelyn Davies was quoted as saying that the removal of the defence of reasonable chastisement would be iconic” rather than a ban of smacking in itself (see here). The current proposals, however, are to ban all forms of physical punishment, including smacking, even though the Welsh government consultation acknowledged there is unlikely to be any research evidence which specifically shows the effects of a light and infrequent smack as being harmful to children”.

Non-Labour AMs expressed their appreciation in plenary that Huw Irranca-Davies had taken time to talk with them before the consultation was officially launched and to listen to any concerns they had. The Welsh government has been consistent in this Assembly in maintaining that they want to build cross-party support on this issue, which has the potential to be divisive and rouse passions.

Rather than being a fait – accompli, however, there is opportunity, and indeed a need, for citizens and organisations to feed into the consultation. Angela Burns AM stressed in plenary the importance of the consultation reaching ordinary” people while David Melding AM welcomed the consultation and the national debate it was going to spark. Evangelical Alliance will be responding and we encourage our members to do so as well (see the link at the end of this article).

It is likely that there may be differing views on this issue among evangelical Christians, but all evangelicals have an opportunity to speak into the debate, asking questions, such as relating to the wisdom or not of corporal punishment by parents and the distinct but related question of whether it is in fact a form of assault and battery and so should be criminalised as the Welsh government proposes.

The consultation can be found at: https://consultations.gov.wales/sites/default/files/consultation_doc_files/180109-legislation-consultation-en-v1.pdf

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