The message today (January 21) from Janet Finch-Saunders on the controversial Smacking Ban Bill was clear:
“The state should not be telling people how to parent.”
Mrs Finch-Saunders was quoting one of the respondents to Welsh Conservatives’ survey that indicated some 79 percent of respondents were against the ban, a figure higher even than the Committee’s consultation. That showed some two-thirds of the respondents did not support the Bill to outlaw reasonable chastisement.
The Member for Aberconwy, whose shadow ministerial portfolio includes children and young people, outlined a situation where if the Bill is passed, parents and guardians could be subject to arrest and criminal proceedings if accused of smacking to discipline their children.
Quoting a respondent to the survey, she added:
“There are already laws in place… and it is not necessary to seek to criminalise parents. The impact on a child of a parent taken away by police is greater than the impact of a slight smack.”
She made the comments during a passionate debate in the Chamber on the Smacking Ban Bill, formally known as Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill.
If passed it would make it a criminal offence to smack a child as a form of punishment. Opponents have reasoned that making it a civil offence – such as the smoking ban introduced last year – would be more reasonable.
“If convicted, parents and families could end up with permanent criminal records, harm to employment chances and potential separation could be the end result.”
She argued that there will need to be a continuing public information programme to keep both new parents and visitors to Wales aware of the ban, and others who may witness what they believe t be a breach of it.
“It is essential that the public is provided with information about what they can do if they see something. I think the Deputy Minister’s repetition that ‘safeguarding is everybody’s business’ doesn’t cut through to the concerns we have. We want to make sure members of the public are confident enough to feel they’ve correctly judged a particular situation.
“And to ‘judge’ is the key point here. The Welsh Government is asking everyone to be well-equipped enough to see that an incident would definitely merit police or social service involvement. It would only be after a visit from the police or social services that context can be determined. And by then, the damage could already be done.”