Original smacking ban ‘aimed to break cycle of violence in Scotland’

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A deputy first minister told cabinet colleagues Scotland is a “violent country” in relation to proposals for a smacking ban, official papers have revealed.

The newly released documents from 2002 Cabinet meetings detail discussions on a plans for a smacking ban – something the Scottish Parliament is again considering 15 years later.

Then Deputy First Minister and Justice Minister Jim Wallace QC stressed to his Cabinet colleagues: “We should remember our objectives here: Scotland is by international standards a violent country, and if we want to break that cycle we make a start with the young.”

His memos to the cabinet in September 2002 set out options including cutting the then planned age limit of three years to two as research indicated greater public support than opposition at this age or scrapping the age limit entirely.

Mr Wallace notes he considered a further reduction to 18 months as he believed it would have the support of a majority of parents.

He added: “However, I do not think that his would be a defensible position: there is nothing significant developmentally about 18 months, and it is hard to defend the proposition that the law should explicitly sanction hitting babies of 18 months.

“My inclination is, therefore, to lower the age limit to under two, subject to confirmation that we can carry the support of the Parliament.”

Mr Wallace said he planned to sound out backbenchers on the Justice Committee and in parliament to ensure support and warned abandoning the age limit would be “a major concession on a high-profile policy”, highlighting the possibility of “embarrassment” for the then Scottish Executive if it was defeated in parliament on the age change.

Later the same month the Cabinet agreed to ditch plans for a ban on smacking for children under three.

In October this year, Green MSP John Finnie won cross-party support for his Member’s Bill to remove the defence of justifiable assault which enables parents to smack children.

The move would make Scotland the first part of the UK to introduce a ban on smacking children and the Scottish Government has confirmed it will work with Mr Finnie to ensure the Bill becomes law.

A spokesman for Be Reasonable which is opposing the proposed Bill said: “Nothing much changes – politicians were wrong to try and criminalise parents for smacking then – and they’re still wrong. But still they persist in trying to foist this unpopular legislation on an unwilling electorate.

“The attitude of the public is quite clear. The most recent opinion poll undertaken indicates that around three quarters of parents oppose having a ban on smacking introduced in this country.

“These documents show why the politicians ditched the ban idea last time – they knew they could not carry public opinion.

“The present generation at Holyrood would do well to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors and dump this ban which would criminalise huge numbers of ordinary mums and dads for lovingly and reasonably chastising their youngsters.”

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