Scot Govt will enforce a smacking ban this year despite fears over awareness-raising, police resources

• Ban will be enforced from 7 November
• Govt dismisses concerns over awareness-raising, police resources
• Briefing highlights three risks to implementing legislation this year

Ministers will press ahead with plans to make parental smacking a criminal offence in Scotland this year despite serious concerns over implementation of the new law.

A letter to Be Reasonable Scotland from Children’s Minister Maree Todd confirms that legislation to ban smacking passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2019 will come into force on 7 November – just one year after it received Royal Assent.

Under the smacking ban, parents or carers who use reasonable chastisement with their children will be committing a criminal offence, and could be investigated by the police and face prosecution.

Last night campaigners expressed disappointment with the decision and released a briefing (see link below) highlighting three significant risks to implementing the ban in 2020.

Earlier this month Be Reasonable wrote to Ms Todd to raise concerns. In a letter dated 1 April, Simon Calvert, spokesman for the campaign, said that regardless of whether people support or oppose the ban, it is clear that appropriate time and resources are needed:

“This is to ensure adequate awareness raising is carried out and that public bodies can make the necessary changes for the implementation of such a major social change”.

Mr Calvert noted Police Scotland’s concerns that a smacking ban would likely have a “significant impact” on the force, saying: “It seems unfair to impose this upon the police at a time of crisis.”

And he referred to the Welsh Government’s equivalent law – the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Act – which has a two-year implementation period in order to allow sufficient awareness-raising amongst parents.

In her reply to Be Reasonable Ms Todd dismissed these concerns saying:

“I have considered the points you make about postponing the implementation of the Equal Protection Act. However, my view is that the Act should still come into force on 7 November 2020.

“The current situation will increase difficulties and stresses for some parents. We are currently considering adjustments to our awareness raising plans so that they take into account the current situation, and will still be effective. In fact, we already have taken forward a marketing campaign intended to support parents in dealing with challenging behaviour and in doing so we were mindful that this type of support is all the more relevant for parents at present.”

The Minister added, “the Scottish Government has set up an Implementation Group for the Act, which brings together key bodies… During the current emergency we will continue to keep in close touch with members of the Implementation Group to ensure that work on implementing the Act does not cut across work they have to do as a consequence of the emergency”.

Referring to the Welsh legislation, she said “the circumstances in Wales are different to the position in Scotland…the twelve month period in the Equal Protection Act, as agreed by the Scottish Parliament, is sufficient for Scottish needs”.

Commenting on the announcement, Simon Calvert said:

“We’re disappointed that the Government intends to forge ahead with a smacking ban despite the serious concerns we have outlined. There’s just over six months until the new law comes into force and it’s hard to see how all parents in Scotland will be made aware of the change in that narrow timeframe.

“It’s even harder to see how Police Scotland, which already faces serious challenges in terms of resources, will be prepared to implement the legislation by then. Surely it would be better to take a more cautious approach and delay implementation like the Welsh Government has elected to do?

“We wish the Scottish Government wasn’t implementing this legislation at all. But if they are intent on pressing ahead the least they can do is exercise some caution.”

Questions remain over the Scottish Government’s awareness-raising plans.

In her letter to the campaign, Ms Todd drew attention to ‘Parent Club’, a marketing campaign funded by the Scottish Government, which advises parents on how to raise their children.

Parent Club tells parents how to deal with a misbehaving child, offering guides on “dealing with difficult behaviour”, and “Managing the challenges of parenting”. However, there are no references to smacking, or a change in the law.

Mr Calvert added:

“A smacking ban represents a huge societal change. It will see social workers and police officers investigating hundreds of ordinary families across Scotland for parenting techniques which are considered entirely acceptable by parents. As well as enduring stressful investigations, those caught by the new law could face social work intervention, a police caution, or even a criminal record as a child abuser.

“The Government talks about ‘marketing’ this change like it’s a new product. It’s not. It’s a change to the criminal law with very serious consequences for families. Ministers have to be upfront with the public about the fact that they are about to bring the full force of the criminal law to bear on families doing their best for their kids. It’s alarming that the strategies ministers claim are being used to prepare parents do not say a word about banning smacking.”

Notes for Editors
Letter from Be Reasonable to Maree Todd, Children’s Minister, 1 April 2020

Reply from Maree Todd, 9 April 2020

Be Reasonable briefing, April 2020