Scottish police chiefs have told MSPs that a ban on smacking will result in increased costs to the force as officers spend time probing allegations against parents.

Police Scotland also raise concerns that proposed legislation may be considered as “state intervention/interference in family life where parents and carers are ‘criminalised’ for behaviour that was previously accepted and supported by a statutory defence for generations”.

The comments are made in a submission to Holyrood’s Equality and Human Rights Committee which has been carrying out a consultation on the smacking ban Bill drawn up by Green MSP John Finnie – a former police officer.

The Bill has the support of the Scottish Government.

In its submission on the Children (Equal Protection From Assault) (Scotland) Bill, the police state: “Police Scotland envisages that the repeal of the defence provided by Section 51 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 will result in an increase in reporting. This will have potential cost/resource implications for Police Scotland and partner agencies.”

It adds: “On occasions, it may be assessed that the harm is not, nor is likely to be significant following a report of what is commonly referred to as ‘chastisement’. Notwithstanding, there would be a duty on the Police to investigate any assault on a child and, if a sufficiency of evidence exists, report the circumstances to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.”

The statement continues: “It is assessed that the implementation of the Bill may risk the negative perception by minority communities and religious leaders of this legal measure being the de facto imposition of one set of norms upon other social or cultural groups.”

Submissions have been made by a number of other organisations and individuals.

Abertay University sociologist Dr Stuart Waiton slams the Bill in his submission stating:

“There are many things parents do to children that we would not dream of doing to adults. If we grounded an adult we could be arrested for false imprisonment. If I forced my partner to ‘eat your greens’, confiscated their phone, or sent them to their room, I would expect to be charged with domestic abuse. Should these forms of regulation and disciplining of a child be criminalised? Should the state be arrested for forcing children to go to school every day? If not, why not?

“Is smacking especially harmful to children? When we are talking about a light smack there is no evidence for this, indeed a strong argument could be made that other forms of discipline, like being grounded, are far more upsetting for children. Even using their own logic, and their own exaggerated sense of the vulnerable, at risk child, the targeting of smacking makes no sense. No sense that is unless there is a pre-existing prejudice about parents, abuse and the hidden violence that exists within ‘toxic families’ lurking ‘behind closed doors’.”

“By criminalising smacking we degrade millions of loving parents who continue to use a light smack to discipline their children. We also encourage an environment of insecurity and suspicion, where parents become anxious about the potential surveillance of their private lives, especially from teachers and other professionals who will be educated to understand that smacking is criminal, a form of abuse that needs to be addressed.”

Another academic, Strathclyde University’s Professor Tommy MacKay, a Consultant Child Psychologist and former President of the British Psychological Society, told MSPs:

“I fully respect the views of those who support this Bill and I recognise that their motivation is to foster the protection of children and to safeguard their best interests. However, I am not able to support the Bill. My view is that it will not in fact enhance the protection of children and that at the same time it will have a number of negative consequences.”

The Care Inspectorate submission recognises there may be problems caused by it to the parents of some disabled children. It states:

“There are groups of children, such as some disabled children or those whose behaviour can be challenging, where parents or carers may use forms of restraints or temporary exclusion as means of containment rather than punishment.

“It is likely that some of these means may be subsequently interpreted as forms of physical punishment covered by the Bill. Guidance should take account of their particular vulnerability, especially for those whose verbal communication is limited, and consider how such children can be equally protected without being overly intrusive into family life.”

NHS Tayside admits:

“In the short term there may be an increased demand on child protection services, and the police, to investigate reported incidents of child physical punishment.”

Be Reasonable Scotland, which spearheads the campaign opposing the legislation, said the Government needed to “back away” from the plans to criminalise parents in the light of Police Scotland’s submission.

“The police have rightly recognised that parents and carers are going to end up being investigated and perhaps prosecuted for doing what they have done for generations – lovingly disciplining their children.

“This is unwarranted state intervention at its very worst.”

In its own submission the group states:

“Be Reasonable does not support the aim of the Bill since it will mean criminalising parents, damaging children’s lives, undermining child protection and bringing the law into disrepute. It will have a negative effect on parents, children, public services, and public trust.

“Criminalising parents for reasonable chastisement will distract child protection authorities from identifying families where parents are guilty of real abuse and neglect. The new law will have to be enforced. This drain on already overstretched resources will put abused children at increased risk of being overlooked. It also devalues the language of child abuse by applying it to behaviour everyone knows is not abusive.”