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‘Violent Scotland’ comment in 2002 smacking ban discussions

January 12, 2018 · 

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Official papers have revealed that a deputy first minister told colleagues that Scotland was a “violent country” over plans for a ban on smacking.

The newly released documents, dating from 2002, detail cabinet discussions on the issue involving Jim Wallace.

He told ministers that by international standards, Scotland was violent and “if we want to break that cycle, we should make a start with the young.”

The Scottish government announced plans for a smacking ban in October 2017.

The QC, now Baron Wallace of Tankerness, set out his position in a memo to his Labour and Liberal Democrat cabinet colleagues from the then Scottish Executive in September 2002.

At that time a ban on smacking was being considered and the planned age limit was three years.

The notes were published as part of an annual release by the National Records of Scotland.

‘Hitting babies’

Lord Wallace’s memos set out options including cutting the age limit to two. He also said he had considered lowering it further to 18 months.

He added: “However, I do not think that this 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 entirely 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.

Baron Wallace of Tankerness said Scotland was violent by international standards

Baron Wallace of Tankerness said Scotland was violent by international standards

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

In October 2017, 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.

‘Public opinion’

His proposals, which were out for consultation over the summer, would give children the same legal protection as adults.

At present, parents in Scotland can claim a defence of “justifiable assault” when punishing their child – although the use of an “implement” in any punishment is banned, as is shaking or striking a child on the head.

There are no bans on smacking in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where parents are currently allowed to use “reasonable chastisement”.

However, they can face criminal charges if they hit a child so hard that it leaves a mark, or causes bruising, swelling, cuts, grazes or scratches, and the Welsh government is to consult on an outright ban.

A spokesman for Be Reasonable, which is opposing the proposed bill said politicians were wrong to try and criminalise parents in 2002 and were wrong now.

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

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