WRITING last month about the Welsh Government’s draft plans to outlaw smacking, I highlighted official police estimates that they expected more than 250 parents a year to face investigation or be charged, a total of 1,370 in the first five years.
Now a letter from the Children’s Minister Julie Morgan, sneaked out just days before the summer holidays, has dramatically increased this number.
The letter to Lynne Neagle, Chair of the Children, Young People & Education Committee, predicts that 548 people a year will be investigated for smacking and sent to a Government re-education or ‘diversion’ scheme following the removal of the ‘reasonable chastisement’ defence – a total of 2,740 in the first five years.
It goes on to imply that parents who smack will not face prosecution, but there is nothing in the Government’s Bill to guarantee this. Indeed this assertion contradicts evidence from the police and prosecutors. It even contradicts documents released by the health service under freedom of information.
Asked how changing the law would affect their organisation, Cwm Taf University Health Board said: ‘It is already a statutory duty to report child protection concerns to the Local Authority and if the defence of reasonable chastisement is removed, smacking will become one of those concerns . . .
‘Complaint about staff member: this would be dealt with in the same way as any other complaint of abuse/neglect made against a staff member using the Safeguarding Board policies and procedures. Support during any investigation and/or suspension is provided by the individual’s line manager, staff side representative and occupational health.’
Public Health Wales said: ‘In relation to the possible introduction of a smacking ban in Wales following the consultation, any allegations of abuse of [sic] any staff in Public Health Wales will be dealt with by following the All Wales Child Protection Procedures (2008) and the All Wales Procedure for NHS Staff to raise Concerns . . .
‘Staff receive safeguarding training to a level and at a frequency appropriate to their role and any changes to legislation would be included and discussed in that training however staff are aware of their duty to report suspected abuse of a child to the police or social services and of how to get support from within the organisation if they need it in order to do so.’
Chillingly this echoes the lines, some might say lies, of politicians in New Zealand, who introduced a smacking ban on 2009 and claimed that it would not criminalise ordinary parents.
A report by the NZ law firm Chen Palmer, which conducted an audit of the legislation and its effect in 2018, says: ‘Statements made by politicians to the effect that the new Section 59 does not criminalise “good parents” for lightly smacking their children are inconsistent with the legal effect of Section 59’, concluding that ‘the amendments to section 59 have criminalised parents who smack their children, even if only lightly, for the purposes of correction’.
It went on to identify other problems with the law, including the difficulty that the police, prosecutors and judges were having with upholding it while ensuring their response was proportionate, having been unable to find a decision where the court had ‘explicitly balanced the long term effect of the prosecution or the conviction on the parent-child relationship against the level and frequency of the physical discipline the parent is being charged with’.
In one case detailed in the report, a former UK national referred to as ‘DC’ admitted ‘gently’ smacking his two sons and was convicted. The Court of Appeal later quashed his conviction, but he had become estranged from his sons and had lost contact.
The Appeal Court commented: ‘In our judgment, the consequences of a conviction for Mr DC are out of all proportion to the gravity of offending. His offending lay in his administration of about a dozen smacks in total to his sons in the two and a half year period covered by the offending. He used his hand, not a weapon. He administered the blows for correctional purposes only. He did not participate in gratuitous violence. And what he did had been lawful for most of the boys’ lives.’
The report highlighted other examples too, all of which dispel the myths that the ban in New Zealand is working well.
No wonder the Minister for Children Tracey Martin said in an interview that the law had had a ‘chilling effect’ on parents, including herself.
There are further questions about this ideologically driven plan, not least the cost. We now know the ban will cost British taxpayers more than £3.3million, including nearly a million pounds (£980,000) in extra policing, Court and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and £400,000 for the ‘re-education’ scheme over the first five years, but there is no information on the cost to social services, taking children into care, what happens to the parents being investigated and the damage to families while this process is being undertaken.
I hope Assembly Members pull back from this Orwellian picture of what Wales will become after the ban – thousands of parents forced to attend re-education classes, children separated from their loving parents, and those even suspected of smacking having their details recorded on a Government database that could prevent them from working in a school or hospital. But I fear Welsh Labour have become so wedded to the policy, just like their friends in the SNP, that ideology will trump common sense.