Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill


I am sure that there are few parents who could put their hands on their hearts and say that they have never smacked a child. Not only were people of my generation used to being smacked as children; at school, we ran the gauntlet of the belt, which—I am pleased to say—is long gone.

It is clear that using different forms of non-physical chastisement works better and takes the tension out of a situation. For example, a time out removes the emotion, but lets the child know that they have done wrong and have forfeited their freedom as a result.

As I said, in my youth, physical punishment was widespread at school and at home. Most of it was carried out proportionately, but some was not, and it was difficult to see where the line was drawn. When physical punishment was banned in schools, we heard the same arguments that we are hearing today. Children went home with bruised and bloodied wrists—how on earth was that right? I do not think that anybody would go back to those days.

I remember walking down the street ahead of some adults and children a number of years ago. One little boy was whingeing away—yes, he was annoying, but he was hardly bad. He was warned to “shut up” a couple of times, then I heard him being physically punished. I was ahead and could only hear it. I could hear the smacks raining down on him and I could hear his screams of pain—the more he cried, the more he was smacked. Alongside that came the verbal assault about how terrible a child he was. There was no love whatsoever in that punishment and the horror of it remains with me to this day. I am clear that it was not reasonable chastisement, but how could I prove that? Should I have intervened? To my shame, I did not. I went home, feeling sick to my stomach. I did not see it; I heard it. I wonder what became of that child. He will be an adult now, but his start in life left me with little hope for his future.

We have all witnessed a child doing something naughty, such as running into the road without looking. We have seen the parent grab an arm and pull the child back and heard the parent shout at them, telling them how dangerous it is. No one questions the reaction to a fright—frankly, we would do the same if an adult ran into the road, and no one would consider it assault.

Prosecutions need to be in the public interest and there has to be intent. We hear from other countries that removing the protection of reasonable chastisement has not led to an increase in prosecution, but it does remove a defence against abuse.

We all know the difference between assault and intervention to promote safety. To say that parents will be criminalised is, I believe, nonsense. That said, I am sure that there will be a few spurious reports, especially from parents who are at war. However, we have checks and balances in our justice system. There is a process to go through, including a police investigation, corroboration and the oversight of prosecutors, which provides safeguards against spurious prosecutions.

  • Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con):

    Rhoda Grant talks about people making spurious reports. Presumably, on her analysis, perfectly good parents who could be subjected to the criminal justice system would be seen as collateral damage. What is her view on that?

  • Rhoda Grant:

    That is not a reason to continue to allow the assault of a child. There will always be spurious allegations, but we need to deal with them and make sure that anyone who makes them is charged with wasting police time, apart from anything else. That does not mean that we should not legislate to protect children.

    There are some who say that the change would interfere with family life. However, the law as it stands currently interferes in family life by allowing a different bar with regard to chastisement by a parent compared with any other adult. To follow that argument through to its conclusion, it could be argued that taking action against domestic abuse is also interfering in family life. For most of us, the family is the safest place to be: surrounded by loved ones who have our best interests at heart. That is not the case for all. We know child abuse happens. How many others like me did not interfere because the law allows reasonable chastisement? How does my reasonableness compare with someone else’s? The law needs to protect young and old alike.

  • Oliver Mundell:

    The member raises an important point because people have different ideas about what is reasonable and what is severe enough to merit intervention from the police. Does the member agree that it would be better if the bill set out in detail tests that make it clear and obvious what is right and what is wrong?

  • Rhoda Grant:

    We all know the difference between assault and pulling somebody back from the road. We do not walk down the street wondering whether someone is being assaulted. If we see someone being assaulted, we know it, and it is the same with children