Assembly Members to debate whether it should no longer be legal to physically punish children in Wales

Published 12/09/2019   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

On Tuesday 17 September, Assembly Members will debate the general principles of the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment)(Wales) Bill and vote on whether to allow it to proceed to the next stage of the Assembly’s legislative process.

This debate follows the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s scrutiny of the general principles of this legislation and the report it subsequently published on 2 August 2019. Whilst the text of this Bill fits onto one page of A4 paper, the length of the Committee’s 210 page report illustrates the breadth of opinions about whether it should become the law in Wales.

What would this Bill do?

Introduced by the Welsh Government in March 2019, this Bill proposes to abolish the common law defence of reasonable punishment for any parent (or any adult acting in the place of a parent) accused of assault or battery against a child. If passed, this law will mean that it would no longer be legal for children in Wales to be physically punished.

What has the Children, Young People and Education Committee said about the Bill?

The majority of the Committee’s members support this Bill. It’s report says:

On balance, the majority of our Committee believes there is a strong argument that this Bill will reduce the risk of potential harm to children and young people.

However, amongst those who supported the Bill the Committee made twenty recommendations. Two of these were cited as ‘crucial if the Bill is to benefit children and their families’. The report says:

Firstly a wide ranging awareness raising campaign is essential. This is fundamental to the success of this legislation and therefore, in our view, there must be a duty for Welsh Government to deliver this placed clearly on the face of the Bill.

Secondly there must be universal support available to parents across Wales. There is much more that must be done to help families with the inevitable challenges that parenting brings.

Committee members Suzy Davies AM and Janet Finch-Saunders AM do not support the Bill.

The Committee received 650 responses to its written consultation. It’s report says that ‘to supplement the Committee’s own analysis’, the Office for National Statistics Data Science Campus also analysed the free text responses. More information on the ONS analysis can be found in a recently published blog.

Of the 650 responses:

  • 67.8% of individuals who responded in a personal capacity did not support the Bill’s general principles (381 of the 562 responses).
  • 86.2% of those who responded as individuals in a professional capacity supported the Bill’s general principles (25 of the 29 responses).
  • 88.1 % of organisations that responded supported the Bill’s general principles (52 of the 59 responses).

The Committee’s report says:

The majority of responses from individuals have focused on how removing the defence of reasonable punishment will impact on parents. We have to be very clear that our primary concern as a Committee must be to weigh up what the evidence tells us about the impact this Bill could or will have on children, and whether it will improve the protection the law provides for them.

What next?

During this debate, all Assembly Members will have an opportunity to discuss the general principles of the Bill. After the debate, Assembly Members will be asked to vote on whether the Bill should progress to the next stage. The Bill will need to go through several further stages before it would become law, and the final decision will rest with all sixty Assembly Members. More information on the stages of the legislative process can be found in the Assembly’s Guide to the Stages of Public Bills and Acts.

For more background to Tuesday’s debate:

How to follow the debate

The Members Debate is scheduled for Tuesday 17 September 2019 at approximately 6pm. The Plenary session will be broadcast on Senedd TV and a transcript will be available on the Assembly’s Record of Proceedings.

Article by Sian Thomas, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales