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Ministers hit by parent revolt on smacking

PARENTS have sent a strong message to the Scottish Executive to drop plans to make it illegal for parents to smack a child under the age of three. This will prove a major embarrassment for ministers as they battle to pass the legislation.

A survey of members by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, published today (Friday), rejects the proposal by 56 per cent to 44 per cent. There was even more emphatic opposition to the call from many leading children's charities for physical punishment of all children to be outlawed - 83 per cent were against.

Support for the Executive emerges only for the move to ban the use of an implement to hit a child, which is backed by 94 per cent of the respondents.

The poll attracted replies from parent teacher associations in 133 schools representing the views of 2,500 parents - compared with 220 responses to the Executive's consultation two years ago. The SPTC asked for the reactions of individual parents rather than the view of the PTA as a whole.

Judith Gillespie, the SPTC's development manager, said the results vindicated its initial response to the proposals, which put the council at odds with children's campaigners.

"Nobody in our survey questioned the importance of protecting children against abuse," Mrs Gillespie stated. "But, that said, the survey results support and confirm our view that the law should not intervene in the home."

The pattern of responses on all three issues remained constant as the replies came in. "Those people who supplemented their replies with comments questioned how a smack would be defined. They also made it clear that they thought parents' views should be given proper consideration and questioned how the ban on smacking could be implemented or policed."

The Executive is planning to introduce legislation next month as part of a major criminal justice Bill, with the intention of having it on the statute book before the Scottish elections next year.

Proposals published last September would allow parents of children aged three and over a right of "reasonable chastisement", which will be defined by the courts. Corporal punishment would be banned in childcare centres, private pre-school centres and by childminders.

Jim Wallace, Justice Minister, who will be responsible for guiding the legislation through Parliament, defended the cut-off age by arguing it was "very doubtful" if a child below the age of three would understand why they were being punished.

But the Children are Unbeatable umbrella organisation which favours a ban on smacking children of all ages believes there is "a potential difficulty in banning smacking of children under three when a child of three can be smacked. It makes no sense."

The Executive, however, points to its own survey as evidence of support for further restrictions on the right to hit children. Some 34 per cent of parents wanted a total ban on physical punishment, while 43 per cent were prepared to go along with the Executive's proposals, although often reluctantly.

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