THE Scottish executive’s controversial plans to ban the smacking of young children were in doubt last night as it emerged a majority of MSPs on the committee which will consider the proposals have serious reservations.
Jim Wallace, the justice minister, yesterday confirmed he was forging ahead with the policy shift - although similar plans have been ditched in England.
But it emerged last night that ministers will face an uphill battle to get their plans, which have been attacked by parents and Christian groups, past the seven MSPs on the Justice 1 committee. Two of the MSPs said they were likely to back the ban, but would listen to the arguments.
But committee member, Lord James Douglas Hamilton, the Scottish Tories’ justice spokesman, said the proposals "simply reek of the nanny state" and were totally unenforceable and misconceived.
Committee convener, Christine Grahame (SNP) said: "I cannot see how a ban would work.
"We do not want the kind of society where strangers are going up to parents in supermarkets asking how old their children are."
Labour member Maureen MacMillan warned a new law "would be extremely difficult to police".
Roseanna Cunningham, the SNP justice spokeswoman but not a member of the committee, said she believed the proposals were unworkable and added: "This is a legal minefield and I hope the executive will be very careful how they proceed."
When Mr Wallace announced in September his intention to ban the smacking of children under the age of three, it was met with a fierce backlash from parents across Scotland who protested about politicians interfering in their right to discipline their own children.
Yesterday, however, the justice minister announced the ban will be included in a wide-ranging criminal justice bill to be published next year.
Parents convicted of a smacking offence would face a fine or a prison sentence.
Yet there were signs last night of a softening of the executive’s approach on prison sentences after Richard Simpson, the deputy justice minister, suggested the possibility of a "non-custodial" approach.
Controversially, he raised the possibility of offending parents being sent on a parenting course instead of being given a prison sentence.
Norman Wells, a spokesman for the Family Education Trust, described the Scottish executive’s plans as an insult to parents. He said: "The suggestion that parents who smack children should be sent on good parenting classes implies they are not good parents - which is just wrong. Parents who smack their children are not bad parents and it is not for the state to decide."
Simon Calvert, deputy director of the Christian Institute in Scotland, said loving parents who smacked their children were not child abusers.
Cathy Dewar, director of children and family services for the charity Children 1st, said: "I think in some ways it is a brave step forward, but we are disappointed the executive has stopped short of introducing a total ban."
In its white paper ahead of the bill, the executive says that, overall, 77 per cent of people who responded to a consultation document putting forward the proposals favoured a change in the law to give increased protection to children and greater clarity to adults caring for them. The executive has not ruled out the possibility of changing the age range for the smacking ban.
The bill’s measures will also include increased protection for women and children, including a new lifelong restriction order to control violent and sexual offenders who present a high or continuing risk to the public. However, Mr Wallace ruled out a so-called Sarah’s Law giving parents access to a sex offenders’ register.
The parents of the murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne this week renewed their call for access to the sex offenders’ list after Roy Whiting was given a life sentence for the abduction and murder of the eight-year-old. Mr Wallace said granting access to the register could and would make it more difficult to secure convictions.