Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg - Y Bumed Senedd
Children, Young People and Education Committee - Fifth Senedd02/05/2019
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Dawn Bowden AC|
|Hefin David AC|
|Janet Finch-Saunders AC|
|Jayne Bryant AC||Yn dirprwyo ar ran Jack Sargeant|
|Substitute for Jack Sargeant|
|Lynne Neagle AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Sian Gwenllian AC|
|Suzy Davies AC|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Andy James||Cadeirydd Dros Dro, Rhwydwaith Amddiffyniad Cyfartal Cymru|
|Interim Chair, Equal Protection Network Cymru|
|Catriona Williams||Prif Swyddog Gweithredol, Plant yng Nghymru|
|Chief Executive Officer, Children in Wales|
|Dr Katherine Shelton||Uwch-ddarlithydd Seicoleg, Prifysgol Caerdydd, ac Aelod o Academyddion dros Amddiffyniad Cyfartal|
|Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Cardiff University, and Member of Academics for Equal Protection|
|Emma Gammon||Cyfreithiwr, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Lawyer, Welsh Government|
|Jamie Gillies||Llefarydd dros Byddwch yn Rhesymol Cymru|
|Spokesman for Be Reasonable Wales|
|Julie Morgan AC||Y Dirprwy Weinidog Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol|
|Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services|
|Karen Cornish||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, yr Is-adran Plant a Theuluoedd, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director, Children and Families Division, Welsh Government|
|Menna Thomas||Cyfarwyddwr Cynorthwyol—Polisi, Barnardo's Cymru|
|Assistant Director—Policy, Barnardo's Cymru|
|Yr Athro Sally Holland||Comisiynydd Plant Cymru|
|Children’s Commissioner for Wales|
|Rachel Thomas||Pennaeth Polisi a Materion Cyhoeddus, Comisiynydd Plant Cymru|
|Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Children’s Commissioner for Wales|
|Sally Gobbett||Rhiant Ymgyrchydd|
|Vivienne Laing||Rheolwr Polisi a Materion Cyhoeddus, NSPCC Cymru|
|Policy and Public Affairs Manager, NSPCC Cymru|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Lisa Salkeld||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Sarah Bartlett||Dirprwy Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:20.
The meeting began at 09:20.
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Children, Young People and Education Committee. We've received apologies for absence from Jack Sargeant AM, and I'm very pleased to welcome Jayne Bryant, who is substituting for him this morning. Can I ask Members if there are any declarations of interest, please? No. Okay. Thank you.
We move on, then, to our substantive item this morning, which is our first evidence session on the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill. I'd like to welcome Julie Morgan, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services; Karen Cornish, deputy director, children and families division; and Emma Gammon, who is a Welsh Government lawyer. Thank you all for your attendance this morning. We've got a lot of ground to cover, so if it's okay, we'll go straight into questions from Siân Gwenllian.
Bore da. Y cwestiwn hollol amlwg i ofyn reit ar gychwyn yr ymchwiliad yma ydy, 'Pam?' Pam fod angen deddfwriaeth o'r math yma, a pha dystiolaeth sydd yna nad ydy'r gyfraith fel mae hi'n bresennol yn gweithio?
Good morning. The obvious question to ask right at the outset of this inquiry is, 'Why?' Why is there a need for legislation of this type, and what evidence is there that the current law is not effective?
Thank you, Siân, very much for that question. The reason that we're putting this legislation forward is because we want to promote children's rights. We've got a long history in Wales in the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government of putting a priority on children's rights. So, that's the main reason we're putting it forward. We also want to have a situation in Wales where children are not physically punished, and in the situation as it is, where there is the defence, where the defence does exist, children are able to be physically punished because the parents are able to have a defence. So, the situation, the legal situation as it is at the moment, we believe, has got to be changed, and needs to be changed in order to bring up children in a nurturing environment where physical punishment is not able to be used under the law. So, we think we have to take legislative action to remove that defence.
Ond mae yna dystiolaeth i ddangos mai prin ydy'r adegau pan mae'r amddiffyniad cosb rhesymol yn cael ei ddefnyddio. Mae agweddau'n ymddangos yn newid, felly pam bod angen mynd ar ôl hyn?
But there is evidence to show that it's very rare that this defence of physical chastisement is used, and attitudes appear to be changing. So, why are you going after this now?
Certainly, I'm very pleased, in fact, that attitudes are changing, and we have had quite a lot of information that has shown that there's a significant shift in terms of what particularly younger parents think is acceptable and what isn't acceptable. But, nevertheless, when that defence exists, it does make it very difficult to make it absolutely clear that physical punishment is not acceptable. And I think you're probably aware that all the health professionals, all the people who work with children at the very early age, want to be able to give clear messages that any form of physical punishment is not acceptable. And when that defence exists, it muddies the water. It's not clear that we don't find physical punishment acceptable. So, the fact that this defence is not used in many cases is not really surprising, because that defence exists. So, the police would not go forward with cases because they already know there's a defence to cover some behaviour. So, I really think that we need to make the law absolutely clear and we want to make it absolutely clear that, in Wales, we do not want a society where it is acceptable to physically punish children. And I think the only way of doing that is, really, to be quite clear about it and to get rid of this defence.
Ond os ydy agweddau'n newid—a dwi'n falch iawn bod agweddau'n newid—onid ydy'n well i adael i hynny ddigwydd yn naturiol? Onid ydych chi'n mynd i fod yn corddi'r dyfroedd yn dod â deddfwriaeth o'r fath yma ymlaen ac yn mynd i greu dadlau mawr a checru mawr ynghylch rhywbeth sydd yn newid beth bynnag?
But if attitudes are shifting—and I am very happy that they are shifting—wouldn't it be better to let that happen naturally? Don't you think you'd be stirring the waters, as it were, by bringing legislation of this type forward and creating great debate over something that's changing in any case?
It is moving ahead and it is changing, but nevertheless, if you've still got that defence, it does make it very difficult for—. In the very difficult situation, really, that parents often bring up children—because I think we all acknowledge that bringing up children is a very difficult job and people need as much support and help as they can—it's not possible for the key people who help children in the early ages to give the clear message that it's not the way we want to go, to physically punish children. And it's quite clear as well, by the research that's been done, that with legislation change, legislation helps move change along, and so you need the legislation, but you also need the work with parents and you need the promotion, and you need all those things, but legislation is definitely a stimulus to change behaviour and, obviously, although the numbers are going down, there are still some parents who think it's the right thing to do.
Pa dystiolaeth ymchwil cadarn sydd yna yn dangos fod smacio ysgafn, achlysurol yn niweidio plant? Does yna ddim tystiolaeth benodol yn ôl beth dwi'n ei ddeall.
What research evidence and robust evidence is available showing that a light, infrequent smack is harmful to children? There is no evidence specifically according to my understanding.
There's certainly no evidence showing that a light smack does any good for children. That's certainly absolutely true. The only way you could get a proper evidential survey is if you did a trial, and you had a trial where you had some children who were smacked and some children who weren't, and compare them. And, of course, you would never do that, because that would really be quite unethical, to say, 'We'll set up a trial and we'll have a group of children who we'll allow to be smacked and a group of children who wouldn't.' So, it is very difficult to get any actual evidence, but I think that the research that we've looked at and the research that we've commissioned—the overall view is that there is the potential, certainly, for harm from any form of physical punishment.
Ac wedyn, yn olaf gen i, mi fydd yna rai pobl yn dweud, 'O, dyma ni eto—y wladwriaeth yn ymyrryd ym mywydau teuluoedd yng Nghymru a rhyw fath o nanny state yn digwydd eto.' Beth ydy eich ymateb chi i hynny?
And then, finally from me, some people will say, 'Oh, here we go again—the state is interfering in family life here in Wales, and we're in some sort of nanny state, and it's happening again.' So, what's your response to that?
Well, I'm always a bit mystified by these sort of comments. Because, as I've said, I think bringing up children is a very difficult job. Parents need all the help that they possibly can, and from what I've seen, most parents do really welcome the help and guidance that there is there from the state. And I think the role of the state is to try to set the sort of society that we want our children to be brought up in, to give the broad parameters. We don't want to interfere in what individuals are doing in their family life—it's up to families how they bring up their children—but I think it's behoven on the state to try and set the sort of parameters, and that physical punishment is not one of the things we want to see happening in Wales. We feel that we want children to be brought up in the sort of society where it's not acceptable to physically punish your child. Why would you want a big person to hit a little person, for example? Why would anybody want to promote that? So, I feel quite clear that this is the right way for us to go in terms of setting the boundaries, and that I think that many parents would welcome the fact that we were doing that.
A jest un cwestiwn arall. Ydy o'n flaenoriaeth, o ran amser deddfu sydd gennym ni yn y Senedd yma, ac yn wyneb yr holl faterion eraill sydd angen sylw? Mae yna argyfwng yn digwydd mewn llawer o feysydd—iechyd, addysg. Ai hwn ddylai gael blaenoriaeth?
And just one other question. Is it a priority, in terms of the time we have available to legislate here in the Assembly, given all the other issues that need our attention? There is a crisis in many areas—in terms health, education. So, is this what should be having the priority here?
I think it's an absolute priority, because I think it's a very fundamental issue. I think the sort of society you want to bring up your children in—and looking after and nourishing children is probably the most important thing that we can do. And, of course, you could say we're at quite a crisis time at the moment, really, and the Brexit issue and all these sort of issues, but, really, I think the Welsh Government has always said that we're absolutely determined that that doesn't distract us from doing the bread-and-butter stuff that we've planned to do. And, of course, this was a commitment in our manifesto. It's something has been discussed in the Assembly for many, many years. In fact, I looked at the chronology before coming, in preparation for this committee, just to see how long this legislation had been discussed. In January 2002, Christine Chapman held a short debate in the Senedd called, 'Hitting people is wrong, and children are people too'. Since then, there have been continuous debates and discussions, and previous Ministers have given commitments that this is something that the Assembly is planning to do. Of course, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child have constantly said that this is something that we should be doing. So, by doing this, we are following the advice of international bodies. And the Welsh Government, in 2007, said that they wanted to change it but didn't have the power to change this law. So, it's been continuous, it's been going on, really, ever since devolution began. So, I can't really accept that this is something that is not important enough to bring now. I think it's really important and I think it's very important for Wales, as a nation, that we do this.
Thank you. I've got a supplementary from Suzy Davies.
Thank you, Chair. Just a very, very short supplementary question on the point that you made earlier about evidence—there being no definitive evidence that reasonable punishment causes negative outcomes, but that it doesn't produce positive outcomes either. Would it be fair to say, or do you accept the suggestion, that when parents do punish their children via smacking, they're doing it with the intention to produce a positive outcome?
I think it's very possible that some parents do think that and, certainly, this is what was thought in the past and it was certainly acceptable in the past. Many people did it, and many of us were physically punished, but we've moved on, we're in a different time, and we're in a different atmosphere now, really, and I just think with the worldwide move to get rid of physical punishment, we want Wales to be up there in the front.
That's fine. I just wanted to make sure that that was on there.
Certainly. I'm not saying—. I've been very keen to make sure I take into account the views of people who think it's the right thing to use physical punishment. I was pleased to meet the Be Reasonable organisation, which I think you're taking evidence from later on today. So, I have met them, and I was very pleased to listen to their views and the discussion we had, I thought, was very helpful. So, I certainly don't think that people who are using physical punishment are necessarily—. They think that they're doing it for the right reasons, yes.
Okay. Just to get it on the record. Thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Janet, you had a supplementary.
I'm glad you mentioned the Be Reasonable campaign because, clearly, 76 per cent of the people surveyed actually said that parental smacking should not be a criminal offence. But also, this Welsh Government commissioned research, 'Parental Physical Punishment: Child Outcomes and Attitudes', and they actually said,
'In our view the evidence does not definitively show that “reasonable” parental physical punishment causes negative outcomes. But there is evidence of an association with negative outcomes, and no evidence of benefits, either in terms of long-term developmental benefits, or in terms of its efficacy'.
So, they're actually saying quite clearly at the beginning that it doesn't definitively show that reasonable parental—. So, how do you—? Sorry. How do you reason with information that's been received by this Welsh Government that contradicts the moves you're making on this?
I absolutely appreciate that there are different views between different researchers—
But this was a survey by the Welsh Government.
—on these issues, and I think I did cover earlier in my answer to Siân Gwenllian about the fact that there are no benefits associated with physical punishment, as you've just said, and there is association with negative outcomes, but that's different than saying that negative outcomes are a result of it. So, I think that's the research point being made. But the Wales Centre for Public Policy review of the evidence did actually conclude that
'The majority of researchers in the field make the judgement that the balance of evidence is sufficient to support the claim that all physical punishment under all conditions is potentially harmful to child development.'
So, that's what you're going with.
That is what their conclusion was. But we're going with the fact that we think it's the wrong thing to do in any case.
Thank you. We've got some specific questions now on implementation and the first are on enforcement from Dawn Bowden.
Thank you, Chair. Morning. If the Bill becomes law, what should a member of the public do if they see somebody—a parent—smacking a child?
Well, obviously every person makes an individual decision of how they respond to anything they see—anything, at any point. So, obviously, it would be up to the individual. But we hope that the awareness of the law will be pretty prevalent. We are planning a very wide-ranging, intensive information programme, because we think it's really important that, as well as bringing in the law, we bring in the awareness of the law, so that the public and parents are fully aware that it will not be legal to physically punish your child after this is introduced. But we are having a long lead-in for that in order that we can make sure that we make everybody as aware as they possibly can. So, obviously, if a member of the public did see something that was happening that was not legal, you rely on the member of the public to do what they think is right in that circumstance.
Which would include reporting it to the police, I guess.
Okay. So, enforcement of the law, as we've already just touched on, is a matter for the police and—sorry, I can hear myself, I've still got my earpiece in—the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary, not for the Assembly, as such. So, how can you guarantee that the Bill is not going to lead to significant increases in parents being prosecuted? Because that will be outside of the control of the Assembly, clearly.
We don't anticipate that there will be a significant number of prosecutions. We've done our best to look at other countries to see if we can anticipate what will happen, but the number of countries that have a similar system to us and who've actually got data and have monitored it is very small, really, and it's only New Zealand that we can really look at. But looking at the New Zealand evidence, it looks quite clear that the number of cases that have actually come to prosecution is very small indeed. I think under 10 a year, probably. So, that's what we can see by looking at international comparisons.
But the purpose of the Bill is to protect children. It is to change behaviour as well, and we hope that behaviour will change naturally, so that we may not even have as many as 10 prosecutions a year, because of the awareness raising that will actually happen. We also want to make quite sure that there is a proportionate response to any possible offence that has been committed, and, obviously, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service—they have to decide whether to proceed with anything on the basis of whether there's enough evidence and whether it's in the public interest, which of course includes the interests of the child. So, already, that is already built in.
So, we do anticipate that there will be a proportionate response to this legislation. And, of course, we've had meetings with the police, we've had meetings with the Crown Prosecution Service, we've had meetings with social services. And we are going to have an implementation group, and this implementation group will include all the key people who will be implementing the Act. And the first meeting is on 14 May. So, we, obviously, hope this legislation will get through, but we are going to start preparation now, in terms of working out the actual implementation, the day-to-day.
Sure, I understand that. So, those discussions that you've had with the various organisations, including the police—is that how you've arrived, in the explanatory memorandum, with the figure of around 38 prosecutions a year? Because I think the evidence shows that something like 270 cases have been brought before the court where reasonable chastisement has actually been used as a defence. And based on that—I'm assuming that that is based on those figures—the explanatory memorandum is suggesting, possibly, 38 prosecutions a year might result from this legislation. Am I interpreting it correctly?
I think the 274 prosecutions—that was based on an audit that the police carried out on recorded crime offences of common assault against children and cruelty against children. And they say it's very, very caveated. You can't absolutely be sure of that, but that's the best that they can do on available data. But in those cases, there were no charges and no prosecutions. So they never reached a prosecution.
Okay. And those were the cases specifically where reasonable chastisement was used as a defence. Am I right in understanding that?
Yes, that's right.
And so no prosecutions resulted because of that.
So, if we had removed that defence, the estimate is that, possibly, 38 of those would have gone forward to a prosecution. Am I interpreting that correctly?
Can you help me on this, Karen?
Certainly. So, not quite. They're two separate pieces of data and analysis. I'm just going to take my headphones off; it's a bit weird, isn't it?
So, the police data was a retrospective piece of analysis to try to help us establish a baseline, to see whether something around physical punishment was recorded in their systems, and whether that would help us establish a baseline of, potentially, how many times physical punishment had happened, and therefore what that would mean in terms of us considering cost and the potential increase in referrals. The New Zealand data—I'll just pop that back, if I can, so I can get that right. Because there's no requirement in Wales on the police or the CPS to collect specific data on the number of times the defence may have been used in the past, predicting future numbers is therefore difficult. So, I think in the letter from the Minister to the committee, we said that the only published data that we could find across the world—and I think that sort of speaks in part for itself as well—is actually from the New Zealand police force, and we used that as a proxy to estimate the potential numbers of cases that might be prosecuted. So, the two sets of numbers are separate and we've used that to estimate the potential numbers of cases over a period of five years, should the law change. We had to look then at population numbers, and our population of nought to 14-year-olds, which is where the data was collected in New Zealand, is about 60 per cent of the New Zealand numbers. We took 60 per cent, therefore, of the data and the prosecution numbers that they had, and that's how we came to it. And I think it's really important to understand, at the moment, because there's no precedent or requirement to capture this information, this is more of an art than a science, and so we're doing our very best to get the information, to get the data, to make these best estimates, but one doesn't necessarily equal or correlate to the other.
Okay. So, it is a best guesstimate based on evidence that's already out there. Okay, I understand. Okay, thank you very much.
Suzy, you've got a supplementary on this.
Yes, just on the UK police information that you have there, or the work that they did for you there. Presumably the information they had related to cases that included other features as well as smacking, otherwise it's highly unlikely that it would have reached the police in the first place. Are you able to say if any of the cases to which they referred were simply about smacking, or was it just one feature in a range of behaviours?
The information that they produced was where physical punishment of some description was logged. The rest of the detail behind that we don't have. We can certainly find that out for the committee. What we do know, though, is that anything else that took place or the result of those incidents being reported, there was no further action, so there were no prosecutions.
Thank you. If you don't mind, that would be quite helpful, because it helps us understand how that got to the police in the first place. Okay, thank you.
Yes, we'll write and provide that to the committee.
I think it would very helpful to have a further note, and explaining the differences between the two sets of figures, because I think what the committee is struggling with is if there were 274 cases where it was used as a defence, wouldn't it be reasonable to assume there might be 274 prosecutions in a year rather than 38?
It's probably worth just saying then, at the moment, that actually we would expect the numbers to be much smaller, because obviously, at the moment, there is no awareness raising. As the Minister said, there will be a lot of that. And the other thing is that, because of the conversations that we have been having with police and others, the role of the implementation group will be looking at how we can reduce numbers over time. But, of course, we will provide something explaining that a bit further.
Thank you very much. The next questions are from Jayne Bryant.
Thank you, Chair, and good morning. Just thinking about those 274 offences, the annex of the explanatory memorandum concludes that
'malicious reporting via ex-partners was prevalent',
and says that
'Issues such as legal access and financial support issues featured prominently.'
Have you assessed the risk that separated parents may accuse each other of smacking a child in order to gain advantage during private law family court proceedings?
Yes, well, that's something that happens a lot already. Unfortunately, there are malicious allegations, and I think the police, the CPS and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service are very used to this. So, we have had discussions with CAFCASS, who will be part of the implementation group and who will be working with us to address these issues. But, no, we're very aware of that. It's something that everybody's very used to dealing with at the moment, and there's no doubt that it is likely to occur.
Okay, thank you. It's arguably the first time that there's going to be an obvious public perception of a divergence between criminal law in England and Wales, and the CPS guidance will need to be amended to clearly reflect it. You've mentioned that you've met the CPS. Can you confirm that the meetings were specifically about the charging guidance?
Yes, I've met the CPS, and the previous Minister met the CPS, who are very supportive of the course of action that we're taking, and, yes, that has been part of the discussion. And they absolutely agree that the charging standard on offences against the person will need to be amended to make it clear that the defence no longer applies in Wales. So, that is something that they are going to do and will be working towards. We're also having the CPS as part of the implementation group. So, we want to have that group with everybody together so all the nitty-gritty stuff can be thrashed out with everybody around the table.
And you're happy that there'd be a smooth transition for the specific guidance on that. Are you happy with—
Having met with the CPS I feel very confident that there will be a smooth transition, yes.
Great. The explanatory memorandum also refers to 'logistical issues' when taking evidence from children and says that
'Registered Intermediaries (RIs) must be considered for use at court in every case involving a child witness.'
It goes on to say that apparently
'there is currently a shortage of RIs and a very limited number of Welsh speaking ones. This could create delays in the process.'
Do you believe it could be a barrier to delivering the intentions of the Bill?
Yes, I think it's very important that there is an adequate number of registered intermediaries. I think we did write in the letter to explain what the position was, but the position has changed since then. So, I'll update you on the situation. There was a recruitment exercise between October and December 2018 last year, and 15 candidates were successful at interview. Of these, eight have successfully completed the training, three will be able to retake the training, and four applicants are still awaiting training. So, that will result in 15, and of the eight candidates who are already trained, one is a Welsh speaker. One further successful candidate states that they are proactively learning Welsh, and this is in addition to an existing Welsh-speaking registered intermediary who is already working in Wales. So, there is a definite improvement in the number of intermediaries who will be available.
Are those Wales only people?
It's done by the Ministry of Justice. So, these figures are Wales only?
Yes. But it's recruited by the Ministry of Justice. It's not recruited in Wales.
But they'll be dedicated to working in Wales.
Can I just ask a quick supplementary on that? So, do we know, when they're advertising for these posts, if they're appointed by the Ministry of Justice, that the Welsh language aspect is an active part of that recruitment process?
Well, actually I'll ask Karen to come in, but I think because it's recruited UK wide the Welsh language didn't actually come into it and we had to find out whether anybody spoke Welsh. Is that correct?
That's absolutely correct. So, it was an after the fact question that we needed to ask.
So, they are now aware that we do need to have that in Wales, are they?
And, as the Minister was saying, it's only this week that we've been having discussions with them again, which is why we know this information off the top of our heads, so they understand that there is a Welsh language requirement and a need in Wales, and we'll continue to have those sorts of conversations with them over time.
Thank you. We're going to move on now to some questions on awareness raising and cross-border issues from Suzy Davies.
Before I do that, can I just ask you two questions on the back of Jayne's questions please? The conversations that you had with the CPS about the charging guidance, can you tell us what discussion you had around the public interest tests during that discussion, and about where you think the threshold, or where the CPS threshold for that is likely to bite should this defence be removed?
Yes. I'm not sure that we've had any specific discussion about that. Karen, do you have any—
If not, that's fine. It's just—
No, we didn't have any specific discussion about that in my memory.
We talked more generally about the evidential and public interest tests, and obviously considering the best interest of the child being pragmatic and proportionate. But, obviously, until and unless the law changes, those more detailed conversations, as the Minister's already intimated, will take place during the implementation group period.
Okay. That's helpful to know, the timing of conversations like that. You mentioned the Ministry of Justice. Presumably there's not going to be a challenge to any of this further down the line, once they've realised that we're in this territory.
They've been kept very aware of it right from the very beginning, and we've had discussions with them. In fact, I think that we're obliged to have discussions with them if we do make any change like this.
Of course. We have got this boundary on this particular one, which might be problematic at some point.
We have been, if I could just add, specifically given competence under the Wales Act 2017, when it amended the Government of Wales Act 2006.
It's useful to have that on the record early on, so that we don't get caught up in a cul-de-sac on that one. So, just talking about awareness raising now, you mentioned, Deputy Minister, early on that the primary purpose of this legislation was to, I think it was to protect children's rights. I did write it down.
Promote children's rights.
Promote children's rights—
And stop and prevent physical punishment.
Yes, that's right. I have it here: promoting children's rights. In which case, why are you so resistant to having a duty on the Bill in order to do that?
We don't think the duty is necessary because there is an absolute commitment, and there's a commitment in the explanatory memorandum. But a lot of people are very keen that this should be a very simple Bill, that it should just specifically say what we want to do. And if we do put a duty on, there could be added complications. It could mean how long is the duty for; there could be unintended consequences. So, we don't think it's necessary to have a duty to have awareness raising. But I'm absolutely prepared, if that would help, to go on the record and give you an undertaking to raise awareness in relation to the change in the law, which obviously would be on the record here now.
But not enforceable in a court, unfortunately. One of the things that's likely to happen in the course of this is that we're going to find an individual parent who will say, 'I didn't know this was the law.' And they're going to say, 'Well, I don't care if the Government wanted to raise awareness; they didn't raise it with me, and now I look at the law, there was no duty on them to make sure that I knew about this.' So, if I could just encourage you to reconsider this at an early stage, in pretty much the same way as we had with the organ donation Bill, where a duty for awareness raising was included in order to protect both, in this case it would be parents, but also the state, if you like. I would urge you to do that.
Obviously, I will continue to think about that. My preference at the moment is to have a very simple Bill. I think that is the best way to go ahead. But I will certainly look at it.
I admire your ambition for a simple Bill, but I don't think it's a particularly simple issue.
And, certainly, we have looked at the organ donation Bill.
Okay. Thank you very much for that; I'm grateful that you'll consider this a bit further, particularly as you said that you hope that awareness of the law will be pretty prevalent. I know we have the powers to do it, but we'd like the opportunity to hold you to account for it actually happening, so doing that through the law is probably the best way.
You mentioned earlier that you wanted a pretty long lead-in time for this, and I can understand why because of the awareness raising campaign. Have you got a time frame in mind for that, because, again, we'd be in a period of uncertainty if it were to be passed here, but we hadn't had the main provisions commenced?
Well, if the Bill is passed, at the moment I'm looking at about a two-year period.
But that's—. Obviously, the—
Well, just a guide, I guess.
We'll see how it goes as it goes along. But I just think it's absolutely vital that—. The legislation I don't think will serve its purpose unless it goes along with an awareness-raising campaign, and the research that has been done has shown that, in countries where the defence has been removed and there has been an awareness campaign, behaviour does change, but you really need to have the two things together. The law by itself—
The law by itself won't achieve what we want to achieve, but the law, with an awareness-raising campaign as well—information is so important. So, that's why I think it's important to give a good chunk of time, really, for the lead-in, so that as many people as possible are made aware, so there's much less likelihood of there being instances of the law being broken.
That's also helpful to know. Just a last question from me, really, on awareness—at this stage anyway. Obviously, we have a very porous border with England and visitors from abroad. This isn't new—the same applied for the organ donation Bill, in that sense. But you know what UK media is like—it rarely covers issues in Wales, or, if it does, it's covered once and then it's forgotten. How are we going to—? I suspect we'll be able to raise awareness within Wales relatively straightforwardly, but we're not an enclosed island in that sense. How can we be sure that people from outside Wales will know this?
Well, we have had quite a lot of national publicity on this already; by 'national', I mean UK-wide publicity. So, I think we have to try and get as much UK-wide publicity as we can. And, really, we hope that people from other parts of the UK will be aware of what is happening, and we'll do our utmost to make them know. But I suppose, really, if you do go into another country, you do usually make yourself aware of any particular issues. If we do travel outside Wales, we are perhaps aware of what happens there.
I think that's stretching it within the UK now at the moment.
I think it's clear if you leave the UK, obviously, that you would be expected to find out what the cultural norms of that country were. And, of course, when there is a divergence now—and this is one of the first major divergences—we will certainly do all we can to raise awareness. But, obviously, I think it does depend on people actually knowing what the law is and how it's changed in Wales.
But, of course, the other issue is that there's a parallel process taking place in Scotland at the same time. That is a via private Member's Bill, but I understand it has got the backing of the Government, so there's a possibility that will become law, and that is at exactly the same time as we're doing this. So, in fact, it may be that in 12 months' time it will be England that won't have this law in place. So, I think that's quite important to remember as well.
I think we can put money on Scotland perhaps getting more publicity than us, but that's a—
So, we have to do our best to get it publicity.
Okay, thank you, Minister—Deputy Minister.
Janet, you had a supplementary on this.
Yes. Basically, we've had a similar issue, haven't we, when the carrier bag charge came in here, and I know, from a constituency that's very highly retail, shopkeepers were having stand-offs with tourists who were coming into Wales—you know, the carrier bag charge. And it caused quite a lot of frustration for tourists. Clearly, I'm from a constituency where we rely—it's our main industry—so, clearly, for me, I have concerns (a) about the raising awareness. It has to be done, and I'd like to have seen it, really, as part of this going forward, because, clearly, I don't want people to be thinking, 'We're not going to Wales because I'm unclear about the law as to how I can reasonably parent my children', because we don't want reports of people coming on holiday to Llandudno and suddenly going back where they've had a knock on the door or even at their hotel, where someone's accused them of smacking their child and they're completely oblivious to this. I know that it's easier now with the carrier bag charge, because that was a good lead. So, there are merits to what you're trying to achieve. But, clearly, I would have liked to have seen it more incorporated within this Bill, about building that awareness.
Well, the awareness raising is absolutely essential—absolutely accept that—and, as we develop the campaign, as we develop the awareness campaign, we'll certainly bear in mind the points that you are making about the cross-border issues, because—
It's really important.
—I think they are important and we'll—you know, we'll certainly follow that up.
Okay. Thank you. We've got some questions now on the resource implications of the Bill, and the first ones are from Hefin David.
Deputy Minister, how concerned are you by the degree of unquantifiable costs associated with this Bill?
Well, we're doing our best to cost the Bill, but I'm sure you're aware from the discussion that we've had already today that it's very difficult to actually make the estimates to estimate how many people will be involved. In answer to the questions to Dawn, we clearly said how difficult it is to make those estimates. But I believe it can be worked out and I believe it will be manageable, so I'm not worried about that. I think we can work it out.
Have you asked officials about the potential for diverting finite resources from existing health and social services provision for children?
This is a manifesto commitment so we will have to provide the money that is needed to effectively deliver this legislation. So, I think that's the answer to that.
But you're not concerned that it would be diverted from elsewhere—that, therefore, it would be counterproductive.
Absolutely not. I think this will be very productive for Wales and very productive for the other services.
Okay. I'd like to refer to some of the unknown costs in the explanatory memorandum and just ask why those can't be quantified. So, some of them would be—there's a list in the explanatory memorandum—social services, as a result of a potential increase in referrals that could increase costs; family courts and Cafcass Cymru, as a result of the potential to increase allegations against parents involved in family court cases; the CPS could see increased costs, as a result of referrals from the police; and the review and training guidance offered by organisations involved in safeguarding children, to ensure they're up to date, could also see an increase in costs. Why can't those be quantified? Because they're very specific examples. Can't they be modelled?
Well, as we've said before, there is no precedent in the UK for removing the defence, so the data has not been collected, so we haven't got the baselines in order to estimate what these costings would be. So, it is very difficult to do, but we have made our best estimates. I don't know if you, Karen, have got anything—.
I think, as we said earlier on, this is much more of an art than a science and—
Sorry? Sorry, I didn't hear you.
This is much more an art rather than a science at the moment, because there is no requirement on any of those services to capture the data and the information that we would find useful in this period of time. So, we've given everything that we can, and in the explanatory memorandum we've also said that we will work with those different services and organisations to develop a data and monitoring process so that we can establish a baseline. But of course we didn't want to get into a situation where we were requiring those services to do something ahead of the change in the law. Also, we want to ensure that the information that we've provided is the best that we can. So, there are probably all sorts of models and ideas that we could come up with, but what would they be founded on, I think, is a really important question and one of the things that we've been grappling with.
As the Minister said earlier on, and as we've talked about, New Zealand is the only comparable nation where a change in the law has already taken place. However, they haven't collected the data and the information except in relation to the police. So, the police collected data three months before they implemented the Bill, and then for a period of five years afterwards. I think we've shared that information with the committee. So, the amount of information available is less than would be ideal when we're trying to take forward and understand the impacts of the change in the law. But I think this change, as the Minister has also suggested, is a really important one and we will work with and through the implementation group. We will work with services to develop that, and we will continue to keep information and evaluation and monitoring under review.
So, can you give us some assurance, then, that there won't be runaway costs with this Bill, given those issues? Could you say categorically, 'There won't be runaway costs. They'll be within reasonable expectation'?
I think, in terms of the information that we've provided on the police, that would appear to answer the question that it wouldn't necessarily be a runaway cost and, as we develop the information and evidence and database with social services and others, then we can make sure that we can provide that information as well.
Thank you. Janet.
Yes. This is the last one, really, is it? Yes. The EM says it is complex to—. I think, really, you've asked them. I think we've been there.
We've got some—. There are specific questions on out-of-hours social services.
[Inaudible.] Oh, yes. I think this has been—. I think Dawn has referred to this. Welsh police forces estimate 274 offences annually relating to common assault—. I think we've actually touched on this, really.
It was specifically, really, about the demand on out-of-hours.
Sorry, yes. To create extra demand on out-of-hours social service teams because, I think—from my questions yesterday as spokesperson—we've got massive pressures on social care and it's the additional costs and resources that are going to be needed for the out-of-hours social care teams. Would you like to comment on that?
Well, we are working with a small number of local authorities—
A small number?
—to try to establish the baseline of the numbers that are likely to—. To establish a baseline so that we can see how the legislation works and, obviously, the out-of-hours has been taken as part of the overall social services figures.
One of the important points, I think, about the social services data, is that this is universally welcomed by the social services, very strongly supported by the British Association of Social Workers and by the leads in childcare in social services. So, this is something that social services are very keen to see happen, and so although it's difficult to estimate the increased demand on their time, it is nevertheless something that they feel very strongly that we should do.
Thank you, Deputy Minister. You mentioned you've liaised with a small number of local authorities, yet a large number of local authorities, of which there are 22 across Wales, are facing heavy deficits in their social care budgets. My own authority's gone over now by about £4 million, and on an annual basis that is increasing. They can't actually afford to resource current requirements and expectations on their departments. So, for me, I'm really struggling to get my head around how these out-of-hours teams, and, indeed, our social department—. You know, they have problems with staff recruitment because they haven't got the sufficient funding and the planning ability to plan ahead, not knowing the financial pressures until very late in the day. So, how do you actually—? When we talk about bigger numbers of local authorities rather than—. How many authorities have you dealt with?
Well, we're working—
There are 22. How many have you liaised with?
Well, we're not able to work with 22 to establish the baseline—
No. How many?
—we're trying to get a small number so that we can get this baseline.
How many have you liaised with?
Do you want to explain what we're doing?
We have been in discussions with the ADSS fully. So, all 22 through the ADSS are—
So, through them rather than directly with local authorities?
But also we are working directly with—. There are four at the moment who are looking at whether they can help establish a baseline with us in a similar way to the way the police have.
Okay. And are they in north Wales? For me, as a north Wales Member, are you liaising with anyone in north Wales?
We have contacted a local authority in north Wales and asked them to work with us, yes.
And have you had a response?
Have we had a response from that particular one? Yes, we have had a response from them, and we are waiting now to have further discussions with that particular authority. There are a small number of others that we have made contact with to see if they can work with us at this moment in time.
Again, will there be somebody in north Wales? I'm trying to make sure that it's pan-Wales.
Of course. This is about just trying to develop an initial baseline. I think, when we get into the work with the implementation group, that, of course, will be pan-Wales. The Minister has written to the Association of Directors of Social Services asking them to consider and nominate representatives to be on the group and to be on the task and finish groups that will be part of that so that they're ensuring that they get the right people to work with us across a whole range of issues to ensure that the views of all 22 local authorities are taken into account. So, we're working on a number of levels. This initial work with social services is about, 'Can we identify the numbers?' More broadly through the implementation group, we will, obviously, be working—
I'm trying to get my question answered. Basically, this is going to involve a lot of out-of-hours time for social care departments. Have you had any responses back from any one, or two, or maybe more, of the 22 local authorities to say that they can manage with this out-of-hours—the extra pressures that are going to be expected of them? And also, where in the regulatory impact assessment are these additional costs reflected, based on the evidence back from departments?
So, we've looked at this in the round. We haven't specifically segmented out-of-hours because it's part of what the police and what social services do now. So, we're not asking them to do anything different or new. They have established out-of-hours services. The police and social services have established ways of working, and we will consider as we go forward what impact or implications this will have, but working collectively with them so that we're actually having those discussions.
And my final question: the EM says it is complex to accurately predict the impact on resources of the justice system and that increased reporting and prosecution will depend upon several factors, including crown prosecution and justice policy in relation to the new legislation. What exactly is this referring to?
Could you repeat that, please?
Sorry, I think I went a bit too quickly. The explanatory memorandum says it is complex to accurately predict the impact on resources of the justice system and that increased reporting and prosecution will depend upon several factors, including crown prosecution and justice policy in relation to the new legislation. What exactly is this referring to?
Well, obviously, the CPS will change its procedures and will change the advice that is given, and that is something that will be worked out in the implementation group, because a lot of these issues that are raised will be worked out there, where all the different bodies are represented. So, I think that's what that's referring to—the policy that will be changed. But, of course, this does go back, I think, to what Suzy was saying about the awareness campaign as well, because obviously this would be very influenced by how much awareness there is of this legislation. So, the awareness is absolutely crucial as to whether there is any increase in the work of the out-of-hours.
Suzy, have you got a supplementary?
Yes, and it's on this point of resource implication. Because I'm listening to this and, obviously, social services at the moment will already be under significant pressure from cases, which could include smacking but absolutely not exclusively. I genuinely wonder how many cases solely relating to smacking are likely to come to social services, even with an awareness campaign. Therefore, is there a risk—? I'm thinking of public interest tests as well—there's a whole load of reasons why I've said that. But is there a risk that, actually, we could be putting an awful lot of resources into creating structures and changes and training and all kinds of things for a demand that's just not going to materialise?
I think many of these issues may not come to social services because they won't reach that level. That's why I think the awareness campaign and all these different ways of addressing it are so important. And we'll also be looking at ways of diverting parents out of the system in any case with diversionary schemes, some of which already exist, that we may be able to direct parents to, and those are some of the things again that we're discussing with the police, so that it's not necessary for the—[Inaudible.]—but they may not get as far as social services, no.
Okay, so that was my question. Are we worrying too much about putting lots of money into this end of things when actually that's probably not where it's going to be needed?
Well, I think it is needed here, because that will mean that we'd be able to have no physical punishment for children in Wales. That is the ultimate aim—that children in Wales are not physically punished and that health visitors will be able to give the clear messages, including for those who may eventually need the help of social services. So, it's got a wider impact.
All right. Because I wasn't talking about the law itself then. It's about the level of resource that might be guided towards a particular part of the implementation of it, which is namely putting loads of money into out-of-hours social care, for example, just for this. I think it's unlikely to be needed.
I just think again that's part of the reason why we are going to be working with the professions to be clear about the types of information, guidance, support—the things that you've mentioned—and what will actually be needed. And, as the Minister said, thinking about that early intervention work, the prevention through raising awareness—those sorts of things—again, making sure that attention has been given to those.
Okay, thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Just from me then, you mentioned diversion of parents and diversion schemes. There is reference to that in the EM, but not a great deal of detail. Can you tell the committee what your thinking is and what you think the potential is of such schemes?
Yes, I think they could be very important. We've had some discussion with the police about diversion schemes, because the police do have diversion schemes. Rather than a family, a parent, being prosecuted, they could be sent on a diversion scheme, which may mean that they could join an existing parenting scheme, something that already exists. But it may be that we will need to make a specific diversion scheme for this particular issue, and so that is something that we are discussing with the police and that's what we hope will be discussed at the implementation group, as one of the key things that we wanted to bring in.
So, rather than maybe parents having a caution or anything like that, they'd go on one of these courses. Would you anticipate them operating like the speeding courses then? Would parents have to pay to go on that kind of thing? Have you given any consideration to how that would work?
We haven't got into that amount of detail. We haven't discussed that. I would be very surprised if parents had to pay to go on a course. I wouldn't see that as being very helpful.
Okay. Thank you. Are there any other questions from Members? No? Okay. Well, can I thank the Minister and officials for your attendance this morning? It's been a very informative session. Thank you for answering our questions. As usual, you'll be sent a transcript to check for accuracy following the meeting. But thank you very much. The committee will now break until 10:30.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:18 a 10:31.
The meeting adjourned between 10:18 and 10:31.
Welcome back, everyone, to our second evidence session on the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill. I'm very pleased to welcome Be Reasonable Wales, in particular Jamie Gillies, who is spokesman for Be Reasonable, and Sally Gobbett who is a parent campaigner for Be Reasonable. Thank you both for attending. We're very much looking forward to hearing what you've got to say. We'll go straight into questions, if that's okay, and the first questions are from Siân Gwenllian.
May I just qualify that I'm not actually part of the Be Reasonable campaign? I'm obviously in liaison with them, but I'm speaking as an independent parent.
Okay, lovely, thank you. Siân.
Bore da. Dŷch chi'n disgrifio'ch hun fel ymgyrch sy'n gwrthwynebu cynlluniau Llywodraeth Cymru. Pam eich bod chi'n teimlo felly?
Good morning. You describe yourself as a campaign that opposes the Welsh Government's plans. Why do you feel that way?
I suppose the main reasons we feel that way are that we think this change in the law is disproportionate. We think the law as it stands already provides very strong protections to children, and the type of behaviour that will be made criminal by the removal of the defence is the type of behaviour that is considered 'reasonable', which is very light, very mild, very moderate discipline, which many, many parents across Wales use, and which there's no academic evidence to show is harmful to children. That's something that the Welsh Government has said already. In its consultation document last year, it says there's unlikely to be any research evidence to specifically show the effect of a light and infrequent smack as being harmful to a child. So, if there's no evidence to specifically show that light, reasonable chastisement is harmful, then we don't think the Government has any right to proceed with a law that would criminalise parents for using that discipline.
Yes, I think—. I have a science background—a natural sciences degree from Cambridge—and I went to the research, really, to look with an open mind at the evidence, and primarily at the Government's own consultation document, and found, six times over, the Government acknowledging that there is no evidence to show that light, infrequent physical discipline, in the context of a loving parenting dynamic is linked to harmful outcomes in children, and that there is a lot of question around the data that links smacking and harmful outcomes, in respect to uncontrolled variables, data sizes and suchlike. We really need to discriminate what we're talking about in terms of degree of force, context, family dynamics et cetera, rather than just making sweeping statements about smacking and outcomes.
Dwi'n derbyn yn llwyr fod rhaid i benderfyniadau cael eu gwneud ar sail tystiolaeth. Mae ymchwil Canolfan Polisi Cyhoeddus Cymru yn dangos nad oes yna unrhyw dystiolaeth ddibynadwy i ddangos bod yna fanteision hirdymor yn gysylltiedig â chosbi corfforol rhesymol neu ei fod o'n fwy effeithiol o ran newid ymddygiad o gymharu efo dulliau eraill sydd ddim yn gorfforol. Hynny yw, maen nhw'n dadlau nad ydy'r manteision o ddefnyddio cosb gorfforol ddim yn glir o gymharu efo dulliau eraill o geisio rheoli ymddygiad plant neu ddysgu plant sut i ymddwyn yn briodol. Beth ydy'ch ymateb chi i hynny?
I accept entirely that decisions have to be evidence based. Research by the Welsh Centre for Public Policy shows that there is no reliable evidence demonstrating that there are long-term benefits related to reasonable physical punishment or that it's more effective in terms of changing short-term behaviours compared to other non-physical means. So, they argue that the benefits of using physical punishment aren't clear as compared with the other means of trying to manage behaviour or teaching children how to behave appropriately. What's your opinion on that?
I wonder if Sally wants to come in on this.
Yes. As I've looked at the evidence, I've seen that there are studies out there showing a positive impact of light, infrequent physical discipline. A reliable meta-analysis of 26 studies shows that conditional physical discipline that is used in appropriately chosen circumstances, without anger or excessive force, was more effective than 10 other non-physical methods of discipline and comparable with the others in terms of reducing non-compliance and anti-social behaviour.
I also have evidence here that other methods of discipline, whether they're positive or negative, if you can make that distinction, are also linked to harmful outcomes if they're used disproportionately or in the wrong way. So, for example, there is evidence that the processing of emotional pain in the brain is actually in the same area as physical pain, so when a child is isolated in their bedroom or excluded by an angry parent, they are experiencing, actually, the same sort of pain as physical pain. I have copies of these if you wish to take them away.
Similarly, even with respect to positive parenting strategies, which in proportion I'm all in favour of, there is evidence that inflated praise, if it's used excessively or in a non-genuine way, has an adverse effect on children with low self-esteem and can make them feel that there are standards they can't attain to, and it has a negative impact. There are also studies showing that extrinsic rewards have a negative impact on the motivation of children intrinsically to perform tasks or behaviours that they shouldn't need to be rewarded for. So, things that are just a part of everyday life, if you offer a child a reward for it, they have less motivation to do it without the reward, and that's reliably documented.
So, I think the point is that we can't single out one method of discipline or exclude one method of discipline. What we need to offer parents is a range of options to use in the correct proportions in the correct circumstances without any anger or aggression. Every child is different; what is painful to one child might be emotional and what is painful to another child might be physical and such like. And we need to trust parents and respect parents who love and know their children best to be able to apply the right sanctions in the right proportions. Where that's not done, we have the law already there to charge and prosecute parents who are acting aggressively or violently towards their children.
And is that Be Reasonable's view as well? Because obviously you said you were speaking in a different capacity.
Yes. We would agree.
Y gwir amdani ydy, wrth gwrs, fod 274 o droseddau yn cael eu cyflawni'n flynyddol yn ymwneud ag ymosodiad cyffredin a chreulondeb i blant, a wedyn bod y gosb gyfreithiol ar hyn o bryd o'r amddiffyniad yma yn golygu nad oes yna ddim erlyniadau wedi digwydd. Hynny yw, mae yna nifer sylweddol o blant, efallai, yn dal i ddioddef yn sgil ymosodiadau, ond byddai'r ddeddfwriaeth newydd yn newid y sefyllfa yna, wrth gwrs. Mae lot o hyn ynglŷn â sut dŷch chi'n diffinio 'rhesymol', dwi'n credu. Beth ydy'ch ymateb chi i hynny?
So, the truth is, of course, that 274 offences are committed annually relating to common assault and cruelty to children and that the criminal penalty with regard to this defence of lawful chastisement means that there were no prosecutions. A significant number of children, perhaps, are still suffering as a result of these kinds of cases but the new legislation would change that situation, of course. So, much of this is about how you define lawful chastisement or reasonable chastisement, isn't it? What's your response to that?
I believe that data is taken from the explanatory memorandum that the Government published, in annex 7, which is research carried out by the police liaison unit. It's important to state that these numbers that they've come up with are based on the best available data—they don't record everything. The reasonable chastisement defence is very clear, so it would be wrong to say that children are suffering at the moment. What we see is the defence very, very rarely being cited in court. It's only been raised about three times in the last nine years, I think, and none of those cases emanated from Wales—they were all in England.
So, it is clear that the defence is well understood. The CPS charging standard is very specific on what behaviour is acceptable and what is not. So, really, as Sally said before, the law does protect children very strongly. Only the very lightest, mildest physical discipline is allowed, and the police know that. Anecdotally, we hear officers are able to distinguish when they've had a report and a family has committed an assault or violence against a child and when it has just been very light, normal parenting. So, why change the law when it's so clear as it stands?
Just if I could add: that data from the police liaison unit infers that there would be around 1,300 investigations into smacking as an assault after the law changes in the first five years of implementation. So, how many parents are we going to see criminalised for actions that we'd now call smacking or reasonable chastisement in the first years of implementation? How many parents are going to have police cautions, which would appear in Disclosure and Barring Service checks and affect, potentially, their employment? The ramifications of this Bill are massive for the Welsh public, and the Government is playing with fire if it thinks it can make this change in the law and not affect the lives of parents and, by extension, children.
I think I would just add that, as I understand it, the reasonable chastisement defence hasn't been used to acquit anybody of assault in the last 10 years in Wales, so it wouldn't make any difference in those cases. Also, we need to look not only at the potential suffering that exists now, but at what potential suffering will result when we remove this defence. I think far more potential suffering and unintended consequences will result, not least, obviously, a disruption of secure, loving family situations and children being removed from custody.
I think, also, we forget that a child who is not lovingly disciplined and who grows up to have anti-social behaviours et cetera will be far more severely punished by society and nature as they go into adulthood than the light, infrequent discipline that might be received in childhood from a loving parent. So, I think we need to look at the unintended consequences as well.
Jest un peth arall. A allwch chi weld y ddadl yma, te: oni fyddai'n haws bod y continwwm yma o beth ydych chi'n ei alw yn ddefnydd ysgafn i ymosodiad—? Mae yna gontinwwm yn y fan yma, rŵan, onid oes, ac yn rhywle yn y canol dŷch chi'n gwahaniaethu rhwng un math o ddefnydd corfforol a math eithafol o ddefnydd corfforol. Oni fyddai'n haws jest tynnu hynny i gyd oddi yna?
Dyna fyddai'r ddeddfwriaeth yma'n ei wneud. Mi fyddai'n golygu ei bod hi gymaint yn haws, wedyn, inni yng Nghymru fedru dweud, 'Dŷn ni ddim yn credu bod unrhyw fath o gosb gorfforol yn llesol i blant neu yn dderbyniol i oedolyn wneud hynny i blentyn'—jest o ran ei wneud o'n fwy syml. Achos mae yna, yn y man canol yma, siŵr o fod, enghreifftiau lle, efallai, dŷch chi'n meddwl mai cosbi ysgafn ydy rhywbeth ac efallai y byddwn i'n ei ddiffinio fo'n wahanol. Mae'r diffiniad yn gallu bod yn wahanol ar hyd y continwwm. Mae cael gwared â'r continwwm yn dod â ni i sefyllfa lot cliriach. Beth ydy'ch ymateb chi i hynny?
Just one final question from me. Can you see this argument, then: would it not be easier for this continuum of what you call light use to assault—? There is a continuum here, isn't there, and somewhere in the middle is where you see the difference between one kind of physical chastisement and an extreme use of physical chastisement. Wouldn't it just be easier to get rid of that entirely?
That is what this legislation would do. It would mean that it would be so much easier, then, for us, in Wales, to be able to say, 'Well, we don't believe that any kind of physical chastisement is beneficial to children or that it's acceptable for an adult to do that to a child'—just in terms of making it simpler. Because it's in that middle point, isn't it, that there are examples, perhaps, where you think that that's a light punishment and we would define it, or I would define it, differently. The definition can be different along the continuum. So, getting rid of the continuum would bring us to a much clearer situation. How do you respond to that?
I don't deny that it would be simpler from your perspective, and that it's a quick and easy solution, but that doesn't mean it's the right solution when it leads to injustice for many families and there isn't an evidence base to support it. We can't just make easy laws, you know—we have to do what is right and what is supported by the evidence. It might be easy for you, but it won't be easy for the hundreds, potentially thousands, of families whose rights are going to be infringed in terms of how they raise their children in the home, potentially custody of their children, whose employment, futures are going to be jeopardised because of being tainted with this in terms of DBS if the legislation is passed. We don't want quick and easy solutions; we want just solutions.
I'm not talking about quick and easy; I'm talking about clarity, but anyway—
But I think there is clarity, from what I understand, within advice for the Crown Prosecution Service and various things that they can consider. And, actually, the work that's been done gives us an evidence base to say, 'Okay, this degree of force has been shown to have harmful outcomes; this degree of force has not been shown to have harmful outcomes. This context, this parenting dynamic, has been shown to have negative outcomes, this hasn't'. And, actually, that information is available to those services and should be used well in deciding on prosecutions.
I would just iterate again that the law is clear—we have good law on this already, this debate has been had. The law has been amended as recently as 2004. So, we've had this debate, and the law as it's framed just now strikes the correct balance, which strongly protects children from violence, from abuse but also accepts that very mild, light discipline is appropriate. If we remove the defence altogether, that creates mass uncertainty for the police, for social workers; that line is not there any more to be drawn.
I recently gave evidence in Scotland. The committee that is considering a Bill there, which would be a similar proposal, had evidence from the police and from child protection specialists that said, actually, the law as it's framed now is very useful; we can use our discretion, the police understand it, the courts understand it. So, removing it confuses everything and leaves parents who are normal, loving, good parents open to prosecution, potentially conviction by the police and the courts. That's not something we'd like to see and that's not something the majority of Welsh adults would like to see either. Polling consistently shows 70 per cent of the public do not want to see this change in the law, and it's kind of common sense to them. They know what's mild, what's light. Parents love their children and they want to bring them up well and they know what's appropriate and what's not in the vast majority of cases. So, if the status quo is good, let's stick with the law as it is. You don't chuck out the law when it's working well.
I think also if you remove, effectively, a parenting option, you limit the options that are available, which means that that they can't be used in good proportion, and you fall into traps of having an excess of one thing, which can be detrimental, even with praise and reward. But you also force parents to use disciplinary approaches that they are not comfortable with in their own situations. I have never, and would never, ever, send a child in my family to their room as a discipline. For me, disciplining is something that's relational, it's done in the context of a close, warm environment. It's done quickly, it's not delayed, it's not dragged out, it's not meant for them to feel shame or resentment as they stew in their room. So, I would not be comfortable ever sending my child to their room as a punishment. And I've heard other parenting experts saying, 'Dock their pocket money'. Well, my two-year-old doesn't get pocket money, and nor will he until he's nine. So, you're just limiting the options available to people and they know their children best, they know their family dynamic best. They need to be respected to make those choices.
Okay. I've got a supplementary from Suzy.
Thank you, Chair. I just have a very quick question on the statistic you gave us about the defence being invoked just three times in nine years in England. Do you happen to know in those cases whether there were actually more charges being brought at the time in those individual cases, or were they all stand-alone, where this was the only offence that was being prosecuted and for which there was a defence? Was it part of a bigger picture, basically?
Sure. I don't know off the top of my head but I'd be happy to provide you with information afterwards.
If you can find that out, that'd be really helpful because I'm trying to just establish how often this happens as a stand-alone situation. Thank you.
Okay. Thank you. The next questions, then, are from Dawn Bowden.
Thank you, Chair. Morning. I just want to ask you a couple of questions about whether physical punishment is acceptable. You've talked a lot about the light, infrequent punishment, but my questions are really driven by the principle of whether any form of physical punishment of a child is acceptable. So, that's the context. But how specifically do you respond to the view that children learn by imitating adult behaviours, so that whatever they learn as a child, they will repeat that themselves as an adult? And we've seen that in all sorts of different contexts. And whether a child can differentiate between a light smack, or it's just a hit, and that's what we do, and so it's okay for us to do it. I'd just welcome your views on that, really.
From what I've read, I would say that there isn't a strong body of evidence at all to suggest a link between smacking and smacking begetting violence, which is what is often said. I've not seen evidence for that. I'm sure that Sally would also speak about her own experience as a mother and in the parenting context in her home how smacking would look. I would say that it's probably very clear to every parent what's violence and what's not.
I think my question is really whether it's clear to the child, not whether it's clear to the parent.
Clear to the child? Yes, I believe so, but Sally would—
I think children understand the authority relationship that's necessary for their protection and care. If a parent stays within the realms of administering just their controlled discipline and is not using a smack in anger or to shame a child or to intimidate or to get them off their case or whatever it might be, if they're actually using that approach and explaining it to their child appropriately, then a child will understand that it's part of their loving authority and it's not a parent venting their own emotions or frustration. I don't think we can draw legal lines on this, but from my personal place, I feel that if a parent is using any form of discipline in anger, that's not discipline, that's just—
Venting your frustration.
Venting your frustration, yes. And so, I would leave that—
So, how would we stop that? Because my sense of—. I'm a parent as well and my children now are grown up, but I vividly recall those senses of frustration as a parent, and actually wanting to grab them and shake them. I do wonder how much of that actually happens as opposed to the kind of controlled discipline that you're talking about. How do we stop that?
You're absolutely right, and in speaking out, that has actually been my greatest personal struggle, because I in no way want to appear to be defending angry venting of a parent's emotion on a child, and so I really want to make that distinction. I am in no way supporting that. But I believe that the law is already there to prosecute parents who are disciplining in anger or with uncontrolled physical force, and I would wholeheartedly support that, and I think also that we don't change those sorts of cultures by legal threat. I think we change those cultures within communities that support one another, where you learn, generationally, good parenting from those who pass it on.
Already, I've noticed this air of intimidation and suspicion, even amongst my friends and neighbours; people are scared to admit what they actually do because of the stigma that's now associated, because of the legal threat. I know that there are people in professional capacities, in healthcare, in police and social services who would agree with my position, but are scared to say so because of the implications for them professionally, and such like. We're already creating a culture of suspicion, of judgment, of intimidation, which in no way is in parents' and families' best interests. What we need to do is have open, reasonable debate, freedom of speech and for neighbours and communities to support one another, to learn from the experience of those who are older and wiser.
This is one of the things that makes me so sad in this, that some of the Government's cherry-picking of polling data has focused on young parents. Well, there used to be a time when wisdom came with age and experience. I feel that we're targeting young parents because we know that they have been re-educated by some of the Government's media campaign—you could call it propaganda—and actually, they're most likely to say what we want them to hear. Well, that's just not right; that's not appropriate in a liberal society.
But there has been, hasn't there—and I think you probably would accept this—there has been a change, say, over the last 50 years in what good parenting looks like. That's been an evolutionary change in any event, and I think there is polling evidence out there to suggest that parents are actually less likely to physically punish their children now than perhaps they were 50 years ago. You accept that that is a parenting change that's evolved.
I accept there's a trend, but just because there's a trend doesn't mean it's right. There's also a trend away from families eating round a meal table together, but we don't criminalise them for doing so. Trends don't really show us anything, okay, about the rights or wrongs of that thing. If you want to correlate and make links to causation, then, in parallel with that trend, there has been a trend of increasing poor discipline in schools, increasing child-on-child violence, knife crime and violent crime. So, if we're going to talk about trends and not unpick what's really underneath them, then we can correlate all sorts of things.
Okay, I understand that point. Just one more question from me, Chair, if I can. I just wanted your views on the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. They've repeatedly called for this defence to be repealed from law across the whole of the UK, not just in Wales. What are your thoughts and views on that? Either of you? Both of you?
I would go to the declaration on the rights of the child itself and the relevant articles in there. So, I've got in front of me here article 19, which states that children should be protected from 'all forms of...violence', and we absolutely agree with that. But what we'd say is that reasonable chastisement is not violence, in our view. Also, the convention does not specify what forms of punishment parents should use, but says that discipline involving violence is unacceptable. So, again, Wales already prohibits violence against children—the law's clear on that—and it all depends on your definition of violence. Some campaigners would say that a light smack is violence against a child, but we'd say that it's absolutely not and the evidence base isn't there to demonstrate that that is harmful in any way. So, we can't proceed with a law change to amend criminal law without strong evidence for doing that.
Two things: one, that distinction between violence and hurt or pain. If we're going to clump those two together, then we get ourselves into very tricky situations, because there are all sorts of things that we routinely do to children that cause them to experience pain, namely, immunisations, dentists' drills, exercise, not being allowed to eat Haribo when they want, or removing their iPad and suchlike. As I've said, the evidence is that children experiencing emotional pain, that's processed in the same parts of the brain as physical pain when they perceive they're being rejected or isolated. So, if we are going to eradicate any painful experience for a child, then we have to eradicate all of those other things as well, in which case, we can't live any more and—. Sorry, bear with me, I just want to get my thoughts.
The second point was—or maybe I clumped the two together. Oh yes, pain is protective; we know that in nature. Even from an evolutionary perspective, pain protects us from harmful stimuli in a conditioning way, which is why a leper loses their limbs, because they—. So, actually, in training a young child who's not yet able to verbally reason or experience delayed or unrelated consequences, something that is an immediate painful stimuli, which is not intended to hurt them, but is intended to protect them, is actually the best way of enabling their young brain to learn to avoid those harmful stimuli, like a socket or—
So, at what age would you say that should start? Because at what age would you say a child is responsive and reasoning in terms of—
So, I don't think we can say an age because every child is different, and obviously there's a huge spectrum and we get into areas of learning disability, et cetera, and I don't want to say an age. The only thing I would say is considerations in relation to my own parenting experience of my children, factors that I would consider in terms of appropriateness for physical discipline, would be that they understand 'no', they understand an instruction, they have to be old enough to understand or able enough to understand that, but not yet old enough to be able to verbally reason as to why that's wrong or dangerous, what the consequences or the motivation might be—they just need to know they need to stay away from that harmful stimulus.
Other things I would take into consideration are the age of personal care, so, changing nappies, bathing and suchlike. There is an age up to which children don't associate exposure or physical touch as something that's shameful in that way; that's just part of personal care of a child. When we get to an age or stage where a child is beginning to feel that this is shameful or intrusive in some way, I as a parent would instinctively know that that's no longer appropriate, and actually long before then, I would have moved on to verbal reasoning methods of discipline.
Later, I think, the goal is towards natural consequences as being the dominant form. Your authority as a parent declines and the child is allowed to experience the natural consequences of their own actions, whether that's being cold because you don't take a coat out, or something like that. That's our trajectory. So I personally believe that physical discipline has a limited time period of appropriateness, and that a parent should judge when that is.
Okay, thanks for those comments. If I can just take you back to my original question, which was the—.
No, that's fine. That was useful information, but if I can just take you back to my original question, which was about the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and what article 19 actually says, because article 19 talks about prohibiting
'as a matter of priority all corporal punishment in the family'.
How do you interpret that? So, corporal punishment is physical punishment, isn't it, however light? We're not talking about the level of the smack, and whether that is a punch or a smack or whatever it is. Corporal punishment is physical punishment, and that's what article 19 is saying we should ban.
As I understand it, article 19 doesn't say that. That's a recommendation from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
That's coming out as a recommendation from article 19, yes.
That's a recommendation. It's not article 19. So, it's not a requirement of being a member state.
Can you clarify for the record whether you are then saying that you think that the UN committee are wrong in calling for the defence of reasonable chastisement to be repealed? Is that what you're saying?
What we're saying is that, in the declaration itself, it doesn't place any—
I know what your evidence says. Are you saying that the committee are wrong to call for that?
I'm saying they're inconsistent because there are all sorts of other things that are causing pain to children that we do, or are recommended now as disciplinary approaches, like sending a child to their room. If they're going to be consistent in application of article 19, then if they're calling pain violence, we need to eradicate anything that could potentially have a negative outcome for a child if used wrongly, in which case we're on very, very tricky territory.
Okay. Briefly, Janet, because we've got a load of questions to get through and we've spent—.
I can be brief.
And if we could have more succinct answers as well, because we've got a lot of ground to cover. Briefly, Janet.
Do you think this legislation is weak in the fact that it concentrates purely on physical defence rather than emotional and coercive behaviour—you know, emotional abuse?
I don't know if 'weak' is the word I would choose. I think again 'inconsistent'. Personally, if we want to be consistent, I wouldn't say that then means we need to criminalise more and more things. I think there are other ways to change culture than criminalisation, and much better ways in a liberal, tolerant society. I would love parents not to be using emotionally painful, emotionally harmful methods of discipline, and I would love parents not to be smacking in anger, but I don't think that criminalisation is the way that our society should be tackling those problems. I think open public debate and supportive communities and families is the best way of doing that in a liberal society.
And Be Reasonable would agree wholeheartedly with that. It's the mechanism that's being used in changing the criminal law that is the big issue.
We want the same ends as I imagine all of you here—
Everyone in this room.
—but by a different means, that's just and liberal.
Okay. The next questions are from Jayne.
Thank you, Chair. Good morning. Just to go back to something you touched on in response to Dawn's question around the time frame you see this being used in. You're saying really that it would be instinct rather than evidence for when somebody could decide to use light, mild, infrequent—
I think both/and. I think good evidence often supports a parent's natural instinct.
Because there are quite a few differences—. There are some differences in opinion around the world, aren't there, with the time frame. So, just from what you'd said to Dawn, you think it would be more an instinct, rather than based on evidence.
Well, I've not given a time frame. I was quite clear not to specify an age. I think one can't do that, because every child develops differently and every family situation is different. But we have to allow ordinary citizens to have freedom, and we have prosecution to catch situations where that's stepping into the territory of abuse.
And just—. So, as I said, you've mentioned the light, mild, infrequent and calm way of using smacking as an effective way with non-compliance and things like that for young children; would you also argue in favour of its reintroduction in a school setting, where it's used in loco parentis?
No. Be Reasonable wouldn't argue that, no. We'd say that's the place of parents, and we argue for the status quo of the current law as it stands. We wouldn't advocate schools using it again.
And I'm speaking personally here, not to represent any group, but I personally would agree the same. I think it's a parental duty, not that of a third party.
I think the change in the law previously was positive. There was real evidence of corporal punishment being used in a very violent way in schools, and that's something that had to end. But that's very different to the loving parent who is using that very mild, light discipline. That's something that should remain to be allowed.
Okay. Just before we move on, can I just ask—? Recent oral evidence in the Scottish Parliament included views put forward from different religious organisations, both in favour and against the Bill. Do you have a view on whether religious text should inform Welsh law, and whether that should particularly be the case in the case of this legislation?
Well, Be Reasonable is a non-religious campaign, so we wouldn't really like to comment on specific religious things. Sally?
Yes, my arguments wouldn't be based on religious texts or otherwise, they'd be based on the evidence that's out there and common sense and, really, civil liberties.
Okay. Thank you. We've got some questions now from Suzy Davies.
Thank you. These are quite brief, actually, as you've covered quite a lot of what I wanted to ask. Public opinion has shifted but, as you said, the majority is still, or seems to be, in favour of keeping the status quo. In your view, do you think that this piece of legislation is responding to a change in opinion, or is it sort of long narrative lead-in? You'd have, obviously, equivalents in Scotland at the moment. Is that driving the change in opinion? What do you think is causing this trend? Whether you think it's good or bad isn't what I'm asking.
I think it's probably a trend that's been happening for—. I just know anecdotally, from my own experience as a kid, my mum, when I was very young, was being told in classes that you shouldn't be using smacking, and there's been a trend for 20, 30 years. The Swedish attitude to parenting is something that was quite popular, the Nordic model, and that's probably come across. But we do think that's out of step with people on the ground, and the key thing is that question—when people are asked should it be criminal for people to use a light smack, the vast majority of people say 'no'. And so, in that sense, the legislation is massively out of step with the public.
So, it's not, in and of itself, changing public opinion at this stage.
No, and, as Sally said, there are various ways to affect public opinion, and I suppose the most similar change to this before was something like the smoking ban that was carried out here. That was a change that introduced criminal sanctions for smoking in a public place, and there's massive evidence to show the harms of smoking, leading to terrible diseases and cancer, and so it's clear the Government had a mandate to change the law. But, with smacking, there's no evidence to show that it is harmful to children.
It does show that the law can change behaviour, though, so—
Yes, so my point, I suppose, is the mechanism is the same as used before, but it's not the appropriate mechanism for this specific thing. Something that's educational, we would argue, would be a better method to use. You're already—. The 'talk parenting' campaign and various things are going on already that are seeking to inform parents and help them. What is the message we're sending to parents? Because we want to be, as a Government, sending the message that we trust parents, we're supporting parents, we're helping them to bring up their children in the way that they're already doing—in the great way they're already doing—and we don't want to be creating a culture of suspicion and fear, with parents thinking they're going to get a rap on the door from the cops if they've been reported to have tapped their child on the hand, and that's ultimately what could happen. It's what's happened in New Zealand; there are reports all the time. So, yes, educational approach—preferred option, definitely.
Okay. In fact, I might come back to the Scandinavian examples in later questions.
Can I just say, on the trends, I think both/and? I think there's a natural trend. Some of that I would celebrate, because it's moved us away from mainstream, quite excessive and forceful physical discipline, so I'd celebrate that trend. But I do think there's also a very conscious re-education in public attitudes, which is in the consultation document. What I think is very interesting and ironic is that it says that public awareness campaigns alone are not considered to be sufficiently effective, and that there's evidence that, where legal threat is there as well, together, then there's greater change in public attitudes. I see that as coercion, and I also think it's ironic, because we have these messages in terms of parenting, positive parenting—you only need praise and reward, you don't need all these negative sanctions—and yet from a state perspective you're showing that positive messages alone are not sufficient to change public attitudes, we need negative sanctions as well. So, I don't know how we raise a child with purely positive parenting approaches to function in a society where there are negative sanctions. That's just a point of irony. But, yes, I don't really think that it's the place of the state to re-educate parents on their parenting styles.
Well, we talked about the—[Inaudible.] And then just briefly—and I think, actually, you've covered this point—the children's commissioner makes the point that if you had an adult with severe learning difficulties, or suffering dementia, hitting them as a form of punishment would be unacceptable, whereas with a child it currently is. But I think you cover that off in your explanation about the relationship between the understanding of what the smack is for.
Yes, and there are all sorts of things that we do to children routinely that would be criminal to do to an adult. If I was to pick up an adult and remove them from a building, that would be kidnap. If I was to take their iPad off them, that would be theft—you know, it's common sense. It's illogical to say that we have to apply the law exactly the same way to children as we do to adults, because if I force fed an adult or said they couldn't have Haribo and they had to have their broccoli, or I was going to change their nappy—you know, all of those things are criminal to do to an adult. So, we have to make a distinction between child and adult, for their own protection.
Okay. But thank you for—. As I said, I think you've covered it anyway. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you. We've got some questions now around enforcement and prosecutions from Hefin David.
Sally Gobbett, you said we need an open, reasonable debate, and your evidence today has been exactly that, and to be welcomed in that sense. I'd like to say to Jamie Gillies, though, on your webpage, the front page of your webpage, the first thing we see is the sentence:
'The First Minister plans to turn good parents into criminals'.
Do you think such over-the-top language is actually conducive to an open, reasonable debate?
Well, we'd say that that language reflects the reality of what this law will do. It's meant to be a warning to the public—removing reasonable chastisement will lead to parents being turned into criminals, and the Government admits that in their explanatory memorandum. It looks at New Zealand, where there has been almost 40 prosecutions of parents for smacking, and thousands of reports and investigations into parents. So, yes, we'd say it is appropriate to be raising that warning to the public.
So, you say the First Minister plans to turn parents into criminals, you think—that's your view.
Well, it may not be his intention, but what we're saying is it would be the effect.
Okay. Well, I mean, that's what you've said. You've made that case. I don't think that's open and I don't think that's reasonable. Isn't it the case, though, that no law turns people into criminals; people turn themselves into criminals by disobeying the law. Isn't that the case?
Yes. So, currently, parents who use a light smack are not criminals, because the law is framed in a way that's sensible, and it allows for that to take place. But removing that defence would make not just parents who continue to smack knowingly, but parents who smack unknowingly, because it will take a while for the public to know about the changes in the law—. So, you will have parents who legitimately don't know—perhaps people who've just moved to Wales. Many parents who do smack their children and are reported and can be criminalised—
But you didn't say that. You said parents will ignore a ban.
I'm saying that some parents may choose to do that, some parents may say it's an interference with their article 8 or 9 rights, or—the Chair mentioned religious parents. There are parents who may ignore the law. But there are very many other parents who will just not know about the change in the law, and who could be caught under it.
Have you got any evidence to give us to suggest how many parents are planning to ignore the law?
I wouldn't know how many parents would plan to ignore it, no. But Siân mentioned at the start the police figures, which are in annex 7 of the explanatory memorandum, and that gives an estimation of how many police investigations would arise. And, as I said, that's more than 1,300 in the first five years of implementation, and that's probably a conservative estimate. So, many of those investigations will result in police cautions, in, potentially, prosecutions and convictions of parents.
I think what we need to know, though, is how many of those will be unintentional, and how many parents do you think will be ignoring the law.
Well, that's the thing—it's not really something that's knowable.
So, why are you saying it then?
Well, I don't think many parents would admit whether they're going to ignore the law or not, would they? That's inviting—.
I suppose you could carry out polling—how many parents are going to admit that they're going to—.
Okay. Let's move on.
Can I just add—? Just because something is criminal doesn't necessarily make it wrong if that law wasn't just in the first place. I'm sure that we could look around the world and see many societies where something is criminal that we wouldn't say is wrong within our society. So, the onus is on us to make sure that what we're criminalising is actually wrong, and the evidence base doesn't support that, because it's not shown to have harmful outcomes if used in reasonable ways.
It sounds very reasonable, but that isn't the way it's been presented by the Be Reasonable campaign.
Well, the trouble is—
The point I was trying to make—
I think we do need to move on now.
Yes, we need to move on, because we're running out of time.
The children's commissioner says that, of the 54 countries around the world who have prohibited physical punishment, there's been no evidence of significantly increased prosecution of parents in those countries. Do you dispute that view?
What I would say is that the reporting on this is often very simplistic. So, most of the—the vast majority of these jurisdictions are civil law jurisdictions, where the change has been made. There are only three common law jurisdictions that have made the change, and they're countries like New Zealand, which we've seen many negative consequences come from, and Ireland, which has recently changed the law, and the data isn't really there for us to be able to evaluate that properly yet. So, most countries haven't made a change that involves parents being criminalised.
Can you say in New Zealand, then, that there's been a significant increase?
Yes. So, there is evidence from New Zealand to suggest that good parents have been criminalised. There was a law report released last year by a public law firm called Chen Palmer, which did an evaluation of the law and concluded that good parents and good families had been very negatively affected by the law there. And also the public in New Zealand remains opposed to the change in the law they made there. At the time before they changed the law, they polled the public—80 per cent didn't want it, but they proceeded nonetheless, and there's still more than 60 per cent of the public who don't want the law.
I think what we need to look at is the evidence you've just suggested about an increase and I think it's worth the committee examining that.
I would be happy to give that to you.
You also say the current law is clear, but the children's commissioner disputes that, and says that the defence of reasonable chastisement isn't a well-understood term, and the removal will actually give greater clarity. Again, do you dispute that?
Yes, we do dispute that. I think I've said already that the defence is well understood, because it doesn't arise very much—that's evidence of that. It's well understood by the police and the courts, who are able to navigate it successfully. And removing it would cause confusion, not just for the courts, but for the police—they would have to amend the charging standard; the Crown Prosecution Service would have to amend their own procedures. There's nothing in the memorandum the Government's produced about how exactly that would take place. And that same legal report in New Zealand, which I've mentioned, one of the points it made was that a change in the law caused confusion for the police and the courts, and they remain unable to understand and implement the law effectively today. So, there's no evidence to suggest that Wales would be able to do this any better than New Zealand.
Okay. And on your website, again, there are a number of scenarios, and also in your evidence you say that, under the new definition, parents would be subject to long-term social services involvement, and their family. There doesn't seem to be anything in the Bill that suggests that or, indeed, that suggests it would lead to any of the scenarios on your website.
Yes. You could say that's a bit remiss, because in fact if this was going to mean that parents who do smack have committed an assault under law, they could receive a police caution for that or be charged with a criminal offence for that, and in that scenario of course there would be social services intervention and that parent could lose custody of their children temporarily or permanently.
That's quite a leap of logic from the Bill though, isn't it? It's not actually to do with the Bill itself; it's your assumption as to what might happen.
Well, it's the best analysis of what will happen if you remove this defence from law, because you're making behaviour that is currently not criminal, criminal.
Okay. Yet Police Scotland, Chief Superintendent John McKenzie said that
'the removal of the defence of justifiable assault would have no impact at all on the process and procedures that are adopted by social work, health and the police'.
Well, the consultation response by Police Scotland does talk very clearly about cost and resource implications, and it does make that point that I've just made about turning behaviour that is currently considered reasonable into criminal behaviour. There are various anonymous submissions by police officers who say, 'This is a bad idea; we don't want to go down this path. The law is well understood. It helps me to do my job and don't remove this because it could actually lead to children being missed.'
That's the other point to make: you're going to be compelling the police to pursue parents who smack their children and police budgets and time are already constrained. They're trying to identify children who are at risk of genuine abuse, so that's going to make it more of a challenge for them, if you compel them to investigate good families who just use very light physical discipline with their children. That's a very worrying scenario and that's something that police officers in Scotland have said.
It may be the same procedure, but it will be applied to far more families, in many cases where there's no evidence of harm. So, that's what's intrusive, I think. And can I just say, I'm not part of the Be Reasonable campaign?
I don't blame you.
But, in a sense, everyone on every side of this debate, including the Government itself, have made sweeping statements, polemical statements—
Yes. It's not good for anyone, is it?
—made generalisations that smacking causes negative outcomes in children, without discriminating in detail. So, sadly, we live in a 'headline' culture—
But this is why we have committee hearings.
Yes, absolutely. But we can point the finger at Be Reasonable's headlines, but I would point the finger at the Government's own media campaign, including photographs of children about to be whacked—
Perhaps we can do both.