PLANS for a ban on the smacking of children are about giving them the same protection from violence as adults, a Green MSP has said as he set out his proposals to tighten legislation.

Former policeman John Finnie said his bill is not about criminalising parents but about giving youngsters in Scotland the safeguards they have in most other European countries, where physical punishment is outlawed.

Launching a consultation on the move, Finnie defended his plan for a Member’s Bill to remove the defence of “justifiable assault”, which allows parents to use smacking to admonish a child.

The Highlands and Islands MSP said Scotland was “out of step” with the rest of the world on the issue and had been “roundly condemned” by the UN.

The proposed ban has the support of organisations including the Church of Scotland, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, NSPCC, Children 1st, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner and Barnardo’s.

Research has shown that smacking can be linked to child abuse and can lead to poorer behaviour as children, taking a lead from their parents, believe it is acceptable to hit out when angry.

Finnie said: “This isn’t about crim-inalising anyone. This is about supporting parents and most importantly giving the most vulnerable people in our society equal protection from assault. This is not about crimin- alisation any more than legislation about seatbelts in cars.”

Finnie continued: “The express purpose of this bill is to give equal protection from assault that will prohibit physical punishment by parents and others caring for or in charge of children.

“That will be achieved by ending the current legal position that phys-ical punishment of children can be viewed as justifiable assault.”

Finnie acknowledged there were people who had been smacked as children who believed it had done them no harm, but added: “We have to address the small minority who would be seriously damaged by this and all the evidence suggests that it is in every child’s interest to find themselves in a safe and nurturing position. That’s best for brain development, all the experts say this.”

Members of the public will be able to respond to the consultation until August 4.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur MSP said: “It is shameful that our law continues to permit what it describes in Victorian fashion as the ‘justifiable assault’ of children.

“Despite widespread criticism from the UN, charities, police officers and social workers, Scotland remains one of the last countries in the EU that has not yet committed to abolishing this defence.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have repeatedly pressed SNP ministers to act but without success. I hope they will now use this opportunity to finally update our laws and give children in Scotland equal protection from assault.”

Children and Young People’s Commissioner Tam Baillie said the consultation was “a positive step towards providing children with equal protection from assault”.

He said: “It is hard to believe that our legal system continues to provide a defence of ‘justifiable assault’. For me, there is no such thing because there is no way we can ever justify the hitting of a child.

“Research evidence is clear that physical punishment, no matter how ‘light’, has the potential to damage children. It also shows a clear link between the use of physical punishment and an escalation into more abusive behaviours.”

Opponents argue the change in the law would erode the rights of parents.

The Rev David Robertson, a minister in and former moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, argued the move was “completely unnecessary”.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it does not support physical punishment of children but had no plans to introduce legislation in the area.