SCOTLAND looks set to become the first part of the UK to ban smacking after Nicola Sturgeon said her government would not oppose a member’s bill outlawing the physical punishment of children.

The First Minister made the surprise announcement as she set out a package of measures focused on the wellbeing of children and young people.

She stopped short of saying her government would back the member’s bill being introduced by the Green MSP John Finnie to give children equal protection to adults from violence.

His plans have already won considerable support from children’s charities, senior doctors, and also from the Scottish Police Federation.

Signalling her government’s stance, the First Minister told MSPs: “I can also confirm today that, while it is not our proposal and indeed it may be an issue on which parties will give their members a free vote, the Scottish Government will not oppose John Finnie’s proposals to prohibit the physical punishment of children.

“Approximately 50 countries around the world including France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Republic of Ireland have already successfully made this change.”

During this section of her statement she said her government would introduce a Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill to increase the minimum age of responsibility from 8 to 12, in line with international norms.

And she added: “Finally, over the next year we will consider how to further embed the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into policy and legislation, including the option of full incorporation into domestic law.”

The announcement that the government would not oppose Finnie’s bill was welcomed by Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Greens.

“Professional bodies, children’s and health and social care organisations who have campaigned for this change in the law include Children 1st, NSPCC Scotland, Barnardo’s Scotland, the Royal College of Paediatricians and the Scottish Police Federation,” he said.

Finnie, justice spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, added: “It is simply unacceptable that we offer the most vulnerable in our society the least protection.

“The ‘justifiable assault’ defence is from a different age and it is vital that we move forward and afford our children the protection they deserve – the protection all adults enjoy – and send a message to the whole of society that we don’t tolerate violence in any setting.”

Sturgeon also announced that plans to tackle poverty include setting up a £50 million fund directed at child poverty over the next four years and a financial health check for low-income families.

The First Minister said she would consider options to place the existing Poverty and Inequality Commission on a statutory footing.

She added that in the next few weeks the location of the new social security agency will be announced, with the first devolved benefit being an increased Carer’s Allowance paid from next summer, backdated to April 2018.

But while there was support for the anti-poverty initiatives, both Scottish Labour and the Greens criticised the lack of a 50p income tax rate for the highest earners and not increasing child benefit by £5 a week.

Scottish Labour interim leader Alex Rowley said: “It is time to use the powers of this parliament to pay for a fairer, more equal society and to support our public services.

“Time to introduce a 50p top rate of income tax and have an honest discussion with the people of Scotland to show that those who can afford to pay a bit more should do so.”

He added: “Setting child poverty targets is one thing, but it is action that is needed to tackle child poverty. Use the powers of this parliament to increase child benefit by £5 a week to lift more than 30,000 children out of poverty over the next three years. And listen to Labour – drop the proposal for a 50 per cent cut in Air Passenger Duty. This would cost the Scottish tax payer nearly £190 million. Drop that idea and invest the money in tackling poverty.”

Harvie said: “It’s disappointing to see no plan to use top-up powers to boost Child Benefit. Greens want to see people on low incomes given a tax cut, while those on high incomes should pay a fairer share for the public services we all benefit from.”