SCOTLAND is vying with Wales to become the first UK nation to ban smacking after it emerged the Welsh Government plans to outlaw the practice.

Green MSP John Finnie introduced a member’s bill in Holyrood yesterday after gaining the backing of the Scottish Government and MSPs from across all the political parties.

The announcement was welcomed by the Scottish Children’s Minister Maree Todd who said the introduction of the Equal Protection Bill to the Scottish Parliament sent out a clear signal “that all physical punishment of children is wrong”.

But the developments come weeks after the Welsh children’s minister Huw Irranca-Davies said his government was “committed to introducing legislation to remove the defence of reasonable punishment, which will prohibit the physical punishment of children by parents and those acting in loco parentis”.

If passed, the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill would remove the defence of “justifiable assault” in Scots law, which allows parents to use physical punishment to admonish a child.

How quickly the bills proceed successfully through the legislative process will determine which will be the first country to bring in the ban.

Finnie’s Bill is supported by a range of organisations including the Scottish Police Federation, Barnardo’s Scotland, the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland and the NSPCC.

A public consultation last year received more than 650 responses with almost 75% of those in favour of the legislation.

Finnie said: “I am delighted to be formally lodging my Bill to give children equal protection from assault in the Scottish Parliament today.

“Children deserve the same legal protection from assault that adults enjoy, a position that children’s rights organisations and charities have long been arguing.

“Substantial academic research from around the world shows that physical punishment does not work and is shown to be counter-productive. My Bill aims to support parents to make positive choices.

“The Bill will not change the way that police and social work deal with assault against children. Rather it establishes the principle that assault can never be ‘justifiable’.”

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “Labour MSPs have discussed John Finnie’s bill and do believe that the time has come to provide children with the same protection as adults under the law. During last year’s election we committed ourselves to supporting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and so this is the right thing to do.”

Launching his consultation on the bill last year Finnie, a former police officer, said the bill was not about criminalising parents but about protecting children.

In 2003 Scottish ministers dropped proposals for a ban on the physical punishment of children under three after a public backlash and a warning from police that it could give them increasing workloads. The move left ministers at odds with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child – which says the practice should be illegal.

Three years ago the Republic of Ireland became the first country in the British Isles to ban smacking, joining 46 others including Germany, Iceland, Spain, Greece, Estonia, and New Zealand. There are no plans by the UK Government to ban the smacking the practice in England.

Mary Glasgow, interim chief executive of Children 1st, said: “All children, wherever they are in the world, have a right to equal protection from physical harm. The legislation in Scotland and Wales is in line with the vast majority of our European neighbours who have already recognised the importance of changing the law for children, families and communities.”