MINISTERS have rejected concerns over a huge rise in cases against parents if a ban on smacking is brought in.

Critics have said research from Wales shows that if the defence of reasonable chastisement is removed there could be an estimated 1,370 smacking allegations recorded in the first five years.

The Be Reasonable group said that if the figures produced by the Police Liaison Unit for the Welsh Government, are extrapolated to take account of Scotland’s higher population, that would lead to an estimated 2370 investigations into smacking allegations against Scottish parents in the first five years of a new law.

Spokesman Simon Calvert said: “That’s a massive figure. MSPs are living in cloud cuckoo land if they still think parents will not be criminalised by a ban," he said.

“Supporters of the ban must stop misleading the public about the real world consequences of what they propose.”

READ MORE: Smacking ban in Scotland could lead to thousands of police investigations, warn campaigners

MSPs have been taking evidence on the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill which would remove the defence of "justifiable assault" in Scots law, which allows parents to use physical punishment on children.

A public consultation on the issue in 2017 received more than 650 responses, with about 75% being in favour of the ban.

HeraldScotland: A young child holds an anti-smacking placard on the march to Downing Street, London. Children representing young people from all over the UK marched to deliver cards and a letter asking Blair to support Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the

The Scottish Government, however, has dismissed fears of a rise in investigations.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “This Bill will give children the same legal protections as adults – something backed by an overwhelming majority of public opinion – and will seek to remove the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ that currently exists in law.

“Based on experience from New Zealand, we do not expect a large number of prosecutions. We have set up an implementation group which will consider what actions need to be taken if the Bill becomes law. We will continue to offer funding for a range of family support services and resources to help parents and carers.”

A University of Stirling academic has described the warnings as "alarmist".

Professor Jane Callaghan, Director of Child Wellbeing and Protection, who has already given evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s equalities and human rights committee, said: "It isdifficult to critique either the PLU figures or 'Be Reasonable's' manipulation of the data, as no methodological information is provided. There's nothing terribly rigorous or convincing about their attempts to provoke a bit of panic, though. 

"I also don't think their 'work' really undermines the main rationale of the proposed amendment.  Children are one of the few kinds of human to whom we seem to feel it is acceptable to deny full personhood.  Smacking communicates to children that they are lesser beings worthy of violence, and a state that allows such chastisement effectively ratifies children’s positioning as less worthy of basic human rights and protections. 

"The bottom line is that smacking is ineffective, and in opposition to any notion of children as human beings with human rights. We know it has no positive effects, and that it raises the risk of negative outcomes for children. It should not be a defensible element of parenting practice. "

Smacking - or using "reasonable force" to discipline a child - was outlawed in New Zealand since 2007 and prompted similar concerns as in Scotland, with many claiming that it would criminalise 'good parents'.

A 2009 review in New Zeland found that agencies were not hunting down smackers and that the fabric of family life was not deteriorating because parents had become too frightened to discipline their kids.

But Bob McCoskrie, national director of Family First NZ, a conservative Christian lobby group, has been fighting the ban ince it came into force more than a decade ago - and said last year that he wanted Scotland to take heed.

He said in September that since the introduction of the law, Family First had not found a single social indicator relating to the welfare of children which showed any improvement.

He claims this is evidence for the ban's failure, and quoted police statistics from 2016 which show significant increases in the reporting of child physical and sexual abuse in New Zealand since 2007.

A 2016 survey also found that two-thirds of parents in New Zealand say they would be willing to flout the law, while a 2011 study suggested a third of parents had been threatened by their children with being reported to the police if they were smacked.

Police Scotland has previously warned MSPs that a smacking ban could result in increased costs to the force as officers spend more time investigating allegations against parents.

The police has also raised concerns that the ban, proposed by Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie with Scottish Government backing, could interfere with family life.

The force’s concerns were contained in a document submitted to Holyrood’s Equality and Human Rights Committee which is examining the proposed legislation.

The document said: “Police Scotland envisages that the repeal of the defence provided by Section 51 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 will result in an increase in reporting.

"This will have potential cost/resource implications for Police Scotland and partner agencies.”

It adds: “On occasions, it may be assessed that the harm is not, nor is likely to be significant following a report of what is commonly referred to as ‘chastisement’.

“Notwithstanding, there would be a duty on the Police to investigate any assault on a child and, if a sufficiency of evidence exists, report the circumstances to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

Under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, Scottish law currently prohibits parents from shaking their child, striking their head and from using an "implement" during punishment.

But defences of "reasonable chastisement" or "justifiable assault" can be used in court by parents who physically punish their children.

Courts determine whether the punishment is "reasonable" or "justifiable" based on factors such as nature of the punishment inflicted, the circumstances, the physical and mental effct on the child and the child's age.

The new Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill will prohibit the physical punishment of children by parents and others caring for or in charge of children.

It will give children equal protection from assault by abolishing the existing defences that parents can use to justify the use of physical force to discipline a child.

Those backing the bill say a wider aim of it is to redefine what is acceptable in terms of how to punish children and encourage other methods of parenting.