PLANS to ban smacking in Scotland have taken a major step forward after being backed by a Holyrood committee.

Five of the seven MSPs on the Equalities and Human Rights Committee said they endorsed the general principles of the new legislation.

But two Tory members – Oliver Mundell and Annie Wells – criticised the move as “heavy-handed” and warned it could stretch police resources and criminalise parents.

They said: "The fundamental problem is that behind all the virtue signalling, this Bill in reality does precious little to deliver on the promise of making our young people safer, nor does it provide the legal clarity for parents that its proponents suggest."

The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Bill, introduced by Scottish Green  MSP John Finnie, would remove the defence of “reasonable chastisement” from Scots Law and aims to end the physical punishment of children.

Committee convener Ruth Maguire said the ban would be a "watershed moment in Scots law and in changing Scotland’s culture".

She said: “It’s over three decades since all physical punishment was ended in classrooms, and it’s now time to end it at home as well.

"This law will ensure our children are legally protected from assault in the same way as adults."

The committee did not believe changing the law would lead to a notable increase in the number of families brought into the criminal justice system, and rejected suggestions that the right to family life includes a right to hit children.

But critics insisted the legislation was "not being properly scrutinised" as five members of the committee had co-sponsored the Bill.

Simon Calvert of the Be Reasonable campaign said: “We know from polling that three quarters of Scots do not want mums and dads criminalised for tapping their toddler on the back of the legs.

"Yet that is what this Bill will mean if it goes through."

In their written dissent from the report, Mr Mundell and Ms Wells said "it will not stop the serious and pernicious child abuse which is already unlawful" and risked diverting the focus of police and prosecutors.

They added: "Worryingly, many witnesses, and indeed at times fellow members, have appeared to suggest that parents would not and should not be criminalised, prosecuted, fined or sanctioned for smacking.

"This seems naive at best and disingenuous at worst given the legal evidence we have received.

"There can be no doubt this Bill will criminalise actions or behaviours which are currently lawful.

"It therefore seems somewhat odd to hope for one outcome and legislate for another."

Mr Finnie said he was "delighted" the committee had backed his proposals in its stage one report.

He added: "Members from all five parties supported my original proposal and I am delighted that following its thorough scrutiny the Equalities and Human Rights Committee has recommended that parliament supports the general principles of my Bill.

"The evidence presented at committee showed that providing children with equal protection from assault by prohibiting physical punishment will bring substantial benefits for individuals and society."

He said 54 countries already prohibit the physical punishment of children and a ban would bring Scotland into line with "international best practice".

The new legislation will now be put before the Scottish Parliament before going back to the committee, where members will be able to submit amendments. Only after it has passed two further stages will it become law.