|Dawn Bowden AM|
|Hefin David AM|
|Janet Finch-Saunders AM|
|Lynne Neagle AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Sian Gwenllian AM|
|Suzy Davies AM|
|Vikki Howells AM||dirprwyo ar ran Jack Sargeant|
|substitute for Jack Sargeant|
|Emma Gammon||Cyfreithiwr, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Lawyer, Welsh Government|
|Julie Morgan AM||Y Dirprwy Weinidog Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol|
|Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services|
|Karen Cornish||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Is-adran Plant a Theuluoedd, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director, Children and Families Division, Welsh Government|
|Lisa Salkeld||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Sarah Bartlett||Dirprwy Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Bil Plant (Diddymu Amddiffyniad Cosb Resymol) (Cymru) - sesiwn dystiolaeth 11||2. Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill - evidence session 12|
|3. Papurau i’w nodi||3. Papers to note|
|4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod||4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting.|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.
The meeting began at 09:30.
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Children, Young People and Education Committee this morning. I have received apologies for absence from Jack Sargeant, and I'm very pleased to welcome Vikki Howells, who is substituting for Jack this morning. Can I ask whether there are any declarations of interest from Members, please? No. Okay. Thank you.
Item 2 this morning is our last evidence session on the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill, and I'm really pleased to welcome back Julie Morgan AM, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services; Karen Cornish, who is deputy director of the children and families division; and Emma Gammon, who is the lawyer working on the Bill. So, thank you all for coming. If you're happy, we'll go straight into questions because we've got lots of ground that we want to cover, and the first questions are from Janet Finch-Saunders.
Good morning. Thank you, Chair. Good morning, Deputy Minister. Of those individuals who responded to our written consultation in a personal capacity, nearly 70 per cent do not support this Bill. We also heard a clear message from the parents we met last week who oppose this Bill that, as parents, they understand clearly the difference between child abuse and a light smack from a loving parent. How would you like to respond to that?
Thank you very much, Janet, for that question. I think I'd like to start by saying that child abuse is not the issue that the Bill is trying to address. What the Bill is trying to do is prohibit all forms of physical punishment, and that is in order to protect children's rights and to ensure that children have the same protection from physical punishment as adults. But I do understand that people have different views, and that's why this process has been so important—for us to hear what your views are and what parents' views are.
I know that, often, people use different euphemisms really to make light of physical punishment. I've heard expressions used such as a 'light smack' or a 'loving smack' or a 'tap', and really there can be different interpretations of what is a 'light smack', what is a 'loving smack', and that doesn't really cover the issue of the frequency of such actions being taken. But I would say that, however mild it seems to be, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recognises that any physical punishment of children, however minor, is incompatible with their human rights, and why should a big person hit a little person? That's been the sort of mantra, really, that has taken me through supporting this legislation—that it just seems wrong to me that there is something in the law that could mean that there could be an excuse for that happening.
I believe we shouldn't have anything in the law that defends the physical punishment of children, and I don't think we should be defining acceptable ways of hitting or punishing children, because I think it does send a confused message to children. It says, 'It's okay for me to hit you, but don't you hit anybody else.' I think it causes confusion. So, I'm confident that updating the law will make it much clearer for parents and people working with children—and, of course, I'm sure, as you'll have heard from the evidence you've taken, that people who work with children are overwhelmingly in support of this legislation, and the representative surveys that we've carried out show support for the Bill's principles.
Thank you, Deputy Minister. Last week, during the workshop, a few parents—predominantly all of them, actually—said that they use a gentle tap or smacking as part of a toolkit of ways to deal with challenging behaviour or, sometimes, for the safety of the child or, indeed, to carry out the parenting of a child. How do you intend to work with parents going forward, given the finite resources that social care and social services have? I know from the responses we've received to the consultation that parents themselves who have to parent 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they are really, on the scale of things, very upset about this. How do you intend to try and get your message across to those parents on removing what they consider to be part of their toolkit when raising children? How do you intend to deal with that aspect?
Well, first of all, I want to say, as I've said in most evidence sessions, that I completely accept that bringing up children is hard. It's very difficult; many of us have done it and we know how tough it can be. But we don't think that there is any place for physical punishment in bringing up children. There's a whole range of other ways that you can help parents bring up children, and advice you can give them of different methods to use. But, the clear message of this Bill is that we don't want any physical punishment; we don't think it's the right thing to do, and we believe that we are supported by many people in that view.
Okay. Oh, yes. Several consultation responses refer to statistics from Sweden, which they say show that child-on-child violence actually increased by 1,791 per cent between 1984 and 2010, following the ban on physical punishment in 1979. What is your view on these figures and how can we be certain that this Bill won't lead to other long-term negative outcomes in Wales?
Well, I'm aware of the debate surrounding the interpretation of the different statistics from Sweden. What's happened, really, in the academic research is that different academics are focused on different figures to support their views, and the methodological ways of doing it makes it quite difficult to have causation. I was very encouraged that a recent study of 88 countries concluded that if a country prohibits corporal punishment, the result is association with less youth violence, and this is one of the largest cross-national analyses of youth violence, with more than 400,000 participants. So, there is other evidence, very widespread evidence, which looks at a whole range of people, that is in contrast to the Swedish evidence. But, evidence in this field is mixed and we have considered a wide range of research and reviews, but ultimately the decision is one that is based on our commitment to children's rights.
I can do it, yes. The Bill's explanatory memorandum says that
'there is no definitive evidence that "reasonable" physical punishment causes negative outcomes for children'.
However, we have heard from Equal Protection Network Cymru that international evidence could not be clearer and that they found the Wales Centre for Public Policy's report, on which the explanatory memorandum is based, very confusing and very frustrating, and that it didn't tie in with what they knew. How would you respond to those viewpoints?
We were very keen to get as balanced research as we possibly could, and we didn't want to just put forward views that we thought agreed with our point of view. So, we were trying to give a balanced point of view, but we did commission the Wales Centre for Public Policy to do an independent literature review and we're honestly reporting to you what they said. But they did make it clear, again, which I think I've said in previous evidence sessions, that all physical punishment, under all conditions, is potentially harmful to children. And certainly, there is no peer-reviewed research that says that physically punishing a child is going to improve things, has favourable outcomes. So, I understand what Equal Protection Network Cymru are saying, because there is a lot of very strong evidence, but we're giving you the evidence that we had from the research that we commissioned.
Thank you, Chair. I've just got a couple of questions on this balance between the steps that will be needed to implement this Bill and the impact that it'll actually have. You've probably heard in evidence that we've received that there are still some concerns out there about how agencies might address malicious reporting; some detail about how the public interest test might be applied further along the line; what's going to happen with out-of-hours provision from social services, and so on. There are still, from our perspective, quite a few things that are unknown about the effect on our public services in particular of the implementation of this Bill. Would you agree that perhaps we should know a little bit more about that before we proceed with supporting the Bill?
Well, it's very difficult, bringing in this legislation that hasn't been done before. It's very difficult to gauge the impact, and we've covered that, I know, in previous discussions. But I think it's very important to say that we are not creating a new offence. The Bill is removing a defence to an offence of common assault. And I think it's an interesting point to make that, in Ireland, they introduced similar legislation through an amendment to a Bill, and had no detailed preparation for bringing in the Bill, and in fact there's no evidence that this has caused any difficulties, and no significant negative impacts or increase in workload.
But in any case, we have our implementation group, which is going to address many of these issues. This met on 14 May. That was the first meeting. You see, I think we do have to take a balance between assuming this Bill is going to go through and what we can actually do. We can't presume that the Assembly will accept this Bill, so we have to be staged in what we do. But we had the first strategic implementation group on 14 May, and we had representatives from the police, the police and crime commissioners, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru, the Association of Directors of Education in Wales, the Welsh Local Government Association, the legal profession and the third sector. They're all there, and they're all very keen to make this legislation work and to look at the implications of it. I'd just like to say how grateful I am for all those organisations giving their time and commitment. They've set up four work streams, looking at parenting advice and support; data collection, evaluation and monitoring; operations, procedures and processes; and out-of-court disposals and diversions. These groups will be taking forward this work and will be looking at many of those issues that you've mentioned, and will also be updated on the progress of the awareness strategy that we will be bringing in.
I'm really confident that the legislation will be implemented in a very practical and workable way, because we do have the commitment of all these agencies, and there's been a huge amount of preparation done in the Welsh Government to prepare for this in a way that, I have to say, hasn't been done in some of the other countries—as I mentioned, in Ireland. So, as much preparation as could be done is being done and has been done, but we really now see that the implementation group is taking forward all these issues, and obviously those agencies that are taking part in the implementation group are, on the whole, in support of the principles of this Bill.
Well, thank you for that, Minister, but the way I look at this is that you've already said that, if this Bill passes—and it will pass; it's in enough manifestos to pass, so the question is what type of Bill is going to pass—and if there is a gap of, let's say, two years before anything is implemented, and the implementation group is doing the work that you've described—and we're very relieved to hear that—why is this Bill being introduced now when that implementation group hasn't really come up with a strategy that could help persuade people about what implementing this Bill would look like in real life? You're asking the Welsh public to take a bit of a chance on this.
I think we have, as far as possible, looked at international evidence where this legislation has been introduced. It's different for different countries, so I know it's difficult to get anything that's absolutely linked. But I don't agree that it's a bit of a chance, really. I think we are preparing very well and very carefully. As the team who have been working on this have worked through the preparation for the Bill, lots of issues have arisen as they've done that, and so you have to do that, I think, alongside the actual practical implications with the groups that are coming together, and I think the point at which we've done that is probably just about right, really.
Okay. I hope this isn't going on to somebody else's questions, but accepting what you say, would you then be open to accepting amendments to the face of the Bill that would clarify the position for the Welsh public on certain things that may be of concern to them, which have been fed through to us? I'm not suggesting anything specific, but—.
No, no. I mean, the position is that it is a very simple, one-clause Bill. We want to keep it as simple as possible, but I'm certainly prepared to consider any issues that come up, and I think that's been the case all along. Although our preference is to keep it simple.
I understand that. It's just what's going to work as a bit of law here, isn't it?
And then just finally from me, and you've made the point to a degree, that, of course, not all countries are like Wales. If we look at Ireland, and New Zealand's the one we've been looking at an awful lot, which are the most similar, their work hasn't really been in place for that long, and one of the things that, I think, you're going to need to be able persuade us of is that if the culture change to which we've already referred is going in one way anyway, and if it continues to go in that direction, that this Bill will have had a causal effect. I'm trying to establish whether the culture change is going to happen anyway, whether or not we pass this legislation.
Well, it does look as if a culture change is happening in any case, but the culture change will never really move, I think, as most of us want it, if there is legislation that does appear to condone the use of physical punishment, and having this reasonable punishment in law means that happens. So, I think, passing the legislation by itself will certainly not do everything—
You've got to have—. And I think the research has all shown you've got to have an awareness campaign running along with it. That is shown. And in the other countries we've looked at, I don't think an awareness campaign was actually carried out because we are planning a really big awareness campaign because we think it's absolutely fair to the Welsh public, as you said, that they absolutely know what we're doing and everybody's aware of it. So, I think it is—.
I know the point you're making. You're saying that this would happen in any case, maybe.
But if you've got a bit of legislation there on the Bill, it will always mean that for a very minority group of parents, they will feel that they have got the right to use physical punishment against their child, and I just think it's something we should get rid of. I think it's an anachronism and it's something we should—. And I think Wales has been very strong on children's rights. We've got rid of physical punishment in schools, child minders, regulated care settings. And, of course, the other point that I don't think we say enough about is that it's not just parents; it's people in loco parentis who are working in leisure centres or religious establishments or any of those unregulated settings who also have this defence. So, it's last bit in the jigsaw, really, to have it quite clear that we want to treat our children with respect and dignity and I think this will move us towards that.
Okay. Well, it's the argument you've made before. I think what I was trying to get to is: how are we going to prove that this piece of legislation has worked effectively? It's about the data capture, I guess.
What are you going to do to make sure that you acquire evidence in the future to show that this has worked, or potentially not worked? I'd be surprised if that was the case, but—. Because, of course, that has an implication then on the resources for the various people you'll be asking to collect the data.
Yes. I think that's very important because we need to know what is the effect of the legislation we'll be bringing in. So, we will be having ongoing evaluation, we will be bringing in an independent body to evaluate. We have got ongoing monitoring and we've got ongoing monitoring surveys looking at what are the views of the public. So, yes—
It'll be directly linked to the Bill, then, rather than that broad culture change.
The monitoring, asking the views of the public, is generally about issues related to the Bill. The views of parents about whether this legislation—
Basically, we need a question, 'Has this Bill stopped you smacking your child?' That's the core question. So, phrase it differently, yes?
Yes. Well, we are in the surveys asking how many people feel that they do smack their child, but this is any physical punishment, actually, not just smacking—
—and how many, actually, are doing that. And it is consistently going down, as you said.
Thank you. We're going to move on to explore some of the issues around social services now with questions from Dawn Bowden.
Thank you, Chair. Morning, Minister. When the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru came in, they were saying to us that they would encourage people to report any instances, anything that they see around somebody smacking a child. That leads on to the question about whether in fact social services, then, would change their thresholds for intervention if there were more cases being referred to them. Are you fairly confident, are you certain, that that wouldn't happen, or do you think there is a danger that social services might actually say, 'Well, actually, if we're getting all these referrals, we need to think again about when and if we intervene', and the thresholds could become a bit lower?
Well, as you know, social services already receive and investigate reports of children being physically punished—any sort of range of physical punishment—and they use standard procedures to determine how to proceed, but that's done on a case-by-case basis; it's made on the individual case element. And, of course, there is a distinction between reasonable punishment and child neglect or abuse. And if this legislation is enacted, a significant proportion of the incidents of physical punishment will not require any response under the child protection procedures, and we do not expect the threshold of significant harm to change. And I know you took evidence from the ADSS, and I know Sally Jenkins gave evidence, who is one of the lead practitioners, and I understood she said:
'In terms of thresholds for children's services, we would not be anticipating a huge number of referrals to us. There may be a small number of referrals that come through. What we know from other nations is that it will peak and then settle. We recognise that's likely to happen.'
So, I think—
So, it's the threshold for intervention that's the key, really, isn't it, rather than—?
Okay, that's fine. The police, when they came in to give evidence, talked about the need for the multi-agency safeguarding hubs. And what we also heard is that it's a bit inconsistent across the country. And I think you acknowledged that as well. Do you think the implementation of the Bill, and its effectiveness, is going to be dependent on us having consistently effective multi-agency safeguarding hubs right the way across the country?
No. The effective implementation of the Bill does not depend on MASHs, as we call them for short, because bodies, social services, already work closely with the police on a day-to-day basis, really, and they have indicated their willingness to do so, and there are already well-established mechanisms in place that enable this joint working to take place. I know that the MASHs are only in certain areas, and I know that it's—. I think they're probably very good to have, actually, and very good to help the work, but it's certainly not dependent on them.
Okay, but it would be something that you would be wanting to see developed, that eventually we would have these MASHs right across the country?
At the moment, there are three MASHs in the south Wales police force, and one pilot MASH in the Gwent police force, but they don't operate in exactly the same way. And I know that other areas have considered having MASHs, but haven't actually brought any in. And a multi-agency strategic group, which is led by South Wales Police, has been set up, and it will consider the effectiveness of MASH arrangements in Wales, so it's very possible there will be more MASHs, but I want to reiterate that we're not dependent on MASHs in order to have the close working. But they're welcome—very welcome.
Yes, because the key point from the police's point of view, I think, was that they provide a single point of contact, so it's very simple, isn't it? It's a single point of contact, and I think they were quite concerned that having that single point of contact might actually reduce the level of unnecessary police prosecutions—well, the police don't prosecute, but charges and so on. So, it was just a point that they were raising.
I think they are very effective and very much to be welcomed, but it's certainly not essential.
I was just going to say that it's probably worth saying that looking at how agencies work together will be one of the things, again, that will be looked at very carefully on the task and finish group, looking at processes and procedures. We're very alert to the fact that there are different organisations, different services, and that bringing them together, working in as consistent a way as possible, is really, really important. As the Minister has said, social services, the police and others are already committed to working together, and, actually, we just want to make sure that we develop those working practices in the best way possible, recognising that not every area will have a MASH, and reiterating, again, what the Deputy Minister has said—that the effectiveness of the Bill is not predicated on a MASH in every area, but it is important that all those organisations do work together in a consistent and appropriate way.
Okay, that's fine. Thank you very much. The other response that we've received is from social workers. And they've talked about the fact that the social worker's workload is already very stretched, and you'll be aware of that, Minister. And I think they were getting a little bit concerned about whether a whole raft of new cases are going to land on what is an already extremely heavy workload, and how effectively they could deal with that. Would you say that those concerns, in terms of the impact of this Bill, are unfounded, or are we just saying that this is an unknown quantity at this stage, and we're going to have to wait and see?
Well, first of all, if I can just pay tribute to the work that social workers do.
Because, obviously, they’re going to be essential to the successful implementation of this Bill. I was a social worker myself, so I’m very happy to pay tribute to them. [Laughter.] But they do do a hard job, which isn’t always recognised, I think, by the public.
So, I do take this point very seriously, but, obviously, the professionals who have given evidence—many of them have said they don’t see there being a big rise of referrals. Jane Randall, National Independent Safeguarding Board—I think she came to you—said:
'there's no expectation that there's going to be a huge increase in the number of referrals…I think it would be dealt with within their existing resources.'
I mean, there may be an increase in reporting of incidents, initially, maybe from individuals in the community and organisations such as schools. And I think it could have an impact on the initial stages of social services activity, which I think others—I think Sally Jenkins said that maybe there’d be an increase, a small increase, at the beginning. But as we expect the awareness raising and the ongoing support that we’ll be giving to parents—we do feel that the incidents of physical punishment will be falling over time. And we don’t really see that there will be an increase. But I know that social workers are stretched, and are hard-pressed—and I think that was some of the evidence given to you by the British Association of Social Workers. But I think it’s important to remember that they are also very strongly in support of us carrying out this legislation. But it is important to look at the realities and the practicalities.
So, we’re going to work very closely with social services—obviously, key members of our implementation group—and we will collect relevant data for a period before the actual implementation, in order to get a baseline. We want a baseline, and we are working with a small number of social services to try to get the baseline of where it is, and to see what happens when the Bill is implemented. The evidence from other countries is that they certainly have not been overwhelmed. There have been reports in New Zealand that they have not been overwhelmed, and I mentioned Ireland earlier. So, I don’t think, really, we have to fear that social services would be overwhelmed, but we must be prepared, and we must get this data and monitor it closely.
And I guess things will level out in due course. And social services clearly having to make judgments every day—they will be making those judgments quite quickly and turning them around.
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, when they spoke to us, also had—there was a similar kind of concern raised. They did say that they felt that they probably did have adequate resources to support the Bill. But do you think there is any danger at all that it could divert CAFCASS staff, if we have a high volume of reporting, particularly given that we’ve got a 26-week limit in which to deal with those cases? Is that something that causes you any concern at this stage?
Well, CAFCASS are confident that they can deal with the cases that they have. As you know, there's been a big increase in the numbers that CAFCASS is dealing with already, and they have managed to very successfully cope with the demand. So, I've got every confidence that they will be able to cope with it.
Because they were basically just saying that it's unpredictable at this stage, weren't they, so—?
Yes, because they were talking about the fact that no assessment had been made about the risk of malicious reporting. We talked about that in a number of sessions with the police and so on. So, I think their biggest concern was more about the rise in looked-after children and the impact on that in terms of their workload, and it was just a question of whether this would potentially divert any resources, I guess.
I think, in terms of the malicious reporting, obviously that is something that happens a lot now and it is is likely that, perhaps—. I think they felt that, in existing cases, this might be another element that should be brought in, but they seemed, in my discussions, fairly confident. I know they appeared before the committee, and they are coping very well.
But, obviously, another area we are very concerned about is the rise in the number of looked-after children, and that's somewhere we want to try to do what we can to bring that down.
Okay, thank you. Just before Suzy comes in with a supplementary—CAFCASS didn't come to the committee, they've submitted—
Just very quickly, because I don't want to spend a lot of time on this: isn't it going to be true that any increase in workload for social services or schools or whoever is going to depend on reporting rising? Where do you see the likely rise in reporting taking place? Will it be members of the public or is it going to be professionals who feel that this is something that they can't ignore from now on?
well, I think it would be mixed. I don't have any view or where it particularly would come from, because if there are any reports that go into agencies now about children being physically punished in any way—I think they investigate those already now. But I suppose members of the public might report if they see any physical punishment going on. They would be made much more aware, we hope, by the legislation—so, that may happen. But I think, in schools, if there is physical punishment reported by a child, the schools would report it in any case. But I think it's likely that there will be a small rise.
Mae'r Bil, yn ei hanfod, yn un syml, wrth gwrs, onid ydy? Ond beth mae o'n ei wneud ydy creu trafodaeth fuddiol o gwmpas beth ydy rhianta da a pha ddulliau disgyblu sydd fwyaf effeithiol—hynny yw, dulliau disgyblu y gall rhieni eu defnyddio yn hytrach na chosb yn gorfforol. Ydych chi'n credu, felly, fod angen buddsoddi llawer iawn mwy mewn rhaglenni sydd yn ymwneud â rhianta ac mewn gwasanaethau cymorth i deuluoedd ynglŷn â magu plant, a hynny fel rhan o strategaeth ymyrraeth gynnar llawer mwy cydlynus a chadarn nag sydd gennym ni ar hyn o bryd?
The Bill, in essence, is a simple one, of course, is it not? But what it does is provide a useful discussion on what good parenting is and what discipline methods are the most effective—that is, discipline methods that parents can use rather than physical punishment. Do you think, therefore, that there's a need to invest much more in programmes to do with parenting and in support services for families in terms of parenting, and that as part of an early intervention strategy that's more co-ordinated and robust than what we have at present?
Well, we are developing the Bill as part of a much wider package of support for children and their parents, which, of course, is already in place. This obviously includes the 'Parenting. Give it time' campaign, which aims to help parents do the best job that they can by providing positive tips on parenting and information. And we're already preparing now to update that, because, of course, that only goes up to age 7 and deals with issues about how you cope with your kids if they're difficult at meal times and if they have tantrums. It is very well used by parents. But, of course, this legislation will go up to 18 years old, and so the issues may be very different. So, we're already starting to prepare to update that 'Parenting. Give it time' campaign.
And then, obviously, there's the universal services that give access to help and to promote positive parenting, delivered by local government, health, education, social services, social justice and the third sector. We will be encouraging all those agencies that provide that universal service to help support parents and to pass on this information. Then, there will be the more targeted supports, such as Flying Start and Families First, which offer help and advice. But what I've done is I've asked the officials to carry out a mapping exercise to see where the support is and where the gaps are or opportunities to do more, particularly around information and advice on positive alternatives to physical punishment, but also more widely. So, we are looking to see where the gaps are.
I think parents do tend to use information and try to get help in many different ways. A very large number, actually, do use the internet. I was surprised, actually, that so many used the internet to get information. Others ask their mothers, their families, their friends, and go to agencies. It's such a wide range that we need that mapping exercise and we need to see where we need to put in more support.
Dwi'n falch eich bod chi'n mynd i wneud yr ymarferiad yna, oherwydd tystiolaeth rydyn ni wedi'i chael o nifer o gyfeiriadau ydy nad oes yna ddim digon o fuddsoddi mewn gwirionedd yn y gwasanaethau cymorth yn y blynyddoedd cynnar yna, a bod angen gwirioneddol i'r ffocws o fewn Llywodraeth fynd yn ôl tuag at ymyrraeth gynnar a chael strategaeth llawer mwy cydlynus.
Rydych chi wedi sôn am nifer o asiantaethau yn gweithio ar wahanol elfennau, efallai, ond mae angen efallai meddwl am eu tynnu nhw at ei gilydd. Rydych chi'n sôn am yr ymgyrch 'Parenting. Give it time', ond dwi'n credu mai ymgyrch ar-lein ydy hwnna i bob pwrpas, a Dechrau'n Deg—ie, mae'r bobl sydd yn mynychu'r cyrsiau yna yn eu ffeindio nhw'n ddefnyddiol, ond, wrth gwrs, dydy o ddim ar gael ar draws Cymru a dydy o ddim ar gael i bob rhiant.
Mae yna gynllun sydd yn digwydd drwy'r ysgolion yng Ngwynedd—efallai eich bod chi'n ymwybodol ohono fo—Incredible Years, efo'r Athro Judy Hutchings, sydd wedi bod yn gweithio ar hwn ers rhai blynyddoedd rŵan, yn llwyddiannus iawn, lle mae'r ysgolion, y rhieni a'r plant yn gweithio efo'i gilydd ar ddulliau rhianta positif. Tybed a ydy hi'n bryd meddwl am ehangu hwnna fel rhan o strategaeth ymyrraeth gynnar ar draws Cymru? Efallai na fedrwch chi roi ateb penodol heddiw, ond gaf i ofyn i chi gymryd golwg ar hynny?
Beth sy'n fy mhryderu i ydy bod y Bil yn mynd drwodd ond bod yna ddim digon o'r gwaith ynglŷn ag addysgu a chael cefnogaeth pobl tuag at ddulliau gwahanol, mwy positif, yn fy marn i, o fagu plant. Mae gwir angen symud a buddsoddi yn y maes yna ac efallai symud arian tuag at y gwaith yna.
I'm pleased that you're going to conduct that exercise, because the evidence that we've received from a number of different directions is that there isn't enough investment in reality in the support services in the early years, and that there is a real need for the focus within Government go back to early intervention and to have a much more co-ordinated strategy.
You've mentioned a number of agencies working on different elements, perhaps, but perhaps there's a need to bring them all together. You talk about the 'Parenting. Give it time' campaign, but I think it's an online campaign effectively, and Flying Start—yes, people who attend those courses find them useful, but, of course, it's not available across Wales and it's not available to every parent.
There is a scheme that is available through schools in Gwynedd—perhaps you are aware of it—Incredible Years, with Professor Judy Hutchings, who has been working on this for a number of years now, very successfully, where schools, parents and the children work together on parenting methods that are positive. I wonder if it's time to think about expanding that as part of an early intervention strategy across Wales. Perhaps you can't give a specific answer today, but may I ask you to take a look at that?
What concerns me is that the Bill is going through but there's not enough work relating to education and having people's support for different methods, more positive methods, in my opinion, of parenting. There's a real need to move and to invest in that area and perhaps move money towards that work.
Well, certainly, I think that is the purpose of the mapping exercise, to see what is successful, where things need to be expanded, and that's what we're going to consider. Incredible Years—I know it's very successful; I am aware of that programme. I think there are patches all over Wales of really good progress, but, certainly, I'm sure we need to give more support to parents in the early years, and I think they're only too glad to have it as well. Children are very receptive at that age and early intervention is the key to many of the issues that we have to deal with later on.
Thank you. We're going to return to some of the parenting issues later, but in the meantime we've got questions from Hefin David.
Just to take it on the next step from what Siân Gwenllian was asking about—in schools, are teachers ready for this legislation?
On our implementation group, the education sector is represented. They've come to the first meeting of the implementation group. So, they're going to be fully involved in the preparation. Obviously, corporal punishment was banned in schools a long time ago, and I think the education sector is very supportive of this move. But in terms of the awareness for teachers to be ready for it—obviously, the awareness campaign has got to be aimed at professionals in every field and certainly aimed at teachers.
So, if I was a teacher in an individual school, what kind of preparation do you think I should expect?
You know this better than me, having been more in the education field than me, but I think teachers are updated on different parts of childcare legislation now, and have in-service training days and training courses. And, certainly, perhaps this would be part of that—part of the training that teachers get. This would have to be incorporated into that.
One of the things that the National Association of Head Teachers told us was that they wouldn't want the cost of that kind of training to come from core budgets. Would you agree with that?
Well, I would have thought this sort of measure would be incorporated into the training they were using already, actually. I wouldn't have seen it would need something completely separate.
So, you think it should come from the core budget that they use for training?
Okay. And do you think that would be a significant additional cost or do you think that that would be minimal?
I would have thought it would be minimal. They already have training courses about childcare issues, and this would be something that would be absorbed into that.
You mentioned the implementation group and the fact that educators are represented on it. Can you just be a bit clearer about how they are represented again? I'm not sure I caught that.
Yes. So, education are represented on it through the Association of Directors of Education in Wales, and they have a representative on the strategic implementation group, and we are working with them to understand who else will be on the task and finish groups that we're setting up that the Minister's already talked about. And we've also had conversations with all of the trade unions. I personally went and spoke to them earlier in the year when the Bill was being introduced, received their feedback and have said that I will go back and speak with them.
Okay. The things that are being raised so far—would you say they're reflective of the concerns that the NAHT rose about, for example, funding of training? Are those kinds of issues raised? The practical implications of introducing this Bill—are they raised? If not, what other issues might be raised?
So, I think that the main concerns that you've already heard as a committee are similar concerns to those that have been raised previously. So, there's not anything in addition to the things that we have discussed, either with the trade unions or through the implementation group, or during the consultation period. And, as the Minister said, for the majority of these sort of things, teachers, education and other workforces already have procedures in place, because this comes under a safeguarding issue at one level. There are procedures and processes that are already there that they all follow. The ask will be based around those safeguarding procedures and, therefore, education and other services update their processes and procedures on a regular basis as a matter of course when any issues like this are addressed.
There's a wider context here. Minister, I don't know whether you wanted to say anything about the well-being and the—
Yes. One of the things that I think this committee has been involved in is we want to have a whole-school approach. We want mental health and well-being to be part of the way that the whole school operates, and the culture and how schools engage with pupils and parents. And we want to create that atmosphere where there's no wrong door, where children can bring up any of the concerns that they have with any member of the school staff that they trust. And, obviously, the school staff is wider than the teachers. And so, I think the creation of that sort of atmosphere is very important in taking forward this issue.
I appreciate that. I think the Bill, though, introduces a very specific set of changes that—
But should a parent witness, now, smacking, then it will require a different kind of approach—sorry, if a teacher were to witness smacking, it would require a different kind of approach, perhaps, to existing approaches. There shouldn't, therefore, be any surprise amongst teachers in how to deal with these things when the Bill comes in. I suppose the question I'm asking is: can we be assured that nothing you've said today in this meeting, in this committee, should be a surprise to teachers and trade unions, because that would already have been communicated through the Bill implementation group?
Yes, well, Karen has already said about the meetings that she's had with the unions and they are present on the implementation group, but a lot of these things happen already. They already have to make decisions about physical punishment they may be told about by children, for example—probably more likely than actually witnessing anything. And they already have to make decisions on those sorts of issues, so I see this as being incorporated in with that.
Okay. With regard to health and the communication of this to parents, we've heard about the Healthy Child Wales programme, and the fact that it has the opportunity to play a role in raising parents' awareness. Do you think that's the case?
I think the Healthy Child Wales programme and the role of the health visitor is absolutely crucial, because, obviously, the health visitor is there right at the beginning. It's a universal service, and so there will be great opportunity for them to promote positive parenting in a much stronger way than they're able to do at the moment, because the fact that you have this defence does mean that the professionals aren't able to make it as clear as they want to make it that positive parenting is the way that they'd like families to go. So, I think this will be a great advantage to health visitors, and, obviously, they support it strongly, because they're trying to encourage parents not to use physical punishment now, but with their hands slightly tied behind their back, because the defence does exist.
That's great, that's a good thing, but the concern we've got is that half the parents across Wales are not accessing the Healthy Child Wales programme, and in my community, within the Aneurin Bevan health board area, 80 per cent of parents aren't accessing the Healthy Child Wales programme. So, are there concerns that, if you rely too much on that process for communication, then parents, particularly in the early years, will be left out?
We've got to rely on a range of ways of reaching parents, and I think that there are other times when there is a much higher ratio of children and families seen. But I think we've had that discussion with the mapping exercise that we've already mentioned, that we're going to identify where there are gaps or where we can do more, and that's where we will identify this.
I think as well that that figure relates to one contact point across the whole of the Healthy Child Wales programme, not the Healthy Child Wales programme as a whole. Maybe we could come back with some further information about the contacts, because I'm—. That figure—
The percentage relates to the contact at age three and a half, but that is exactly the kind of age when you'd expect more children to—. If they were going to be smacked, it would be at that sort of age, wouldn't it, really? So, that is a concern for the committee, really, in terms of coverage.
I can appreciate that, although I would—. Midwives, health visitors and others working with families would actually be giving those messages, core messages, about setting boundaries, managing behaviour, discipline, positive parenting, right from the very beginning. So, reliance on that single point of contact at that one age point is not necessarily the most appropriate, because I think there's a period from birth through to, actually, later as well, when those key health messages, those key messages around positive parenting, are and can be given. As the Minister said, we will be mapping a lot of this, but we can give you some more advice on that, if that would be helpful, about the types of messages that are given during that period of time.
Yes, I think that would be helpful. I've got some supplementaries on this, because I think the committee is concerned that at a key opportunity at age three and a half, a big chunk of families aren't having that contact that they should expect with their health visitor, really. Suzy, then Siân.
Thank you. It's also a time in their child's life when they're likely to be spending time not with their parents, in school or early years. And I just wanted a bit of clarification from you, Minister, on what you were saying to Hefin David about training here. I got the sense you thought this could just be slipped in as a paragraph in existing guidance, but I'm not clear about what happens to a teacher who is told by a child that they've been smacked, and they decide that they're not going to report that—will they get into trouble over that? If it's part of a bigger picture that a teacher should have picked up, that's different, but, if a child tells a teacher, 'Oh, Mammy smacked me because I did such and such', is that teacher going to get into trouble if they don't report that to the police?
If that happens now, the teacher is expected to report that now. I think they usually call in social services.
Yes. That is what happens now, so would you expect a teacher to do it, yes.
Yes, I'm just interested to hear a bit more about the mapping exercise that you've referred to, which I think is really important, but it is going to show up a lot of gaps geographically, but also in service provision for different groups of families. It's all very well doing a mapping exercise, but what is the purpose of that, and how are you going to ensure that those gaps don't exist in future? Maybe we could have a note about what the timetable is for this exercise, and more in-depth understanding perhaps about what your intentions are, and how you intend to take it forward once you've done the mapping exercise.
Yes. We absolutely acknowledge that there is a lot more work to be done, and we know that we have to work hard at this to reach every family. Obviously, the information that we've had about the Healthy Child Wales, the health boards will be monitoring that information and will be—. I think they're going to establish a project board to consider the themes that are coming out from the Healthy Child Wales, and so that will be certainly addressed there. And we will absolutely acknowledge that we expect that there will be work to be done.
And there will be investment needed, obviously, to fill in those gaps, which means a significant shift in the way Government now looks at its budget, and a shift towards that early prevention.
I think we all agree that early prevention is the key for happy, healthy children, and so we'll certainly consider everything that arises.
Okay, thank you. We've got some questions now on the police and the Crown Prosecution Service from Suzy.
Thank you, Chair. You've said repeatedly that the intention of this Bill isn't to criminalise parents, and I believe that that's not your intention. So, what I'm interested in hearing about is how you—or the work that you've done to satisfy yourself that the huge majority of parents that are going to be caught up in the change of this Act won't result in parents getting anywhere near the CPS, for example. Obviously, there are going to be occasions where there are recidivists who keep smacking despite perhaps earlier warnings, or families get identified as doing something far more serious with their children than this, and I'm not talking about those—I'm talking about the people who are currently protected, if I can put it like that. I'm very interested in hearing what you've got to say about out-of-court disposals and pre being charged activity. I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about the assessment and work that you've done in that area.
Right. Well, there are a number of out-of-court disposals that the police can use, because the police want to respond in a positive and proportionate way. The use of out-of-court disposals is actually a non-devolved responsibility, but we'll be working—
Yes, they are non-devolved, but we will be working with the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the CPS, the police and the police and crime commissioners to consider suitable interventions. And one of the main areas of focus of the National Police Chiefs' Council's national strategy is to reduce the current six disposal options to just two. And that's going to be conditional caution and community resolution, and the four Welsh police forces are going to be moving towards this two-tier approach, which they believe will make for greater consistency. So, what we're doing is we are exploring, with the police liaison unit, how we can develop a suitable diversion scheme, with a focus on advice and support on positive alternatives to physical punishment, and how we can tie that into the wider activity. And, obviously, it all depends on the individual circumstances of the case, because the other thing we're going to look at is the individual. But it's possible then we could get a diversion scheme provided through a community resolution order; it could be potentially be given instead of a caution. And so that would be—you know, parents could be referred to a scheme. So, that's what we're discussing with the police liaison unit at the moment.
Thank you for confirming that, but even that is quite far down the process from the day that a smack is reported, and, as you know, particularly as soon as the police get involved, and even social services, if a record is made of even a complaint—even if that complaint goes no further, even if you don't get anywhere near an arrest, shall we say, that is logged in certain parts of the system and will need to be revealed in certain circumstances. I'm thinking of the enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check in particular, but there are other instances as well. Have you done any impact assessment on that, because that is a—we're talking about a situation where there's a massive impact, potentially, on an adult, when there have been no grounds at all to worry that a child's rights have been infringed, for example? It will happen in malicious reporting, but it could happen in reporting where an apparent battery has taken place, but it turns out to have been something completely different—you know, pushing a child's hand away, that sort of thing. The police are not going to want to take that any further at all, but it's on their records. How are you going to protect parents in those circumstances, within our legislative competence?
Well, the issue of non-conviction data obviously doesn't just apply to this Bill we're bringing in; it applies to everything. So, it's something that you can look at in a general sense—that the police can visit and there's no further action, but that could be for anything—
—and it's still logged. But, obviously, this does have an issue in terms of, particularly, the DBS checks and if you needed an enhanced certificate, if you wanted to be a teacher, a childcare worker, or those sorts of occupations. But, when disclosing information held locally, the police follow the quality assurance framework, and information must pass certain tests, which are related to considerations of relevance, substantiality and proportionality, and considerations of the safety aspects as well of disclosing information. And the police must record their thought process, their rationale, explaining how and why they reached all of their conclusions and their decisions. And this information is then assessed by the chief officer to determine whether it's reasonable to believe that it's relevant, and whether, in their opinion, it ought to be disclosed. Information should only be disclosed if it meets both of those requirements. So—
Is that in all jobs, though, because my understanding is that there are certain professions where that exemption doesn’t apply, and they’re likely to be the ones that are really relevant to the removal of the defence? So, I’m not talking about, I don't know, people who might work as volunteers; I’m literally talking about teachers and doctors, maybe dentists.
Well, we have done some work on this, haven’t we? Do you want to say about that, Karen?
Yes. So, it does apply across all professions, and we have been in discussion with the DBS about when and how and why information would be released, and also how often. And our understanding at this moment in time is that this type of information is released only in a very, very small number of cases. I think we’re talking less than 1 per cent of cases—
—in the last year. It’s about 1 per cent of 2,500, something like that. I haven’t got the exact figures with me.
So, it’s about two, three, four cases in a year where this type of information is disclosed. It’s information that, obviously, we have got, but I think it’s really important to understand that this is a really rigorous process that the police and the DBS have in place. They consider everything in the round before they would even consider actually releasing any information that's non-conviction information in relation to employment.
But this is a new consideration for them. They haven't tested their ability to get their judgment right on this one yet. Are you concerned that, in order to be on the safe side, if I can put it like that, there's an increased likelihood of disclosure—which actually might disappear over time, because there's an opportunity to exercise judgment more frequently and get the balance right?
I think they do have to consider non-conviction information now and some of that non-conviction information may be in relation to physical punishment of a child. I think you've received evidence from the police saying that there are 18,000 or so incidents in one police force area alone, where information is potentially on their records, and yet we understand that a very, very small proportion of non-conviction information is released to an employer during a recruitment process. So, our expectation, based on that information, would be that it would remain at a very low level.
Okay. And just to finish off on this one: we don't have legislative competence in this particular area, so we are relying on goodwill and the conversations that you have, which I'm sure are very productive. What will happen if we start getting instances where perhaps that judgment hasn't been exercised correctly? There's nothing, as a Government, you can do to challenge that particularly.
I can only emphasise the very close working relationships we've got and I think will continue to build as we introduce this legislation. We've got it all set up and it's been very productive so far.
Okay, thank you, Suzy. Just before we move on, could I ask, then—? Maybe the committee would be grateful for a note providing an update on the latest work that the Government has done on out-of-court disposals, including estimated costs. We'd also appreciate a note on the Welsh Government's discussions with the DBS and the figures that Karen just referred to, if that's okay, please. Thank you.
The next questions are from Hefin on resources.
When you first appeared before the committee at the beginning of Stage 1, I wasn't hugely reassured by the evidence you gave on the resource implications of the Bill. It seems to be relying, to a great extent, on the limited number of reporting of cases that's likely to happen, as we've seen in the evidence we've received. That's largely been recognised by the stakeholders who've given evidence, but isn't there still the potential for a degree of unknown costs to come into this, and what planning have you done for those unknown costs—those unforeseen costs—that might occur?
I feel that—. You're right that there always could be unknown costs, but we are doing our very best to prepare to cover all eventualities that we can anticipate. For example, I've committed to fund the high-intensity awareness-raising campaign, and committed to carry out a mapping exercise to establish whether there are any gaps in the parenting support.
We know that evidence from other countries does show that, if we bring in this legislation and raise awareness, it does change people's attitudes, so there may, in the long term, be a saving if we do that. But we are committed to working with organisations to put in place arrangements so that we're able to collect the data so that we know what the impact is. But I just have to repeat that all our evidence, looking at other countries, is that there isn't a huge increase in the workload.
No. I think you can make the argument for precedent elsewhere, but you can also say that every country has a different culture and approach to how it raises children, and therefore there'll be a number of differences as well.
The explanatory memorandum raises some specific cases. It talks about unknown costs in relation to social services as a result of a potential increasing referrals; family courts and CAFCASS Cymru as a result of a potential increase in allegations, which we talked about; the CPS and a higher volume of requests for charging advice from the police; and the review of training and guidance offered by organisations involved in the safeguarding of children. All those things we've talked around, but what would be reassuring for the committee is, perhaps, if you could give us a broad figure, which the Government would say, 'We'll need to set this number aside in order to be prepared for the implementation of this Bill.' Would you be willing to present that at some point during the passage of the Bill?
I think we have to rely on what the people who run those organisations are telling us. Certainly, the CPS say that they can cope. CAFCASS say that they can cope. And it is very difficult to anticipate what impact there would be on social services. The people who are managing social services say they don't anticipate a big impact.
I think the other important thing to recognise is that this area of work is already dealt with by all these people. So, the CPS is already involved in changing its guidance all the time, so it's not going to be much of an impact for them to actually have to do that over this issue. Social services are already dealing with calls and referrals about the physical punishment of children already, including reasonable punishment. And so it's not a new category of work. I accept that we're working in a situation where there's a general pressure on public services, but I think this area that we're legislating on here is part of what everybody's doing already. And so I don't see it as such a big thing in terms of impact.
That's a perfectly reasonable answer, but then what about providing a ballpark figure for a kind unforeseen fund that you might set aside?
I don't think it's possible to do that. We have to measure it as we go along. We've got to get the data. The data will show—. We've got to have baseline data to begin with, and that's what's so difficult to get, because we can't get that from other countries. Only New Zealand recorded any incidents before they actually brought in the legislation, and they did that for three months beforehand. That's why we've been looking at New Zealand a lot of the time, just to make predictions. But we've got to rely on the data. One of these sub-groups is looking at data, so that sub-group should be very productive, I think. And then we will be actually able to see what happens. But I don't think we can respond to that.
Okay, that's fine. And the last question, with regard to resourcing, just to understand the process of how this ties into the wider budgeting—did you and your officials sit down with the Finance Minister and the First Minister's officials to discuss the costing of this? I imagine so. What was the nature of that kind of discussion?
Some of the costings are decided. For example, the advertising, the awareness-raising campaign—that's £2.2 million over six years. So the decision has been made about that. I don't know if there were further discussions right at the beginning of this process.
There have been discussions. The discussions tend to be positive. We can't really say any more beyond that at this moment in time.
There has been an in-the-round discussion before the Bill was introduced, at which the First Minister and the finance Minister and others were present.
The consultation and then the Bill going forward has been discussed by Cabinet, and gone through Cabinet processes, as you would expect.
So, are we able to say that the Government as a whole is satisfied that there isn't going to be a huge impact on resource as a result of the introduction of this Bill?
I think what you can say is that the Government are satisfied that they are supportive of the Bill and have put the Bill forward. I think you can say that.
Yes. Are you satisfied that that amount of money—£2.5 million over five years [correction: £2.2 million over six years]—is going to be enough? From memory, with the organ donation Bill, the amount was something in the region of around £7 million that was set aside, I think. Or maybe I'm misremembering that, but—
I think it was about £4 million—
Something like that.
So, there's a disparity, then. That was a few years ago. You've got to reach a lot of people, haven't you, with this, including some pretty hard-to-reach groups as well. Are you confident that amount of money is going to be enough?
We are as confident as we can be at this moment in time. We are obviously going to be working with focus groups and others to look at what sorts of messaging there will need to be. But in terms of the initial stages of the awareness campaign, we are, as I say, as confident as we can be, based on what we know.
I just wanted to ask a very specific question on human rights, because, you know, when it comes to appeals, there are a variety of articles under the European Convention on Human Rights that might be used with regard to a challenge to the law as enacted. So, I'll ask you the question very directly. For the purpose of the record, can you outline to us the assessment you've made in preparation for this Bill in relation to the balancing of relevant articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including but not limited to article 8 on the respect for private life; article 9, freedom of conscience and religion; article 3, the right to protection from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment; and article 14, protection from discrimination?
Thank you very much. We have given a great deal of thought, as you can imagine, to the human rights considerations as set out in our impact assessments, and it's ultimately a question how we find a balance between the rights of children as well as parents, who both enjoy rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. So, article 3 is the prohibition of torture:
'No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.'
In ensuring that children are protected from physical punishment in the same way as adults, the Bill is following that requirement of article 3, and the positive obligations on states to protect individuals from ill treatment or punishment that is contrary to article 3.
And then, in terms of article 8, right to respect for private and family life,
'Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.'
Some of those who are opposed to the prohibition of physical punishment have cited article 8, private and family life, and also cited article 9, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as potentially protecting the right for parents to decide how best to punish their children, including the use of physical punishment. That is used as an argument by those who are opposed to stopping physical punishment. But these rights are not absolute, and action can therefore be taken that interferes with them, provided the interference is justified. It's the Government's view that the Bill's provisions are necessary in order to protect the rights and freedom of children. We are looking here from the point of view of children.
The Bill's provisions are regarded as proportionate measures, and given the fundamental importance of protecting children from inhumane or degrading punishment or other ill treatment, we do consider that we have balanced the rights in a proportionate way.
And then, article 10, freedom of expression, and article 14, prohibition of discrimination—these rights are not absolute and action can be taken, therefore, that interferes with them, providing the interference is justified. We don't think it's clear that article 10 and 14 rights are being interfered with, but even if they are, we consider we can justify the interference in order to protect the rights and freedoms of children. I don't know, Emma, whether you wanted to add anything to any of that.
Only that we set out—. I think it's the equality impact assessment that sets out the positive and negative impacts of the proposal and the balancing of the rights enjoyed by both parents and children.
Thank you. There are some questions from Vikki on awareness raising. Can I ask for concise questions please?
Thank you, Chair. So, last week, the Welsh Government published its baseline survey of public attitudes to physical punishment of children, and that showed us that 58 per cent of the public already thought the law did not allow parents to smack their children. You could look at this two ways. You could think glass half full, which suggests that we don't have many people to try and convince of that. But on the flipside of that, would you suggest, perhaps, that that data shows there is a challenge faced by the Welsh Government to make sure the public understand the proposed legislation, given that more than half of the population, according to those statistics, have a complete misunderstanding of the current law?
Certainly, I think that finding is reflected in people I speak to who do think that the law does not allow parents to hit their children. I mean, I'm personally very reassured that 58 per cent of the public think the law doesn't allow that to happen because I think, well, they're not hitting their children, so we're over 50 per cent of where we want to get. So, I think that is a good thing, but it does highlight the fact that the legislation, as it is, is confused. I think it makes a very good case for saying that we do need to simplify this legislation. We need much greater clarity in the law for professionals who are working and trying to help parents, and for parents themselves. So, I think that this is a case for saying that it's very important that we carry out this legislation to make it all much clearer. But I am pleased that 58 per cent of the public think the law has already changed.
One of the most consistent messages that this committee has heard is that the proposed law won't work unless there's a significant campaign to raise awareness with members of the public. We know that Sweden went to considerable lengths to publicise the change in the law there, and I can remember attending a cross-party group, chaired by yourself, Deputy Minister, where we heard evidence from Ireland to the same effect, as well—the necessity of the public awareness campaign. You already said that a duty on the face of the Bill to raise awareness is not necessary, but then, in your answer to Suzy Davies, you said you would consider putting some things on the face of the Bill. So, can you explain to us your key arguments surrounding this issue?
I absolutely agree that it's essential that we do have a big awareness campaign, because all the research we've had shows, in fact, that if you don't have the awareness campaign, the legislation won't be as effective. So, we need a joint effort; I'm totally committed to doing that. I've said it publicly here, and I'm saying it again. I don't think it's absolutely necessary to have it on the face of the Bill, but as I said to Suzy, I'm prepared to consider anything the committee is bringing forward because I'm very keen for this Bill to progress through this process and to learn from it. So, I'm saying that I'm prepared to consider it.
Thank you, that's very useful. And finally, New Zealand is an oft-cited example, mentioned in the explanatory memorandum as well. So, we know New Zealand prohibited physical punishment in 2007, but yet in a non-binding referendum two years later, 87.5 per cent of voters voted 'no' in response to the question, 'Should a smack, as part of good parental correction, be a criminal offence in New Zealand?' On what basis, then, are you confident that this sort of polarisation won't happen in Wales, especially considering the current political climate there is out there?
Well, what we trying to do is we're trying to take this forward in as consensual a way as we possibly can. We're very keen that we listen to the views of everybody. All those people who don't agree with us, who are a minority, it seems, we want to hear what they've got to say, taking very seriously all the points that are raised here by the committee.
I haven't seen any sign of any polarisation in any way that I would be concerned about, because, certainly, the people who do oppose the Bill, I've met with them, I know they've given evidence to your committee and the views of parents have been taken into account. We completely accept that we want to listen to the views of people who don't agree. I hope that they then, if the Bill does become law, will then accept and respect the democratic process. So, I don't feel concerned, really, about that.
I started at the very beginning, Deputy Minister, with the fact that there's an overwhelming majority of parents—those who are naturally charged with raising their children—against this Bill. So, there is a polarisation. We've gone out to survey on it and the overwhelming response from parents is that they do not support this Bill. And I think that needs to be put on the record.
I think that our representative surveys that we've carried out do show considerable support for the Bill—
—particularly from parents with young children under seven. That's where the support does lie. And it's older people who are much less likely to support the legislation, and I think it's all linked to what many of us were used to, what happened in our childhoods, when it was accepted and it was part of the time that this was what you did. But we have moved on now and we're in a different era. So, I think many older people, because they smacked their children or were smacked themselves, have felt a degree of resistance, perhaps, to the Bill. But as I say, I think times have changed. We want to respect children's rights and what happened in the past is in the past now, and we want to have a new era for respecting children's human rights and dignity. And I think I'll go back to what I said: I don't see that children's rights to dignity is going to happen if a big person is able to hit a small person.
Just to clarify, Janet's referring to the committee's consultation and the percentage of responses that we've had.
Ie, mi oedd gennym ni adran benodol, ond oherwydd bod yr amser yn mynd, efallai fedrwch chi roi nodyn i ni. Roedd rhai tystion yn gweld peryg i'r Bil gael effaith anghymesur ar grwpiau penodol—menywod, oherwydd mai nhw ydy'r prif ofalwyr, grwpiau lleiafrifoedd ethnig a phlant ifanc iawn. Felly, os gallwn ni gael nodyn ynglŷn ag a ydych chi'n cytuno bod hwn yn mynd i gael effaith anghymesur, ac os ydych chi, beth fyddai'r mesurau lliniaru. Ond, yn benodol, rydym ni wedi clywed gan sawl tyst ac mae'r asesiad o effaith y Bil ar gydraddoldeb yn cydnabod bod incwm isel yn ffactor risg wrth ddefnyddio cosb gorfforol ac y gallai hyn gael effaith negyddol yn benodol ar y grŵp yma o rieni. Rŵan, rydym ni'n gwybod bod Dechrau'n Deg ar gael i geisio lliniaru ychydig ar hynny, ond wrth gwrs dydy pob teulu incwm isel ddim yn byw mewn ardal Dechrau'n Deg, felly pa waith lliniaru ydych chi'n mynd i'w wneud o gwmpas hynny?
Yes, we had a specific section, but because time is moving quite fast, perhaps you could give us a note in response. Some witnesses saw a risk that the Bill could have a disproportionate impact on specific groups—women, because they are the main carers, minority ethnic groups and very young children. So, if it would be possible for us to receive a note as to whether you agree that this will have a disproportionate impact upon them, and if so, what would be the mitigating measures you would take. But, specifically, we have heard from several witnesses and the equality impact assessment of the Bill does acknowledge that a low income is a risk factor in the use of physical punishment and that this could have a negative impact specifically on this group of parents. Now, we know that Flying Start is available to try to mitigate that to some degree, but of course not all low-income families live within a Flying Start area, so what mitigating work will you be undertaking in that regard?
Yes. We are aware of the issue of reaching out to certain groups. We are running focus groups where we will be taking the different groups into account, and we will work with different groups, communities and organisations to make sure that they are aware of the change in the law, and we will—I know you want to move on—but we will write to you about anything more specific.
Just finally from me, then, you referred to the mapping exercise, which is very welcomed by the committee. Should that mapping exercise identify gaps? Will the Welsh Government be making a commitment to provide funding to plug those gaps so that there is a universal offer of parenting support for families in Wales?
Okay, thank you. We've come to the end of our time. We've covered a great deal of ground. Thank you, all, for attending and for answering such a diverse range of questions. As usual, you will be sent a transcript to check for accuracy following the meeting, but thank you very much to the three of you for your time this morning.
Thank you very much, and thank you for all the questions and the wide range that we covered. Thank you very much.
Item 3, then, is papers to note. Paper to note 1 is a letter from the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, providing additional information following the evidence session on 2 May for this Bill. Paper to note 2 is a letter from the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services in response to the committee's letter, which requested information on CAFCASS Cymru's response on specific points of interest in relation to the Bill. And paper to note 3 is a letter from the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services making the committee aware of research undertaken in relation to public attitudes to physical punishment. Can I ask if Members are happy to note those?
Can I just make one observation? I think it's on the first of the letters, which is the difficulty that there's been in trying to disaggregate the evidence of smacking as isolated incidents as compared to smacking as part of a bigger pattern of behaviour. I think that's worth noting on the record.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Item 4, then, is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content? Okay, thank you.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:55.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:55.