Smacking of children is expected to be outlawed in Scotland from some time next year after MSPs yesterday gave their final approval to the bill making it a criminal offence.

By 84 votes to 29 the Scottish Parliament passed the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill, introduced as a member's bill by Green MSP John Finnie and subsequently backed by the Scottish Government. Only the Conservatives opposed the measure.

The bill removes the defence of "reasonable chastisement" from the present law relating to child assault. It makes Scotland the first country in the UK to make it a criminal offence for parents to smack their children, though more than 50 countries around the world have already done so.

It also makes it easier for Scotland to adopt the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as now planned by the Scottish Government. The reasonable chastisement defence attracted criticism from international children’s rights organisations.

Mr Finnie argues that physical punishment "has no place in 21st century Scotland", and that smacking teaches children that "might is right". Opponents argue that the new law is an unnecessary intrusion into loving homes, if police and social workers become involved. The UK Ministry of Justice has warned that a ban could be weaponised by divorcing parents.

After the vote the Law Society of Scotland welcomed the "clarification" of the law, but stressed the importance of education to support changes in public attitudes and behaviour towards smacking ahead of implementation.

Morag Driscoll, convener of the Society's Family Law Committee, said: "This legislation brings Scotland in line with our commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It allows us to join the growing international community who fully protect children from physical punishment."

However she warned: "Driving meaningful behavioural change requires much more than changing the law. The Scottish Government now needs to launch a comprehensive public education and awareness campaign to alert people to these changes." 

Click here to view the stage 3 debate in the Parliament.