PLANS to ban smacking children in Wales are not intended to criminalise parents, Carwyn Jones has said.

The Welsh Government is planning on introducing new legislation which would remove the defence of 'reasonable chastisement' in cases of assault or battery. Although this would not make smacking children a crime, it would mean parents would not be able to rely on this defence in court.

But, speaking in the Senedd yesterday, leader of the Assembly's Ukip group Caroline Jones questioned the plans, saying: "Do we have the right to tell parents how to discipline their children?"

Addressing Carwyn Jones, she asked: "Can you let us know what convinced you of the need to introduce the legislation now?"

The first minister replied: "The objective of the bill is not to prosecute people needlessly, but to look at diversion if there is a first incident and then only look at prosecution if there are subsequent incidents.

"So, it's certainly not the intention to see a spate of prosecutions where there is a first instance."

He added: "I think it's another step that people will see as being important in terms of getting the balance right between chastisement and protection of children.

"I was in this chamber, as were many others, before the smoking ban came in and there were many who opposed that, and now it's accepted. Nobody - well, very few people - argue with the smoking ban and the fact that it is in place."

Cardiff North AM Julie Morgan, who has long campaigned for smacking to be banned and in 2000, while serving as an MP, spoke in Parliament on the issue, welcomed the proposal.

"I'm repeatedly reminded that politics is a long game," she said. "In any case, I'm very pleased that it has finally reached this point, and, if passed, Wales will join the growing list of countries that are removing this defence.

"There has been no evidence in those countries that there has been any increased criminalisation of parents.

"It seems a very normal practical step to take and I think, after this has been done and we have the no doubt spirited debate, we'll all wonder what all the fuss was about afterwards."

The first minister replied: "The intention is not to look to criminalise people as something that is the first intention, but to provide that support and to make sure that the message is understood by people.

"We know from practice in other countries that that's the way it has been done."

Earlier this month a report published by the Welsh Government showed the number of parents who said they had smacked their children in the past six months had halved in two years, from 22 per cent in 2015 to 11 per cent last year.

The study also showed 81 per cent said they do not believe "it is sometimes necessary to smack a naughty child" - up from 71 per cent in 2015.

Children's charity the NSPCC has also welcomed the plan.

A spokesman said: “The Welsh Government’s intention to remove the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ in the coming year is hugely welcome.

“It is a common-sense move which is about fairness and equality for children.

“It is wrong that a legal defence which does not exist in a case of assault against an adult can be used to justify striking a child.

“Closing this loophole will bring Wales in line with dozens of countries around the world and finally give our children equal protection under the law.”