ASSEMBLY members have tonight voted to ban the smacking of children in Wales.

AMs voted 36-14 in favour of the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill, which will remove the defence of reasonable punishment for parents or guardians accused of assaulting a child.

Smacking a child may now leave adults facing criminal prosecution for common assault.

Children's charity Barnado's Cymru called the new law a "significant landmark for a child’s right to legal protection from assault" in line with the protection afforded to adults.

NSPCC Wales also welcomed the ban, calling it "a remarkable achievement which closes an outdated loophole".

Ahead of the Senedd vote, Wales' deputy minister for health and social services, Julie Morgan AM (Labour), commended the bill to the house, calling today "a historical moment in Welsh history."

She said the bill "provides clarity for parents, professionals and the public".

The majority (58 per cent) of the Welsh public, Ms Morgan said, already thought a smacking ban was the law. And 81 per cent of parents with young children, she added, thought it was not acceptable to smack a child.

The issue has proved a highly contentious one among AMs. Leading the criticism of the bill in this evening's Senedd debate was Conservative AM Janet Finch-Saunders, who said: "I remain unconvinced that removing defence of reasonable punishment is right or fair for Wales.

"We have laws and systems already in place to protect the rights of the child. With this bill the state is stepping into the private lives of families."

Brexit Party AM Mark Reckless questioned whether it was the right time for the bill, despite his personal beliefs that smacking was wrong.

"I think it should remain for now an issue determined by parents... within families," he told colleagues.

But Helen Mary Jones (Plaid) said 58 other countries had passed similar laws and seen positive results.

"This is the new normal," she said. "None [of the other countries] have seen kind and caring parents demonised.

"Children do not belong to their parents; they are citizens in their own right. We will give them at last equal protection against violence under the law."

And Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle (Labour), who chairs the Assembly's Children, Young People and Education Committee, said she was "absolutely delighted that today we will ensure children's rights made a reality in Wales".

Following the vote, Barnado's Cymru director Sarah Crawley said: "We are confident that, over time, this legislation will drive forward the cultural change in parenting that research shows us is already well underway.

"It is an important opportunity for the wellbeing of children and family relationships to improve as well as being an investment in the wellbeing of the next generation of parents and carers."

The charity was one of many children's organisations to campaign in favour of the ban. Ms Crawley dismissed concerns the ban would place more pressure on parents and public services.

"The minority who have opposed this change say police and social services will be overwhelmed," she said. "That hasn’t been the view of the police and social work professionals themselves.

"Those opposed say this change will damage family life when all the research tells us the opposite – that physical punishment harms children.

"They say parents will be criminalised in great numbers when this isn’t the evidence from the myriad other countries where this change in the law has taken place."

NSPCC Cymru also responded positively to the AMs' vote, saying: “We have long championed this common-sense change which, thanks to this historic vote, will now deliver fairness and equality for our young people.

“NSPCC Cymru/Wales thanks assembly members for listening and making a decision that finally ends the legally-sanctioned physical punishment of our children.

“We will continue to work with the Welsh Government as this change is implemented and the archaic defence of reasonable punishment is ultimately consigned to history.”