I do not know what the statistical odds are, but this is the first time in more than 41 years that I have drawn one of the first seven slots in the ballot for private Members' Bills. Although I got such a Bill through in the past, it was on the back-of-the-Chair principle whereby all I had to say was, "Today". That was how persuasive my arguments had to be.
I hope that we can all agree at least about the Bill's objectives; it is up to individuals to decide whether they agree about the details. There is unanimity that emergency workers attending emergencies should be neither impeded nor assaulted. If that happens, the victims of the emergency that they are attending will be put at risk. An assault on an emergency officer is therefore a double assault. Often, the emergency services operate in a team of police, ambulance and fire brigade. Anything that impedes part of the team impedes the whole team.
The scale of the problem is difficult to establish because there are no national statistics. For example, Manchester fire service estimated that 200 attacks or attempts to impede its workers occurred in a year, yet Government figures suggest only nine incidents in nine months in the same year. There are no reliable statistics. That is worrying and should be remedied. If one does not know the magnitude of a problem, one cannot know what priority to give it.
It is alarming that the mindless arrogance and vandalism behind the attacks is spread throughout the country. Numerous brigades report attempts to cut off water supplies, cutting hoses and stoning ambulances, fire engines and, indeed, firemen. Scaffold poles have been driven through windscreens, risking impaling the drivers. Even more warped is the fact that many fires are deliberately started to lure the services into ambushes. I could not believe some of the things that I was told when I started looking into the matter. What grotesque, bent mind would think of putting razor blades under a banister to catch firemen hauling heavy equipment up the stairs?
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I am sorry for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman so early but I hope that he will reassure those of us who are worried that the Bill risks gilding a lily. Why is existing law unable to cover the dreadful events that he is describing? Why does he believe that the Bill is essential? I am more than happy to support it if I am persuaded that existing law cannot cover the events. However, I would be unhappy if we introduced a new Act simply because we were not prepared or able to implement existing Acts.
I gave the example of razor blades and a banister. Further examples include a live electricity cable fixed to the inside of a door handle so that the firemen have no warning of what awaits them, and, even more grotesque, holes in floors covered with mats or other material, so that as the firemen go into a first or second storey room, they are unaware that they are about to step into a hole. In the past year, a fireman was shot in Borehamwood, and there was the tragic case in Scotland of a young baby who was killed by someone firing at the fire brigade attending an incident. It is thought that one bullet missed the firemen and killed the poor young child.
"Ultimately, if we are prevented from carrying out our jobs because of attacks, there is no doubt that our operational response will be affected and we may have to reconsider the types of incidents we attend."
Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on coming so high in the ballot and introducing such a worthwhile Bill. He mentioned the tragic incident that happened in Scotland. The young lad's name was Andrew Morton. Is my right hon. Friend aware that legislation of the type that he proposes already exists in Scotland and is regarded as successful?
Mr. Williams: Being a non-lawyer and being instinctively lazy, having discovered that there was a working and workable Act in Scotland, I asked for the help of the Clerks of the House to transpose the Scottish Act
I was trying to transpose a Scottish Act to existing legislation in England and Wales. I have agreed that, in Committee, I will propose separating the impeding offence from the offence of assault, and the Government have agreed that they will support an offence of
That is welcomed by the fire services and especially by the ambulance serviceI spoke to its representatives yesterdaybecause at present it has no such protection at all. There will be a penalty of £1,000, which the Minister, with whom I have been liaising throughout, assures me is the same amount that a similar level of offence would incur in relation to action against the police.
The Bill will be backed by a series of other measures. There will be a package of measures particularly geared to dealing with the problem of juvenile offenders, many of whom are very young. Some are young yobs, and some, although they are not too young to be called yobs, are even below the age of 10.
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