3 Mar 2006 : Column 507
 

House of Commons

Friday 3 March 2006

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock

PRAYERS

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

9.34 am

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I beg to move, That the House sit in private.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (Motions to sit in private):—

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 38.

Division No. 184
[9.34 am


AYES



Tellers for the Ayes:Mr. Andrew Dismore and Barbara Keeley



NOES

Anderson, Janet
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Breed, Mr. Colin
Burt, Lorely
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Curry, rh Mr. David
Dowd, Jim
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Forth, rh Mr. Eric
Foster, Mr. Don
Harris, Dr. Evan
Heath, Mr. David
Heppell, Mr. John
Herbert, Nick
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Keen, Ann
Kennedy, rh Jane
Kidney, Mr. David
Mactaggart, Fiona
McGovern, Mr. Jim
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Oaten, Mr. Mark
Pound, Stephen
Randall, Mr. John
Roy, Mr. Frank
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Stunell, Andrew
Thornberry, Emily
Ussher, Kitty
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Watkinson, Angela
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Willis, Mr. Phil
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Adrian Bailey and
Nia Griffith


Question accordingly negatived.


 
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Orders of the Day

Emergency Workers (Protection) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

9.45 am

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) (Lab): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

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.

Mr. Williams: One of our greatest missions in life is to make the right hon. Gentleman happy. I think he will leave the Chamber slightly, if not entirely, reassured.
 
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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.

I shall quote from a letter from Des Prichard, the chief fire officer of East Sussex. Writing on behalf of all the fire chiefs throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, he states:

But the more important point is this:

so they are delayed waiting for the police, who otherwise would not need to be there, to take them to the incident. He continues:

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—

Mr. Forth: Good for you!

Mr. Williams: Rest assured—the Scottish experience has been very much taken into account.

The chief fire officer suggests that across the country the fire brigade may have to reconsider the types of incident it attends. He continues:

I am sure we all agree with that and are alarmed by the prospect. The question is how we deal with it.

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


 
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That is welcomed by the fire services and especially by the ambulance service—I spoke to its representatives yesterday—because 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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