|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Amendment No. 7 would insert a requirement for an emergency worker travelling to the scene of the emergency to be in a vehicle with a flashing blue light, and would therefore reduce the protection offered by the offence. Not all ambulances use such lightsair ambulances, for example, do notand nor do
coastguards and lifeboat crews. Clearly, we want those services to be included within the legislations scope.
If amendment No. 8 were accepted, the offence would not apply to acts by an emergency worker preparatory to dealing with emergency circumstances, which would weaken the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) explained why we think it appropriate that the offence apply in that way.
If amendment No. 10 were accepted, the offence would not apply where an ambulance or fire appliance was responding to an emergency call and it later emerged that the situation was not an emergency. However, the offence needs to apply to obstructing a worker responding in good faith to what they believe is, or may be, an emergency.
Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): I can reassure the House that, given the very short time available for this debate, I am about to make the shortest speech that I have ever made in the five years for which I have had the honour to serve in the House.
The right hon. Member for Swansea, West(Mr. Williams) and the Minister have given ample justification for the withdrawal of new clause 1 and the associated amendments. If the new clause were accepted, it would effectively negate the Bill. The vast majority of incidents that the emergency services attend are on, or involve, private property, so the Bill would be unworkable if so amended. The right hon. Gentleman deserves great credit for getting the Bill through to this stage. Members in all parts of the House expressed support for it in Committee and on Second Reading, and I hope that we can make very rapid progress in the few minutes left.
Mr. Greg Knight: My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) expressed concern about heather burning, but I cannot see that a farmer would fall foul of the Bill, unless the heather burning was regarded as an emergency. The farmer might experience other problems as a result of other legislation, but if he is keeping his heather burning under control, presumably the Bill would present him with no difficulty.
Mr. Atkinson: The scenario that I envisaged was someone phoning the emergency services to say that there was an out-of-control fire on the moor, and the emergency services turning out, with blue lights flashing, and arriving at the gateway to the moor. That surely would constitute an emergency.
Mr. Knight: Surely any fireman worth his salt, on seeing a patch of heather on fire and noticing that a farmer was attending to it and had it under control, would turn the fire engine round and go back. That would be the common-sense approach of anyone working in the fire service.
Having reflected on what the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and the Minister had to say, I think that there is some force in the argument
that if one lists certain defences in a Bill, the assumption will be made that the list is exhaustive. I have also reflected further during this short but very constructive debate on the fact that the Bill contains the phrase without reasonable excuse. A good lawyer could bring most of the concerns that I have identified within the scope of those three words, and on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Mr. Chope: I hope that the promoter of the Bill, the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), will be able to allay my concerns, but as the Bill stands, anybody who attends an emergency but is not employed by an NHS body will be discriminated against compared with someone who is so employed. Much as we all love the NHS, we recognise that the health service extends beyond it. Surely all those who are trying to assist during a medical emergency should be covered, irrespective of whether they are employed by a relevant NHS body. Amendment No. 3 would therefore leave out those words and would cover
a person employed...in the provision of ambulance services (including air ambulance services), or of a person providing such services
Amendment No. 5 attempts to clarify, and indeed slightly restrict, the definition of people who would be deemed to be emergency workers when transporting organs, blood or equipment by inserting the word medical before the word equipment. I have no argument with the Bill covering people doing such work, but it should not cover just any equipment or personnel. Why should a van carrying people who work in the NHS to their residences or hostel be covered, and why should that provision be restricted to NHS employees? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman had to put that provision in at the behest of the Government, but we should treat all health workers equally, irrespective of whether they are employed by
the NHS. They are all doing a good job, in my book. Amendment No. 9 is a consequential amendment, which would remove the definition of a relevant NHS body. The amendments have the virtue of clarifying and simplifying the Bill.
Amendment No. 12 would remove clause 5, but in my opinion the promoter of the Bill has the chance to decide what it should contain. Why is there any needto modify it? Why does he not have the self-confidence to believe that the Bill is the last word on the subject for a considerable time? We know that the Bill would repeal certain legislation and replace it with similar legislation, but this Bill would also create new crimes. Surely Parliament should be averse to allowing the Secretary of State to add new crimes to our criminal code without our having the chance to consider them in detail. Removing clause 5 would improve the Bill significantly.
Mr. Atkinson: I share the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) about the definition of emergency worker, whether the person works for the NHS or not. As an MP who represents a constituency that borders Scotland, I am aware that there are often differences between Scottish and English legislation. The Bill stipulates that employees should be persons
employed by a fire and rescue authority in England and Wales,
but not Scotland. That could give rise to a difficult situation on the borders, as fire services from Scotland are often called to fight fires in England and vice versa. Something similar is true for ambulance services. Patients from my constituency go to English hospitals and also to the regional hospital on the other side of the border.
Scottish legislation protects emergency workers only in Scotland, but a Scottish fireman attending an English fire who was obstructed or attacked south of the border would have no protection under the Bill. They would fall between the legislation of the two countries. Will the Minister clarify that point if he can?
Mr. Alan Williams: In discussions about the Bill, I was assured that its provisions would cover private ambulances working on behalf of the NHS and air ambulances. I have no doubt that if necessary, my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to expand on that interpretation.
Amendment No. 5 would have the perverseand, I am sure, unintendedeffect of limiting the definition of emergency workers carrying equipment to those carrying medical equipment. However, other equipmentfor example, rescue equipmentalso needs to be carried. The equipment needed to deal with an emergency will vary according to the emergency, so that protection is needed.
Amendment No. 12 would remove the power to add or delete provisions by order. One of the problems with yobbo groups in our society is that we never know who their next victim will be. I have received representations from mountain rescue groups and other organisations that want to be included in the provisions. An order would enable us to achieve that quickly without a full statute. I hope that explanation satisfies the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope).
Mr. Coaker: To remove any reference to the NHS, as the amendment would require, would mean that the offence would be too wide. There is no statutory definition of ambulance, so we need to explain in the Bill what is meant by an ambulance worker. Tying that provision to the one relating to the NHS provides that clarity.
Mr. Atkinson: Could the Minister deal with the points that were raised? He did not deal with my question about heather burning earlier, but can he explain the anomaly for Scottish firemen and ambulance workers operating in England, who do not appear to be protected by either Scottish or English legislation?
Mr. Chope: In view of the time, the best thing is probably to conclude consideration on Report and go into some of the issues in more detail on Third Readingso if that is the wish of the House, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Atkinson: I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope): there are a number of issues still to be debated. Although we all wish the Bill a good passage, it does deserve a little more debate, and I therefore hope that, with pole position for the next opportunity, we can deal with them on Third Reading at that time.
Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As I am sure that you are aware, the Protection of Private Gardens (Housing Development) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), attracts support across the Chamber and massively across the
country. Thousands of people have written in to demand that the Bill be debated. Is it in order for a Government Whip to strangle that Bill through the process that we have just heard, to ensure that we do not have a proper debateparticularly when the Minister for Housing and Planning, Department for Communities and Local Government wrote in The Daily Telegraph only this morning that adequate protection for gardens apparently exists. We should have an opportunity to debate that and to strengthen the protection of our green spaces, but the Government have clearly shown by their intervention that they are not interested in proper parliamentary scrutiny of the process, or a breathing space for our green spaces.
Mr. Chope: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is not the usual complaint, because the Prime Minister endorsed the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) and thought that it should be debated.
Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Indeed, the
Prime Minister said in an answer at Prime Ministers questions that Ministers would give their response to the Bill. They have not done that, yet an objection has been made from the Government Benches. Is that in order?
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Of course, if Opposition Members had not spoken for so long on the first Bill, we might well have reached that Billand, indeed, a number of other Bills, including my own, which could have been debated relatively briefly on Second Reading and then proceeded to Committee stage. If Opposition Members had not spoken for so long, they might have got what they wanted.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Unfortunately, the time has been reached when the House must move to the Adjournment debate. The points raised are, of course, relevant and on the record, but it is also known that there is a named day to debate that Bill in the House on Second Reading.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|