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number and ferocity of the attacks has been getting worse and there have been several attacks this week.
I wanted to speak about the Bill because I received representations from my constituents to ensure that I supported it. I thus read the FBU website and paramedics websites to find out what they said about
the Bill and peoples experiences. It is clear that assault and abuse causes great concern because they take up many pages of those worthy websites.
If we cant do our job because of violent assaults then it is our communities which are being put at risk. We are the targets, but it is our communities which are deprived of an emergency response which are the victims.
He believes that the Bill must be part of a package of measures and that central to that package should be a wide range of educational measures to try to stop such attacks. The union is keen for statistics to be collected on such incidents. In some brigades, fire crews are being encouraged to record every single incident. However, as the union points out, the crews will be encouraged even more if they understand how the figures can be used.
The union also wants co-ordination and evaluation. I understand that various initiatives are being introduced throughout the country, including community-based projects with offenders and possible offenders. I know that we would all agree that there is a need for such initiatives to be properly monitored and evaluated nationally so that brigades can learn more quickly what works and what does not. Frankly, what works in one area will not necessarily work in another.
The Fire Brigades Union has also accurately pointed out that the end result of the continuation of these incidents could well be the effective withdrawal or diminution of services from certain areas. Unless the problem is dealt with, we run the risk of depriving parts of the UK of access to the first-class emergency services that we have all come to expect and appreciate. After all, if we have to wait for the police to accompany an ambulance worker or a firefighter into a certain part of the country, it means waiting for two emergency services rather than one, which will slow down our ability to respond to incidents. That would be a real shame, and would mean that there would be a postcode impact on 999 services.
Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that we have reached a truly appalling state of affairs when these attacks threaten services that are so badly needed? Does she have any ideas about how to stop them, or what provokes them? Is it something specificmen in uniform, for examplethat provokes them?
Lyn Brown: Personally, I think it has something to do with the high adrenaline and excitement associated with a blue flashing light, and the attendant drama. It may be cultural thing, with emergency services arriving at a scene, leading to a rush of adrenaline, from which some young people, unfortunately, get a thrill.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op):
My father was a postman, but he did not often have the experiences that I understand certain people in the postal services have today. To take up the previous intervention, I think
that there is something significant about uniforms as symbols of authority. A minority of people have made it impossible for the post to be delivered in certain localities. A minority of young boys see it as an opportunity to challenge symbols of authority. Clearly, although the Bill is important we also need other measures to deal with the problem of the socialisation of young men. We need to get them to accept that there are boundaries of acceptable behaviour, and that they should respect some symbols of authority.
Lyn Brown: My hon. Friend is right to say that we cannot view one Bill as a panacea for all ills. We need to look at the provision of youth services and what happens in our schools, to build a picture of the sorts of remedies that can begin to impact on this growing social ill. In my own West Ham constituency, the council has used the Olympic games and other sporting events as an effective way of galvanising interest in sport. It has spent about £1 million each year for the last three years on sporting services for young people, and as a result, 40 per cent. fewer young people appeared in the magistrates court for the first time. I hope that the House will congratulate the London borough of Newham on that particular achievement, and thank it for continuing to invest in such services.
Mike Gapes: I am grateful to my long-standing hon. Friend for giving way again. I believe that her council should also be congratulated on its fantastic campaign to regenerate the borough and on its victory in bringing the 2012 Olympics to Stratford in the borough of Newham, which I hope will be yet another measure of
Let us remember that the obstruction of emergency workers is not just a worrying and unwarranted assault on our hard-working and widely respected emergency workers. At worst, obstruction in an emergency can threaten peoples lives. Obstruction of emergency workers is becoming more of a problem, and the Bill can help to deal with it.
I am reminded of a case in Hertford, which I read about just a few weeks ago. An angry motorist tried to move an ambulance that was blocking a road and assaulted a female medic who was treating a seriously ill patient. The incident happened on a Saturday afternoon, and it caused fury in the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire ambulance and paramedic service.
The high dependency unit was called about 4 oclock in the afternoon to help a patient with severe breathing difficulties. The patient was at home, so there was no option but to park in the road. The crew were assisting the patient into the back of the ambulance when the car pulled up. The driver could not get past, so he got out of his car, climbed into the ambulance and let the handbrake off so that it rolled back. A woman technician came out of the back of the ambulance and found a man in the ambulance attempting to move it. Being confronted, the man walked off. She asked him what he thought he
was doing, which I think is a fairly reasonable and measured response to such an incident. They exchanged words, and he slapped her round the head. Because of the delay, the patients condition deteriorated to such an extent that they had to call the paramedics through. I understand that the police are investigating the incident but have yet to make any arrest.
Lyn Brown: I suffer from the malady of not being a learned Member and find myself wishing that I had done a law degree, which would have been much more useful to me than literature[Hon. Members: No!] Well, we do need people who understand books as well. I understand that the reference to assault was taken out of the Bill because there is already sufficient remedy in English law to tackle that problem.
Barbara Keeley: I understand that the panel that advises on sentencing is consulting on sentencing for assaults and other violent offences, including the sort that we are talking aboutthe use of weapons, and when victims are serving the public, for example. I ask the Minister to pass on the concern of the House about this policy area because, on behalf of their communities, Members would like to see guidelines appropriate to the seriousness of the offences that we are dealing with.
Lyn Brown: I thank my hon. Friend. The Bill puts in statute a respect for emergency services and emergency service workers that may not hitherto have been established. I believe that it will incrementally change opinion, and the perception of those workers. It is a great pity that we need to do that, but when cases are brought to court and people are accused and tried for obstructing emergency crews, it may help to bring about a certain attitude on the part of the public, who may not have a natural respect for the authority and work of emergency services staff
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Lady for interrupting. Now that Israel has killed scores of civilians in its disproportionate, dangerous and destructive response to events in the middle east and is behaving more like a rogue state, and given that it is a serial offender against United Nations resolutions, have you received any notice that a Minister intends to come to the House to make a statement on Britains response to the terrible unfolding tragedy and the dangerous situation in the middle east?
Meg Hillier: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and for her eloquent speech. Does she agree that it is possible under current sentencing provision for the judge to take into account the fact that the victim is a public servant? A mechanism already exists in law, although we all agree that further work needs to be done on sentencing guidance.
Lyn Brown: That is my understanding of the position. As I said earlier, we need to create and enforce respect for people who work in difficult circumstances to serve the public. It is a pity that the measure is necessary, but it will be an added bonus on our statute book.
In April, a 999 crew were attacked just after 10 oclock at night in Westburn road, Aberdeen. The ambulance was responding to an emergency call with sirens and blue lights activated when an object was thrown at its windscreen. It shattered the glass and badly shook up the paramedic who was driving. That was such an irresponsible act. It could have significantly injured the people in the ambulance and prevented the paramedics from getting to the scene to which they had been called. The paramedic was clearly dedicated, and continued to the emergency that had necessitated the 999 call and dealt with it. I am informed that paramedics have also been attacked in Grampian, but that was believed to be the first occasion on which an ambulance was attacked. In response to what the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) said, I am trying to emphasise that there is an escalation.
Michael Gove: The hon. Lady may not know it, but I had the great privilege of being brought up in Aberdeen, not far from Westburn road. In Scotland, legislation provides that assaults against emergency workers constitute an aggravated offence. She has drawn attention to an incident in Aberdeen that clearly requires exemplary action to be taken against the assailants. However, the same provisions do not apply south of the border. The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) made that point, but the hon. Lady persists in defending legislation that is, according to her own words, inadequate for the task.
Lyn Brown: Again, I am not a learned Member, but I understand that there is a difference between Scots law and English law. The provisions in Scots law were necessary to deal with a specific matter, but their incorporation into English law would create confusion. I am sure that the Minister will deal with that point later.
Richard Younger-Ross: The hon. Lady is generous in giving way. I am not a learned Member eithermy background is in architecturebut is not the problem the fact that people who hit a policeman know that that is a serious offence, but that the general public do not view hitting an ambulance worker or member of a fire crew in the same way? Surely we should try to get young people to appreciate that hurting an emergency worker is the same as hurting a police officer, and would have the same repercussions.
Lyn Brown: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I can only give the same answer: I understand that incorporating provisions from Scots law into English law would create confusion rather than assist. I agree with his sentimentspeople must know that when they attack our paramedics, firefighters and others who attempt to assist the public, the full force of the law will bear down on them and the crime will be perceived as serious.
Amendments in Committee were thoughtful and measured. Broadening the scope of the offence to include assaulting and impeding was sensible. I am pleased that the Government have announced that several measures will be introduced to complement the new law. Such attacks can be viewed as part of a bigger picture, and it is important to include them in the Governments general antisocial behaviour agenda. It must be made clear to people involved in such incidents that their behaviour is unacceptable. We must underline the fact that they are threatening lives, attacking brave, hard-working and committed public servants and depriving their communities of vital public services.
From the magnitude and frequency of the incidents, it would appear that some sort of national education campaign, co-ordinated with the emergency services, is required to change peoples attitudes to such behaviour.
Mrs. Betty Williams: My hon. Friend has been most generous in giving way. Like other hon. Members, she has highlighted the seriousness of the situation and the need for this important Bill. However, does she agree that the examples that we have heard tend to under-represent the seriousness of the position? My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho) spoke about how busy ambulance workers are, going from one emergency call to another, and there must be assaults that are not reported. We therefore underestimate the true scale of the situation and we need the Bill, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) is steering so carefully through Parliament.
Lyn Brown: My hon. Friend is right. There is gross under-reporting of incidents. I stress to Opposition Members who have intervened that the abuse and minor incidents go unreported, perhaps because there is no redress in law to deal with young people or other individuals who commit such acts. If there were such redresswhich there soon will be, thanks to the diligence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, Westthere would be a point in reporting the abuse, aggravation and obstruction. The reported figures will thus increase, but that will not mean that the number of incidents has increased. It will simply mean that people now have redress and a means of dealing with obstruction and petty violencethe small incidents that do not go to court and cannot currently be tackled.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): The hon. Lady has been generous in giving way and I am most grateful to her. She mentioned the need for a national education campaign. Does she agree that parents, perhaps especially fathers, play a crucial role? We must nip in the bud the sort of attitudes that we have been considering, and that must be done in peoples homes, because children first learn behaviour from their parents.
I sincerely hope that the incidents are happening through ignorance of their consequences rather than being malicious attacks on community services. The Bill will also help to underline the overwhelming public support for our emergency workers, and to reflect just how unacceptable attacks on hard-working law-abiding people are.
The Bill has avoided creating a range of different offences of assault applying to different groups of public servants. While I agree that any assault on public sector staff is abhorrent and to be condemned, tougher sentences for such assaults can be achieved through the Sentencing Guidelines Council. That would be preferable to risking muddying the waters with regard to the protection already offered by the law on assault, which is both universal and equal. The fact that the victim of an assault was serving the public is already taken into account by the courts when sentencing, and is regarded as a serious aggravating factor.
I am pleased that the Bill has seen fit to cover the full range of emergency workers who can conceivably be expected to respond to emergency situations, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) said. To restrict the legislation to emergency services that display a flashing blue light would be too prohibitive, and would, as has been stated at earlier stages, remove the protection provided by the Bill from a number of vital parts of our emergency services. I also accept the need for the provision allowing the Secretary of State to modify the legislation to allow further categories of emergency worker to be included under its protection.
The Bill has benefited from constructive debates, and constructive amendments in Committee, and will prove to be effective. It is a clear and comprehensive Bill, and fills an important gap in our legislation. I therefore commend it to the House.
Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): It gives me great pleasure to follow a number of eloquent hon. Members in the debate. As a new Member of the House, I am learning from the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), whose brevity, eloquence and commitment to his Bill provide a model that I hope to pursue in my parliamentary careerwhich might not be as long as his, but which will, I hope, be at least as distinguished.
The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) raised the issue of air and mountain rescue services being included in the provisions. I am glad that the Bill offers the Secretary of State the opportunity to add categories of people to the list of emergency workers, or to delete them. I am sure that the Minister was listening to what was said about that. I want to comment later on emergency services other than those that have taken up the main part of our debate.
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