Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:48 pm on 20th October 2017.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda 12:48 pm, 20th October 2017

With the leave of the House, I should like to respond to the debate. My hon. Friend Holly Lynch and I have received so many congratulations, thanks and tributes today that I feel as though we are now married. This is made even more confusing by the fact that her partner is also called Chris. It would be quite surprising—[Interruption.] All right, calm down! It has been good that nobody has tried to talk the Bill out today or tried to keep the debate going for unnecessary purposes. Every Member who has spoken has done so either because they wanted to pay tribute to the emergency workers in their own constituency, because they had particular stories that they wanted to tell or because they had identified issues that they felt the Bill still needed to address.

I have a short list of the issues that I think we will need to address in Committee. One is the definition of emergency workers, which has been referred to by several people. There is a question of whether we should extend it to include other NHS workers, PCSOs and custody officers, for example. I am keen, however, not to extend it so far that we do not throw a cordon sanitaire, as it were, around our emergency workers specifically.

Secondly, as Gareth Johnson said, we will need to consider the reference in clause 1 to

“in the exercise of functions as such a worker”.

We will need to make sure that that does not become a loophole or a “get out” clause for those who attack or assault our emergency workers.

The third area to consider is the list of offences that can be aggravated. Members might think it a slightly odd list. There is a rationale for it, but we should perhaps consider other offences, such as those under the Public Order Act, which several hon. Members have referred to. As I have said to several people, I am keen not to make the issue of spitting and biting one that adds stigma in particular to those with HIV. If that were to be an outcome of the Bill, I would not want it on the statute book. I am keen to get that right, so we might need to amend that clause. In addition, as I understand it, the Government have signified that a money resolution, and consequently clause 7, will not be necessary, so we will have to remove that clause in Committee.

I want to tell one brief story. A bit like my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax, a few years ago I was caught up in an incident. It was around the time that the foxhunting legislation was going through Parliament. I had taken quite a strong stance in favour of the legislation, and my house had been attacked many times and all sorts of horrible things scrawled over it—I was quite well known for my position on the legislation. I was going to a fundraising event in Cardiff—my hon. Friend Jessica Morden was there as well—and as I arrived, there was a large number of foxhunting activists outside the hotel where it was happening. They saw me from a distance and started chasing me, shouting all sorts of obscenities at me. They clearly wanted to—well, I do not think they wanted to have a conversation, let’s put it that way.

I am very grateful to the police, who bundled me into the back of a van and locked the doors. You could not see inside the van from outside and the people chasing me disappeared for a while. Unfortunately, the police forgot they put me in the van. [Laughter.] About two hours later, I managed to get through to 999 to be released from the police van, by which time I was in terrible need of a toilet. [Laughter.] There is a serious point to this story. We then decided to get me into the event through the back door. We created a phalanx of police officers—in front, to the side and behind—with riot shields to get me into the hotel. Incidentally, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East was no use at all—she was not answering her phone.

Anyway, the police were trying to get me in, and one of the police officers was of Chinese background. Suddenly, the demonstrators saw us trying to get in through the back and started throwing stones, bricks and all sorts of things at us. At one point, they started shouting at the police officer I referred to, calling her—not my words—a “Chinky pig” and punching her. I am grateful to the police for getting me in, but what struck me when I was thinking about this last night was that although it was an aggravating factor that the attack on her was racially motivated, it was not an aggravating factor—it would have been had our Bill been law—that she was a police officer. That is all I want to do in the Bill—to put hate crimes and hatred of and assaults on our emergency workers on the same footing.

I am enormously grateful to everybody here today. I know how difficult it is when there are competing constituency events, especially for those from far-flung constituencies, particularly in Wales. I am also grateful for the Minister’s offer to progress the Bill as fast as possible. There are means, if the Government choose to adopt them, to get the Bill on the statute book by Easter next year. Let us see if we cannot do that together.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).