Amendment No. 2 is quite a useful shorthand amendment in that it deals with the problem of inadvertence far more subtly than did the Scottish drafting. I am assured by the Home Office and legal advisers that the phrase “without reasonable excuse” covers all that is required, and does so singularly succinctly. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
In effect, we have already had the debate on assault, but I shall make one observation: it is one thing to talk about what a Government Bill can do, and another to talk about what is achievable with a private Member’s Bill. I do not wish to tweak the tail of thehon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, but on his Benches sits the scourge of the private Member’s Bill, who delights in sabotaging Bill after Bill, and does so with great ability. He ominously stood up, early on, and made it clear to me that he would not tolerate the inclusion of a new offence of assault. Since I like him very much and admire him enormously—at one time, I had a similar job to his on the Front Bench, giving us a sort of union compatibility—I recognised that his threat was not insignificant. It was more of a threat in some ways than that of my hon. Friend the Minister, I think. As we shall have only one day for Report, I responded not just to the pressures from my own Benches, but to the formidable pressures from the Opposition Benches.
We covered the critical issues relevant to this group of amendments in an earlier debate. The provision will create a new offence covering ambulance and lifeboat crews and coastguards and—it will probably help Committee members if I reassure them on this point—it will be an anchor for early interventions using some of the tools that I referred to on Second Reading, such as acceptable behaviour contracts and so on.
Simplifying the clause by means of the phrase “without reasonable excuse” will enable us to get something we all want—success in prosecutions. One of our initial anxieties about the structure of the original Bill was that it was relatively laborious. Unfortunately, we have found that legislation of that kind can be an unintended barrier to success in pursuing prosecutions.
Here again, we benefit from the early general discussion that you permitted, Mr. Benton, because this group of amendments has substantially been discussed, relating as it does to the question of definition. The Minister has given her initial answer to the request for an explanation of the change in the Bill’s content. I am glad that new clause 1 is included; it is what I consider a safeguard clause.
Amendments made: No. 6, in page 2, line 11, at end insert—
‘(aa) that of a person employed by a fire and rescue authority in England and Wales;
(ab) in relation to England and Wales, that of a person (other than a person falling within paragraph (aa)) whose duties as an employee or as a servant of the Crown involve—
(i) extinguishing fires; or
(ii) protecting life and property in the event of a fire;'.
No. 7, in page 2, line 11, at end insert—
‘(ac) that of a person employed by a relevant NHS body in the provision of ambulance services (including air ambulance services), or of a person providing such services pursuant to arrangements made by, or at the request of, a relevant NHS body;
(ad) that of a person providing services for the transport of organs, blood, equipment or personnel pursuant to arrangements made by, or at the request of, a relevant NHS body;'.
No. 8, in page 2, line 16, leave out
‘on a body of water'.
No. 9, in page 2, line 18, at end insert ‘or recovery'.
No. 10, in page 2, line 19, leave out paragraphs (d)to (h).—[Mr. Alan Williams.]
Amendments made: No. 12, in page 2, line 42, at end insert—
‘( ) serious harm to any building or other property; or'.
No. 13, in page 2, line 44, at end insert—
‘( ) In subsection (3) above “relevant NHS body” means—
(a) in relation to England and Wales, an NHS foundation trust, National Health Service trust, Special Health Authority, Primary Care Trust or Local Health Board;
(b) in relation to Northern Ireland, a Health and Social Services trust or Health and Social Services Board.'—[Mr. Alan Williams.]
I do not wish to detain the Committee, but I wonder whether the right hon. Member for Swansea, West or the Minister can answer a point that has just occurred to me. We have just agreed amendments relating to protection for people who are employed by a relevant NHS body to provide services. What is the position of St. John Ambulance workers? They might not be employed by the NHS but they provide important ambulance services for the public. I am sure that the Committee would agree that they should be included in the protections accorded by this Bill, and I shall be grateful for clarification as to whether that is the case.
Yes. The Bill covers ambulance workers generally, the air ambulance and volunteers and voluntary organisations running ambulances. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.