Emergency Services Staff

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:21 pm on 4th September 2002.

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Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 5:21 pm, 4th September 2002

I, too, congratulate Karen Gillon on bringing this matter to the chamber. We should thank her for doing so. Clearly, the matter is of the greatest concern.

People who are going about their jobs—especially when those jobs involve the saving of life and property—require to be protected. Of course, they should not have to be protected. They should be able to work without let or hindrance. However, as Karen Gillon has explained, we are seeing a sinister trend in which people who go to fight fires find themselves under attack. It would be bad enough if that happened spontaneously but, when a deliberate ambush is set up, it becomes a matter of even greater concern.

Unfortunately, this is yet another manifestation of the yob tendency in which unadulterated hooliganism, which has become so prevalent in the past year, goes unchecked. That cannot be allowed to continue. The trend manifests itself in other ways. For example, in high flats in Knightswood in Glasgow, workmen who were improving houses had to be withdrawn from the site because they were being pelted by missiles from the top storeys. Those workmen were trying to improve people's housing conditions but they found themselves under attack. As we have heard, ambulance crews too have found themselves under attack. Is it not an appalling commentary on our society that it is sometimes necessary to place police officers on duty in hospital casualty reception areas? That is extremely worrying.

What are we going to do about it? Over the past year, the minister has heard a lot from me. My party has suggested some positive and direct plans. There is a degree of urgency. The Executive has to consider its policy on law and order and acknowledge that it is not working. The Executive will have to do something to protect people who are going about their jobs, trying to save lives but finding themselves under attack.

I suggest that those who are arrested and charged with offences of this type should not be charged with a summary complaint and should certainly not go to the children's hearing system. They should be charged on indictment so that they can face sentences from the sheriff courts of up to three years' imprisonment. That would send out a message that we will not tolerate this kind of conduct.

However, we have to look further into the matter. We have to find out what the parents of those who are involved in such actions are doing. Pictures have appeared in the papers that clearly identify the youngsters. What actions are their parents taking? What action is being taken to deter members of those families from behaving in this outrageous manner?

Karen Gillon is to be congratulated on raising this issue. It is highly topical and it is highly important. The Parliament and the Executive must respond and respond firmly—otherwise, this behaviour will continue. It is a matter of the gravest concern to everyone. Something must be done before a life is lost in the service of the community. It seems inevitable that a vehicle will come off the road or that someone will be struck by a brick or another missile. Effective action must be taken quickly.