Emergency Services Staff

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:43 pm on 4th September 2002.

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Photo of Brian Fitzpatrick Brian Fitzpatrick Labour 5:43 pm, 4th September 2002

Unanimity seems to be breaking out around the chamber. That is important and it is particularly good that there is also unanimity in the commendations for Karen Gillon for securing the debate. As usual, her timing is impeccable. I make that as a serious point.

We are moving towards the anniversary of the mass murders on September 11. If there was one good thing that came out of that—and I do not think that there were many good things—it was the reclaiming of the public sphere as a place for collective endeavour. We must reflect seriously on the reclaiming of the notion of public service and the reclaiming, in particular, of commendations for public service heroes.

Across the globe, we need to consider how we put substance around a lot of the rhetoric that was indulged in during the aftermath of those horrific events. That must be reflected in our treatment of our firefighters. What we are hearing—and I am sure that the deputy minister is hearing it loud and clear—is support for a campaign of zero tolerance of attack on public service and emergency workers.

There was a lot of sense in what my colleague Paul Martin said. I suspect that, saving the statutory provisions in relation to the police, any reasonable fiscals and sheriffs are already treating assaults or attacks on public sector or emergency workers as an aggravation. They certainly should be. If they are not doing so, they are failing.

I urge the minister to give serious consideration to whether we need to go further on that front and establish statutory charges in relation to the protection of emergency and public sector workers. We might consider using the vehicle of the Scottish Police Federation petition, presented by Mr Keil, on the use of saliva and blood as weapons of attack on public sector workers. A more wide-ranging consideration of such a provision would be a useful early exercise on the part of the Executive.

Karen Gillon mentioned a depressing dossier of attacks. We all know from our constituencies of individual instances that literally chill the blood and leave us feeling rather grubby about how we, as communities, do or do not react to what happens to people who are undertaking very difficult tasks. As Margo MacDonald said, we must seriously reflect on what our values are and how we instil in schoolchildren citizenship values and the notion that they have a sense of ownership of the public services. Paul Martin also pointed out that we must show tenants, owner-occupiers and others that there are responsibilities that come with living in communities, rather than people simply having the right to call on community services.

Like Margo MacDonald, I do not think that there are any easy solutions, and I certainly do not think that Karen Gillon suggested that when she lodged her motion for debate. However, there is an urgency that must be addressed. We must put meat on the bones of our concerns about public sector workers. The Parliament exists to ensure that such concerns are articulated into policy that is delivered and acted upon.