Emergency Services Staff

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:47 pm on 4th September 2002.

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Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 5:47 pm, 4th September 2002

There are occasions when this Parliament speaks with one voice on major public issues. Tonight has been one of those occasions, started off by Karen Gillon's inspirational speech at the beginning.

There are few things more nauseating than attacks on public service workers, in whatever sphere, who are going to help other members of the public. It is right that the wider dimensions of the problem have been debated, and I would like to cite a couple of statistics. In 2000-01, firefighters attended 39,000 fires that had been deliberately started, and which resulted in 11 deaths and more than 400 casualties. In the same year, more than 4,000 motor vehicles were deliberately set alight, according to a report by Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary and Her Majesty's chief inspector of fire services for Scotland. The average bus in Glasgow has its windows smashed eight times a year, and more than 160 people were injured while travelling on First Bus buses in Strathclyde last year. Vandals also caused £1 million of damage to buses.

As Angus MacKay and other members have said, the problem goes wider than emergency vehicles. However, I would like to add my voice to the call for the attacks on emergency service workers to be regarded as an aggravated offence. As Brian Fitzpatrick said, that happens already with regard to the way in which the judiciary deals with the problem. Children under 16 would usually appear before a children's panel and might get off with a warning. I do not think that there should be any circumstances in which a significant attack on an emergency worker does not result in a report to the panel and in the matter being dealt with seriously.

Whatever else one might say about emphasising care and the needs of the individual—which is perfectly valid—that must be balanced by the greater public issue of how we can stop such attacks happening in the first place. I say that as one who has often spoken in Parliament in a much more liberal fashion, in distinct opposition to the line taken by Bill Aitken.

Margo MacDonald was right to mention attitude changing. I am thinking about drink-driving. In my youth, people came up to me, as a lawyer, and discussed how they could avoid being breathalysed and caught for drunken driving. That situation has changed. It is no longer cool to be a drunken driver. Attitudes have changed.

We must draw together all appropriate mechanisms. There must be rapid on-the-spot responses to such incidents. People who do such things must be targeted. We must consider the system that has been used in England with the bus services and try to draw together all the agencies with their accumulated wisdom and ideas in local areas. The message from the Parliament is that action must be taken quickly and effectively and such behaviour must stop—there are no two ways about it.