Firework Season (Protection of Emergency Workers)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 6th November 2018.

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Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

2. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to protect emergency workers during the firework season, in light of the reported increase in levels of violence and intimidation that they face at this time of year. (S5T-01303)

Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government will not tolerate any attacks on our emergency services. A number of legal protections are in place, including the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005. Powers that are available through antisocial behaviour legislation have been used effectively as part of the multi-agency approach to planning and to prevention.

I am aware of some reports of antisocial behaviour and attacks on emergency services this year, and I recognise the impact that they have on not only emergency service personnel but the communities that are affected. However, we are awaiting a full response from Police Scotland.

I am sure that members will join me in extending my formal thanks and recognition to our emergency services following their busiest night of the year.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I, too, thank the emergency services for the work that they do. Rather than running from danger, firefighters run to it, and the fact is that people use fireworks night to draw them in. Other members will be as concerned as I was to read reports over the weekend of watch managers having described war zone-type situations in which projectiles and fireworks were thrown at firefighters, and they will have found them deeply disturbing.

I am alarmed that there is a need for a campaign at all. Will the minister join me in welcoming the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s do not attack me campaign? What steps is the Scottish Government taking to follow up that campaign? I had hoped that the minister would be able to share initial reports from last night about the level of violence and intimidation that the service faced with last night’s festivities.

Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

I am aware of the do not attack me campaign, as a result of which very good work has been done.

Unfortunately, we do not have the full data from last night. It is too early for that; the agencies are still putting together the numbers. The number of incidents last night has still to be confirmed, but there is no suggestion at this stage of a significant increase. I hope that that reassures Daniel Johnson on that point.

Antisocial behaviour, unfortunately, occurs all year round, and the police and local agencies have a range of powers and measures available to them to direct and disperse. This year, there has been a lot of multi-agency work on planning and prevention. I have seen the work that has been undertaken in Edinburgh this year, and I was very impressed by the amount of working together, the range of measures that were used and the different levels of planning that were involved. The work has been good, and I commend everyone who has been involved in it.

We will work with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Police Scotland to review last night’s events and consider any lessons to be learned.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I hope that those early reports are correct and that there was a reduced level of violence.

I am pleased that the minister raised the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005, which was passed under the previous Labour Administration. It has led to more than 8,000 convictions, with about 800 convictions a year. Individuals who are found guilty receive up to 12 months in prison, a £10,000 fine, or both. I was pleased that the Scottish Government extended protection to general practitioners and community midwives. Does the minister agree that the legislation is useful? More important, does she agree that those who protect us and those who we ask to uphold the law should enjoy the protection of the law and that offences such as those in the act are a vital tool in extending that protection?

Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

Yes, I agree. Specific laws are in place to protect emergency workers through, as the member mentioned, the 2005 act. In 2008, this Administration extended the act to cover GPs, other doctors, nurses and midwives when they are working in the community. Penalties are available to the courts, all the way up to life imprisonment and unlimited fines, to deal with the most serious assaults. That gives the police, prosecutors and courts the tools to ensure that those who attack public-facing workers are dealt with appropriately and effectively.

The Presiding Officer:

Thank you. I apologise, again—this time to Liam Kerr and George Adam. I remind all members and ministers to be concise. We will then have more room to fit in other members.