Last Friday, I was one of the MPs that stayed in London to vote for the Bill to protect emergency workers and ensure that it passed its second reading. In the end, there was a consensus on all sides of parliament and a vote was not required, meaning that is has now passed to the next stage.
I think that strengthening the law to protect staff in our emergency services who are just doing their job is now needed. In the current internet age, there has been a coarsening of our society with more people showing aggression and intolerance and more people finding themselves on the receiving end of abuse. We see it in the nature of some of our political debate with intolerant attitudes which can undermine freedom of speech.
We have also sadly seen an increase in abuse and physical attacks aimed at front line staff in our emergency services. This is totally unacceptable. The great strength of our emergency services stems from the men and women who work in them and the commitment they bring. We owe emergency service workers a debt of gratitude for the courage, commitment and dedication they demonstrate in keeping us safe and this needs to be reflected in the law.
The Bill would create a statutory aggravating factor. This means that when a person is convicted of a specific offence, the judge would have to consider the fact it was committed against an emergency worker as an aggravating factor in determining the sentence within the maximum allowed for the particular offence. It will also create a new aggravated version of the offences of common assault and battery when committed against an emergency worker and extend the maximum penalty.
The Bill covers all emergency workers, including police, prison officers, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue services and certain healthcare workers including ambulance personnel and it sends a very clear message that our society will not tolerate assault on the emergency services. Sometimes, despite the nature of politics at the moment, parliament is capable of coming together in unity to deliver changes that matter.