Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Bill

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). He was kind enough to ask me to be a sponsor of the Bill, but with his experience of the procedures of the House it was not the most onerous task to support his Bill as he is so capable of steering it through all its stages. It is no surprise that it has reached Third Reading this morning.

When my right hon. Friend moved Third Reading, he mentioned Eric Forth, my former constituency neighbour in Bromley, and the fact that he was fortunate enough to have Eric Forth’s support for the intent of his Bill. I pay tribute to Eric Forth as a formidable opponent and a regular at our sittings on a Friday morning. My two Bills on environmental measures, which I fought for several years to get through the House, always fell on what became known as Eric Forth’s killing fields for private Members’ Bills. I had to sit silently as he eloquently talked them into oblivion. I am pleased to say that elements of one of my Bills have been resurrected in the legislation on home information packs, but sadly not with my name on them. None the less, Eric Forth was a formidable person who will be missed at our Friday morning debates.
It is surprising that we need to address the issue that is covered by the Bill. We have had emergency workers for many years and the problem is not new, but the Bill will be welcomed by those workers.

I understand that accident and emergency workers have been excluded from the Bill. It is arguable that in their daily work they frequently need immediately to respond to the needs of people who have been brought in for care and attention, and obstructing accident and emergency workers can have catastrophic consequences for people who need their attention. I accept that accident and emergency workers work in buildings and that they are often supported by security guards, but they face a great deal of aggression for no apparent reason. I have witnessed such behaviour when I have accompanied people to accident and emergency. The obstruction of such workers should be dealt with more severely, and the situation would be simplified if the Bill applied to them, too.

The Government’s respect agenda, although not directly addressed by the Bill, is part of what the Bill seeks to achieve because it is better to prevent emergency workers from being obstructed or attacked while carrying out their duties in the first place. I commend the work of the Metropolitan police, the fire service and others to explain to young people the dangers posed by things that they do sometimes for a lark and the consequences for other people if they impede emergency workers. That approach includes explaining to young people the importance of the work done by emergency workers and the dangers to which emergency workers expose themselves in addition to the problem of their possibly being attacked. That helps young people to address antisocial behaviour in the wider community and gets them to understand the consequences of their actions for not only emergency workers, but people who need emergency services.

Dan Norris: Does my hon. Friend accept that although the Bill is welcome and positive in many respects, other aspects of Government legislation are making a huge difference to, for example, the number of assaults experienced by NHS staff? The number of assaults against nurses has drastically reduced in recent years because of other aspects of Government business.

Clive Efford: I am grateful for that intervention, but I will not pursue it, because I can see that Mr. Deputy Speaker thinks that that would stray too far from the Bill. Nevertheless, we need to address the antisocial behaviour that has made this Bill necessary. The Government are addressing that point through the respect agenda, which has my full support. I commend the work that has been done, but I believe that we need to invest more money to minimise the number of times that the Bill is used to protect emergency workers.

Mr. Kidney: I agree with my hon. Friend that education is important in preventing the obstruction of emergency workers. Does he agree that it is still important for Parliament to pass this law, which sends a message to young people that the matter is so serious that there is a specific offence of obstructing emergency workers?

Clive Efford: Yes; the Bill is necessary. As I have said, it is surprising that the gap in the law still exists and that we still need to simplify the law regarding firefighters. Although existing measures can be used against those who obstruct firefighters, the Bill simplifies the procedure and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West has said, covers other emergency workers, such as ambulance workers—I am surprised that they have not included before—and coastguards.

The Bill is necessary, and the emergency workers and public sector workers whom it covers will welcome it. As has been said in this House on numerous occasions, emergency workers risk their well-being when they attend emergencies and protect the public. They do an enormous amount of good work in our local communities, and they deserve the cover of the Bill if they are impeded in doing so. Once again, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West on successfully piloting the Bill through the House.

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