All 3 contributions to the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Fri 20th Oct 2017
Wed 15th Nov 2017
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Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill
Commons Chamber

3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons

Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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2nd reading: House of Commons
Friday 20th October 2017

(6 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 Read Hansard Text

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Sam Gyimah Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Sam Gyimah)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is in typically bashful mood, but I still congratulate him on coming top of the private Member’s Bill ballot and on using that coveted position to introduce a Bill on such an important topic. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) on her tireless work in championing the “Protect the Protectors” campaign. The public voted in an online poll to support this Bill, and it is therefore important that we deliver it.

As the son of a midwife, I know of the commitment and hard work shown every day by people working in the public sector. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), I know how it feels to grow up knowing that a parent could be attacked in the line of work, doing something they care about and to which they are committed.

Every day, emergency workers across the country show remarkable courage simply in carrying out their duties. They save lives, protect communities and uphold the law. We owe each and every one of them a debt of gratitude, and they deserve the full protection of the law. Introducing tougher sentences for such despicable attacks on emergency workers sends the clearest possible message that this cowardly behaviour will not be tolerated. That is why the Government support the Bill.

Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know my hon. Friend has looked at the issue carefully, and he heard my intervention on the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). Sentences seem to be the same for summary offences as for indictable offences, so will he consider whether it is necessary to increase sentences for indictable offences?

Sam Gyimah Portrait Mr Gyimah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point, as did my hon. Friends the Members for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) and for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) and the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). We will work through the detail in Committee, but the Bill deserves its Second Reading today.

I am humbled by the stories of bravery we have heard today. This year our emergency services have faced the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, as well as horrific terrorist attacks. The murder of Police Constable Keith Palmer, outside this very building, is a shocking and tragic reminder to us all of how much our emergency workers do to protect us.

We must not forget that, as well as responding to major incidents, our frontline emergency workers—be they police or prison officers, firefighters, paramedics or other health workers—deal with challenging and unpredictable situations as part of their everyday working lives.

I was asked whether civil nuclear constabulary and Army personnel working in Operation Temperer will be covered by the Bill, and the answer is yes. They are engaged to provide services for police purposes, so the Bill will apply to them.

Although public attention often focuses on paramedics being abused by drunks in city centres, or on heroic police officers tackling violent criminals, behind prison walls our governors and frontline prison officers work daily with some of society’s most dangerous and troubled individuals. I have seen at first hand the courage shown by those committed men and women as they protect society. As with all emergency workers responding to critical situations, prison staff must be able to carry out their duties without fear of assault. They carry out their duties with incredible calmness and professionalism. I often pay tribute to them in this House, and I do so again today. I am pleased that the Bill will apply to them, too.

For some time now, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice have been working together, building an evidence base on what is happening on the ground and looking at what more we can do to protect our emergency workers. For the past two years, the Home Office has published provisional statistics on assaults on police officers, and sadly, as has been mentioned, they show that the numbers are increasing. In 2016-17, there were an estimated 24,000 assaults on police officers, which is a 7% increase on the 2015-16 figure. Assaults on prison officers also rose by a third last year and, in the acute hospital and ambulance sectors, physical assaults on staff, where no medical factors are involved, have risen by more than 34% since 2009-10. So the Government could not be clearer: this high number of assaults will not be tolerated, and those who are violent towards our emergency workers must face the full force of the law.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab), who has responsibility for courts and justice, and the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service have met the hon. Member for Rhondda several times since July to discuss the contents of this important Bill, and Government officials have assisted in its drafting. We are pleased that we have been able to work collaboratively with him on a Bill that will help to provide the police and courts with the powers they need to punish those who use violence against our emergency workers.

The hon. Gentleman has given an overview of the Bill’s provisions, but I want briefly to mention its specifics. Before doing so, I must stress that, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) made clear, we are not starting from a position where there is no protection for emergency workers or for public sector workers as a whole. Judges can already impose tough sentences for those attacking public sector workers and our courts, rightly, already consider an offence directed against those serving the public as more serious. What this Bill does is focus on supplementing those existing provisions with additional safeguards for emergency workers facing violence, often on a daily basis, simply as a result of carrying out their duties.

Clause 1 creates, in effect, a new form of common assault where the assault is on an emergency worker. An offence committed in these circumstances will have, on indictment, a maximum penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment, which is double the current maximum penalty. That will give the courts the power to sentence in a way that reflects the seriousness of the assault. I have to stress though, for those who may think even this new penalty is not sufficient, that we are talking here about common assault, the lowest level of assault, which may not involve any injury and can include as little as a single push. If the assault is more serious, it is likely to become actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm, and those offences already have a five-year maximum penalty. So we are focused here on the lower-level offences, and the maximum penalty has to reflect that.

Clause 2 deals with other more serious assaults: those not covered by the new aggravated version of common assault. For those offences, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm or even manslaughter, the Bill places a duty on the court to consider such an assault committed against an emergency worker as an aggravating factor in sentencing—that means to consider it as more serious, meriting an increased sentence within the maximum for the offence. The Bill also requires the court to make a finding that the offence was aggravated and to state this in open court. This puts on a statutory basis what we already see in sentencing guidelines. It is, however, a clear and unequivocal requirement on the court to take these offences seriously and to make clear to all concerned that it has done so.

I want briefly to mention the application of the Bill to emergency workers. The Bill, as the hon. Gentleman has said and as its title make clear, is about emergency workers and assaults on them while they are trying to carry out their daily duties. The Bill focuses on providing increased protection for emergency workers. These are people who have routinely to deal with difficult people and difficult situations simply as part of their job. That job exposes them to a degree of risk, and it is only right that we are seeking to strengthen their protection under the law. As we debate the Bill, we must keep our central objective—ensuring that emergency workers can carry out those critically important duties—firmly in mind.

It is important that we retain a focus on emergency workers, but this does not mean that the Government think other assaults are not serious. Our courts already consider the context for offences, and specifically when offences are committed against those serving the public. The current sentencing guidelines used by the courts make it clear that if any offence is

“committed against those working in the public sector or providing a service to the public”,

that should be considered as a factor increasing seriousness, indicating the need for a higher sentence within the maximum penalty. I welcome the work that the Sentencing Council has done and continues to do to make that consideration explicit in sentencing guidelines.

The third provision in the Bill relates to the testing of those who assault emergency workers. During the Committee stage of the Prisons and Courts Bill in the last Parliament, the hon. Member for Halifax raised this important matter. I said at the time that the Government were interested in looking at the issue but had to address some important practical and legal questions. I am happy to say that this Bill provides an opportunity to return to that commitment.

Unfortunately, those emergency workers who are bitten or spat at have to deal not only with the initial disgust and pain; in some cases, there might also be a concern that they have contracted a serious infectious disease. This can cause great distress and worry to the individuals and their families. It is simply not fair that the onus is currently on the emergency worker to have their own blood tested and to then potentially undergo further tests to help medical practitioners to assess whether they will develop a disease.

We therefore support the creation of a specific power for police officers to request blood and saliva samples from offenders in these cases. This will ensure that emergency workers are provided with better information regarding the likelihood that they have caught a disease. It will therefore reduce the number of occasions on which emergency workers themselves have to be tested and subsequently take medicines and endure periods of uncertainty about whether they have a disease. A blood sample will be taken only with consent. However, we agree that creating an offence of refusing to provide a blood sample for this purpose without good reason will help to ensure that offenders comply with these requests.

We want to continue to work with the hon. Member for Rhondda and with the police and other emergency services to ensure that the Bill’s proposals are both practical and affordable. I thank the Police Federation for the work that it has done in this context. We also want to work with our Welsh counterparts as the Bill progresses through Parliament, to ensure that this legislation works effectively in Wales.

Let me conclude by again thanking the hon. Member for Rhondda—he does not get thanks from me very often, so he should accept it on this occasion—for ensuring that this first Friday sitting considering private Members’ Bills has been so well spent. This is not a party political issue; it is an issue that affects us all. We have heard constituency cases from across the House today reflecting that fact. That is why I am pleased that we are working together to protect these key public servants. Introducing tougher sentences for despicable attacks on emergency workers sends the clearest possible message that those attacks will not be tolerated. I commend the many staff associations that have worked hard to push the issues in the Bill to the fore. We look forward to debating the provisions further as the Bill progresses through the House.

Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee Debate: House of Commons
Wednesday 15th November 2017

(6 years, 7 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 15 November 2017 - (15 Nov 2017)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When I was re-reading the Second Reading debate last night and remembered that the hon. Gentleman had joined the Committee, I thought it was just as well that he joined very late. Otherwise, he would have tabled an amendment to that effect, we would be debating it this morning, and I would have had to prepare for it.

The exegesis is simply that I was initially hopeful of a two-year maximum sentence on indictment. Obviously, in nearly every—in fact, in all—other cases, the sentence in a magistrates court is six months on summary conviction. That is what I had assumed that we would be proceeding with, but the Government were keener to go to 12 and 12. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer on that point later. I am enormously grateful for the support that the Government have given in making sure that the legislation is in good shape. There have been some tussles along the way, and we may want to return to the issue of sentence length on Report. I think there is still an argument for a maximum of two years for an offence, but others argue that that would be disproportionate when there are other offences that one could be convicted of that would attract sentences of anything between two and five years. Some people are arguing that that might be a more sensible route to go down when seeking to prosecute.

The new offence in clause 1 also applies to those who are off duty when they are performing the functions that they would have been performing if they were on duty. That is an important provision. Legislation in Scotland is similar but is far more complicated and difficult to use in prosecutions, and there have been instances where that has been used effectively as a loophole. It is also important to say that, as with all such legislation, the offence is not retrospective.

The second provision in clause 2 is the new aggravated offence in relation to seven sections of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and manslaughter, kidnapping and ancillary offences. I am glad to say that those ancillary offences cover quite a broad range of those who might be caught. This particular provision has taken the model of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which created an aggravated offence originally in relation to those perpetrating an offence in relation to somebody’s sexual orientation or their disability, and was subsequently amended to include whether the victim was or was presumed to be transgender. That is a good parallel because, although it does not necessarily increase the maximum sentence available, it means that the court has to state the fact that this is an aggravated offence in open court. That will be of some comfort to quite a lot of emergency workers who have gone to court and seen the person get a minimal sentence with no reference to the fact that this was an aggravated offence. Secondly, it means the court has to consider that as increasing the seriousness of the offence.

I have heard people say that the court already has lots of other means of assessing aggravated elements of the seriousness of an offence, but those vary enormously from things such as the time of day to the vulnerability of the person and the venue and so on. It is important that we put this at least on a par with the provisions of the 2003 Act. Again, it would not apply retrospectively.

I hope that all hon. Members will support the inclusion of the two offences.

Nick Hurd Portrait The Minister for Policing and the Fire Service (Mr Nick Hurd)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I join the hon. Member for Rhondda in saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan, I think for the first time in my case. If you will indulge me, may I also place on the record my admiration for the success that the hon. Gentleman has had so far with the Bill? Unfortunately, I could not attend Second Reading, so I could not place on the record my genuine admiration for his work. He is characteristically modest in describing himself as the midwife of the Bill, although I join him in congratulating the hon. Member for Halifax on her tireless work. Her speech on Second Reading was extremely powerful in helping to explain through human anecdote why such a Bill is necessary. I also join the hon. Member for Rhondda in congratulating the other sponsors of the Bill.

Having sat in the hon. Gentleman’s shoes and taken a private Member’s Bill through in my first Parliament, I also congratulate him on how he has managed the process and resisted many temptations and invitations to add baubles to the Christmas tree that is this Bill. The reality of these situations is that the more baubles you add to the tree, the more likely it is to fall over. This tree stands proud before us today because it has the right number of baubles on it, which is in large amount due to the discipline of the hon. Gentleman in seeking to pursue a Bill that is simple and coherent. He has done that and I congratulate him on it. That in large part explains why the Government are pleased to support the Bill, not least because it sends a clear message that assaults on emergency workers will not be tolerated.

As the hon. Gentleman made clear in his remarks, clause 1 creates a new form of common assault where the assault is on an emergency worker. An offence committed under those circumstances will be triable either way and will have on indictment a maximum penalty of 12 months in prison. That is double the current maximum penalty for the existing offence of assault. The new offence provides increased protection under the law for emergency workers who may be assaulted in the course of their day-to-day work.

Such increased protection will also extend to situations where an emergency worker is not at work, but acts as if he or she was—for example, when an off-duty firefighter rescues someone from a burning building. The offence will sit alongside the existing common law offences of assault and battery but will be targeted at assaults against emergency workers. In the case of a more serious assault against such a worker, the existing offences of actual bodily harm and grievous bodily harm are likely to apply.

It is worth reiterating why we are creating a new form of common assault when perpetrated against an emergency worker.

Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson
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I am sure the Minister heard my intervention. Perhaps he is answering it in his own way by explaining about other offences that sit alongside this one, but I wonder if he would directly address my point. I believe it is unusual for there to be exactly the same length of sentence for an offence that is tried summarily as for one that is tried on indictment. It may be that he is already answering that point, but I would press him slightly further on whether there is a specific explanation why the six-month and two-year sentences initially proposed have not found favour with Her Majesty’s Government.

Nick Hurd Portrait Mr Hurd
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My hon. Friend is too generous; I was not actually answering his question, but I will attempt to do so now. His basic question is why does the maximum penalty seem to be 12 months in both the magistrates court and the Crown court? The maximum penalty is in fact six months in the magistrates court and 12 months if dealt with in the Crown court. The provisions of clause 1(4) make it clear that the provisions should be read as six months, to match the sentencing powers of magistrates. That is a drafting provision to take account of provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that have not been commenced. I hope that gives my hon. Friend some explanation. I am more than happy to tease that out in the Committee and during further proceedings.

I am keen to register the human dimension. The Second Reading debate was incredibly useful in drawing out, constituency by constituency, real human examples of the risks that our emergency workers take on our behalf and intolerable situations they find themselves in. We know those examples instinctively, but it is useful to bring the experiences together in such a debate. That is why the Bill is timely and right. I am sure every single member of the Committee would join me in expressing our gratitude and respect for our emergency workers. The statistics about the number of assaults across the range of emergency workers covered by the Bill are genuinely shocking, and the Second Reading debate brought that through very clearly. It is very clear to me and the Government that emergency workers deserve the full protection of the law. Tougher sentences for assaults on emergency workers send the clearest possible message that that such cowardly and despicable behaviour will not be tolerated.

On Second Reading, we listened to various suggestions for amendments. Concerns were expressed about whether the maximum sentence for the new form of common assault, where the assault is perpetrated against an emergency worker, is harsh enough. An increase for the maximum penalty from six months to 12 months is exclusively for the lowest level of assault, which may not involve any injury, and the act constituting the offence can be as little as a push. The offences of actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm are more likely to be used if the assault is more severe. Both those offences already have a maximum penalty of five years.

Members also raised the issue of which emergency workers were covered by the Bill. The original definition of emergency worker proposed would mean that many people working in or for the NHS, who are at risk of being assaulted because they have face-to-face contact with patients or other members of the public as a regular part of their job, would not be covered by the extra protections provided by the Bill. We want to ensure that all those working in or for our NHS, providing services directly to the public, who suffer an assault either in the course of doing their job or using their skills to provide emergency care to members of the public while off duty, are given equivalent protections to those working on the frontline in our emergency services. That definition will be considered in greater detail, I am sure, during our discussions.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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Has the Minister assessed whether it makes sense for the Attorney General’s powers relating to reviewing unduly lenient sentences to have some regard to the new offence? I say that because the new offence runs alongside existing offences. I do not wish to change the drafting of the Bill, but I ask the Minister follow how the offence develops, and in the event that the courts are not sentencing as we would like, perhaps he can look at whether the Attorney General’s power should be enhanced to cover the new offence.

Nick Hurd Portrait Mr Hurd
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that thoughtful intervention, which I recall he also made on Second Reading. I certainly undertake to discuss that point with colleagues at the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General himself. My hon. Friend will recognise that what the hon. Member for Rhondda is doing through the Bill, which the Government support, is to put in place new measures that complement the existing legislation and send a strong signal to and through the system that we will not tolerate assaults on emergency workers. We are doing that both through the creation of the new offence and through the aggravating factor, which strengthens the hand of the system.

I was talking about how the scope of the Bill has shifted during the course of the debate. In addition to NHS workers, the original definition of emergency workers included prison officers and persons

“(other than a prison officer) employed or engaged to carry out functions in a custodial institution”,

but it did not cover those working in a situation in which a prisoner is being transported—for example, to court—by someone other than a prison officer. We believe it is important that those individuals are covered by the Bill. We will discuss that when we come to the relevant amendment.

Clause 2 creates an aggravating factor, as I signalled in response to my hon. Friend, which will apply to assaults that are not covered by the new offence of common assault against an emergency worker. The Bill places a duty on the court to consider assaults, which include actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm and manslaughter, committed against an emergency worker as an aggravating factor in sentencing. The offence will therefore be considered more serious and may merit an increased sentence within the maximum allowed for the offence. The sentencing judge must state in open court that the offence is so aggravated. Clause 2 puts the sentencing guidelines on a statutory basis, but with reference to a specific group of people—emergency workers—and for a specific list of assault and assault-related offences.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not think there is a great need to add to that. One point referred to on Second Reading was whether the complexity of the Scottish Act, in which there is a loophole relating to whether somebody is exercising their functions, would be replicated in this Bill, which will apply to England and Wales. Because of the way the Bill is drafted, I think we can be pretty confident that such a loophole will not exist. I do not think that there are any further issues that need to be addressed.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Meaning of “emergency worker”

--- Later in debate ---
Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
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Amendment 2, which I am about to speak to, would help substantially. The truth is that we do not know the precise statistic the hon. Gentleman is seeking. We might stand a better chance if we kept the provision in the NHS that gathers such statistics, but unfortunately that is being abolished, so we will rely merely on staff surveys, which are a less reliable means of obtaining information.

The good news is that amendment 2 would extend the definition of emergency worker to include all those providing NHS health services. Incidentally, I understand that the phrase “national health service health services” is slightly clumsy, but it is the only way that we could make it work. Amendment 3 specifies the provision of NHS health services, so amendments 2 and 3 have to be read together. The National Health Service Act 2006 and the parallel National Health Service (Wales) Act 2006 have a different way of defining NHS services from the one I suggested we would proceed with on Second Reading. I will read the definition from the Welsh version, because it is exactly the same as the English one, apart from the word Wales is used rather than England, and I am Welsh. It states:

“The Welsh Ministers must continue the promotion in Wales of a comprehensive health service designed to secure improvement—

(a) in the physical and mental health of the people of Wales, and

(b) in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness.”

Members will acknowledge that that is a broad definition of the provision of NHS services that brings a large number of people into the ambit of emergency workers. If a nurse is working on a hospital ward and someone has a cardiac arrest, it would be difficult to argue that they should not be covered by the Bill. It is the same for a hospital orderly working in the building, taking someone down to theatre or whatever. I am delighted with the way that the Government have helped redraft the Bill through amendment 2. I hope all Members will support amendments 1, 2 and 3 and ensure that clause 3 remains part of the Bill.

Nick Hurd Portrait Mr Hurd
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The Government not only accept, but welcome clause 3 and the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Rhondda.

The clause, as the hon. Gentleman made clear, sets out the definition of emergency worker as it applies to the new offence of assault on an emergency worker and as it applies to the aggravating factor. The clause gives a list of occupations or groups of people, which broadly includes the police, prison officers, fire, rescue and search personnel and services, and those providing healthcare services. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills sought reassurance on police community support officers, and I confirm that the hon. Gentlemen was entirely correct in the reassurance that he gave.

The Bill focuses on people who have to deal with difficult people in difficult situations as part of their day-to-day job. That job exposes them to a degree of risk of assault and the Bill will give them increased protection in the event of such attacks. Although all the workers in clause 3 are defined as emergency workers, there is no requirement in the Bill that they must be responding to a specific emergency when an offence is committed against them.

We accept amendment 1, which brings those who provide prisoner escort services within the Bill’s definition of emergency worker. That will ensure that the people responsible for escorting prisoners between prisons and courts and for guarding prisoners while they are at court are brought within the Bill’s provisions. We believe it is right that they will be covered by the new offence of assault on an emergency worker and by the aggravating factor.

We accept amendment 2, which aims to widen the definition of emergency worker in the health sector for the purposes of the Bill and to ensure that we protect all those working on the NHS frontline. I thank my colleagues at the Department of Health for their co-operation with us. It is completely unacceptable for those providing healthcare in an emergency situation to be assaulted. However, many healthcare workers and those who support them, whose jobs involve regular face-to-face contact with patients, their relatives or other members of the public, are also vulnerable to assault while carrying out their duties. As has been pointed out, the statistics are genuinely shocking. It is only right that all those working on the NHS frontline are afforded the greater protections provided by the Bill.

I will briefly say something about those who work for first aid organisations, such as St John Ambulance, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. As we push the boundaries of the Bill, we get into difficult definitions and choices, which I am sure will be probed by Parliament as the Bill proceeds. Our view is that staff and volunteers who selflessly give up their time should be protected by the Bill if they are assaulted while providing a service under contract to the NHS. They may also fall within the scope of the Bill if the assault occurs while carrying out an activity that can be classed as a rescue. Those are the circumstances that currently we envisage as enabling those staff and volunteers to be protected by the Bill, but I am sure that there will be views expressed on that as it proceeds.

We consider that this new, expanded definition strikes the right balance—balance is inevitable in these situations—and includes those who fit the definition of emergency workers for the Bill’s purpose. However, we will consider any further proposals put forward by the hon. Member for Rhondda.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to the Minister for his words at the end. We will look at whether there are further means of tightening this up on Report, but there is not much else that needs to be said on this part of the Bill.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Amendments made: 2, in clause 3, page 3, line 29, leave out paragraph (h) and insert—

“(h) a person employed for the purposes of providing, or engaged to provide—

(i) NHS health services, or

(ii) services in the support of the provision of NHS health services, and whose general activities in doing so involve face to face interaction with individuals receiving the services or with other members of the public.”

This amendment would broaden the range of health care workers included within the definition of “emergency worker” so as to include all clinical workers providing NHS services and support workers who have direct interaction with patients or the public more generally.

Amendment 3, in clause 3, page 3, line 34, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert—

‘(3) In this section—

“custodial institution” means any of the following—

(a) a prison;

(b) a young offender institution, secure training centre, secure college or remand centre;

(c) a removal centre, a short-term holding facility or pre-departure accommodation, as defined by section 147 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999;

(d) services custody premises, as defined by section 300(7) of the Armed Forces Act 2006;

“custody officer” has the meaning given by section 12(3) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994;

“escort functions”—

(a) in the case of a prisoner custody officer, means the functions specified in section 80(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991;

(b) in the case of a custody officer, means the functions specified in paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994;

“NHS health services” means any kind of health services provided as part of the health service continued under section 1(1) of the National Health Service Act 2006 and under section 1(1) of the National Health Service (Wales) Act 2006;

“prisoner custody officer” has the meaning given by section 89(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991.” —(Chris Bryant.)

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 1 and 2.

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Taking of samples under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

--- Later in debate ---
I hope that the legislation will send out a strong message: spitting is not on, and if people spit at an emergency worker they could be subject to a fine if they unreasonably withhold an intimate sample and they would be required to provide a non-intimate sample. With those comments, I very much hope that hon. Members will support that clauses 4, 5 and 6 stand part of the Bill.
Nick Hurd Portrait Mr Hurd
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wholly endorse what the hon. Gentleman was saying about the pragmatic approach of the clause. I also congratulate him on the way in which he spoke about the sensitive issue involved. I wholly endorse and associate myself with his comments about the progress we have made as a country in our approach to HIV.

We will proceed with sensitivity on the issue, but the fact remains—the evidence is there in all the testimony, case studies and examples given on Second Reading—that, as well as dealing with the physical and mental aspects of being assaulted, in certain circumstances emergency workers may be concerned that they have contracted a serious infectious disease as a result, especially when those attacking them threaten as much. If exposed to the risk of infection, emergency workers might have to wait for up to six months to find out whether they have been infected.

During such periods of uncertainty, the emergency workers may also be concerned that they are in turn infecting those around them, including their friends and family. One only has to read the speech of the hon. Member for Halifax or the examples given by the hon. Member for Rhondda—I am thinking in particular of PC Bruce and PC O’Shea and the story of what they had to go through—to realise that that is absolutely intolerable. That is why the clause is required.

Emergency workers may also have to take medication that ultimately is not required, some of which may have severe side effects. Such incidents can cause great distress and worry to the individuals and their families, so we are very keen to work with the hon. Member for Rhondda to find ways to protect emergency workers from the worries of unnecessary medication that may result from exposure to infectious disease. We therefore support his proposals in the Bill. However, we will want to work with organisations, including the National AIDS Trust and the Terrence Higgins Trust, further to consider their concerns. We will also continue to work closely with the police and other emergency services to ensure that the Bill’s proposals are practical and affordable. The hon. Gentleman has been extremely pragmatic throughout the course of the Bill. We want to put on the statute book legislation that will actually have some effect, and the Bill is genuinely practical in that respect.

I am reassured to hear the hon. Gentleman say he will continue to work with officials and stakeholders to ensure the Bill is the best it can be. I join him in making it absolutely clear that this Bill should not propagate stigma associated with HIV, which was a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills. It must be noted that there is a very low risk of contracting HIV through biting or spitting blood, and only in very particular circumstances. Alongside creating this power we want to work with the police and emergency workers to ensure there is a better understanding of the risks involved. It is ultimately about supporting our emergency workers and providing peace of mind.

For the sake of consistency we agree that the Bill should extend police powers in the Terrorism Act 2000 to marry up with the extension of powers in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Clause 6 makes further consequential amendments to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, on disclosure, and to the Human Tissue Act 2004. It exempts blood and non-intimate samples from the controls in that Act for health protection purposes following assaults on emergency workers. It also makes provision for a constable to require a person to attend a police station for the purposes of taking a sample.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the Minister’s comments. I should put on the record my gratitude to him for the way he has been willing to work with me and to meet and take phone calls at all sorts of strange hours. I should also say that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley has been particularly helpful to me, not least because this is an area of the law that she knows well, in helping draft the legislation and in persuading colleagues that this is a good piece of legislation. She has not got quite as good a name as Hooley, a former MP several years ago, whose campaign slogan was “Hooley for Heeley”. I do not know what the name of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove would be in similar circumstances.

Without further ado, I hope the Committee will support these clauses and the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 5, 6 and 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Friday 27th April 2018

(6 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 27 April 2018 - (27 Apr 2018)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As I said, he is an expert in this field. The fact that someone with his expertise cannot think of another offence that carries the same penalty in both courts says a great deal, so why would we do it in this Bill?

I hope the Minister is making profuse notes, because I feel I am scoring some runs here. I do not think many people would disagree if he were to say he is prepared to accept these new clauses. I do not think there would be many Divisions on them. That raises a question: if he will not do that, why does he think that this offence should be unique in the criminal justice system by carrying the same penalty in both the magistrates court and the Crown court, and why does he not believe that the Crown court should have powers for harsher sentencing, which happens, as we have just heard, in respect of every other offence we can think of? I hope the Minister will reflect on that during the debate and perhaps give us a positive response. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) said he mentioned this on Second Reading and the hon. Member for Rhondda said he hoped we would come back to this point on Report, so my amendment seeks to make sure that we do that.

Rory Stewart Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am interested in this fascinating speech. Perhaps to prefigure some of the arguments that will be made from the Dispatch Box, let me say that one issue about increasing the sentence to 24 months is that we would, in effect, be saying that somebody who assaults an emergency worker or police officer receives not twice but four times the maximum sentence that would be received were the attack to be on an “ordinary” victim. Is there not a question of proportionality in terms of the relationship between the equality of citizens in general and their right to be protected as victims, and the special status of a uniformed officer, if it is suggested that an increment of four is better than that of two?

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister makes a reasonable point, but he is working on the basis that the existing general sentencing for assault is right and should be the benchmark by which we judge everything else. My argument is that most people would consider that maximum sentence to be derisory, so we would at least be making this one appropriate. If the Minister wants to follow through on his point, he could then increase the maximum sentence for assaults on everybody else. He would be happy, because the approach would be proportionate, and I would be happy because we would have some tougher sentences on the statute book—everyone would be a winner. I hope that he is moving in the right direction. If we passed my new clauses and amendment today and then changed the other sentences, I would be doing cartwheels.

I shall discuss new clauses 4 to 6, 8 to 11, 13 to 16 and 18 together—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I can sense the disappointment in the Chamber; can you, Madam Deputy Speaker?

--- Later in debate ---
Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let the lawyers’ dinner party commence! It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—I will say a few words about him in a moment—but an even greater pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I fear that he credits me with greater expertise than I possess, but there are real experts in this area in the Chamber—other lawyers. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friends the Members for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), for Witney (Robert Courts) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster). There may well be others I have not named who have expertise. [Interruption.]

With regard to the hon. Member for Rhondda, who has just shouted across the Chamber from a sedentary position, it is a great pleasure to speak on his Bill. I congratulate him on the work that he has done, as has the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch). I myself piloted a private Member’s Bill that fell at the final hurdle, Third Reading, so I know how difficult it is to get the balance right in order to ensure that such proposals become law. I therefore pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for all his work behind the scenes and in this place. He put me on the Bill Committee—I think I was a last-minute substitute, or perhaps just the last person to fill a space, but it was a great pleasure to have served on that Committee.

I will not speak at great length, but I want to elaborate on the points that I made on Second Reading and in Committee. In particular, I will speak to new clause 2 and amendment 9. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, because I had tabled an amendment framed in almost identical terms to his in relation to extending the sentence in Crown court from 12 months to 24 months. Very bravely, two weeks later I withdrew that amendment, so I am delighted that he has tabled it and that we have the opportunity to debate it today.

As I said on Second Reading and in Committee, under clause 1(2), a person guilty of an offence could potentially be sentenced to the same amount of custody whether the case is tried in the magistrates court or in the Crown court. The clause says:

“A person guilty of an offence to which this section applied is liable…on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months”

and “on conviction on indictment”—that is, in a trial in a Crown court in front of a judge and jury—is also subject

“to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months”.

That is odd, which is why I raised it. I have done some research into this—my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley teed me up—and I cannot find a single example of another Bill that sets out exactly the same sentence for an offence tried in the magistrates courts as in the Crown court. We are breaking new ground, and it is therefore worth questioning whether that is appropriate.

I have challenged myself to find another offence against the person—assault-type—offence where the sentence in the Crown court is only 12 months. This where the expertise of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham comes in. What do we as parliamentarians do when we come into the House of Commons first thing? We go and have a cup of coffee or a cup of tea in the Tea Room, and there I met my hon. Friend and challenged him to come up with another similar offence where the sentence in the Crown court was one of 12 months, and he too could not find one. I found two examples that may be relevant.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have returned to the subject that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) raised. Fundamental to this is not the question of the precedent in the Crown court but the relationship between the maximum sentence that can be imposed for an assault on an ordinary member of the public, who has equal status as a victim, and the maximum sentence that can be imposed for an assault on an emergency worker. At the moment, the Bill proposes that somebody who assaulted an emergency worker could receive a maximum sentence of double the one that would be given in relation to an ordinary victim. Is my hon. Friend really proposing that it is appropriate that somebody should be punished four times as much for assaulting an emergency worker as an ordinary member of the public?

Michael Tomlinson Portrait Michael Tomlinson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention, which gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to both him and the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, who have engaged in this legislation and spoken personally to me about this issue.

No, I am not saying that. I am not proposing to press the amendment to a vote or say that the Bill should fall, or fail, merely because it states that the sentence should be 12 months rather than 24 months, 36 months or any other period. I am merely saying that the Bill is breaking new ground. It struck me as curious that we are passing legislation that has a sentence of only 12 months in the Crown court. I welcome the Minister’s intervention and understand entirely what he is saying. He has worked tirelessly to ensure that the Bill passes through this place, and the last thing I would want to do is to put that in jeopardy. That is why I have been determined not to press the amendment. However, it is right to air the matter and debate it on the Floor of the House.

--- Later in debate ---
Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for his thoughtful intervention. I agree that if someone who has been sent to prison for an offence breaches the terms of their parole, that is a good indication that they are unlikely to be taking seriously their responsibility as a citizen to follow the law. My example is of a person who came to the end of their sentence and was released, but found that no support was available. It was a bizarre situation. They were trying to access some support and found it difficult, but had they not breached their licence, support and monitoring to keep them from offending would have been in place. Perhaps this discussion is not for today, as it would require more fundamental changes to how we operate the recall to prison system, licensing, and what we do with those completing their whole sentence. Nevertheless, it flagged up to me a requirement to ensure at least a minimum period of monitoring after someone comes out of prison, whether they have been released on licence or because they have completed their whole sentence.

I welcome the inclusion of spitting in amendment 2, but it is important to send the message that Parliament does not intend to exclude spitting from the traditional offence of common assault. The amendment is to clarify that spitting is included in the initial offence. I am clear that in my constituency the use of spit hoods is a matter for the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, and if he believes that that is the right way to protect his officers, he should take that approach. I take the same view on issuing firearms and other protections to officers—it is for the chief constable to make an operational decision on the basis of the needs of policing and the safety of his officers. It should not be a political policy decision. Including spitting in the Bill gives a clear legal basis for an offence that carries up to a year in jail, but that can be prevented by the use of a spit hood. If someone is busy spitting at a police officer, that offence already carries a year’s imprisonment. There is a strong basis, beyond the protection of officers, for why it is right and proportionate to use a spit hood if someone is trying to spit at an officer, using the last way they can attack that officer once they have been restrained by other means.

I am conscious of time, Mr Deputy Speaker, and since I support the Bill I have no intention of trying to talk it out. I also welcome making a sexual assault on an emergency worker an aggravating factor in other sexual offences. We must be clear that Parliament’s intention—certainly my intention, and I see other hon. Members nodding—is not to say, “This is the offence to use for a serious sexual assault”. Someone who sexually assaults an emergency worker would still be charged under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, particularly given the things that come with that, such as registration and monitoring, which are so vital when dealing with this issue. The amendment would mean that a court will consider that someone has abused the good will and position of someone who came to their aid, particularly medical staff in the NHS, and that is an abuse of trust. The amendment is therefore perfectly sensible, as it makes it clear that such an offence is an aggravating factor, not a replacement offence.

I am conscious that we want to hear the Minister’s response so I will draw my remarks to a close. As always, I welcome the dogged determination of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley to ensure that wrongdoers get their just desserts, that the Bill receives the scrutiny it rightly deserves, and that our courts and prosecutors know exactly what Parliament intended in passing this Bill today—intentions that I completely support.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It has been a great pleasure to sit on the Benches during this debate, and I begin by paying tribute to the extraordinary contributions that we have heard. This has been a very high-quality debate, with perhaps even more vigour and more interest than Second Reading.

I pay tribute to the strenuous, challenging empiricism of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies); the precision, energy and charm—to return to the word “charm”—of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant); the imagination, sincerity and courage of the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch); the precision and learning of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson); the rigour, eloquence and intelligence of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who is no longer in his seat; the empathy of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin); the principled application of my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts); the emphasis on widening the circle of compassion from my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup); the emphasis on the medical and epidemiological aspects of the case from the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick); the emphasis that my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) put on the symbolic charge of the Bill; the emphasis that my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) put on the broader themes of violence in society; the pragmatism and hard-won experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston); the focus from my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) on the particular obligations that we owe public servants; the compassion and indeed, the concern for public finances that was expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan); and finally, the courtesy to other colleagues and dignity displayed by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster).

This is a powerful Bill and we in the Government agree strongly with the principles underlying it. Nearly 20 separate amendments and new clauses have been proposed. Having listened carefully to the debate, we will be accepting one of those amendments but respectfully requesting that the other new clauses and amendments are withdrawn or not moved. That is not because we disagree in any way with the Bill’s underlying principles, which should be clear to the whole House. They are that an assault on any individual or citizen in our society is a terrible thing, but that an assault on an emergency worker is an assault on us all. These people are our constituted representatives. They protect society and deliver services on our behalf. Therefore, an attack on them is an attack on us and on the state, and it should be punished more severely than an attack simply on an individual victim.

There is also strong agreement with the spirit underlying the new clauses and amendments. It should be absolutely clear that spitting is included within common assault —it is a particularly disgusting form of common assault. It should also be entirely clear that it is completely unacceptable to attack a police officer, a fire service officer, an ambulance worker, a prison officer or anybody in the emergency services—or indeed, any emergency worker as defined in the Bill—and that sexual assault should be included in the Bill. That is the amendment that we propose to accept, having listened carefully to the debate. It has been pushed very hard by Opposition Members and should be included as one of the things for which an assault on an emergency worker should be considered an aggravating offence.

Let me move specifically and relatively rapidly through the almost 20 new clauses and amendments that have been proposed to explain why the Government believe that it would be better to withdraw some amendments and new clauses to leave the Bill in a state more similar to that from which it emerged from Committee. I will take them in turn. Essentially, these new clauses and amendments try to do three things. They try to make the offence of common assault more specific—to specify the ingredients of common assault—or they attempt to further increase the penalty for common assault on an emergency worker, or finally, they attempt to widen the scope of the things that are dealt with through the Bill. I will deal with them in that sequence.

Amendment 2 seeks to make the offence of common assault more specific by putting on the face of the Bill that spitting should be included under common assault. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham made clear in his learned speech, we can already prosecute spitting under common assault. This month, in fact, there was a successful prosecution of 23 weeks for an individual who spat at a police officer. Including it in the Bill, although an admirable intention, runs the risk of casting doubt on other cases of common assault. An ingenious lawyer might argue that the House of Commons, by saying that common assault on an emergency worker includes spitting, is implying that common assault on somebody else should not be considered to include spitting, and that therefore someone spitting on an ordinary member of the public could not be charged with common assault.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hate the idea of an ingenious lawyer, but the Minister is right—I accept that there is a danger of that. Are there other things that the Government could do to ensure that the prosecuting authorities take spitting as common assault very seriously?

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Absolutely. In return for the hon. Gentleman’s sense and solidarity in not pressing the amendment, we will focus on making sure that the relevant authorities, particularly the CPS, are clearly instructed to consider spitting as included under common assault. I hope that in a small way this speech in the House of Commons will re-emphasise, in case anyone is in any doubt, that it is Parliament’s intention that spitting should always be included within the offence of common assault.

That brings us to the amendment and various new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, which would further increase the penalty for assaulting emergency workers, police officers and prison officers. This is a complex set of new clauses. New clauses 1 and 2 relate to the existing law—in particular the Police Act 1996, as it relates to a police officer in the execution of their duty—and seek to do two things. The first is to increase the maximum penalty from six months to 12 months. On that, we respectfully argue that if the Bill passes today, we will have already increased to 12 months the maximum penalty for such an assault on a police officer in the exercise of their functions. It would therefore be unnecessary to further amend the Police Act.

The aim of new clause 2 and amendment 9 is to double the maximum penalty from 12 months to 24 months either by amending the Police Act or dealing with the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The Government wish to resist this approach because we have to weigh up two principles. On the one hand, we believe very strongly that emergency workers are entitled to a particular form of respect and protection because they work on our behalf—they provide services to us; they represent us. The police officer courageously confronting the criminal and the prison officer courageously confronting an offender in a prison are both acting on our behalf, and an assault on them is an assault on us. On those grounds, it is absolutely valid that the maximum penalty for such an assault be doubled. This is an important moment in English law.

There is, however, a second important principle in English common law: we are all equal, and victims are equal. The victim of sexual assault should be remembered above all as a victim of sexual assault, not on the basis of their profession or occupation, or of the function they were engaged in at the moment of the assault. That is why we believe that the proper indication of our respect for public servants should be to double the maximum penalty, but to move beyond that and quadruple it would begin to create the kind of situation that exists in Russia, which I hope will never exist in the UK, whereby uniformed officers become a caste apart and go into a category of a superior form of human being with an entitlement to a quite separate form of protection. On those grounds, we think that moderation and proportionality would require us to stick at 12 months, not 24, and we courteously request that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley withdraws new clause 1, and does not press new clause 2 and amendment 9.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I realise that this is a sensitive point. I have spoken to police officers who would like to have a higher tariff in these circumstances, but what the Minister is saying has pith, because there are other people—be they council workers, social workers or clergy—who go out of their way as part of their duty to do things in our communities that put them in a vulnerable situation. We would be sending the wrong message if we were to draw too big a distinction between our valued emergency workers and other members of society who also conduct incredibly valuable tasks.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Many people who do things on behalf of the public in their daily lives are entitled to protection, but not all of them are covered by the Bill. There is a more fundamental point that relates particularly to sexual assault. We want to make it absolutely clear that what really matters in such circumstances is the brutal, undignified nature of that assault on anyone, regardless of their profession. That is why we have to get the balance right in sentencing.

This brings me to new clauses 4 to 18, which relate to assaults on prison officers. As a Justice Minister, I have strong empathy with the intention behind the new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley. Prison officers operate in an environment that the public are rarely allowed into. They have a dangerous and stressful job—I will touch on that a little more in my closing speech—and are entitled to a much higher degree of protection, but too often they do not receive it. We therefore think it absolutely right for them to be included among the emergency workers and for the maximum penalty for an assault on a prison officer to be increased from six months to 12 months. Beyond that, we want to do more to protect prison officers, including through the use of protective equipment and the devices they carry. We want to encourage the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to bring more prosecutions for assaults on prison officers. However, for two reasons, we do not think that this particular ingenious proposal—that someone assaulting a prison officer should have to serve twice the length of the sentence currently set out under the Criminal Justice Act 2003—represents an appropriate response.

The first reason, which is philosophical, is that if an individual has been put in prison for their original offence, they should be punished for that offence, with a subsequent offence judged and punished separately. For example, if an individual has been put in jail for 12 years for the importation of a class A drug, their punishment has been designed to fit that crime. If they then assault a prison officer, they need to be punished for assaulting a prison officer. Their initial crime of importing class A drugs should not be used to punish them for assaulting a prison officer.

The second reason, which is practical rather than philosophical, is that under the new clauses, someone who has been put in jail for 12 years would automatically get a further six years in jail if they assaulted a prison officer. However, someone who had been put in jail for six months would, under my hon. Friend’s proposals, get a further three months in jail, yet the assault that those two individuals had committed would be exactly the same.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that the Minister might have slightly misunderstood my proposal, or perhaps he is not doing it justice. Much as I would like people to serve the whole of the rest of their sentence in full, that is not the actual proposal. I propose that they should not get automatic release halfway through their sentence, but it does not necessarily follow that they would have to serve their whole sentence. They just would not be automatically released halfway through their sentence, so they would have to spend a bit longer in prison, but that length of time would be determined by the Parole Board. I am not proposing that they would have to serve the whole of the remainder of their sentence, as the Minister seems to suggest.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification. Nevertheless, the fundamental point remains that the individual committing an assault should be punished for that common assault. They should be prosecuted, judged and sentenced in accordance with that assault. They should not be punished for that crime by the extension of a sentence designed for a separate crime.

That brings me back to the question of widening the scope of the Bill to take account of sexual assault, as is proposed in amendment 3. We have resisted such an amendment in the past because of our concern to have an emphasis on the sexual assault and the equality of all victims of sexual assault, regardless of the functions they were undertaking. However, having listened carefully to the arguments advanced, in particular by the hon. Members for Rhondda and for Halifax, both today and over the preceding weeks, we as a Government are now convinced that it would be correct to insert sexual assault into the parts of the Bill that deal with cases in which an offence against an emergency worker would be an aggravating factor, especially given the astonishing increase in the number of sexual assaults on emergency workers. As the hon. Member for Rhondda pointed out, between a third and half of all emergency workers currently appear to be reporting such assaults. On those grounds, while respectfully requesting Members not to press the other amendments and new clauses, the Government are willing to accept amendment 3.

Let me end by paying a huge tribute to everyone who has spoken today for the statement that they have made to a wider culture, as public representatives—representatives of us as a Parliament, us as the public, and us as the state.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This very good debate has featured a great deal of expertise, which I have welcomed.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) persuaded the Minister of his case in relation to sexual assault. He also spoke about spitting, as did the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). When my dad—remarkably, unbelievably—became the elected Mayor of Doncaster, he introduced a penalty for spitting, and I should like to think that more local authorities would do the same. I am sorry that we could not persuade the Minister on that issue, but an acceptance rate of 50% for the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Rhondda is certainly better than my track record. The rule is, I think, that those who want the Government to agree to something should come at it from a left-wing perspective, as that usually gives them a better chance of success than the approach of coming from a more conservative perspective. That is something I have learned over many years.

I was grateful for the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) about the sentencing powers of magistrates, and for what he said about our breaking new ground and the possibility that, as I argued, the Crown courts should be given bigger sentencing options. I commend the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) for her support for my new clauses: she proved herself, again, to be a doughty supporter of police officers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) made an excellent speech, although he let himself down somewhat by saying that we in the UK send lots of people to prison, which is a myth that is constantly propagated by the liberal elite. Just for the record, the fact is that for every 1,000 crimes committed in this country, we send 17 people to prison. That is one of the lowest ratios anywhere in the world. I challenge my hon. Friends to find any country that sends fewer than 17 people per 1,000 crimes committed to prison. They will struggle to find many, although there are some— [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) is part of the liberal metropolitan elite. I repeat the fact—it came from the House of Commons Library, so I am sure she will not deny it— that for every 1,000 crimes committed, we send 17 people to prison. That is a fact. My hon. Friend may think that the proportion is too high; I rather think that it is too low.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No, because I think we want to press on.

I was also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), who made the same point about the sentencing powers of Crown courts and magistrates. The Minister did not really explain why we are giving them the same powers.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will answer that point very briefly. The process-led point that is being made about the difference between the magistrates and Crown courts is concealing the bigger issue, which is that we do not believe the sentence in respect of emergency workers should be quadruple that in respect of other citizens. It is the quadrupling rather than doubling that leads us to reject that argument.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do the Minister a disservice—he did make that point and I apologise.

As well as talking about spitting, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse mentioned the fire service. I was pleased that he did, because that allows us not only to thank him for the service he gave for many years in the fire service, but to highlight the number of assaults that firefighters face, which he rightly spoke about. That number is massively on the increase in West Yorkshire, which is appalling. His contribution allows us to highlight the fact that firefighters are included in this legislation, and rightly so.

I was heartened by the support I received from my colleagues, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Corby (Tom Pursglove), for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey), for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster), on my point about automatic early release, even if they did not all think that we should deal with it here and now in the Bill. I fear that the Minister has been slightly got at regarding this point either by his officials at the Ministry of Justice—they never want to send anyone to prison from what I can see, and certainly do not want any more people in prison—or by the Treasury. I cannot work out which, and perhaps it is both, but I hope, in all seriousness, that he will look at the issue again.

The Minister ought to be able to detect that there is widespread support in the House for not allowing people who assault prison officers to get automatic early release. If he will not do something about it as a Government Minister, I will certainly do what I did when the Prisons and Courts Bill was passing through the House before the last election and table an amendment to that effect. The Labour party kindly indicated that it would have supported that amendment, but we never got to it because of the election. The SNP kindly said that they would support that amendment to protect prison officers. I suspect that if the Government do not act on this, they will find themselves defeated if any such amendment is tabled to future legislation. I hope they will reflect on the strength of feeling that has been shown on both sides of the House to say that people should not be released from prison early if they assault prison officers. I hope he will go away and look at that issue again.

Finally, on new clause 1, which I am formally obliged to either press or withdraw, I am disappointed that the Minister has decided to leave on the statute book two pieces of law that have the same effect but carry two different sentences. He says there is no need for the new clause, but there is certainly no reason not to make the change to put both pieces of legislation in line and tidy up the law. I am sorry that he resisted such a modest proposal. Like other Members, however, I do not want to do anything to undermine the chances of the Bill getting through. It is a fantastic piece of legislation that I support wholeheartedly. With those reservations, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2

Aggravating factor

Amendment made: 3, page 2, line 39, at end insert—

“(aa) an offence under section 3 (sexual assault) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003”.—(Chris Bryant.)

This causes the fact that the victim was an emergency worker to be an aggravating factor in cases of sexual assault.



Clause 4

Taking of samples under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984

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Holly Lynch Portrait Holly Lynch
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I entirely agree. That goes back to the earlier point that we cannot fix everything through legislation. I agree entirely that where there are shortcomings with this legislative approach, even if we withdraw it, we will not fix the problem. So what alternatives—the hon. Gentleman has rightly reflected on those—do we need to put in place? I am open to any and all suggestions—but without that legislation I am looking for alternatives.

Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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First, I very much welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has proposed that these clauses be removed from the Bill. To answer directly the case made by the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), let me say that at the core of this problem is a problem of anxiety. The individual who is spitting blood at the police officer is exploiting a myth—they are exploiting something that simply is not true. Public Health England is absolutely clear that the chances of contracting a blood-borne disease through somebody spitting at you is close to zero. This is unbelievably important, because the most significant way we can prevent this epidemic of spitting, is by making it clear to the people doing the spitting that the terror they are trying to communicate is a joke—it is absurd. These people are, in the traditional sense of the word, “terrorists”; their intention is to spread terror. What they are trying to do is psychological.

Putting into the Bill something that reconfirms the psychological fallacy that someone can communicate a blood-borne disease through spitting will simply encourage these people to spit even more. What they are trying to do by spitting, in some deranged way, is to make a death threat. They are trying to say, “By spitting at you with blood, I am giving you a terminal disease”, but they cannot do that. The best response to someone who is attempting to produce a fiction or magic, and is trying to intimidate you through magic, is to say, “This is nonsense. What you have done to me is disgusting. I’ve got a gob load of spit on me, but there is absolutely no way you’ve harmed my health by doing this.”

That needs to be made absolutely clear, because there are two separate problems involved in this. One relates to the risk of transmission and the second relates to the nature of these tests. The risk of transmission of a blood-borne disease through spitting is, as Public Health England says, close to zero. The second problem is with these tests. The hon. Member for Halifax gave an example of a false positive, but there are also many examples of false negatives, and these tests are not timely—they cannot communicate an early transmission. Consequently, the only way in which a medical professional should respond to these cases is by focusing not on a test result, which is irrelevant because it is not reliable, but on the mode of transmission. In other words, if somebody has been spat at there should not be any post-exposure prophylaxis treatment given, regardless of an apparent result of a test.

If, on the other hand, someone has been injected with a needle, in almost every case PEP should be allocated, again regardless of the result of the test as that result might show up too late for the PEP to be effective. The proper medical procedure is therefore to focus on the mode, not the test. That means that in this case it would not be of significant use to test somebody, it would not be strictly necessary, and it would not be proportionate in balancing the benefit and the cost. The right to know would therefore not trump the right to privacy in this case.

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Rory Stewart Portrait Rory Stewart
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I have very limited time—less than seven minutes—and I hope that hon. Members will take the comments that I made on Report as a proper tribute to the extraordinary work that has been done by the hon. Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Halifax (Holly Lynch). Wonderful speeches have also been made by other Members today. I hope that all members of the emergency services feel strongly the passion and support in this House for their work. In this limited time, I will be unable to pay as full a tribute as I would like to the extraordinary work that is done day in and day out by the police, the fire service, our NHS workers and other members of the emergency services. I would, however, like to focus on one service that has not received as much attention as it might have done in this debate, and I refer of course to the Prison Service.

Prison officers operate out of sight of society. They have the most extraordinarily challenging profession. It requires unbelievable resilience for a prison officer to walk into a cell knowing that, on many days, the individual in that cell might have self-harmed or even killed themselves. It takes astonishing courage for a prison officer to confront a prisoner who is coming at them with a broken broom or with a toothbrush in which are embedded nine blades. It takes astonishing decisiveness day in, day out, for a prison officer to deal with the crises and emergencies that happen in our prisons. It also takes great moral authority to act as a mentor, a teacher and in some ways a friend to help prisoners on the path to reformation. Yet these people are now being attacked more than 8,000 times a year. Their jaws are being broken, and they are being sent to hospital. They must be protected. That is why we welcome the Bill on behalf of all the other emergency services, but particularly on behalf of prison officers.

Let me say this, in the few minutes that I have left. An attack on a prison officer is an attack on the state. An attack on a prison officer is an attack on us. When an individual is attacked, it affects the entire operation of the prison. It affects that individual’s willingness to take risks—to unlock a prison door, and to allow prisoners to engage in education or purposeful activity.

The response that we now have to such attacks, as a society, is much more limited than it once was. In the past, prison officers were able to depend on penalties that we would no longer want to introduce, for very good reasons. Corporal punishment has, of course, been removed. Solitary confinement has been removed. Restrictions on family visits have now been removed. The only serious sanction that remains when a prisoner assaults a prison officer is the law that we are discussing today, which is why we want to encourage the police to work with us to prosecute prisoners who assault prison officers. We have heard today that very successful cases are being brought against people who spit at police officers, but almost no cases are being brought against prisoners who spit at prison officers. Too often, I am afraid, those in other parts of the criminal justice system seem to think it acceptable to assault a prison officer, although they would not think it acceptable to be assaulted themselves.

Let the House therefore be clear that we respect prison officers for their courage, for their decisiveness and for their moral example. Let the House be clear that all our progressive liberal instincts on reforming prisoners must be accompanied by respect for basic order and discipline. We should not be ashamed to say that prison officers ought to be able to exercise order and control, and that we will need a whole package of measures if our actions are to lead to purposeful activity. That package will include proper searches at the prison gates to ensure that drugs and weapons are not getting into the prisons, and a clean and decent environment in which the windows are not broken and the floors are kept clean.

We must make it absolutely clear that we respect the safety of prison officers, through the measures that we are taking in terms of protective equipment, the right kind of restraints, and the piloting of pelargonic acid vanillylamide and pepper spray. Everyone must understand that safety, security and decency do not get in the way of education or purposeful activity, but constitute the foundation without which purposeful activity cannot take place.

If we are to work with prisoners and if we are to reduce reoffending, we must ensure that, through this legislation, we show that we respect the honour and dignity of prison officers and members of other emergency services as public servants, and appreciate the service that they provide on our behalf; that we express the deep gratitude that we feel for everything that they do; and that we demonstrate through every single action that we take—this important Bill will double the maximum sentence for an attack on our emergency service officers—that an attack on them is an attack on us. That applies to an attack on the police, an attack on members of the fire service, an attack on health workers and, above all, an attack on prison officers, whose service is all too often forgotten but who do such extraordinary work on behalf of the public.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.