Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill Debate

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Lord Bach

Main Page: Lord Bach (Labour - Life peer)
Lord Bach Portrait Lord Bach (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as the elected police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire and Rutland, and it is in that role that I unreservedly support the Bill and hope that it reaches the statute book as soon as possible. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Donaghy on agreeing to take the Bill through your Lordships’ House and on her opening speech this morning, and like her, I congratulate Holly Lynch and Chris Bryant on taking the Bill through the other place.

As a police and crime commissioner, I know how lucky Leicestershire police are in having such an excellent Police Federation branch, led by its chair, Tiff Lynch, and its secretary, Matt Robinson, both of whom were recently re-elected without contest to their important posts. It is a pleasure working with the Fed, even on the rather sadder and more disgraceful issues, such as the widow of a police officer who was killed in the line of duty not being allowed her pension. I was particularly delighted when I was approached to support the Bill, a long time ago now, before it was introduced in the other place.

Why do I support the Bill? Basically, because it just sounds, is and seems right. One reason is that every Monday morning when I meet the chief constable and his chief officer team, I hear about the assaults committed on police officers, on specials and on PCSOs over the course of the weekend. I also know that I do not hear of every assault or even a majority of them. I hear about very few, for a number of reasons. One is that police officers do not always report what has happened to them, for the best of reasons, but I think they should. One of my hopes for the Bill is that it will act as an incentive for police officers to report more because, as I am sure the House will agree, it is always entirely unacceptable for police officers to be assaulted when they are doing their lawful duty and protecting all the rest of us.

The published national figures are clearly wrong and absurdly low. To give credit, that has been admitted. The reality is, I think, frighteningly large not just for the police but for emergency services generally. It is perhaps worth repeating from the very helpful document that the authorities in this House have prepared for the Bill that the Police Federation has suggested that a much,

“higher number of assaults were committed against officers”,

during 2016-17 and that:

“According to the Federation, data from its latest welfare survey suggest that there were ‘more than two million unarmed physical assaults on [police] officers over twelve months’”,

and nearly a further 303,000 assaults using a deadly weapon during that period. My strong belief is that while it is impossible for there to be absolutely accurate figures, the position is probably a good deal worse than we want to believe.

As a police and crime commissioner, I see how every day the police work with the other emergency services, be it the fire service, the ambulance service, the Prison Service or, of course, the health service in all its aspects. As emergency workers, they are individually and together a crucial part of what makes our society civilised. Just imagine a day without them. Every one of them is vulnerable every day to physical assault and sometimes to sexual assault as well. The message in this Bill—the most important thing about it, for me—is that society must protect those who protect society. I see this Bill as something of a wake-up call. As a society we have perhaps become just a little too tolerant of behaviour which is actually intolerable. Some seem to think that emergency workers, wherever they are, somehow sign up to being assaulted when they take their job. The message of this Bill is loud and clear: no, they do not. It seems to me that a cultural shift is needed, and this Bill points the way.