The Halifax MP who has spearheaded a new law introducing harsher punishments for those who attack emergency workers has been engaged in up to the wire “crisis talks” with the Government as the Bill faces its final hurdle in the House of Commons on Friday.
Labour MP Holly Lynch said key parts of the Assaults on Emergency Workers Bill were still being fine tuned in conjunction with the Government before it faces its Third Reading this week - the final stage it will face before MPs on its route to the House of Lords and becoming law.
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And she said that along with Rhonnda MP Chris Bryant, who put forward the Bill after Ms Lynch’s original Protect the Protectors Bill fell foul of the strict House of Commons timings last year, the pair have been forced to drop one of the main components of the Bill, that would have required those who spit at emergency workers to give authorities a blood sample to avoid lengthy and potentially avoidable treatments for victims.
Ms Lynch said: “There has been a degree of change and movement. We’ve been in crisis talks with the Government in recent weeks on changes to the Bill. It is not going to look exactly as we envisaged on Friday.
“There have been growing concerns about the spitting clause, that it wouldn’t achieve what we wanted it to do.
“We’ve been made aware that there would be practical difficulties delivering some of the clauses around spitting, and that testing requirements wouldn’t be as accurate as we thought they were.”
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It had been hoped that introducing the spitting clause would help to allay the fears of those who are spat it in their jobs. It is currently an offence to spit at someone but police can only ask perpetrators if they have any communicable diseases or to voluntarily provide a sample. If they refuse, victims can face a six month wait for test results to see if they have caught anything, and months of “potentially avoidable” treatment.
Ms Lynch said the Government was advised by the NHS that tests presently do not have the scientific backing required for the Bill, but she said, blue light workers who have been spat at were still a priority.
“We are working with the Government to provide an alternative package of measures to offer emergency service workers so that they receive the very best advice across the board if the legislative proposals cannot work as we thought,” she said. “It is regrettable, but I do understand, and if it is not going to work in practice then we do need to find a workable solution.”
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The Assaults on Emergency Service Workers Bill creates a statutory aggravating factor, which means that when a person is convicted of an assault, the judge must consider the fact it was committed against an emergency worker as an aggravating factor meriting an increase in the sentence within the maximum allowed for the particular offence.
It will cover assaults and related offences including common assault, ABH, GBH, and manslaughter.
Ms Lynch said that she and Mr Bryant, along with trades associations, were continuing to lobby the Government, which has been widely supportive of the Bill, to include sexual assault among the charges.
“The Government initially failed to include sexual assault among the raft of charges, and we are continuing to lobby to ensure it gets included,” Ms Lynch said.
“Until this point, everything with the Bill had ran fairly smoothly, now all of a sudden quite a lot of the nitty gritty has needed addressing.”