There are few jobs which require the same bravery and commitment as our front line emergency workers. In the process of keeping us safe these people head into some of the most dangerous situations, and we have a responsibility to offer them all the protections we can.
I have been on shifts with police, fire and rescue, and paramedics in Halifax and have seen the challenge they face from the small minority of people who put them at risk. Readers may remember that last August I shadowed a Halifax police officer who was working alone and had to call 999 from the police car when I became concerned for his safety as he was surrounded by an angry crowd.
In the Police most officers will tell you that they understand there are risks, but being a punching bag should never be part and parcel of the job. In West Yorkshire alone, there were 991 recorded assaults on police officers in 2015, with an estimated 23,000 across the country.
Spitting is another daily concern for emergency workers. I hosted an event in Parliament this week where two police officers told MPs about their experience of being spat at. While trying to apprehend a violent suspect they had blood spat at them which went into their mouths and eyes. They both had to undergo immediate tests to see if they had contracted communicable diseases and as a result one officer had a false positive result for Hepatitis B. For six months until the full test results came through he had to avoid physical contact with his wife and young child as he feared passing on the disease.
So it seems clear that something needs to be done to better protect emergency workers and it for this reason that I am trying to change the law to help them.
I want to see assaults on our Police, Firefighters, Paramedics, Doctors and Nurses face tougher penalties. My legislation would also require someone to provide a blood sample if they have spat at an emergency worker in order to rule out the risk of having transmitted a communicable disease. They will face a fine and a custodial sentence if they refuse to provide a blood sample.
I have been very lucky in getting a chance to introduce what is known as a ’10 minute rule bill’. As the name might suggest this gives me the chance to speak to MPs for 10 minutes in the House of Commons about what I am trying to achieve with this new law. After my speech there is the possibility of a vote where MPs would signal that they wanted to have further debate on the issue allowing the legislation to move forward for a ‘second reading’.
As an opposition MP there are very few chances to introduce new laws to bring about the changes which we believe would benefit our constituents. I have cross party support for my Crime (Assaults on Emergency Services Staff) Bill and this will hopefully increase its chances of success.
The new laws would protect emergency responders as well as NHS staff. It is unacceptable that anyone would assault dedicated frontline emergency workers, and I hope this bill will send that message, loud and clear.