Below is the text of the speech made by Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, in the House of Commons on 19 May 2020.
It is delightful to take part in this debate on something that, as has already been alluded to, may not appear as important or groundbreaking as some of the legislation we discuss but is vital to the everyday lives of our constituents. Let me take the opportunity to welcome back to the Front Bench the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) and associate myself with his remarks about Scottish football—although perhaps the less said about the most recent decisions, the better for us all.
It is also an honour to follow the hon. Member for East Lothian (Kenny MacAskill), who, as he said, introduced the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament. I, together with my Liberal Democrat colleagues, welcome the opportunity to enable the Act to be fully enacted through this order. It was fascinating to hear the hon. Gentleman’s account of the genesis of the Bill, which is now coming to fruition no less than seven years after he introduced it at Holyrood.
None of us dispute that, currently, Police Scotland, in common with police and other emergency services up and down this country, is working in extremely challenging circumstances. It has to balance its daily responsibilities of maintaining order with its extended role of protecting the public in the context of the pandemic. Police Scotland deftly responds to its emergency powers and protects the public by ensuring that we observe lockdown and social distancing, but, as the Minister mentioned, that has come at a price, with no fewer than 100 direct coronavirus-related attacks on our police service.
Until recently, safe working was something which many of us were lucky enough to be able to take for granted. But the police service as a profession never can, and its daily routine is not without significant risk of abuse or assault. In fact, over the past five years in Scotland, while we have been coming to this point with the Bill, there has been a gradual but sustained increase in the number of reported assaults on police officers. More than 3,000 police officers were assaulted—that is an average of almost 20 a day— between March and September last year. To assault a police office is of course already a crime under Scots law, but, as we have heard, this legislation allows for restitution orders to finally be brought forward into law. For those convicted of impeding or assaulting a police officer, a court will be able to impose this new financial penalty. This significant step ensures that police officers who are victims of crime receive support for their individual needs so that they continue their duty serving and protecting the public. It is perhaps fitting that this week is Mental Health Awareness Week as many victims of crime—police officers and others—suffer mental health issues as a consequence.
Victims of crime engage with support services whose funding will come as a direct result of restitution orders, something whose day has finally arrived in Parliament. That perhaps brings me to a slight difference of opinion with colleagues I am following in this debate. Like many others, I am extremely disappointed that it has taken so long for this legislation to reach this point—the length of delay by the Scottish Government in what was a flagship policy for the SNP. It went through the parliamentary process as the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill in 2013 and was given Royal Assent in 2014.
Police restitution orders which require this change were a vital part of that legislation, and just in case there is any doubt, this delay has not been in any way, shape or form the fault of the UK Government or Parliament. It is, however, reassuring that we can, at this final stage of the Bill, work together to make sure that our police officers in Scotland receive the restitution they deserve. I hope that none of us will use this as a political opportunity either to bash or to congratulate the Scottish Government. It is simply a fact that we have now come—finally—to the point where restitution orders can be put in place. I will take great pleasure in supporting this order.