Kenny MacAskill – 2020 Speech on Constitutional Law

Below is the text of the speech made by Kenny MacAskill, the SNP MP for East Lothian, in the House of Commons on 19 May 2020.

The right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) has pre-empted some of the comments that I was going to make. This legislation does go back to my time in office in a different Chamber—indeed, in a different lifetime. It has taken a considerable period of time for it to come through, and I do not know the reason for that. The right hon. Member was correct to say that the situation is likewise with the victim surcharge. However, I think we all know that in dealing with subordinate legislation—with very technical not only cross-border, but multi-departmental legislation—the devil is in the detail.

I have no doubt that Ministers, especially those involved in drafting the legislation, would have found it very complex, as they would have had to engage across multiple jurisdictions and agencies, including the Department for Work and Pensions, never mind the police authorities and everything else. But we are where we are, and it is to be welcomed. It is rather regrettable that this matter should have been slightly politicised by the right hon. Member, as it should be welcomed and perhaps even considered south of the border.​

It may be appropriate for me to mention the genesis of this legislation. The Minister pointed out some of the dreadful treatment experienced by officers during this time of crisis. As others have said, that should not be a matter of routine. It can never be accepted that it is just part of the job. No one’s job—a prison officer, a police officer, somebody working in the health service, or someone working in any other public or private sector organisation—should mean that they routinely have to put up with abuse and violence. It is simply unacceptable.

That said, we are aware that the police are required to go to incidents and deal with people who can be threatening and violent, and on occasions they do suffer injuries. Ultimately, it has to be for the court to decide on the sentence to impose, and it is appropriate that it has as many options available to it as possible. It can deal with such behaviour with imprisonment, which will often be the case for very serious offences, but it can also issue a fine or compensation order.

There is one other area that comes to mind, and that is the ability for police officers to receive treatment. The real genesis of this legislation came from a visit to the police treatment centre that is supported and sustained by individual officers. I believe that almost every officer in Scotland contributes voluntarily from their income to the upholding of the centre. There is one in Auchterarder, of which many Scottish Members may be aware. I understand that there is also one south of the border in Harrogate. Police officers can go to these centres to get treatment: to get them fit and well, to try to get them back to work, and to get their life on as even a course as possible. As I said, the centre is paid for by police contributions, and the cost is not insignificant. I do not think that a huge amount of public funds—if any—are put into it, because it is run on a charitable basis.

The service at the centre is professional. There are treatments available that may be available in some towns or communities, but certainly not to the same level of expertise. Indeed, hearing about my visit to the centre would put the Minister in mind of a football team, because it has professional support staff such as osteopaths and other experts, and it has its own swimming pool. Officers come to the centre in Scotland not just from Scotland but from south of the border. It is sometimes easier for officers from south of the border to get taken there or to access it, depending on where they are based in the north of England.

In summary, that is why we are here. This measure is not meant to take away from the right of a court to impose a prison sentence, a fine or a compensation order, but it is an opportunity for the court to impose a restitution order that would see some benefit. It would not simply—I do not mean to be disparaging in any way—be a penalty fine that might go into the public coffers, but one which can tangibly be put to use for the police service, and that can go to the benefit of the individual officer and of those more widely, because it will be used, in the main, to support the police treatment centres north of the border for officers from Scotland or elsewhere.

As I said, although it has taken a long time, we welcome this measure. It should not be routine, but officers who are injured are entitled to receive the best possible service. They cannot and should not always have to do so by going to their own private physiotherapist or whatever; they should be able to obtain it as part of ​the service. They currently do so through their pay packet. This measure can provide some alleviation of that and further support for it. I simply ask the Minister to consider whether, as well as ensuring that we have the relevant restitution order, other support can come from Governments north and, indeed, south of the border to support not just the institution in Auchterarder but the one in Harrogate, Yorkshire.