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It is a great honour to follow Tracy Brabin. I think I speak for the whole House when I say that that was a truly outstanding maiden speech, and done in the best traditions of the House. Thinking back to my maiden speech, I wish could have made it as well and as competently as that.
I also ought to say that the hon. Lady showed a massive amount of dignity in the election campaign she fought—not just in the campaign itself, but particularly at the count, when she faced some deeply unpleasant barracking during her speech, which she should not have had to experience. She should probably get used to that in this place, but she certainly should not have had to put up with it then.
Having listened to the hon. Lady’s speech, it is fair to say that Jo Cox could not have hoped for a better successor, and I am sure the people of Batley and Spen feel that they could not have hoped for a better successor to Jo Cox. She clearly is going to be a rising star on the Labour Benches, and somebody the Conservative party will have to watch out for in years to come. I commend her on an excellent first speech.
This is a very important subject for me. I asked for a debate on assaults on police officers in business questions a few months ago, and on the back of that I wrote an article on the issue for the Yorkshire Post. Therefore, I am delighted that Holly Lynch, who has done a fantastic amount of work on the issue—I commend her wholeheartedly—has persuaded her party to have a debate on it, and I commend the Labour party for that.
I have to say right from the outset that I am rather sad that the Government have tabled an amendment to the Labour party motion; it seems to be rather splitting hairs, if I may say so. This was an opportunity for the House to speak as one on police assaults. I welcome the fact that the Government have committed not to cut police funding any further, but I do not really see why they could not have supported the motion. Therefore, if we do divide on this issue, I will happily vote for the Labour party motion, because I cannot see anything in it with which I disagree.
I should also say at the start that I actually voted against any cuts to the police budget every year when cuts were proposed, because I believe that the first duty of the Government is to protect the public, and the police budget was not the budget the Government should have been cutting. I therefore endorse everything that the Labour party has said on this issue.
Like the hon. Member for Halifax, I have spent an awful lot of days going out with West Yorkshire police—about 60 or 70 since I first got elected. I have the greatest respect for the officers and the sacrifices they make on a daily basis keeping us safe. One of the most serious consequences of being a police officer is the threat of personal injury, or actual injury, and occasionally worse, in the line of duty.
As has been mentioned, the recording of assaults is not necessarily uniform, and is clearly a bit haphazard. The charging procedure also makes it difficult to follow through on the number of assaults that there actually are. An assault on a police officer will be charged as an assault on a police officer only if it meets certain criteria; otherwise, it could be charged as another violence against the person offence, albeit that the facts show that the victim was a police officer.
I put in a freedom of information request about two months ago to the Metropolitan police, which showed that there have been broadly 2,000 assaults on police officers in the Metropolitan police area every year for the last three years. When we take those in which injury occurred, there seems to have been an increase from 536 in 2013 to a worrying 869 in 2015, and that is just in London. The figures also show that the most serious incidents—wounding or grievous bodily harm—have increased from 81 in 2013 to 211 in 2015. I have been trying to establish the relevant number in West Yorkshire but have not had as much joy. I have also been wondering whether there should be a specific offence of assaulting a police officer that would cover all assaults and not just some. The name of the offence could encapsulate all offences against police officers. This would certainly make identifying the numbers involved easier, so at least we would know the true picture.
Crucial in this is sentencing. My biggest concern is that while we want to get the numbers right, it is also very important to make sure that the sentencing of such offenders matches the seriousness of the offence. I called for a debate on this not long ago. Again, having one offence could help, but whatever happens, we need tougher sentences. The sentencing guidelines relating to assaulting a police officer were amended a few years ago. We should all be concerned about those guidelines. At the time, I was told that someone who committed an assault on a police officer that involved a punch to the stomach that winded the officer, where there was an attempt to evade arrest, and where the individual had previous convictions, could in theory be punished only with a fine. I was concerned about that then and I am concerned about it now.