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I am going to press on, if my hon. Friends do not mind, because other people want to speak and I want to crack on.
This kind of soft, lily-livered approach to sentencing is simply not on. I want to mention a recent example of a case before Bradford Crown court that was not charged as an assault against a PC because of the nature of the incident. It demonstrates the problem that we have. The hon. Member for Halifax mentioned this issue, but I want to emphasise it. Sergeant Andrew Heald, who was arresting a criminal who had an armful of previous convictions and was out of prison on licence, had acid thrown in his face and feared that he had been blinded or disfigured. I cannot imagine how frightening that must have been for that police officer doing his job of protecting the public. The sentence handed down to the lowlife who threw the acid in Sergeant Heald’s face was 20 months for the attack and a further 10 months for the offence for which he was trying to arrest him.
I want to be clear that this derisory sentence was not the fault of the judge, as having looked carefully at the sentencing guidelines, it is obvious that he had acted to the best of his ability given the constraints that the guidelines placed on him. This meant that because he was out on licence, this thug, who should not even have been out of prison in the first place, will serve just 10 months in prison for this vicious attack on a police officer doing his job. There should be a clearly defined additional sentence for anyone who attacks our police officers, and generally the sentences need to be much more severe. The police put their lives at risk to protect us, and the least we can do in this place is to make sure that the law better protects them.
I have also been looking at the use of tasers by the police. It seems to me that tasers are currently underused and that if more police had them they might be better able to prevent assaults on themselves in the first place. According to my recent FOI request, just 13% of police officers in West Yorkshire are authorised to carry a taser. If the police want to carry a taser to better protect themselves, we should make sure that that is facilitated.
The motion touches on police numbers. As I have made clear, I have voted against cuts to the police budget every year they have been proposed. This should be a priority for the police. If the Government had to save money—which they did—they would have been far better off cutting the overseas aid budget, which lines the pockets of corrupt politicians around the world, rather than cutting the police budget when the first duty of the Government is to protect the public. The fact is that police officer numbers in West Yorkshire have reduced from 5,817 in May 2010 to 4,552 today. That is just not good enough or at all helpful. We need more police officers.
In conclusion, every attack on an officer should always act as a reminder of the bravery of our police and the price that they sometimes pay to protect us. It is only right that the Government and Parliament totally support them in return. Clearly, establishing how many police officers are assaulted is helpful, but toughening up the sentences of those who attack the police as they do their duty is the best thing that this House could do, and this debate is a very good start. For those reasons, I support the Labour motion.