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I am delighted to be able to speak in this important debate, and I am glad that the Opposition have secured it. I spent nine years as a special constable, during which time I was assaulted—once in a police station, of all places, although not by another police officer. I echo many of the comments that have been made by Members from all parts of the House.
I am particularly keen on sentencing. It is fantastic that Members from all parts of the House are saying firmly that they want stronger sentences for people who commit assaults on police officers. I have stood here many times over a decade or more, as a Government Member and an Opposition Member, and argued that prison works, prison is effective, prison keeps people safe and prison acts as a deterrent. Many times, I have been intervened on by Opposition Members—and, sometimes, by Government Members—who have told me otherwise. There seems to be a strong consensus here, however, and I thoroughly support that.
I thoroughly support the use of Tasers. At the moment, all police officers are equipped with pepper spray or CS gas, as was the case when I started, and a long, retractable stick of metal called an ASP, which is basically a long baton. The problem is that the baton has to be used quite close up, and there is a risk of causing a severe injury by striking somebody in any way with a baton. Police officers are trained to use a baton against the legs and arms, but that is difficult to do in the sorts of situations where those batons are pulled out. The advantage of Tasers is that people can stand 10 or 15 feet away and point it. The vast majority of times when a Taser is used, all the police officer has to do is to draw it and draw to the potential offender’s notice the fact that there is a red dot on their chest. The potential offender will very often desist from whatever they are doing and comply with the instructions they are given, without receiving any injury at all.
When I was a special, there was at one point a debate about the possibility of police officers being armed. I felt that I would never be able to do the job if I was armed with a firearm. I simply could not do that. I have the utmost respect for the highly trained officers who do, but the decision to use it is not something that I would ever want on my conscience. Using a Taser is something else. It is a far less offensive weapon than the retractable iron bar with which all police officers are equipped.