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I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate, and to have another opportunity to discuss this issue. I, too, pay tribute to Holly Lynch, who is a strong advocate for police officer safety and who, as we have heard, initiated an Adjournment debate on the subject in which I was happy to participate.
When people become police officers, they understand that they will face risks, and I well remember the risks that I faced during my 32-year career in the Metropolitan police. I received a few pokes myself, but I am glad to say that I survived them. In my view, however, an assault on a police officer constitutes an assault on our values, on our civilised way of life and on our society, and should attract the strongest punishment that the criminal justice system can offer. It is vital for the system to use the strong sentencing guidelines and the full extent of the law to punish those who assault officers. I am sorry, but a caution, a fine or a suspended sentence is not adequate or appropriate. We must send the clear message that any assault on a police officer—on our society—will be met with the full force of the law. Moreover, it is imperative that we take our duty of care with the utmost seriousness, and that means giving officers the proper equipment and protection to enable them to deal with the myriad threats that they now face.
Many of us have areas in our constituencies that are major night-time hotspots, and there are problems in managing such areas. There can be hundreds of pubs and clubs in small areas in a city, with long licensing hours and poor management of drunken and aggressive behaviour. That puts the police in direct confrontation with people who have been allowed to drink to excess, have been thrown out of clubs or have been involved in violent incidents. It must be said that that culture only grew under the Labour Government, with the 24-hour licensing laws and the so-called pavement culture that was fostered under Tony Blair. We need to look again at those laws, at the management of certain premises, and at the way in which pubs and clubs deal with people who are violent if we are to change the environment that causes a large number of assaults on police. It is vital that we do that if we are to have a serious debate about tackling such behaviour.
Long custodial sentences are imperative, not just for the purpose of punishment but, in particular, to protect society from this loutish conduct. However, for the sake of officers throughout the country, we must also try to tackle the behaviour—or the lack thereof—that is at the root of some of the problems. There are, of course, other problems, but I wanted to introduce that issue to the debate in the hope that it will be discussed further.
There is much to agree with in the motion, but we need to be clear about the issue of police numbers. It is, of course, incredibly important for us to have sufficient officers to tackle and prevent crime and antisocial behaviour. However, as one who has managed resources and police officers and who remains in constant contact with former and current officers, I know that it is far too simplistic to concentrate solely on the issue of numbers. This is about giving the police the proper technical resources and equipment, and about the correct management and deployment of those resources. Senior management must use the techniques and resources that are available to 21st-century police forces to manage their forces properly and deploy them in the right way if we are to continue to cut crime and tackle the root causes of criminal and antisocial behaviour.
In the case of police assaults, there is no substitute for strong custodial sentences. If we are to tackle assaults on those who protect and maintain our society— which, in turn, constitute attacks on that very society —we must ensure that the police are secure in the possession of the very best equipment, and are themselves protected by determined prosecutors who deal with these cases in a way that ensures that serious and severe custodial sentences ensue.