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Police Officer Safety

Part of Community Pharmacies – in the House of Commons at 6:22 pm on 2nd November 2016.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 6:22 pm, 2nd November 2016

It is a pleasure to follow Chris Elmore and also the maiden speech of Tracy Brabin, which reminded me of 18 months ago when I was on this Bench listening to her predecessor, someone who was so full of energy, so full of passion and so full of life—a life that was, sadly, taken away. It is apt that we were reminded earlier today that more unites us than divides us when we are in the Chamber. It is the heart of our democracy, and we are surrounded by reminders of past Members who have given their lives for those principles.

This debate on police officer safety is welcome, and I pay tribute to Holly Lynch, who has done so much work on it. Our police officers have a long history of dealing with difficult and violent individuals, and it is right that they should feel they have the protection of the law when they do so. I am thinking particularly of those who show bravery every day on the streets of south Devon and Torbay and those who have in many cases put their own lives at risk to try and save others, either when dealing with a criminal situation or when coming across someone in distress or need.

Mr Bradshaw talked about Devon and Cornwall being a sleepy area, and he may not have meant it in the way it came across, but although Devon and Cornwall have beautiful areas and villages, Torbay has its share of issues and difficulties, like many other coastal communities, and the level of assaults we have seen on officers is concerning, with 267 in an 11-month period and a—thus far unaudited—further 26 assaults last month. To see people who are serving the public being dealt with in that way gives all of us cause for concern.

I welcome the way in which this debate has been conducted. Most police forces around the world carry firearms for protection, and it is a huge compliment to our own police that they stand firm behind the principle that we police by consent and not at the point of a gun. We see far too many incidents in the United States that would never warrant the use of lethal force or firearms being drawn in this country. It is a real compliment to our officers that the vast majority of them go out there every day without being armed with a lethal weapon. That said, it is right that police forces in places such as Devon and Cornwall are considering the expanded use of Tasers and spit hoods to deal with those who use violence, those who will not co-operate when arrested and, crucially, those who put others at risk.

It is worth dwelling for a moment on what we ask our officers to do. Some contributions to the debate seemed to suggest that they deal only with crime. The nature of crime is changing, and last year’s Public Accounts Committee’s report drilled down into that subject. We considered the situations that we are now asking response police officers to go into. I ask the Minister to tell us when we can look forward to a revised funding formula, particularly in the light of the benefits that that will have for Devon and Cornwall. I also want to highlight the Bills dealing with animal cruelty that will be debated here on Friday 24 February. They might help to deal with some of the issues relating to assaults on police dogs and horses. It is bizarre that at the moment someone can be charged with such an offence and receive a similar sentence to one that they would receive for damaging property. The Library notes show a worrying decline in the average custodial sentences given to some offenders, and I hope that the new sentencing guidelines will help to deal with that. I welcome this debate, and I welcome this opportunity to pay tribute to the officers who show such bravery each and every day.