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May I start by paying tribute to Tracy Brabin for an excellent maiden speech? I also pay tribute to Holly Lynch for pushing this important issue. I thank my hon. Friend Philip Davies for saving me from going through a whole lot of statistics in three minutes and 46 seconds, and I praise my hon. Friends the Members for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) and for Gower (Byron Davies) for both having served in the police service. I pay tribute to Dorset police, who do the most fantastic job, in a part of the country that many people think is affluent but which is not; we have our share of problems and the police do a wonderful job down there.
I wish to talk briefly about police safety and then move on to police numbers. Before I say anything more, may I pay tribute to our Front-Bench team, who are doing an excellent job, given the financial problems that, as we all know, we face? My comments are therefore in no way aimed at the job they are doing; I make them because I simply must speak up on behalf of my constituents, as that is my job and my duty.
I spoke today to an officer of some 28 years’ service, and his view is that the charging standards have been watered down. His solution, which I am sure the Government would appreciate, is not more police officers, but simply upping the ante in the courts. All too often where police officers or other members of the public services—those in the fire and ambulance services, and prison officers—have been assaulted, they find that the police do a fantastic job getting their case to court, but the courts simply do not have the power to follow up and impose a suitable sentence. Perhaps when she sums up, the Minister could tell the House about using not a caution for assaulting a police officer, which is not acceptable under any circumstances, but the offence of aggravated assault, which of course carries a far more serious sentence, for any assault, including spitting. Unfortunately, if we do not do that, the yobbish element, or those who attack police officers and other members of our public service, will have no deterrent. They will not be discouraged from behaving in the way that all of us in this House find unacceptable.
On police numbers, there is no doubt that, in Dorset, we need more officers. What I hear from the police officers on the ground, and from senior officers, is that the nature of crime has changed. There is less crime on the streets, and more crime on the internet. Sadly, we have to deal with more terrorism. More specialist officers are being trained and therefore taken off our streets to meet that threat, and quite rightly so. As a consequence, officers on the street in rural communities such as mine are few and far between. They have no axe to grind politically—they are simply trying to do their job professionally—but the police are finding that, on many occasions, they do not have the officers to do the job. One comment I hear is, “If you don’t see an officer, that’s good news.” I am afraid that I have to say to the House that I disagree, because if we do not see an officer, you can bet your life that the burglar, the thug or the yob will not see an officer either, and that opens up territory for them to exploit to the disadvantage of our constituents. What we need in addition to the specific resources and specialist officers are officers on the beat. That demand and need has not gone. In fact, if anything, as the world changes—often to the detriment of our constituents—we need them more.