Every day, emergency workers across the country show quite remarkable courage simply in carrying out their duties. They put their lives on the line each time they leave their homes and put on their uniforms. So, those who attack or assault these brave souls should face nothing less than the full weight of the criminal justice system.
In the House of Commons on Friday, we discussed a new Bill to strengthen existing measures designed to protect our emergency workers as well as new safeguards in the line of duty.
The scale of the problem our emergency services face on the street is revealed by statistics gathered by the Home Office. There were 24,000 assaults on police officers last year, attacks on prisons officers rose by a third and there was a 34% increase in confrontations involving medical staff.
These numbers come in a year when our emergency services have displayed such bravery in such terrible circumstances including the fire at the Grenfell Tower and a series of terrorist attacks. The murder of PC Keith Palmer outside the very building we discussed the Bill in is a tragic and shocking reminder of how much our emergency workers do to protect us.
We are not starting from a position where there is no protection for our emergency workers; in fact, judges can already hand down tougher sentences on for these kind of assaults, but what this bill does do is provide extra protection and that is why the I, and the government, fully support the bill brought forward by Chris Bryant and Holly Lynch of the Labour Party.
As well as creating a new form of common assault that would double the maximum sentence someone can serve for attacking an emergency worker to one year, the Bill also provides for blood tests in case they are bitten or spat on. Not only will they have to deal with the initial pain and disgust of experiencing this, but there could be the concern of contracting an infectious disease. This will cause stress and worry to the individual, but also their family.
An assault on anyone is reprehensible and should be dealt with sharply, but an attack on a paramedic, police officer or a firefighter, someone who has put themselves in a dangerous position to help us in times of need, is an attack on all of us.
This is not a party-political issue, it's a topic that affects us all. That's why I am so pleased we are working together across party lines to protect these remarkable individuals. We need to make this kind of behaviour a taboo in our society and tougher sentences for those who carry out these despicable attacks sends the clearest possible message that they will not be tolerated.
Emergency workers save lives, protect communities and uphold the law and we owe them a debt of gratitude. Simply put, we need to protect the protectors.
Sam Gyimah is the prisons and probation minister and Conservative MP for East Surrey