The House of Commons heard a detailed account of a horrific armed robbery in the West Midlands in a debate on the rising number of raids on security vans.

MP Ian Austin (Lab Dudley North) quoted from an eyewitness account of an attack in Birmingham last August, in which two people were shot.

He called for greater protection for people working in the cash-in-transit industry, delivering money to banks and cash machines.

"My region, the West Midlands, is considered by the industry to be one of the areas targeted by these criminals," said Mr Austin.

"There have already been 21 attacks in the region during the first quarter of 2006."

The industry employs 14,000 people and transports an estimated £1.4 billion every day.

Last year there were 836 attacks on couriers - up by a fifth compared to 2003. A quarter of robberies involved firearms.

Appealing to Ministers to take action, Mr Austin said: "The following is typical of the more violent attacks of recent months. It is a verbatim account from a report provided by Group 4 Securicor following an attack in Birmingham last August.

"The courier was returning to the vehicle with an empty box when the two attackers shouted 'Give me the money'. The attacker with the revolver attacked the courier, dragging him to the back of the van, and the driver heard his colleague say 'Give them the money'.

"A retired West Midlands Police detective inspector came to the couriers' aid. In the melee that followed four or five shots were fired by the attacker with the firearm.

"The courier was shot in his right foot and the retired police detective was shot in the thigh."

He added: "These men and women are performing a service vital to the interests of the public and the UK economy.

"They make sure that we have cash in our pockets, that shops and banks are able to open in the morning and that wages can be paid."

Mr Austin called for security vans to be allowed special access in pedestrianised high streets, in the same way as the emergency services, so they could be driven right next to banks and building societies.

He also called on police to make tackling crime against cash-in-transit workers a high priority, but praised West Midlands Police for focusing on the problem late last year.

Home Office Minister Andy Burnham said: "The Government find any crime that involves violence or guns unacceptable, and we are sending a strong message that such crime has no place in the community or on the street."

He highlighted Government funding of £170 million which had paid for CCTV schemes in town centres, as well as the creation of a new serious crime agency to tackle organised crime.