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Police Firearms

Volume 464: debated on Monday 15 October 2007

All police use of firearms is subject to the usual law on the use of force. Under section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967, the police may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances to effect an arrest or to prevent crime.

With more and more guns in circulation and in the hands of criminals, and an increasing terrorism threat, our armed police are being asked almost every day to make the toughest decision of all: whether to open fire. Will the Minister consider looking at having rules of engagement guides across the United Kingdom, as was the case with our security forces in Northern Ireland, to ensure that clarity is given both to the public and to the police about exactly where they stand, and so that if there are any incidents no one gets hung out to dry and everyone gets protected?

I certainly accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about that split-second decision that our armed police have to make in such circumstances; it is a critical decision. The Association of Chief Police Officers already sets such guidelines and—with all due humility—I think that the House is happier that that is the case than it would be for me or any other Minister to set such guidelines.

Is it not now more common in Britain for police officers to carry guns—and, particularly following the Jean Charles de Menezes incident, is it not the case that people need to have confidence about the moment of decision when they are used? There might be benefit in having a wider public debate, and greater public awareness of how police come to such split-second decisions and in what circumstances they can decide to shoot.

I think that, overwhelmingly, the public do have that confidence. That is borne out, at least in part, by the figures. Although, as has been suggested, there has been a significant increase in the number of incidents in which armed police were deployed, the number of such authorised operations compared with the number of incidents involving the actual use of firearms was about 0.04 per cent. in 1996-97 and 0.048 per cent. in the last full year, 2005-06. There means a range of five to nine incidents when firearms were actually used. Therefore, notwithstanding events such as those at Stockwell, such confidence exists, and if there needs to be more awareness, we can look into that.