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Volume 498: debated on Monday 26 October 2009

2. What his policy is on the use of Taser guns by police forces; and if he will make a statement. (295126)

We are committed to providing the police with the equipment necessary to protect the public and to do their job safely. The police use of Taser in England and Wales has shown that it provides an effective option for police when dealing with violent or threatening situations.

The Minister will be aware that Tasers have been implicated in the deaths of more than 300 people in the United States, and that their use varies enormously in the UK with, for example, Tasers having been used 224 times last year in West Yorkshire, as opposed to 345 uses in South Yorkshire. Does he agree that it is important to introduce more sensible controls, and will he limit the use of Tasers to authorised firearms officers and exclude their use against children, 18 of whom were zapped in the UK last year?

The hon. Gentleman will know that Tasers have been used 4,818 times up to March 2009, and in none of those instances were serious injuries or deaths reported; nor was there evidence of public difficulty with Taser use. I understand that there may well have been reports of difficulties elsewhere, but that is not the experience in the United Kingdom. That is because we have issued proper and effective guidance to police forces, which allows strong regulation of the use of Tasers. I believe that goes far enough. There have been only 21 occasions when Tasers have been used on under-18s, and in all those cases, no incidents of injury have occurred.

Tasers are effective at incapacitating potentially violent individuals at a distance, but the vice-president, training, for Taser, Mr. Rick Gilbault, has recently advised that a Taser should not be aimed at the chest area when incapacitating an individual. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that those views will be reflected in any future guidance?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. We have clear guidance on the use of Tasers, including an independent medical panel which moderates on their use and gives guidance accordingly. I will certainly draw colleagues’ attention to those views and to my hon. Friend’s comments.

Is not the increasing use of Tasers another example, along with the decision to put armed police patrols on the streets of east London, of the slippery slide towards US-style armed policing in this country?

Actually, no, because Tasers are used to reduce violence and the risk of injury, and to support officers in preventing violence against themselves or, on some occasions, by the Tasered person, through either self-harm or incidents that might lead to the harm of others. As I have said, there were 4,818 incidents up to March and not one single serious injury or death. We need to have guidance, but it is proportionate and designed to help to reduce serious violence.