My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
The publication of the UK steering group’s fifth report marks another milestone in the work carried out by the group, currently chaired by the Northern Ireland Office, formed as a result of Patten to examine alternative policing approaches to the management of conflict.
After consultation with ministerial colleagues in the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence, I placed in the Library a copy of the fifth report on20 September. The UK steering group was set up to establish whether an acceptable, effective and less potentially lethal alternative to the baton round is available and to review the public order equipment that is presently available or could be developed in order to expand the range of tactical options available to operational commanders.
Since then, the work has continued apace. I am grateful to the steering group and to the many contributors to the programme, including those in government service, the police, academics and other experts, for their sustained commitment.
While initially established to address a specific Northern Ireland issue, the work of the steering group has intentionally been developed within the context of policing across the United Kingdom and has provided a vehicle for identifying and selecting less lethal technologies for police use in the wider UK context.
There has been considerable progress from the situation on which the Patten commission reported, when it stated that the police “had essentially, three options—the baton, the PBR or live fire”. In June 2005, the UK steering group introduced the new attenuating energy projectile (AEP), a safer replacement for the L21A1 baton round. The introduction of the AEP does not represent the end of the group’s work, as it continues to progress towards the assessment of the suitability of the new discriminating irritant projectile (DIP).
The work of the steering group has necessarily had a strong focus on the science and technology required to produce an effective and less potentially lethal alternative, but has also had a particular emphasis on its systematic approach, where the potential to reduce the lethal nature of weapons is enhanced not only through technological developments but through the development of stringent training and operational guidance and the accountability measures that are in place, designed to maximise the safety of all concerned. Overall this approach is now internationally recognised as a world-leading model of best practice.
The Government will continue to keep all commercial products and technological research under review. It will ensure that those appearing to have real potential are tested and medically evaluated if appropriate.
However, I have not lost sight of the concerns shared by a number of interested groups on the issue of less lethal weapons. For our part, it is the Government's intention to continue to engage with these groups. As before, I have invited their comments on this report.