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British Transport Police

Volume 741: debated on Monday 3 December 2012

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will recognise the British Transport Police for the purposes of the Firearms Act 1968.

My Lords, the Government recognise the need to amend the Firearms Act 1968 to address the anomalous position of the BTP in relation to firearms licensing. We are continuing to seek a suitable legislative vehicle to make the necessary amendment to the Firearms Act 1968. We hope that it will be possible to do so during the third Session Bill programme.

My Lords, there is widespread admiration in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere for the work that the British Transport Police do, particularly in tackling metal theft, as we heard in the debate on Friday. In May last year, the Secretary of State for Transport announced that the British Transport Police could arm its officers. However, for the reason the Minister mentioned—because the definition of “police” in the Police Act 1996 does not include the BTP—its officers are not regarded as Crown servants under the Firearms Act 1968. Is he aware that, as a result, BTP officers do not enjoy the legal protection afforded to other police officers and that they have to apply for firearms certificates individually as if they were members of the public? The Minister referred to legislative opportunities—

I will finish very quickly. The Minister referred to legislative opportunities. Will he look at a late amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill or the introduction of a statutory instrument under the Railways and Transport Safety Act?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right in his analysis of the problem. Unfortunately, we cannot make any suitable amendment to current legislation going through your Lordships’ House. I am advised that other routes, such as a regulatory reform order, are not suitable, so we will have to wait for a suitable slot in the primary legislation. However, the noble Lord’s point about legal uncertainties is extremely important.

My Lords, how many BTP officers carry firearms? As my noble friend said, it seems odd that they do not have the same legal position as other police officers around the country who are able to carry firearms. What is the legal position of BTP officers who carry firearms? Are they at risk on a personal level in a way that the other police officers are not?

My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord’s first question, we are talking about only 53 police officers, so the bureaucracy load is manageable, although extremely inconvenient. The weakness in the legislation on the protection of officers who are involved in an incident, alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, is an extremely important point.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that although metal theft is a heinous crime and has caused damage to war memorials and danger to hospitals and railway lines, shooting those involved might be a little over the top?

My Lords, in the case of a war memorial, I am sure that the noble Lord and I would have some doubt over whether that would be over the top. Police officers have a range of options. It is important to note that British Transport Police armed officers have not only a firearm but a Taser and other weapons, such as pepper sprays, so they do not need to resort to the firearm immediately.