Skip to main content

Police: Armed Officers

Volume 773: debated on Wednesday 8 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many armed police officers there were in April 2010, and how many there were in April 2016.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I draw attention to my interests in the register. I should also point out that since I tabled this Question I have acquired a new interest: to conduct a review on behalf of the Mayor of London into London’s preparedness in the event of a major terrorist incident.

My Lords, on 31 March 2010 there were 6,976 authorised firearms officers in England and Wales, and on 31 March 2015 there were 5,647. Statistics showing the number of authorised firearms officers as of 31 March 2016 will be published on 28 July 2016.

My Lords, as ever, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his reply. In that context, can he confirm that the uplift announced by the Prime Minister in the number of armed officers will barely take the total number of Home Office-approved firearms officers up to the level that it was in 2010? Can he also comment on the fact that the other forces which would act in support of the police in the event of a major incident have suffered very substantial cuts? For example, the Ministry of Defence Police lost 1,000 officers as a result of the 2010 strategic defence and security review and is now scheduled to lose another 600, bringing it down to 2,000 when it is expected to provide 700 armed officers in the event of a major incident.

Thank you, my Lords. It is for chief officers to determine the number of authorised firearms officers in their areas. The national armed policing lead and the National Police Co-ordination Centre continually review capability against the national police firearms mobilisation plan. In the period from March 2010 to March 2015, the reduction in the number of authorised armed officers was 19%. In the same period the number of required police firearms operations reduced by 31%, so clearly the system is working.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former police marksman. Does the Minister agree that we have an enviable record in this country compared with other developed countries of the restraint shown by our firearms officers in the face of split-second, life and death decisions on behalf of the wider community? If we are to encourage good and able men and women to come forward to be trained as firearms officers, we need a more measured debate about the pressures they face and the services they give to our community.

I concur with the observations of the noble Lord. The policy in this country has long been that the police should not generally be armed, so those authorised to carry firearms are entitled to consideration for the difficult tasks that they have to perform. Recently the Shaw report has been under consideration. It deals with the question of how we should respond in cases involving the use of firearms and similar weaponry. That report continues to be under consideration at present.

My Lords, has my noble and learned friend seen the suggestion in the press that the equipment with which our British armed police have been provided is not adequate to meet the threat from terrorism? Is he able to reassure the House by saying that that criticism either is unfounded or, if it is founded, is being addressed rather rapidly?

Police equipment and firearms selection is a matter for the chief officers of the various regions, but they have access to expert advice from the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology. In the light of that advice, they determine and assess the weapons that they require.

With respect, that answer is inadequate. In the recent attacks in Paris, rapid-fire assault rifles were used. Many of the arms with which our police officers are currently equipped would leave them highly vulnerable in such a situation. The House needs a bit more information about how we assess the needs of armed police officers in the face of an attack such as took place in Paris.

In light of the incident in Paris, the Government have undertaken to provide an additional £143 million over the course of the spending review to provide an uplift in armed policing capability. That will include armed response vehicles and 1,000 additional armed police. To deal with the risk of a marauding firearms terrorist attack, as it is sometimes termed, we have developed a police-led capability that involves the option of large-scale military assistance. Clearly, I will not address details of operational capacity.

My Lords, perhaps I should explain to the House that I am not sure how safe it is; I too was a police marksman, and that probably puts me in a firefight position with the noble Lord. The Question is interesting but it is not the real meat of the subject. The meat of the subject is the distribution of armed police across the country. No doubt the Metropolitan Police has a major capacity, as do the West Midlands, Manchester, Liverpool and the great conurbations. Does the Minister agree that services beyond those major cities are inadequate?

The noble Lord is right to observe that there is a concentration of authorised firearms officers in the London metropolitan area; indeed, there are more than 2,000. Beyond those areas, however, more collaborative arrangements have developed, with authorised firearms officers working on a regional basis rather than simply within individual forces.

My Lords, the former head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch John Grieve has said and continues to say that communities will defeat terrorism, not the police and the security services alone. While the investment in armed police officers that the Minister mentioned is welcome, what investment are the Government making in community policing to build trust and confidence with those communities from which vital intelligence will come to prevent terrorist attacks happening in the first place?

Clearly, this Government have been committed to the development of community relations. The use of firearms is one aspect in that context.

The noble and learned Lord mentioned £143 million. How much of that is being allocated for the additional firearms officers? I think that a figure of 1,500 of them has previously been mentioned by the Government. What will be the full-year costs of training, equipping and paying the salaries and employers’ costs of 1,500 additional firearms officers? There have been suggestions that the amount of money mentioned by the Government would work out at about £22,500 per additional officer. That seems rather low. Can he guarantee that none of these additional costs will have to be financed out of existing police budgets?

The sum of £143 million, which will be provided during the course of the spending review, is intended to provide a national uplift of about 1,000 additional armed police—not 1,500—and provide 40 more police armed response vehicles. I cannot give the precise figures that the noble Lord just asked me for, but I undertake to write if those figures are available.