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Crime: Illegal Arms

Volume 776: debated on Monday 21 November 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many seizures of illegal arms entering the United Kingdom there were in the last year for which figures are available.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register and beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, between April 2015 and March 2016, Border Force seized 445 real firearms, 321 imitation firearms and 1,533 other items captured by firearms law. This is an increase on real firearm seizures from 2014-15, when 126 real firearms, 419 imitation firearms and 2,301 other items were seized. Border Force works closely with other law enforcement agencies to combat smuggling of firearms.

My Lords, that improvement is welcome but in July and August of this year, the Metropolitan Police recorded 202 firearms discharges in the London area compared with 87 in the same period in the previous year. A record number of firearms have been seized within the United Kingdom, so there is clearly a leakage of illegal firearms into the country. The resources of the UK Border Force are woefully spread too thinly to deal with the task. Its budget has been cut by £50 million in the past four years and there are 100 fewer staff. Why do we still consider it adequate to have three vessels patrolling 7,723 miles of coastline while 16 patrol the Netherlands coastline of 280 miles?

My Lords, we have increased our maritime capability and Border Force is an active member of the joint Maritime Operations Centre, where it works closely with partner agencies. Border Force is working to enhance its capability by training more firearms dogs and improving detection technologies. The technologies have formed a critical part of the improvement in performance in this area.

All these criminal networks smuggling into the country are cross-border and international, and the arms which are sloshing around the African continent and eastern Europe are smuggled by links of criminals across a range of different countries. As we withdraw from the European Union we are in severe risk of losing the co-operation in intelligence and policing that we have built up over the past 40 years. Can the Minister assure the House that, as this danger of arms smuggling rises for the UK, we are taking adequate steps to ensure that that crucial co-operation in intelligence and policing continues, and can she tell us something about the framework within which it will be organised?

My Lords, I can confirm to the noble Lord that we intend to keep up and enhance our joint working capabilities at the border and between member states, both during our membership of the EU and afterwards.

Dogs are generally very good swimmers, my Lords. I will get the exact figures for my noble friend of how many dogs are used on any given day—perhaps today.

My Lords, given the figures that the Minister has read out, can she tell us what is the Government’s estimate of the percentage of illegally imported firearms into the UK that are actually seized?

Without doing the maths, I cannot give the noble Lord the figures off the top of my head. However, I will certainly write to him with accurate figures.

My Lords, in her original Answer my noble friend the Minister mentioned real firearms seizures, or words to that effect. Can she tell the House what the unreal firearms seizures are, and if so, why are they seized?

I can tell my noble friend that “unreal” firearms include fake weapons and parts of firearms. BB guns, for example, are imitation guns, while others included in this group are bits of guns and other weapons like stun guns and pepper spray.

My Lords, does the Minister think that there is anything our 40 admirals could do to help with this problem?

My Lords, the noble Baroness has talked about the Border Force collaborating with other forces. At most Question Times we hear from my noble friend Lord West about the problems with the Royal Navy. Are there really enough ships, vessels and aircraft patrolling our borders?

My Lords, I think I made it clear in my follow-up response to the noble Lord that Border Force has invested in its maritime capability, having purchased a number of new coastal patrol vessels, four of which will be in service by April of next year. We have also invested in new technology which has hugely helped in detection.