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Police: Firearms

Volume 791: debated on Monday 4 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what was the outcome of the review of police officers’ use of firearms announced in November 2015 after the terrorist attacks in France.

My Lords, armed police officers do a vital and uniquely challenging job on behalf of the public. It is right that they are supported to take difficult decisions to protect the public without fearing that the justified use of force will damage their careers. The work looking into the legal and procedural framework governing police use of firearms and post-incident investigation is ongoing, taking into account learning from recent events.

My Lords, in this country there are 120,000 police officers, only 6,500 of whom are armed. They deal with 15,700 firearms operations a year, yet discharge their weapons on only 10 occasions. Yet when they do discharge their weapons they can expect a lengthy and prolonged inquiry—more than 10 years on the worst occasion. Something needs to happen about this. That was agreed in the review that this Question relates to by the then Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron. Here we are two and half years later and that review has yet to conclude. The Government and the law need to change to accommodate the needs of the firearms officer to ensure these things are carried forward well in the future. The very least that should happen is that the review should conclude.

I thank the noble Lord for his Question—his first to me, I think. I thank him for the time he took to speak to me this morning and join him in paying tribute to all those who serve in our police services in some very difficult circumstances indeed. On his first point on the previous Prime Minister commissioning the review, officials have been looking at the legal and procedural framework of post-incident procedure in consultation with stakeholders, including the noble Lord. His second point was about armed police officers feeling like they are treated as suspects. As I am sure that he would agree, it is quite clear that the facts should be established and no predetermination made during the process. The police and the IOPC have agreed a protocol for post-incident procedures following a terrorist attack to improve clarity and address concerns about safety and fairness. On the noble Lord’s third point on timeliness from the point of view of the firearms officer, and that of the family of someone who might have been shot, he is absolutely right. There have been precious few convictions—in fact none—since 2004, but timeliness is improving.

My Lords, I refer to my interests to do with policing in the register. Can the Minister confirm that it is proving difficult to recruit up to the required level of firearms officers at present? Can she tell us the reason? Is it because there is now too small a pool of police officers to recruit from? Is it because police officers who accept this responsibility are not paid any extra? Is it because they are worried about the extremely long processes that might follow if they ever have to use their weapon? Which is it?

The noble Lord rightly raises a number of concerns. We know there have been challenges in recruiting additional firearms officers. To date, we have recruited 650 and hope to reach 1,000 by the end of this year. Developing a pipeline of skills is very important when we are looking to recruit. In doing so, we want firearms officers to feel that they can do their job with the safety of a legal framework around them.

My Lords, police firearms officers are volunteers who make split-second decisions to protect us all. Does the Minister not agree that they deserve some legal protection in return?

I think the final part of my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, made precisely that point. We absolutely acknowledge the way the police have to make—in the blink of an eye—what are sometimes life-and-death decisions. They had a particularly challenging time last year during the several terrorist attacks that took place in this city and in Manchester. I think the noble Lord, Lord Harris, acknowledged in his report how well the police responded in those situations.

My Lords, in view of the increasing number of firearms officers required, is my noble friend the Minister satisfied that the training arrangements for them are adequate?

My noble friend is absolutely right: the training is crucial. These officers are experts in their field, who have to make split-second decisions in not just challenging but life-threatening situations, with a lot of people being affected should decisions go wrong. Training is absolutely crucial.

My Lords, the Minister said that the timeliness of investigations into firearms incidents is improving, but my understanding is that it is not. Will she take this matter back and perhaps leave a report in the Library about what the Government are doing to improve that timeliness?

I am certainly happy to give the noble Baroness a longer answer in writing. I will just run through some of the things we have done in recent years. The timeliness of investigations has gone down from 205 working days in the year to April 2017 to 186 working days in the year to April 2018. The IOPC has increased the number of investigations nearly sixfold since 2013-14. In addition, we have doubled the IOPC budget.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, has raised a very important issue but can the noble Baroness tell us when she expects the review to conclude? As he said, it has been going now for nearly two and a half years.

We expect that Michael Lockwood will complete his review soon. He is quite new in post and is looking at the Section 22 draft statutory guidance on achieving best evidence in death and serious injury matters, while taking into account the College of Policing’s authorised professional practice for armed policing post-incident procedures.

My Lords, the point has been raised that the timeliness of these investigations is quite poor. That does not give justice to the families of the people who have been shot, nor to the officers who have done the shooting, so are there plans for the Government to review the processes so that they can be run concurrently rather than sequentially?

The timeliness is improving. A number of changes made to the IOPC have resulted in better performance from it, including in the time it takes to investigate.