HC Deb 05 February 1987 vol 109 cc1127-9
5. Mrs. Dunwoody

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any proposals to increase the training available to authorised firearms users in the police force.

Mr. Hurd

I have accepted the conclusion of the Home Office working group on police use of firearms that the recommended length of initial and refresher training for authorised firearms officers is sufficient.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the Home Secretary satisfied that on all occasions only fully trained officers will be issued with firearms? There are increasing numbers of occasions when firearms are issued. Would it not be better to have longer, more specialised training, and fewer people involved in the issue of firearms?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Lady may wish to look at the summary of the working group's proposals, which I have put in the Library. I entirely agree with her—it is important that the number of authorised firearms officers be reduced. There was a reduction of 21 per cent. between the end of 1983 and the end of 1985, and the report points to a further reduction. In addition, the number of occasions on which the police have drawn firearms has also been declining.

Sir John Farr

Does my right hon. Friend agree that what matters is not necessarily the amount of training but the type of training? Does he also agree that it is important that people of the right calibre are selected for firearms training in the first place?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend has put his finger on the two essential points—the selection of officers in the first place and the content of the training. The authority required for the drawing and use of firearms is also an important element.

Mr. Stuart Holland

The Home Secretary will be aware of the unanswered questions surrounding the shooting of Mrs. Cherry Groce in my constituency. Will he fulfil his commitment of 11 November 1985 to the Lambeth police consultative group that he would publish the findings of the inquiry if disciplinary charges were not brought against Inspector Lovelock?

Mr. Hurd

It is not for me to publish those findings. When I wrote to Mr. Parkinson the letter that the hon. Gentleman has seen, the Police Complaints Authority was intending to publish a summary of the investigation which took place under its supervision. Since then, Inspector Lovelock has faced trial on these matters. As a result, the PCA decided that it would not re-issue a lot of material that had come out in the trial but would issue a press release instead. The hon. Gentleman has seen that press release.

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue the matter, I shall be glad to arrange for him to meet Sir Cecil Clothier. In response to several press reports, I should like to make it clear, regarding the possible consumption of alcohol tine day before, that I understand that the investigation showed that Inspector Lovelock had had one drink at a retirement party the evening before the raid on Mrs. Groce's home.

Mr. Canavan

Is it not an absolute disgrace that innocent people can he gunned down by policemen on the street or even in their homes and the police seem to get off scot-free? In view of the experience of even more violent societies, such as the United States of America, is it not likely that the increasing practice of policemen in this country using guns will lead to an increase in the number of criminals carrying guns? Will not the resultant violent and vicious circle lead to even more innocent people being injured or killed?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman is wrong and prejudiced on all points. There have been at least two well-reported cases recently in which police officers have been prosecuted in the courts for the use of firearms. The hon. Gentleman is wrong on his basic facts. It is important that those facts should be understood. The number of authorised firearms officers in the police service has been declining sharply. The number of operations on which police officers have drawn firearms has also been declining in recent years. The total number of occasions on which the police used firearms in England and Wales in 1985 was seven. The total for New York city in the same year was well over 200.

Mr. Soley

Will the Home Secretary answer this specific question? Is it not true that the report which recommended no increase in training did so because the number of times that officers were authorised to draw arms had riot significantly increased? Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that, given the consequences of the recent killings for individuals, society and the police, that is riot a satisfactory argument for not increasing training and is entirely unacceptable to the House?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman has not taken into account the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr). What is crucial is not the length of training, but its content and effectiveness. I am willing to discuss this point with the hon. Gentleman or with any other hon. Member at any time. The content and effectiveness of the training, together with the selection of officers, are crucial. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, with his respect for accuracy, will not pursue the legend that the use of firearms by police is increasing.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is outrageous and dangerous nonsense to suggest that criminals carry guns because policemen carry guns? If it were not for the criminals, policemen would not need to carry guns. The attitude "It was a wicked dog—it bit me when I kicked it" is outrageous. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the attitude expressed by the Opposition encourages the need for policemen to carry guns?

Mr. Hurd

One of the reassuring things which I have found as Home Secretary is the conviction among all sections of the police—from the chief officers to the Police Federation—that they want to adhere as closely as possible to the tradition of unarmed British policing, and I entirely agree with them. Of course there are occasions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) has said, when armed criminals or armed suspects are about and the police need to draw and protect themselves with firearms. The police and I are determined that those occasions should be kept to a minimum.