HL Deb 03 February 1987 vol 484 cc190-2WA
Lord Campbell of Alloway

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are yet able to advise the House of the conculsions of the working group formed to review the procedures relating to the use of firearms by the police.

The Minister of State, Home Office (The Earl of Caithness)

On 26th February 1986, my right honourable friend announced that, in response to the concerns which have been expressed about the use of firearms by the police, a working group was to be formed, under Home Office chairmanship, to examine all aspects of the policy and procedures relating into the issue to and use by the police of firearms in England and Wales. My right honourable friend undertook to advise the House of the working groups' conclusions.

The working group comprised representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Complaints Authority, the Police Federation and the Superintendents' Association as well as Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Home Office. They have carried out a thorough review and have made a number of recommendations. In response to my right honourable friend's invitation to police authorities and other organisations and individuals to submit their views for the working group's consideration, twelve such submissions were received. We should like to thank those whose contributions did much to inform the working group's deliberations.

A complete list of the working group's recommendations and conclusion has today been placed in the Library together with its membership and terms of reference, a lot of those who submitted evidence and the text of the revised Home Office Guidelines for the Police on the Issue and Use of Firearms. My right honourable friend is asking all chief officers to accept and implement the working group's recommendations. He knows that many have already done so or are in the process of doing so.

The working group's report is thoughtful and detailed. Because of the thoroughness with which the review was conducted the report necessarily contains a wealth of operational and tactical detail. It would not be sensible for all such informaion, which could be of considerable value in the wrong hands, to be publicly aired. The same considerations apply to the Manual of Guidance on Police Use of Firearms, which is produced by the Association of Chief Officers and which is often referred to in the working group's report and in its conclusions and recommendations.

The working group looked closely at such matters as the selection and training of police officers for firearms duties; the criteria for authorisation to issue firearms for particular operations; the relevant instructions and guidelines; the planning; briefing for and supervision of armed operations; and the choice of weapons and ammunition.

The practical effect of carrying out the working group's recommendations will be to enhance the standards of professionalism and restraint exercised by the police in this difficult and dangerous area of police operations. They recommend, for example, that there should be an increased operational role for specialist firearms teams, the members of which should be on 24 hour call to attend operations requiring the issue of firearms. The officers in these teams should not be dedicated solely to firearms duties but those duties should take priority over their other police work. Neither should they be the only armed police response available within forces. These teams should be in addition to an equitable distribution of authorised firearms officers throughout the force area. The aim is to have fewer authorised firearms officers and a greater concentration of training and the development of tactical and operational skills on them.

The working group also looked at the procedure adopted by a small number of police forces whereby armed response cars are deployed to patrol certain areas on a regular basis. They concluded that, while they could not commend such a policy generally to all police forces, such a system should remain within the discretion of chief officers where local operations and geographical considerations made it an effective use of resources.

As regards the selection of officers for firearms training, the working group recommend procedures which will probe carefully an officer's temperament, maturity and stability as well as his or her physical suitability for such training. Those who are selected, trained and authorised to carry firearms should be assessed both continuously and annually for their continued suitability for armed duties.

The working group do not recommend any changes in the length of initial and refresher training courses. Both of these have recently been increased. But they advise that developments in judgement training should be monitored so that suitable sytems can be introduced into the training programmes. This will lead to a greater emphasis in training on the need for trainees to decide, under conditions of stress, whether to shoot, as distinct from how to shoot.

The working group also stress the importance to armed operations for supervisory officers to be trained in the right tactics as well as in supervision itself, and for them to consult properly trained tactical advisers.

The working group also recommend that senior officers who may be called upon to authorise the issue of firearms for particular operations, as well as those responsible for planning armed operations and for briefing the personnel to be involved, should be provided with aides-mémoire and checklists to ensure that no important point is overlooked. These documents will require specifically that the option of proceeding without the issue of firearms should be considered before authorisation for their issue is given.

In order to maintain the standards of firearms training throughout England and Wales and to ensure that best practice is spread, the working group recommend a system of inspections of firearms training both at the national firearms training centres and within individual forces.

Contrary to what is often reported, neither the drawing nor the actual use of firearms by police officers in England and Wales has increased in recent years. Neither the Government nor the police have any desire to shift away from the traditional emphasis on unarmed policing. But public concern on the matters covered by the report is understandable, and we share it. This has been a valuable exercise. The outcome will be better protection for the public and police officers alike on those rare occasions when police officers have to carry guns, and the even rarer occasions on which they are required to use them.