Examination of Witness (Questions 292-313)|
16 NOVEMBER 2010
Q292 Chair: Minister, you
are the penultimate witness in our inquiry into firearms. I welcome
you most warmly to the Committee. This is your first appearance
as a Minister and even though it was six months ago, I congratulate
you on your appointment.
As you are the first Home Office Minister to
come before us since what happened last Thursday with the disorder,
is there any update you can give the Committee on what has happened?
James Brokenshire: Obviously,
the policing Minister gave a statement to the House last Thursday.
I do not have any further update to offer at this time. As the
Committee is aware, the Metropolitan police are undertaking their
review of the intelligence and handling of last week's events.
Obviously, we await any initial indications from that review,
but we certainly commend the statement made by the Metropolitan
Police Commissioner and await information that may be forthcoming
from the urgent review that is being undertaken.
Q293 Chair: When you say "urgent
review", is there a timetable? We know that the commissioner
will have to send his report to the Metropolitan Police Authority
and no doubt you will see a copy when it gets to the Home Office.
Do we actually have a timetable? There is a possibility of further
demonstrations taking place, and we obviously need to learn the
lessons of what happened.
James Brokenshire: Clearly, we
do need to learn the lessons of what happened. I don't have a
specific timetable at this stage, but my officials and Ministers
are liaising. We await the outcome to see whether there are lessons
that should be learned in terms of these events as we move forward.
Q294 Chair: On behalf of the
Committee, could I ask whether you could find out whether there
is a timetable? That would be helpful.
On firearms, you've obviously had a chance to
look at the Whiting report. When will the Home Office be in a
position to respond to it?
James Brokenshire: Certainly,
I very much welcomed the report produced by the assistant chief
constable. I think it's been an informative and useful review
of the tragic events that we saw in Cumbria. I have met the assistant
chief constable since his report was issued. The Home Office is
examining the various different recommendations that have come
We see this as a measured process. We are looking
at the recommendations coming from the peer reviews. Equally,
we want to ensure that Parliament has an opportunity to debate
firearms issues and, of course, to examine recommendations from
this Committee. The report is part of that process, and we anticipate
responding formally once each of those three elements has been
Q295 Chair: Indeed. One of
the concerns was that, on behalf of the relatives of the victims,
the Home Secretary promised a debate on firearms in the autumn.
Do you know why it has not taken place? Is it likely to take place
after this Committee reports? Do you know when it will take place?
James Brokenshire: The Leader
of the House of Commons has restated the commitment to have the
debate, and it is very important. The timing needs to be confirmed,
but, clearly, we are committed to having that debate. I see it
as an essential part of the three-element process to ensure that,
as part of our careful and measured examination of the terrible
events that took place, parliamentarians have the opportunity
to contribute and to inform debate before we consider all the
facts and the evidence.
Q296 Chair: I accept that
you will want to respond to the recommendations, but one issue
that was not coveredit has been raised by several witnessesis
the age limit on when young people can apply for licences. We
have taken evidence today from the assistant chief constable,
who is the ACPO lead on firearms, and it caused me concern because
there are obviously different ages at which young people can apply.
For shotguns, it can be any age; for other firearms, it is 14-plus.
You're a parent of two young children. Do you have concerns that
there are so many different age limits?
James Brokenshire: The thing that
concerns me is whether there is any misuse or risk attached to
the age limits. There is no indication of misuse from the information
and evidence that I have received to date. Even if someone is
entitled to possess a weapon at a particular point in time, there
is the requirement for supervision, and there are certain other
issues that relate thereto.
My focus is on ensuring that we look at the
potential harms in the evidence that is there, but, clearly, we
rule nothing in and nothing out at this stage in terms of the
recommendations and any other information that may be forthcoming.
Q297 Steve McCabe: Minister,
when pressed by the Chairman to identify a common age for access
to weapons under supervision and for licensing, assistant chief
constable Whiting said that, on balance, he thought it should
be 10. Would you agree with that?
James Brokenshire: The current
position, as I understand it, in relation to shotguns is that
the age is 10. Clearly, we will reflect on the evidence provided
to see whether any harms, dangers or risks emerge. I am not aware
of any directly, but, clearly, we will need to reflect on the
evidence that's provided to us in forming our response to the
recommendations that may or may not be made.
Q298 Mr Burley: There are
lots of different IT databases involved in this area. There is
the police national computer, the national firearms licensing
management system, NABIS, and so on. Tony McNulty famously said
that he didn't think there would be any value in linking those
systems together. It would obviously involve some cost to do so,
because of the low instances of legally held firearms used in
Is the view of your predecessor one that you
share, or do you think that now there is a business case for linking
up the different IT silos to get better information and try to
stop some of the tragedies that we have seen happening?
James Brokenshire: I am sorry
that I smiled slightly, but I may be the author of the question
that was posed and which produced the answer from Mr McNulty.
I am now in a position to answer my own question, which is an
interesting situation to be in.
Chair: Give us the answer.
James Brokenshire: I did raise
the question; this is probably going back two years in terms of
the relevant different databases that exist. It is a question
that I posed to officials on becoming a Minister with responsibility
in this area. There is a linkage between the police national computer
and the national firearms licensing management system. There is
an existing interface that operates in that direction so that
criminal records can be checked, and we must ensure that that
In relation to NABIS, because that deals with
forensics I suppose that it is a slightly different issue, albeit
that pilots are being examined in Manchester and Greater London
where shotgun owners are effectively providingor having
availablespent cartridges. That could be loaded on to the
NABIS system if there were thefts or other issues that might arise
at the time. There is starting to be a linkage in that way, albeit
that the information I have received indicates that the use of
legal weaponssection 1 shotgunsin the context of
crimes is limited. The scheme being created is interesting. I
am certainly monitoring with quiet interest what ACPO is doing
in the area.
Q299 Mr Burley: We have had
some conflicting evidence on the issue of legal firearms being
used illegally. Some evidence suggests that that is everywhere,
but other evidence says that they are hardly used at all. I am
still quite confused about the reality. One of the suggestions
was that firearms should not be kept in a domestic dwelling and
that cartridges and ammunition should be separated from the guns
and kept in secure locked houses in the country. Do you have a
view on any of those points?
James Brokenshire: Certainly,
I have heard some of the evidence that has been given to this
Committee. I think that there are issues to be balanced between
the practicalities of location and what can be delivered. Again,
I am genuinely reflecting on all the information and evidence
being provided, and we will form a view once the relevant steps
have been undertaken in terms of our analysis of what has been
Q300 Lorraine Fullbrook: I
am very concerned about the suggestions that have been made to
the Committee about keeping firearms away from dwellings and so
on. If we have legislation that puts firearms into buildings,
and the criminal fraternity know exactly where they are, would
that not lead to a higher rate of theft of firearms?
James Brokenshire: I think it
is these very practical issues that need to be considered and
thought through properly. For example, if you were to prescribe
weapons to be put in outhouses rather than domestic dwellings,
that might increase or change the risk that may be attached to
thefts under those circumstances.
We need to examine all the options, take all
the evidence and think the issue through very carefully. As a
Government, we need to have that element of public protection
at the forefront of our minds in examining such issues. Therefore,
the facts, and the example that you have given, are quite pertinent
as to why we need to tread carefully when examining what options
may or may not be appropriate.
Q301 Mark Reckless: The Committee
has been told that the possession and use of firearms is governed
by 35 separate pieces of legislation. We heard earlier that even
Dr Huppert struggles to recall all the interlinking provisions.
Has the time come to consolidate firearms legislation?
James Brokenshire: There are a
number of issues at play here. I appreciate that this was, I think,
a recommendation made in a previous Home Affairs Committee report.
It is about balancing off complex areas of law versus ease of
access and guidance that may apply to assist in that process.
Clearly, if there is guidance thereand there are issues
around whether the guidance itself should be updated, as I understand
that it has not been updated since around 2002, and various legislative
changes have taken place around thatwhat is the optimum
way to deal with any concerns that may be forthcoming?
It may be that, by creating new law, you add
uncertainty. That is always the risk when you seek to consolidate
or legislate. Sometimes that might add the opportunity for new
legal arguments to appear and therefore greater uncertainty in
law to exist. I hear a number of the points that have been made
in the past and I know have been made in evidence given to this
Committee to date.
The issue needs to be examined quite carefully
and we have not formed any conclusions on this. There are risks
attached to going down one route, as contrasted to another and
where the guidance itself might actually be an effective way of
dealing with at least some of the concerns that have been identified.
Q302 Alun Michael: You referred,
in relation to Mark's question, to consolidation, but isn't there
a case for some simplification? We have heard evidence that officers
who are dealing with firearms issues often find it difficult to
understand all the different requirementsin respect to
different weapons, different age groups and all the rest of it.
Some simplification might enable more effective enforcement of
James Brokenshire: Questions have
been flagged by relevant witnesses to this Committee on whether
there is a need for simplification and whether putting everything
in one place would aid some sort of ease of access. Again, it
is just thinking this through carefully, about what is appropriate.
If it is about ease of access, it may be a question of guidance
that would facilitate that in a more speedy and perhaps more efficient
The question is whether any new areas need to
be addressed in a different way; obviously, that might lead you
in a different direction. However, I caution on changing the law
for the sake of it, unless there is an identified need, because
of the legal uncertainties and the case law practice that can
emerge based on a specific use of language. Sadly, as a lawyer
before entering the world of politics, I know that the turn of
Chair: You don't have to be sad about
James Brokenshire: It is a confession,
Chairman. Sometimes just a very small change can have a very significant
effect. So I hear the genuine evidence that is being provided
on this, but we need to examine this very carefully. That is why
I have not formed any view, because of the potential risks that
may emerge as a consequence of going down that particular option.
Q303 Mr Winnick: The previous
Government accepted a number of the Home Affairs Committee's recommendations
at the time on one or two matters which have been raised already
about firearms, including clearer and more up-to-date guidance
for the police, raising the age of the unsupervised use of firearms
and so on. Do you know why those recommendations have not been
implemented although they were accepted?
James Brokenshire: I cannot comment
about why that may have been the case under the previous Government.
I can speculate that a number of changes were brought in during
that period in terms of the national firearms licensing management
system. Various other pieces of legislation were introduced over
what now amounts to virtually a 10-year period, as well as the
creation of NABIS. I can only speculate that the previous Government
felt that there were other priorities, or that the complexities
or some of the changes that were brought in perhaps deserved a
re-look in relation to those pre-existing recommendations. Clearly,
this Administration are not jumping to any specific conclusions.
We are seeking to take a measured, not a knee-jerk, approach.
Therefore, we will examine carefully any further recommendations,
or re-establishment of recommendations, that this Committee may
wish to make.
Q304 Mr Winnick: All Governments
make, they say, measured approacheswe wouldn't expect any
other expression. You will be pleased to know that neither I nor
my colleagues hold you responsible for the actions of the previous
Government, positive or negative as the case may be, but it would
be useful if you could send us a note about what recommendations
were accepted by the Government at the time and what the present
Government intend to do when those recommendations have not been
put into effect.
James Brokenshire: If I may, Mr
Winnick, it may well be that this Committee may wish to take a
different view from the recommendations that were made in the
Q305 Mr Winnick: That may
well be. Nevertheless, the recommendations were accepted at the
time and were far from party political. They were accepted, either
at the time or now, but they have not been put into effect. Could
you send us a note on that?
James Brokenshire: If I could
just say, I think it is important that the Government provide
a response on the basis of all the evidence that is subsisting,
so the evidence and recommendations that this Committee itself
produces and, indeed, the parliamentary debate that we wish to
see, will inform our decision-making process. Therefore, it may
be almost premature to reach a formalised conclusion on a recommendation
when other factors may come into play.
Q306 Chair: Can I suggest
a way forward? We will produce this report very shortly, and,
when we do so, we will make reference to our previous recommendations.
You can then respond to both of them at the same time. Would that
James Brokenshire: Yes, I would
certainly be pleased to do that. It is very much our intention
to respond in that way.
Q307 Bridget Phillipson: Minister,
if I could turn to the Raoul Moat case and the Northumbria force
area, questions were raised about intelligence sharing between
the prison service and the police on the release of Mr Moat. I
appreciate that the case itself is under investigation by the
Independent Police Complains Commission so you probably won't
want to talk about it specifically, but more generally do you
think that the processes in place are sufficiently robust for
sharing that information?
James Brokenshire: There are robust
systems in place to gather, use and share intelligence. All prisons
have a full or part-time police intelligence officer, and protocols
exist around the sharing of intelligence between the prison service
and police forces. Clearly, we will wish to learn from any recommendations
from the IPCC report, but we are confident that there are robust
measures in place to ensure that intelligence is properly shared
with the police.
Q308 Dr Huppert: Minister,
you have the wonderful title of Parliamentary Under-Secretary
of State for Crime Prevention. What is your strategy for long-term
violent crime prevention?
Chair: In five minutes.
James Brokenshire: I was going
to ask how long you have got. The Government will produce their
crime strategy shortly, which will answer in detail a lot of the
question that you, Dr Huppert, rightly identify. I think it is
an equal combination of strong enforcement, early years intervention
and stopping young people who are going down a path that leads
them to gang crime or violent crime. It needs to be multifaceted.
I am sure that when you read the strategy once it is published,
you will see that it covers enforcement, prevention, early years
and ensuring that we effectively deal with violent crime, which
remains far too high.
Q309 Dr Huppert: I look forward
to reading that in detail. To what extent do you see tackling
the supply of firearms as part of the solution to that?
James Brokenshire: Supply is part
of that, which is one of the reasons why we have announced the
proposal to create the national crime agency to ensure that our
borders are more effective and that we have a strong response
to organised criminality. Supply is part of the issue, but it
is not the only issue. I think there are other factors in preventing
young people from becoming involved in gangs, ensuring that we
take firm action against gangs, as well as organised criminality,
which is why I think the National Crime Agency is an important
Q310 Dr Huppert: You have
talked about the supply of firearms in terms of criminality and
gangs, but not in terms of the general supply of firearms. Do
you have comments on that?
James Brokenshire: Clearly, we
have some of the strongest laws and restrictions in relation to
firearms in Europe and arguably the rest of the world. I think
that is why we are focusing on the recommendations that will be
coming forward and considering those issues carefully and whether
any appropriate changes might need to be made to improve on that.
So I would not like to give the impression that we think everything
is perfect or that things might not need some form of modification.
If risks are identified, we will consider them very carefully
in terms of the existing licensing arrangements and any other
steps that may be appropriate. It is a multifaceted approach and
there is not one single issue. Clearly, licensing, how we deal
with criminality, the supply of illegal weaponsall of those
things togetherare important to provide the protection
that we all want to see.
Q311 Chair: I have asked a
number of witnesses this question. As I have said, you are the
parent of two young children. What effect do you think violent
video games have on the way in which people behave? Obviously
it is not a Home Office responsibility, although the Home Office
is involved. It is a Culture, Media and Sport responsibility.
Do you have any views on this?
James Brokenshire: It is interesting
looking at the personal view and as a parent I have my own personal
concerns about the possible impact of violent video games on my
children and children more generally. But it is then a question,
I suppose, of the Government analysing whether there is robust
evidence that would support further restrictions. This was something
that Professor Tanya Byron looked at as part of her review. Indeed,
changes have been proposed in the Digital Economy Act 2010 in
terms of age restrictions on video games. So changes are now coming
through in relation to video games and it is a question of reflecting
on what impact those changes may have in this context.
Chair: It may be appropriate to have
further research on this before coming to a conclusion. The people
who are strongest on this argument are the shooters. When they
came to give evidence to us they were very concerned about the
impact of violent video games on young people.
Q312 Mr Winnick: When Conservative
Ministers state, as you just have, that we have the strongest
firearms controls in Europe, do you accept that there may be a
degree of suspicion that that means that the Government do not
necessarily have the open mind that you and the Home Secretary
have spoken about on the possibility of extending controls in
view of the horror that took place in Cumbria?
James Brokenshire: I have said
very clearly to the Committee that we have not ruled anything
out and we have not ruled anything in. We are reflecting very
carefully on the recommendations in the report that Assistant
Chief Constable Whiting has produced. As I have said, I have already
discussed some of his findings with him. We will examine the responses
that come through from this Committee and indeed, issues that
may be highlighted. We need to be proportionate. We need to examine
any gaps or risks that may be highlighted. It is a question of
taking a measured approach and, as both the Prime Minister and
the Home Secretary have highlighted, we are not going to take
a knee-jerk approach but we will consider carefully and responsibly
issues that may be highlighted and respond in that proportionate
and measured way.
Q313 Mr Winnick: The gun lobby
is pretty strong in Britain, although nowhere near as strong as
in the States. Is that not so?
James Brokenshire: I can only
comment on the Government's position. We are looking at these
issues extremely carefully. Naturally, the Government take their
responsibilities to protect the public seriously. If factors are
emerging, it is our duty to consider them appropriately.
Mr Winnick: Let's hope so.
Chair: You mentioned the United States.
The Committee's final witness in this inquiry is the Attorney-General
in Washington DC. We will take evidence at 2 o'clock today. The
Committee is adjourned until then. May I thank you, Minister,
for coming to give evidence?
James Brokenshire: Thank you.