Session 2010-11
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Evidence heard in Public

Questions 225 - 313



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 16 November 2010

Members present:

Keith Vaz (Chair)

Nicola Blackwood

Mr Aidan Burley

Mr James Clappison

Lorraine Fullbrook

Dr Julian Huppert

Steve McCabe

Alun Michael

Bridget Phillipson

Mark Reckless

Mr David Winnick

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Assistant Chief Constable Sue Fish, ACPO lead for criminal use of firearms, Paul James, Head of National Ballistics Intelligence Service, and Matt Lewis, Acting Head, Knowledge and Communications, NABIS, gave evidence.

Chair: Order. This is the penultimate session in the Committee’s inquiry into firearms. Our next session will take place at 2 pm today when we will take evidence from the Attorney-General for the District of Columbia, who is in Washington DC. Could I refer everyone present to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests where the interests of all Members are noted?

Q225 Lorraine Fullbrook: I would look to explore a bit more the use of firearms in crime. The Home Office evidence suggests that the vast majority of crimes involving firearms are carried out with illegally held guns. Given that information, what do the NABIS data tell us in general terms about the use of legal firearms in crime?

Matt Lewis: It will be very difficult for me to describe to you what the current NABIS statistics look like in terms of the information we gather about what we call inferred firearms, where we know that that firearm is present because we have recovered ballistic material that allows us to know it is there. Certainly if there is anything that would say that it was a 9 mm calibre weapon, we would expect that item to be illegally owned, on the grounds that it is the most common handgun and submachine calibre and therefore we know that it would be illegal. If we draw our attention to shotguns, we are aware of a number of shotguns that are currently inferred by NABIS and we are happy to share that with the Committee in private as a statistic.

What is difficult to understand until you recover that weapon is whether it is legally held or whether it has been stolen or criminally acquired. We don’t suspect that there are many legally held weapons that are being crossed over and used in crime and then go back into legal possession. We think it is much more likely that a shotgun, for example, has been stolen from a residence and is then shortened and used in crime. We will then infer it until the point that we recover it.

Q226 Lorraine Fullbrook: So you would agree that most crimes are committed with illegally held firearms?

Matt Lewis: The vast majority.

Q227 Lorraine Fullbrook: Just to go on from that, Professor Squires gave evidence to the Committee some time ago that he believed that offending by firearms is grossly under-reflected in the crime figures. Do you think that this is the case?

Sue Fish: We have always said that there is a certain level that is under-reported, but let me just break that down. I would be highly surprised if there were any deaths through the use of firearms that were not known about. The same with serious injury: when a victim presents himself at hospital, hospitals are under an obligation to report a shotgun or firearms injury to the police. So where individuals seek medical treatment, that is not an issue. There is an issue in terms of minor injury or where there is a shotgun or a firearm discharged in a street or a public place that is not reported to us. The experience of communities is that it is more widespread than recorded crime allows, but NABIS has enabled us to have a much more coherent picture of the nature and threat of firearms crime.

Q228 Lorraine Fullbrook: So in that instance would you talk specifically about airguns, for example?

Matt Lewis: Not necessarily. Just in support of Sue’s point, yes, there is a clear identification between those homicide-related crimes which we do get to know about and other incidents. NABIS has shown us that often those other incidents use the same firearm that has been used in many incidents. They are put through a middleman, a person within a community who will loan or lease a firearm to others and therefore the impact on the communities is great, but the number of firearms that are available to criminals is very low. As you will know, we have made a recommendation around possession with intent to supply, to directly target those individuals who have a disproportionate effect on communities because this small number of weapons that NABIS shows us is being used time and time again is out there.

Q229 Bridget Phillipson: How do you think we deal with the issue of firearms being used but because the firearm is not discharged or recovered that is not then recorded? How do you think that we support police forces to record that as a firearms-related offence? If the weapon was used to intimidate or was discharged but didn’t cause injury, would a police force feel confident in recording that as a firearms offence or would it say, "Well, we couldn’t establish if it was an air weapon or a shotgun?

Sue Fish: Absolutely. The Home Office counting rules about how we record crime are absolutely clear. Whether you see a weapon or if the victim perceives that there is a firearm, it is recorded as a firearms crime. It is very clear on that.

Q230 Nicola Blackwood: Thank you for that. The Home Office has given us evidence that intelligence on firearms has improved considerably since setting up NABIS in 2008. For the benefit of the Committee, could you explain a little about NABIS’s role and give an assessment of the impact that it has had on the criminal use of firearms?

Paul James: Certainly. NABIS looks at every crime committed where there is potential to recover a bullet or cartridge from a crime scene. By recovering those, we can see the true usage of firearms, because every single crime and bullet is logged on to a computerised system, so that we can quickly see whether a weapon used in a crime has been used previously. It also allows us to show when a gun has been used and on how many occasions. It perhaps allows us to put into context the number of firearms in circulation that are being used by criminals.

The picture that is emerging is very much that there are a small number of weapons out there; handguns are the major problem-blank firing, converted or deactivated weapons. They are being used on four, five or six different occasions, and the guns move around the country. NABIS allows us to say how many weapons have been used. An inferred weapon is a weapon that we have recovered a bullet or a cartridge from, and we know that gun is being used criminally within a community. If that gun hasn’t been recovered, it also allows us to do some proactive work to change the focus on recovering that weapon, targeted intelligence and other usages.

We have a database built into it, so we not only provide forces with individual intelligence about crime in their own force areas, but we deliver both tactical and strategic products to look at the supply networks. Again, what it’s showing us is that there are very limited supply networks of guns-very few people are involved-as opposed to something like the supply of class A drugs. Far fewer people are involved in the supply of weapons, which gives us real opportunities by focusing the intelligence that NABIS enables us to deliver.

Q231 Nicola Blackwood: That’s a slightly different picture from the one that we received from some of the gun control campaigners we received evidence from. In particular, Professor Squires has claimed that he finds it very difficult as a criminologist and researcher to access data to understand accurately the picture of what is going on with firearms in the UK. How do you respond to that? Is there a way in which we can keep sensitive information confidential while giving a much more accurate picture of what is going on in the UK?

Matt Lewis: The data are extremely sensitive because it is not only about individual weapons; the real benefit of NABIS is that it allows us to break into categories and supply chains of weapons, so where we see a particular supply of weapons we can take action with partners. In revealing the statistics and data, in effect, we would be printing a guide either to convert or to import firearms into the UK, and the methods and how to do it. It would be very difficult to keep a lid on what would undoubtedly be a large number of FOI requests saying, "Please tell us how many inferred assault rifles you have at the moment". That would be very difficult for us to deal with at the minute.

We are engaged with various other operations about various things that are in the public domain. As those trends and patterns go, I think that we would create more problems for ourselves in trying to keep a lid on what we are trying to deal with. Because the issues are so small, we are engaged in a large number of proactive operations. I would hate to feel that we would compromise anything that we are doing working with partners such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the UK Border Agency and forces, by saying, "Here are some data that you can analyse".

Q232 Chair: Thank you. What happens to the seized guns? Where do they go? Is there some great armoury in the sky that they all disappear to? I don’t want the address, I just want to know roughly.

Sue Fish: If they’re part of criminal proceedings, they’re retained, but ultimately they’re destroyed.

Q233 Chair: They’re destroyed. So you don’t have some in stock that, as soon as a case is over-

Sue Fish: We do keep a stock, particularly of ballistic material, that we use for comparison-a bit like fingerprints. There is a weeding policy.

Q234 Chair: Some of our witnesses commented on the nature of video games and the fact that they are getting more violent, and they feel that that results in younger people, in particular, wanting to participate in shooting. Do you have any views or knowledge on that?

Sue Fish: I think, as a human being as much as a police officer, that the two are not incompatible. My sense is that I find them extremely distasteful, and I cannot help but feel that they cannot help the situation. The level of ambient violence, as well as extreme violence, in society today is a real issue not only in gun crime, but across the whole spectrum of violent crime. As for the question of whether there any evidence or any research that indicates that, not that I have been made aware of.

Q235 Chair: We are going to take evidence shortly, but, very quickly, because we have a busy schedule this morning, what is the one lesson that we should learn from what happened in Cumbria and Northumbria as far as weapons are concerned?

Sue Fish: My sense is that you probably need to ask that question of the chief constable of Cumbria.

Q236 Chair: We are about to, but I just wondered whether you had any thoughts.

Sue Fish: Which I know you are. It is taking their views, and we will absolutely understand and support the recommendations that they have made.

Q237 Lorraine Fullbrook: In general, do you believe that UK gun control legislation is sufficiently robust Accepting that we cannot legislate for the tragic incidents that we see where a switch flicks in somebody, do you believe that the current legislation is sufficient to control guns in the UK?

Sue Fish: In our submission to you, we have made a number of recommendations, which would require legislation, so, inherently, the answer has to be no. Is the legislation fit for purpose? Broadly, but I think there are some real opportunities, and perhaps the inquiry by this Committee provides one of the best opportunities to not only rationalise, but make much better legislation that actually has a real proportionate balance between the rights of the citizen and the protection of the citizen in terms of their use of firearms.

Chair: Thank you very much for your evidence. Thank you for the evidence that you gave the Committee in private, which we found most helpful. If we need any further information, we will be in touch with you. Thank you.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Mick Fidgeon, Firearms Office Manager, Essex Police, Chief Constable Craig Mackey, Cumbria Constabulary, and Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Whiting, ACPO lead for firearms and explosives licensing, gave evidence.

Q238 Chair: Thank you very much indeed, gentlemen, for coming to give evidence to the Committee. Can I start with a question to each of you? There is obviously concern, after the announcement of the comprehensive spending review, about the amount of resources that can be directed towards gun licensing and gun control. Do you have any concerns about that? Do you think it will reduce the police’s ability to ensure that licensing is properly undertaken?

Adrian Whiting: Sir, I would say that I have a number of concerns. I have already had to recommend to chief officers that, in particular, things such as home visits, which are part of our national policy on both grant and renewal, are conducted in person. A number of forces conduct them by telephone and, in some cases, postally. It gives me some concern that, in the forthcoming climate in which policing will operate, arrangements such as that will be placed under increasing pressure.

Therefore, any opportunities that can be taken to reinforce-that is one example, of course-the necessity around some of the administrative processes linked to public safety in this regard are well worth taking. I don’t foresee a wholesale collapse, for example, in relation to this, but I do see that there is a risk of erosion around some of the practices that we currently recommend.

Q239 Chair: Because of some of these changes that you are going to have to make, do you feel that somebody might slip through the net, who otherwise would have been discovered as undesirable?

Adrian Whiting: Sir, I think there is a clear risk, but trying to quantify that is incredibly difficult. That is why I maintain the policy position nationally that I do. Although it is difficult to quantify that risk, that is clearly my motivation.

Q240 Chair: Should there be a national licensing authority to deal with these issues? One suggestion is that the various application/licensing systems ought to be rolled into one, so that it is very clear to whom you have to apply.

Adrian Whiting: I don’t think that any intending certificate holders, applicants or those who hold certificates approaching renewal or are looking for variation are in any doubt as to where the application is to be addressed. As for a national body, I am not generally speaking in favour of that. I don’t think the evidence at the moment points to there being such a significant opportunity for improvement, if that were taken from the police service and placed into a separate organisation. I bear in mind the fact that that separate organisation would presumably have to have access to all the information that a police service and the chief constable have.

Q241 Chair: But it could be part of the new national crime agency, couldn’t it?

Adrian Whiting: Conceivably, but the organisation that undertakes it will have to have a comprehensive national network capable of undertaking house-to-house, almost, inquiries. I don’t think the national agency would be in a position to want to undertake that. It would be potentially at some odds with the remit that I understand that agency is likely to take on board.

Chair: Mr Mackey, I will turn to you now. Mr Burley is going to probe you on a number of specific questions, but on behalf of the Committee we would like to recognise the work of the Cumbria police after the incident occurred. I was at the police awards last Thursday when you and your men and women were duly recognised for the work they did.

Craig Mackey: Thank you.

Q242 Mr Burley: Mr Whiting concluded that the decisions taken by Cumbria constabulary to grant Derrick Bird a shotgun firearms certificate were reasonable, and that all appropriate checks took place. Obviously, we have heard evidence before the Committee that that individual had convictions for drink-driving; that he had come to the attention of the police over an argument with his girlfriend; and that he had been arrested with regard to payment with menaces, two counts of theft and handling of stolen goods.

It seems that Derrick Bird was known to you, and I guess the Committee is wondering whether you are satisfied that, at every appropriate opportunity, checks were made on him as to whether he was still fit to hold that shotgun licence.

Craig Mackey: I’m as reassured as I can be. I don’t think you are ever going to be happy or satisfied about the events of 2 June. All I could ask for, and all I wanted, was reassurance that the proper processes had been followed at that time. It is important to put in context the later unsubstantiated matters.

Many members of the community have things reported about them that never end up before a court. That is not uncommon in work like taxi work. I suspect that if you looked at the number of times he was also reported as a victim, where people made off from his taxi-there would be incidents like that. What it does is use it as part of building a picture to make an informed decision about the individual, based on the information you have at the time. That is all you can do.

I wanted the reassurance that the processes and procedures, as they existed, and the legislation had been followed. The important thing-as it said in the report, and it is my own conclusion, having looked at it-is that a licensing system can only ever reduce risk. If we wanted to eliminate the risk of something like 2 June, there would have to be a completely and fundamentally different relationship with the public availability of firearms. It is not a matter of simple changes to the licensing system.

Q243 Mr Burley: The corollary of that answer is whether, if all the proper processes took place and we still had the incident, we need more robust processes in place to reduce the risk even further, accepting that you could never eliminate it altogether. We have heard suggestions that perhaps GPs should be contacted on a more regular basis. Should police licensing officers have more discretion to make these decisions to speak to people? Should they have to come into your station once a year? Are there things we can do?

Craig Mackey: I would support all the suggestions in the part 2 report in terms of that. I know some of the challenges it will present.

Q244 Chair: Even if those suggestions were followed, do you think this still would have happened? Is that what you are saying?

Craig Mackey: What I am saying is that, if you want to eliminate the risk completely, it is a fundamentally difficult relationship around the availability of firearms in a community.

Q245 Chair: But if you accept what Mr Burley says-that all these processes should change-are you saying at the end of the day that this would still have happened?

Craig Mackey: What I’m saying is that there is no guarantee it won’t happen.

Q246 Mr Burley: In terms of minimising, are there more processes that we can put in place?

Craig Mackey: Absolutely. I think that the issue about minimising the risk is absolutely right. The work with health and the issue about prohibited persons and suspended sentences are an opportunity to clear up a whole range of these things that minimise the risk of a future event.

Q247 Alun Michael: Mr Mackey just referred to prohibited persons. May I ask-this is primarily for Mr Whiting-how you respond to the proposals of the Independent Police Complaints Commission in respect of prohibited persons?

Adrian Whiting: Yes, sir. We are largely at one, but the Independent Police Complaints Commission and ACPO certainly support my proposals in relation to wholly suspended sentences. Similarly, I take note of and am in agreement with their proposals in relation to bindovers and weighing up the accumulative effect of convictions that might otherwise seem unrelated. I didn’t include that in my report, because the issue, as they recommended it, was to see a change in the Home Office guidance, which I think is relatively straightforward if people are so minded.

What I have recommended in relation to wholly suspended sentences would require, I believe, some greater clarification than that, because it is based on the interpretation of the law as the 1968 Act is worded and in a particular judgment in the Fordham case. I highlighted mine because it requires a greater administrative step to make that change, but we are certainly in agreement.

Q248 Alun Michael: There’s always an approach that asks, "Where are the gaps in the law and where are the gaps in the guidance?" Do you agree with a comment made to us in a recent evidence session that what we need is more of a public health approach that considers the whole environment in which these events take place?

Adrian Whiting: Yes, that’s why I have made recommendations on things such as a more formal framework around those who are consulted in the process of application and renewal, to include family residents who are perhaps resident at the same address. I think there are opportunities in terms of taking forward a more complete, holistic approach to the licensing question that moves us on from some potentially process-driven arrangements that look down a list and ask, "Does this or that apply or not?"

Q249 Alun Michael: Could I ask Mr Fidgeon in particular whether the guidance for police officers in this area, with the clarification that you are seeking to make, is clear enough in terms of what it says? Is the legislation-in some cases, there are different rules for different weapons-a problem in relation to the guidance that police officers have to follow?

Mick Fidgeon: I would say that the guidance is almost fit for purpose. It is undergoing a review at the moment, and part and parcel of the IPCC’s recommendations are going forward towards the guidance. The main thing for us is that guidance is not always upheld by the courts, which is one of the reasons why part of the submission is actually to give it some legal status as an approved code of practice, such as health and safety legislation.

Q250 Steve McCabe: I want to ask not specifically about the guidance for the IPCC, but whether Mr Fidgeon is familiar with the evidence that Mr Eveleigh, who is now with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, gave the Committee. He is a former firearms licensing officer.

Mick Fidgeon: Yes, sir, I have read Mr Eveleigh’s submission.

Q251 Steve McCabe: He basically told us that the process of determining whether someone is fit to have a licence is too complicated, and he was very exercised about having to look at the shape of the bullet and the way that it gets into the chamber. He seemed to think that that was taking time away from concentrating on the fitness of the individual themselves. Is that your experience?

Mick Fidgeon: No, sir, I would say that in my experience we are talking about the individual and the firearm. We are talking about the individual and whether they are a danger to public safety and to the peace and whether they are fit to be entrusted with firearms. Good reason is a separate matter and is dependent on whether an individual has good reason for that firearm, not on whether that individual is a danger to public safety or to the peace.

Q252 Mr Winnick: I go back to what one of my colleagues has already asked about the character of Derrick Bird. We can all be wise after the event, and, obviously, it goes without saying how deeply shocked the whole country was by those terrible killings.

Let us look at the character of that mass murderer: in 1982 he was convicted and fined for drink driving; in 1988 he came to the notice of the police following an argument with a girlfriend; in 1999 he was released without charge after being arrested in connection to an investigation into allegations concerning the making of a demand for payment with menaces; and in 1990 he was convicted on two counts of theft and one count of handling stolen goods.

How is it possible-I am sure that this question is being asked by the loved ones left behind, as well as the rest of the country-that a person such as that could be allowed to have a licence?

Chair: Mr Mackey, can we have a quick answer?

Craig Mackey: The reality is that, in relation to each of those incidents, as far as we know from the records that are left, his firearms suitability was reviewed and it fell entirely within the guidelines. The issue with his making off without payment, to which you referred, is completely unsubstantiated. It is an allegation such as is made against many people every day of the week.

Q253 Mr Winnick: Yes, indeed. If the guidelines were observed, which doesn’t seem to be in question, then, inevitably, the question arises of whether there is something wrong with those guidelines.

Craig Mackey: I think that that comes back, sir, to the point that your colleague made about looking at and tightening up the guidelines. That was highlighted by the review, and we welcome that.

Q254 Mark Reckless: With respect to the age restrictions, why does a child have to wait until they are 14 to have a licence for a firearm, when they can get a shotgun licence at any point? Why, if I am correct, can you give a firearm to a child at 14, but not a shotgun until they are 15 and not an air rifle until they are 18?

Adrian Whiting: They are products of the history of the development of the legislation from approximately 1920 onwards. I believe that the age restrictions in relation to firearms certificates stem from the then popular cadet shooting movement and the age of admission to that, as do a number of other things, such as the minimum calibre for miniature rifle ranges.

In relation to shotguns, of course, they are subject to a different system of control, because they were not originally covered by that legislation. The legislation sought to cover what we would now call section 1 firearms. Section 2 firearms-shotguns-were brought under a separate system of control at a later time.

Q255 Chair: Basically, should they not be consolidated? That would be much more useful.

Adrian Whiting: There is scope to align the systems, but, essentially, it is by dint of history that they are different.

Q256 Steve McCabe: Mr Whiting, I accept the historical argument, but presumably, as a senior police officer, you wouldn’t advocate that a 14-year-old be given a provisional driving licence. How do we justify giving a licence like this to a child?

Adrian Whiting: When the certificate is granted it does not give the young person the ability to purchase firearms and ammunition, nor does it give them an opportunity to shoot other than when they’re supervised.

Q257 Steve McCabe: But in theory a provisional driving licence does the same. It doesn’t allow you to buy the car, and you have to drive under supervision.

Adrian Whiting: Yes, but-

Chair: Are you telling the Committee that it is an anomaly that needs to be looked at?

Adrian Whiting: No, I am saying that the difference between firearms certificate age restrictions and shotgun certificate age restrictions is an anomaly. The fact that young people can obtain a certificate is not an anomaly because they shoot under supervised conditions where the risk of coming into conflict with other people is hugely minimised, which would not necessarily be the case on the road with a provisional licence holder where there are any number of hazards to contend with.

Q258 Dr Huppert: There is general agreement that it is too confusing at the moment, with lots and lots of different ages. I lose track slightly of what you can do at what age and who you can borrow something from and how old they have to be. If we are to have a unified system, what ages do you think should apply in that?

Adrian Whiting: The evidence in relation to young people shooting does not give any cause for concern-I am talking about section 1 firearms and section 2 shotguns-around the current system which, for example, enables children younger than 14 to possess a shotgun certificate in order to shoot when they are being supervised.

Chair: We understand that, but what Dr Huppert is asking is, as you acknowledge that it is an anomaly, what would be a sensible approach to bring these various pieces of legislation together? What is the age that we should allow people to apply? You are the ACPO lead on firearms, so presumably you have a view on this.

Adrian Whiting: I have a view that, because children as young as 10 have been able to shoot perfectly safely with a shotgun certificate, there is no reason to interrupt that, and I suppose the difficulty is that the corollary follows that if there is no evidence to suggest that children of that age, properly supervised in appropriate conditions, can shoot safely, why would you not apply that to the firearms certificate? What I would say there is that the nature of the shooting-the environment in which it takes place-is different.

Chair: Of course, but if you were looking at consolidating this and making it one age, so it is not confusing to members of this Committee and the public when they don’t know at what age they can apply, what age would the ACPO lead on firearms suggest would be appropriate?

Adrian Whiting: The minimum age would be 10, I would suggest, Sir.

Chair: Okay.

Q259 Bridget Phillipson: If I could turn to the issue of medical records of licence holders, you will be aware that a number of concerns have been raised by the shooting community, doctors and the Information Commissioner about the tagging of medical records. Do you still feel that it would be useful to pursue that proposal and why is that?

Adrian Whiting: Very much so. I know the Committee has had evidence from other parties, notably the IPCC on this subject. We commenced this work in 2007, looking at the system that I know you are familiar with around tagging medical records so there is an enduring record for a general practitioner to have access to. Because people tend to see doctors who are not necessarily their specified GP and because the licensing takes place every five years for renewal, there would, in my view, need to be an enduring record that they can refer to. Subsequent work when the IPCC became involved a number of months after we had commenced this-some issues arose about the difficulty of holding that record within an NHS records system-simply looked at an option of notifying the GP at grant and renewal.

Certainly, I think it would be beneficial to have a stepped approach to this if it is difficult to have an enduring system on an electronic record. I think that the issue at hand is that it provides an additional opportunity for a health concern to be raised. The issue with that is that, currently, police are advised only to approach a medical practitioner when we have cause to do so, as opposed to speculatively to see if there is a concern. Clearly, the applicant is expected to detail certain medical conditions on their application, and if they chose not to, this would provide an additional safeguard against somebody doing that, which I would also advocate ought to be an offence. So it is quite important, I would suggest.

Q260 Bridget Phillipson: Mr Fidgeon, how useful or important is the information you would receive from medical practitioners when determining someone’s fitness to hold a licence?

Mick Fidgeon: At the moment, all we receive is information regarding their signs and symptoms, and in most cases these are referred to the appointed medical practitioner, in the case of Essex, and in many other forces to the force medical examiner. Then a decision is taken regarding that information on whether the individual is still fit to be entrusted with firearms, or whether they are able to hold firearms without a danger to public safety or to the peace. That information is conveyed to us, but we are not medically qualified. It is down to force medical examiners or appointed medical practitioners to make a decision whether that information is information that we can rely on in court should they subsequently appeal.

Q261 Bridget Phillipson: Returning to the question that Mr Winnick asked earlier in terms of looking at the cumulative nature of offences, or perhaps even allegations, if I were to apply for a job to work with vulnerable people, for example, and was subject to an enhanced CRB check, if I had been arrested for an offence, that would come up even if I hadn’t necessarily been cautioned or convicted and that could determine whether I was offered a job-although I appreciate that that would be subject to employment law. Do you think there is a rule there, in terms of using the cumulative nature of offences even when that person would not necessarily be prohibited from having a licence, if cumulatively that would give you a picture of someone that perhaps is having difficulties in their life or is an unfit person?

Adrian Whiting: Absolutely, it would. To a greater or lesser extent, that would currently be the process. That would be taken into account.

Q262 Bridget Phillipson: So you’re confident that, at the moment, the cumulative nature of concern, even if that wasn’t conviction or caution, would lead to that licence being reviewed?

Adrian Whiting: Yes. Issues outside of conviction, or caution, are currently taken into account. My licensing manager, by way of example, would submit a file to me that might contain arrest information or other information-some of it potentially sensitive that wouldn’t wish to share with the applicant or to let them know that we know-and I would make decisions taking that information into account, and, in cases, I have either refused or, indeed, revoked.

Q263 Nicola Blackwood: Mr Whiting, I am interested to know how the IPCC’s recommendations in 2008, which were that the licensing force should be required to approach the doctor and that the applicant, rather than police, should have to pay for any fee that the GP might offer, turned into recommendations from ACPO and the BMA, which are that patients’ records should be tagged and that there should be an onus on the GP to raise concerns if there was a change in the status of the applicant. Could you explain how one thing turned into another, the second of which has lots of data protection issues around it?

Adrian Whiting: Yes, in fact the second issue had actually been in existence prior to the IPCC’s involvement, but the IPCC would not necessarily have been aware of that. The initial work with the British Medical Association was to look at tagging the record, so that there was that enduring marker, and so that if a GP changed during the life of a certificate holder, or if a locum was acting, because an issue arose in someone’s mental health, for example, during the life of a certificate, the GP service would have some indication that that person was a certificate holder, as opposed to having to wait until the next notification renewal. That was already under consideration, but it was difficult for the very reasons that continue to be an issue at the moment. Although, at that point, it was very difficult, because of the nature of record holding by the NHS, and there were no assurances that I could be given that that information about an individual could be held securely on the GP’s record system.

At that point, I had been involved in some investigative work on behalf of the IPCC, and they have detailed some of the investigations that were relevant. In conjunction with the IPCC, we looked at the potential of, if you like, lessening that opportunity to one of simply notifying the GP at grant and renewal. Of course, the work around the enduring marker has continued, as it were, in the background, and we have now got to a point, as I understand-I am at a meeting tomorrow-where assurances around the security of the information storage are now much stronger. That work has continued, because I think that that is a better opportunity-

Q264 Chair: Could you write us a note following your meeting? It might be helpful.

Adrian Whiting: Of course.

Q265 Mr Burley: On that last point, I am interested in these conditions that people could have that would prevent them from having a licence or would get their licence revoked. As always, I think the devil’s in the detail. If you have a GP saying-I don’t know if Derrick Bird was clinically depressed, but that was in some of the media reports-that someone is depressed, perhaps temporarily, because their wife had died, would that be a cause for having their licence revoked, and, if so, for how long if they were taking Prozac, which can have a very strong effect on people? If they have some history of alcohol or recreational drug use, is that a cause? It is not clear to me what medical conditions, or, indeed, to use the analogy with criminal records, cumulative number of medical conditions, would lead to someone having their licence revoked.

Craig Mackey: I was just going to pick up, if I may, on Derrick Bird first. There is no suggestion from anything that we’ve got from the GP or the NHS that there was an issue in relation to Derrick Bird. I think the sort of circumstances you describe allow an assessment to be made of the potential threat around an individual. If I presented before my GP in a severely distressed state and the GP could see on a screen in front of them a flag that says that I am a certificate holder, and I have a selection of shotguns in the cabinet at home, they might make some different decisions about passing information on. This is about informing that professional judgment. You touched on the point earlier; if the licensing system is the gatekeeper to allow people access to lethal weapons, it is incumbent on all of us to make sure that those systems and processes are right and there are as many checks in that gatekeeping as possible.

Q266 Lorraine Fullbrook: Mr Mackey, I would like to ask you a bit about shooting facilities and miniature firing ranges under section 11(4) of the Firearms Act 1968, and indeed Home Office-approved facilities. Can you confirm whether Derrick Bird was a member of a shooting club?

Craig Mackey: Not that we know of, although it is important to point out that you can be a member of a club or a syndicate, providing every member is a certificate holder, and we would not necessarily know about it. We have no record of his being a member of a shooting or gun club.

Q267 Lorraine Fullbrook: Do you have anything further to add about Mr Whiting’s conclusions on the decision to license Derrick Bird? Would you like to add anything?

Craig Mackey: I don’t think there is anything further I can add in relation to that. What I asked, going back to the start of the process, was about ascertaining whether the steps taken were reasonable and in line with the process around licensing and legislation. That was the assurance I sought. Obviously, in a rural county such as ours, with a large number of shotgun and firearm certificate holders across the county, I wanted some reassurance that the system worked. The system, as it was at the time, worked.

Q268 Chair: I have asked most of our witnesses about the content of violent video games and their effect on young people. Do you have any views on this?

Adrian Whiting: It’s difficult directly to correlate between violence on video games, in films and on television and people’s immediate activity, particularly in relation to the use of firearms. I think probably it is linked, but in a much broader sociological spectrum. I don’t have any strong view that participation in such games leads inevitably, as it were, to some sort of crime commission. I can understand why the concerns are there-as a parent myself, I share them-but I don’t have a strong view that there is a clear link.

Chair: Mr McCabe-only for the final 10 seconds.

Q269 Steve McCabe: Given your earlier comments, what do you think should be the age restriction for access to violent video games?

Adrian Whiting: That is a very different issue from the age at which people can shoot supervised, as I have indicated. Please don’t get me wrong when I have given that indication of a youngest age for a certificate; they would still have to be supervised. I would point out that in the entire country there are only 26-some might view that as too many-10-year-olds with a shotgun certificate.

In relation to your question, I think the current certificating system for age-related content would appear to be fit for purpose. The issue-quite clearly-is in applying it, particularly in the home environment, and ensuring that it is in some way upheld. That is largely an adult’s responsibility towards the younger people who would use such games.

Chair: We will write to put some more points to you; there are a number of other points that we couldn’t raise because of time constraints. Thank you very much for coming in today; I know you have postponed a number of meetings, and we are most grateful.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Dr John Canning, GP in Middlesborough and Chair, Professional Fees Committee, British Medical Association, and Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Director of Professional Activities, BMA, gave evidence.

Q270 Chair: Thank you very much for giving evidence. I am afraid that we are skipping on because of time constraints, so I won’t go into the background as to why we are holding this inquiry, but the role of GPs is obviously very important indeed as far as the granting of licences is concerned. Do you think that this overstates the importance? Is too much responsibility now being placed on a GP in respect of the judgment as to whether or not somebody should own a firearm or a shotgun?

Dr Canning: Yes, especially in the way that you phrase that in terms of responsibility and judgment. As a GP, I can give no judgment to someone’s fitness to hold a weapon, particularly forecasting the future. What I can do is provide factual evidence about the past. It is impossible, and I have spoken to other colleagues in specialities such as psychiatry who say equally that it is impossible to predict the future.

Q271 Chair: You have heard the catalogue of issues that have been raised by colleagues, Dr Nathanson. My colleague, Mr Winnick, who is much wiser than I am on these issues, has said that hindsight is a wonderful thing. Looking back at somebody’s record, you will say, "Why on earth did they get the licence in the first place?" When the applicant is asking for his or her GP to fill in the appropriate reference, there is a view that GPs are actually prejudiced against shooters. Do you think that that view is correct?

Dr Nathanson: I don’t believe that GPs are prejudiced against shooters. I think there are several things going on. First, doctors see the health consequences of the misuse of weapons and they recognise just how difficult it is to treat gunshot wounds and so on. So there is a feeling that, in terms of primary prevention, the world would be a better place if there were fewer guns around. But that is not a prejudice against people holding weapons and using them legitimately for hunting, pest control or whatever the other purposes are.

The other side of this, though, is that GPs will have very serious concerns about the nature of the certificate that they are being asked to complete. If they are being asked, as somebody who is a friend of the applicant and who knows them socially or semi-socially, to talk about what they know about them, then that is legitimate and that is easy. The problem is when they are being asked as a doctor. They worry that if, as a doctor, they say that they know of no reason not to give this person a licence, then that will be read as, "This person is not going to be dangerous in the future." Given that there is no way that you can predict that-even the best forensic psychiatrists in the world will tell you that you cannot predict future dangerousness.

Chair: Yes.

Dr Nathanson: So, a GP would certainly feel unable to.

Chair: We will probe a number of those issues with colleagues.

Q272 Nicola Blackwood: Just to pick up on exactly that point, obviously, you cannot accurately predict the future, but GPs do make an assessment about the mental health of a patient and whether they are likely to pose a danger to themselves or others, because you recommend if a patient needs to be sectioned. Do you think that that is analogous to this situation? Does that role of GPs inform your judgment on this issue?

Dr Canning: The circumstances of being involved in the detention and potential forcible treatment of a patient are incredibly rare compared with the risk assessment we are making day in, day out about people with mental illness who may be at risk of self-harm. Self-harm is, unfortunately, much more common that we would like. Those assessments are made-20 to 25% of people will see their GP at some stage in their life with a mental health problem. That is an awful lot of people, and we are seeing an awful lot of people making a lot of judgments about risk. It is very rare-in my experience, certainly less than once a year in my personal practice-to be involved in sectioning someone. Those are usually very major, often psychotic, illnesses.

Q273 Nicola Blackwood: But it does fall within the role of a GP to deal with those kinds of incidents and those kinds of assessments.

Dr Canning: Yes.

Q274 Mr Winnick: In your day-to-day work as a GP, are you frequently asked about giving a reference for the use of guns?

Dr Canning: I practise in inner-city Middlesbrough where there may be guns, but they are not the sort that we are talking about here. I have never personally been asked to provide a reference or sign a certificate, nor have I been asked by the police to provide any medical evidence. But, obviously, I represent a larger group of people, whose practices include rural areas where this is much more common. People are asked to sign certificates and provide medical evidence-not very often to provide medical evidence, but that happens from time to time.

Q275 Mr Winnick: Generally, would it be right to say that a doctor is not under a strict code of confidentiality like priests? Perhaps Dr Nathanson would answer the question: if a doctor-clearly not in the area where your colleague practises, but in other areas-concludes that it would not be desirable, indeed could be dangerous to the public, for the person to have a shotgun or any firearm, would that doctor feel obliged to tell the authorities?

Dr Nathanson: Indeed. The obligation of confidentiality extends beyond the death of the patient, but it is never absolute. The doctor has to judge whether the individual poses a risk of serious harm to themselves or others. In those circumstances, they would tell others to prevent that harm, whether that is about a shotgun or something else.

The commonest one is somebody continuing to drive who should not be driving a motor vehicle-potentially another dangerous weapon in the wrong hands. Frequently, doctors will try to persuade the patient to stop driving, but the alternative is that they will tell the DVLA so that the individual is immediately stopped from driving. In that sense, a shotgun or other firearms licence is the same, in that you’re making a judgment that at this moment the individual is a risk-and perhaps that is the key; it is a little like the mental health consequences in that it is at this moment.

You can say that with a little bit of confidence, because the person is usually acutely depressed. It is the risk of harm to themselves that is the commonest risk, and that is when you would tell the appropriate authority. In most cases the GP-

Q276 Mr Winnick: Thank you. So from a professional point of view, it would be appropriate for a doctor to notify the police, in what would obviously be exceptional circumstances, and it would be professional to do so.

Dr Nathanson: Absolutely, yes.

Q277 Nicola Blackwood: My experience is that doctors get nervous when what they’re required to assess widens beyond their normal sphere of experience. As their representatives, what are your assessments of how GPs have been responding to some of the proposals? Do they have concerns about licensing officials coming to them automatically?

Dr Canning: I think the major concern is that we may be considered to be the people who will be responsible for making the decision. That is something that we are not competent to do. It is not that we don’t want to do it, but we aren’t able to do it and we are not the fit people to do it-that’s a society judgment.

Giving factual information is a day-to-day part of practice-for example, information to life insurance companies for people taking out insurance polices. There is a standard way of doing that, and we provide facts. Providing facts is not a problem; it is the interpretation of them that becomes the problem. If we are, for example, in the very unusual circumstance of having to breach confidentiality, we would be taking advice from colleagues as well and would usually be talking to partners-the BMA or our defence organisations.

Q278 Nicola Blackwood: Have you done any survey or made any collation of the response to this from your membership?

Dr Canning: Only through the contacts that I have had with doctors nationally. I was speaking to representatives of the doctors in Cumbria last week about their concern that this becomes a situation for which doctors get the blame.

Q279 Dr Huppert: As I understand it, the BMA, in discussion with ACPO, came up with the idea of tagging medical records, so if somebody applied for a licence or renewed a licence, that fact would be passed around.

What are your current thoughts on how that would work? Do you think that it would be a sensible way forwards? Are you concerned, first, about the fact that it might deter mentally ill patients or people who are concerned from seeing their GP at all, and, secondly, about the data issues of having a register on the NHS of every gun owner?

Dr Canning: There are a number of questions there. I’m not entirely sure that we came up with it together, but it has been discussed by us and ACPO-in fact, we’re meeting tomorrow with Mr Whiting and people from the Information Commissioner’s Office to discuss the data issue. It has been said to me that it will dissuade some people from seeing their GP, if they believe that the consequence is that they will lose their licence, and there seems to be a certain logic in that just in the way people behave. There is a perception, I have been told-though I have no evidence personally-that once you have lost your licence or certificate, getting it back again is much more difficult, even if there was a simple episode of illness that may be related to that.

There are practical issues about tagging: not everybody sees their GP, although many people do. There are now in England many other ways of obtaining initial medical treatment, not just at A and E and from GPs, as is the case in the other three countries. There are walk-in centres and other centres where people may choose to go and the record would not be available there. There is the practical issue that our systems don’t have a means of doing that at the moment, not necessarily transferring information on to the next GP as well.

Q280 Dr Huppert: Do you think GPs would treat people differently if they had a tag?

Dr Canning: I think we should treat people all in the same way.

Q281 Dr Huppert: We should, indeed, but that is not the question I asked.

Dr Canning: No. I would hope that they wouldn’t. One has to be aware of the information, but be able to deal with it. The relevance would be quite difficult to interpret because of the prediction of the future.

Q282 Mr Burley: I have asked this question of a number of witnesses and not got very far, but now we have some doctors in the room, you might be able to help me. I am interested in the actual type of medical conditions that would cause a GP, such as you, to alert the authorities that the person may not be suitable to hold a licence at the moment. The examples we have been given include someone who might be depressed because their wife had passed away, which is obviously a temporary thing. You also might have someone to whom you are prescribing Prozac, which is a strong drug.

Chair: We don’t need all the medical conditions.

Q283 Mr Burley: It could be a recreational drug user. What sort of conditions would apply?

Dr Canning: That has to be based on the individual person who is sitting in the consultation with you. If someone has a florid psychotic illness, they are probably going down the route for me to discuss it with a secondary colleague. I would not be the only one involved in the sectioning; it would also be a specialist doctor.

Moving down that route, if the person wanted treatment, would be a worry. It is much more difficult with the person who has had a bereavement-who has had something that many of us cope with very well, but individuals don’t. Predicting who will and who won’t is very difficult.

Q284 Chair: So, a florid psychotic? Any advance on a florid psychotic?

Dr Nathanson: That is absolutely one. The other one, of course, is an acute and severe depression, where you do have somebody who is talking about suicide, and where you believe that there is a chance that they will pursue that action. Obviously, access to a weapon is a very effective way of committing suicide. People who are depressed are far more likely to hurt themselves than others.

Chair: Mr Burley, are you satisfied?

Q285 Mr Burley: I don’t understand what "florid" is; I shall look it up when I go away. Apart from those two conditions, people who are alcoholics could go home and get the gun out. It is a very difficult line to draw, isn’t it?

Dr Nathanson: In terms of things like alcohol or other drug abuse-

Q286 Mr Burley: A cannabis user?

Dr Nathanson: It is about the way in which that impacts on people’s behaviour and mental state. For example, some cannabis users are pushed into a frank schizophrenia from the level of cannabis use, or there is a relationship. It would be their behaviour, in other words-their psychosis or schizophrenia-that led you to the concern. The fact that it was caused by or made worse by cannabis is an incidental.

It is the same with a person who is an alcohol or other drug abuser; it is their behaviour and their mental state. It is not the cause of it. Whether it is organic or drug induced, is in a sense slightly irrelevant to the doctor. It is that this person is a danger to themselves or others, and we need to remove them from society.

Chair: It would be helpful if we wrote to the BMA, and some of these other issues were explored. I think Mr Burley has raised a very important point. Are you satisfied with that, Mr Mackey? Thank you. Bridget Phillipson.

Q287 Bridget Phillipson: To return to the analogy around driving licences, do you think that someone is less likely to come to you if they are suffering from mental ill health, and they think that their licence or certificate will be removed, than someone who has a medical or physical condition that would render them unfit to drive?

Dr Nathanson: There is no evidence that they would not come forward. The evidence is actually clearer that men-middle-aged men in particular-are relatively unlikely to see their GP. Most people see a doctor within a three-year period, but the group who are least likely to are middle-aged men, who, as I understand it, tend to be the people involved in these cases. So GPs are less likely to see them.

Why don’t they come? We don’t really know, but they present late. They present late even when they are suffering pain, including mental pain. There is no evidence-and it would be very difficult to gather any-on whether a worry about a licence would stop them, but worrying about the impact on your driving licence does not stop people from seeing their GP. So that should give us some degree of comfort.

Q288 Bridget Phillipson: In terms of tagging medical records, how would you respond to concerns about protecting those data within the NHS more broadly?

Dr Nathanson: There is the meeting tomorrow-it will include the Information Commissioner-and it needs to bottom that out in detail, but of course we do need to make sure that that is protected.

I note that in a few of the submissions, people are concerned that the data could be leaked-it seems that it is almost as if data could be leaked to become part of conspiracies in which people burgle houses where there were known to be guns. That is certainly not something that we have thought about in terms of medical records. The approach to confidentiality is all about the fact that the information gathered for health purposes is sensitive-not always, but it may be sensitive for the individual, and they have a right to privacy. We would need to ensure that that privacy applied.

Q289 Alun Michael: You were both quite clear about knowing where the line is drawn on confidentiality and when you would have a public duty to share information despite confidentiality rules. Do you think GPs are sufficiently aware of those guidelines? Perhaps a better way to put it is whether you think that all GPs are sufficiently aware of those guidelines, particularly where the background might not give an understanding of the culture of certain areas.

Dr Canning: There are two words that we never use in medicine. One is "always" and the other is "never", because there are always exceptions. I cannot say that for all GPs, but-

Q290 Alun Michael: With respect, Dr Nathanson said that a doctor would, which rather implied universality among the profession.

Dr Nathanson: There are pretty good levels of understanding, certainly around things such as driving; obviously, doctors do understand driving rules. Having said that, we have, with the Department for Transport, just produced a new version of "Fitness to Drive", so that all doctors can look and check the latest information on different drugs or medical conditions. Certainly, there is always an ongoing need to keep refreshing people.

We get a great deal of phone calls from GPs on a regular basis who ring us up and say, "I have a patient with x. Can I just talk through it with you and check that I am right to do the following?" That suggests to us-and, okay, maybe a select group ring us-that the majority of GPs know there is an issue and they also know that it is just a good idea to check with someone that this is the right person to be phoning.

Whether it is the police or another agency, they are just checking that through. Again, any change in the regulations would enable us to push out more advice to GPs to make sure that they are more aware of how the new rules affect them.

Q291 Chair: But GPs, of course, watch television as well, despite being very busy. They would have seen what happened in Northumbria and Cumbria, so this kind of event would have an effect on their decisions.

Dr Nathanson: Absolutely.

Chair: Dr Canning and Dr Nathanson, thank you very much for coming in. We will write to you, because we have some further questions around what Mr Burley has raised. We would be grateful for a quick response.

Examination of Witness

Witness: James Brokenshire MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for crime prevention, Home Office, gave evidence.

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 from it.

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 concluded.

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 covered-it has been raised by several witnesses-is 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 gun crime.

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 operates effectively.

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 providing-or having available-spent 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 weapons-section 1 shotguns-in 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 forthcoming.

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 there-and 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 that-what 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 requirements-in respect to different weapons, different age groups and all the rest of it. Some simplification might enable more effective enforcement of the requirements.

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 way.

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 language-

Chair: You don’t have to be sad about that.

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 approaches-we 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 original-

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 be helpful?

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 step forward.

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 weapons-all of those things together-are 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.

May I thank you, Minister, for coming to give evidence?

James Brokenshire: Thank you.