|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Goodhart: We strongly support the principle behind the amendment; namely that foreign officers carrying out surveillance in this country should not carry arms with them. Equally, there is force in the problem mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that the requirement on foreign officers to dispose of a weapon they carried lawfully in the country they left may destroy the possibility of surveillance or put their lives at risk.
I want to raise another point, which the Minister may not be able to answer immediately. Would a blanket prohibition on the carrying of weapons by foreign surveillance officers be compatible with the terms of the 1990 convention? Paragraph 3(d) of Article 40 of the convention says:
I appreciate that it may be a difficult legal point. There may be a short answer, or it may need further consideration. I would be interested to know the answer.
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns said that Amendments Nos. 148 and 149 were alternatives. Amendment No. 149 is the more attractive alternative, not only because of what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said about whether there was a power to give a blanket refusal to allow arms to be carried.
We must be realistic about the degree of violence that occurs today involving not only terrorists but drugs gangs. Someone from another country who is carrying out surveillance in this country for a short time may put his life at risk, if he continues that surveillance without being armed. He will have had permission to be armed in the country from which he comes, and, with the amendment, he could apply for permission to maintain possession of those arms in particular circumstances. There should be some provision for that, if we are to deal with the wider use of firearms against the police.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I tend to favour Amendment No. 148, which would prohibit the carrying of firearms in any circumstances, although I understand the reasons behind the following amendment. The reasons why I favour Amendment No. 148 go back to the question of whether we are talking about hot pursuit or surveillance. If it is merely surveillance, there is unlikely to be contact with the criminal. In those circumstances, I cannot see the point of carrying firearms.
I know that that is an arguable pointhow close is the surveillance? However, bearing in mind that British police are permitted to carry firearms only in unusual and dangerous circumstanceseven then, it will be done only by highly trained peopleit would be wrong to allow foreign policemen to carry firearms under less stringent conditions. We must consider that.
Lord Monson: It would be helpful for the Committee to know how often United Kingdom customs officers, as distinct from police officers, carry firearms. I have never heard of them doing so, but I may be mistaken.
Lord Filkin: It has been an interesting and important debate and has taken a slightly different turn from what we might have expected.
With regard to Amendment No. 148, I must say that we already have laws that prohibit such activity, so there is no need for any further legislation to prevent foreign officers from bringing firearms in. I appreciated the thoughtful way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, raised the issue behind Amendment No. 149. She got us to think about the risks in such situations and reflect on the safety of the foreign officer and of our public.
The noble Baroness was right to raise such considerations. The sort of surveillance operations that we are discussing will involve people suspected of serious criminal offences. Frequently, they will be serious, professional criminals, and, frequently, they will be armed. That is the unfortunate reality of life. However, I am, at this point, less persuaded that that
If the surveillance officer is a foreign police officer, he will, in most situations, be in his car tailing another car, until such times as UK undercover cars can pick up the surveillance. The foreign officer would not be seeking to get close to or arrest the person, so, although I will not say that there would be no risk, it would not be a situation of challenge in which the officer is trying to arrest the person or corner him. There is some risk with anyone who carries a gun, but there is less risk in the circumstances that we are discussing. Finally, UK officers will take over the surveillance immediately, in most cases, or within a maximum of five hours or not at all. They will oftenif not alwayshave guns in their car for high-risk situations of the type that we are discussing.
For those reasons, it is not necessary explicitly to prohibit foreign officers from carrying firearms. Current legislation already does that. We are not persuaded that the level of risk that the noble Baroness properly referred to is such as to justify the making of Amendment No. 149.
I cannot tell the noble Lord, Lord Monson, how frequently UK police officers carry arms. It is certainly done more frequently than it used to be, which is of concern to us all.
Lord Monson: I asked about customs officers.
Lord Filkin: I am sorry. I shall write to the noble Lord with as open an answer as I can give in the circumstances.
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: Has not the Minister, in a way, contradicted his own argument? If the British police officers or customs officers who will take over the surveillance are armed or have the authority to be armed because the risks are so great, it seems hard that the officers carrying out the surveillance in another country cannot be armed on the same basis. The risk to them is as great.
The Minister implied that surveillance officers would usually be armed in serious cases such as those that we are considering. It would be reasonable in such cases to have a means wherebywith permission, in particular cases and for a short periodthe officer from another country could have the same protection as we provide for our own police force.
Lord Filkin: The situations are not parallel or identical. Foreign police officers coming in in the limited circumstances that we are describing have only a surveillance role; they have no powers of apprehension, arrest or challenge. They are seeking to have undercover, covered surveillance, without
It is perfectly right that UK police officers should have such powers in such circumstances. I see less needif anyfor a foreign officer in a surveillance-only role to have them.
Lord Goodhart: The Minister has not answered my question about whether a general prohibition on carrying weapons was compatible with the Schengen Convention.
Lord Filkin: I am sorry. I had the answer, and, in the shuffling of papers, I overlooked it.
A nation's decisions on the application of Schengen need not be made case by case. It will be permissible for the UK to prohibit the carrying of service weapons in general, rather than make case-by-case judgments.
Lord Goodhart: Is that answer based on our interpretation of Article 40, or is there something specific somewhere other than Article 40 that makes it clear that we have that power?
Lord Filkin: At this point, I shall take the noble Lord's invitation to stop and write to him. That would be the most appropriate way of dealing with that further question about the basis of our judgment.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in that short debate on this vital matter. I am sure that we will return to it on Report. I heard what my noble friend Lord Carlisle of Bucklow said about the preferability of Amendment No. 149 and what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, said about the preferability of Amendment No. 148. We need to resolve some difficult issues before I decide which amendments to bring back and how to draft them.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, raised a crucial issue. The provisions of the clause affect the role and powers not only of police officers but of customs officers. In reports on the Billsuch as they werewhen it was published, I noticed that there was little realisation in the public domain, in the press or on TV that the powers would go to customs officers as well as police officers. That realisation is also not yet established among our colleagues in the House who have not had the advantage of taking part in the Committee stage. There ought to be a broader debate on the role of customs officers. I was pleased that the noble Lord highlighted that issue.
I am, as ever, grateful to the Minister for his response, but there are issues that I must consider carefully, to ensure that firearms are not carried inappropriately, although there may be occasions on
The Minister said that surveillance does not involve challenge. The reality of surveillance is that things can go horribly wrong in these groups. One can be betrayed. An undercover officer who is challenged may be uncovered. In those circumstances, for the sake of his life, he may want to use the firearm in his possession. We need to take such circumstances into account and consider how properly to deal with them. At this stage, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 149 not moved.]
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Dean of Harptree): I should tell the Committee that if Amendment No. 150 is carried, I cannot call Amendment No. 151.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page