|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, I, too, take the view that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is doing the House a service in raising this issue for debate. He is right not to apologise for his persistence in doing so year on year.
I would add to his argument by reminding the House that, in the cities mentioned during the earlier part of the debate, those who have to deal with cases in the magistrate's court, in particular, when they come for first hearing, find that virtually no potential witness is willing to attend the court to give evidence of what has occurred. Those are real issues.
However, under the non-terrorism provisions of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 there is very extensive redefinition, codification and extension of the powers available to the police and other control authorities to obtain information by covert as well as overt means which will lead, it is to be hoped, to the arrest of those concerned in the proliferation of firearms, particularly handguns.
I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that, for what it is worth, in my experience of murder and manslaughter caseseven in those committed with firearmsa significant proportion of the homicides are domestic rather than related to major crime, and the statistics should be viewed in that light.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord WaddingtonI have to reflect that this is the third time in a fortnight that I have found myself agreeing with him, which is probably a sign of increasing age rather than anything elseand I should like to add to what he said along the same theme. As he reminded the House, there has been a problem recently in relation to the exercise of the powers under Sections 44 and 45 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in relation to the defence exhibition in LondonDSEI, as it is called for short. If one looks at what has occurred in relation to the exercise of those powers, one thing becomes apparent immediately, in my view. The police already have extensive powers to stop and search. They actually have, if properly applied, all the powers which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, would probably want if he were to analyse them with great care, to achieve the ends he wishes to meet, but there is a comprehension gap in the police.
I urge the Minister who replies to the debate to tell the House that the Government are making ongoing efforts to ensure that the police constable who is referred to in the noble Lord's amendmentwhich includes the constable who is there on the beat, often at a moment of tension, and is sometimes brought from another force to an area about which he knows littleunderstands the options open to him. There are options for stopping and searching under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. There are options for stopping and searching under the Terrorism Act 2000. Indeed, there is not just one set of options for stopping and searching under the Terrorism Act 2000, but multiple sets of options. Other options for stopping and searching are open to police officers.
I have inquired recently into whether there is a sort of menu or guide which enables constables to understand the choices they have to make. They may stop under one option but find that the search they carry out comes under another. For example, they may stop under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act because of possible terrorism, but may reach a decision that they do not want to search for terrorist materialwhich is all they can search for under Section 45 of the Terrorism Actand instead may wish to search for firearms or for dangerous drugs. Therefore, they have to decide that their search should continue under another set of legislative provisions.
This is difficult for a police constable. I urge the Government and, indeed, ACPO, encouraged by the Government, to take steps to ensure that the bobby on the beat, if I can use that old-fashioned phrase, knows what his choices are. Otherwise he and his force will face expensive and hugely time-consuming civil action by those against whom they may have had reasonable suspicions but happened to use the wrong piece of legislation.
In summary, I suggest that the powers are there, we can achieve the aims of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, but there needs to be a greater understanding of how the kit that is available can be used to best effect.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I join other Members of the House in thanking my noble friend Lord Marlesford for tabling this amendment. While it is not a perfect amendment, if nothing else, it serves a very useful function in drawing out the debate in a very constructive way. When my noble friend last introduced a similar amendment, I supported the principle, and I do so again today.
I readily acknowledge that there is already a plethora of law dealing with guns, particularly illegal guns, and of course the police have many powers that they can use. But so much of the law that we pass today is simply a regurgitation of existing law, because existing law is either not sufficiently understood or not sufficiently applied. So, as legislators, we make another attempt and draft a new provision, which is what my noble friend is trying to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, hit the nail on the head when he said that the plethora of existing law is very often difficult for the policeman on the beat, who faces the problem of a suspected criminal in a particular situation and has to deal with it. He has to have the law behind him in his actions, otherwise he cannot act. He has to know what he is doing, and police training is fundamental.
Whether we should have a new law is ultimately a matter of judgment. The Government may well say, as they have said before, that they need not do this now and there is plenty of existing law. But if my noble friend is sufficiently persistent, I suspect that he may win the day. It may not be today, it may not be this year or next year, but possibly in two or three years' time, ifand this is the pointthe problems of gun crime in our communities, particularly our conurbations, continue to become bigger and more difficult, causing greater and greater concern.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said that so much of this, sadly, is black on black crime. He cannot protest about that and then protest about the use of targeted intelligence which leads to stop-and-search operations, possibly stopping and searching black people more often than white. If that is where the crime isand that is where the majority of gun crime, sadly, appears to betargeted intelligence will mean that inevitably, in certain areas, blacks will have to be searched more often than whites. The police, regrettably, have to face potential community odium in order to do their job. They have my sympathy.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, rightly criticised the rather wide scope of the amendment. He was concerned about what the police might do if he were marching down Piccadilly with a gun and seemed to assume that they would immediately act to shut the area down. That is highly unlikely; if he were to do so, a policeman might well tap him on the shoulder, say,
The debate around the amendment has been extremely useful, and I await the Government's reply with interest. We have lots of law that could deal with this matter but the reality is that, in many parts of our more urban communities, that law is not seen to be a success. It may be, in part, a failure of community attitudeI thought that was a very useful comment. If the community wills a safe and crime-free community, on the whole, after a time, they get it. That is part of the difficulty.
This has been a very useful debate. The principle of the amendment should be supported on the basis of restating, in simple language which everybody can understand, a position which is wrapped up in the existing law in so many different ways.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness; she may have decided that after such a full and rounded debate, I should not speak, but I am going to disappoint her and go aheadalbeit very briefly, she will be relieved to hear.
I, too, am grateful to my noble friend for raising this important matter. He is right: there is a great concern among the public about the illegal use of firearms. If the Government believe that my noble friend's objective is already adequately covered by other legislation, I would, like others, be grateful if the Minister could quote chapter and verse so that we can be assured that the amendment is not necessary. I listened with great care and interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew. I agree with him that there is a comprehension gap, so we may need to have something that clearly puts into legislation the kind of precautions that my noble friend seeks.
My noble friend referred to Diane Abbott, who chairs the All-Party Gun Crime Group. I should declare an unpaid interest as one of her vice-chairsprobably her most useless vice-chair, because as a consequence of having to sit so many days in your Lordships' House on this and other Bills, I have not contributed one iota to the admirable report that is about to be published next week. I rarely disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, but I must do so on this occasion, because I would not necessarily have to wait until the publication of that report to support my noble friend's amendment today.
My noble friend is right to seek assurances today and, if necessary, if he feels that those assurances have not been adequately given, he is right to want to test the opinion of the House. If he does so, I shall of course
I join those who say that this has been a good short debate, and I commend the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for raising the issue. However, he will have a reply in a different voice and tone, but it will be the same message.
Several noble Lords made their points eloquently, and I shall not recite them. I agree with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, with the pithy dissection made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, with the comments of my noble friend Lord Corbett and the comprehensive recitation given to us so well by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, on the powers already available.
I should say a word to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, because I believe that he misunderstood the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. The import of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, was that the issue of gun crime is a matter of importance to all our communities, and the black and minority ethnic community is no exception, because they have had the vice of gun crime visited on them. There was no suggestion that it was disproportionate in its occurrence to white gun crime, but simply that they joined together in the pain visited on the community, and that we can expect the same sympathy, anger and concern from the black and minority ethnic community as from any other part.
The disproportionality to which the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, alluded to did not come from the nature of the offence. It is important that we make that distinction, because I am sure that other noble Lords would not want the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, to be misunderstood. I certainly did not misunderstand him.
When this matter was raised earlier, in relation to the Police Reform Bill, my noble friend Lord Bassam in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, set out the extensive powers that have again been referred to in passing during our short debate. For example, he referred to the powers under Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and various provisions of the Terrorism Act 2000. Those have already been alluded to, so I shall not recite them again. In addition, Section 47 of the Firearms Act 1968 enables a constable to require the handing over of the firearm and any ammunition for examination so that he may ascertain whether the firearm is real or imitation, what type of firearm it is, whether it is loaded, or whether the ammunition is suitable for use in the firearm.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, with his usual delicacy and kindness, referred to the amendment as having certain superficial blemishes. I acknowledge that kindness, but regrettably, on this occasion, the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, had it correctly. The amendment has a number of fundamental flaws. During the earlier debate, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, recognised the existence of these powers, but emphasised that he saw a need for powers to seal off areas to facilitate searching. On that specific point, we remain unconvinced that what is proposed is a proportionate response to the issue, for all the reasons given earlier by other noble Lords.
As your Lordships will be aware, the Government are fully committed to supporting the police in their efforts to tackle gun crime, which is a scourge. It is important to ensure that the police have the necessary powers available to them. Our developing programme to tackle gun crime includes tackling the links to drug supply and crime, through initiatives such as the Criminal Justice Interventions Programme and the National Crack Plan; reducing the supply and availability of firearms; effective police operations to drive down firearm offences; tough laws and effective enforcement; and engaging the worst affected communities to address the underlying gun culture. This Bill includes proposals for a five-year mandatory sentence for illegal possession of prohibited firearms.
However, we do not believe that it would be right to go as far as allowing for whole areas to be sealed off merely because a constable reasonably believed that some person within their area was carrying a firearm, even when there was no perception of any immediate danger or threat. When there is a reasonable belief that serious violence may take place in a particular locality, existing legislation already allows for generalised searching of persons and vehicles. That would not extend to sealing off the area, but anyone within or entering the area could be searched.
I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, says about whether we need to recite the provisions again in this Bill. I respectfully suggest that we do not. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, has a real point about ensuring that in practice police officers on the ground have a proper understanding of their powers and know how to exercise them. There is training, and that training will have to continue. When this Bill becomes law, there will have to be further training. However, the powers can be properly exercised by skilled police officers selecting the options available. I take to heart what was said about the increased need to do that, and perhaps the need to discuss further with ACPO how best to do that.
Although I do not think it would be justified to allow areas to be sealed off and swept for firearms as the noble Lord proposes, we are taking a whole range of actions to bite down hard on gun crime. We hope that the further measures in the Bill will be successful. I have heard all that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford,
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|