My Lords, is the Minister aware that that reply is not totally unexpected? Is she further aware that, like the other place and many other democratically elected chambers, this House, although often critical of police and policing, never fails to appreciate the courage of that thin blue line that protects us from anarchy and lawlessness? That should be understood by police officers everywhere. Does the Minister believe that the system of periodic amnesties for guns, which is relatively successful, could be better implemented through a rolling amnesty? Under such a system, anyone who had a gun illegally and improperly could hand it in and, if it had not been used previously for a crime, that would be the end of the matter. Would that be one way of taking guns off the streets? Is she confident that the training and protection offered to police officers on duty reflect the massive increase in gun crime over the past 10 years?
My Lords, I endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said about appreciating the bravery and courage of our police officers. It is matter of great comment and commendation that 78 per cent of police officers, when surveyed by the Police Federation, said that they did not wish to be armed routinely because they felt that it would impinge improperly on the good partnership that they have with the public.
I hear what the noble Lord says about periodic amnesties, but they have been fashioned to meet the needs of the occasion. Certainly, I shall consider those comments. Regarding training and protection, I am satisfied. Chief officers are responsible for identifying the number and training of the officers who undertake that work and it is well done.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the routine arming of all police officers would inevitably dilute the quality of police firearms training, which is currently concentrated on a limited number of highly trained officers who have volunteered to carry firearms and regularly pass rigorous aptitude and competency tests? Does she also accept that international experience shows that the routine arming of all police officers leads to additional police deaths—including blue-on-blue accidents, suicides by officers using their readily available firearms and officers' guns being used against them by criminals during struggles?
My Lords, those beliefs are strongly held by the police service and we have no reason to disagree. Furthermore, the noble Lord is right to say that the emphasis has been on quality, not just quantity, to make sure that those officers who are armed receive the necessary training and have the skill and the ability to use those guns safely and effectively.
My Lords, following the reply to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, will the Minister assure the House that whatever the level of armed police officers, there will always be a core of armed police officers in all forces available on a 24-hour basis to protect their unarmed colleagues in the course of duty?
My Lords, the noble Viscount will know that those decisions are made by chief officers who have responsibility for identifying the needs of their areas and supplying officers to meet those needs. I have absolute confidence that chief officers are discharging their duties with skill, precision and care.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned the partnership with the public that constrains the use of arms. Is not the inexorable reality that the more the police were to bear arms the more villains would do so and they would be much more ruthless in using them? There would be an escalation of violence if the current policy were changed.
My Lords, I can confirm to the noble Lord that that is the fear that has been expressed to us. However, I would like to reassure and remind noble Lords that at the moment the overall level of crime involving guns is low—less than 0.4 per cent of all recorded crimes involve guns. There is nothing to indicate that the policies that I have outlined should be departed from. We are content that our officers should not be routinely armed.
My Lords, I know of no specific devices, but I can reassure the noble Baroness that technology is being developed across the board to assist us to take better care of those members of the public who could be subjected to gun crime. I shall write to her if I discover any new technology that might add to her knowledge.
My Lords, I am not able to answer that question, but I shall write to the noble Lord.