My Lords, I am pleased to be speaking in this debate on the gracious Speech. It will not surprise your Lordships to know that, as a former police officer of some 35 years’ experience, I intend to concentrate on that area in this important debate today.
This has been a difficult time for the policing family—for that is what it is—and, as with any family, it produces best results if it is happy, content and, most of all, valued. Over the decades, I have seen the process of policing change, with the advent of modern technology, improved transport, scientific advancement, DNA, biometrics and the like. But the basics tenets of policing have not changed from the days of that great parliamentarian, Sir Robert Peel, who founded the Metropolitan Police in 1829. In shorthand, it is the concept of policing by consent. Without the respect and the support of the vast majority of the British public, a largely unarmed body of men and women could not perform the tasks which we have asked of them recently in the United Kingdom. Have they not performed magnificently?
So why do we hear murmurs of discontent from the men and women in blue? We have heard of complaints of reduced funding, which of course the Government have denied. However, no one can deny or refute the falling police numbers, and when the money is stretched it affects personnel, which is the largest cost, and therefore the numbers of officers are, naturally, reduced. It is argued that the amount allocated has not been reduced, but as any household knows, with costs increasing and demands for service rocketing, the thin blue line is stretched as never before.
What is to be done? There have been requests for a sensible, objective look at what policing requirements will be in the coming years, and I urge the Government, of whatever colour, to heed these pleas. We hear demands for all police to be armed, but you rarely hear this demand from the police themselves. Many surveys have shown that there is no appetite by police officers to routinely carry guns. This has not solved the problem in other countries.
In my time as a young superintendent, I had the honour of attending a training course for three months at the FBI academy at Quantico in the United States of America. If I had been asked for advice—I was not—I would have said to President Trump, “Don’t mess with the FBI!”. In my judgment, they are a professional, dedicated organisation with investigators of the utmost integrity.
So what did I learn on the course? We know that the police in America are routinely armed, and many of them are very poorly trained to use their guns. We see the results. When I studied the subject in those days, I found that roughly 15% of police officers who were fatally shot were killed with a police firearm. This was because the weapon was taken from them by the perpetrator, because of inaccurate fire by other officers, or careless handling of guns during practice or exercises. Tasers, of course, are perfect for a less-than-lethal response, such as against knives, but we are talking here about firearms. This is the danger—it illustrates it well—of putting more guns on the streets in the hands of the police or anyone else. We should be proud of our record on firearms control in this country and should not be provoked into taking rash decisions to change it.
When I started on the beat in Jarrow on Tyneside in the 1960s, all I had was a truncheon and a whistle, with few vehicles and no radio to call for back-up. It certainly increased your ability to think on your feet and not make rash decisions. A police officer is not like a soldier. He does not respond to orders barked at him or her. The officer exercises discretion and judgment, and I believe those early years of learning are crucial to the officer’s development and experience as he or she rises in rank to positions of specialisation or command in an increasingly complex service. That is why I am very cautious indeed about direct entry into the CID, where I spent many years. In my judgment, these positions are far better filled by existing officers with a grounding in general policing on the streets, rubbing shoulders with the great British public, and having been assessed as possessing the attributes, personality and ability to investigate crime, child abuse, terrorism and the like.
Finally, I simply say this, and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Good policing starts with the community acting as its eyes and ears, and if, because of cuts, there is any continued reduction in the number of community beat officers, who garner, collect and share information and intelligence with the specialist departments, this will reduce the ability of a proud and successful police service to protect the great British public—a responsibility, of course, which is the core duty of every Government.