In opening this debate on Tasers for the Liberal Democrats, I begin by reflecting on the nature of the police force in Scotland. Unlike forces in many other countries, ours has always been basically an unarmed force that is in close touch with, and in various ways accountable to, local communities throughout Scotland. When Tasers were introduced in 2004, it was on the basis that they were a less lethal alternative to firearms. That point is mentioned in the amendments and will be reflected on during the debate.
The decision by the chief constable of Strathclyde Police to authorise a six-month pilot of the use of Tasers by non-firearms officers with three days' training raises several issues. The chief constable proposes to evaluate the pilot project prior to any decision to roll out Tasers on a force-wide basis. However, whatever the conditions and the outcome of the evaluation, the intended direction of travel is obvious. It is clear that the decision was Mr House's, not the police board's, and far less the Scottish Government's. I want to ask where the boundary lies between operational decisions that are made by the chief constable and policy decisions that are the responsibility of the Government and the Parliament.
In England, it was the Home Secretary, not the police who authorised the extension of the use of Tasers. The issue was seen, rightly in my view, as a policy matter. Will the Scottish Government take responsibility as a matter of policy for the extension of the use of Tasers? That is an important and fundamental issue.
I am happy to make our position clear. Mr Brown correctly pointed out that Tasers are classified as firearms. The Government supports the devolution of powers over all firearms, including air weapons. In those circumstances, the issue would become the responsibility of the Parliament but, until then, it remains the responsibility of Westminster.
The cabinet secretary's intervention echoes his amendment, but it confuses rather than clarifies the matter. Whatever the position on firearms, the Scottish Government has responsibility for policing in Scotland. That is a devolved issue, so the policy of the police force on
The current First Minister has said that the issue is an operational matter, but the previous First Minister took a different view and gave an assurance that police officers in Scotland would not routinely be equipped with Tasers. That was also the position of the Scottish National Party conference in spring 2008, when it adopted a resolution that opposed the deployment of Tasers beyond trained firearms officers. I imagine that the cabinet secretary spoke or was involved in that debate.
When the Cabinet Secretary for Justice was asked about Tasers in 2007, he said that the
"deployment and use of Taser weapons is an operational matter for Chief Constables"—[Official Report, Written Answers, 6 June 2007; S3W-255.]
but he pointed out that the matter was within the terms of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland guidance, which provides that Tasers will be issued only to authorised firearms officers who have completed an approved training course in the use of the device.
The Home Affairs Select Committee's report on the policing of the G20 protests also made that general point. It said:
"The use of this weapon on a general scale poses many issues regarding public safety and more widespread use of Tasers would also represent a fundamental shift between the police and the general public. British policing is based on consent and face-to-face engagement, the use of Taser has the potential to erode that relationship and create a rift between the police and the policed."
As it happens, one of the two areas in which the pilot is being rolled out is my home area of Rutherglen and Cambuslang, and I want to look a bit more closely at the tools that police officers might be using in my area. In England, during the trial period, Tasers were used 661 times, including 34 uses against children aged 17 and under. In 91 cases, the Taser was fired as opposed to being deployed. In those cases, 58 people were injured and 44 required medical attention. In Scotland, prior to the proposed pilots—up to the end of 2008—Tasers were used at 53 incidents and discharged only 18 times, none of which involved children under 18. Their use in Scotland was, of course, by fully trained firearms officers, and that restraint of use is rather in contrast to developments in England.
On the issue of training, the layman would readily believe that three days' training in the use of Tasers would be enough. What could there possibly be to learn that would take longer? However, firearms officers are trained and assessed as having reached the required level of competency in weapon handling, tactical
The chief constable of Strathclyde states that the primary reasons for extending the use of the Taser is to enhance the police's ability to protect the public, protect the subject—which is a little difficult to understand—and protect against assaults on officers. Police officers must be able to protect themselves, but it is far from evident that increased deployment of Tasers by response officers attending operational incidents—sometimes after the main issue has passed or has developed—will not increase the level of threat to the police as the criminal elements adapt to the use of Tasers.
The pilots will cost over £45,000 for six months, which might not appear to be a great sum of money. The cost of the roll-out is unclear but, in England, £10.3 million has been allowed, so a sum of around £1 million or so a year would not be unlikely in Scotland. Of course, the proposal is being made by a force that predicts a funding shortfall of £16 million this year and is facing a possible reduction in, at least, the number of its civilian support staff.
I am not someone who takes alarmist stances, but I am not keen on Scotland using heavy-duty police methods that have been imported from the Metropolitan Police or, indeed, America. We have a tremendous police force that is successful at what it does, not least because it has the confidence of local communities.
Issues around the use of Tasers—when their use is authorised, and the circumstances under which they can be deployed—are manifestly policy issues to be determined, no doubt with the benefit of police advice, by the elected Parliament and Government. They are significant issues. Operational use within the policy is, of course, a matter for chief constables, but the policy is for Government. I hope that the minister will outline his approach in more detail, reassert his authority over a future roll-out and reassure the chamber that the evaluation will be rigorous and independent and monitored against proper criteria. I hope that all members will be prepared to consider carefully the whole picture and the issues of important principle that the matter raises.
That the Parliament is concerned at the decision of the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police to issue Taser guns to 30 frontline police officers following a three-day training
The police in Scotland do an excellent job in often difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances. I think that everyone in the chamber would agree with that. The safety of police officers is pivotal to making our communities safer and stronger. We will not endanger them or jeopardise their safety, or the safety of others. Tasers are an accepted and proportionate method of providing for the safety of officers and citizens. It is not acceptable that our officers should have to endure a high level of assault and it is understandable and acceptable that police forces would want to trial new approaches to address that issue. That is why I am happy to accept the amendment that was lodged by the Conservatives.
I accept much of what the cabinet secretary says. Nevertheless, will he clarify whether the policy of the Government—if, indeed, it has a policy—has moved beyond the use of Tasers as an alternative to firearms and has now embraced some broader approach to the use of Tasers in our communities?
We have made our position quite clear: Tasers are a proportionate method of providing for the safety of officers and citizens; they are classified under firearms legislation; they are used to try to negate the requirement to use proper firearms; and decisions about their use are operational matters. Having listened to the member's speech, I think that he wants the Government to intervene in police matters in a way that would be entirely unacceptable and which would breach the tripartite arrangement in ways that I will explain later.
Firearms are a reserved matter. I have made my position clear on that issue and have repeatedly pressed the United Kingdom Government for full devolution of those powers. At the firearms summit that we hosted in 2008, there was a consensus
No, and in that regard, this Government shares the view of ACPOS, the Scottish Police Federation and the Scottish police authorities conveners forum. I know of no one who argues for a fully armed police force. However, everyone accepts that firearms are necessary and that we need to have armed response units in Strathclyde and elsewhere. Such matters are operational decisions and are left to the chief constables.
The Calman commission recommended that the powers over air-guns be devolved to Scotland, but that did not go far enough. The matter that we are debating today is another example of why we want all powers over firearms to be devolved.
Since the matter is a reserved responsibility, this Parliament has no locus to intervene, and the decision about how best to apply the existing legislation is an operational matter for each police force. I understand that Strathclyde Police's decision to hold the pilot in two particular areas arose from the need to find a way of combating the high number of assaults on officers in those areas. The pilot involves only officers in Strathclyde Police, and is principally of concern to communities in the Strathclyde area. Of course, the primary responsibility for overseeing Strathclyde Police and holding the force to account lies with the Strathclyde police authority, which I have no doubt contains Liberal Democrat members. I am sure that the authority will consider carefully the results of the pilot, which I understand will be fully evaluated by Strathclyde Police.
The deployment and use of Tasers is an operational matter for chief constables. That statement has been heard many times in this chamber, having been made by both the current Administration and the previous one, but there are good grounds for it being repeated. Under section 5(1)(b) of the Firearms Act 1968, Tasers are
I understand the argument that the cabinet secretary is making on reserved powers, and I support the devolution of those powers. However, the Scottish National Party is never shy to say what it would do if reserved matters were under its control. The argument around operational matters with regard to the use of Tasers and the use of firearms is not consistent. If those matters were under the SNP's control, would Tasers remain firearms?
I see no reason why we would seek to change the situation, but that matter would be debated in the Parliament. There is good reason why Tasers would remain firearms, given that, like air-guns, they are weapons.
Mr Harvie fails to take into account the nature of the relationship between Government and the police in Scotland, which involves a tripartite arrangement between Scottish ministers, the chief constable, and the police authority. That structure has provided the bedrock of accountability for the police service for many years. The chief constable alone is responsible for police operations in his force, and he is accountable to his board. If people—including local members—have concerns, their first port of call should be Strathclyde police authority, which should seek to liaise on and deal with those matters.
When I was in opposition, I would have opposed the suggestion that the Government should give directions to a police force, and I certainly would not seek to implement such a policy now that I am in government. I would have hoped that all those who seek to maintain democratic accountability for our police would accept that the Lord Advocate is the only person who has the powers to give direction to the police on criminal matters. The chief constable deploys his officers and other resources as he sees fit, using his discretion, but he must be responsible for and accountable to the police authority.
I am happy to support the Conservative amendment to our amendment.
I move amendment S3M-5808.2, to leave out from "is concerned" to end and insert:
"recognises that firearms legislation is reserved and that Strathclyde Police is entitled to exercise operational discretion over the use of Tasers under this reserved legislation and notes the role of local police authorities and joint boards in scrutinising Scottish police forces".
With all due respect to Robert Brown, the debate started off on the wrong tack. We should be discussing the
The status of the police has been recognised in Scots law for many years since the implementation of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act 1892, which introduced
"the power to imprison those guilty of police assaults for a period of up to nine months by summary complaint."
That power has, of course, changed with the passage of time; one might reflect that there are now so many aggravation provisions, which cover such a high proportion of the population, that that particular provision has become largely meaningless.
I accept Robert Brown's point that the relationship between the police and the public in this far-from-ideal world should rest on the basis of consensus and face-to-face contact. However, I suggest that that contact is not likely to result in a particularly constructive outcome when the police officer involved is—as frequently happens—facing a 6ft 2in person who is drunk or under the influence of drugs or other dubious substances, and who is wielding a baseball bat, machete, samurai sword or other weapon. The answer in such cases is surely that the individual has to be restrained.
Is Bill Aitken aware that the possible effect of Taser and electroshock weapons on people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol is one of the reasons why people are concerned about the proliferation of such weapons? Does he really believe that an increase in the availability of weapons on our streets makes anyone safer?
I am aware of that concern, but I point out to Patrick Harvie that if any individual wishes to avoid the effects of a Taser, he should simply moderate his behaviour so he is not in a position in which police officers are forced to use a Taser for their own self-protection and—in some instances—self-preservation.
What are the other solutions? Robert Brown must remember that we are not living in the same society in which he and I grew up, where a 6ft 1in Highland bobby was able, by his commanding presence, to dilute situations and dissolve problems. We have done away with the height restriction for police officers, and there are now more women officers, so police officers are perhaps less commanding than they were in the past. The only other solution for officers who are under attack would be for them to draw a baton, and we must consider that the effects of being struck on the head by a misdirected baton blow
Sorry, I am in my last minute.
This debate is a classic illustration of the type of issue that the Liberal party repeatedly highlights, in which their undoubted decent tendencies and sympathies go with the wrong people. People who are prepared to assault police officers will have to take the consequences in the courts, and police officers who are actively protecting members of the public are entitled to the total protection of society.
Sorry, I have no time.
That is the basis of the issue that we are discussing. We wish that Tasers were not required, and we certainly wish that firearms were not required, but unfortunately, and tragically, there is a need to ensure the safety of police officers. The Taser system, for all its imperfections, appears to be the safest route.
I move amendment S3M-5808.2.1, to insert at end:
"; further notes that in 2006-07 there were 12,974 recorded assaults on police officers across Scotland, which was an increase of 58% between 2000-01 and 2006-07; believes that Tasers provide a less lethal option than firearms where police officers are facing violent or armed suspects and need to incapacitate them, and awaits the results of the pilot being run in Strathclyde, which sees 30 police officers being armed with Tasers after appropriate training".
I find myself in the somewhat unusual position today of seeking to broker some consensus between the disparate views that we have heard so far in the debate. It is clear that the cabinet secretary's amendment states matters as they are, and is perfectly valid. However, Robert Brown's motion makes another valid point: the deployment of Tasers is an issue of great importance and they should not be deployed without any reference to those who have a wider role in policing policy in Scotland.
Tasers have been made available to firearms officers in Scotland since 2004 but if Strathclyde Police, Scotland's largest force, decides to deploy Tasers across the whole force, we should acknowledge that that will be a significant move for the rest of the country, as other forces would be likely to follow suit.
I emphasise, as the Labour amendment does, that Strathclyde Police is embarking on the pilot for very good reasons. The pilot is about seeking to give police officers the tools that they need to do their job in the challenging circumstances—
The cabinet secretary's position on the matter is somewhat bizarre—I will come to that later.
Bill Aitken was right to highlight—as the Labour amendment highlights—the fact that, on average, 4,000 Strathclyde Police officers are assaulted each year. The intention behind the pilot—it must be stressed that it is a pilot—is right.
The question is what should happen before a final decision is reached. The concern has been raised that three days' training may not be adequate, and that is something that should be established through an evaluation of the pilot.
One of the issues that Amnesty and other organisations have raised relates to the potential health risks of Tasers. The one-year trial in England and Wales resulted in no recorded incidents of serious adverse medical effects, but reported fatalities in the United States have been acknowledged. The health impacts need to be reviewed carefully at the end of the pilot: it does not matter that that has already been done in the trial down south.
I support the pilot going ahead, but it would seem bizarre if, at its conclusion, the detailed findings were not shared with ministers and with the Strathclyde police authority, and if there was no opportunity for further discussion. However the decision is made in the final analysis, ministers will surely want to be reassured that the pilot has been properly evaluated, and that there has been proper dialogue between the police force and the police authority. That sums up the tripartite approach and what it should involve. There would be understandable concern if the use of Tasers was rolled out across the force without that type of dialogue.
I think that I am short of time—I will come back to the member if I have time.
If the pilot is a success, and if that consultation has taken place, there will be a compelling case for more officers to have Tasers.
Nevertheless, even if the final decision is to be made by the police and not by ministers, it is inconceivable that the force would simply ignore the opinion of ministers on such an important issue. Patrick Harvie was right to point out a certain irony in the cabinet secretary's position, in that he wishes all firearms legislation to be devolved to the Parliament but will not express a view on the matter while that is not the case.
In Westminster, ministers have reached a view on the basis of the results of a trial. That is the approach that we will take, and there is no reason why the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government should not take that approach too.
I move amendment 5808.1, to leave out from "is concerned" to end and insert:
"notes the decision of the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police to issue Taser guns to 30 specially selected frontline police officers after being trained over a three-day period on their proper use; recognises that this is a three-month pilot with the aim of reducing the number of assaults on officers and notes that an average of 4,000 Strathclyde Police officers have been assaulted in each of the last four years; recognises that a full evaluation of the pilot will take place at its conclusion and only then will a decision be made about rolling it out force-wide; believes that there must be a careful evaluation of the results of the pilot, including assessment of any risks, and transparency regarding those results before any decision is made on whether to extend the use of Tasers; further believes that there should be discussion not only between ministers and Strathclyde Police before a final decision is reached, but also with the Parliament and the Strathclyde Police Authority."
Respect for the dignity of every individual and the rule of law is the foundation of every free and fair justice system in the world. It is from that fundamental position that each democratic society has to determine the most appropriate and effective methods by which to protect the rights and security of its citizens and how to establish policing and judicial systems that uphold the rule of law. I am confident that our legal traditions and justice system continue to provide a balance of rights and responsibilities that keeps the public safe while respecting the human rights of those who are accused or suspected of committing crimes. Nevertheless, society does not stand still, and it is vitally important that procedures are constantly reviewed in the light of the changing nature of public order situations and the challenges that our police officers face day in, day out. It is in that context that the use of Tasers by police officers should be carefully, critically and cautiously considered.
Let me be clear that my starting position is that I share many of the concerns that have been legitimately expressed about the use by Scotland's
It is an undisputed fact that police officers in Scotland already use Tasers in certain circumstances. Each year, thousands of police officers are assaulted while they are on duty, and the police often have to respond to difficult and testing circumstances. Balancing the need to ensure that the police and public are adequately protected with the legitimate concerns about Tasers is not easy. That said, Amnesty International and Epilepsy Scotland, which are cited in the motion, accept that there are situations in which the use of Tasers by our police forces is appropriate. Epilepsy Scotland suggests, however, that all officers who are equipped with a Taser are given proper epilepsy training.
I am afraid not. I am very short of time. If the member wanted us to have more time because she thinks that the issue is so serious, perhaps the Liberal Democrats should have debated it for all their time this morning.
Epilepsy Scotland's request is not unreasonable. I would be interested to hear from the cabinet secretary in his closing speech what information he has had from the chief constable of Strathclyde Police in that regard. Amnesty International also accepts that Tasers are a positive addition to the options that are available to the police because they reduce the use of other, more fundamentally lethal weapons.
Under United Nations obligations on the police, the use of lethal and non-lethal force is accepted as long as it is proportionate to the threat that is faced and there are systems in place to ensure accountability and transparency. Stephen House has said that, in using a Taser,
"Officers must perceive that either they or a member of the public is going to be subject to violence".
That clarification is welcome, but while we hope that Tasers will not be misused, we must know how allegations of misuse will be dealt with and, if they are proven, what the sanction will be. Again, if the cabinet secretary has any information on
I would like to turn to other areas such as legislation and the devolution of firearms powers, but I fear that I do not have time. I close by reiterating my general concerns about Tasers but also by stating my concerns about our police officers' ability to undertake their duties as safely as possible. I hope that those concerns can be balanced as we seek a modern and effective police force for the Scottish people.
The introduction of the Taser gun should not be taken lightly. That point has been highlighted by other members in the chamber this morning. I understand the concern that some people have about the pilot scheme, but I confess that I believe that Robert Brown is blowing the pilot out of proportion. It will not be introduced throughout the country and it will not encompass every police officer in every force—far from it. The Taser will be issued to 30 front-line officers who are specially selected from within Strathclyde Police.
I can find common ground with the Liberals on training. Amnesty International points out that, although the officers who are trained on the use of the Taser will receive the same three-day training that is given to firearms officers, they will not get the additional training that helps officers to determine when not to use the Taser. Amnesty makes an important point when it states:
"Learning not to use a Taser takes longer than learning to use one."
The cabinet secretary can say all that he wants this morning and pass the buck, but the Scottish Government in conjunction with Strathclyde Police must guarantee that the officers who are selected for the pilot know how to use the Taser proportionately and use it only in dire circumstances.
Absolutely not, but I find it astonishing that the cabinet secretary will not give an opinion today on what he thinks about Tasers. He cannot hide behind that position.
Whether the introduction of Tasers will stem the scourge of violence that is present on the streets of west central Scotland remains to be seen. However, such schemes have had successes, and not only on British soil. For example, police in New Zealand had positive results when the Taser was trialled in certain areas recently. The incidents
Let us use the pilot scheme to analyse the Taser and then question whether it has a place in police forces in Scotland. Front-line police officers do a difficult job. Unfortunately, many of us have local knowledge of police officers who have received serious injuries while carrying out their duties—duties that they carry out on our behalf, and injuries that were inflicted by people who have no respect for officers of the law. If the knowledge that an officer is carrying a Taser can deter people from attacking a police officer, use of the Taser should be tested. As with many things, we will not see its benefits and flaws until we test it. Perhaps it will reduce the average of 4,000 assaults on police officers that occur in Strathclyde each year, but we will not know that until we scrutinise and evaluate the pilot. That must be done before we even contemplate rolling out the Taser nationally. If Tasers are to play a role, the need for them must be proven, and we must be clear that training will be needed to ensure that officers have the proper knowledge and skills to use them.
I remind members of the principles of policing in Scotland and indeed throughout the UK. We have policing by consent and with co-operation from the public, and that must never change. However, we cannot send our police officers out there to put themselves at risk. We must support the pilot scheme and thoroughly scrutinise and analyse the results.
To be frank, it is in some ways disappointing that we are having this debate about Tasers at all. In my view, it is an artificial debate in that there is not a great deal of disagreement on the issue in the Parliament. We all agree that there is a place for Tasers and that their use by trained officers in certain circumstances is entirely appropriate. I hope that we also agree that it is appropriate to carry out pilots on how best to deploy Tasers. However, a pilot is just that—it is a way in which to test something to see whether it is an improvement on the current situation.
Until I read the Lib Dem motion for the debate, I thought that we all agreed that it is not appropriate
Does Stewart Maxwell agree that an issue is opening up about whether the use of Tasers should be restricted to situations in which they are substitutes for firearms—that is certainly mentioned in the guidance from Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary for Scotland—or whether it goes beyond that? That is an important policy issue, but I do not think that we have had clarity about it in the debate so far.
I understand Mr Brown's point, but a judgment call has to be made at local level by an individual chief constable about how best to deploy his resources. For me—and I think for many others—that is an operational matter.
The motion is an attempt to ride roughshod over the role of the police boards, which are the correct and democratic forum in which a chief constable can be held accountable for his decisions.
Before attacking the proposal on Tasers, the Lib Dems should have considered the evidence concerning the deployment of Tasers and the impact of the alternatives if Tasers are not used. Although Tasers are less lethal than firearms, I want to talk for a moment about those methods of control that are usually seen as less harmful than Tasers. What lies behind the debate is the commonly held view that the use of Tasers must be more dangerous to suspects than other methods of subduing an individual. We have to ask ourselves whether that is true. People's views are coloured by the somewhat indiscriminate use of Tasers in some parts of the United States of America, but Tasers are in use elsewhere in the world. For example, research in Canada examined cases in which Calgary Police used Tasers, pepper spray, batons or weapon-free control techniques. The conclusion of the report is that Tasers score highly on safety for suspects and officers. Where Tasers were used, about 1 per cent of those being arrested required to be admitted to hospital. Where batons were used, more than 3 per cent were hospitalised. With Tasers, 12 per cent needed minor out-patient treatment, whereas with batons, 26 per cent required out-patient treatment. Finally, with Tasers, 45 per cent sustained no injuries but with batons, less than 39 per cent were uninjured.
I am not sure where the member is going with his argument. The cabinet secretary said that Tasers are guns; they are recognised as firearms, so they come under guidance in Scotland on the use of firearms. The guidance in Scotland is different from that in
My view is the same as that of the cabinet secretary, who made his view clear in his opening speech and in subsequent interventions. The point that I am trying to make—I am sorry that the member was unable to follow it—is that the commonly held view that Tasers are less safe than other methods of control is not supported by the data. The research shows that, when similar incidents are compared, Tasers cause fewer injuries than batons or even empty-handed physical restraint. We have to be careful about the language that we use and the position we take with regard to the use and impact of Tasers.
The other mistake that is made is the assumption that when Tasers are deployed, they will be used. Once again, the facts do not back that up. In New Zealand, over a 12-month period the police in Wanganui drew Tasers 132 times, but on 92 per cent of those occasions, the result was the resolution of the incident without the Taser being discharged—an impressive statistic.
Another of the claims surrounding the use of Tasers is that they are used inappropriately on a suspect, or discharged several times. Although there are often disputes between officers and suspects about what occurred, such disputes can be resolved quite easily. In Canterbury, New Zealand, Taser units with video and sound recorders have been introduced to avoid that problem and to provide an accurate record of what occurred.
While it is right that we are cautious about the introduction of any new methods of restraint to be used by the police, we have to be careful not to let hyperbole get in the way of the facts. Strathclyde Police is conducting a pilot. I do not know what the outcome of that pilot will be, but I for one want our police forces to deploy equipment that keeps their officers safe, keeps the public safe, is efficient at defusing potentially violent situations and, as we can see from the research evidence, can lead to a better outcome for the suspect than some other methods of control.
We are aware but tend to forget that the police are the backstop providers of public order. They are the people to whom we look to keep us safe when we walk down the street. We know that there are some dangerous folk around, so it is entirely obvious that the police will come into close contact with violent criminals and the emotionally disturbed.
We have heard this morning about the use of Tasers and the risks involved, but I suggest that the issue is all about balance. I am grateful to Stewart Maxwell for mentioning research from Canada. I have in my hand the report of an inquiry carried out by one Thomas Braidwood QC following a fatal incident in British Columbia. The first conclusion that Mr Braidwood drew was that, even in the case of people with healthy hearts, there is a risk of the Taser interrupting the regular heartbeat. One has to recognise that there is a risk. He went on to say:
"Police officers are called upon, with increasing regularity, to deal with emotionally disturbed people who display extreme behaviours, including violence ... Such emotionally disturbed people are often at an impaired level of consciousness; may not know who they are or where they are; may be delusional, anxious, or frightened; and may be unable to process or comply with an officer's commands."
This is the important point:
"The officer's challenge is not to make a medical diagnosis, but to decide how to deal with the observed behaviours, whatever the underlying cause."
That brings us back to a point that has been made already: officers have to understand when to use a Taser and when not to use one.
Mr Braidwood went on to say:
"The unanimous view of mental health presenters was that the best practice is to de-escalate the agitation, which can be best achieved through the application of recognized crisis intervention techniques. Conversely, the worst possible response is to aggravate or escalate the crisis, such as by deploying a conducted energy weapon and/or using force to ... restrain the subject."
Finally, Mr Braidwood says:
"Several studies have attempted to determine whether the use of conducted energy weapons—" which is his word for Tasers—
"reduce injuries and deaths to subjects and officers. I concluded that the results are, to date, inconclusive—it is notoriously difficult to isolate a particular weapon's impact on injuries and deaths, when so many variables are at play."
I am genuinely confused by this morning's debate. Members have studiously avoided addressing the central question, which is whether giving firearms to beat officers is an
The answer is yes. I suggest that the member considers the numbers. My information is that, at the moment, Strathclyde Police have 197 authorised firearms officers. If the chief constable of Strathclyde Police had decided to turn that number into 227, that would have been an operational matter and we would not have been having this debate. As far as I can see, all that the chief constable has done is say, "I don't need 30 more firearms officers fully trained in all the weapons. These 30 officers need to be fully trained on the Tasers. They don't need to be trained in the use of all the weapons." As I understand it, what he suggested is that a fraction of his officers should be able to use Tasers properly.
This has been a good speech by Nigel Don. However, does he take the view—a view that I tried to put across earlier—that the circumstances in which Tasers can be used are changing? Using them as an alternative to firearms is one thing; using them as an alternative to something else is different, and represents a different policy position from previous policy positions.
I suggest to Robert Brown that the answer to that is given by Chief Constable Stephen House. If there is a difference in his policy, that is a change in his policy, for which he will have to answer. He could quite cheerfully have decided to have 30 more firearms officers without any apparent change in policy; it would merely have been a matter of numbers.
Evaluation of the pilot is likely to be extremely difficult. We are dealing with very small numbers. It is likely that there will be no incidents whatever; one or two discharges will probably be the size of it. If someone gets hurt, that will be exceptional. There is a real risk that single figures will skew the evaluation of the pilot. As is the case with anything involving small numbers, the pilot will be desperately difficult to evaluate.
I have listened with great interest to the debate, and—perhaps not surprisingly—have been left feeling rather disappointed by the Liberal Democrats' attitude to protecting the public and our police officers in violent and threatening circumstances. It is no great surprise that the Liberal Democrats have such an attitude. When they were in Government we saw crime and offences soar to more than 1 million, with a 12 per
As my colleague Bill Aitken said, published statistics show that the number of assaults against police officers rose between 2000 and 2007 by 58 per cent to 12,974. Our police officers do an amazing job and should be commended and encouraged for that. They put themselves in dangerous situations every day, and there is an obvious risk in their job. All are accepting of that, and chief constables have to ensure that their officers are equipped to deal with any risks that they face. Their protection must evolve to keep them as safe as possible, and safety measures should develop as crime and the potential risks develop. The Scottish Conservatives therefore fully support the use of Taser technology being an operational matter for chief constables.
Does the member accept that Tasers should be used only in circumstances in which firearms would otherwise be used? Does the Conservative party have a broader view that the use of Tasers should be extended to other situations?
We are happy to leave it to chief constables to decide how they operate in their areas. It is appropriate that the officers who are using the Taser equipment are trained to know when it is appropriate to use it and when it is not. It is an operational matter for the police in their respective areas.
The reason for piloting the extended use of Tasers by response officers is to enhance their ability to protect the public, the subject, and the officer, and in particular to reduce on-duty assaults and the number of days that officers are absent following an on-duty assault. It is also interesting to note that the subdivisions that have been selected for the pilot have been chosen because of the high number of police assaults in those areas in comparison with other areas in the force.
The police have a duty to protect the public, and that must be done in as safe a way as possible. We acknowledge that Tasers are powerful weapons, that they must be used proportionately and that clear guidelines must ensure that they are used only when absolutely necessary. That is why appropriate training is imperative and we must ensure that self-protection training and equipment is always up to date.
The Scottish Conservatives have made it clear that we want to rebalance the justice system, put victims first, and move to increase the public's confidence in the criminal justice system. Only when we return to honesty in sentencing, and
The police's principal aim is to protect the public, but to be able to do that they need to be able to protect themselves. It is therefore appropriate that we should look at Tasers and other technologies so that we can achieve that aim. I support the amendment in Bill Aitken's name.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this morning's debate and to support the Labour amendment. The debate has been interesting; views on either side of the argument have been strongly expressed. I have followed the debate closely because one of the areas in the pilot is Cambuslang and Rutherglen, so I have a constituency interest.
I should make it clear that I support the pilot, and there are a number of salient reasons for that. First, we have to keep at the forefront of our minds the protection of the public. There is no doubt that one of the factors in the decision that the pilot should go ahead in certain areas is that there are unfortunate large-scale street disturbances; that is not uncommon throughout Scotland. When the police—
When the police arrive at those disturbances, many of the participants are armed with knives and other weapons. Earlier this week we heard about the rise in the number of murders as a result of knife crime, and we should all be concerned about that. When the police arrive to face a dangerous situation like that, as Bill Aitken said, they are often unarmed. The danger is to the police force, to the participants in the disturbance and, in some cases, to passers-by. It is one thing to have a discussion in the warm glow of the Parliament but, outside, police officers are faced with the harsh reality of violence in the street, and we cannot send police officers naked into conflict situations.
It is important to protect the police. Bill Aitken quoted the average of 4,000 assaults per year, as mentioned in the Labour amendment. In Cambuslang and Rutherglen, there have been 167 injuries in the past year, which is three per week in an area which is smaller than a parliamentary constituency. That shows the scale of the problem.
The problem is not just the injuries, but the 1,500 days lost to the police force, which come at
I seek clarification. The Labour amendment mentions a three-month pilot, but my understanding is that it is a six-month pilot, as detailed in the Strathclyde police authority document. Does the member have different information, or is there simply a textual mistake in the amendment?
If the document says that it is six months, I accept that.
The pilot will cost £45,000, which has budget implications for costs and days lost to the police force. I note the cabinet secretary's comments on firearms being a reserved issue, but the budget is not, and budgetary considerations give the cabinet secretary a locus to at least discuss such an important matter with the police authority and the relevant officers.
I made it quite clear that the police authority is the first port of call, and I have not been approached by the police authority. Has the member approached the police authority to discuss the issue?
As a local member, I have discussed the matter with the police, and explored the issues with them.
The Liberal Democrat motion contains relevant points that should be addressed. Obviously there should be appropriate training and adequate monitoring of the use of Tasers. In my discussions with the police, I was pleased to hear that every Taser incident will be the subject of an evaluation; independent evaluation is important.
There is always a question of balance in such issues. The Liberal Democrat motion is not sufficiently in favour of protecting the public or the police and for that reason is unacceptable. As Cathie Craigie said, the SNP amendment avoids the issue. As with some other issues in the Parliament, the SNP does not want to face up to the question. The Tory amendment makes a lot of good points, but it does not go far enough in stressing the importance of evaluation.
The protection of the public and the police force weigh heavily, as does carrying out proper evaluation. Those factors are reflected in the Labour amendment, which I urge the Parliament to support.
There are some matters on which the chamber is united, such as the requirement to protect our police officers. That is why, at the outset, we said that we are happy to accept the Conservative amendment in Bill
I have the latest statistics from ACPOS on the deployment of Tasers in October to December 2009. The figures show that Tasers were deployed on six occasions, drawn on four occasions, red-dotted on two occasions and discharged on zero occasions. That indicates that our police are operating a balanced policy on the use of Tasers. Although the trial is taking place in Strathclyde, there were two deployments in central Scotland, one deployment in the Lothian and Borders region, one deployment in Strathclyde and two deployments in Tayside.
Members have referred to the need for guidance and training. I make it clear that ACPOS has signed up to the Association of Chief Police Officers guidance. Officers who are taking part in the pilot in Strathclyde will, as Mr Brown said, have completed a three-day training course, the Taser element of which is delivered by authorised firearms officers. Whatever decision is ultimately made on the trial, appropriate training has been given.
One of the fundamental issues under discussion is that of accountability. The Government's position remains that which I outlined when I intervened on Mr Brown's opening speech: the chief constable is responsible for police operations in his force. The Scottish ministers do not have, have not had and, under our Administration, will not have the power to direct chief constables. Mr Kelly seemed to imply that we could apply some form of direction through financing, but that would be seeking to interfere with the directional guidance of police officers by undermining their ability to finance. If Mr Kelly is suggesting any form of ring fencing or a reduction in their budgets if they do not do certain things, I think that that is unacceptable. The Government has regular meetings with the chief constables. Indeed, I can safely say that I have met officers individually more often than my predecessor met them
I was about to address that point. As usual, Mr Rumbles made an intervention and then disappeared, meaning that he is unable to participate in the debate at a later stage. If we want to legislate to ensure that we do not have an armed police force—I do not support having a fully armed police force—that is not for the justice secretary of whatever political colour to direct; it is for Parliament to make a decision on the matter. Enshrining that will come not from a direction from St Andrew's house, from Mr Brown, from Mr Baker or from Mr Aitken, but from the Parliament making a decision. If we want to ensure that we do not have a fully armed police force and that we have specified matters regarding the use of Tasers, we must have firearms law devolved to the Scottish Parliament for us to make a decision.
The Government's whole argument on firearms—not simply on the continuing problems that we face with air weapons—is that we need to decide what constitutes a gun, who may have it and in which circumstances it can be used. That would apply not simply to those in responsible, properly regulated firearms clubs, but to those in pest and vermin control; to officers of the law, whether they worked for the Ministry of Defence, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority or the police; and to our constabularies. It is not for the justice secretary to give a policy direction; it is for Parliament to set out a legislative position that would then be enforced by the police and the law officers.
The criteria for the deployment of Tasers in Strathclyde state that Tasers are to be deployed
"Where the authorising officer has reason to suppose that they, in the course of their duty, may have to protect the public, themselves and/or the subject(s) at incidents of violence or threats of violence of such severity that they will need to use force."
The Liberal Democrats may wish to get hung up on the argument that Tasers should be used only where a firearm—a rifle or whatever—would have been used, but that seems to be limiting their proportionate and legitimate use, which is backed up by the statistics that I have just cited.
It is a statutory duty on police forces in England and Wales to adhere to the Home Office code on the use of firearms, but there is no such statutory duty on police forces in Scotland. Is the cabinet secretary saying that it is
If the Liberal Democrats want to legislate on firearms, they should support the devolution of powers—we must go beyond Calman to devo max, or independence.
The body to which the chief constable is accountable is the Strathclyde police authority. I hope that Mr Kelly has spoken to the Strathclyde police authority, not simply to a beat officer in Strathclyde. I have the utmost regard for the outgoing convener of the Strathclyde police authority, Paul Rooney, and he has not raised the issue with me. I recognise that Mr Curran is only just in situ, given the difficulties and expenses that appear to have arisen in relation to a variety of other matters and the chair shuffling that has gone on in Strathclyde, but I have received no communication on the matter from Mr Curran either. I would have thought that, if the matter was of such concern to Labour members, the Labour convener—either outgoing or incoming—would have raised it with me. The on-going discussion between the convener of the Strathclyde police authority and the chief constable seems to leave Labour locally satisfied even if Labour in the Scottish Parliament remains dissatisfied. Some of the suggestions that Labour members have made seek to impinge on the separation of powers.
We are all proud of our police in this country. They remain routinely unarmed, but there are circumstances in which we must activate the use of armed officers—that is proportionate and legitimate. That encompasses the use of Tasers as well as pepper and mace spray, which are necessary in dealing with some of the individuals that our police officers have to deal with. We must have greater trust and faith in our police. We must challenge the problem of firearms in our country, and the solution is to ensure that the Scottish Parliament has the powers to do that, not simply the opportunity to publish press releases.
There can be no doubt that Tasers can kill and have done so on many occasions. We need only to Google that to see the statistics from around the world. We must, therefore, regard them as potentially lethal weapons, as the cabinet secretary has said. It was interesting that Stewart Maxwell cited the use of Tasers in Canada as being better than the use of batons or restraint. He did not tell us whether anybody has ever been killed by a baton or a restraint or by pepper spray; however, people have certainly been killed by Tasers.
Unfortunately, I do not have with me the information that the member seeks. I would find it almost impossible to believe—as, I am sure, would other members—that people have not been killed by the use of batons. Frankly, any 30-second search of the internet will find incidents in which people have been killed by batons. I suspect that more people have been killed by batons than have ever been killed by Tasers.
That is interesting, but I did not find that when I searched the internet. Perhaps I was looking in the wrong place.
I thought that Jamie Hepburn's speech was extremely good. He said that Mr House's officers would deploy Tasers when violence was expected, but I am not sure how we could know when there was going to be violence. If we are threatened with violence, should we hang around and wait for a police officer to arrive with a Taser? I think that we should try to control the situation.
So, why do the police want to use Tasers to control people who are beyond control? I accept that our police forces face very difficult circumstances in confronting someone who is threatening violence, who has already been violent or who continues to threaten, but is that not what our police are trained to do? I was interested to hear Bill Aitken talk about the big Highland policeman. Perhaps we now have policemen who are slightly shorter due to changes in the regulations, but our police are now trained to a much higher level and in many more areas than before. Our policemen are better trained now than they have ever been.
When should police use Tasers and when should they not use them? It has been revealed that police south of the border have fired Tasers at children 28 times in 20 months and a further 83 children were exposed to a Taser. One of the questions that I must ask is, why are Tasers used against children? Are our police not big, ugly and numerous enough to deal with children? It seems to be completely unnecessary for Tasers to be used against children at any time.
The law currently defines a 15-year-old as a child. If the member were a police officer, how would he react if he were confronted by a child wielding a sword or, as is more common now, a syringe of blood?
If he had a sword, I would contain the situation and call for firearms police officers, as police officers do currently. As for somebody with a syringe, I would draw my baton and club him on his hand as hard as I could to get the blood off him. That is what police are trained to do.
The facts about Tasers in Scotland that the cabinet secretary quoted are encouraging. Perhaps they show that our police in Scotland are
"It is vitally important that we extend Taser in a managed and coordinated way. That is why we have taken a rigorous approach to agreeing any extension to the use of Taser."
The trial was monitored by several groups, including ACPO and the Home Office scientific branch.
I offer a couple of interesting quotes about Tasers. Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary for Scotland describes the circumstances when weapons may be fired:
"A Police Officer is not entitled to open fire against a person unless the officer has reasonable grounds for believing that the person is committing, or is about to commit, an action which is likely to endanger the life or cause serious injury to the officer or any other person and there is no other way to prevent danger."
We accept that Tasers are a lethal weapon. However, Chief Constable Stephen House said:
"Our use of tasers is very contained. Officers must perceive that either they or a member of the public is going to be subject to violence before they can use a taser."
I suggest that there is a difference of opinion between HMIC and Mr House.
As my colleague Robert Brown mentioned, police officers who are trained in the use of firearms get considerably more training, during which they are also trained in the use of Tasers. So why can we not use the officers who are already used and on call 24 hours a day? Do we really need to train an extra 30 or so officers only in the use of Tasers? Given the number of times that Tasers are deployed, as the cabinet secretary highlighted, I am not convinced that we need another 30 officers in Strathclyde trained in the use of Tasers.
Yesterday we received an e-mail from the Scottish human rights commissioner, who raised just that concern when he said that the provision of Tasers to officers who are not firearms specialists is a significant expansion of their use and that it is for individual public authorities to ensure that that complies with the Human Rights Act 1998. He then gave a link to a report by the Northern Ireland police, which, in its conclusion, specifically raises human rights and the need to make sure that there is compliance. Although the cabinet secretary has already spoken and cannot answer this question, I wonder whether he is confident that the Strathclyde policy complies with
Having served as a councillor for the City of Edinburgh Council and been on the police board for several years, I am absolutely clear that operational matters are the police's responsibility and should not be interfered with by politicians. I suggest, however, that the move to arm more police with Tasers is not just an operational matter but a Scotland-wide policy decision that should be discussed by the Government and ACPOS.