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Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Simon Hughes
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Simon Hughes
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST HOSTED BY PETER SISSONS INTERVIEW: SIMON HUGHES MP AUGUST 5TH, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

PETER SISSONS: Now they may sound like something out of Star Trek but stun guns have really hit the headlines this week with the news that the Metropolitan Police are trying them out. They're capable of firing 50,000 volts of electricity through heavy clothing, temporarily paralysing pretty much anybody. The police say they want them to be alternatives to firearms but some are not so sure. Simon Hughes is the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman, good morning Simon.

SIMON HUGHES: Good morning Peter.

PETER SISSONS: Is the stun gun worth experimenting with?

SIMON HUGHES: It's worth looking at the evidence is mixed, it's been tried in the States, the Association of Chief Police Officers are doing a report into none lethal alternatives into weapons, it seems to me that we've got to be very careful not to suddenly say we don't want the police to use guns as much as they look as if they're going to do so let's go for this new and exciting alternative when the alternative might produce lots of side effects that we really don't want. There's a, there's a big debate here, violence is going up, the use of arms and weapons is going up, we have always had the tradition that the police is unarmed and yet the number of authorisations of police being armed in the United Kingdom is going up, I got the figures the other day. More than half the forces have had more authorised uses of police with arms.

PETER SISSONS: Why do you think that is, is it because there are more gunmen that they have to oppose, or a change, a subtle change in police culture that we had not noticed that our police are just becoming a little bit more macho, putting themselves out a bit, are drawing guns first and asking questions afterwards, whereas before it was a huge event to draw a gun and go out on the streets armed as a policeman?

SIMON HUGHES: Let's divide this into two, in the country at large there are more guns around, after Dunblane you remember we passed fairly speedy legislation to try to restrict the use of arms, that hasn't really has succeeded and there's a bit issue for Parliament as to what we should now do because what we thought we would succeed in doing we failed to do. So there are lots of illegal guns around, lots come into the country, I think the police are, are in danger of slipping in to a culture in which it's acceptable automatically to use guns, that's never been the British culture, we've always said we don't want to go down the American road and we have special procedures for allowing it to happen but they're becoming more and more commonplace. And before we know where we are we'll find the police in general using guns, that's just not what we have ever signed up to┐

PETER SISSONS: That brings us back to the stun gun, I mean is it an alternative to drawing a firearm, to draw a stun gun from the cupboard in the police station and go out with that when there is a serious event involving someone wielding a knife or a gun?

SIMON HUGHES: Well stun guns as I understand it are not traditionally, in the States they're meant to be an alternative where there is somebody with an armed weapon against you, it's meant to be something that stops short of that, when you think there is a serious and dangerous person but without armed weapons because the police might well say, hang on a minute we're going to be very vulnerable if you're sending us out to deal with an armed robber and they have guns and we don't have anything that can actually be at the same level as them. But the issue is how can we make sure that there a sort of range of weapons available to the police that work, that we know the consequences of and that the police feel safe and the public feel safe about using it. I'm aware of four now, there is water canon, there is CS gas or the like, there is the stun gun or its variant and there is rubber bullet. I also talked to the police in London the other day about the fact they now use metal detectors that they carry around with them┐

PETER SISSONS: Of course they need this range of equipment don't they really for major public order breakdown on a large scale, but just before we finish, the stun gun, would it have, it wouldn't have saved the life, would it, of the man who had the, the cigarette lighter that looked like a gun, I mean under those circumstances you would expect the police, after due warnings, to, to open fire?

SIMON HUGHES: Well you would, you would expect the police to open fire in circumstances, there have been three instances, haven't there? There's been that one, there's been the one in Sussex that was controversial when the man was in bed and was short and there's been the man with the sword up in Liverpool. Now you have to allow the police eventually, if they think somebody's going to kill them or try to kill them, to be able to act with all the expertise they have in self-defence and they're trained not to kill somebody but to disarm them and disable them, perfectly proper. What we've got to make sure we do is that we proceed in a careful and studied way, my concern is that we're beginning to say two police forces can start using stun guns and yet we haven't had the National Police Report on alternatives yet, we should never authorise anything for permanent use until it's been trialled and tested, we should never authorise anything until there's a confidence that it does what it says it's going to do.

PETER SISSONS: Would you, would you countenance them being used by prison officers for restraint in prison?

SIMON HUGHES: My understanding having talked to prison governors recently is that it's not necessary in prisons┐my understanding is that the prison culture is actually happily becoming less violent not more violent which is a good bit of news amongst the rest of the bad news.

PETER SISSONS: A final point related to public order Simon, as a London MP you may have heard Francis Edmonds before talking about, she just felt that this year's Notting Hill Carnival should, people should stay away because the risk of public disorder given the background around the country is probably greater now than for a number of years, what's your view?

SIMON HUGHES: Well Francis Edmonds lives in Notting Hill, she obviously is concerned when they get large numbers of people, millions of people up for the Bank Holiday weekend. The Carnival, in my view, should go on, Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London, and the London community want it to go on but in a way that's managed, it may eventually have to partially move venues but we need more festivals in London, as it were to spread the pressure, festivals across the different communities rather than just having one big festival weekend a year because if that's the case you do have too many people to deal with but Notting Hill is very important, it's a cultural event and it should stay.

PETER SISSONS: Simon thank you very, very much.

END


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