|Wed 10th April 2019||
Offensive Weapons Bill
Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords
|3 interactions (295 words)|
|Tue 19th March 2019||
Offensive Weapons Bill
3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
|15 interactions (986 words)|
|Mon 4th March 2019||
Offensive Weapons Bill
Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
|35 interactions (1,926 words)|
|Tue 26th February 2019||
Offensive Weapons Bill
Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
|37 interactions (3,183 words)|
|Wed 6th February 2019||
Offensive Weapons Bill
Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
|38 interactions (3,248 words)|
|Wed 30th January 2019||
Offensive Weapons Bill
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
|34 interactions (1,945 words)|
|Mon 28th January 2019||
Offensive Weapons Bill
Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
|51 interactions (2,553 words)|
|Mon 7th January 2019||
Offensive Weapons Bill
2nd reading (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
|5 interactions (2,317 words)|
My Lords, the Commons amendments we are considering today follow on from debate on the Bill in this House at Third Reading in respect of the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for a trusted courier scheme. During that debate I set out the reasons why the Government could not support the proposition of a trusted courier scheme. In summary, I undertook that the Government would continue to reflect on the issue in respect of the delivery of bladed products in advance of the Bill going to, and returning from, the House of Commons. This we have now done and, accordingly, I trust that the amendment we have tabled in lieu, and that we are about to consider today, will have the support of noble Lords across this House.
We have given considerable consideration to the views expressed by Members in both Houses and business on the provisions relating to the sale of knives and the prohibitions on residential delivery throughout the passage of this Bill. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and to the Sheffield knife manufacturers for the time they spent in discussion with me on this matter. They and the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, were very helpful to me.
Following this further consideration, the Government have tabled Amendments 27A to 27K. These amendments allow a remote seller to deliver a bladed product to a residential premises by providing a defence where they have arrangements in place with a deliverer not to hand them over to a person under the age of 18 or, if the seller is delivering the item themselves, that the seller has procedures in place that are likely to ensure that any bladed product delivered to residential premises would be delivered into the hands of a person aged 18 or over. The seller must also have taken all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to ensure that the bladed product would be delivered into the hands of a person aged 18 or over.
The amendments also place a criminal liability, which is corporate and not individual, on the delivery company that enters into such an arrangement with a seller. The delivery company will commit an offence if it does not deliver the bladed product into the hands of a person aged over 18.
The amendment is similar in effect to the existing offence in the Bill on delivery companies relating to overseas sales, although this new offence is limited to bladed products—products that have a blade and are capable of causing serious injury by cutting the skin—and to deliveries to residential premises, whereas the measures in the Bill relating to overseas sales apply to deliveries to all premises and to all bladed articles, which are articles with a point or blade. For UK sales, the Bill already permits the delivery of bladed articles that do not meet the definition of a “bladed product” to residential premises. These amendments have addressed the concerns that have been raised by businesses within the UK.
The liability attaches only to delivery companies that enter into arrangements to deliver bladed products; a delivery company could simply choose not to do so. This new offence is subject to the defences set out in Clause 39 of the Bill. The amendments that we have made ensure that an individual’s age is verified at the point of delivery irrespective of whether the seller delivers themselves or uses an external delivery company. Should a seller decide not to enter into an arrangement with a delivery company, or put the necessary procedures in place to enable them to deliver bladed products themselves, the provisions in the Bill that prohibit delivery to residential premises of a bladed product will still apply: that is, the seller will not be able to send a bladed product to residential premises and the bladed product will still have to be collected in person at a collection point.
Amendments 62A and 63A are both consequential to Amendments 62 and 63, which already form part of the Bill as a result of Amendments 27A to 27K. Amendment 62A adds to Amendment 62 in the Bill the new offence of delivery of bladed products to persons under 18. Amendment 62 provides trading standards with a power to enforce various existing and new offences relating to the sale and delivery of bladed articles, offensive weapons and corrosive products. It also confers on trading standards investigatory powers under Schedule 5 to the Consumer Rights Act 2015—the CRA, as it is known—for the purpose of enforcing these offences.
Amendment 63A is another consequential amendment to Amendment 63 and is similar in purpose to Amendment 62A as it adds the new offence of delivery of bladed products to persons under 18. Amendment 63 in the Bill enables businesses to enter into partnerships with a local authority that will act as the primary authority for that business in relation to an area of regulation. This will enable the primary authority to provide advice and guidance on compliance to the business in areas of regulation covered by the partnership, on which the business can rely.
In summary, these amendments will ensure that bladed products can be delivered to residential premises, while at the same time addressing the risk that the product ends up in the hands of a person under 18 because the delivery company has not verified age or has simply pushed the bladed product through the letterbox. I again thank the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick, and I hope that the House will feel able to support the amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for explaining these amendments. I was going to say that, from the first day of this Bill, I pointed out that treating UK companies differently from overseas companies on delivery of bladed articles to residential premises was not sustainable. However, it was not on the first day but on the first day in Committee that I first raised the issue—and on the first day of Report and at Third Reading. Finally, the message has got through.
We supported the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, relating to the trusted courier scheme to ensure that the Government thought again about this issue. I am glad that, at last, they have agreed that it was not fair to say that overseas companies could deliver knives to residential premises but UK companies could not. These amendments address this issue and we therefore support them.
8: Clause 38, page 32, line 32, at end insert—
“(aa) the delivery is not made by a trusted courier of bladed products, and”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and the amendment at page 32, line 37, would allow for the Government to create a “trusted courier” scheme, and to exempt sales using “trusted couriers” from restrictions in this section. This follows the Minister’s undertaking on 4 March (HL Deb, column 448).
My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, in principle, although I have concerns about it. Noble Lords will recall that the Bill as drafted would mean that someone could order a knife from an overseas website and have it delivered to their home address, but could not order the same knife from a UK supplier and have it delivered to their home address. The noble Lord is attempting to remedy that situation. The difficulty I have with it—perhaps he can assist the House in this degree—is that the Bill also covers delivery to a locker. Would his amendment enable a trusted courier to deliver a bladed product to a locker as well as to residential premises, which in my view would be undesirable?
The second issue is that the amendment does not apply to Clause 41, which relates to the delivery of a bladed product to someone under 18 from an overseas website. The legislation sets down rules whereby, if the courier knows that the consignment contains a bladed product, they have to verify the age of the person to whom the bladed product is being delivered. I wonder whether it would be sensible, were the Government to accept that a trusted courier system is necessary, to extend that to Clause 41. Having said that, were the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to divide the House, we would support his amendment.
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I hope that I have been able to persuade noble Lords. Given the phrase that the noble Earl used—that we would be “massacred” for this—I do not think the noble Lord is going to withdraw his amendment.
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My Lords, before I begin, I refer to the discussion in Grand Committee when I referred to the Network of Sikh Organisations, the NSO. I should have mentioned that I am a member of the NSO. I make it clear that in the discussions on this Bill, and indeed, in all my contributions in this House, I speak as a member of the wider Sikh community. On behalf of all Sikhs, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the Government for moving this amendment, and the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Tunnicliffe, for initiating an earlier amendment, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, with wider cross- party support.
I have heard it asked whether there is such a thing as an inoffensive weapon. The Sikh kirpan comes close, in that its use is limited to defence and the protection of the vulnerable. Again, I thank all in this House and in the other place for recognising and supporting the religious and cultural significance of the kirpan.
Amendment 10 agreed.
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My Lords, on moving this Motion, I take the opportunity to say a few words of thanks to those who have contributed to the Bill’s passage through your Lordships’ House. I thank my noble friends Lady Barran and Lord Howe for undertaking some of the heavy lifting in Committee and on Report. Among all the Bills that I have dealt with this has not been the easiest, so I thank them very much. I also thank my noble friend Lady Manzoor for acting as the Government Whip on the Bill, and, on the opposition Benches, the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy, Lord Rosser, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—and my noble friend Lord Attlee for his well-drafted amendment on the storage of certain firearms.
I cannot, of course, omit the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for his constructive assistance in the drafting of the amendment on the kirpan. In fact, I thank all the Sikh organisations with which we have engaged during the Bill’s passage. I thank all noble Lords across the House who have contributed in various ways to the Bill. None of us could do it without officials from the Home Office, who have supported me and my noble friends Lady Barran and Lord Howe throughout the its passage.
The Bill has taken some funny twists and turns but has not lost sight of our ultimate aim, which is to end the scourge of this terrible crime on our streets and in our communities. I am pleased to have been able to reach a position of broad consensus on all but two of the Bill’s provisions, namely the introduction of KCPOs and the delivery of bladed articles. We are, however, continuing to reflect on these issues in advance of the Bill going to and returning from the House of Commons. I beg to move.
My Lords, I add my thanks to those expressed to the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams of Trafford and Lady Barran, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for the way they have conducted the Bill. As the noble Baroness mentioned, there has not really been a consensus on knife crime prevention orders and delivery of bladed articles. I think that my colleagues in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime will discuss knife crime prevention orders with their colleagues before the Commons has an opportunity to consider the amendments put forward by the Government that place knife crime prevention orders in the Bill. I hope that the Government will reflect on the delivery of bladed articles in the light of the amendment passed today. I am grateful to officials and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for the co-operation that we have had during the passage of the Bill.
74: Clause 18, page 17, line 36, at end insert—
“(aa) the seller is not a trusted trader of bladed products, and”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would create a trusted trader status for those selling bladed products.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, that this legislation is seriously to the detriment of UK companies versus overseas companies, in that if you order a bladed instrument or knife from an overseas company or website it can be delivered to your home, but if you order one from a UK company it cannot. However, I am not sure the trusted trader scheme that he has outlined in the amendments is the answer. Obviously, overseas companies would not have to be members of a trusted trader scheme and therefore the bureaucracy, expense, fees payable and so forth would still disadvantage UK companies.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for mentioning that I have already suggested a solution to this problem: to extend to UK companies the age-verification scheme at handover on the doorstep, which the Government have set out in the legislation and which currently applies only to overseas companies. I believe that is the solution to this problem, rather than the trusted trader scheme that the noble Lord suggested.
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Such a scheme would impose an additional burden. The noble Lord talks about other burdens; I am not denying that there will be burdens on various people from the introduction of whatever scheme comes in, but this would very much pass on that burden to local government.
As I understand it, the failures in online test purchases have lain at the point of sale.
My Lords, I cannot commit to bringing it back at Third Reading, but I know the noble Lord will bring it back at Third Reading. By then, I hope that I will have further information for him.
Amendment 74 withdrawn.
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My Lords, I have some sympathy with the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, on this issue but again suggest that the answer is to have a system of age verification at handover, as there is for overseas sellers.
On the issue of whether a business is carried out at a residential address, the Government accept that overseas companies cannot be expected to know whether that is the case. Again, UK companies are being disadvantaged compared with overseas companies.
I do not know whether the noble Duke can explain why Amendment 75 talks about a product that,
“is for an agricultural or forestry management purpose”,
“exclusively designed for an agricultural or forestry management purpose”,
“specifically to be used for agricultural or forestry management purposes”,
and if those differences are deliberate and explicable.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendments as well. A lot of effort is going into preserving hill farming and small farming. There is a lot of focus on that area, yet along comes the Home Office, without consulting Defra, Natural England or anyone else, and it could wipe out all the good that has been done elsewhere. We need to start looking at this approach.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, which runs through the whole thing, this is about disadvantaging UK against foreign business. There is no logical reason to do that. I say to the Minister that, just because this amendment is aimed at knives because it is in this part of the Bill, that does not mean you would not logically continue that through to corrosive liquids. I cannot think how to describe the argument that says that it does not cover that as well, when we have moved on to this part of the Bill. The intransigence of the Home Office has been evident throughout this, and I do not think that is a good argument against sensible amendments later.
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I do not think that John Lewis currently delivers table knives or any type of bladed products to residential premises. As it stands, John Lewis does not deliver knives; people have to pick them up or buy them in the shop.
I appreciate the noble Lord’s point about table knives. That is why this legislation is difficult. In many ways it will be for the courts to determine in what context the knife is being used. I am not denying what the noble Lord says.
My Lords, we are not missing the point: we are trying to get a balance between people selling products which can be used for perfectly legitimate purposes and those seeking to abuse these products in order to do harm to people. One of the attacks at the weekend took place round the corner from me. I fully have in mind the danger that knives can cause but we are trying to get the balance right.
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91: After Clause 26, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Criminal Justice Act 1988 is amended as follows.(2) After section 141A, insert—“141B KirpansFor the purposes of section 139, 139A, 141 or 141A it shall be lawful for a person to possess a Kirpan for religious, ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that the Kirpan, a mandatory article of faith for a Sikh, possessed for religious, ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons is exempt from provisions relating to the possession of offensive weapons under the relevant sections of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment, which I fully support. One of the Minister’s main arguments against granting exemption to the Sikh community was that the Government could not single out one particular community—the Sikhs—for an exemption. In that case, I ask the Minister: what other communities have made representations to the Home Office for exemption under the Act?
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I am trying to say that we are trying to come to a workable solution, particularly for the Sikh community. On the question of other legislation, what immediately springs to my mind is that there was of course the exemption for Sikhs on mopeds who were wearing a turban. So we are, I hope, trying to reach a solution that will work for the Sikh community.
Amendment 91 withdrawn.
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95: Clause 33, leave out Clause 33 and insert the following new Clause—
“Prohibition of certain firearms etc: England and Wales and Scotland
(1) The Firearms Act 1968 is amended as follows.(2) In section 5 (weapons subject to general prohibition), in subsection (1), after paragraph (af) insert—“(ag) any rifle from which a shot, bullet or other missile, with kinetic energy of more than 13,600 joules at the muzzle of the weapon, can be discharged;(ah) any rifle with a chamber from which empty cartridge cases are extracted using—(i) energy from propellant gas, or (ii) energy imparted to a spring or other energy storage device by propellant gas, other than a rifle which is chambered for .22 rim-fire cartridges;”.(3) In section 5(1), for the “and” at the end of paragraph (b) substitute—“(ba) any device (commonly known as a bump stock) which is designed or adapted so that—(i) it is capable of forming part of or being added to a self loading lethal barrelled weapon (as defined in section 57(1B) and (2A)), and(ii) if it forms part of or is added to such a weapon, it increases the rate of fire of the weapon by using the recoil from the weapon to generate repeated pressure on the trigger; and”.(4) In section 5(2), after “including,” insert “in the case of weapons, any devices falling within subsection (1)(ba) of this section and,”.(5) In section 5(2A)(a), after “weapon” insert “, device”.(6) In section 51A(1)(a) (minimum sentences for certain offences under section 5), in each of sub-paragraphs (i) and (iii), after “(af)” insert “, (ag), (ah), (ba)”.(7) In Schedule 6 (prosecution and punishment of offences), in Part 1 (table of punishments)—(a) in the entry for section 5(1)(a), (ab), (aba), (ac), (ad), (ae), (af) or (c), in the first column, after “(af)” insert “, (ag), (ah), (ba)”,(b) in the entry for section 19, in the third column, for “or (af)” substitute “, (af), (ag), (ah) or (ba)”, and(c) in the entry for section 20(1), in the third column, for “or (af)” substitute “, (af), (ag), (ah) or (ba)”.(8) The amendments made by subsection (6) apply only in relation to—(a) an offence under section 5(1)(ag), (ah) or (ba) of the Firearms Act 1968 which is committed after the coming into force of subsection (6), and(b) an offence under a provision listed in section 51A(1A) of that Act in respect of a firearm specified in section 5(1)(ag), (ah) or (ba) of that Act which is committed after the coming into force of subsection (6).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would return the prohibition of high-powered firearms in England, Scotland and Wales to the Bill, which was removed during the Bill's passage through the Commons.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for returning us to the issue of high muzzle energy—HME—rifles with an explanation of his amendment. I want to point out that I have never opposed the proposed ban on MARS or lever-release rifles, as I am sure the noble Lord will recognise, although I have eased back on my opposition to the compensation arrangements for them.
Amendments 103A, 103B, 107A, 107B, 108A, 110A, 113A, 116 and 117 in this group are in my name. The first two are substantive; the rest are consequential. In Committee, my noble friend Lord Lucas and I suggested that we did not need to put these high muzzle energy, .50 calibre target rifles in Section 5 and thus prohibit them from general use. However, we need to make certain that they cannot fall into the wrong hands. We can achieve that by requiring the same levels of security currently applied to Section 5 firearms—those with no legitimate civilian use, such as self-loading rifles and automatic weapons, among others. My noble friend Lord Lucas mentioned level 3 security in his amendment while mine sought to give an order-making power to the Secretary of State to achieve much the same. In addition, my amendment provided for transport conditions.
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Having regard to everything I have said, to our debate on Amendments 95 and 96 and to our commitment to run a full public consultation on this issue, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 95 withdrawn.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is unable to be here but has asked me to move this amendment on his behalf so that we may get the matter on the record. However, I will not speak to Amendment 81, which is in this group and also in his name, because he will get the opportunity to do so if we leave it to be discussed in sequence on the next day of Report.
The amendment seeks guidance. We have government amendments in this group, and no doubt the answer to Amendment 3 is Amendment 106. In the Government’s amendment, the guidance is about a large number of offences relating to various sections in legislation, including Clause 1 of this Bill, and therefore it covers a wide area. Guidance can be very helpful—it sounds as though it will be essential here—but, as I have said before, it should not take the place of clear primary legislation. It is executive, not legislative. I beg to move.
My Lords, I think that a bit of certainty here is essential. One of the problems that exist elsewhere is uncertainty surrounding what is going to be required. It is very difficult for traders if they do not know what part they are going to play. However, when we come to the next amendment I will say something about that which I think will be helpful.
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My Lords, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and at his request, I move Amendment 4 and shall speak also to Amendment 69 in this group.
Amendment 4 is intended to enable the Bill to encompass electronic systems of age verification such as Yoti, once those systems have passed scrutiny by the Home Office, as a way of addressing age verification challenges. With regard to Amendment 69, the Bill requires retailers to undertake age verification online and offline. In the absence of recognised standards against which online or offline age verification schemes can be audited and recognised, this amendment allows retailers to comply with the requirements of the Bill through any scheme they choose which is recognised by the Secretary of State. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to say a couple of things about this as I have been involved in this area for some time as a result of the Digital Economy Act, which raised exactly the same challenge of trying to check people’s ages. As a result, a lot of work has gone into doing this online or electronically. We can use technology to make this work and that technology exists now.
The great thing is that most young people now have a smartphone, which checks that the correct person is using it as many people now access their phone using a fingerprint or another biometric, such as face recognition. Many of your Lordships probably have a mobile smartphone issued by the House which they unlock with their thumb print, so it is possible to know whose phone it is. Therefore, that can work, and several age check providers—not just the one mentioned, although it is one of the leading ones—are experts in establishing proof of age. They will check people.
A lot of young people will establish their age when they first register if that is the only way that they can operate in the future. They will be checked against another document or something else, so the age check providers know how to do that. When it comes to proving their age to someone else, they do not have to release any personal details; it can be proved on their smartphone or online. What is released is not proof of age but the result of the age check, and a certificate can be issued to show that that has been done.
Therefore, there are several solutions. As I have mentioned before, if noble Lords want to see what they are like, they can go to dpatechgateway.co.uk. If they want to, noble Lords can see that in Hansard later. You can look at and try several solutions there and see how easy they are: these solutions will work very easily online and at the point of delivery by using the recipient’s mobile or similar technology. They are all compliant with the British Standards Institution’s Publicly Available Specification 1296, which goes into exactly how to do this and how to verify that people have done it properly. It also has addenda about privacy and everything like that. I know this because I chaired the steering group—I suppose this is an interest, but I did not get paid for it.
It frustrates me that the technology is there and this Bill says that,
“the accused is to be treated as having taken reasonable steps to establish the purchaser’s age if and only if … the accused was shown any of the documents mentioned in subsection (5)”.
The first two of those are “a passport” and,
“a European Union photocard driving licence”.
I suppose that becomes a problem in a few months’ time—or a few years’ time—because I do not know if the UK photocard licence will be good enough. The list continues:
“such other document, or a document of such other description, as the Scottish Ministers may prescribe by order”.
Does that apply to things in England as well if one Scottish Minister okays it—“The English can use that too”—or are we stuck with a passport? How many people over 18 do not have a passport? The Home Office could enter the 21st century and start to realise that this stuff can be done much more effectively using modern technology. We know that not all passports are genuine. We can move to better standards than are prescribed in this Bill.
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My Lords, I also support these amendments, particularly Amendment 32, which would remove Clause 8. I worked in an intermediate treatment centre many years ago. It was an astounding institution. May I say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for leading this extraordinary work?
I am a trustee of a mental health service for adolescents, a charity that works with a local youth offending team, and also works in schools with young men, mostly BAME boys with behavioural issues. It is called Sport and Thought, and it can transform lives; teachers are shocked at the difference that this intervention can make. It involves working with a therapist and a football coach. There are such good and effective ways of turning these young peoples’ lives around, so I really do share the concerns voiced.
Crispin Blunt, the former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Youth Justice, was speaking at an open meeting three weeks ago. I raised the question of mandatory sentencing. He said that it does not work, it inflates the numbers of people going into prison and is completely counterproductive. To have mandatory sentencing for 16 and 17 year-olds is against logic.
We must remember where we came from. About 10 years ago, we had 3,000 children in custody, by far the largest number in Europe. All parties were very concerned about this, and thanks to the work of the coalition Government, we reduced it to 1,000. We do not want to go back there. I recognise the deep concerns about this terrible offence of throwing corrosive substances at people. Yes, there must be a robust response, but in trying to protect children from these offences, let us not put them in harm’s way.
I visited a prison four or five years ago with the chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. She said that because we had been so effective at reducing the numbers of children in custody, those in prison now are the very toughest and most challenging children. She said that by obliging courts to put many of the children subject to this offence into custody, they are very likely to be bullied or to traumatise themselves. It makes them into more hardened criminals in the longer term if we do this.
I have to think about our responsibility in this area. It is very easy to appoint blame but let us look at the very high rate of exclusions from schools at the moment. I think that we are still waiting for Mr Timpson’s report, but when children are excluded from school, they are so much more likely to get involved in this sort of activity. Look at the cuts in funding for early intervention services; as an officer of the All-party Parliamentary Group for Children, I know very well how all those important services for supporting families have been deeply cut, due to understandable financial and economic circumstances—but they have been cut to the bone. So many children’s centres have been closed down.
Another issue, which perhaps does not get talked about enough, is that many of these children—many boys—are growing up without fathers. In certain ethnic groups, 60% of these boys grow up without fathers in the home. My noble friend Lord Hogan-Howe was talking about investing more in mentors for such young people, which can make a huge difference in their lives.
When dealing with challenging young people, my experience from a long time of working with troubled adolescents is always that it is so tempting to come in hard, perhaps if you are working in a children’s home and a child provokes you. The extreme is known as pin down, where one might chain children to beds or whatever. It is always tempting to come in hard but the thoughtful, considerate, effective professionals stand back and try to be dispassionate. They try to do what is most effective, not what appeals most to the emotions.
I recognise the difficulty that the Government are in and that they wish to make a robust response, but perhaps they might listen to the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I strongly support Amendment 32, which would remove Clause 8 from the Bill.
I thank noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments, which are about the use of short custodial sentences and minimum custodial sentences. I have reflected on the concerns raised in Committee by noble Lords but I remain of the view that there is—as noble Lords have reiterated today—a place for custodial sentences as part of the range of penalties available to the court for the offences in the Bill. The noble Lords, Lord Hogan-Howe and Lord Kennedy, articulated that.
In Committee, I stressed the significant harm and injuries that corrosive products can cause if they are misused as a weapon to attack someone. We are talking about a serious offence, one for which the use of custody should be available to the courts in certain circumstances. I was very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who is not in his place today, when he made the point in Committee that custodial sentences have a place when dealing with specific types of offenders. He referenced cases where a retailer has repeatedly sold a corrosive product to under-18s and may have already been subject to a community sentence. That is one set of circumstances; there may be others where the offending is so serious that only a custodial penalty should be imposed.
In the earlier debate the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, was concerned that a range of different sentencing options is available to the courts. I want to stress that by providing custody as a maximum penalty, we are providing the courts with a range of sentencing options from custody through to a fine, or both. This means, to speak to the points made by my noble friend Lord Elton, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that the courts will also have the option to impose a community sentence. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, the application of these sentences has to be meaningful, but they can be imposed if they are the most appropriate sentence, taking into account all the circumstances of the offender and the offence. As I said in Committee, there is also a requirement under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that the court has to be satisfied that the offence is so serious that only a custodial sentence can be justified. We can have every confidence that the courts will sentence offenders appropriately, based on the circumstances of the offender and the offence.
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My noble friend is absolutely right about the maximum sentence, but alights on an important aspect of someone’s rehabilitation, which is not just about the custodial sentence—it is about all the other interventions that go with it, both while that person is in custody and upon release.
The other difficulty with the amendments is the damage that they do in undermining the steps we have taken in the Bill to ensure consistency, regarding the maximum penalty available to the courts when dealing with offences relating to the sale to a person under 18 of corrosive products on one hand, and of a knife or bladed article on the other. When the Bill was considered in Committee in the Commons, there was strong support from the Opposition for a consistent approach to be taken.
I am well aware of concerns about individual retail staff or delivery drivers being prosecuted, and the impact that would have on them. However, the experience from other age-restricted products is that in many cases it would be the company selling the product or arranging its delivery that would be prosecuted. There could be occasions when it might be a shop worker who was prosecuted, but it is more likely that it will be the company operating the store, because it will be responsible for ensuring that procedures and training are in place to avoid commission of the offence. Where it is the company that is prosecuted, the sentence is likely to be a fine rather than a custodial or community sentence; but if an individual is prosecuted, the full range of penalties should be available.
In precedence for these sorts of cases, it is quite often the company that is prosecuted, with a fine—of a range—imposed on it. Obviously, if an individual is prosecuted, the full range of penalties should be available.
The prosecution may well fall on a director, because the director is seen to have fallen short in some of the processes to comply with the law. However, yes, it is usually the corporate body rather than the director, but I see the noble Lord’s point.
We have heard that there is evidence that short sentences are ineffectual regarding rehabilitation. The Justice Secretary and Prisons Minister are looking at the question of short sentences and the use of prison in the round. A number of noble Lords have raised that; the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, quoted the Justice Secretary in a speech on this very subject.
We have already been clear that custodial sentences should be seen as a last resort, and that offenders with complex needs—including female offenders—should be dealt with in the community wherever possible. However, we must ensure that sentencing matches the severity of a crime, and prison must always be available for the most serious offenders. I am concerned that we do not send out the wrong message that the use of corrosives as a weapon is somehow less serious than the use of knives.
Amendments 32 and 34 seek to strike out the provisions in respect of mandatory minimum sentences in Clauses 8 and 9. Again, the effect would be to treat carrying corrosive substances in a public place less seriously than carrying a knife. These clauses mirror existing knife legislation, and ensure that anyone aged 16 or over who is convicted of a second possession offence or a similar offence—such as an offence relating to a knife—will receive a custodial sentence unless the court determines that there are appropriate circumstances not to do so. The use of minimum custodial sentences will make it clear to individuals that we will not tolerate people carrying corrosives on our streets and other public places with the intention to harm or commit other crimes, such as robbery.
We are talking about serious offences here, where someone is carrying a corrosive substance which could result in someone being attacked and left with terrible injuries, as well as the fear that this can instil into communities. We should bear in mind that the requirement to impose the minimum sentence is not absolute; there is judicial discretion. The court must consider the circumstances of the case, and if there are relevant factors that would make it unjust to impose the minimum sentence, the court has the latitude not to do so.
I recognise that there is a wider debate to be had about our sentencing framework, but this Bill is not the place for it. We are dealing here with particular offences and seeking to ensure consistency between how the criminal law deals with the sale, delivery and possession of corrosive products and substances on one hand, and of knives and offensive weapons on the other. On that basis, I hope that I have been able to persuade the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment. If not, I invite the House to agree that for these offences, short custodial sentences and minimum custodial sentences continue to have a place, and that noble Lords will accordingly reject the amendment.
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 14 I will speak also to the other amendments in this group.
As drafted, the Bill creates a ludicrous, verging on farcical, situation where corrosive substances and bladed articles cannot be delivered to a residential address unless they are ordered from an overseas company. If they are ordered from an overseas company and the UK delivery company does not know what the content of the parcel is, there are no restrictions whatever on these items being delivered to a residential address. At the same time, UK companies are prohibited from delivering both corrosive substances and bladed articles to residential addresses.
If, however, there is an agreement between the UK delivery company and the overseas company that the delivery company will be alerted to any corrosive substances or bladed articles which it will be asked to deliver to a UK residential address, the Government set out in this Bill the steps that the delivery company must take to ensure that the corrosive substance or bladed article is only delivered into the hands of someone 18 years of age or older on the doorstep of the residential address.
If overseas companies are allowed openly to sell and deliver corrosive substances and bladed articles to UK residential addresses, with a system of age verification at the point of handover, why on earth cannot UK companies do exactly the same thing? It is happening right now in the UK in relation to alcohol, so why not enshrine it in legislation and apply it here?
The Bill as drafted not only disadvantages UK companies compared with overseas competitors, but prevents companies like John Lewis delivering items such as food processors, because they have a blade, to people’s homes. It also creates the anomaly of self-employed plumbers and the like, who run their businesses from their home, being able to have these substances and items delivered to their residential address even though the seller and the delivery company may have no way of knowing beyond reasonable doubt that a business is carried on from that address. The Bill creates other anomalies where designer knives—ones made specifically for the purchaser, for example—can be delivered to residential premises.
The sole purpose of prohibiting the delivery of corrosive substances and bladed products to residential addresses is to keep them out of the hands of those under 18. All these anomalies and difficulties can be avoided if an age-verification system at point of handover—a system already set out in this legislation—is available to both overseas and UK businesses. That is what these amendments seek to do. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for explaining the rationale of these amendments, which would change the new offence of sending a corrosive or bladed product to residential premises or a locker so that no offence is committed if a product is delivered into the hands of a person over the age of 18. This would mean that sellers could continue to dispatch products to residential premises providing that they are sure that the products will be delivered to a person over 18. The amendments for corrosive products also amend the defence of having taken all reasonable precautions, to include that they believed that the products would be delivered to a person over 18 and they had either taken reasonable steps to establish the person’s age—for example, relevant age-verification documents such as a passport or driving licence had been provided—or it was clear that the person was not under the age of 18. It would also be a requirement for a delivery company acting on behalf of the seller to confirm they had checked the person was over 18 at the point of delivery. In effect, the amendments in this group say that if a seller meets the first of these requirements, they can go ahead and sell the items to residential premises.
The Government’s approach to the sale of corrosive products, bladed articles and products in relation to UK remote sellers is twofold. First, we want to drive an improvement in the age-verification and dispatch processes of remote sellers. We are doing this by saying that unless they meet certain minimum conditions, they will not be able to rely on the defence that they have taken all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence if they are prosecuted for the offence of selling a corrosive product or a bladed article to a person under 18. These conditions include that they have suitable age-verification systems in place at the point of sale, that they clearly label the items when they are dispatched and that they have arrangements in place to ensure that when finally delivered, the items are delivered into the hands of a person over the age of 18. Many of the requirements covered by the amendments in this group are already reflected in the Bill.
Secondly, we believe that in addition to stronger checks by remote sellers, the dispatch of corrosive and bladed products to a residential premise or locker should be banned and that instead, buyers will need to pick them up from a collection point. This will ensure that the items are not delivered to a person under 18. There are two reasons why the Government believe that, in addition to age checks at the point of sale, sellers should also be prohibited from sending the products to a home address. First, it will be possible for buyers to get round any age-verification systems at the point of sale in relation to remote sales, for example by using a borrowed credit card or using another person’s passport or driving licence. Until we are confident that online age-verification systems are robust, we do not want to depend on them entirely.
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27: After Clause 5, insert the following Clause—
“Offence of obstructing a seller in the exercise of their duties
(1) A person commits an offence if they intentionally obstruct a person (“the seller”) in the exercise of their duties under section 1 of this Act and under section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (sale of bladed articles to persons under 18).(2) In this section, “intentionally obstruct” includes, but is not limited to, a person acting in a threatening manner.(3) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or to both.”
My Lords, as I said in Committee, we support the amendment. Until last Friday, we were prepared to vote with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, should he divide the House, for the reasons he clearly set out. However, at the end of last week, the noble Lord changed the amendment so that the penalty attached to the proposed new offence included a maximum term of imprisonment of six months. Noble Lords will know from the comments of my noble friend Lady Hamwee on the fourth group of amendments that we oppose short-term sentences, as does the right honourable David Gauke MP—the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Justice—and Rory Stewart, the Minister of State for the Ministry of Justice. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is also opposed to short-term prison sentences but that this is the only way to secure a community sentence, as we discussed previously, which has to be an alternative to custody. If only there were some way of having the latter without the former. Of course, as I have explained to the noble Lord in correspondence, if the threat to, or the assault on, a shop worker were more serious, there are alternate offences with which someone could be charged and which carry a sentence of imprisonment.
We support the principle that shop workers expected to enforce the law on the selling of age-restricted items, in that they are being asked to prevent underage people making such purchases, should have some legal protections not afforded to other members of the public.
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The call for evidence was discussed at an extraordinary meeting of the National Retail Crime Steering Group on 12 February, chaired by the Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability. We are taking into account that group’s feedback and we aim to publish the call for evidence before the Bill completes its passage through Parliament. It is important that the call for evidence is a thorough exercise. We need to provide adequate time for interested parties to respond and then we must consider those responses. This puts the completion of the work beyond the timetable for this Bill, but should the need arise, I hope that there will be further opportunities to bring forward legislation on this issue.
I totally understand the noble Lord’s point. He reminds me at every opportunity and I think that I will have written on my grave the “rogue landlords database”. However, I have to say that bringing forward the call for evidence will expose any gaps in the legislation. I appreciate, and I know that the noble Lord does as well, that we are going through a busy legislative time. However, we will provide opportunities to bring forward legislation should it be needed.
My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe asked what the evidence will cover. As I have said, this was discussed at the extraordinary meeting of the National Retail Crime Steering Group on 12 February. We want to take into account the group’s feedback and to use the call for evidence to strengthen our evidence about the scale and severity of the issue. As she has said, we hear lots of anecdotal horror stories, but we want to look at the broad evidence. Any abuse of a shop worker while doing their job is absolutely unacceptable, but we want to understand in more detail how frequently people are the victims of serious crime. I turn to the point made by my noble friend Lord Goschen about what sorts of businesses we are talking about. The scope and the direction will be led by the National Retail Crime Steering Group.
We want to use the findings to consider what more we can do to ensure that shop workers have the protections they deserve. That is at the heart of the noble Lord’s point. If the call for evidence shows that there is a gap in the existing criminal law, we will give that serious consideration. The group also discussed the options for strengthening the existing workplan. It includes actions to support staff who report incidents to the police and to improve police recording. We have committed to providing £50,000-worth of funding for a sector-led communications campaign to help raise awareness. We appreciate that there will be a huge spectrum of awareness across the sector.
I am grateful to noble Lords for their work in raising awareness of the challenges faced by shop workers and indeed I am grateful to the representatives of USDAW who have taken the time to articulate these issues to me. I hope that our commitment to exploring this issue further through the call for evidence and the wider work being taken forward by the Home Office will reassure the noble Lord that we are taking the concerns raised about this issue very seriously. The fact remains, though, that until we have had the call for evidence and we have studied the responses, there is not sufficient existing evidence to support the need for any new offence as provided for in the amendment.
I hope that the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment. I know that in taking time to raise these concerns with me that he is not trying to be troublesome. He is addressing a real concern from the retail industry and I hope that we can work together on this.
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The noble Lord makes a good point about aggravated offences—and of course, that can be explored through the call for evidence. As he will know, it is already an offence to abuse or attack someone who is serving the public. USDAW wanted something specifically related to shop workers, and that is one of the suggestions that could be taken forward—in fact, it may well be taken forward—to the call for evidence.
Amendment 27 withdrawn.
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Working with children over many years, my experience has been that you have to set sanctions and boundaries for them, but one does not want to set a hurdle which leads to a huge jump into severe punishment. One wants to say: “I am watching you; I see what you are up to; I have got my eye on you; I am paying close attention to you; I am not accepting this behaviour”. You do not want to move from that to saying: “If you do not behave, next time I see you I am going to lock you up” for however long. I am not expressing myself very well. It is late at night and I will not detain your Lordships any longer. I very strongly oppose these proposals. They are not well thought out and I hope that the House will reject them tonight.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his point about responding carefully—I certainly shall, because this is a very serious issue.
Before I respond to the amendments from the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick, and other points raised in the debate, I want to emphasise again that the purpose of these orders is not to punish those who have been carrying knives but to divert them away from that behaviour and to put in place measures that will stop them being drawn into more serious violent offending. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, quoted my honourable friend Vicky Atkins, who said that they are there to provide that wraparound care. That is precisely their intention—not to draw children into criminality. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said that a public health approach is needed, and I absolutely agree with him. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary precisely outlined his intention to pursue a public health approach to this issue.
The other important thing to note about these orders is that they should not be seen in isolation, and they will not in and of themselves provide all the answers. They need to be seen in the context of the comprehensive programme of action set out in our Serious Violence Strategy, which we published last year.
We must try and stop the journey that leads young people from carrying a knife for self-protection to serious violence. We should not focus on picking up the pieces but do all we can to stop those lives being broken in the first place. I am sure noble Lords will agree that prosecution for young children is not always the most appropriate response, and we do not want them drawn into the criminal justice system if we can possibly help it. KCPOs will enable the police and others to address the underlying issues and steer young people away from knife crime through positive interventions.
The amendments contain important safeguards to ensure that KCPOs are not used inappropriately against young people under the age of 18. In particular, the amendments require the police to consult the relevant youth offending team before an order is made and, once made, an order must be reviewed by the courts after 12 months. We fully expect that the courts will provide for more regular reviews where a KCPO is issued to a person under the age of 18. But we remain of the view that the breach of an order should be a criminal offence if these orders are to be effective. This will mean that those on orders understand how important it is to comply with the restrictions or requirements imposed by the court.
I turn now to the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. These amendments tie into government Amendment 52 which provides for, and indeed mandates, the piloting of KCPOs. That these orders should be the subject of a pilot before they are rolled out nationally is clearly a sensible approach, although I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Hogan- Howe, who would just like to see them rolled out. But these are new orders and it is important that we get them right. Piloting will mean that the police can try out the orders in a few areas, and that they can build experience and learn lessons from operating them for an initial period before they are made available to other police forces. I would expect the pilot areas to include one or more London boroughs, but they might also include other cities with high knife crime. By their nature, the pilot areas will be limited and I hope that assurance deals with Amendment 60 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
Amendment 52 further requires a report to be laid before Parliament on the outcome of the pilot. This will allow Parliament to consider whether these orders are effective and whether they are likely to deliver the intended benefits. It is important that this report is as comprehensive as possible and I am sure that it will include at least some of the information specified in Amendments 57 and 63. By its nature, the report required by Amendment 52 will be a one-off, but I fully expect that once rolled out, KCPOs will be the subject of ongoing scrutiny. There are existing mechanisms for this, such as parliamentary Questions and debates, an inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee and the normal process of post-legislative review. I am therefore not persuaded that the new orders should be subject to an annual reporting requirement, as set out in Amendment 63.
Amendment 55 would require the national rollout of KCPOs to be subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament. I think it is the intention of Amendment 107 to require that regulations provided for the pilots should also be subject to prior parliamentary approval. Again, I am not persuaded of the case for this. The government amendments adopt the standard approach of providing for KCPO provisions, including the pilots, to be brought into force by regulations made by the Home Secretary. In the usual way, such regulations are not subject to parliamentary procedure and I see no reason to adopt a different approach here. Once Parliament has approved the principle of the provisions by enacting them, commencement is then properly a matter for the Executive.
Amendment 52 enables the piloting of the provisions for one or more specified purposes as well as in one or more specified areas. Our intention is to have area-based pilots rather than purpose-based pilots, but we might need some combination of the two. As I have said, our intention is to pilot these provisions principally in part of the Metropolitan Police area, but potentially also in one or two other police force areas. In doing so, it might be necessary to commence certain provisions more widely.
The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, asked about the situation where an application on conviction is made in the pilot area, but the subject of the order then moves to another part of the country. To cater for such circumstances, it might be necessary to give all courts in England and Wales jurisdiction to vary or discharge, but not to make, an order.
Turning to other issues raised in this group, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about a consultation that is going to be done as part of the pilot. He also asked about someone who is not guilty of a crime but is given a KCPO. KCPOs are available on application by the police where they have evidence that the individual has carried a knife on two occasions in the preceding two years. If an individual is acquitted but there is evidence that they have carried a knife, an application can be made. It will be for the magistrate or youth court to determine whether the test is met and whether a KCPO is necessary to prevent knife offending or to protect the public.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked how many police forces wanted KCPOs and how many do not, which is a reasonable question. The National Police Chiefs’ Council, which represents all 43 police forces in England and Wales, supports KCPOs. In addition, Assistant Commissioner Duncan Ball, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said he welcomed the new powers announced by the Home Office, and the APCC chair likewise.
The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, asked why we have not given a search power. We did not consider the power of stop and search without reasonable grounds necessary because there are existing powers to stop and search individuals where there are reasonable grounds to suspect them of carrying a knife. We think it appropriate for the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 protection to continue to apply to the subjects of these orders.
Lord Kennedy of SouthwarkMain Page: Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Labour)
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73: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Offence of threatening with a non-corrosive substance
(1) A person commits an offence if they threaten a person with a substance they claim or imply is corrosive.(2) It is not a defence for a person to prove that the substance used to threaten a person was not corrosive or listed under Schedule 1 to this Act.(3) In this section, “threaten a person” means that the person—(a) unlawfully and intentionally threatens another person (“A”) with the substance, and(b) does so in such a way that a reasonable person (“B”) who was exposed to the same threat as A would think that there was an immediate risk of physical harm to B.(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would create a new offence for those threatening with a non-corrosive substance that they claim or imply is corrosive.
My Lords, I fully appreciate the intention behind the noble Lord’s proposed new clause. Personally, I have a concern about filling up our statute book with more and more criminal offences, particularly when they replicate existing crimes. It is already an offence to threaten violence. I take the point he makes about replica, fake or toy guns, but might not his better route be to invite the Government to amend the law to increase the penalties for this sort of behaviour or to allow this sort of offence to be dealt with—if it is not already—in the Crown Court, where the sentencing powers are greater, rather than as a summary offence? To fill up—for no doubt worthy purposes—the criminal law with more and more offences that just replicate existing offences strikes me as unfortunate. There may be a better route than the one the noble Lord is advocating.
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When noble Lords consider the distress and alarm that a fake attack could cause—whether with a fake gun or a fake corrosive substance—it is likely that such acts could be prosecuted under one of these 1986 Act offences. We should at this stage also bear in mind the motivation for some fake acid attacks. If the crime is of a racially or religiously motivated nature, the courts can impose stronger sentences. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord feels happy to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 73 withdrawn.
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My Lords, I share many noble Lords’ concerns about the way in which these clauses have been drafted. I hope we will get a decent opportunity to review them, and chew through them, in a way which would have been better afforded if these amendments had been laid earlier. I received scant briefing, but they need serious attention and application of time to find out how to make this idea work.
I will to raise a few detailed points. If under subsection (5) of the new clause inserted by Amendment 73A we are to expand on the definition of good reason, we are opening ourselves up to dangers, as we always do when we start doing these sorts of things. In paragraph (a) of subsection (5) we ought to say “in work”, because a lot of uses are in work and not “at work”. We also ought to include those reasonable uses of a bladed article which are associated with hobbies. If you are a carver, a fisherman, a sailor, let alone someone doing anything with ropes, you are going to need a knife. That that is excluded from paragraph (a) somehow downgrades those reasons for possessing a knife. We should be satisfied with the old test of good reason. Paragraph (a) introduces the danger that a lot of good reasons for having a knife are going to be downgraded.
The scope of the order is very wide, and we should be conscious that similar orders are being used quite actively. Last month, we passed a nine-month jail sentence on a rap group for singing a song in contravention of an order, so you do not have to do much to get a criminal record under these sorts of orders. Therefore, we ought to be conscious of how this lot apply to children, particularly the disruption to their already chaotic lives that can be caused by what we order them to do or not to do and the way that interferes with their education, or the beginning of their work. Indeed, who is allowed to know that they have one of these orders, and what is a school supposed to do if is knows that one of its children has one of these orders? That children’s aspect needs to be more clearly worked out.
I entirely agree with the Government’s sentiments in wanting to do something effective. As always, it is the role of this House to make sure that what is proposed is effective, and to not let the Government get away with it if it is not.
My Lords, before the Minister responds, I did not address Amendment 77 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, which we totally support. I did not want to stifle the debate, but it might be helpful for the Committee to be aware of the advice that I have been given, which is that if the Government insist on moving these amendments in Grand Committee and there is an objection to that taking place, the amendments will be lost and cannot be brought back on Report. I am sure that the Minister will bear that in mind in her response.
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My Lords, I hate guns, so I have no interest in promoting any cause. I do not want to trivialise firearms offences because they can be very serious, but they are relatively small in number compared with the number of knife crime offences, for example. Only 1% of non-air weapon firearms offences involve rifles. Bearing in mind the very low number of offences committed using rifles, can the Minister tell the Committee why the Government have set these hares running?
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lucas began by quite rightly pointing out that this is a Bill about setting boundaries. As we have heard, this group of amendment deals with what is the appropriate form of regulation for high muzzle energy rifles. We have heard a variety of views from all sides of the Committee. Some noble Lords are seeking to restore the prohibition of these rifles removed from the Bill in the Commons. Other noble Lords are seeking to go further than the amendments made in the Commons by also removing the prohibition on so-called MARS rifles, while yet other noble Lords seek to find a middle way by introducing mandatory security requirements. I will endeavour to disentangle these competing approaches by setting out the Government’s considered view on the various amendments.
I begin with what is, in effect, the middle-way option, if only because my noble friend Lord Lucas’s Amendment 74 is the first one in this group, but I will address my noble friend Earl Attlee’s Amendments 80A to 80C as they cover similar ground, albeit from a different perspective. Amendment 74 provides us with an opportunity to test whether a requirement to apply the highest standards of security for the storage of specific firearm types when not in use might be an alternative to prohibition. The Government are not seeking to prohibit ownership of high muzzle energy rifles through this Bill, so it is relevant for us to discuss the merits of applying enhanced security to the storage of such firearms while they continue to be available to civilians under our firearms licensing arrangements. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, takes the contrary view, and I will come on to his amendments shortly.
The Bill will prohibit civilian access to more rapid-firing rifles, which makes any discussion of secure storage in respect of these weapons otiose, although we will come to Amendments 78A and 79A, which would have the effect of removing that prohibition from the Bill, and Amendments 78B and 79B, which seek to make changes to the prohibition.
The Government are concerned about the potential public safety risks that more powerful and more rapid-firing rifles pose, should they fall in to the hands of criminals or terrorists. It is therefore right that where any such firearms remain available for civilian use and ownership on a firearms certificate issued by the police they should be subject to the highest standards of security to prevent theft and misuse. I therefore understand the reference in my noble friend Lord Lucas’s amendment to the requirements of level 3 security. This relates to different levels of security arrangements that are set out in the Home Office’s Firearms Security Handbook, with level 3 being the highest level of security measures set out in the handbook.
The first point I want to make in respect of this amendment is that it would be something of an anomaly to specify particular security conditions in this way in the Bill. It is currently an operational matter for police forces to satisfy themselves that the security in place for any firearm held by a civilian is proportionate to the risk that the specific firearm poses, taking all relevant factors into account. The issue of the relevant firearms certificate can be made contingent on the required levels of security being in place. While it is right that we should ask the police to have due regard to the requirements of the handbook, it would, as I have said, be an anomaly to set out in primary legislation the level of security required for one specific rifle type.
While I fully understand the point behind the amendment, it is important to be aware that the Firearms Security Handbook is a joint Home Office and policing document, intended to guide forces. The document has no specific legal weight and can be amended administratively. In such circumstances, I contend to my noble friend, it would not be appropriate to specify level 3 security in this Bill.
Amendments 80A to 80C in the name of my noble friend Earl Atlee address the same issue, but in a different way. These amendments in turn seek to amend the Firearms Act 1968 in order to provide the Secretary of State with an order-making power to specify the conditions relating to the secure storage and transportation of high muzzle energy rifles, which must be attached to the relevant firearms certificates issued by the police. The point behind the amendments is important. Dangerous firearms held in the community must be kept and stored as securely as possible.
The Government have given a commitment that we will consult on the issue of whether high muzzle energy rifles should be subject to a general prohibition, along with a number of other issues relating to firearms safety, after the Bill has completed its passage through Parliament. But the Government recognise the strength of feeling on this issue, on all sides. I know that some, including the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, have concerns about waiting for a further public consultation to run its course, particularly if this leads to a call for further legislation. We therefore take the point that there is a case for action in this area at this time. The Government will therefore give further consideration to the amendments tabled by my noble friends Lord Lucas and Earl Atlee ahead of Report. I cannot at this juncture give a commitment beyond that, but I assure both my noble friends that the case they put forward has landed and will be looked at seriously.
Amendments 78, 78B, 79A and 79B provide us with an opportunity to consider potential alternatives to the prohibition of the rifle types specified in Clause 32. Clauses 32 and 33 will strengthen the controls in respect of rapid-firing rifles, as defined by these clauses. As I explained earlier, these are currently available for civilian use or ownership under general licensing arrangements administered by the police under Section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968 or Article 45 of the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004. This means that at present they can only be owned by somebody who has a firearms certificate for which they have been vetted by the police. Following advice from experts in the law enforcement agencies, we consider that these rifles should be brought under stricter controls. That will be achieved by adding them to the list of prohibited firearms provided for by Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 and Article 45 of the Northern Ireland order. Weapons that are so prohibited are subject to more rigorous controls than other firearms and may be possessed only with the authority of the Secretary of State.
My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, argued that the proposed ban of rapid-fire rifles could discriminate against disabled shooters. That point was raised during discussion of the Bill in the other place. I have to say straight out that I am not impressed by that argument. If the prohibition has an impact on disabled shooters, those who provide shooting facilities should see what alternative assistance might be provided to disabled shooters by shooting clubs, whether by adapting other types of rifle or adapting the places where disabled people shoot. So I am afraid that I do not find my noble friend’s and the noble Earl’s argument particularly powerful on that issue.
It is not our intention to restrict unnecessarily or arbitrarily the lawful use of firearms by licence holders for legitimate sporting purposes, for example. The vast majority of people in lawful possession of firearms use them responsibly and it is right that any controls need to be proportionate. But at the same time, the Government are concerned about the recent rises in gun crime and the changing threats and heightened risk to public safety. All firearms are by their very nature potentially dangerous and, indeed, lethal, but the rifles specified in Clauses 32 and 33 are considered to be more dangerous than other firearms permitted for civilian ownership under the firearms legislation. These rifles can discharge rounds at a much faster rate than conventional bolt-action rifles, which are permitted under licence and are normally operated manually with an up-and-back, forward-and-down motion.
The definition as set out in the Bill refers to the use of the energy from the propellant gas to extract the empty cartridge cases. This brings them much closer to self-loading rifles, which are already prohibited for civilian ownership under our firearms laws. The Government are therefore concerned about their potential for serious misuse and loss of life if they were to fall into the hands of criminals or terrorists.
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That is extremely helpful. I agree with my noble friend. That is exactly why the Government felt that a longer public debate about this issue was appropriate.
In the light of representations made by representative firearms bodies and others during the passage of the Bill, the Government sought advice from the National Crime Agency on whether heightened security standards governing the safe storage of these rifles would be sufficient to reduce the concerns expressed to us. In the light of the advice received, we took the view that we should look again at options for enhancing the security requirements associated with these particular rifles, rather than push for their prohibition under the firearms legislation at the present time. That is why the provisions to prohibit high muzzle energy rifles were removed from the Bill on Report in the Commons.
It is the Government’s view that we should not proceed with prohibition without considering further the views of the police, relevant shooting organisations and members of the public. As was announced in the Commons, it is the Government’s intention to launch a full public consultation on this and on the firearms safety issues that have arisen during the Bill’s progress. That will provide an opportunity fully to consider the views of all those involved or with an interest and to make a better assessment of whether enhanced security, as proposed by my noble friends, would be sufficient to address the risks set out by the police and the NCA.
Finally, Amendment 80D in the name of my noble friend Lord Attlee seeks to make a change to the definition of “rifle” in Section 57 of the Firearms Act 1968. The purpose of that definition is to make it clear that the ordinary definition of “rifle” includes carbines, a particular type of long gun firearm with a shorter barrel than a normal rifle, which is classified as a rifle for the purposes of firearms controls. As he helpfully set out, my noble friend’s purpose in tabling the amendment is to make it clear that when we talk about rifles, including for the purposes of Clauses 32 and 33, we are talking about hand-held rifles, specifically those that are fired from the shoulder. My noble friend is clear that he wants there to be no confusion with artillery or guns fitted to tanks. The Government are not persuaded that this change to the Firearms Act is necessary. “Rifle” will continue to carry its normal meaning. I understand that this might have been a concern had we been talking about rifled weapons, but we are not.
In the light of the explanations I have provided and my commitment to consider further Amendments 74 and 80A to 80C, I hope that my noble friend Lord Lucas will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, could achieve his objective by supporting my amendment, or at least the concept behind it, slightly more strongly.
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My Lords, as I have said before, it is crucial that the Government get this right. I hope that they will put some energy behind it. I say to my noble friend that the answer to a plague of rabbits is not a .22 rifle but a pack of Sporting Lucas terriers.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury for raising this issue. His amendment would place a duty on the Secretary of State to,
“within the period of six months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, publish a report on how the Government’s Guide on Firearms Licensing Law (April 2016) is being implemented”.
The Home Office has published guidance on firearms licensing law for many years. The latest edition was published in 2016 and is currently undergoing revision to take account of recent legislative changes. It is an important document as it assists police forces in applying firearms law.
The Government want to ensure consistency of approach and high standards for police firearms licensing, and for this reason, we introduced the power to issue statutory firearms guidance in the Policing and Crime Act 2017. The new statutory guidance will apply to issues such as background checks, medical suitability and other criteria aimed at protecting public safety. We will be holding a public consultation shortly on the introduction of the new statutory guidance.
The amendment moved by my noble friend indicates a particular interest in the medical aspects of the firearms guidance, and in the engagement by GPs with the information-sharing arrangements which were agreed and introduced in 2016. These arrangements were brought in to help ensure that police would have sight of relevant medical information about certificate holders and applicants, to safeguard both licensed gun holders and other members of the public.
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76: After Clause 31, insert the following new Clause—
“Impact assessment of section 31
(1) Section 31 may only come into force if a Minister of the Crown has laid before Parliament an assessment of its impact on different racial groups as defined in section 9 of the Equality Act 2010 (race).(2) The impact assessment must be conducted by a body independent of the Government following consultation with representatives of different racial groups.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would require an independent assessment of the impact of searches in schools and further education premises on different racial groups.
My Lords, we need to ensure that the police have appropriate powers to deal with threats on school or further education premises involving corrosive substances. Given the significant harm that corrosive attacks can cause and the fear that they can instil, it is important that we ensure that the police have sufficient powers to be able to take swift and preventive action.
We know that there are around 800 attacks per year in England and Wales, and we need to ensure that action can be taken not just to deal with actual attacks but with threats to use a corrosive substance. Clause 31 is designed to ensure that the police can effectively enforce the offence of threatening with a corrosive substance in a private place as it applies to schools and further education establishments.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has explained his concerns that this new power will be disproportionately used against black, Asian and minority ethnic pupils and students. I appreciate and understand the noble Lord’s concern, which should be taken seriously. It is, however, important to recognise that this power can be used only in circumstances where a police officer has reasonable grounds for suspecting that someone has been threatened by another person with a corrosive substance. Reasonable grounds might include a report from a teacher, a parent or a pupil.
It is also important that we ensure there are sufficient protections in place for our schools and further education premises to deal with any situations where a pupil or student may threaten to throw or squirt a corrosive substance over another student or a teacher. The police need to be able to enter and search a school or further education premises and any person on them to prevent an actual attack. That said, I have indicated that the noble Lord has raised a perfectly proper concern.
While I do not consider this amendment to be necessary, I can give your Lordships an undertaking that we will consult relevant school and further education bodies, including teaching unions, local authorities and other associations, on the implementation of this power before we bring the clause into force. With that assurance, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
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I am glad to be able to reassure the noble Baroness that that will be the case.
Amendment 76 withdrawn.
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83: After Clause 39, insert the following new Clause—
“Advertising offensive weapons online
(1) A person or company commits an offence when a website registered in their name is used to advertise, list or otherwise facilitate the sale of any weapon listed in Schedule 1 to the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order (SI 1988/2019) or any offensive weapon capable of being disguised as something else.(2) No offence is committed under this section if the website removes the advertisement or list within 24 hours of the registered owner of the website being informed that the advertisement or list includes a weapon listed in Schedule 1 to the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order (SI 1988/2019) or an offensive weapon capable of being disguised as something else. (3) A registered owner of a website who is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable—(a) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks, to a fine or to both;(b) on summary conviction in Scotland or Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would place responsibility on website owners to prevent the sale of weapons.
My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, is trying to do with the amendment. It raises again the issue of websites that are hosted overseas and the lack of territorial reach to apply the suggested offence to overseas website owners. That creates an imbalance, as we discussed on previous elements of the Bill, between UK and overseas sellers of knives and corrosive substances, for example. I see some practical difficulties with this but I understand what the noble Lord is trying to achieve.
I am grateful for the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, which seeks to make it a criminal offence when,
“a website … is used to advertise, list or otherwise facilitate the sale of any weapon listed in Schedule 1 to the Criminal Justice Act 1988 … or any offensive weapon capable of being disguised as something else”.
We can all agree on the spirit of the amendment. Indeed, in preparing my remarks, I spent five minutes googling what I could buy online. The noble Lord makes a good point: some very shocking weapons are easily accessible online. However, I hope to persuade him that his amendment is not needed.
We are satisfied that there is no gap in the law and that legislation addressing the criminal behaviour outlined in the amendment already exists. Indeed, the noble Lord alluded to that in his remarks. The Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability wrote to the Public Bill Committee in the other place to set out the legal position on online platforms that advertise or sell offensive weapons in contravention of Section 141 or Section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. It may assist your Lordships if I set out the position.
Section 141 of the Act states that,
“any person who manufactures, sells or hires or offers for sale or hire, exposes or has in his possession for the purpose of sale or hire, or lends or gives to any other person, a weapon to which this section applies shall be guilty of an offence”.
A list of such weapons is set out in Schedule 1 to the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988. Section 141A of the 1988 Act makes it an offence to sell certain articles with a blade or point to anyone aged under 18. Clause 1 of the Bill will make it an offence also to sell corrosive products to a person aged under 18. As is clear from these provisions, anyone who sells, hires, offers for sale or hire, exposes or has in their possession for the purpose of sale or hire any of the weapons to which the 1988 order applies—whether online or otherwise—is guilty of an offence. This would apply to individuals, but “a person” can include a body corporate or unincorporated, such as a company.
Where the user of a website places advertisements or listings for anything contained in the 1988 order on that website, the service provider may rely on the defence in relation to hosting under Regulation 19 of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. Whether Regulation 19 applies will depend on the facts of the case. As the noble Lord mentioned, there may also be jurisdictional issues if the service provider is based overseas. I assure noble Lords that the sites I found were all based overseas. Regulation 19 will not apply where the provider of the website is offering the items for sale directly and where the provider had actual knowledge of the unlawful activity and upon obtaining that knowledge did not act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the information.
We therefore consider that the provider of a website who sells items on it directly would likely be caught under the wording of the legislation. Where the provider of the website is enabling advertisements to be placed by others, the defence under Regulation 19 may be available. We have discussed the matter with the Crown Prosecution Service, which is of the view that these provisions can be used to prosecute where appropriate. In the light of this explanation of the existing law, I hope that the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 83 withdrawn.
41: Clause 17, page 17, line 22, at end insert—
“(aa) the seller is not a trusted trader of bladed products, and”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would create a trusted trader status for those selling bladed products.
My Lords, while I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is trying to do with his amendment, if he is quoting the Government correctly then I agree that it would be an expensive, bureaucratic scheme and difficult to enforce. It would be impossible to enforce in relation to sellers outside the United Kingdom. It would be to the benefit of large retailers. Perhaps the amendment is trying to appeal to the Home Office’s usual approach to these things by saying that it should be self-financing. Membership of the scheme would clearly involve a fee; large retailers would easily find the money for that, whereas it would disadvantage small businesses.
As we discussed previously in relation to corrosive substances, we are again heading for a situation where UK sellers of bladed articles are unable to sell such products for delivery to residential premises, whereas overseas sellers will be able to sell bladed articles for delivery to home addresses. In the case of overseas sellers, the courier has to ensure age verification at handover but UK sellers are unable to use this scheme. The real solution to the problem that the noble Lord is trying to solve is to allow age verification at the handover of bladed articles at residential premises for all sellers, both UK and overseas, so that both corrosive substances and bladed products can be delivered to people’s homes.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has just asked, what evidence is there that gang members, for example, are ordering ordinary kitchen knives, such as carving knives, online in order to use them in crime? I am not talking about prohibited knives, such as zombie knives or the type of knife that the Government seek to ban in the Bill. The evidence from the police is that most people carrying knives have got them from the kitchen where they live because they are there already. Why would a criminal who is looking to commit knife crime create an evidential trail by ordering online rather than going to a shop and paying cash to get their hands on a weapon? I seek the Government’s explanation as to why this provision is necessary.
We discussed on Monday whether a residential premises is used for carrying on business. I have had a communication from a company that deals with the sale of bladed items online. It says:
“Our information after consulting Royal Mail and UPS is that there are no means to quickly and robustly identify tradesmen who operate from home as opposed to individuals who might pose as tradesmen. These so-called defences are wish fulfilment from the Home Office and are unworkable in the real world”.
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The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is right. I am very grateful to him because now I do not have to explain it.
I hope the noble Lord will not mind if I intervene on that point. He is right that, if you want to commit knife crime, you could go to your kitchen drawer and probably get a fairly effective weapon out of it. But that is not the nub of this legislation or of what we are trying to achieve. There are a number of interventions we are trying to make. I think I explained right at the outset when I introduced the Bill that no one intervention is going to solve the problem in and of itself. It is the range of measures that we have in place, including this legislation, that we hope will reduce what has become a scourge in society which is blighting the lives of young people.
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The challenge is to get to a situation where children do not feel they need to carry knives for their protection or in order to attack others.
Amendment 41 withdrawn.
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Clause 20(1)(d) requires that,
“that person was aware when they entered into the arrangement that it covered the delivery of bladed articles”.
Is there any provision which requires a foreign exporter of bladed instruments to identify on the outside of the packaging what is inside it so that nobody can be in any doubt that what is being posted from, let us say, Holland is a knife with a 10-inch blade? If it says on the outside of the packet, “This is a butter knife”—subject to one believing the description on the label—that might prevent a number of the problems that we seem to have been discussing. It seems fairly simple to stick a label on the outside which places the burden on the original seller, makes the importer or functionary aware of what they are handling and makes the postman or parcel deliverer to the address or corner shop concerned equally aware of what is going on. It could not cost very much to stick a label on.
My Lords, as usual, I need educating. How is even a British business to know that a particular address is residential? What source of information do the Government expect a seller of knives to use to establish whether, for instance, 1 Lavender Hill SW11 is a residential or business address, particularly when in such a location there is probably a shop on the ground floor and flats above? What source of information will be reliable and satisfactory in a prosecution for someone to demonstrate that they believed reasonably that it was not a residential premises?
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My noble and learned friend would have a very good point if it was clear that the object contained in the package was a knife. It becomes a lot more difficult where it is not clear what is in the package. I do not disagree with him that it would be good to label such packages, but we cannot compel foreign companies to do it and it might not always be clear what is in the package to stop it at the port. My noble friend makes a very practical suggestion—I am sorry to be the blocker of practical suggestions—but that is the explanation.
My noble friend Lord Lucas asked how one proves an address—we went over that on Monday a couple of times. There are various ways in which a seller can ascertain whether a premises is used as a business. The buyer could provide evidence that their house was registered for business purposes or confirmation in writing of their business entity and that their business was run from home.
The noble Lord is right that a house could be registered for business purposes because it could be a business. I think we went through that on Monday. Clause 20 creates an offence relating to overseas sales, with the focus on ensuring that the delivery company does not deliver a bladed article into the hands of a person under the age of 18. I think that was all I was going to say on the subject and the amendments. I know that the foreign company versus the UK company issue will come back again and again, but I hope the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
The noble Lord will know that the last thing this Government want to do is to make things difficult for British companies, but we want to clamp down on some of the terrible effects of knife crime.
My Lords, the Government have certain contradictions in the way they are approaching this. Suppose a Dutch company sells a knife to a residential address. It drops it into the post, nicely wrapped as a parcel with nothing on the outside to indicate what the contents are. Who puts the contents of a parcel on the outside? I cannot recall when a package came to me containing something I had ordered over the internet which said obviously on the outside what was on the inside. The Royal Mail, which looked at this, has no ability to know that the parcel contains a bladed product. The only point at which it becomes possible to know that is at the point of importation.
I know the Government have systems—and I know what they are, but I am not going to describe them in public—for preventing the importation of weapons, firearms in particular, which would apply very nicely to the importation of knives. That is the point at which we as a country know that there is a knife, and since the Government have oversight of the process through which it is being imported, that is the point at which they can establish whether the address is likely to be residential premises. If we want this to be an effective prohibition against a company abroad sending a knife to a residential address here, we need to give those authorities the power to confiscate the knife at that point. I propose one way of doing that, and there are surely many others, but we absolutely need to do it.
The other way in which an overseas sale can get into residential premises is if I apparently order from a website abroad. That website abroad telegraphs its fulfilment house here and someone in that fulfilment house takes the knife out of a box, puts it in a package, addresses it and pops it into the post. There we have someone absolutely within our jurisdiction who knows that it is a knife and who should know that the premises are residential, but we are not catching them. We cannot expect the poor old postman to know what is in the package. We have two very good opportunities to intercept knives and other bladed products coming in from abroad. I do not mind how the Government achieve that, but it is so easy to get knives from abroad. If someone really wants to get a knife delivered to residential premises all they have to do is order it from overseas and it will happen without interruption because sellers will organise themselves so they do not get their delivery agents into trouble. They will just use the Royal Mail. These are small items that do not require special delivery and fit through postboxes.
The amendments show that there are good, easy, efficient and effective ways in which the Government can get a bite on the main streams of supply from overseas agents. As my noble friend said, overseas agents will respond by sticking a label on the outside. If that is what they are asked to do, and if that is what it takes to get it through customs, that is fine—in supplying all over the world, they are used to customs regulations. This is not hard or expensive for us to do; it is easy, and it is the only thing that makes sense of the Government’s interest in stopping the ordering of knives over the internet. If we stop only UK sellers and leave the door wide open to overseas sellers, we are not achieving anything other than obstructing UK business.
I echo the noble Lord’s comments. We want to do whatever it takes to reduce the availability of knives for use in knife crime. I hope that, in all our discussions, it has not gone unnoticed that we oppose this group of amendments and the previous group.
I will probably be disciplined by my party for saying so but, presumably, if you are buying from a supplier outside the customs union, there needs to be a customs declaration on the package as to what is contained in it. That is a legal requirement. It is not about trying to get a foreign supplier to comply with British law; rather, it is internationally accepted that you need to put a customs label on a package describing what is inside. I do not know whether that applies if the supplier is within the European Union, but certainly if you buy something from the United States of America, for example, there has to be a visible customs declaration on the outside to say what the product inside the parcel is. That would enable whoever is delivering the parcel to the end delivery point to take the appropriate action in accordance with Clause 20, if the label describes that it is a bladed product.
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My Lords, I too look forward to the Government’s explanation of the difference between “bladed product” and “bladed article”, and of why there is a distinction between the offence of delivering of a bladed product to residential premises and that of delivering a bladed article to persons under 18. I thought the whole point—no pun intended—of banning delivery to residential premises was to prevent under-18s getting their hands on it. Why does it need to be a bladed article in one part and a bladed product in another?
In relation to Amendment 45, I agree with the noble Lord and would go further. In the course of my duties as a police officer, I have seen daggers with very sharp points, but with blades not necessarily sharp enough to cut—the dagger is specifically designed to stab people, but is not capable of cutting. It would be exempt from the definition as written in the Bill. I am not sure whether it is necessary to list examples of what are and are not bladed products, but we certainly need a much better idea of what we are trying to do here.
My Lords, would the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, agree that perhaps his trusted traders scheme would also need to go through that process?
My Lords, I wonder how the rest of the world deals with these issues. The Minister may have described that to us at some point. The situation clearly seems to cry out for international co-operation if there are serious issues in other nations with knife crime and corrosive substances. For instance, what does Germany do with regard to these issues? I know that recent circumstances here have changed very rapidly, so it may be an issue just in this country. The United States probably has an even more significant problem with it and may be more resistant to intervene than we would be.
Knife crime is a symptom of many other things, including, as we were hearing yesterday, our issues around drugs. We heard from two police officers, one a retired undercover drugs detective. He was saying that since the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Regulations 1988, we have seen a soaring in the number of people using drugs. He pointed out that 10% of users take up 50% of the supply of serious drugs; so 10% of chronic heroin users are consuming 50% of the drugs market.
If one addressed the needs of these drug users, as we used to do before the misuse of drugs Acts—if we provide users quickly with methadone and with safe places to take drugs—the demand would disappear and the supply would shrink. These would perhaps be more effective options. Maybe the Minister can write to us about what happens in other nations and how they deal with these issues.
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That is good. These would not fall within the definition in the Bill as they do not generally have a blade. It is our intention that the definition of “bladed product” excludes those articles with a blade that are unlikely to cause serious injury if used as a weapon. They might include cutlery, fans and lawnmowers—which he mentioned—among other things. We believe that it is unlikely that such items will be procured by persons under 18 to be used as weapons. We also want to exclude articles that can cause serious injury only other than by cutting, for instance when used as a blunt object. Ultimately, it will up to the courts to determine whether an item is or has a blade and is capable of causing serious injury by way of cutting the skin. However, we will issue guidance in consultation with the police and business to provide further clarity on this and other provisions in the Bill.
Perhaps I might add that Amendment 46 highlights the risk of including an indicative list of examples in legislation, which brings complications of its own. For example, one might ask why the list includes screwdrivers but not chisels, or lawn mowers but not hedging shears and so forth. It is better, I suggest, to leave it to the police, prosecutors and the courts, supported by the guidance to which I have referred, to determine relevance in the circumstances of each situation.
This leads me to Amendments 44, 47, 55 and 56, which would change the types of articles to which Clause 20 applies from “bladed articles” to “bladed products”. My noble friend Lord Lucas has rightly asked why, in Clause 20, the term “bladed articles” is used rather than “bladed products”. A bladed product is defined in Clause 19 as,
“an article which … is or has a blade, and … is capable of causing a serious injury to a person which involves cutting that person’s skin”.
“Bladed article” is defined by Clause 20(11), in the case of England and Wales, as an article,
“to which section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 applies”.
My noble friend referred to this.
Section 141A applies to: any knife, except a folding pocket knife with a blade of three inches or less; any knife blade; any razor blade, except those permanently enclosed in cartridges; any axe; and any other article which has a blade or which is sharply pointed and which is made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person. “Bladed article” therefore captures a wide range of articles with a blade from kitchen knives to cutlery knives, scissors, and so on. This is the language used in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 in relation to the sales of knives and possession offences. “Bladed product” refers to a smaller set of items with a blade: those which can cause serious injury by cutting the skin, as defined in Clause 19. The effect of Amendments 44, 47, 55 and 56 would therefore be that the range of articles to which Clause 20 applies would be smaller than is currently the case in the Bill.
I hope that my noble friend is reassured by the provisions in Clauses 17 to 20. If a bladed article is delivered on behalf of a seller based abroad, the delivery company has the responsibility to ensure that the item is not handed over to a person aged under 18, whether the seller uses a marketplace platform or sells direct, or whether the item is delivered to a private address or a collection point. As I said earlier, we cannot enforce legislation against a seller who is based abroad but, in this instance, we have the ability to place the onus on the person who delivers the merchandise here to ensure that they do not deliver a bladed article into the hands of a person aged under 18.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked about the business impact. I concur with him that we should be concerned about the impact on British businesses. We have published an impact assessment alongside the Bill, which can be found on the Bill’s page on GOV.UK.
In terms of better regulation, I do not think that it has but I will double-check before Report. It probably has not.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked about the position in other countries and the approach we have taken. Of course we always learn from other jurisdictions, and I hope that they learn from us, but we must legislate as we consider it appropriate to address the position as we find it in this country. Regarding the problems underlying drug addiction, we will come on to that when we reach Amendment 63 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who I do not think is in her place at this point.
I want to make one final point about articles with a blade or point: we do not want to capture items such as screwdrivers and crochet needles because they are not usually used for harm—that is not to say they are not used for harm, but not usually. Hence we are referring to “blade” and not “sharp point”. I hope that with those explanations, the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is absolutely on the right lines. One of the troubles is knowing what is permissible and what is not. In speaking to the amendments in his name, I will suggest something which takes it a bit further. I declare an interest as chair of the Digital Policy Alliance, which, among other things, worked for several years on age verification for the Digital Economy Act. This Bill has exactly the same problem as Section 3 of that Act: what systems are adequate for proving the age of someone in an online sale? We worked on such systems and if noble Lords want to see that it can be done properly and securely I recommend they go to the web portal dpatechgateway.co.uk, where there are several to play with. The challenge is that there is no official certification scheme in place, but those systems are compliant with BSI publicly available specification 1296. I chaired the steering group that produced that standard and it had a lot of different people on it—people from the industry, academics, legislators, lawyers, et cetera. It shows that it can be done securely.
This goes one stage further than the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the police can certify. Here is a system that you could trust. The technology also enables it to be on a mobile, so you can do point-of-delivery verification. You have got the person there: you can compare them with the device. Amendment 13 goes some way to solving the quandary for a seller, but what is “adequate”? Someone in the industry has suggested to me that it might be better to insert a new paragraph (c) after line 22 saying that: “The Secretary of State may lay regulations as to which bodies are recognised to provide standards against which age-verification schemes can be assessed”. In that way, a certification system could be set up. The BBFC and DCMS have been struggling with this for some time. They are getting there, but there is a lot to be learned from the fallout from that which could be imported into this Bill. Giving the Secretary of State the power to say what schemes can be certified against would go a long way to making life far simpler. We are moving into an online age. We cannot do all this offline and we should not pretend we can.
I am grateful to my noble friend for explaining these amendments, which deal with the evidence required to satisfy the defence if a seller is charged with selling or delivering a corrosive product to someone who is under the age of 18. As regards Amendment 3 to Clause 1, I understand my noble friend’s intention but I am doubtful that it is necessary or appropriate to require the police to certify a seller’s processes as adequate. There are already well-established and widely recognised age-restricted policies in place for retailers and sellers through Challenge 21 and Challenge 25. These policies are used day in and day out by retailers to deal with situations where an individual may appear to be under 18, particularly in relation to the sale of alcohol or tobacco. I have concerns about the value of asking the police to certify a seller’s processes and about the burden this would place on police forces. I am also concerned about whether this approach would undermine these established policies. Arguably this amendment would necessitate the police certifying the specific age-restriction policies of every individual seller of a corrosive product, whether a high-street store or an online marketplace. This not a valuable use of police time when we want them to be focused on preventing and tackling violence in our communities.
In any event, I am not persuaded that the police would be the appropriate agency to discharge this function. We must not forget the important role that trading standards plays and its expertise in this area. That said, I would have the same concerns about the resource implications for local authorities if they, rather than the police, were to be made responsible for certifying the systems put in place by all retailers of corrosive substances caught by the Bill.
The defence we have put in place for the Clause 1 offence is similar to that for the sale of knives to under-18s, and it seems right to have a seller prove that they took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid committing the offence of selling to an under-18. Similar considerations apply to Amendment 13, which would again require the police to certify as adequate a seller’s system in preventing, in this case, the remote sale of a corrosive product to someone under 18. We have not specified an age-verification system in the legislation as there are various types of systems available and, as the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, pointed out, the technology behind such systems is continuing to develop at a fast pace. As a result, we did not want to prescribe a specific method or set a minimum standard for what these systems need to do, first, because we need to ensure that we future-proof the legislation, and secondly, because it is for sellers to determine the most appropriate system for their businesses to be able to demonstrate that they took all reasonable precautions and exercised due diligence to prevent the sale of a corrosive product to an under-18.
The noble Lord makes a perfectly practical point. We are aiming to produce guidance. We talked about shopkeepers the other day and the abuse of shopkeepers who are trying to abide by the law. I think some of the conversation we had with USDAW will prove very fruitful in developing our thinking on that.