Lord Kennedy of Southwark contributions to the Offensive Weapons Act 2019


Wed 10th April 2019 Offensive Weapons Bill (Lords Chamber)
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Tue 19th March 2019 Offensive Weapons Bill (Lords Chamber)
3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
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Mon 4th March 2019 Offensive Weapons Bill (Lords Chamber)
Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
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Tue 26th February 2019 Offensive Weapons Bill (Lords Chamber)
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Wed 6th February 2019 Offensive Weapons Bill (Grand Committee)
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Wed 30th January 2019 Offensive Weapons Bill (Grand Committee)
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Mon 28th January 2019 Offensive Weapons Bill (Grand Committee)
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Mon 7th January 2019 Offensive Weapons Bill (Lords Chamber)
2nd reading (Hansard - continued): House of Lords
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Offensive Weapons Bill Debate

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Offensive Weapons Bill

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Wednesday 10th April 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con) - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I am delighted to be able to support the Motions before the House today in the name of the Minister.

This is an issue that I raised at Second Reading and which I persisted with throughout the passage of the Bill through your Lordships’ House. As I have said many times before, I support the general aims of the Bill, but the proposals to prevent British businesses in all circumstances from selling and sending their knives and other bladed products to UK home addresses was just damaging to business while contributing nothing to dealing with the terrible incidences of knife crime.

I am grateful that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, engaged so positively with me, the Members for Sheffield Central and Sheffield South East in the other place and representatives of the knife manufacturing industry, including James Goodwin and Alastair Fisher.

To get this concession, we had to win a vote here in the House of Lords, and I am grateful to noble Lords from my own Benches, the Liberal Democrat Benches, the Cross Benches and the Conservative Benches who supported my amendment. I am also grateful to those Conservative Peers who told me they were with me and then very kindly abstained on the vote. It all helped to show the other place that we had a lot of support for this sensible proposal, and it means we are able to support British businesses and the jobs they provide.

I am particularly grateful to my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe, the noble Lords, Lord Paddick, Lord Scriven and Lord Lucas, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, as I am to the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams of Trafford and Lady Barran. That brings me to the end of my contributions on this Bill.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) - Hansard

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.

Offensive Weapons Bill Debate

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Offensive Weapons Bill

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Tuesday 19th March 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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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).

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, Amendment 8 in my name would enable bladed products to still be delivered to home addresses by establishing a scheme whereby the product is delivered by a trusted courier. This is an issue that I have raised in all the Bill’s stages in this noble House. Initially, I thought a trusted trader scheme would be the best option but I concluded that this trusted courier scheme is a better way forward.

The Bill would prohibit the delivery of bladed objects to residential properties, and the concern of small and medium-sized knife manufacturers and retailers is about the detrimental impact this ban will have on their businesses. As more and more sales move online, consumers expect to be able to receive deliveries directly to their home.

I have said at each stage that I support the aims of the Bill but I am concerned that it is a legislative sledgehammer that will affect small and medium-sized businesses based in the UK while having no impact on knife crime whatever. There is no shred of evidence that these high-quality knives being sold online are being bought for criminal intent. If there were, it would have been presented.

I think we all accept that if you bought a knife online with the intent to stab someone, you would create a very easy evidence trail for the police to follow. We all want to achieve the Bill’s objective and reduce knife crime, but at the same time not destroy or damage UK-based businesses. All I seek is to achieve protection for British business in the form of an approved deliverer.

Representatives of the industry met me, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, a few weeks ago, when the industry put what I thought was a very convincing case to the Minister, along with the honourable Members for Sheffield Central and Sheffield South East. I want to find a solution that does not harm business, and I think this is the way forward. I beg to move.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke in the debate. I want to address a couple of the points that were raised. On delivery to lockers, I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that that would not be a good thing. I hope that Amendment 9, which calls for regulations, would deal with that point. The noble Lord made another good point about deliveries from abroad. We will potentially stop UK companies delivering products to home addresses, but a company based in Germany, France or anywhere else in the world can carry on doing it. That is just not fair and, again, is a disadvantage to business. For me, that highlights why this amendment should be agreed today.

If the amendment is passed by this House, it will be sent to the Commons and we will ask the Commons to look at the matter. I am sure that, as part of the ping-pong process, they will decide that my wording is not quite as good as it could be. But if the Government decide to accept this or something like it, I am sure the draftsperson will come back with a suggested amendment.

Again, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Lucas, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, for their support today. I thank the Minister for her contribution as well. But I am not prepared to withdraw the amendment and would like to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 9

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Lord Singh of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB) - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, I am very content with the amendments in respect of compensation and devolved matters. My remarks will be on the issue of the kirpan. First, however, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, very much. We had a very useful round-table meeting. The noble Baroness and the Government have listened, and we are grateful to them for that. The noble Lord, Lord Singh, explained that this is a very important issue for the Sikh community, and it is good that the Government listened. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made a wider point about people not understanding what the kirpan is and the difficulties experienced by Sikhs in going about their daily business. I am not going to get into the issue about the fact that they have the kirpan on their person, but I hope that this will go some way to help people understand more about different faiths, including the Sikh faith, and why people carry the kirpan. I am very happy with the amendment and very pleased that the Government listened, for which I thank them very much.

Amendment 10 agreed.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank the noble Baroness for the way she has conducted the Bill through the House. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe. I appreciate the constructive way they have engaged with the House, as they always do. I also place on record my thanks to my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lord Tunnicliffe for the help that they have given me, as well as to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I was grateful, too, for the contributions of many other noble Lords from around the House, particularly those of the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Singh, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll.

We are certainly sending the Bill back in a better state than that in which it arrived. I am not sure that it will quite achieve all the things that it wants to do, but I certainly support its aims. We have done a good job. I also thank the Bill team at the Home Office, who have always been very courteous and happy to engage with me and other colleagues. I also put on record my thanks to Ben Wood, who works in the Opposition office here in the House of Lords and has kept me armed with briefing notes, amendments and everything else.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick - Hansard

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.

Offensive Weapons Bill Debate

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Offensive Weapons Bill

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Monday 4th March 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab) - Hansard

My Lords, Amendments 74 and 77 in my name seek to establish a “trusted trader” scheme to enable bladed products to be delivered to home addresses. This is an issue that I raised in Committee. The Bill as drafted prohibits the delivery of bladed objects to residential properties, and there are serious concerns among small and medium-sized knife manufacturers and retailers that this will have a detrimental impact on their businesses.

As more sales move online, consumers expect to be able to receive deliveries directly to their home. I fully support the aims of the Bill but I think this is a legislative sledgehammer that will affect small and medium-sized businesses based in the UK while having little impact on knife crime. There is no evidence that these high-quality knives sold online are being bought with criminal intent; if there were any evidence, it would have already been presented. I think we all accept that if you bought a knife online with criminal intent, you would be creating a very easy evidence trail for the police to follow.

We all want to achieve the objective of the Bill, which is to reduce knife crime, but at the same time we do not want to destroy UK-based businesses. There is a need for greater enforcement of existing legislation prohibiting the sale of knives to under-18s and the carrying of a knife without good reason, and these amendments would enable a trusted trader scheme to come into force. All that I am seeking to achieve is protection for British businesses, whether with the scheme in these amendments, with the scheme suggested last week by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, or with some other form of approved deliverer scheme, which we discussed when we had a very positive meeting last week with the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams of Trafford and Lady Barran, and representatives of the business community from Sheffield—who, in my opinion, put a very convincing case to the Minister—along with the honourable Members for Sheffield Central and Sheffield South East.

I am aware that a trusted trader scheme has been ruled out by the Home Office, which claims that it would add more bureaucracy and would cost businesses to establish, but I point out that the scheme is being suggested by the very businesses that would be affected. I make clear that I am not fixed on any scheme; I just want to find a solution for what I think the Minister accepts is a real issue that could have damaging consequences for British businesses. I know that is not the Government’s intention—in fact, I support their actual intentions—but we have a problem here. I beg to move.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) - Hansard

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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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I put this provision forward, but I am not stuck on this or any other particular scheme, and I hope I made that clear in my remarks. I am generally very grateful to the Minister for the way she met with the traders—they were very impressed with the interest she took.

All I want to do is to stop us putting on the statute book something which harms British business—nothing else. The Minister has confirmed that discussions are still going on, so will she allow me to bring the issue back at Third Reading? If so, I would be very happy to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

Just to clarify, is the Minister happy for me to bring it back at Third Reading? I do not want any disputes with the clerks afterwards about this situation.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

I do not think there will be any disputes with the clerks.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, in that case, that is all clear and correct. I am delighted to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 74 withdrawn.

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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick - Hansard

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”,

Amendment 80,

“exclusively designed for an agricultural or forestry management purpose”,

Amendment 83,

“specifically to be used for agricultural or forestry management purposes”,

and if those differences are deliberate and explicable.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, I rise briefly to support the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, as he raises valid points. Again, we do not want anything in the Bill that disadvantages UK business.

The Earl of Erroll Portrait The Earl of Erroll - Hansard

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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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

When this discussion is over I invite the Minister to read Hansard and to reflect on the debate—it is distressing. We are talking about table knives, steak knives and knives to shear sheep and so on when we have a serious problem on our hands in this country with knife crime. This Bill completely misses the point. People have been murdered over the weekend and it is frustrating that this legislation completely misses the point.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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—

“Kirpans

(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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, Amendment 91, tabled in my name and with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, seeks to place on the face of the Bill a provision to exempt the kirpan from the provisions relating to the possession of offences weapons under the Criminal Justice Act 1988. I raised this issue in Committee, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, for meeting me and a number of other noble Lords from all sides of the House, along with representatives of the Sikh community, including the noble Lord, Lord Singh. It was very much appreciated by everybody present.

There is no question but that the Sikh community is fully behind the intention of the Bill to tighten the law on offensive weapons. We are all appalled by the toll that knife crime is taking on young lives; even today we are seeing more tragic events on the news. The Government have responded to the very reasonable requests of the Sikh community on an issue in the Commons, but my intention with this amendment is to go further. The noble Lord, Lord Singh, raised the issue at Second Reading, and I supported him. It came up again in Committee, and many noble Lords spoke then.

For practising Sikhs, observance of their faith requires adherence to the “five Ks”, one of which is to wear a kirpan. Larger kirpans are used on many religious occasions, such as Sikh wedding ceremonies. I think it is fair to say that noble Lords in all parties, and on the Cross Benches, would be concerned if restrictions in this Bill had unintended consequences for the Sikh community as they observe and practise their faith, or caused upset or concern when a member of the community used a kirpan for ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons. The status quo is not adequate, as it provides a defence of religious reasons only if a person is charged with a criminal offence. It does not cover other reasons such as ceremonial, historical or sporting events, where kirpans are offered as gifts to dignitaries.

The status quo provides a defence only if a person is charged. My amendment will provide an exemption for the possession of a kirpan. It will provide a specific reference in the law, which Sikhs have been calling for. Sikhs are members of a law-abiding community that makes a wonderful contribution to the United Kingdom. The community still faces difficulties in workplaces, education and leisure with the issue of kirpans. This amendment will provide great assistance to Sikhs and will educate all of us about the kirpan. I beg to move.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick - Hansard

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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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for that response. All through this debate, she has always engaged positively with all sides of the House and with the Sikh community, whose members I know are very grateful for that. I am delighted at this stage to withdraw the amendment and I look forward to the solution which I hope will be brought back at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, in my nine years in your Lordships’ House, I have never had to come to the Dispatch Box and speak to two amendments that were originally in the government Bill. I am proposing a government clause here. I suppose we all have to do new things at some point, but it is a strange situation when the opposition spokesperson moves to add two clauses on these matters that were in the Bill in the other place.

I shall read out a couple of quotes that may interest the House. First:

“There is concern about the availability of .50 calibre and rapid-fire Manually Actuated Release System (MARS) rifles being available to some civilian firearms licence holders. The range and penetrative power of .50 calibre rifles makes them more dangerous than other common firearms and were they to be used in criminal or terrorist activities would present a serious threat to the public and would be uniquely difficult for the police to control. Due to the rate of discharge MARS rifles pose a comparable risk to the public and police as other self-loading weapons already banned in the UK. The Government need to intervene to ensure the purchase, ownership or possession is illegal”.

That is the opening statement of the Government’s impact assessment.

Moving on, at Second Reading in the House of Commons, the Secretary of State said:

“We based those measures on evidence that we received from intelligence sources, police and other security experts … According to the information that we have, weapons of this type have, sadly, been used in the troubles in Northern Ireland, and, according to intelligence provided by police and security services, have been possessed by criminals who have clearly intended to use them”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/6/18; cols. 918-19.]

What happened? What persuaded the Government to do a complete about-turn by Third Reading? I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response. Apparently, these weapons can immobilise a truck or hit a person over a mile away. I am surprised by the about-turn between Second Reading and Third Reading. We raised this issue in Grand Committee and have still had no explanation. I seek to put two government clauses back into the Bill. I look forward to the debate and I beg to move.

Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee (Con) - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank the Minister for his contribution. This has been an interesting debate. I am proposing the position the Government took only a few months ago in the other place. They are now opposing that position. I suppose we live in interesting times.

I was very clear at Second Reading that I fully support the Home Secretary. I am just disappointed that the Government have changed their mind. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for his amendments. They go some way towards allaying my fears. I am very pleased to learn from the Minister that the Government will support them. That is progress, and I thank the noble Lord for tabling the amendments today.

I also welcome the government consultation. I hope everyone involved and interested will contribute to it. My concern is that we will have the consultation and get the results many months after this Bill has passed into law. If the Government decide to ban these weapons, I will be asking how they are going do so and when there will be legislation. That has happened before. Noble Lords know that I am going to mention the rogue landlords database in the dreaded Housing and Planning Act. We wanted it to be made public, but the Government opposed us all the way. We won at least two votes, but the Government would not have it, so the public cannot access the database. The Government have now changed their mind, but when I ask about it, they say, “You’re absolutely right, Lord Kennedy, but we cannot find a bit of legislation to make it public yet”. That is the frustration with these consultations. The Government look at things, change their mind, but we cannot get changes.

I am not going to test the opinion of the House. I am tempted to see whether the Government vote against their original position, but I shall not do that today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 95 withdrawn.

Offensive Weapons Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Offensive Weapons Bill

(Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Tuesday 26th February 2019

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Home Office
Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord’s Amendment 81, which he will speak to himself when we come to that point in the Bill, ask the Secretary of State to issue guidance. We are placing burdens on shop workers and delivery drivers, and it is incumbent on the Government to issue proper guidance. I know that we have the government amendments and I look forward to the Minister setting them out, as we have a situation where people can be prosecuted and end up in prison, so we need to make sure that they understand their responsibilities. I look forward to the Minister setting that out for the House.

The Earl of Erroll Portrait The Earl of Erroll (CB) - Hansard

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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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, Amendments 4 and 69, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raise the issue of age verification. Our world is becoming more digital and, when age verification can be done digitally, it should obviously be done in that way. That might not be possible yet but it is becoming easier and, if it can be done, it certainly should be. I have to admit that I had never heard of Yoti. Perhaps I am showing my age but I had absolutely no idea what it was. However, I have learned something today. Amendment 69 would provide for schemes to be recognised by the Secretary of State as suitable for this purpose and would provide for the maintenance and updating of a list of those schemes. That seems sensible and I certainly support the amendments.

The Earl of Erroll Portrait The Earl of Erroll - Hansard

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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The Earl of Listowel (CB) Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, I am happy to support the noble Lord’s amendments today. The noble Baroness wants to stop short sentences; debates are going on now in the country about those. We have heard the quote from David Gauke, the Justice Secretary, who wants to reduce these short sentences and the prison population. I agree with him, and with the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, that we need many fewer people in prison. The problem we have is that for the court to be able to impose a community penalty, there must be an option of imprisonment for it to impose. I am a supporter of the greater use of community penalties, but they have to be of a standard that challenges the offending behaviour and helps with the rehabilitation of the offender; otherwise, they have no effect whatever. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about the importance of these penalties being effective.

Many years ago, I was a magistrate and served on the Coventry bench when I lived in the Midlands. We would often get people coming back into the court who had breached or not delivered on their order. When you talked to them, all they would say is, “I was given X number of hours as a community penalty. I have now turned up for three Saturdays in a row and no one is there to actually see me, so I’ve booked the day off—or I might be given an hour and then sent home”. They got to the point of thinking, “I’m not going to come back again”, because they turned up and it was a complete waste of time. So if we are to have a community penalty, it has to be rigorous and challenge the offending behaviour. We cannot have a situation where people turn up and have nothing to do. That is very important.

I also spent a bit of time recently with the Met Police in Greenwich. There is a really good unit there that works with young people who are on the edge of falling into criminality. The unit works with these people and has made a tremendous change to them. When they work with them, you can see the change. As other noble Lords have said, it is probably the first time that an adult has taken any interest in them whatsoever. That has an effect. I met some of the older young people whose lives have been changed and were now helping the younger people. They said, “Yes, it was PC so-and-so who helped me to turn things around”. Lots of good work is going on but it has to be meaningful. People are not going to turn up each day if it is a complete waste of time; we cannot have that.

For the present, however, we have to leave these matters for the courts to decide. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, we may need to think about decoupling community sentences from prison sentences, so that they can impose a community penalty. That would of course require us to amend the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and I hope the Government will consider that. We might bring that back at a future date because it could give us the chance to do other things. Given the amendments before us, I do not think that fines are necessarily the right thing. The courts need to have a suite of things but if we could decouple those, it would certainly be progress. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

The Minister mentions an interesting point, about the company being prosecuted, and then talked about the range of penalties. Would it be an individual, such as the chief executive, managing director or personnel director, who would be prosecuted?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

When we had the debate before, I think it was suggested by one of the Minister’s noble friends that when health and safety law changed and responsibility was brought to bear on company directors, all of a sudden health and safety improved dramatically in this country. If the company directors or chief executive were more liable, the training they gave to their staff might dramatically improve.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, these amendments, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, seek to allow the delivery of corrosive and bladed products to residential addresses where steps are taken to ensure that the recipient is over the age of 18. If we can get to a position where this is possible, I would be very happy to support these amendments. Getting the balance right between putting in place precautions to stop young people getting their hands on these products, and adequate offences, is something we should all support. If that can be done in a way that is not damaging to business, that is all the better.

I am, of course, very concerned about the situation regarding knife attacks in Sheffield, and we will come on to my amendments about that later. We had a very positive meeting earlier this week. I am happy to support these amendments if we can get that balance right. I still have an issue about putting restrictions on overseas companies as our jurisdiction ends here in the UK. If we can get a system whereby we ensure that British companies are not disadvantaged and, equally, have some restrictions, I will fully support that.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Break in Debate

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.”

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, I raised this issue at Second Reading and in Grand Committee. I am grateful for the support I have received from across the House. We are placing shop workers at the forefront in the Bill. They risk a prison sentence or a lesser punishment if they get it wrong, as they will have committed a criminal offence in selling the products referred to in the Bill to a person under 18 years of age. I have no problem with that. These products cannot be sold to young people and we need a deterrent in place to make sure that this is adhered to.

My issue is that the Bill places additional responsibility on shop workers but gives them no additional protection. This issue has been raised many times in the House, not just in the context of the Bill. My noble friend Lady Kennedy of Cradley raised this matter in a recent Question to the Minister. When I was young—a long time ago—I was a shop worker. I enjoyed the work very much. As a young person, it got me talking to people, which gave me confidence. It was hard work and not without its risks, but it was enjoyable.

I know that the Government are looking at this issue; they are seeking further evidence, but the evidence is already there. Even if the Government decide to act at a later date, I worry that we will have moved on and in the weeks, months and years to come, I will be sitting here asking when the Government will introduce legislation, only to be told that they are waiting for a suitable Bill. There are always pressures on legislation—we all know that—but this time, the pressure is paramount. I am very worried that we will move no further forward.

No doubt the Minister will tell me shortly that there is no problem and there is a whole range of offences; for example, anyone who assaults a shop worker can be charged and, if found guilty, convicted. However, far too often, these offences are not prosecuted; that is a serious problem. Indeed, many offences are not even reported so they get nowhere near a police officer. In the Bill, we are placing duties for specific offences on shop workers but giving them no further protection. Let us imagine being in their position, refusing to sell knives or acids to angry young people who want these products. That is not a nice place to be. We expect shop workers to enforce the law in that situation but give them no protection to do so. We owe them a minimum additional protection, which my amendment seeks to provide. Approximately 280 shop workers are assaulted every single day. I was once a member of USDAW; it is a great trade union. It campaigns for shop workers and knows the industry its members work in. It regularly consults the Government and other agencies and puts forward its view. It has done a good job of finding evidence of the problem.

My amendment is different to the one I moved in Committee in one key respect: it goes beyond the imposition of a fine and introduces a maximum imprisonment term of six months. That is not because I want to increase the prison population—I support community sentences—but I want to give the court the power to look at the full suite of options available and impose a sentence that fits the crime. On reflection, limiting it to a fine was not the right thing to do—it is too restrictive—so I wanted to give the court the power to impose the penalty it thought was appropriate for the case. Perhaps I should have done that in the first place, but it is the right thing to do. I hope that the Minister will respond to this debate in detail and give me some good news. I beg to move.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick - Hansard

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.

Break in Debate

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I am pleased that we are going to have a call for evidence so that we can look at these matters in detail, but I have a concern. It is not a party political point because I am sure that it has happened under Labour Governments and the coalition Government. Governments gather evidence and have reviews, but then trying to fit work into the legislative programme becomes very difficult, if not almost impossible. I know that I keep raising the issue, but I will talk again about the rogue landlords database. We could not persuade the Government to make it public, but after the law was passed they said that they did want to do that. However, now we cannot bring forward a piece of legislation to actually make it public. That is so frustrating. I worry that I will be standing here in two years’ time making the same points. I hope the noble Baroness understands the point that I am trying to make.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Break in Debate

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate. There was a lot of support around the House for the issues that I am bringing forward, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. We can all agree that no one should be threatened or abused while doing their lawful business and earning a living. That is important. The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, asked why we particularly want this now. It is because in the Bill we are putting burdens on shop workers, who risk going to prison if they do not enforce its provisions. That is why we have responded. We are giving them particular offences that they can commit, but we also want them to have further protection in relation to these very serious products.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for his support, although it was qualified. I am sorry if I caused him concern; I never intended the sentence to be custodial, but when I looked at it I realised I would have to put that option down. If nothing else, that highlights the need to review how we impose custodial sentences on people. In many cases we need interventions, but we do not want to risk someone going to prison at that point, so I hope we can come back to that at a later stage.

I also thank the Minister for her very detailed response, and for the fruitful meeting that she had with USDAW representatives and myself recently. I think she accepted that they made their case very well, that they know what they are talking about in representing their members, and that they understand the world of retail.

It is important that we get this right. I accept the point that there will be a call for evidence. That will be a second call for me, because I am going to keep pursuing the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, about the rogue landlords database, and I am also pursuing the noble Baroness about the protection of shop workers, and asking when we are going to get legislation on that subject. These are two important matters, and I shall carry on with them, because we cannot let such things be forgotten. We need to ensure that people going about their lawful business and earning a living are protected. Unfortunately, many shop workers—we heard that it is 280 a day—get assaulted in the UK. That is utterly disgraceful, and I hope the evidence that comes in will support the need for legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, made an important point about sentencing guidelines and the Sentencing Council, and there may be something we can do that would not need legislation.

I am not going to test the opinion of the House. I am tempted to, but I have listened to the debate and decided, in view of the way the Minister has engaged with us, to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 27 withdrawn.

Break in Debate

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, knife crime prevention orders are an attempt by the Government to deal with the horror of knife crime. Hardly a week goes by without a report of a young life lost. We see parents on our television screens in the depths of unimaginable despair as they try to understand what has happened to their child. These are things that no one should have to experience: a child, a loved one, murdered. It is also clear that the perpetrators of these crimes destroy their own lives when they are caught and punished. We must ask ourselves: have we as a society failed these children and young people as well?

Teaching right from wrong starts in the home, of course, but other agencies also play their part as children go to school and interact with the world around them. The destruction of Sure Start by the Government was a huge mistake—it was destroyed at the altar of austerity. Services for young people have been devastated. There are no youth clubs, no youth workers in any great numbers. Where children are not in loving homes and no one is there to help them, who becomes their family? The risk is that it will be the drug dealer, the gangs, and the people who exploit and abuse them, who become their family. You are part of a gang; there are people who are in other gangs. You have your territory and they have theirs. I was horrified to learn recently that there are young people living in Camberwell, an area of Southwark where I went to school, who are too scared to cross Camberwell New Road and walk into Lambeth. I could not believe it but it is true: they have never been into the borough of Lambeth. That is another gang’s territory and if they go there they risk being stabbed and killed.

When we debated this in Grand Committee, I asked why COBRA has not been convened to deal with this national emergency. If there is a flood, or other emergency, it is convened, so why not to stop this appalling loss of life and destruction of young lives and families? Why not try to deal with this as a national emergency? You could get the police, the Local Government Association, the Home Office and every other relevant agency around the table to look at solutions to these tragic, devastating incidents. I do not think it is over the top to stop young people losing their lives.

I accept that there is support for these orders. I think I am correct in saying that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police supports them, as does the Mayor of London. However, concerns have also been raised about the criminalising of children. That concern has been expressed tonight by the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Ramsbotham, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and other noble Lords. If these orders are to come into force, we need a proper pilot scheme, with proper evaluation, and then, having considered the report, a vote in both Houses of Parliament on whether to either roll them out fully or not continue with them. This is the subject of Amendment 55 in my name. Amendment 63, which I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for supporting, sets out the report to be laid before Parliament before these come into effect.

There are legitimate concerns about the way this proposal has been introduced so late in the day, the lack of consultations with relevant organisations and the lack of scrutiny in the other place where there was none at all because it was introduced after the Bill had left that House. Although I believe we do scrutiny better in this House, the elected House should have had its opportunity and the fact that it has not is regrettable. Getting a series of Lords amendments to debate in the other place is not the same as a Bill Committee, with evidence being taken and the other place going through its proper parliamentary procedures. I think this proposal deserves that.

A number of key points have been raised by noble Lords around the House. The Minister needs to respond carefully before we decide whether to vote on these matters.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Offensive Weapons Bill Debate

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Department: Leader of the House

Offensive Weapons Bill

(Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Wednesday 6th February 2019

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Leader of the House

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, Amendment 73 seeks to add a new clause to the Bill concerning threatening someone with a non-corrosive substance; as we have heard, it is known as a fake acid attack. My noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe first raised this matter at Second Reading in your Lordships’ House.

We all know that acid attacks are horrific. They give the victim a life sentence of disfigurement, pain and mental anguish, and they need great courage and resilience to overcome that and rebuild their lives. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, who was in the Room earlier, knows a lot about victims of acid attacks, particularly through the charity work he does.

The threat of an acid attack strikes absolute fear into a person. The person being threatened has no idea that the substance in the bottle in front of them is not real and not corrosive—that it could just be water. They feel the same distress, anguish and fear that the victim of a real attack would feel at that point. This amendment would create a new offence to deal with these fake acid attacks. While the substance itself is not dangerous, it is the fear we seek to address here. We can draw parallels with people pulling out fake guns. Most people would not know whether a gun was real—you would still be very scared if someone was pointing a gun at you. We need to look at that issue.

The offence in question would be a summary offence, and at this stage the amendment is a probing amendment, as I am very keen to hear the Government’s attitude to this issue and how they think it can be dealt with. This is a real issue; fake attacks do happen. I look forward to the debate and the Government’s response. I beg to move.

Lord Garnier - Hansard

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.

Break in Debate

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank the Minister for her response. I also thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for their contributions to this short debate; both made reasonable points. I am not in favour of filling up the statute book with lots of laws; I have often thought that we should be consolidating more legislation. Legislation is sometimes confusing for ourselves, let alone members of the public. However, I tabled the amendment to highlight this offence. Young people in particular can often get involved in these situations without realising that they are guilty of an offence, and we must find a way of ensuring that they understand that. I will leave it at that at this stage, but I may come back to the issue on Report. I am grateful to everyone who spoke in the debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 73 withdrawn.

Break in Debate

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. As I was sitting here listening to so many excellent and knowledgeable speakers, I thought that this debate should have been in the Chamber, but that is for another day. I fully accept that knife crime prevention orders put forward by the Government today are, as the noble Baroness says, to deal with habitual carriers of knives. In that sense, we can support them in principle but there need to be some changes.

I am also clear that the present Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, as well as the previous commissioner and the Mayor of London, support the idea of a prevention order as it could be a valuable tool in dealing with the epidemic of knife crime. It is always heart-breaking to see families destroyed when they have lost a loved one, but of course the perpetrator’s life is destroyed as well. There is a huge issue with young people carrying knives and so on. I have met one or two gang members; they can be very challenging individuals to meet. Some of the younger ones are certainly very frightened.

I was on the Wyndham estate some time ago, near where I went to school, to meet some of these young people and they offered me an escort off the estate. I said, “It’s all right, I don’t need an escort—I’ve lived round here”. I was fine. I walked off with no problem at all because I am a fairly big 56 year-old bloke; I am not a 15 or 16 year-old, and I am not black. If I had walked out of there in other circumstances, I would have had a problem getting to the bus stop but, in my situation, there was no problem at all. The young people thought that I would not be safe walking on the estate, which was not the case.

The noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Ramsbotham, made the point, as I think other noble Lords did, that it is a shame the way these amendments have arrived in this House. They have been tabled in Grand Committee and, as has been said, have not gone through the procedures in the House of Commons. My understanding of that House is that if these provisions had been in the Bill from the start there would have been an evidence session in the Commons with experts coming in to look at them. That has been lost and cannot happen now, which is a shame. I support the idea that they have come into the Bill very late. They were announced to the media, and here we are in Grand Committee, not the main Chamber. We will come back to them, or something like them, on Report. Having that at the end of the passage of the Bill is regrettable.

That is why we have tabled Amendment 77 in this group, which was put forward by my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe. It attempts to insert a new clause which would require the Government within three months of the Bill becoming an Act to publish a draft Bill to bring in knife crime prevention orders. It would mean there would have to be a Bill, which I hope would start in the Commons so that it could have evidence sessions. As it would be a draft Bill, even before that there would be a Joint Committee of both Houses to look at the stuff in detail. We want to get this right. On each side of the House, we can give examples of where we have passed measures and have got them right or wrong, but most of the things that were done wrong were done in haste. If we want to sort out an issue, we all charge off and do something, and months or years later, we find that we did not quite get it right. Amendment 77 in my noble friend’s name would ensure that we could do that and look at it in detail.

I am a big fan of draft Bills. When my noble kinsman Lady Kennedy of Cradley—I suppose I should refer to her as that—was on the Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill, I saw the work that she and other Members did. I remember the phone calls from the Home Office when the Minister talked to her—it was Karen Bradley—and a lot of detailed work went on to get that Bill right. I think we all accept that it is very good legislation. There were one or two issues—the noble Lord, Lord McColl, made efforts to improve some of the aftercare—but generally it is very good legislation. I would contrast that, as I often do, with the Housing and Planning Act, which is terrible legislation done on the back of a fag packet. It is absolute rubbish and most of the Government have quietly forgotten about it. It has been pushed to one side, so that no one ever mentions it again. I am a big fan of draft legislation, especially when it concerns sorting big issues out. The intention behind the amendment from my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe is to do that.

This might seem a bit over the top, but we have had reports of these poor people being killed and their families destroyed. Why is COBRA not meeting to discuss this? We have COBRA meetings when we have a flood or a problem with the trains. This is about young people dying, so why is the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary not convening COBRA and getting the right people in the room to ask them, “What’s going on here?”.

There is an issue about youth workers, social workers and cuts to services because if we are going to have penalties to deal with the issue we need to deal with the causes as well. Why is COBRA not meeting? People are losing their lives, so I want a response on that. As I said, these are very important issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, made some excellent points as did my noble friend Lord Ponsonby with his experience as a magistrate in youth courts. He has experience of dealing with these people when they get to court. A lot of them have form. That is an important point. The right reverend Prelate also made some good points about the work that she has done in Newcastle and in south-east London. I used to go to a youth club—the Crossed Swords youth club—which was run by St Paul’s, a Church of England church. Reverend Shaw used to run it. I am a Catholic, but I used to go there because it was a very good club. All the kids from the estate went there. It is important that we have those things. In many parts the country they have disappeared. Whether voluntary or local authority, they have all been lost, and the people are lost there. We need to get those things right.

The shame with this Bill is that it seeks to deal with the punishment of offenders but does not address any of the causes, which is one of the losses in this Bill. Generally speaking, I am not against the orders. They need to be looked at, refined and changed but in principle I am not against them. Noble Lords made valuable points and I hope that the Minister will take them on board.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick - Hansard

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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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick - Hansard

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?

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, I have Amendments 79 and 80 in this group. They are word-for-word what was in the Bill when it was first published in the House of Commons. I am attempting to put back into the Bill the clauses put forward by the Government originally—not my usual role here as opposition spokesperson; I am usually trying to take out government clauses or change them, but here we are today trying to put them back in.

My noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen set out clearly at Second Reading and again today why these weapons should be banned. They are more dangerous in terms of their penetrative power and range. My noble friend quoted the Home Secretary’s comments; I shall not quote them again. The Home Secretary was very clear why these weapons had to be banned; he had had intelligence about why it was important to do that. Then we had a complete about turn and the clause was taken out between Second Reading and Third Reading. I am sure we will find out at some point what happened and why that was done. My honourable friend Louise Haigh, the shadow Policing Minister, was very clear that the Opposition backed the Government’s original position and that the provision would pass through the House of Commons without any problems.

It is interesting that the Government have gone much further than what people on the Government Benches wanted. The Member for The Cotswolds, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, suggested level 3 security, but that is not here. They were not looking for the weapon to be banned but wanted enhanced security, very much along the lines of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but there is nothing here. That security level means that the gun, the bolt and the ammunition are kept in three separate safes. At the moment the Government are proposing not to do that. They are going to leave the security as it is. That is regrettable.

I am not an expert on guns. I do not particularly like guns, but I have fired some weapons, including a sniper rifle and a few shotguns. I fired them on ranges, and when I was in the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme I did some stuff. I have shot only at targets and clay pigeons. I am very pleased that we live in a country where we have tough laws on weapons. I am very proud that we have them, and they are good.

My noble friend Lord Robertson was right to point out in respect of evidence that, before Hungerford and Dunblane, handguns were not generally seen as an issue. It was only after the two tragedies that Government had to act to ban them. We can never say what is going to happen in the future.

The Government were right in their original proposals, and it is shame we are here today. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has tabled an amendment to improve the position today. I am very pleased to see it because it is better than the Government’s suggestion. It at least gives level 3 security. That will make it more difficult for weapons to be obtained illegally, and although it is not an absolute guarantee it is certainly progress. I shall not press my amendment, but I am looking forward to hearing the Minister’s comments in response to the debate, because these are serious issues. As my noble friend Lord Robertson said, although the Government removed the two clauses, at no point has the Home Secretary withdrawn the remarks he made. My worry is that after we have had this review, the Government will decide that we need to ban these weapons and then will say that we have no legislation to ban them and we will have to wait until something comes along. That is the often the case with many things which we suggest in opposition. The Government aim to do things and say they will do them at some point when they find a Bill they can put them in. My worry is that we may end up there. I raised that point at Second Reading with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. If the Government are going to do a consultation and then decide to ban these weapons, they should take a power to enable them to do that through secondary legislation. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Earl Howe Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe) (Con) - Hansard

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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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

In my contribution, I made a point about the Government taking out amendments then putting them back in. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, at Second Reading, the Minister referred to consultation. Today, the Minister told us that the Government remain very concerned about these weapons and their power. I worry that we will have the same problem as with the rogue landlords database. We wanted to make the database public through the Housing and Planning Act. We won the votes in the Lords, but they were overturned in the Commons. A year later, the Government changed their mind. Now, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, is saying, “The Government want to make the database available. We need primary legislation but we cannot find anything to tag it on to”. I worry that the Government will decide in the end that they want to ban these weapons but will say that they cannot find the legislation. Will the Government consider a precautionary power so that if they decide to, they could do that very quickly through secondary legislation?

Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee - Hansard

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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Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, I will speak very briefly. The amendment is clearly a good addition. We certainly want consistency on medical checks, police checks and how people look at this issue. Without that, we will have problems. That cannot be right. We want to ensure that people’s suitability to have a weapon is assessed, and to know that this is done to the highest possible standards. We are all clear on that. Where we have inconsistency, we have problems. I support the amendment and I hope that the Minister will respond positively to the issues raised.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, Amendment 76 would add a new clause to the Bill which would require a Minister of the Crown to lay before Parliament an assessment of the impact of Clause 31 before it comes into force. This is important because Clause 31 gives the police powers to search schools or further education premises for corrosive substances. That is an additional power for the police.

The worry is that this will disproportionately affect BAME children and young people who we know are already more likely to be stopped and searched, and that is something we must be aware of before the measure comes into force.

The equality statement on the policy does not appear to contain any specific analysis of the likely equality impact of the extension of the investigative and enforcement powers. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that in her response. This is about getting the balance right. We must get things in proportion and take care not to damage relations between the black community and the police. I beg to move.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran - Hansard

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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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran - Hansard

I am glad to be able to reassure the noble Baroness that that will be the case.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank the Minister for her response, which was very helpful. At this stage, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

My Lords, Amendment 83 would insert a new clause into the Bill to make the owner of a website, be that an individual or a company, responsible for ensuring that weapons listed in Schedule 1 to the Criminal Justice Act are not advertised on their site. The Bill places responsibilities on shop workers, delivery people and others; making website owners responsible for their content should be welcomed by the Government. I asked a similar Question today about anonymous accounts and the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, made the point that when people are made responsible, things happen. If they are not responsible, they will do nothing. There should be consequences. In some ways, this is in a similar area.

Subsection (2) of the proposed new clause would provide for the owner to have committed no offence if, within 24 hours of being notified of the advertisement, they arrange for it to be removed. Then there would be no problems whatever. In some cases, there is a defence under Section 19 of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002, but that depends on the facts of the case. I accept entirely that there can be jurisdictional issues if the provider is based overseas.

This is only a probing amendment to highlight an issue that is part of a much wider problem, which I asked a Question about today: how we control what is on the internet and how we deal with such issues. These are serious matters. I hope that the government White Paper will deal with some of them, but I seek to include a clause in the Bill to make owners responsible for the content on their site and the adverts they place. I beg to move.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick - Hansard

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.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank the Minister for her helpful response. I tabled the amendment to highlight the problems in this area. It was good to hear that there are already provisions in place to deal with these matters. I look forward in due course to the Government’s White Paper on the wider debate on the internet, the good that it does and how we deal with its bad side. At this stage, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 83 withdrawn.

Offensive Weapons Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Offensive Weapons Bill

(Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Wednesday 30th January 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Home Office

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, Amendments 41 and 43 in the name of my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe are intended to enable a trusted trader scheme and status to be set up for sellers of knives and other bladed products in the UK. As drafted, the Bill will prohibit the delivery of bladed objects and products to residential properties. The concern is that this will have a detrimental impact on the business of small and medium size knife manufacturers and retailers here in the UK. As more and more sales move online, consumers normally expect to receive their deliveries at home. My colleagues in the Opposition fully support the aims of the Bill, but have concerns that this is a legislative sledgehammer that will affect small and medium size businesses here in the UK, while having very little impact on knife crime. To achieve the objectives we all want to see delivered—a reduction in knife crime and violence, but at the same time not damaging or destroying businesses—I suggest that we need a greater enforcement of existing legislation that prohibits the sale of knives to under-18s and the carrying of a knife without good reason. The amendments we are debating will seek to enable good, well-run businesses to operate in a trusted trader scheme, while not causing difficulties or putting their businesses at risk.

I understand that the Home Office carried out a consultation between October and December 2017 on these issues, with more than 10,500 responses. On 25 July, the Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins MP, wrote to my friend the Member for Sheffield Central in the other place, Mr Paul Blomfield MP. In her response, the Minister indicated that there were concerns over the delivery of knives purchased to residential premises, and concerns about the sale of knives online to under-18s—which, of course, is already illegal—but that some sellers were not doing enough to stop children buying knives.

My friend Paul Blomfield, Clive Betts and some Sheffield knife manufacturers met the Minister on 15 January. The department had looked at the trusted trader scheme, but seemed to rule it out on the basis that it would add more bureaucracy and burden to the businesses. They looked at placing the burden on delivery companies, and the measures in this Bill.

It is an offence under the Criminal Justice Act, as we know, to sell knives and other bladed products to a person under the age of 18. But there is a defence if the person can prove that they took steps to make all reasonable precautions and exercise due diligence to avoid committing an offence. The sellers will have to meet these conditions to rely upon that defence but the industry also agrees with the objectives of the Bill: to reduce knife crime and make it more difficult for people under the age of 18 to order knives. Many businesses already exercise robust age-verification checks and label their packets accordingly. Their concern is that the Bill’s prohibition on selling bladed products to residential premises will cause them particular damage.

This is about the damage to small and medium-sized businesses, with its knock-on effect on UK manufacturers. The larger retailers and a lot of companies often buy their knives from overseas, so there is really no issue for them. But these small producers are selling niche and often highly priced products, which are not sold anywhere by the large companies. The industry would like some evidence. What is the evidence of people purchasing knives online to commit crime? Apparently, there are roughly 424 million knives in the UK at the moment and there is little or no evidence that people buy knives online to go out and commit a crime. There are plenty of knives around everywhere. The Metropolitan Police and the Cutlery and Allied Trades Research Association have suggested that most knives used in violent crime are old knives, which people can get their hands on from a variety of sources.

The trusted trader scheme would in effect mirror what is presently in place for the delivery of alcohol. Such a scheme would help to drive up standards across the board while providing protection for responsible businesses. Coupled with better enforcement of existing legislation, the scheme would help and not impede small and medium-sized enterprises. The industry wants this, so the objection from the Government that it would mean more bureaucracy does not really hold water for me. If there is a choice between a ban—not being able to sell your products for delivery to homes—and having a scheme which ensured that you verify who you are selling to, this would be better for them. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick - Hansard

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”.

I agree.

Break in Debate

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is right. I am very grateful to him because now I do not have to explain it.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I probably forgot to ask the Minister to meet a delegation of Sheffield MPs and businesses concerned before Report. I am sure she will.

There have been some really interesting figures in this debate. We have 424 million knives in circulation and 71 prosecutions of companies selling knives online incorrectly. If the Bill goes ahead, we will ban businesses operating in the UK selling knives online, but if they are based in France, Germany or the United States, it will be fine—off you go, no problem at all. That is some of the nonsense that we have here.

I respect the Minister very much, but I was disappointed by her response. I do not believe she has made the case for this. As other noble Lords have said, we are not convinced that this part of the Bill will do what it seeks to achieve. If that is the case, I would be very happy if it were not in the Bill at all. I moved this amendment because the industry is keen to avoid this ban and to have something else in place, and it has been working with Sheffield MPs on this. This amendment was put forward in the Commons and I have put it forward again today. This is not a scheme we have dreamed up.

These businesses sell niche products that are not available in most shops. If you go into a big shop, the knives in them are likely to have been made in China and elsewhere. These are businesses whose products have not been bought by high street retailers and which now survive by selling their products online. We are now going to make that harder for them without any particular evidence that it is causing problems. If you are going to go out and commit crime with a knife, where would you go? I would go to my knife drawer at home—I have a load of knives in there. That is what people would do. I do not believe that people are buying these knives online to commit crimes. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, they would be creating an evidence trail if they are then hauled up. For me, that is a problem.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Break in Debate

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I thank my noble friend for that point, although I am not sure that I agree with him.

As I was saying, I do not believe the Government have made their case on this. We have seen 71 prosecutions and the evidence here. There are issues with knives and we all want to see knife crime reduced. This is the classic case of the Government using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

The Minister nodded to say that she would be happy to meet the Sheffield MPs and knife manufacturers. This is about the high-end, niche manufacturers who do not, or very rarely, sell their products in UK stores any more but almost wholly online. We will potentially damage their businesses but, at the same time, allow firms abroad to sell here with no restrictions whatever. That is regrettable.

I will leave it there for now. I will bring this issue back on Report—I guarantee that—but before then we can have that meeting and try to persuade the Government to look at this again. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 41 withdrawn.

Break in Debate

Lord Garnier (Con) - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

The noble Lord make a very valid point. I shall certainly read Hansard carefully, because some of the Minister’s responses may have been contradictory. If I was a manufacturer of high-end knife products in Holland or Germany, I would be very pleased when the Bill became law because I could then launch a big campaign. I would know that the British Government were attempting to hamstring manufacturers in their own county but that I could carry on selling this stuff with no problem at all. We have no jurisdiction beyond our own borders. All we are doing here is hurting British business on the basis of very little evidence.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas - Hansard

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?

Break in Debate

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I think the Minister referred to premises that are registered for business purposes. That could be a home, could it not? If I work from home, knives could be delivered to my home.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

On that point, this is very anti-British business for no obvious reason or benefit for anybody concerned. If I were a German company or a French company, I would be delighted with this legislation.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

Does the noble Lord agree that the Committee generally agrees with the laudable aims of the Bill but on all sides we are highlighting the large holes in it? It is easy to make a mockery of what is being set out here. I hope that the Government will listen carefully to this. We want to have discussions between now and Report so that we can get this legislation right. Where we are at the moment is honestly ridiculous. The more discussions I hear now, the worse things seem to me.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick - Hansard

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.

Break in Debate

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I was not intending to come in on this item, but the more I sit here listening to this Bill, the more concerned and confused I get. I support the intentions of the Government in trying to deal with knife crime and violence—they are absolutely right there—but, listening to this, I am not convinced we are on the right track.

Is the Minister aware of the Better Regulation Executive? It is part of BIS, or whatever the department is called now, and is in charge of regulatory reform across the British Government. Its policy is described in these terms:

“Some regulations are ineffective and unnecessary. Complying with them costs businesses time and money, and can restrict economic growth … Governments generally attempt to ensure regulations are fair and effective. The Better Regulation Executive's purpose is to effectively strike the right balance between protecting people’s rights, health and safety and freeing them from unnecessary bureaucracy”.

If it has not gone there already, the Bill needs to go there straightaway. Clearly, there is a lot of mess in this Bill. I say it should go there because we are affecting lots of British businesses and putting them at a competitive disadvantage to other businesses in Europe and around the world. We need to get our businesses up and working well, and I do not see how this is helping. Maybe it has gone there already and been improved by it. If it has not, I hope we can get the Bill off to it and maybe get something back before Report.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick - Hansard

My Lords, would the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, agree that perhaps his trusted traders scheme would also need to go through that process?

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I certainly would. I would be delighted for it to go through the process, because the scheme I have been keen we talk about has come not from me, but from the industry. They want the scheme, so I would be delighted for it to go there, since they are the people who make these niche products and are worried that the Government are putting them at a competitive disadvantage.

The Earl of Listowel Hansard

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.

Break in Debate

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

So would this not have gone to the Better Regulation Executive to look at?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Offensive Weapons Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Offensive Weapons Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Excerpts
Monday 28th January 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Home Office
The Earl of Erroll Portrait The Earl of Erroll - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op) - Hansard

My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of the amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is right that we are in the hands of sellers and delivery drivers, who have quite a lot of responsibility. If they get this wrong, they could be convicted, go to prison and have a criminal record. I am not against the Bill—in general I support it—but it is reasonable for it to set out what people need to do to protect themselves. One way of going forward may be a police guidance scheme. Another would be requiring the delivery driver to take photographic evidence. This would be a very good thing to do, because it is important to protect the people who are doing this work. People do make unintentional mistakes. They need to know that the person at the door is the right age and can hand over documents as evidence, or that they have abided by a police-approved scheme to which their company has signed up. These amendments go a long way to ensure protection for the seller, as well as making sure that the items are handed to the right people who are entitled to buy them.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

I see the point the Minister is making. She referred to various age-verification systems. I do not know whether we are going to have any guidance from the Government when this Bill becomes law. I want to ensure that these products are not sold to young people, but equally I want a system whereby I am confident that the person selling these items has had to reach quite a high bar to get this wrong so I am more confident that they have sold them deliberately. Will there be some sort of guidance saying that the Government would expect a seller to be in a scheme for age verification, so that if you are a courier company delivering products we would expect you to be in a scheme that does this and your driver would have professional training to know that, when he knocks on the door, he has to have done such and such? We need to make sure that we give the maximum amount of direction to people so we avoid these things getting into the wrong hands.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford - Hansard

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark - Hansard

Will you produce guidance along the lines of what I have suggested? Or are you not sure yet? Will you get to it later on?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford -