There have been 29 exchanges between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
|1||Thu 27th February 2020||
|3 interactions (2,597 words)|
|2||Mon 24th February 2020||
Policing (England and Wales)
|2 interactions (2,978 words)|
|3||Mon 10th February 2020||
Oral Answers to Questions
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|4||Wed 15th May 2019||
|2 interactions (2,063 words)|
|5||Tue 26th March 2019||
Offensive Weapons Bill
|5 interactions (1,001 words)|
|6||Fri 22nd March 2019||
Emergency Summit on Knife Crime
|5 interactions (1,968 words)|
|7||Tue 19th March 2019||
Child Sexual Exploitation Victims: Criminal Records
|4 interactions (1,111 words)|
|8||Tue 19th February 2019||
Merseyside Police Funding
|6 interactions (1,928 words)|
|9||Thu 24th January 2019||
|2 interactions (2,390 words)|
|10||Mon 21st January 2019||
Oral Answers to Questions
|3 interactions (255 words)|
|11||Thu 13th December 2018||
Public Health Model to Reduce Youth Violence
|2 interactions (2,378 words)|
|12||Wed 28th November 2018||
Offensive Weapons Bill
|3 interactions (551 words)|
|13||Tue 11th September 2018||
Offensive Weapons Bill (Ninth sitting)
|24 interactions (5,037 words)|
|14||Tue 11th September 2018||
Offensive Weapons Bill (Tenth sitting)
|56 interactions (11,254 words)|
|15||Thu 6th September 2018||
Offensive Weapons Bill (Eighth sitting)
|45 interactions (5,728 words)|
|16||Thu 6th September 2018||
Offensive Weapons Bill (Seventh sitting)
|38 interactions (4,067 words)|
|17||Tue 4th September 2018||
Offensive Weapons Bill (Fifth sitting)
|18 interactions (6,566 words)|
|18||Tue 4th September 2018||
Offensive Weapons Bill (Sixth sitting)
|40 interactions (6,679 words)|
|19||Tue 17th July 2018||
Offensive Weapons Bill (Second sitting)
|11 interactions (1,367 words)|
|20||Tue 17th July 2018||
Offensive Weapons Bill (First sitting)
|8 interactions (2,387 words)|
|21||Mon 16th July 2018||
Oral Answers to Questions
|3 interactions (264 words)|
|22||Wed 6th June 2018||
Rural Crime and Public Services
|2 interactions (586 words)|
|23||Tue 20th March 2018||
Data Protection Bill [ Lords ] (Fifth sitting)
|5 interactions (422 words)|
|24||Thu 15th March 2018||
Data Protection Bill [Lords] (Fourth sitting)
|61 interactions (5,774 words)|
|25||Thu 15th March 2018||
Data Protection Bill [ Lords ] (Third sitting)
|2 interactions (140 words)|
|26||Tue 13th March 2018||
Data Protection Bill [ Lords ] (Second sitting)
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|27||Mon 12th March 2018||
|3 interactions (726 words)|
|28||Wed 17th January 2018||
County Lines Exploitation: London
|2 interactions (2,312 words)|
|29||Wed 20th December 2017||
Corrosive Substance Attacks
|2 interactions (1,952 words)|
This report is utterly damning and should shame us. It finds that the current system of protecting the most vulnerable children in our country is unsustainable, that the approach of police forces is not proactive enough, and that vulnerable children are simply not being identified or protected, with resources and the failures and variability of partnership working being identified as key concerns. The report comes on the same day as a leaked Government report into the drug trade, which shows that vulnerable children are falling into the grip of gangs at an unprecedented rate. Those are two sides of the same crisis that is reaching into every town and community across the country.
The Children’s Commissioner has been sounding the alarm for several years now. She found that 2.3 million children are living with risk because of their vulnerable backgrounds, and as many as 1.6 million of those children have patchy or no statutory support whatsoever. After a decade in which the safety net that vulnerable children rely on—Sure Start, family support services, speech and language therapy, behavioural support, social services and probation—has been picked away, it is becoming far too easy for the most vulnerable to be preyed upon by serious organised criminals.
It is thoroughly unacceptable that the police are not recognising or evaluating risks to children well enough, as the report has found. Children living in care are not being properly protected. Schools are becoming too eager to expel and off roll. Pupil referral units are becoming recruiting grounds for vicious criminals. The total lack of both mental health and residential care beds has led to too many children being inappropriately detained or being ferried around the country in the backs of police cars. This is a whole-system failure, and the consequences for children and families are stark.
Over £880 million has already been lost from children’s and youth services since 2010. The flagship early intervention fund announced by the former Home Secretary last spring was supposed to make funding available for critical support to steer young people away from serious violence, but answers to parliamentary questions have revealed that more than 60% of bids from police and crime commissioners for these projects, including 24 in London alone and one to tackle the vicious exploitation known as county lines, have been rejected. The former Home Secretary had previously promised to do everything in his power to tackle county lines exploitation and the vulnerable children swept up in it, but he then quietly rejected a £1.3 million bid from West Mercia, Staffordshire and Warwickshire to fund a project designed to tackle exactly that. In total, the Government are funding only 29 diversion projects nationwide.
If this report is not the catalyst for the Government to get serious, nothing will be. We know from the Prime Minister’s short time in office that he goes missing when things get tough and there are difficult questions to be answered. When it comes to protecting the most vulnerable children, we simply cannot afford for him to do so again.
Turning specifically to the report’s findings, the Minister knows as well as I do that data sharing comes up repeatedly in serious case reviews and in response to child protection. Despite specific amendments to the Data Protection Act 2018 that allow the sharing of data for safeguarding purposes, it remains an issue. What more can we do to break down the organisational and cultural silos that are preventing data sharing and stopping organisations working together to protect children?
With police forces and services facing unsustainable demand, what resources will the Government put in place to tackle that need and properly fund local authority children’s services after £880 million was taken from their budgets? Given that the report praises the approach in Wales to adverse childhood experiences and the collaboration of the four forces there with local services to provide targeted early support, what plans do the Government have to replicate such an approach in England? We have consistently said that implementing a public health approach to meeting that crisis will require leadership from the Prime Minister down. That can be done, but it requires political will to bring together and co-ordinate the agencies, Departments and police forces that can make a difference in identifying and protecting children earlier. Clearly that is happening in some local authority and force areas, but it is far too inconsistent, so will the Prime Minister now convene a taskforce, led from central Government and chaired by him, to bring together the services and identify the support that will have a tangible effect and ensure that the national strategy on child abuse is led from the heart of No. 10?
It is a pleasure to follow the three excellent maiden speeches that have been made today, on the centenary of Nancy Astor’s maiden speech, and to hear such strong new female MPs speaking so powerfully about their constituencies. I concur with what my colleagues have said, particularly about the hon. Members for Newbury (Laura Farris) and for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson)—how proud their parents will have been of them and how touching it was to hear them speak about their parents’ public service.
We have had a series of greatest hits from the Opposition Benches today, including from several of my colleagues who are well known for their contributions to policing debates. I sometimes feel as though I could do their speeches for them, as this is the fourth police grant debate that I have had the privilege of responding to. I am pleased to have had so many excellent speakers on our side contributing so powerfully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) spoke about the role of police staff and about how disappointing it was not to see any commitment to funding the reversal of the cut in their numbers. He mentioned how they contributed to victim support and how their loss has meant that the police have been forced to switch to a reactive mode of policing over the past 10 years, which has particularly destroyed neighbourhood and community policing. That refrain has been common among the contributions to the debate today, and we have really felt the loss of those people in our communities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) once again made the plea for Cardiff to have capital city status. It is baffling that it does not have it, when London, Edinburgh and Belfast all have that status and receive the funding that is attached to it. I hope the Minister will address that issue in her wind-up remarks. My hon. Friend also mentioned the proscription of two far-right groups that the Government have announced today. That is welcome, but it should be noted that far-right activity and terrorism have already moved on significantly from when those complaints were first made by the police. I concur with my hon. Friend that the Government need to be much swifter in responding to concerns raised about far-right activity.
I know the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) well, having visited it on several occasions to see the impact of the loss of policing and to meet some of his excellent local police officers, as well as former officers who have been forced out by the Government’s changes in the past 10 years. He talked powerfully about the increased demand and the heavy toll that it takes, not just on the police and their ability to respond but on sickness rates and the mental health of the officers involved. He asked, very fairly, what planet the Minister must be on in asking us to be grateful for today’s announcement. This is something that has been raised constantly: the idea that we should be pleased that the Government are rolling back even some of the cuts that have been made over the past 10 years, and the ridiculous claim that this is the largest investment made in a decade.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) paid tribute to the work of the Welsh Labour Government and their investment in PCSOs. She made an important point, which I do not think the Minister has addressed in previous debates, about the lack of clarity on funding for equipment such as cars, body armour and—the Policing Minister will appreciate this—lockers. She said that the settlement was defined by short-termism, and she is absolutely right. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) spoke about the pressures of complex crime, from missing persons to child sexual exploitation. Like many Members in the debate today, she made the case powerfully for the reform of the funding formula.
I will come back to the funding formula later in my remarks, but it was telling to note the comments of the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), who has repeatedly spoken out on behalf of his Suffolk force and described the unfair consequences of the funding formula. That also applies to Devon and Cornwall, and I have visited the local police force of the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) myself. I have heard about the digital dogs, and when I talk about them to other police forces they are really jealous about the innovation that has been made in Devon and Cornwall. However, it is quite clear that the funding formula needs to recognise the particular pressures of tourism on forces such as Devon and Cornwall, just as it needs to recognise the demand presented by serious organised criminality that is often masked by supposedly sleepy communities in areas such as Suffolk. In short, the funding formula must follow demand and not the complicated, obscure factors that currently play into it. As has already been said, the Opposition welcome the resources that have been announced today. The Minister knows that, although we have our concerns, which I will touch on shortly, will not be opposing today’s police grant proposals.
I want to start by talking about two opportunities that this announcement presents. The recruitment drive is a generational opportunity to change the make-up and composition of policing. We meet on the 21st anniversary of the publication of the Macpherson report, which was a searing account of how institutions had become divorced from the communities they served. Its publication served as a watershed moment in British policing. The report set targets for the police to reach 7% of the workforce being from the BME community within a decade, but 11 years on from that timeline, we still have not reached that target. Today the BME population in this country is almost 15% and the so-called race gap is now more pronounced than it was when Macpherson was first published. There is not a single chief constable in the country from a BME community, and at this rate of change it will take the Met 100 years to become truly representative. During the last major recruitment drive under the Labour Government, diversity increased, but not fast enough, and the fear is that that will happen again. We cannot wait a century for our police to reflect our society, so I urge the Home Office to use this opportunity of police recruitment to ensure that we see the necessary dramatic change within the next three years. That will happen only if the law is changed and targets are set.
As I have said, this is the fourth police grant debate that I have responded to, and over the past decade too much needless damage has been done. Political choices have led to police-recorded violent crime more than doubling in recent years, and to the loss of 21,000 police officers—far more than under any other Government since the war. Those choices have also led to the loss of 16,000 police staff—the people who keep the police service functioning, who go to the scene to help with investigations and who help to put evidence into a fit state for trial—and of nearly 7,000 PCSOs. The PCSOs are the eyes and ears of community policing, and they are integral to the voluntary intelligence at the core of UK policing. Economic crime is allowed to flourish unchecked.
The recent conversion of the Government to the recruitment of officers has come far too late, and it is pathetic to talk about this being the largest increase in 10 years. The needless damage simply cannot be reversed, and the experience of lost officers is gone for good. Analysis carried out by Labour shows that even if all 20,000 officers announced as part of this settlement were allocated, more than half of police forces—22 out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales—would still have a net loss of officers compared with 2010. In the far more likely scenario that around 13,000 officers will be allocated to the frontline, 60% of our forces would still be down on 2010, with large urban forces such as Manchester, Merseyside and the West Midlands losing out substantially.
That will be exacerbated by the funding formula used to allocate that funding. Everyone knows that the formula is unfair, including the Minister, who set that out again today. It will create the perverse outcome that the forces struggling with the most serious violent crime will see the least recruitment. Greater Manchester is down 1,000 since 2010, Hampshire is down 700, Merseyside 600, Staffordshire 400, and the West Midlands 1,100. Surrey, by contrast, will see an increase of more than 240 on 2010 levels. That cannot be right. Again, today’s announcement should have presented an opportunity for the Home Office to revise the funding formula to ensure that it led to an equitable settlement.
What is more, Ministers have decided to stump up just £153 million of the £360 million police pension costs for 2020-21. This black hole is the equivalent of more than 3,000 officers, and if action is not taken, it is almost certain that police recruitment plans will suffer or that cutbacks will have to be made elsewhere, to police staff and capital. Will the Minister provide certainty to forces today, address the pensions black hole and ensure that the costs are not imposed on police forces?
The change in the Government’s approach today is undoubtedly welcome. Although they are not prepared to accept responsibility for the damage they have done, perhaps they can help address some of the consequences for police officers. Over the past 10 years, and in some of the most unimaginably difficult circumstances, our officers have fought hard to keep our communities safe, but it has taken its toll. In 2019, 2,175 officers voluntarily resigned from the police—the highest number since comparable records began in 1998—hampering police efforts to strengthen forces after nine years of austerity.
Last year, the police cancelled over a quarter of a million rest days, fuelling concerns of a mental health crisis in the police. The Police Federation’s most recent survey found that almost 80% of officers have experienced stress in the past 12 months, with almost half viewing their job as extremely stressful. A recent study found that one in five officers suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder—equivalent to 24,000 officers in England and Wales. For many, policing is coming at the expense of their mental wellbeing, safety and quality of life, and that cannot be right. I ask the Minister to commit to using the forthcoming police powers and protections Bill to tackle the mental health and wellbeing crisis in our police.
This has been among the most difficult decades for policing since the modern police force was founded. We can assure the Government that in the coming years we will be mindful of the promises they have made and determined to see that they are held to them.
Last year, Labour attempted to amend the Offensive Weapons Bill to ban the open sale of knives and require shops to lock them behind cabinets, as we currently require them to do for cigarettes. The Government refused those amendments. Last week, Sudesh Amman walked into a shop on Streatham high street, picked up a knife from the display and stabbed two people. This weekend, that shop was still openly displaying knives and machetes by the front door. Will the Government now think again?
I think that the hon. Gentleman might have misheard me. I did not say anything about PCCs. He mentioned earlier that he was disappointed that we had voted against the settlement, and I am explaining exactly why: it is a fundamentally unfair way to fund the police and has no bearing on demand.
The right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) built on her admirable campaigning work on county lines and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling, talked about the excellent work of community groups in all our constituencies, but said that they were scraping by from year to year and competing for confusing and small pots of money.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) spoke about the tragic deaths of teenagers in her constituency and the fact that the police are working with at least one hand tied behind their back, lurching from one hotspot to another. The system is not as effective as it could be with sustained neighbourhood policing models in place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) built on the valuable experience of speaking to frontline officers in his constituency and spoke about them telling him how, from a very young age, they can predict which children are in danger of becoming involved in gangs, which he rightly says is a failure of the criminal justice system and, indeed, society.
My hon. Friend touched on domestic abuse, which has largely been missing from today’s debate. When I visit young offender institutions meet young offenders and, one of the most consistent factors in their backgrounds is coming from a household of domestic abuse. We welcome the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, and I take this opportunity to thank all the Members who have signed my letter today calling for an investigation into domestic abuse and the family courts. If we continue to allow children to grow up in households of domestic abuse, all we are doing is creating the next generation of young offenders.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) gave a powerful perspective on behalf of communities that are over-policed, and she spoke about the consequences for those communities of failing to build trust and relationships with the police. She also spoke about looked-after children and care leavers, who are over-represented in our criminal justice system. Those contributions show the breadth of policy areas on which the public health approach undeniably has to focus.
Last month’s crime statistics reveal the extent of the crisis before us today. As we have heard, never since records began have recorded incidents of violent crime been as high as they are today, yet police numbers stand at their lowest level for three decades—per population, the lowest level ever. It is important to reiterate why police numbers are important to tackling violent crime.
First, the fall in police officer numbers inevitably forces the police to refocus their resources on reactive policing. More crucially, local policing increases the legitimacy of the police, which encourages local communities to provide intelligence, report crime and work with the police proactively. That has been a massive failure of the past nine years of austerity. The cut to neighbourhood policing has seriously damaged community relations.
Policing matters—of course it does—but, as we have heard, the Government can hope to bear down on serious violence only if they bear down on the factors that lie behind it. The story of violence, and particularly youth violence, is at its heart a question of vulnerability. Children who fall behind are now denied the speech and language therapy they desperately need. Sure Start, a lifeline for many vulnerable parents, has been cut back, and the support it used to provide has been reduced. As children grow older, they are being routinely denied the talking therapies, cognitive behavioural therapies and other psychological support that we know can reduce aggression and delinquency.
Schools, crushed under the weight of punitive funding pressures, have focused their cost-cutting on exactly the kind of targeted support needed by young people who are falling behind, including teaching assistants and special educational needs. Families are being denied intensive therapies that improve parenting skills, strengthen family cohesion and increase young people’s engagement, and that are known to reduce out-of-home placements and reoffending.
Ministers come to the Dispatch Box and, regrettably, insist that the problem appeared from nowhere. We have never heard any Minister accept that a reduction in support services, a substantial cut in youth services and slashing the police to levels per head never seen before has made the blindest bit of difference. If they cannot accept their responsibility, how can we trust them to put things right?
On early intervention and prevention, what is replacing the £880 million-worth of complex provision and support for young people and the £500 million lost from Sure Start? An early intervention fund of £17 million a year and a youth endowment fund of £20 million a year. Each has been shown to be inadequate in its own way, and they are not even close to meeting the challenges faced by communities.
Some 73% of bids to the early intervention youth fund have been rejected by the Government, communities in the west midlands have been deprived of a vital project to tackle county lines exploitation, and Greater Manchester has been deprived of funding to support families against crime. In Durham, and across the country, it is the same story in violent crime hotspots. How can the Government look at this evidence and say that their efforts to tackle the problem are even close to matching the challenge?
As we have heard, the Government have launched a consultation on a new legal duty to underpin a public health approach to tackling serious violence, but it is far from clear how that will differ from or go beyond the duties already placed on agencies under crime and disorder reduction partnerships or under “Working Together to Safeguard Children” guidance. A true public health approach requires a resourced, co-ordinated, cross-Government strategy led by the Prime Minister, as we have repeatedly called for. The taskforce mentioned by the Home Secretary today, and chaired by him, has met once, and, so far no actions have been announced.
We are in a state of emergency, with the most despicable criminals exploiting the space where well-run and effective early intervention, prevention and diversion strategies once existed. The pursuit of young children by gangs is now a systematic and well-rehearsed business model, according to the Children’s Commissioner. It is a national crisis that demands a sense of urgency, but that is not being felt from this Government. We cannot allow this drift. We need Ministers to step up to the plate, we need leadership from the Prime Minister, we need resources and we need concerted, sustained action from the Government.
I thank those in the other place for their careful consideration of this Bill, which is certainly in better shape than when it left this Chamber.
As the Minister has outlined, we have offered our sincere and constructive support throughout the passage of the Bill for the Government’s attempts to respond to the surge in violent crime. We offered our support in Committee, on Report and at Third Reading. We have fought to enhance protections on the sale of knives, to close dangerous loopholes in our gun laws, to force the Home Office to release evidence on the consequences of cuts to vital services for levels of serious violence, to force the Government to assess whether the police have the resources they need to tackle violence involving offensive weapons, and to put the rights of victims of crime on a statutory footing—rights that have been neglected despite repeated manifesto promises by the Conservative party.
Let us not forget the absolutely farcical spectacle of the Home Secretary and the Minister, on Second Reading and in Committee, making the case for a ban on high-powered rifles—guns that have an effective range of 6 km—and then coming back to the Chamber on Report and making the exact opposite case in the face of Back-Bench rebellion. Our gun laws are in need of updating, and it is a sad reflection on the Government that all the passage of this Bill has done is weaken the provisions on firearms and kick the can down the road once again in pushing the issue to consultation. Furthermore, the Bill as it stands still ignores much of the key evidence contained in a leaked Home Office report on the drivers of serious violence. This included compelling evidence that violence was, in part, being driven by a precarious and vulnerable youth cohort shorn of the support, early intervention and prevention work necessary to stop those vulnerable people falling into a spiral of serious violence.
Turning to the amendments, I am grateful for the work of the noble Lord Kennedy, and that of my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who have managed to find a consensus on the delivery of knives to residential premises that protects children while not unduly hampering specialist knife manufacturers and businesses. We are therefore happy to support the amendment in the name of the Home Secretary whereby businesses will need to prove they have taken all necessary measures to ensure that a knife is delivered into the hands of an adult or will feel the full weight of the law.
On kirpans and Sikh ceremonial swords, I again congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Mr Dhesi) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) on their work. We understood the concerns raised across the House, and I am pleased that the Labour Lords amendment has been accepted that will allow Sikhs to practice their religion freely without fear of criminalisation.
But undoubtedly the biggest change has been the introduction of knife crime prevention orders, and that is what I wish to focus my remarks on. It is important when making any changes to the suite of police powers that Parliament has the fullest opportunity to consider the evidence and implications. That is why we are extremely concerned about both the way in which these proposed orders have been brought forward and some of their content. Our concerns are threefold, and I will address each in turn. As the Minister said, our amendments to the Lords amendments speak to those concerns.
Break in Debate
I would respectfully suggest that putting before Parliament orders that would criminalise children for up to two years requires more than discussion at a meeting. It requires full consultation and full parliamentary scrutiny, and none of that has happened.
Before Parliament approves any roll-out, the Government should release a report giving an explanation of what guidance has been given to authorities on the burden on proof, which is a civil standard, the impact of orders on the rights of children and the impact on different racial groups as defined in section 9 of the Equality Act 2010.
May I, too, say many happy returns to the Minister and apologise for dragging her to the Dispatch Box for the second time this week? I am sure that she and you, Mr Speaker, will be pleased that there are no more sitting days left this week for me to pester you in. May I also add my thoughts to those expressed on this anniversary of the death of PC Keith Palmer? Not a day goes by when I enter this place that I do not remember the ultimate sacrifice he made in defending us and defending democracy, and I am sure that the same is true for many other hon. Members.
There is no doubt the country is in the midst of a political crisis consuming this Parliament and the entire Government. But a parallel crisis is taking place on our streets, one that is leaving young people afraid to leave their houses and leaving communities paralysed in the wake of more and more young lives senselessly lost, with families destroyed forever, never being able to see their son or daughter again. There has been a 93% rise in the number of young people being stabbed since 2012-13. There is a serious danger, in these tumultuous days, of the Government losing sight of the desperate need for leadership on knife crime. This is no second-order priority; there is no excuse for ignoring it.
The Prime Minister, 16 days ago, promised this House that she would
“be holding a summit in No. 10 in the coming days to bring together Ministers, community leaders, agencies and others, and I will also be meeting the victims of these appalling crimes to listen to their stories and explore what more we can do as a whole society to tackle this problem.”—[Official Report, 6 March 2019; Vol. 655, c. 950.]
I appreciate the pressures on the Prime Minister—we all do—but to break that promise to the victims is inexcusable. Since she made that announcement, more young lives have been lost. Nathaniel Armstrong was killed in west London. There have been stabbings in Leicester, London and Cambridge, and as we heard yesterday, a young boy was stabbed in Clitheroe in Lancashire.
Just this week, the former chief inspector of constabulary laid bare the Government’s failing response to violent crime. He said that the Home Office’s flagship response to serious violence, the serious violence strategy, is
“really, really inadequate”
“more concerned with its narrative and less with action”.
He said that it contains “almost nothing” about where violent crimes take place, who the victims are and what deterrent measures are effective, and concluded that the “layer” of police protection that can guard against surges in knife crime has been “breached” because there too few officers to patrol neighbourhoods.
We welcome the £100 million that was announced in the spring statement, but it is regrettable that it will be focused entirely on overtime and not on additional officers. Does the Minister recognise how overstretched our police officers are, how much overtime they are already undertaking, how many rest days they have had cancelled and how much leave they are owed? Does she really believe that there is £100 million-worth of slack in the system to cover the additional overtime that is necessary this year?
The critique of the Government’s approach to violent crime by the former chief inspector of constabulary was devastating. Their fragmented approach and drift are risking lives. They must get a grip, and it must be led by the Prime Minister. It is welcome to hear that a date for the summit is now in place. Will the Minister confirm what its objectives will be, how they will be measured and how they will be reported back to the House? It is not good enough that time and again Ministers have to be dragged to the Chamber through urgent questions. They should be reporting to Members on their progress on a near-weekly basis.
It has been reported today that the Prime Minister visited the violence-reduction unit in Glasgow in 2011 and subsequently wrote in a report that a long-term evidence-based programme was needed. Will the Minister confirm that that report exists and explain why it was never acted on? Is that why last year the Government chose to whip against an amendment to the Offensive Weapons Bill that called for a report on the causes of youth violence?
Will the Minister also confirm what progress is being made by the serious violence taskforce, what actions have been agreed and what outcomes have been achieved? We have had reports that Ministers from certain Departments, notably the Department of Health and Social Care, are not engaging in the taskforce, and participants have described it to me as nothing more than a talking shop. How can the Minister assure us that is not the case? When will the Government open consultation on the public health duty? In the light of the stinging criticism from the former chief inspector of constabulary, will they now review their failed serious violence strategy, which has no analysis of deterrents and failed even to consider the effect of police cuts?
I am afraid all the evidence points to a Government who simply do not have a grip on this crisis—a Government in name only. Fundamentally, this is down to complete vacuum in leadership, and I am sorry to say that, political crisis or not, that is unforgiveable.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make a statement on criminal records disclosure for victims of child sexual exploitation.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. Just before Christmas, you welcomed Sammy Woodhouse to this Parliament. You, the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and the leader of the SNP all praised her bravery in speaking out and waiving her anonymity in order to protect other victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation. In that instance, we discussed CSE survivors’ experience in the family courts. It is good to see the Justice Minister in his place. I hope we can make progress on that issue.
Everyone in this House owes it to Sammy and all victims of child sexual exploitation to do everything in our power to reward her bravery and ensure that no one has to endure the appalling, unimaginable abuse that she experienced. We must all ensure that the state in all its forms no longer fails CSE survivors. They are forced to confront their past every day of their lives through the painful trauma that never leaves them, which many simply cannot escape. Their bravery in the face of all that has happened to them is humbling.
The victims are forced to live not only with their trauma but with convictions linked to their sexual exploitation in childhood. They are blighted by an obligation to disclose criminal convictions linked to past abuse. They are forced to tell employers and even local parent teacher associations about their past convictions. That punitive rule means that they simply cannot escape a past in which they were victims.
I understand your ruling that we are unable to refer to sub judice cases, Mr Speaker, but Sammy will not mind me referring to her record, which includes possession of an offensive weapon and affray. Both are explicitly linked to her grooming. When she was 15, the police raided the property of now-convicted serial rapist Arshid Hussain. Sammy was half-naked and hiding under his bed. Hussain was not detained, but Sammy was arrested and charged. She was a victim of exploitation and is now forced to disclose her criminal convictions—crimes she committed only through her exploitation.
Judges in the High Court have already ruled that forcing victims of CSE to disclose past convictions linked to CSE is unjust. They argued that
“any link between the past offending, and the assessment of present risk in a particular employment, is either non-existent or at best extremely tenuous.”
I ask the Minister, what is the Government’s position on record disclosure of CSE survivors?
One of the single biggest tasks of this Parliament and society is to create an environment in which victims of child sexual exploitation are given the best possible chance not to allow their past abuse to define them. Will the Minister consider bringing forward what is known as Sammy’s law, which would give CSE victims the right to have their criminal records automatically reviewed, and crimes associated with their grooming removed? At present, anyone has the right to apply to the chief constable of their force area to have their records reviewed, but it is little known. Surely there must be a specific case in those circumstances.
Child sexual exploitation is fundamentally about an imbalance of power that is used to coerce, manipulate and deceive. It leads many victims to commit crimes relating to their exploitation. I know the Minister will agree that it cannot be right that victims are forced to live with the consequences of their exploitation for the rest of their lives.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. This has been a fantastic debate with some wonderful advocates from the Merseyside force area. We have had a true overview of the issues facing Merseyside police and its funding. I do not know whether we can call it a debate when everyone has agreed so wholeheartedly with each other, and it will not surprise the Minister that I am about to agree wholeheartedly with the points my right hon. and hon. Friends have made.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this vital debate. He passionately laid out the case that Merseyside has suffered significantly from being one of the forces worst hit by funding cuts, resulting in the loss of almost half of Merseyside’s PCSOs and more than 1,100 officers. As a result of its low council tax base and the increased cuts to the Home Office central grant caused by the political failure to review the police funding formula, it is continuing to receive a deeply unfair funding settlement.
The cuts have consequences, as we have heard. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby mentioned the increase in firearms offences, as well as off-road bikes and related offences. He also mentioned the number of people dying through cuts to the number of road safety officers and the consequential impact on the welfare of our police officers and staff.
My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) spoke about the 21% real-terms reduction, even including the allowed precept rise. She was absolutely right to say that an absolutely deplorable trait of this Government is to pretend that somehow they are being generous in allowing our hard-pressed ratepayers to pay more in council tax. The chair of the UK Statistics Authority agreed with her when he wrote to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary last year to insist that they stop making such claims, because the claims were “misleading the public”.
My hon. Friend spoke about the consequences for neighbourhood policing and investigations, the huge demand caused by new crimes, such as cyber-crime, and the increase in traditional demand caused by things such as knife crime, which is plaguing so many of our communities. She mentioned the consequential impacts on faith in the police, and the Home Affairs Committee has found that, too. The very legitimacy of our police is at stake. The situation is undeniably leading to a lack of confidence in reporting to the police, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) mentioned, and confidence that they will be able to act at all on those reports.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) spoke about the consequences that sadly resulted in a police officer being stabbed in his constituency. The safety of our officers and staff is increasingly being put at risk. More people are single-crewed when responding to crime. Guns are increasingly available and knife crime is increasingly normalised, particularly for young people on our streets. My hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) spoke about the tragic murder of Sam Cook on his 21st birthday. It is hard to escape the conclusion that that was not at least in part down to cuts to policing and prevention and the massive failure in the privatisation of our probation service.
As we have heard, nine years of brutal cuts to our police service have led to stark consequences on the streets of Merseyside. The precept increase will raise just £8.4 million, in comparison with Surrey, which has a smaller population and substantially less violent crime, where the police force will be able to raise £3.5 million more. As has been said, almost all additional funding from central Government will be spent on covering the cost of pension increases that have been passed to Merseyside police by a changed Government policy. That is completely and utterly unacceptable.
From 594 incidents of knife crime in 2010 to more than 11,000 today, Merseyside police have suffered one of the highest rises in violent crime of any force in the country. It has one of the highest rates of gun crime per head, and it is little wonder that its chief constable, Andy Cooke, stated:
“So have I got sufficient resources to fight gun crime? No, I haven’t. I will put all of the resources I have available to it and we will continue to see some excellent convictions…but if I had more staff would I put them to deal with gun crime? Yes I would.”
At the heart of the inequity in the Government’s approach to funding our police, particularly in Merseyside, is the fact that it is based on the ability of an area to pay—it is based on the number of large houses that that police force happens to have in its area. When we consider the picture for police forces nationwide, that is not only unfair but reckless. The greatest challenges facing our police forces are the surge in violent crime, child sexual exploitation, risks from terrorism, county lines and cyber-crime. Those challenges do not present an even picture across the country because crime rates are higher in metropolitan areas such as Merseyside. It is therefore completely perverse that forces such as Merseyside police, which have suffered the greatest cuts, should receive least from the funding settlement.
Last month the Government should have presented a funding settlement that meets need and demand, but instead of using any of the investment provided by the Home Office to help meet the operational demands caused by missing persons, child sexual exploitation and serious crime, every penny of central Government funding will be sunk into pension costs that the Government have imposed on forces. That is perverse and will create a postcode lottery in policing, meaning that those communities that cannot afford to pay will see policing get worse and worse.
As has been said, Merseyside is an excellent police force with exceptional officers from the chief constable, Andy Cooke, to the frontline and the hardworking police community support officers and staff. The force has fantastic advocates in its parliamentary representatives and its police and crime commissioner, Jane Kennedy, who consistently make the case for a fairer funding settlement. It seems, however, that with this Government in office Merseyside police will never get the funding that it needs or deserves.
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It was even worse than I said. It is completely unacceptable. As my hon. Friend said, the police do their best when they arrive, but they are so stretched for resources that they are simply unable to provide the service that the public need and deserve.
It is important to set the context for the contagion of youth violence we are seeing. As has been said, today’s crime statistics confirm once again that we are facing a crisis. I am sorry to say that it has been allowed to build as a result of neglect by the Government. Never since records began has violent crime been as high as it is today. Never since records began has knife crime been as high as it is today. The number of arrests has halved in a decade. As statistics today have shown, not only are we seeing a surge in violent crime, but police numbers remain at levels not seen for 30 years. We know that hampers the ability to tackle violent crime, and it does so in two important ways.
First, the fall in police numbers inevitably forces the police to focus their resources on reactive policing and responding to emergencies and crimes once they have happened. That is why we saw so many neighbourhood policing teams merged with response teams, masking the true number of officers lost from our streets. It is thoroughly ineffective, because the policing matrix shows that almost two thirds of successful interventions designed to reduce crime are proactive, rather than reactive.
Secondly, and even more crucially, evidence has shown time and again that local policing increases the legitimacy of police, which encourages the local community to provide intelligence and report crimes. It is beyond doubt that the reduced legitimacy of the police as a result of cuts has led to under-reporting, especially in certain categories of high-volume crime. That legitimacy and support from communities suffering from this epidemic is crucial to any success. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham talked about the need for young people in particular to see the police in a different light, as fellow human beings and members of the same community.
Intelligence-led stop and search will always be a crucial tool in bearing down on knife crime, but the truth is that that tool can only hope to be successful alongside a proper neighbourhood policing function rooted firmly in the community. Policing matters—of course it does—but serious youth violence does not happen in a vacuum; it reflects the environment and the society in which individuals live, learn and work throughout youth and adulthood and the political choices made about who to support. The story of youth violence is at heart a question of vulnerability and is fundamentally a result of twin failures: first, an environment that fails to nurture children; and secondly, services creaking under terrible strain and unable to provide the specialist support that children in particular desperately need. That is the scandal at the heart of this violence, and it is the real price of austerity. We have talked about exclusions, which my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) spoke passionately about. Just 2% of the general population have been excluded from school, compared with 50% of the prison population.
The Children’s Commissioner has shown that 70,000 under 25-year-olds are currently feared to be part of gang networks. Some 2 million children live in families with complex needs, and 1.6 million have no recognised form of additional support. As the Children’s Commissioner said in her excellent report on vulnerabilities:
“We are all familiar with frailty in old age but much less so for children and teenagers...do we know...about children who start school unable to speak? Do we understand how this affects their...progression? Do we realise that an inability to express yourself leads to anger, and difficult behaviour, which is then reflected in rising school exclusions...? Do we know that if this continues...not only does the child’s education suffer but so does their mental health? Do we know that 60% of children who end up in the youth justice estate have a communication problem...? No—we do not know how many children got speech and language therapy last year, or how many were turned down.”
Why do we not know that, Minister? Why are we using evidence dating back to 2002 on the link between school exclusions and violence? Why has nationwide research not been conducted since 2006 on why young people carry knives and use them on each other? The last research was prior to the rise of social media and the consequences of austerity. Why are our services not designed to prevent children with special educational needs or speech and language difficulties ending up in the criminal justice system? Why do hospital-based diversions only exist in a handful of hospitals across the country, while serious youth violence is prevalent in every city? Why have our known successful youth services been denigrated to the point that most young people do not have access to any diversionary activities at all? I hope the Minister will consider carefully the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead for a full inquiry, so that we can consider all the factors in why young people are carrying knives.
The Government’s language on public health has been welcome, but while it is easy to talk, it is much more difficult to take the action necessary to tackle this contagion. That is the task before the Minister and we will all continue to hold her and this Government to account. Despite the challenges posed by Brexit, there is no more pressing or significant a challenge facing the House than the one we have been discussing today.
For the victims of county lines and youth violence, the trauma from their experiences will be devastating, yet far too often police forces and mental health trusts do not work together to make sure that their needs are automatically assessed, leaving children extremely vulnerable and at risk of being re-exploited. Will the Minister commit to working with her colleagues with responsibility for mental health to ensure that all such victims receive an automatic referral to mental health services? Will she commit to coming back to the House at the earliest opportunity with a full update on progress against the wider serious violence strategy?
Let me say how much we welcome today’s debate. I know that it has felt like a Backbench Business Committee debate, but it was brought forward by the Government after my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) harassed them into doing so. However, I agree with the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey), who said that it could perhaps have been brought forward with a bit more urgency.
There is not time to list everyone’s contributions, but we have heard some incredibly passionate speeches. We have heard about the devastating consequences of cuts and the breach of the social contract with our young people, which my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) spoke about so powerfully. We have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), for Streatham, for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) and for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves), as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher)—we were grateful to her for bringing a non-London-centric point of view to the debate, because this is a national crisis.
We heard about the importance of preventive measures from the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). We also heard about the powerful lessons from Glasgow from the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) and the spokesperson for the SNP, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald).
I want to dwell on just two Members’ contributions. The right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton spoke about bereavement. I was on the trip to the violence reduction unit last week and to Polmont young offenders institution. The two greatest commonalities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) mentioned, were school exclusions and traumatic bereavements. Clearly, we need a fast-tracked pathway to trauma counselling for any young person who has experienced trauma, as that is a serious factor in becoming a victim of or committing youth violence.
It is impossible for me to do justice to the incredible work that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford has done as chair of the Youth Violence Commission. She gave us a full history of the public health debate and the need to treat violence as a disease—but a disease that can be cured—and she outlined the fundamental principles that need to be at the heart of the public health approach. She laid a challenge to the Government to ensure that our interventions are effective and evidence-based, and not simply knee-jerk reactions to congratulate ourselves on having taken action.
We have heard from Members about the devastating consequences of youth violence in their constituencies, but this is a national crisis, too. No society can keep its cohesion or its humanity—indeed, no society can claim to be one at all if it becomes complacent about young people dying on our streets. This is not a spike or a blip as we saw in 2008; it is a trend enveloping a generation of young people, and it requires immediate national action directed by Government. It must be directed from the very top as part of a national mission.
The Home Secretary highlighted the importance of early intervention in tackling violence when he told “The Andrew Marr Show” that we must deal with the “root causes” of violence. The £20 million a year to be spent on early intervention and prevention has to be seen in the context of the £387 million cut from youth services, the £1 billion taken from children’s services and the £2.7 billion taken from school budgets since 2015. As the Children’s Commissioner said in her excellent report on vulnerabilities:
“We are all familiar with frailty in old age but much less so for children and teenagers… do we know the same about children who start school unable to speak?...Do we understand how this affects their further progression? Do we realise that an inability to express yourself leads to anger, and difficult behaviour, which is then reflected in rising school exclusions … Do we know that if this continues…not only does the child’s education suffer but so does their mental health? Do we know that 60% of children who end up in the youth justice estate have a communication problem, most of which could have been effectively treated?”
We talk about hard-to-reach young people all the time in this place, but I would suggest that it is our services that are hard to reach and that we set young people up to fail.
The truth is that the public health model can work only with intensive support and investment in our most vulnerable young people, driven by a co-ordinated effect across government. This is not just about statutory agencies—the vision and duty must sit across a huge range of community services, and voluntary sector and faith organisations. I am concerned that the Government’s approach might be too restrictive and overly focused on statutory agencies. It is not clear how the new duty that the Minister has announced will go beyond the duty already placed on those agencies by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
The public health approach requires a strong criminal justice response. For that, we need police on our streets and in our communities. It requires a fundamental shift towards prevention and early intervention. Nothing that Glasgow and other public health models have achieved is rocket science. Very little of it requires legislation. However, it does require a clear mission statement, political will and leadership. It requires us to recognise that relationships must be at the heart of protecting and keeping our young people safe; and that human interventions from stable, trusted adults are the saviour of every young man or woman who has turned their life around. It requires young people’s voices to be at the heart of the design of those interventions, and it requires all our services to be trauma informed.
The challenge facing the country from violent crime is truly frightening and at times can feel overwhelming, but with the right resources, the right approach and the political leadership from the House and in every community in our country, it is possible to stem the tide.
The Minister is absolutely right that new clause 5 would impose a blanket ban on retailers displaying bladed products, but the Government are proposing a blanket ban on the sale of bladed products to residential premises. Why is it one rule for online and another for face-to-face retailers?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time in the Committee after recess, Mr Gapes. Welcome back to our scrutiny of the Bill. We now turn to the measures relating to firearms and, particularly, amendments to the Firearms Act 1968.
Opposition Members have received numerous representations relating to this part of the Bill; indeed, several of my hon. Friends have received even more representations in the last couple of weeks relating to several of our amendments. I say to those watching the Committee’s proceedings that if they wish to persuade politicians of the merits of their holding firearms and firearms licences and the genuine, legitimate uses for which they use those firearms, they should stay away from veiled threats and aggressive language and should genuinely seek to persuade us. We are persuadable.
I have no prejudice against legitimate shooting activities, although I have to say that I have not been exposed to them much. I grew up in the middle of Sheffield. Not much shooting goes on around there, other than illegitimate shooting, sadly. We have no prejudice on this side of the Committee, but it is the job of Parliament and of this Committee to ensure that we get the right balance between allowing people to participate in legitimate shooting activities and ensuring that the public are as free as possible from risk. The Bill is designed to strike that balance, and it is the Committee’s job to ensure that we get that balance right. The Opposition believe that clause 28 gets that balance right at the moment. We received evidence to the contrary, but we also received significant evidence in support of the measures brought forward by the Government in the clause.
I reassure the Minister that the Opposition fully and wholeheartedly support the prohibition of .50 calibre rifles with a kinetic energy of more than 13,600 joules. It is important to say exactly why we support the measures. The range and penetrative power of .50 calibre rifles makes them more dangerous than other common firearms. Their use in criminal or terrorist activities would present an absolutely unacceptable threat to the public and would be uniquely difficult for the police to control.
Following the theft of one of these large-calibre rifles, the police drew the attention of the Government and the Committee to the potential dangers of such a weapon being available for civilian use and have made the case that such a threat outweighs the arguments made by those who use these weapons for target practice and other undeniably legitimate hobbies. The issue is that such weapons hold the potential to pose a significant danger to public safety, given that .50 calibre rifles were originally designed for military use, to allow for firing over long distances in a manner capable of damaging vehicles and other physical capital. They are also designed to be able to penetrate armour worn by soldiers.
Some submissions argued that the specific ammunition needed to penetrate armour over a long distance are already prohibited. That is right, but if these rifles were used in a criminal capacity, it would allow for the penetration of police body armour and defensive protections, which would not be possible with lower calibres. Even the Fifty Calibre Shooters Association recognises that it is possible for the rifles to immobilise a light or medium-sized vehicle or truck at 1.8 km, and that is at the minimum end of the scale.
The police told the Committee that the weapon has a maximum range of 6.8 km, according to Ministry of Defence data. We know that, according to the National Ballistics Intelligence Service, no protective equipment in the police’s arsenal would guard against a .50 calibre rifle. We are extremely sympathetic to the concerns of NABIS and others around legally held firearms being stolen and subsequently used in crime. The threat is that we see an increasing trend of legally held firearms being stolen from certificate holders.
The number of guns being stolen is increasing. So far this year we know from the national firearms licensing management system that 39 rifles from a range of calibres—although none of them .50 calibre—and 165 shotguns have been stolen. Again, we are seeing an increase in the use of firearms in crime—mainly shotguns, as they are the volume guns being stolen. However, there have been examples of rifles coming into use by criminals. This is not fearmongering; firearms, including rifles and shotguns, are being stolen and used in criminal and violent activity. One was used to murder our colleague, Jo Cox, and a .50 calibre rifle was stolen in an incident that was provided to this Committee, an example that provided the basis for their outright ban.
Criminals have shown that they are increasingly determined to steal the weapons of lawful firearm holders. The truth is that we can either pretend that this is not happening and do a severe disservice to our constituents, or we can act to take the most powerful and dangerous weapons out of public hands altogether. Furthermore, we know that the terror threat is sustained and growing. There has been a dramatic upshift in the terror threat, which the director-general of the MI5 described as
“the highest tempo I have seen in my 34-year career”,
and which is,
“especially diverse and diffuse within the UK”.
We should not doubt the determination of terrorists to get their hands on firearms. Twenty Islamist terror attacks have been disrupted since 2013. The plotters have discussed or planned the use of a variety of firearms. The trend in terrorist incidents is to target political symbols, police officers or members of the armed forces or, crucially, areas with large numbers of people. That is why rapid-firing rifles, such as the vz. 58 manually actuated release system rifle, will also be banned under this clause. This rifle can discharge rounds at a much faster rate than conventional bolt-action rifles and is therefore closer to self-loading rifles, which are currently prohibited for civilian ownership. The fire rate of these rifles means that they are capable of inflicting large amounts of casualties or damage within a very short period of time.
In the light of the destructive power of these weapons, we agree that clause 28 strikes exactly the right balance. Nevertheless, I understand that depriving firearms holders of these weapons is an important step by this Parliament, and I want to ensure that during this debate we are fully engaged with the concerns and comments of the Fifty Calibre Shooters Association and others who have expressed concerns. I have read the evidence of all those who are opposed to the move to prohibit this weapon. What I fear is misunderstood by those opposing this move is that it is an assessment of risk by us as parliamentarians.
Finally, I want to deal with a few other queries and points raised with the Committee. Some have argued that other lever firearms have the capacity to fire as quickly as a MARS or lever-release rifle, but will remain legal after the passage of the Bill, so why the focus on MARS and lever-release rifles? NABIS has told us:
“In terms of lever action rifles, they can fire rapidly, but only in the hands of highly skilled experts. They are also very slow to reload. The MARS is much easier to fire rapidly by someone who is not experienced and, using a detachable magazine, they are rapid to reload”.
In addition, we are not convinced of the case for the semi-automatic rifles chambered in calibre .22 to remain legal while other MARS or lever-release rifles are being prohibited for justifiable reasons. The .22 calibre was recently used in a double murder, according to NABIS. While NABIS argued that there has been no request for the semi-automatic .22 to be prohibited, if the concern is over a weapon’s rapid fire capability—that is certainly the justification for prohibiting the .50 calibre—that justification would seem to carry over to the .22 calibre semi-automatic as well. Do the exact same principles behind these provisions not also apply to this weapon?
There is undoubtedly an urgent need to tackle violent crime and mitigate the threat of powerful firearms getting into the hands of organised criminals and terrorists. We therefore wholeheartedly reaffirm the Opposition’s support for these proposals.
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I wonder whether the Minister could provide a bit more detail on the timeframe that she anticipates chief officers will provide holders of firearms that will become prohibited under clause 28 with the requirement to surrender to a designated police station in their police force area.
My understanding is that firearms prohibited under proposed new paragraph (5)(2)(ag) to the Firearms Act 1968—that is, rifles
“with kinetic energy of more than 13,600 joules”—
are used only in specific licensed areas. I do not know the right terminology. Would it not be more appropriate for the police to go and collect them from those areas, sporting clubs or whatever they are, rather than ask the licence holders to transport them to a police station to deposit? Will the Minister provide clarification on whether that would be a more appropriate surrender for those weapons?
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The last national research on why young people carry knives was in 2006. Therefore we do not know the implications of social media, of drill music, which is often blamed in the media and by some politicians, or of austerity, because there has been no research. We are asking the Government to underpin their measures and legislation with evidence—not to pass legislation for the sake of headlines or just to be able to say, “We are doing something about the problem,” but to pass legislation and introduce measures that will tackle the problem.
I hope the Minister accepts the new clauses in the spirit in which they are intended to get to the root of the problems we see in every single one of our communities. Too many of us on both sides of the House have had to speak to families or witnessed the aftermath of the completely avoidable deaths of young people who would have had wonderful lives ahead of them had it not been for the whole-system failure that we are currently experiencing. Therefore, as I said, I hope the Minister accepts the new clauses in the spirit in which they are intended, so that we can get to the root of the issues.
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The concerns about inconsistencies are not mine alone—far from it. I spoke at the Police Superintendents Association conference, where the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister are today. The conference theme is failures of collaboration, which drive inconsistency. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has consistently—ironically—raised inconsistencies in policing over the last 20 years. I would argue, as would many policing stakeholders, that those inconsistencies have been worsened by the introduction of police and crime commissioners, because they have put further obstacles in the way of collaboration and evening out the issues we see across 43 police forces in the United Kingdom.
The Minister mentioned the serious violence taskforce. Will she inform the Committee how many times it has met and what actions have arisen out of it since its introduction?
I appreciate entirely what the Minister says about the burdens on smaller charities in achieving this. However, what evaluation will there be of the outcomes of the charities and organisations receiving grants, and particularly of the education programmes that we deliver in schools? Police forces have told me that they reached 30,000 children in their force area with a narrative or class, as if that is the only measure by which they should be judged. I worry that the performance culture inherent in the police, which I fully accept was a product of the last Labour Government’s obsession with targets, is still there and blocks money being directed in the right ways and to the most effective organisations.
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We had a spike in knife crime and youth violence in 2008, which was not similar or not directly comparable to the current trend, because the current increase has happened over four years. However, during that spike, the Home Office led a similar taskforce to that which the Minister describes, which met weekly to deliver the implementation of a knife crime action plan. Does the Minister think that the current taskforce, having met three times since being set up in April, is sufficient to drive forward the many measures that are clearly needed, not just in the serious violence strategy but beyond it, as we have discussed?
Can the Minister confirm whether the Government have protected police funding in real terms in the last few years? What does she mean by the last few years?
I do not quite follow how that instance qualifies as possession of an offensive weapon. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham made the case that we could extend the definition. Is it the case that corrosive substances are now considered as offensive weapons under all other offensive weapons legislation because they come under this Bill? Will the Minister clarify that point?
That was not the example I was referring to; I was referring to the example that the Minister gave first. I think she said that if an individual had expressed—for example, on social media—that they were going to use the substance to commit an offence, that would therefore come under possession of an offensive weapon on school premises. Will she explain why that would fall under possession of an offensive weapon, given that the legislation relates to the possession of corrosive substances? Corrosive substances do not fall under the definition of an offensive weapon under the legislation.
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I rise briefly to support the timely new clauses, and to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South on tabling them. It is indeed time for a public debate on airgun regulations in England and Wales, first because of the role they have played in fatal incidents in recent years, and secondly because of their increasing use in other types of crime.
The inquest into the tragic death of Ben Wragge, who was fatally wounded on 1 May 2016, aged just 13, heard that he had been playing with a group of friends at a friend’s home when the incident that was to take his life took place. The court heard that the friend did not even think he had fired the airgun—there was no safety catch on the weapon. After the incident, Ben’s relative Zoe Wragge said:
“Following the tragic death of Ben, we very strongly feel that had the law on the licensing, registration and storage of airguns been amended in the past, Ben’s death could have been prevented.”
The coroner, Dr Dean, asked the Home Office to review the laws relating to airguns, which it is in the process of doing. It is frankly unacceptable that we are still waiting for the publication of that review. In the summer, a further incident involving an airgun killed a six-year-old boy from east Yorkshire, although with an inquest ongoing, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the circumstances.
Such tragic incidents demonstrate the potential power of airguns. It is appropriate that we therefore consider whether Parliament has done enough to ensure that under-18s, in particular, are protected. Many have argued that trigger locks should be mandatory or that there should be increasing regulations on the storage and control of ammunition. Once again, the Committee has to return to the fundamental balancing act that politicians have to achieve. Given what we know the risks, are we satisfied that regulation of access to and use of air weapons is sufficient in this country, while acknowledging that they are legitimately used by tens of thousands of young people who pose no threat to the public at all?
We are concerned that the balance is currently off kilter—away from public safety—but we do not need to tip it far the other way to correct it. We have substantial and compelling evidence from the medical profession that these weapons are easily capable of penetrating human skin and causing serious injury. A report in The BMJ, now some years old, stated:
“At first sight, air guns and air rifles may appear relatively harmless but they are in fact potentially lethal weapons. They use the expanding force of compressed air (or gas) to propel a projectile down a barrel and have been in general use since the time of the Napoleonic wars. The projectiles are usually lead pellets or ball bearings. Technological refinements have increased the muzzle velocity and hence the penetrating power of these weapons. In a review of experimental studies”—
“concluded that the critical velocity for penetration of human skin by an air gun pellet was between 38 and 70 m/sec...Most modern air weapons exceed this velocity and many air rifles can deliver a projectile with similar muzzle velocity to a conventional hand gun.”
Potentially of even greater significance are the findings in relation to emergency admissions involving air weapons. The article’s authors found that almost half of admissions were for patients under 18, and the majority were the result of accidental shooting, usually in the absence of adult supervision. The full data found that between 1996 and 2001, 73 injuries were caused by air weapons, and 36% were aged 18 or under. That is old data, but as my hon. Friend has said, the data is missing. It is for the Home Office to collect updated data in order to form a proper picture of whether the Government should accept the amendment. Given that these weapons have a similar muzzle velocity to conventional hand guns and that there is evidence of skin penetration and, where the injury is accidental, of incidents predominantly involving under-18s, the question for the Minister must surely be what the justification is for allowing under-18s to have access to air weapons, even with supervision on private land.
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I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham on bringing forward such an important amendment and on his forensic examination of the legislation and his detailed research—although I recommend that he deletes his internet search history once the Bill Committee has concluded.
New clauses 12 and 31 get to the heart of our debate about overseas sellers and platform liability. We have received multiple pieces of evidence—we just heard about some from my right hon. Friend—about weapons that are already illegal under UK law being freely available on platforms such as Amazon, eBay and Facebook Marketplace. I have seen examples on the app Wish, which is free to download for anybody of any age. It makes available for as little as 99p knives that are disguised as credit cards, bracelets and knuckle dusters. My understanding is that the Bill will do nothing to prevent under-18s from accessing these things, because they are already accessible, even though their sale is currently illegal.
Unless we take action on platforms and platform liability, the other measures in the Bill, however well-intentioned, will be next to useless, because under-18s will still be able to access these very offensive weapons on these platforms. My right hon. Friend is right that the debate about platforms is complex for many reasons. There are many reasons why we have not managed to crack down properly on child protection issues and online pornography issues, although the Minister was right to highlight the Home Secretary’s important speech last week. Because the problems are complex, we have not yet got to the point where we can deliver legislation. There is an understandable difficulty in labelling a platform as liable in law, as it cannot be held responsible for all the content because it is not the owner of the content, it is merely a host. However, whether a platform is a publisher needs to be clarified in law.
The debate is further complicated by issues of free speech and the boundary with hate speech, and even by the regulation of online pornography—we keep making the comparison with the Digital Economy Act 2017. When we ask platforms to take responsibility in these areas, we are asking them to make judgment calls, which is inappropriate. The Government and the courts need to make those judgment calls, not private companies. However, none of those sorts of arguments are applicable in this case. There are no issues of free speech, liability or judgment calls. These weapons are offensive and we want to ban their being made available to under-18s. We want to ban some of them being available to anybody in the UK.
We have banned, or are now banning, the sale of bladed articles and corrosive substances to under-18s. There should be absolutely no need and we should be making sure that there is no way for under-18s to access these substances or articles for sale online. We are asking the platforms to take a relatively straightforward measure: to develop algorithms that restrict to over-18s the viewing of all adverts, whether on eBay, Amazon or Facebook, that contain these offensive weapons or articles.
I genuinely believe that the Government are serious in their intention to limit access of these weapons to under-18s, but they will never be successful unless they are prepared to take on the platforms. I find it bizarre that they are putting so many burdens on small businesses and online retailers while leaving this gaping hole in the market and failing to take on the tech giants that are profiting from the sale of such horrendous weapons to children. I appreciate that the Minister has said that the Government are looking at wider internet safety and will come forward with proposals in the near future. However, if this legislation is to be at all meaningful, they must consider extending it to explicitly cover platform liability.
Does the Minister accept that that legislation is clearly not remotely sufficient, given the proliferation of weapons that the Committee has seen and that are out there on these platforms now? Can she give the Committee an example of a successful prosecution against a platform that was taken forward in the manner that we are attempting to achieve with this new clause?
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I seek the same clarification as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham. I take the Minister’s point that the new clause probably should refer to bladed articles. Is she confirming that, under existing legislation, a platform that hosts a seller who is selling an offensive weapon is committing a criminal offence? Will the platform be committing a criminal offence in that instance? If not, new clause 31 would not duplicate existing legislation.
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
New clause 17 introduces the simple requirement of prohibiting the display of bladed products in shops. The clause is the result of a huge amount of work, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford, who is not only the Opposition Whip on the Committee but the chair of the Youth Violence Commission. Due to the horrendous number of deaths in her constituency in the very short time since she and I were elected to Parliament in 2015, she has been leading on this work with Members from across the House, academics, practitioners, youth service workers, the police and experts from the whole range of people connected with youth violence. She is probably one of the foremost experts in this room, if not in Parliament now, on the causes of youth violence and what we need to do to tackle it. I very much commend to the Committee and to any observers of our proceedings the work of the Youth Violence Commission and the report that my hon. Friend recently published.
One of the commission’s basic and important recommendations is the prohibition of knife displays in shops, a matter that was discussed when experts gave evidence to the Committee. We asked USDAW, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, whether it believed that putting knives behind displays would be helpful. Doug Russell, representing USDAW, said:
“It would be. Obviously, now big retailers are increasingly going down the route of making it more difficult for customers to get their hand on the product until they have been age-checked and it is a transaction is safe. The problem with it, of course, is that all sorts of bladed things are being sold and it is about where you draw the line.”––[Official Report, Offensive Weapons Public Bill Committee, 19 July 2018; c. 98, Q239.]
Clearly, we want retailers to check people’s ages properly when they seek to purchase knives, but the fact of the matter is that many young people who want to access knives will go into shops and steal them if they are readily available. If they want to get their hands on a knife, they will get their hands on a knife, and if knives are readily available in a shop, not behind any kind of restriction or control, young people will steal one if they want to commit a crime with one.
Similarly, we have spoken to the British Retail Consortium, which has concerns about the definition of bladed products, as we discussed under earlier clauses. New clause 17 is in no way a reflection on the excellent work that the consortium has done on a voluntary commitment on open sale, which went some of the way towards restricting the ready availability of knives. Retailers have to ensure that knives are displayed and packaged securely, as appropriate, to minimise risk. This will include retailers taking practical and proportionate action to restrict accessibility, avoid immediate use, reduce the possibility of injury and prevent theft. However, that only covers those retailers that are signed up to the voluntary agreement. We would like to see those measures go further and to limit the open sale of knives altogether. Ultimately, there is little point in having the provisions in this Bill, and putting all these restrictions and burdens on online retailers, if we are not asking face-to-face retailers or platforms to abide by the same regulations as well.
There are a number of restrictions under law relating to other products, most obviously the extremely restricted provisions relating to the sale of tobacco, which prohibit the display of tobacco products in the relevant shops and businesses in England, except to people over the age of 18. Many believe—as I did before researching the issue—that general display is forbidden, but actually the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 specifically references under-18s, so the principle already exists in law to protect under-18s from harm by prohibiting the open display of goods. We see no reason why that should not be extended to bladed products, given that that is the definition elsewhere in the Bill. Given that the Government are so committed to clamping down on online sales, we hope that they recognise that face-to-face sales is a clear issue that needs further consideration.
Break in Debate
Given the importance of the new clause and the fact the Minister has agreed to go away and look at the details, I am content to leave it and return to the issue on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 19
Controls on miniature rifles and ammunition
“(1) The Firearms Act 1968 is amended as follows.
(2) Omit subsection (4) of section 11 (Sports, athletics and other approved activities).’—(Louise Haigh.)
This new clause would amend the Firearms Act 1968 to prevent persons being able to acquire an unlimited number of .22 rifles and ammunition without background checks or making the police aware.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
New clauses 19 to 21 consider various loopholes that we know law enforcement officials are concerned about. We know that the architecture of firearms law in this country is incredibly strong, but there are still weakness in that armour that it is always necessary for Parliament to review and consider. As we have heard, as the supply of guns becomes ever more restricted, the lengths to which determined criminals and organised crime are prepared to go in order to find guns become ever more sophisticated.
National counter-terrorism police are concerned about a particular loophole, which our new clause 19 seeks to fix. The concern is focused on the section 11(4) exemption of the Firearms Act 1968, which allows for non-certificate holders to acquire and possess miniature rifles not exceeding .23 calibre and ammunition in connection with the running of a miniature rifle range. It is the strong belief of law enforcement that that exemption needs to be repealed to avoid persons completely unknown to the police having access to firearms and ammunition.
There are concerns that persons who have been convicted for firearms offences, who would not be granted a firearm or shotgun certificate under any other circumstances, could be acquiring .22 rifles using the section 11(4) exemption. Let me outline the concerns of the National Ballistics Intelligence Service. Section 11(4) allows a person claiming they are running a miniature rifle range to acquire an unlimited number of .22 rifles and ammunition without any background checks being completed or the police being aware. Those persons or clubs operating under the section 11(4) exemption are able to allow members of the public immediate access to firearms and ammunition, on payment, without any backgrounds checks having taken place.
The Home Office scheme for the approval of shooting clubs is specifically designed not to allow day membership, and limits the number of guest days. Yet the section 11(4) exemption continues to undermine that important control, and we know of incidents where such rifles have been stolen from commercial premises and used in crimes. I am genuinely interested to hear whether the Government intend to support the new clause. It is of clear concern to the national counter-terror police, and it is vital that the loophole is dealt with.
Will the Minister confirm whether she has received representations from NABIS or counter-terrorism police that the exemption be removed?
I find it very odd that NABIS would recommend this new clause and tell the official Opposition but not the Government that it needs it. I trust that it needs it and I believe the evidence it has presented to us, so I will press the new clause to a vote.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
Break in Debate
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
This is a simple probing new clause. Like the previous new clause, it deals with an area where there is a potential loophole in the law. It attempts to close the loophole of section 9 of the Firearms Act 1968, which provides an important exemption for auctioneers. Again, law enforcement authorities are concerned that the loophole means that there is significant potential for firearms to be stolen. Under the exemption, auction houses and carriers are exempt from firearms checks, which means that individuals who have not had any background checks completed on them or any of their employees have access to large quantities of section 1 and 2 firearms.
We would welcome a report on the exemption, which has been in place for many years, perhaps by the new firearms committee, which we hope to establish in new clause 21. We must consider what further safety measures must be put in place to prevent such weaknesses in the architecture of the firearms law. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I am grateful to the Minister for that response. This was a probing amendment and I am satisfied, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 21
Firearms Advisory Committee
“(1) There shall be established in accordance with the provisions of this section a firearms consultative committee consisting of a chairman and no fewer than 12 other members appointed by the Secretary of State, being persons appearing to him to have knowledge and experience of one or more of the following matters—
(a) the possession, use or keeping of, or transactions in, firearms;
(b) weapon technology; and
(c) the administration or enforcement of the provisions of the Firearms Acts 1968 to 1997.
(2) Subject to subsection (3) below, a member of the committee shall hold and vacate office in accordance with the terms of his appointment.
(3) Any member of the committee may resign by notice in writing to the Secretary of State; and the chairman may by such a notice resign his office as such.
(4) It shall be the function of the committee—
(a) to keep under review the working of the provisions mentioned in subsection (1)(c) above and to make to the Secretary of State such recommendations as the committee may from time to time think necessary for the improvement of the working of those provisions;
(b) to make proposals for amending those provisions if it thinks fit;
(c) to advise the Secretary of State on any other matter relating to those provisions which he may refer to the committee; and
(d) to make proposals for codifying the law on firearms.
(5) The Committee shall make particular reference to the working of the provisions in relation to counter-terrorism, serious organised crime and crimes of violence.
(6) The committee shall in each year make a report on its activities to the Secretary of State who shall lay a copy of the report before both Houses of Parliament.
(7) The Secretary of State may make to members of the committee such payments as he may determine in respect of expenses incurred by them in the performance of their duties.”—(Louise Haigh.)
This new clause would establish a firearms advisory committee empowered to make recommendations to the Secretary of State concerning firearms law and the codification of that law.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The purpose of the new clause is to ensure that changes in firearms legislation are considered on an expert basis in a way that does not further confuse and fragment the legislation. I accept that the Minister says that firearms legislation and the exemptions are kept under constant review, but the advisory committee was in existence until the last Government abolished it, and we are suggesting it be re-established because it played an important part in advising Government on firearms legislation from a variety of experts.
This issue has been a key concern of the Law Commission, particularly in relation to the codification of the legislation. The view of law enforcement, from a counter-terror perspective, is that the Firearms Act 1968, as amended, is not fit for purpose given the nature of the current threat.
There are a number of glaring examples of how vulnerable public safety is from potential acquisition of firearms and ammunition from the lawful community. We have already debated some of them in relation to miniature rifles and auctioneers, and we will come on to another in the next clause on the component parts of ammunition. There is also a system for issuing visitor firearm permits to non-residents of the UK, to permit them to travel to the UK with their firearms and ammunition. However, UK police make minimal background checks and the whole scheme assumes that their country of origin has a robust licensing scheme in place. I cannot quite wrap my head around the folly that the police would assume that any other country in the world would operate a similar licensing scheme as robust as ours, given that we are proud of the fact that we have such strict controls on firearms in this country.
It is of great concern that there is no system in place at our borders to ensure that firearms and ammunition brought into the UK by virtue of visitor firearm permits are actually taken back out of the UK by the visitor. The Law Commission recommended codification of the Firearms Act in its December 2015 report, but so far the Home Office has not progressed that—I would have thought that the Offensive Weapons Bill would be a convenient vehicle for doing just that. The purpose of the re-establishment of the firearms committee is to allow for expert consideration of such loopholes in the current law in the light of the current threat environment and to allow for consideration of the implementation of the codification of firearms law.
I apologise to the Committee, to the Government and to the previous Government—the abolition took place under the previous Labour Government. I am normally one to hold my hand up to mistakes made by former Labour Governments. I am comforted by the Minister’s assurance that the Government will consult on the codification. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 22
Possession of component parts of ammunition with intent to manufacture
‘(1) Section 1 of the Firearms Act 1988 is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (5) insert—
“(6A) A person commits an offence if—
(a) the person has in his or her possession or under his or her control the component parts of ammunition; and
(b) the person intends to use such articles to manufacture the component parts into ammunition.
(6B) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—
(a) on summary conviction—
(i) in England and Wales to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months (or in relation to offences committed before Section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 comes into force six months) or to a fine or both;
(ii) in Scotland to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;
(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, to a fine, or to both.’—(Louise Haigh.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause proposes a simple change that I hope the Government will support, on something that came to light during the evidence session. I think that many Committee members were surprised to hear about the ease with which individuals could get their hands on deactivated or antique weapons. They can manufacture ammunition, and no offence has been committed until the ammunition is viable and capable of being used. Over the summer there was also a good documentary—I believe it was a “Panorama” one—on antique weapons, which demonstrated clearly the ease with which people could get their hands on them without committing an offence and be in possession of deadly weapons.
Everything up to that point—purchasing deactivated or antique weapons and collecting component parts from which ammunition can be manufactured—is perfectly legal. As Gregg Taylor of NABIS stated about the case of Paul Edmunds, a rogue firearms dealer who sold weapons to gangs:
“The ammunition was actually key to that case. As I said, guns are exempt from the Firearms Act if they are kept as a curiosity or an ornament. If ammunition is made to fit the gun, that is when it reverts back to being a prohibited weapon, so the making of the ammunition is key. That is what we see in criminal use right now. People out there make ammunition to fit these obsolete guns, and there are no restrictions on the components of the ammunition. It is only when the ammunition is made as a whole round that it becomes licensable, but the actual components, and the sourcing of them, can be done freely on the internet.”––[Official Report, Offensive Weapons Public Bill Committee, 17 July 2018; c. 39, Q91.]
That is clearly unjustifiable in the current climate. Our restrictive gun laws are leading to criminals attempting to find—and easily finding—plausible ways around the lack of supply of legal weapons.
Gregg Taylor was extremely critical of the loopholes in the law. He also said:
“There is a lack of control and legislation around purchasing and acquiring ammunition components. People can freely acquire all the equipment they need to make ammunition; the offence kicks in only once you have made a round.”––[Official Report, Offensive Weapons Public Bill Committee, 17 July 2018; c. 42, Q99.]
Mark Groothius of counter-terrorism policing said:
“In respect of the ammunition…I think we need to go further, in so much as we find people with the primers. The possession of a primer is not an offence. Possession of the cartridge case is not an offence. Possession of bullet heads is not an offence. With the question of the powder, there probably is an offence, but it is one of those offences hidden in the explosives regulations and it is difficult to actually prosecute. If we had a new offence for possession of component parts with intent to manufacture, that would assist us greatly. We do not have that at the moment.”––[Official Report, Offensive Weapons Public Bill Committee, 17 July 2018; c. 44, Q102.]
The Opposition in Committee heard that evidence. We want to assist the counter-terror police and NABIS greatly in their work and in their aim to stop organised criminal gangs getting hold of weapons that they can turn into deadly ones as easily as they can now. We therefore hope that the Minister will be willing to support our simple amendment.
Break in Debate
We have heard evidence from law enforcement that the clause would help them in their ability to disrupt gang networks and access to lethal weapons. Although I appreciate that there may be issues with the drafting of the amendment and there is legislation that covers some of it, I have not heard a good argument for why we should not bring this in to help law enforcement even more.
We will come on to clauses on antique weapons. It is quite frustrating that we are waiting for the regulations to come forward, but we will have to wait for them to be able to scrutinise them properly. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 23
‘(1) The Firearms Act 1968 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 16A (1) (Possession of firearm with intent to cause fear of violence) for “or imitation firearm” substitute “, imitation firearm or antique firearm”.
(3) In section 19 (carrying a firearm in a public place), after subsection (d) insert—
“(e) antique firearm.”
(4) In section 20 (1) (Trespassing with firearm) for “or imitation firearm” substitute “, imitation firearm or antique firearm”.
(5) In section 20 (2) (Trespassing with firearm) for “or imitation firearm” substitute “, imitation firearm or antique firearm”.’—(Louise Haigh.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
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The Minister just mentioned the recommendations of the Law Commission, which formed the consultation last year. In the “Panorama” documentary that I just referred to, the police suggested that it was irrational to impose greater obligations on scrap metal dealers than upon those who sell firearms, albeit antique ones. At present, an antique firearm can be bought for cash with no verification of the identity of the purchaser. That means there is no way of tracing who has purchased an antique firearm.
This state of affairs seems particularly unsatisfactory when one considers that by virtue of section 12 of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, a scrap dealer must not pay for scrap metal except by cheque or electronic funds transfer, including by credit or debit card. Additionally, by virtue of sections 11 to 15 of the Act, scrap metal dealers must record each transaction, the method of payment and to whom the payment was made, having verified their identity.
The benefit of imposing a similar obligation upon those who sell antique firearms is that it would aid the investigation of crimes in which such items are used, and that is what new clause 26 is designed to do. The Law Commission provisionally provides that the sale of antique firearms ought to take place by cheque or electronic funds transfer. The National Ballistics Intelligence Service and the Crown Prosecution Service are in favour of imposing such an obligation. Although we realise that dealers and collectors have expressed serious misgivings, we believe the balance should tip in favour of keeping the public safe.
New clause 24 seeks to change the offences in sections 17 and 18 of the Firearms Act 1968 to make it absolutely clear that antiques are covered by that Act. The Law Commission stated that, on one interpretation, the Act exempts antique firearms
“from every other provision in the Firearms Act 1968, including the offences contained in sections 16 – 25. This part of the Act is entitled Prevention of crime and preservation of public safety. The relevant offences are…possession of a firearm with intent to cause any person to believe that unlawful violence will be used against him or her…use of a firearm with intent to resist or prevent the lawful arrest or lawful detention…carrying a firearm with intent to commit an indictable offence…carrying a firearm in a public place…trespassing with a firearm…purchasing or selling firearms to minors…supplying a firearm to a minor…supplying a firearm to a person drunk or insane.”
I do not know whether we use such language in legislation any more.
The Law Commission continued:
“To take one example, the effect of section 58(2) might be that it would not be an offence contrary to section 17 to use an antique firearm to resist arrest. This strikes us as a loophole that ought to be closed.”
This is similar to our discussion about imitation firearms. The commission added:
“If it is an offence to use an imitation firearm to resist arrest, then it should also be an offence to use an antique firearm…The offences in section 16 – 25 could be amended to put beyond doubt that they can also be committed by someone with an antique firearm. This…we believe…would have no detrimental impact upon legitimate antique firearms collectors.”
I am grateful to the Minister for her comprehensive reply. I am satisfied and pleased to hear that new clauses 23 and 24 are not necessary given their introduction in the Police and Crime Act 2017—the Government have beaten me to it. However, I am not convinced by the argument against new clauses 26 and 27. An audit trail when purchasing firearms, be they antique or otherwise, is vital. That a licensing or registration scheme for antique firearms dealers does not exist to make it workable does not mean that we should not introduce one. If people want to sell weapons that can be used as deadly weapons on our streets to maim and kill children in every one of our constituencies, we should be able to establish who they are selling them to. We could return to that on Report and possibly when the regulations are introduced, before the end of the year. For now, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
This new clause is also based on the compelling evidence that the Committee received early on, particularly from Mark Groothuis from counter-terrorism policing, who said:
“It is actually relatively easy to obtain shotgun ammunition. If you want to purchase it, you must produce a shotgun certificate, but I can give shotgun ammunition to a person who is 18 or above without a shotgun certificate. In theory anyone in this room could possess up to 15 kg net explosive quantity of shotgun cartridges, which is a huge quantity—probably in excess of 10,000 rounds—with no certification at all. The controls around shotgun ammunition are particularly loose. The control is there to purchase, but not to be given”—
that is, not to supply. He continued to say that, as another witness had said,
“if you have shotgun ammunition, you can take the shooter’s powder out of it and use it for other purposes.”––[Official Report, Offensive Weapons Public Bill Committee, 17 July 2018; c. 43, Q102.]
That is what the amendment seeks to address. I appreciate why the exemption is already in law, because when someone is out on a hunt, they should not be criminalised for passing shotgun cartridges or ammunition to a fellow hunter or shooter, but surely that threshold of 15 kg is far too high and creates unnecessary loopholes in the legislation. I hope the Government will seriously consider our amendment and maybe give us just one little win.
Will the Minister explain to the Committee why the threshold is so high, at 10,000 rounds of shotgun ammunition? If the exemption is there to allow me to pass ammunition to a fellow shooter, why does it have to be at 10,000 rounds? It seems completely excessive.
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Although I am still unsatisfied as to why the threshold should be so excessively high, I will go back and look at the explosives regulations and perhaps we will return with further amendments on Report. For now, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new clause.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
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