Debates between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh

There have been 29 exchanges between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh

1 Thu 27th February 2020 Child Protection
Home Office
3 interactions (2,597 words)
2 Mon 24th February 2020 Policing (England and Wales)
Home Office
2 interactions (2,978 words)
3 Mon 10th February 2020 Oral Answers to Questions
Home Office
3 interactions (238 words)
4 Wed 15th May 2019 Serious Violence
Home Office
2 interactions (2,063 words)
5 Tue 26th March 2019 Offensive Weapons Bill
Home Office
5 interactions (1,001 words)
6 Fri 22nd March 2019 Emergency Summit on Knife Crime
Home Office
5 interactions (1,968 words)
7 Tue 19th March 2019 Child Sexual Exploitation Victims: Criminal Records
Home Office
4 interactions (1,111 words)
8 Tue 19th February 2019 Merseyside Police Funding
Home Office
6 interactions (1,928 words)
9 Thu 24th January 2019 Knife Crime
Home Office
2 interactions (2,390 words)
10 Mon 21st January 2019 Oral Answers to Questions
Home Office
3 interactions (255 words)
11 Thu 13th December 2018 Public Health Model to Reduce Youth Violence
Home Office
2 interactions (2,378 words)
12 Wed 28th November 2018 Offensive Weapons Bill
Home Office
3 interactions (551 words)
13 Tue 11th September 2018 Offensive Weapons Bill (Ninth sitting)
Home Office
24 interactions (5,037 words)
14 Tue 11th September 2018 Offensive Weapons Bill (Tenth sitting)
Home Office
56 interactions (11,254 words)
15 Thu 6th September 2018 Offensive Weapons Bill (Eighth sitting)
Home Office
45 interactions (5,728 words)
16 Thu 6th September 2018 Offensive Weapons Bill (Seventh sitting)
Home Office
38 interactions (4,067 words)
17 Tue 4th September 2018 Offensive Weapons Bill (Fifth sitting)
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18 interactions (6,566 words)
18 Tue 4th September 2018 Offensive Weapons Bill (Sixth sitting)
Home Office
40 interactions (6,679 words)
19 Tue 17th July 2018 Offensive Weapons Bill (Second sitting)
Home Office
11 interactions (1,367 words)
20 Tue 17th July 2018 Offensive Weapons Bill (First sitting)
Home Office
8 interactions (2,387 words)
21 Mon 16th July 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Home Office
3 interactions (264 words)
22 Wed 6th June 2018 Rural Crime and Public Services
Home Office
2 interactions (586 words)
23 Tue 20th March 2018 Data Protection Bill [ Lords ] (Fifth sitting)
Home Office
5 interactions (422 words)
24 Thu 15th March 2018 Data Protection Bill [Lords] (Fourth sitting)
Home Office
61 interactions (5,774 words)
25 Thu 15th March 2018 Data Protection Bill [ Lords ] (Third sitting)
Home Office
2 interactions (140 words)
26 Tue 13th March 2018 Data Protection Bill [ Lords ] (Second sitting)
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10 interactions (1,483 words)
27 Mon 12th March 2018 Hate Crime
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3 interactions (726 words)
28 Wed 17th January 2018 County Lines Exploitation: London
Home Office
2 interactions (2,312 words)
29 Wed 20th December 2017 Corrosive Substance Attacks
Home Office
2 interactions (1,952 words)

Child Protection

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
Thursday 27th February 2020

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 12:51 p.m.

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on Her Majesty’s inspectorate of police, fire and rescue services’ thematic report on its national child protection inspection programme. This important report was published today and summarises the findings of 64 inspections and re-inspections of police forces’ approaches to child protection since the programme began in 2014.

Keeping our children safe is an absolute priority for this Government, and we welcome Her Majesty’s inspectorate’s work in this area. Protecting vulnerable people should be of utmost importance to the police, and we are committed to ensuring that police forces demonstrate continued improvement in this regard. The activity of our independent inspectorates is critical to our ability to monitor progress and drive change. In the five years since it began, the national child protection inspection programme has been a vital source of independent scrutiny and challenge, and it has been instrumental in driving improvements in the way the police work with vulnerable children. As we know too well, this is an area of police work in which we have seen some of the worst failures in the past.

The report notes that

“we have continued to see an unambiguous commitment from police leaders, officers and staff to the protection of children.”

The report recognises improvements—in some cases, significant improvements—in the service received by children at risk. In every case, when inspectors returned to a police force that had previously been inspected, they saw progress being made and better outcomes for children. They saw examples of good, innovative work, such as the programme in Wales to provide early support to children exposed to adverse childhood experiences. Officers are better at understanding the signs of vulnerability and recognising children who are at risk. We welcome the positive findings in today’s report.

The report is clear, however, that more needs to be done. Although the police have a better understanding of risk, their resources are too often focused on areas of acute risk. Not enough is being done to spot the earliest signs of risk and prevent those risks from escalating. There are concerning findings around the detention of vulnerable children. Children are too often being detained in custody when they should not be, and they are not being appropriately safeguarded in those situations. There are inconsistencies in how forces manage dangerous offenders, and the escalation in the prevalence of digital technology in offending is a significant challenge, meaning that it is taking too long to identify and safeguard children who have been the victims of sexual abuse online.

These are serious matters, and I want to set out the steps the Government are taking to address them. As the Home Secretary stated yesterday, we are an ambitious and dynamic new Government with law and order at our heart. Our mission is clear. It is to deliver on the people’s priorities: to cut crime and to protect the public. We have recognised the huge demands placed on our police forces, and we are addressing these pressures with the recruitment of an unprecedented 20,000 additional officers over three years. We are investing a further £1.1 billion in policing next year—taking the total up to £15.2 billion—with the help of police and crime commissioners using their precepts. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are driving a united Government response with a new cross-Whitehall crime and justice taskforce to ensure that we use every lever at our disposal to fight crime. However, as today’s report makes clear, the rise in high-harm crimes such as serious violence and child sexual abuse is having a particular impact on the most vulnerable, requiring more from our police officers. They need to be able to look beyond the obvious and to develop a deeper understanding of risk.

We have worked with the College of Policing and are providing £1.9 million of funding to develop a more comprehensive package of training for first responders, so that they are better able to identify signs of vulnerability and provide support to victims. We have also funded the police’s own vulnerability, knowledge and practice programme to develop policing best practice in response to vulnerability as a whole. The programme is recognised in today’s report for its work to evaluate best practice in early intervention. We have introduced stronger multi-agency child safeguarding arrangements with shared responsibility between local authorities, police and health partners for the local strategic response to safeguarding, including harms such as child sexual exploitation. Again, these reforms, which were implemented in every local area in England last September, are recognised in today’s report as a key opportunity to deliver the kind of systemic change we need to see.

In relation to the inappropriate detention of children, we will look carefully at the recommendation and do what we can to ensure that vulnerable children receive an appropriate service from the police. We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the 2017 concordat on children in custody, which sets out the statutory duties of the police and local authorities and provides a protocol for how transfers should work in practice.

Today’s report also recognises that the nature of risk is changing, and investment in officers and changing police culture are only part of the solution. That is why we are investing in new capabilities to tackle the exploitation of vulnerable children through crimes such as child sexual exploitation, child criminal exploitation and county lines. Last year we announced a £30 million investment in funding for work to tackle child sexual abuse and exploitation in 2020-21. The new funding will include investment in the child abuse image database—CAID—which the Home Office has developed in collaboration with UK law enforcement. CAID is a single database of indecent images of children which enables UK law enforcement to work collaboratively to safeguard children and bring people to justice. The new funding will allow us to deliver upgrades to CAID, including a fast, forensic tool to rapidly analyse seized devices and find images already known to law enforcement; an image categorisation algorithm to assist officers to identify and categorise the severity of illegal imagery; and a capability to detect images with matching scenes to help to identify children in indecent images in order to safeguard victims.

We have announced £25 million of targeted investment across 2019-20 and 2020-21 to strengthen the law enforcement response to county lines and increase the support available to the children, young people and families who are affected. This is in addition to establishing the national county lines co-ordination centre, with £3.6 million of Home Office funding, and providing a range of support for county lines victims. We also recognise that by the time children experience these forms of exploitation, the harm has been done. Police and other services need to spot the signs of risk and intervene earlier. Through our £13 million four-year trusted relationships programme, we are trialling 11 innovative projects in England working to protect vulnerable 10 to 17-year-olds who are at high risk of sexual exploitation and other forms of harm. We want to do more, however, which is why this year we will be publishing a first-of-its-kind national strategy to tackle child sexual abuse and exploitation.

We welcome today’s report. The protection of vulnerable children from harm is of the highest priority to this Government, as it should be to our police forces, and the inspectorate’s work in this area is vital in shaping our work in the future. The Home Secretary intends to meet inspectors to discuss today’s report and understand what more we and the police can do to ensure that children receive the highest levels of protection in the future. I commend this statement to the House.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab) - Hansard
27 Feb 2020, 1:04 p.m.

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?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

I thank the hon. Lady for her response and questions. She knows, I hope, about the early intervention work that we have been investing in. There is enormous agreement across the House and in all the agencies we work with—those that work on the frontline with young people who are at risk of serious violence or sexual exploitation or both, or other forms of risk—that early intervention is absolutely key to this, because we want to prevent harm in the first place.

Over the past few years, we have invested £22 million in the early intervention youth fund, which is supporting 40 projects endorsed by police and crime commissioners across England and Wales. The projects include work with children and young people at risk of criminal involvement, and organisations safeguarding those at risk of gang exploitation and county lines, or those who have already offended to help divert them into positive life chances. At least 60,000 children and young people will be reached through the fund by the end of March.

The £200 million youth endowment fund is targeted at funding and developing early intervention projects over 10 years, and it undertook its first grant round last year. Twenty-three successful applicants were identified, and the interventions range from intensive family therapy to street-based and school mentoring programmes. The 23 projects are located across England and Wales and will share £17.1 million over two years, and of course the fund has a further eight years to go.

I am pleased that the hon. Lady mentioned the adverse childhood experiences work in Wales. The Home Office helped to fund that work, because we want to test and pilot to see what works, so that other agencies and local authorities can learn from best practice.

The hon. Lady rightly raised data sharing. All of us involved in the arena of preventing and trying to prevent child exploitation will agree with me when I say that if I had a pound for every time people talked to me about collaboration and data sharing, believe you me we would be able to spend even more money than we already are on intervention projects. She rightly and kindly referenced the fact that we included a specific section in the 2018 Act to give professionals the certainty that if they are sharing information for the purpose of safeguarding vulnerable people, they are perfectly entitled to do so and, indeed, should do so. We are beginning to see culture changes in some of the agencies we are working with, but she is right that far more needs to be done. Reports such as this one will hopefully drive that change.

The hon. Lady knows that we are helping to invest in violence reduction units in police forces across the country. That will also encourage the use of data sharing, and the forthcoming serious violence Bill will put in statute the duty of various agencies to work collaboratively to prevent serious violence. I have always been clear that that will have a trickle-down effect on other types of criminality, violence and sexual violence.

In conclusion, the report sets out some real challenges for policing, as we have said, but it also shows that there have been improvements. I am keen to emphasise that, so that we have a fair debate about the issues that have been raised.

Policing (England and Wales)

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
Monday 24th February 2020

(6 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab) - Hansard
24 Feb 2020, 8:20 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard
24 Feb 2020, 8:32 p.m.

I thank all Members on both sides of the House for their heartfelt contributions to today’s debate. We have heard stories of the terrible impact of crime on constituencies across the country—stories that remind us that crime is a story not of statistics but of human suffering. There have also been unanimous expressions of support for our police forces from Members on both sides of the House, and colleagues will not be surprised to learn that I agree with each and every one of them.

Indeed, in my previous career prosecuting criminals, I saw for myself the dedication, professionalism and bravery of our officers. Home Office Ministers see that each day as well. Every day, officers face more danger than most of us will see in a lifetime. In every situation, they act selflessly to protect the public and tackle criminality in all its ugly forms, and that is one of the many reasons why, as has been mentioned by the hon. Members for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), looking after our police forces is so important. The introduction of the wellbeing service and, in due course, the police covenant will hopefully meet with the approval of the House as a whole.

As has been acknowledged today, the nature of criminality is changing. Our forces face new challenges, with new technology ushering in a new generation of crime, but our police forces are rising to the challenge. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) how her local constabulary has a dedicated drone team and, indeed, the country’s first “digital search dogs” team. As the owner of a puppy who seems to be obsessed with my remote controls, I look forward to visiting that team to see its work.

At a time when criminal activity is increasingly complex and when the scourge of serious violence threatens more and more communities across the country, we have a duty to ensure that the police have the resources they need to keep our people and our country safe. However, police funding is about more than material resources. We want to send a clear message to our police that this Government support them. This historic increase in police funding sends that message. Our unprecedented recruitment drive, the largest in decades, sends that message. And our clear commitment to combating the rise in serious violence sends that message.

As a female Minister responding to my opposite number who also happens to be a woman—with a female shadow Home Secretary, I am afraid the Minister for Crime, Policing and the Fire Service, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), is the odd one out—I am delighted that we have all had the chance to speak in this great Chamber on the centenary of the first speech by the first woman to take her seat in this place. We have had the benefit of two female Deputy Speakers during this debate, too.

I am also delighted that, in marking that important moment in this place’s history, we have heard three new female colleagues give their maiden speech. I look forward to them making their mark in this century. We heard delightful tributes to their immediate predecessors, Richard Benyon, Mark Prisk and the right hon. and learned Dominic Grieve, who are remembered fondly and with respect on both sides of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris), however, went one better and paid an even more personal tribute to a certain predecessor: her own father. It was very moving to listen to the example he set her, and I have no doubt that she will burnish her family’s proud record in this place and do him proud. She also raised the topic of flexible working, which the Metropolitan police are piloting to encourage a more diverse workforce and to recruit the best talent. This is an interesting challenge not just to those with childcare responsibilities but to the wider policing family, including those who have finished their 30 years’ service. I welcome the contribution she will inevitably make on this important topic.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson) mentioned the famous toothbrush collection in her constituency and the enormous bed of Ware, which can apparently accommodate four couples at one time—there is a joke there somewhere, but I will not tread there.

My hon. Friend talked very movingly of her family’s journey from the workhouse to this House, and she put her parents and her husband on the record. It was an incredibly moving speech. She also told us of her experience as a magistrate and, in particular, of a poor young, emaciated, grey boy who had been injected with heroin by those who were supposed to love and care for him and whom she met as he appeared in the adult magistrates court for the first time. She made the point that such cases haunt those of us who have worked in the criminal justice system, so I very much look forward to working with her on this Government’s exciting journey of creating opportunity for all.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) said it has taken a mere 100 years for a “moderately acceptable” American accent to be heard in the Chamber—I think it is much more acceptable than that. Her message of unifying our country draws not just on the present day but on the great history of her constituency. It is a great history not simply because the good people of Beaconsfield have only ever voted for a Conservative Member of Parliament but because of her more distant predecessors, Edmund Burke and Benjamin Disraeli.

That ties in neatly with the fact that this one nation Government are working for the whole country, as demonstrated by this very good funding settlement. This is the second year that the Government have issued a record-breaking increase to police funding levels through a police settlement that shows our commitment to giving the police the resources they need to fight crime and keep the public safe.

The total funding being made available to the policing system next year will increase by more than £1.1 billion, with the help of police and crime commissioners using council tax. This increase will enable the police to bear down on criminals who are terrorising our towns and to reduce the number of victims of crime. It will provide £150 million in funding to fight organised crime and to continue cracking down on online child abuse. Tackling serious violence will be backed with £39 million, including £20 million for tackling county lines drug dealing. My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) spoke so eloquently about that and about the charity in her constituency, Prison! Me! No Way!, which does so much to tackle it.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
Monday 10th February 2020

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:30 a.m.

Drug gangs, or county lines, often involve a horrific form of child criminal exploitation, and we are determined to put an end to it. One of the many ways we are seeking to do that is through further investment in the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre, which has co-ordinated enforcement action across the country, resulting in more than 2,500 arrests and the safeguarding of more than 3,000 vulnerable people.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab) - Hansard

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?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
6 Feb 2020, 9:30 a.m.

The hon. Lady may recall that we said we would keep that under review, because we felt that the measures put forward last year were of a nature that did not target areas that have a particular problem with knife crime. We will keep it under review, but I make the point again that it is the responsibility of shop owners to make sure that if they are selling items such as that, they display them appropriately and, if necessary, keep them under lock and key.

Serious Violence

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
Wednesday 15th May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
15 May 2019, 6:18 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Parliament Live - Hansard
15 May 2019, 6:29 p.m.

No young person chooses to carry a knife out of an innate desire for violence and bloodshed. Knives are carried for protection, or to belong, or because young people feel that gang membership and criminality are their only route to success and respect.

Quite rightly, we have heard from hon. Members today about the impact of adverse childhood experiences. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) gave a chilling account of the differences in life chances—what she called the sliding doors of a young man’s life. She will, I am sure, welcome the fact that the Leader of the House of Commons, who is an expert in early years work—she has spent much of her life examining the first two years of life and development—is focusing a piece of work for the Government on precisely the first two years of life. That will have an important role to play in the future, when it comes to how we as a Government ensure that young people have the chances that we all hope and expect they will.

The hon. Lady will also be pleased to know that around £7 million has been awarded to the four police forces in Wales, which, in collaboration with Public Health Wales, will develop and test a new approach to policing that prevents and mitigates adverse childhood experiences. That is just one of the 61 commitments from the serious violence strategy, which has been completed, and I am sure we will all welcome the outcome of that vital work.

Hon. Members mentioned the impact of domestic abuse. As the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), outlined, the Government are bringing forward a groundbreaking piece of legislation. The draft Domestic Abuse Bill is currently being scrutinised before a Joint Committee of both Houses. That is precisely because, when it comes before the House, we want it to be a good piece of legislation that meets the high expectations of everyone on both sides of the House, not just in helping survivors and children in the immediate term—I include children as survivors in that—but because we know that domestic abuse is a primary factor in making a child more susceptible to being a perpetrator or a victim of violence.

At the Prime Minister’s summit only a few weeks ago, we heard from a professor from Chicago—there is an international aspect to our work as well, which I will come on to in due course—who told us that domestic violence in the home, whether in the States, in the UK or wherever, is the biggest indicator that someone will perpetrate violence, or be a victim of violence, outside the home. Of course, that makes complete sense. If someone grows up in an environment of abuse, not only does that have an impact on the way in which their brain grows and develops, but it must have an impact on how they handle themselves with the wider public and outside. Of course, it also terrifies the children who live in such households.

The reason why I am so pleased that we have been talking about adverse childhood experiences, domestic abuse and so on is that this is as much about life chances as about the causes of criminality, drug gangs and so on. The fact is that young people growing up without life chances are just as likely to become a victim of knife crime as a perpetrator. They want a way out. They want the chance of a life without violence. We must give them a dream of a future. That was one of the strongest themes that came out of the Prime Minister’s serious violence summit, and that is why the serious violence strategy places such strong emphasis on early intervention, tackling the root causes of violent crime and preventing young people from being drawn into violence in the first place.

Members understandably want to debate this issue; I hope people realise that I positively welcome opportunities to be at the Dispatch Box to discuss this incredibly important topic, but I also believe that we should be listening to young people. That is precisely why I am inviting young people with lived experience, including former gang members, into this place so that they can tell us about their experiences, what they think we should be doing and what they think will make a difference.

I thank Members for their considered, careful and thoughtful contributions. I have to say that I consider this afternoon to have been the norm for the way in which Members conduct themselves in these debates. There is an acknowledgement that Members from all parties want serious violence to stop and want to work together to help to stop it, which is why it is always a privilege for me to respond to these debates, but I want to go further: in due course I shall issue an invitation to all Members, from all parties, to a roundtable at the beginning of next month to discuss further what is happening, and not only at the national level.

This is an incredibly complex policy area—I shall give the House a list of some of the things we are doing in due course, but there is so much more to this. As colleagues from the all-party group on knife crime will know from when I have discussed this issue with them, this is not just about debates in the House; it is about us talking about what we can do and about the best practice we can share. I want to understand what Members think is working in their local areas.

Offensive Weapons Bill

(Ping Pong: House of Commons)
Debate between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
Tuesday 26th March 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
26 Mar 2019, 3:39 p.m.

I think the hon. Lady is talking about the amendment tabled by the shadow Minister. We do not agree with that amendment. We believe that piloting and then the Secretary of State laying a report before the House is a perfectly proportionate way of assessing the pilots’ success. Let us not forget that we are talking about youth courts and magistrates courts using civil orders, with all the safeguards that are in the regime. This regime mirrors similar regimes used in, for example, gang injunctions. We should have trust in our youth courts and others that they will be able to meet the expectations of the House in terms of ensuring the wellbeing and the welfare of the young people they are looking after. The aim of these orders is to protect young people and also the wider community. On the proposal that a full report should be laid out, I am afraid that, in the usual way, such regulations are not subject to any parliamentary procedure, and the Government see no reason to adopt a different approach in this case.

There are of course other provisions that I have not even begun to address, although I may well have a chance do so at the end. However, I hope that my focusing on the three main issues arising during the passage of the Bill meets with colleagues’ approval. I very much look forward to hearing their contributions in the rest of the debate.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab) - Hansard
26 Mar 2019, 2:57 p.m.

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

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
26 Mar 2019, 1:09 p.m.

To correct the record, these orders have been discussed in the serious violence taskforce, which is attended by the Children’s Commissioner and many of the others that the hon. Lady mentioned. This is action that the police required of us. We turned it around as quickly as we could to get it into the Bill, in order to protect children. We are doing it on the advice of the police.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
26 Mar 2019, 1:09 p.m.

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.

Emergency Summit on Knife Crime

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
Friday 22nd March 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Mar 2019, 12:34 p.m.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The urgent question is the gift that keeps giving.

Before I start my reply, may I, on behalf of the Home Office, reflect on the very sad anniversary that we mark today of the events that occurred in this place two years ago and the terrible loss of PC Keith Palmer? Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones, and with the wider policing family.

We all want our children and young people to be safe on our streets. As the Home Secretary has said, there is no one single solution; we must unite and fight on all fronts to end this senseless violence. We are listening to what the police need, which is why we are introducing knife crime prevention orders on their request, in the Offensive Weapons Bill; we have increased police funding by up to £970 million next year, including council tax; and in the spring statement we announced there will be £100 million of additional funding in 2019-20 to tackle serious violence. This will strengthen police efforts to crack down on knife crime on the areas of the country where it is most rife. The funding will also be invested in violence reduction units, bringing together agencies to develop a multi-agency approach.

It is important, however, that we recognise that greater law enforcement alone will not reduce serious violence. We have already announced a multi-agency public health approach and will be consulting very soon on new statutory duty of care to ensure that all agencies play their part. We are investing more than £220 million in early intervention projects to stop the most vulnerable being sucked into a life of violence. We are also addressing the drivers of crime, including the drugs trade, with the launch of our independent drugs review. But we continue to look for new ways to tackle this epidemic.

The Prime Minister announced that she would be hosting a serious youth violence summit. The event will champion the whole community public health model, which is crucial if we are to address the root causes of youth violence, as well as disrupt it in our neighbourhoods and local communities. Given the broad array of experts and interested parties, we have been working across government in recent days to ensure the right arrangements are in place. I am pleased to confirm that the summit will take place in the week commencing 1 April, and that we will provide further details shortly, in the normal way. This underlines this Government’s absolute commitment to tackling knife crime and serious violence with our partners across the country, because we all want this violence to stop.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
22 Mar 2019, 12:38 p.m.

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”

and

“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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Mar 2019, 12:44 p.m.

It is interesting—is it not?—that this urgent question is essentially about process. If we focus on what the hon. Lady has just said, we can see that she applied for this urgent question because she wanted to know the date of the knife crime summit hosted by the Prime Minister. As I say, I can confirm that the summit is going to be held in the first week of April. I wish the hon. Lady had just asked me quietly in the corridors of this place. I am always happy to speak to any colleague about tackling serious violence. We did not need to have an urgent question about setting a date for a meeting.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
22 Mar 2019, 12:43 p.m.

We know you don’t like scrutiny—

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Parliament Live - Hansard
22 Mar 2019, 12:44 p.m.

The hon. Lady is saying that I do not like speaking to the House. Come on, let us not be silly about this. This is such an important topic and it requires collaborative work. Frankly, urgent questions and press releases may be very helpful to the hon. Lady’s profile, but that is not what the hard work of tackling serious violence is about.

The hon. Lady wants to know what the Government have been doing. Last autumn, we set up the national county lines co-ordination, which has seen more than 1,000 arrests and more than 1,300 people safeguarded. Last week, there was the latest iteration of Operation Sceptre, as part of which every police force in the country adopts knife crime investigation methods appropriate to their areas to tackle knife crime. I do not have the figures for the latest iteration, because it ends at the weekend, but the previous week of Operation Sceptre resulted in more than 9,000 knives being taken off our streets.

We are funding Redthread to offer services in accident and emergency departments in hospitals with a particular problem with knife crime. We are funding projects across the country through the £22 million early intervention youth fund and smaller projects across communities through the anti-knife crime community fund. We have a long-running social media campaign—#KnifeFree—targeting young people most vulnerable to being ensnared by criminal gangs or to being tempted to leave their homes with knives and walk up the street with them. Only last week, I met the Premier League, which is working with us to get the message out through its vast network of contacts, including through its Kicks programme.

We are working with the Department for Education to publish best practice guidance for alternative providers, because we are well aware of the problems that seem to be arising with alternative provision. We are about to consult on a new legal duty to require a multi-agency public health approach to tackling serious violence. We have launched an independent review into drugs misuse because we know that the drugs market is the major driver of serious violence. We are launching the youth endowment fund: £200 million over 10 years for intervention on young people at various stages of their lives to move them away from gangs or prevent them from being ensnared by them.

We announced in the spring statement last week a further £100 million. That came about because chief constables told the Home Secretary they needed help with surge policing. They need it. We have delivered it. I remind the House that we are about to welcome back the Offensive Weapons Bill next week from the House of Lords. I urge—I implore—the shadow Minister to support the knife crime prevention orders that the Metropolitan police have asked us for to help that small cohort of young people who can be helped through those orders. I hope that the Labour party will stand by its words at the Dispatch Box and help us to pass those orders into law so that we can help exactly the young people I think we all want to help.

Child Sexual Exploitation Victims: Criminal Records

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
Tuesday 19th March 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab) - Hansard
19 Mar 2019, 12:43 p.m.

(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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Mar 2019, 11:30 a.m.

I am conscious that, as you outlined, Mr Speaker, this question relates to an ongoing legal case, and that as such it would not be appropriate to comment on the specific case or cases. I assure you that the Government want all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation to feel that they can come forward to report abuse, and get the support they need when they do so. We are committed to working across Government to ensure that victims can move on from the abuse they have suffered, and that professionals, including the police, who come into contact with a victim recognise exploitation when they see it and respond appropriately.

The Government are committed to acting to protect the public and help employers make safe recruitment decisions. The disclosure and barring regime plays an important part in supporting employers to make informed recruitment decisions about roles that involve working with children or vulnerable adults, and in a limited range of other circumstances. The criminal record disclosure regime seeks to strike a balance between safeguarding children and enabling individuals to put their offending behind them.

The House will be aware that the Supreme Court recently handed down a judgment in the case of P and others that affects certain rules governing the disclosure regime. We are still waiting for the order from the Supreme Court, but we are considering the implications of the judgment and will respond in due course. It is important to note, however, that the Supreme Court recognises that the regime balances public protection with individuals’ right to a private life. It applies only to certain protected jobs, and it is for employers to decide someone’s suitability for a role once they are armed with the facts.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
19 Mar 2019, 12:46 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Parliament Live - Hansard
19 Mar 2019, 12:49 p.m.

I thank the hon. Lady for her urgent question. She knows, because we have discussed the issue behind the scenes on many occasions, the concerns, feelings and sympathy that the Home Secretary and I have for victims of child sexual exploitation and abuse, and that this Government have done more than any other to tackle it. By setting up institutions such as the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, the Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, sought to uncover these terrible hidden crimes. We know of the experience in Rotherham, of course, and I note that the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) is in her place. I have seen for myself the vital local work to support victims and bring the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice.

I am afraid that I am not able to comment on individual cases at this moment—it is a matter of timing—but the Government are considering the Supreme Court judgment very carefully. Sadly, I am not in a position to comment on other aspects of the urgent question, but we have, I think, acknowledged as a society that when children initially present as suspects, the police and others must ask questions to see whether there is more to the picture. I am sure that we all agree on that, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to reiterate it.

Merseyside Police Funding

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
Tuesday 19th February 2019

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Home Office
Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab) - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 3:36 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 3:42 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this important debate, and I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for contributing.

Before we get to the rough and tumble of political debate, I wish to reflect on the cases that colleagues have raised of deaths in their constituencies. The hon. Gentleman spoke about Bobby, which is a terribly sad case, and our thoughts are with his parents and his family. The right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) spoke about Police Constable Dave Phillips, and again our thoughts are with his family. Any murder is a terrible event, but to my mind, the killing of a police officer goes to the heart of our society and values, and we are reminded that police officers are on the front line every day.

We heard movingly from the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) about Sam Cook—about the terrible loss of that young man’s life on his birthday, and his father’s extraordinary strength in setting up a charity to help other families and ensure that they do not suffer as his has. If it would meet with his approval, I would be delighted to meet Mr Cook and learn more about the work that he does in his local area.

I am extremely grateful to colleagues for the way they have conducted this debate. One point on which we can all agree is our wish to thank officers and police staff who work to protect people and communities in Merseyside. I pay tribute to them and thank them for their work, just as I thank colleagues across the country for the work they do day in, day out to keep us safe and fight crime.

I am struck that many colleagues raised the welfare of officers. The Policing Minister cares deeply about that, as do I, not least because particular types of crime, such as child sexual exploitation, can be incredibly trying for any human being to work on. I am always keen to ensure, as are the Policing Minister and the Home Secretary, that our officers are looked after in the course of doing their jobs, which are often very stressful. Hon. Members may be interested to know that the national police welfare service run by the College of Policing will commence in April, which I hope will bolster and consolidate all the efforts that happen at the local level. We want to spread good practice nationally as well.

I must mention my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore), who is on an armed forces visit at the moment but who spoke to me last week, ahead of the debate, to emphasise his thanks and to pay tribute to his local police officers and staff. I am sure that he would want that to be reflected.

The first role of Government is of course to protect citizens. The Government are determined to ensure that the police have the powers and resources they need to keep our citizens and communities safe. We absolutely recognise that there are major pressures on the police, including in Merseyside. There has been a major increase in the reporting of high-harm crimes such as child sexual exploitation and modern slavery, many of which were previously hidden behind closed doors. We absolutely acknowledge that violent crime in Merseyside has sadly risen recently. I hope in a moment to go into a little more detail on the national strategies to fight serious organised crime and serious violence, what we are trying to achieve at the national level, and the impact that I hope that will have at the local level.

The title of the debate requires me to talk about funding. I know that there is not agreement across the House on the approach to funding. I feel obliged to remind people, as I do on such occasions, that these tough decisions were taken in 2010 and thereafter because of the financial situation that the country found itself in. They have been very tough decisions, but as of 2015, at the insistence of the then Home Secretary, who is now the Prime Minister, we have been in a position to protect police funding.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

There is a great debate in my home constabulary of Lincolnshire at the moment, which, although very rural, has its crime demands and faces similar pressures. The problem, as we have discussed before and as the Policing Minister has gone through in detail, is that the funding formula needs reform.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 3:49 p.m.

Do it then.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
19 Feb 2019, 3:49 p.m.

The hon. Lady says, “Do it then.” We tried to do it in 2017 and sadly were not able to achieve that. We have tried since the general election to consolidate the formula as it is at the moment. The Policing Minister has spoken to every single chief constable and police and crime commissioner about the needs in their local area, to try to make the existing formula work and to reflect the rising demand. We are conscious that the demands on the police are changing, which is why the Home Secretary has made dealing with police funding a priority in the next comprehensive spending review.

Knife Crime

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
Thursday 24th January 2019

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Home Office
Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
24 Jan 2019, 4:16 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard
24 Jan 2019, 4:18 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I thank the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) for securing this extremely important debate. I thank colleagues from across the House for their contributions. Many of them have cited incredibly moving examples from their own constituencies and communities of youth violence and youth tragedies.

I am particularly moved by the very recent tragedy for the family of Jaden Moodie. I offer my sincere condolences to his family on behalf of the Government and, I am sure, the House. He was just a child. Anyone who has not experienced the loss that the Moodie family, and those other families we have heard about today, have experienced simply cannot begin to believe or understand the pain or difficulties that they are going through, this day and every other day.

We have heard primarily from London MPs, but I am conscious that this issue is not restricted to London. Indeed, just before Christmas I met someone from my constituency, which is very rural and very different from some of the constituencies represented here, who was the victim of a knife attack in our market town. The circumstances were very different from the county lines scenario that many hon. Members have described, but none the less important. I know that this issue affects many Members across the House, and their constituents.

I was struck by the urging of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez), and the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Leyton and Wanstead, that we should listen to young people’s voices. I completely agree with them. That is an important part of my role. Indeed, last year, as well as going to visit youth services and people who work with young people in their communities, I invited former gang members into the House of Commons to meet colleagues, so that they could describe their experiences to us in this place of power and influence that sets the laws that have such an impact on their lives.

I am also sympathetic to colleagues’ urgings regarding adverse childhood experiences. This week we launched the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which, as I said at the time of the launch, is important for not only the immediate victims of domestic abuse, but the children who witness incidents of violence in their homes. We know that the most prevalent factor for children in contact with social services is experience of domestic abuse. Those children are more likely than those not in contact with social services to require alternative education provision. Again, we have heard from hon. Members about the impact that that can have.

One woman I spoke to last week at a women’s centre told me how her teenage son had started to copy the behaviour that he had witnessed at home before she could escape her incredibly toxic relationship. The gang members whom we meet and talk to through youth workers provide a reminder that domestic abuse is a horribly common factor for those who are drawn into gangs as well.

I pay tribute to the police and all agencies that work to stop violence, and that have to deal with the aftermath of violent incidents. I know that those thanks are very much echoed across the House. I want to give the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead a chance to wind up, so I will try to stop in about six minutes.

The Government published the serious violence strategy last year. I know that hon. Members are very familiar with that document, which sets out a step change in the way we think about and tackle serious violence. One of the most important parts of the strategy is the serious violence taskforce. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) and the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) are both part of the taskforce. It is an important way of drawing together all the agencies that have been mentioned, and placing an obligation on them to change some of their thinking.

The topic of exclusions has been raised frequently. A great deal of work is going on at the moment through the taskforce, and through the Department for Education, on exclusions. A report is due, I hope shortly, from Edward Timpson, looking at alternative provision across the country. The results of that review, as well as the work that we are conducting through the taskforce, will help to solve some of the problems that have emerged regarding children being vulnerable to gangs.

The right hon. Member for Tottenham spoke passionately about the role of drugs. He spoke with eloquence and clear feeling about how it has affected his constituents, and the young people in his constituency who are being used to ferry drugs around the country. Shockingly, the United Kingdom is, I think, the highest consumer of cocaine in Europe. I emphasise the message again that anyone taking those drugs—a wrap at the weekend, or whatever—needs to be very clear about the role that their wrap is playing in the wider market of drugs and gangs.

We are taking a range of specific actions—too many, I am afraid, to go through this afternoon. The Offensive Weapons Bill is making its way through Parliament to ensure that we tighten up on some of the problems that we know about regarding, for example, the online sale of knives. We have just announced 29 projects that will benefit from £17.5 million through our early intervention youth fund. Many of those are, I am happy to say, in constituencies of Members of Parliament here today.

We are supporting additional much smaller charities through the anti-knife-crime community fund. I am glad that one of the projects that we are supporting is Redthread, because we know from A&E wards, which sadly have to try to pick up the pieces after a violent incident, that there is a teachable moment for children who are brought into A&E wards. Through Redthread, in London, Nottingham and Birmingham, we can reach more children to stop them on the path that they are taking.

I recognise the role of robust law enforcement. I have been out on a raid with the Metropolitan police’s violent crime taskforce. I am really pleased that that is working well. Nationally, we have Operation Sceptre, where every single police force in the country has a week of action of tackling knife crime in a way that is appropriate for their local area.

I am also very much in agreement with colleagues who raised data-sharing. We put explicit comfort in the Data Protection Act 2018 that organisations can, and should, share data to safeguard vulnerable people. The more we can put that message out, and press, frankly, the Department of Health and Social Care and others to have confidence in that, the sooner we will see results. Very often, A&E departments are where we can get a great deal of information about what is happening, and where, in our local communities.

The Home Secretary recently announced a new £200 million youth endowment fund to provide long-term support over the next decade to young people at risk of involvement in violence. That picks up on the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green: that we need a permanent focus on the problem. That approach is coupled with the fact that we will consult on imposing a new legal duty to support the multi-agency approach in tackling serious violence. Again, there is a focus on permanence and ensuring that we are working constantly to help these young people. There will also be a review of drugs misuse, given the importance of drugs as a driver of violence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster raised many points, including international crime. Other developed economies are facing similar issues with the rise in violent crime. We called police forces, law enforcement agencies and health agencies to London a couple of months ago to talk to us, and to discuss what we could do internationally to stop it as well.

Those are just some of the measures that we are taking. I am very conscious that I have not had time to answer more questions. I thank every colleague who has spoken. If there are particular issues that they would like to discuss with me outside the debate, I am happy to do so. However, I think there is one thing on which we agree: we all want this to stop. I believe that by working together, with the comprehensive approach that we have taken this afternoon, we can—and will—make that happen.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
Monday 21st January 2019

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Parliament Live - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 2:45 p.m.

The hon. Lady will know that we have recently announced an independent review of the 21st-century drugs market. Indeed, only last week I had the pleasure of visiting a drug treatment centre in south London to see the important work of doctors and health professionals to help those who are sadly addicted to these very harmful substances.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 2:45 p.m.

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?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Parliament Live - Hansard
21 Jan 2019, 2:46 p.m.

The hon. Lady will know that we are very conscious of the impact that mental health issues can have, not only on the immediate victims of serious violence but, of course, in respect of the ramifications further afield for communities affected by serious violence. A great deal of work is going on to help people with mental issues who are being dragged into county lines, in particular. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing met the relevant Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care only last week to discuss this issue.

Public Health Model to Reduce Youth Violence

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
Thursday 13th December 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Dec 2018, 4:45 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Parliament Live - Hansard
13 Dec 2018, 4:51 p.m.

With the leave of the House, I will wind up the debate.

I thank colleagues on both sides of the House for their contributions to this important debate. We have heard, as I suspected we would, many sad instances. I thank colleagues who have shared the terribly sad stories from their constituencies in the Chamber.

I thank the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), who called for the debate. I gave her a hint that it might be worth her while to ask for it in business questions last week. I am pleased that she did so because my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was able to announce it. I also thank her for her work, along with the hon. Members for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) and for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), and other colleagues, for their work on the Youth Violence Commission, which has certainly helped to inform our debate as well as our wider work on this important topic. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford asked a number of detailed and important questions. I hope she will understand that I will write to her to answer them. In fact, I will go further than that and invite her to the Home Office to discuss the issues she has raised, because they are important and worth considering very carefully.

As we have heard, this violence is having an appalling impact on families and communities. It is clear that tackling violent crime matters to and affects hon. Members on both sides of the House, which is why we must continue to work together to tackle it. I am grateful to the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), for saying that we cannot arrest our way out of this. I completely agree with her and, in fairness, have been saying that for many months. I very much hope that the approach we are taking—the serious violence strategy and the public health duty—shows that we get that and are not just focusing on law enforcement, important though that can be in some respects.

I must always mention the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) when we have a debate on this. She made the point about grooming—the shadow Home Secretary talked about focusing on young people, which we tend to do because it is so terrible to think of young lives cut short. The older people who run the gangs and groom the young people are absolutely in our sights. That is where law enforcement is important. Through the work of the National Crime Agency and the serious and organised crime strategy, for which extra funding of £90 million has been announced today, we are absolutely determined to reach the leaders of those gangs.

Hon. Members including my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), the hon. Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) and the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey), mentioned the importance of investment, including longer-term investment, in charities and services that can help to intervene and stop young people from being involved in serious violence. That is why I have great expectations of the new £200 million youth endowment fund, which will be delivered over 10 years. We are in the process of setting it up, with a view to more investment. It is protected for 10 years. I can tell the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford that it will, I hope, fund innovative projects. We must accept that that will involve risk, because while I hope that those projects will succeed, they may fail. Sometimes, when ground-breaking work is being done, understanding what does not work helps us to find out what does. I very much hope that the fund will deliver transformative change in the way in which we tackle youth violence.

I have referred to the consultation on a new legal duty to underpin a public health approach. I am pleased that that has met with agreement across the House, because I think that it could help to focus minds, not just nationally but at local level, on the importance of tackling and intervening in serious violence at an earlier stage. We have also announced an independent review of drug misuse, and we are working on the final terms of reference. I hope to be able to make a further announcement shortly.

I thank the hon. Member for Streatham for his very powerful speech, and for his particularly powerful message to middle-class drug users. As he put it so eloquently, when they are snorting cocaine up their noses at the weekend, they need to understand how that coke got into their hands in the first place. I hope that the more we spread the message about the irresponsibility of such drug habits, the greater impact that will have on the young people whom we have talked about today.

There has been, interestingly, a focus on international elements. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton and, again, to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford for mentioning the work of the World Health Organisation. We are not alone in seeing increases in serious violence in England and Wales. We know that, for example, the United States, Canada and Sweden have experienced rises in one or more types of serious violence over the last three years.

Last month we held an international symposium, drawing together more than 100 leading international and UK academics, senior police leaders, experts and practitioners to exchange ideas about the causes of those rises, and about best practice in tackling them. I managed to attend only a small part of the symposium, but it was a real pleasure to hear from senior law enforcement officers from Chicago, New York and elsewhere about what they call “precision policing”, and to learn about the international efforts to establish a health agenda as well. It was a very interesting and, for me, worthwhile exercise. We want to continue that international work, because we believe that—particularly in the context of the drug markets—we should not ignore what is happening elsewhere in the world, but should learn lessons from what has worked elsewhere.

Many colleagues raised the issue of exclusions. There is a great piece of work going on at the moment with Edward Timpson looking into alternative education provision. Having spoken to him again, I think that there will be some productive suggestions of ways of ensuring that children in alternative provision do not fall into the traps laid by criminal gangs. As we know, that happens, particularly in the case of county lines. The Department for Education is providing £4 million through its alternative provision innovation fund to improve outcomes for children in non-mainstream education. We continue to work together as Departments on the important task of tackling serious violence.

I was interested to hear what was said by the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton and the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) about the impact of grief on children. I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman’s correspondence, because I think that that is an issue on which we should work together. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), who, as I said earlier, made valuable contributions during the debate on the Offensive Weapons Bill. I took on board his points about cupboards, and we are having ongoing discussions with retailers about the voluntary matters.

Many other issues were raised which I regret I do not have time to deal with. Let me again stress our determination to stop serious violence, and also thank the police, emergency workers, hospital staff and everyone else who will be looking after us and our young people over Christmas. Let us end the debate as we began it, with the families who are grieving and the young people themselves very much in our minds and our hearts this Christmas.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered a public health model to reduce youth violence.

Offensive Weapons Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Debate between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
Wednesday 28th November 2018

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 4:21 p.m.

Indeed, and I thank my hon. Friend for being kind enough to show me his great city only a few months ago. We met with senior police officers and others to discuss a number of issues relating to vulnerability, including the vulnerability of those being stalked. He brings to the Chamber his commitment to helping the most vulnerable in his constituency, and he has hit the nail on the head. Filling that gap to cover threatening behaviour in a private place makes it possible to address the sort of situation that he has described. Where gangs are in somebody’s home, perhaps at a party, and things turn nasty, the location of the person holding the knife changes under the current law depending on where they are in relation to the front door. The purpose of new clause 16 is to make it irrelevant whether their threatening behaviour takes place when they are standing on one side of the front door or the other.

New clause 5 concerns the secure display of bladed products. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley, who tabled it, knows that I have taken great interest in this area. We have looked carefully at whether prohibition as set out in the new clause would address the concerns that she and others have rightly raised. Our concern is that the prohibition is a blanket requirement. I have looked into whether there are ways that we could make it more targeted, so that councils with a particular problem with knife crime can lay an order covering the display of bladed products in shops in their locality. What we are doing—not what we would like to do, but what we are in the process of doing—is encouraging much stronger voluntary action by retailers to take more robust measures on displays using a risk-based approach.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 4:23 p.m.

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?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 4:24 p.m.

We are indeed introducing a blanket ban on the delivery of bladed products to homes, first because we know that test purchases online have not led to the sort of results that we have seen with retailers. We wanted to close that gap and make it clear to online retailers, some of which do not seem to understand that they currently are not allowed to sell bladed products to under-18s and should have robust measures in place to ensure that they do not. The Bill seeks to re-emphasise that, but we also want to ensure that the person picking up the knife has to go to a post office, delivery depot or local shop with such arrangements and show identification to establish that they are over 18. That is the purpose behind those measures.

We do not currently have evidence of the rate of shoplifting of knives by young people who go on to use them in crimes. That is part of the problem. As a first step, my officials are working with retailers to come up with a much stronger voluntary response, which we know retailers are responding to well, because, in fairness, the voluntary commitments have been working well.

Offensive Weapons Bill (Ninth sitting)

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
Tuesday 11th September 2018

(2 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab) - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 9:27 a.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 9:34 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes.

It is widely acknowledged that the United Kingdom has some of the strongest gun controls in the world. Nevertheless, it is important to keep those controls under review. Clause 28 seeks to strengthen the controls on two specific types of powerful rapid-fire rifles. Both are currently available for civilian use or ownership under general licensing arrangements administered by the police under section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968, which means they can be owned only by somebody who has a firearms certificate for which they have been vetted. However, following advice from experts in the law enforcement agencies, we believe it is important to take action to ensure that the controls around these weapons are tightened.

One option is to add these weapons to the list of prohibited firearms provided for in section 5 of the 1968 Act. Such weapons are subject to more rigorous controls than other firearms and may be possessed only with the authority of the Secretary of State. All firearms are by their very nature potentially lethal, but these two types are significantly more powerful than other firearms permitted for civilian ownership under section 1 of the 1968 Act. It is not our intention to unnecessarily restrict the lawful use of firearms, such as for legitimate sporting purposes; however, we are concerned about recent rises in gun crime and the changing threats and heightened risk to public safety.

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary explained at the start of Second Reading, the proposals were based on concerns about the potential for serious misuse of these weapons if they were to fall into the hands of criminals or terrorists. That is not to say that there is an imminent threat that they are about to be used by them, but in view of the threat assessment received, the Government have a clear duty to consider the need for these particular types of firearms to be more strictly controlled. However, the Government also recognise that the vast majority of people in lawful possession of firearms use them responsibly and that any controls need to be proportionate. In line with the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, we should continue to listen and consider further whether there are other effective alternatives to banning high-powered rifles, such as requiring enhanced security for their storage and use.

Turning to MARS rifles, as they have been called, or rapid-fire rifles, our focus is on weapons that can discharge rounds at a much faster rate than conventional bolt-action rifles, which are permitted under licence and are normally operated manually with an up and back, forward and down motion. The definition refers to the use of the energy from the propellant gas to extract the empty cartridge cases. That brings them much closer to self-loading rifles, which are already prohibited for civilian ownership under section 5 of the Firearms Act. Indeed, the National Ballistics Intelligence Service witness who gave evidence to the Committee, Mr Taylor, described them as being designed to “get around” the UK’s firearms legislation. That is why this measure is in the Bill.

The other change we propose to make to section 5 of the 1968 Act relates to bump stocks. Bump stocks were used in the Las Vegas shootings on 1 October 2017, in which 58 people were killed and more than 800 injured. The gunman used them to significantly increase the rate of fire of his self-loading rifles. The Government responded quickly to the shooting by placing an import ban on bump stocks from 4 December 2017. There are no legitimate uses for bump stocks and we do not think there are any in the UK. The import ban is designed to keep it that way.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 9:42 a.m.

Schedule 2 sets out the consequential amendments to various Acts as a result of the prohibitions in clauses 28 and 29.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 2 accordingly agreed to.

Clause 31

Surrender of prohibited firearms etc

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 9:44 a.m.

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?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 9:45 a.m.

Clause 31 makes provision for those who currently hold firearms that will become prohibited to hand in those weapons and ancillary equipment to designated police stations. Detailed guidance on how owners surrender firearms and equipment will be published alongside compensation regulations, which will be laid following Royal Assent. We are working at the moment on the premise of a three-month period in which to hand in weapons. If I may, I will return to the hon. Lady on her question about the method by which weapons are collected by the police. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 31 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 32

Payments in respect of surrendered firearms other than bump stocks

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Break in Debate

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 10:37 a.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 10:38 a.m.

I thank the right hon. Member for East Ham for tabling new clause 1 and very much appreciate the interest he has and the expertise he brings—sadly it is from his own constituency. He and I do not restrict our discussions to activities in the Chamber or parliamentary questions. We of course discuss it outside the formal parliamentary procedures as well, because it is a concern that he, I and other Members of the House share.

The right hon. Gentleman has raised many questions, on Second Reading and in Committee, about the statistical data for corrosive attacks. He will know from the parliamentary questions he has tabled that the Home Office does not collect specific data from police forces on acid and other corrosive attacks as part of its regular data collection. That is going to change. As he said, Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Kearton, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on corrosive attacks, has stated that my officials are working with the NPCC to look at how offences involving acid and other corrosives can be captured better in police data, to understand the scale of the attacks.

A bid for a new collection on corrosive attacks has been submitted as part of the annual data requirement return to the Home Office. That bid is currently being considered by a group of Home Office and policing experts. If successful, it will require all 43 police forces across England and Wales to report instances of attacks involving corrosives to the Home Office on an annual basis. The intention is for the data collection to be routinely published. I am happy to look at the factors that the right hon. Gentleman has pressed, not just in new clause 1 but in the relation to the point about age. My officials have heard that and I have asked the police to action that.

The publication of data from police forces alongside data on other crimes involving serious violence is the best way forward to understand and address corrosives attacks. I do not believe that a statutory annual report on statistical data is the best way forward in helping us to understand the issue and prevalence of corrosive attacks. I intend the data to be collected and published and the right hon. Gentleman and others will then obviously have access.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 10:48 a.m.

It concerns me greatly. Edward Timpson, a former Minister of State for Vulnerable Children and Families at the Department for Education, is doing a big piece of work. He is conducting a review of alternative provision and the vulnerabilities that may be posed by children being in PRUs. We are very much looking into it just as we are supporting the work of charities such as Redthread and getting youth workers into A&E departments in the major hospitals—they are seeing an increase in young people coming in with serious stab wounds. They get those youth workers into the A&E department to act as a friend to those children at the teachable moment, as they call it, as well as staying with them while they are in hospital recovering from what often turns out, sadly, to be major surgery. We help children through knife crime through the anti-knife crime community fund, and support many charities, including larger ones such as the St Giles Trust, that have specific projects dealing with the issues in specific parts of the country.

I was most concerned to hear the concerns of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley about inconsistencies in delivery and policing. We introduced the system of police and crime commissioners in the coalition Government to try and draw accountability for policing closer to the communities served by police officers. The title is deliberate. Although policing is an important part of the brief, the “and crime” part is also an important part of their responsibilities—the prevention of crime, how they help victims in their locality and so on. If there are concerns about the consistency of delivery of services, I hope that we would all go to the police and crime commissioners and ask them what they are doing. It is our role as parliamentarians to hold them to account, just as they hold us to account.

The College of Policing has been a major step forward in terms of professionalising policing and giving it the status it deserves. These are public servants who often put their lives at risk to serve the public. We want to give them the recognition and status that their day-to-day activities deserve. The purpose of the College of Policing is to achieve that, but also to help spread best practice. The hon. Lady will know that a great deal of work is being done on, for example, county lines. We set up the National County Lines Coordination Centre because we recognise that, while major urban centres may have experience of gang activity, rural areas probably do not. We want to tackle that new phenomenon by helping the police draw together all their experience and intelligence, and ease the lines of investigation between forces.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 10:50 a.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 10:52 a.m.

Our expectation is that police and crime commissioners should collaborate. I am wandering a bit off my brief because this is technically the Policing Minister’s portfolio, but we have raised the point of collaborating on purchasing uniforms and so on. When I sat on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I was surprised to learn that my local constabulary had bought the second most expensive trousers in the country. On any view, why would on earth would it do that?

I thank the hon. Lady for mentioning the inspectorate—I was just coming to it—which assesses constabularies’ performance. The message must be repeated to chiefs and PCCs that, when it comes to quality of services, we expect a member of the public, whether they are a victim or not, to receive the same quality regardless of where they live. I hope we can agree across the Committee on that aim. In giving PCCs the powers they have and making them accountable to the public in an election, we hope that the public will be able to judge them at the end of their five or four-year term.

The final piece of the delivery jigsaw is the National Policing Chiefs’ Council itself. The Committee has seen the work that NPCC leads can do and the influence they can have. If there are problems with delivery, I would be happy for colleagues to give me examples from their own constituencies so that we can hold the NPCC and the relevant chief to account. I hope the hon. Lady is reassured by the jigsaw of structures in place.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 10:53 a.m.

Before the Minister sits down, will she give way?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 10:53 a.m.

I have a long way to go, but if it is on that point, I will.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 10:53 a.m.

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?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 10:54 a.m.

If I may, I will come to that in a moment, after I have laid down the basis of the strategy as a whole.

The strategy arose out of the former Home Secretary’s concerns in the summer of last year that serious violence was beginning to rise. A great deal of work went into it. It also includes the assessment of preventative interventions, and our national and local responses to that. The hon. Member for Croydon Central referred to the Bill—perhaps I misheard her. I can reassure her that it is but one strand of the strategy. I know that she has studied it in detail, given her great interest through chairing the APPG, which I would be delighted to attend—she knows that I have been trying.

The strategy looks at early intervention, prevention and drugs as a major driver. Through that we have set up a new early intervention youth fund, which was doubled to £22 million by the Home Secretary in July. Please do not think that the early intervention youth fund is the only funding. Business-as-usual funding, including helping charities such as Redthread, St Giles Trust and so on, will continue. This is in addition. We have also continued our anti-knife crime community fund. As I said earlier, I hope to send a letter to colleagues so that they know the charities in their areas that may have benefited.

We deliberately used that fund to help smaller charities. We listened to people within the youth sector and to parliamentarians who told us that it is sometimes the smaller charities that can do great work in their local area. Indeed, I visited a great charity in Derby earlier this year. It was set up in a local community hall and, interestingly, has close links to the secondary school just down the road. The club acts as a friend—there is almost an older brother or sister relationship between many of its youth workers and the young people it helps. We are keen to help smaller charities as well as the larger charities such as St Giles Trust and Redthread.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 10:57 a.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 10:57 a.m.

I do not for a moment criticise the officer who may have referred to that in that way. It can be difficult for officers delivering important education programmes on the ground, and it is sometimes difficult for him or her to express how they felt the programme worked.

However, we are clear that this is not a numbers game. I hope the hon. Lady knows of our trusted relationships fund, for example, which offers up to £13 million over four years to help the most vulnerable children, who have probably been let down by most if not all the adults in their lives. The focus is not on the number of children reached but on the qualitative impact the scheme has on each individual. That can involve speaking to youth workers, many of whom have lived experiences themselves, which can be critical in switching on the attention of a young person. The police can obviously play a vital role in education, but we know that for some young people, attitudes to the police are shaped by all sorts of factors outside the police’s control. Their being able to speak to someone who has lived experience and does not wear a uniform can break down the barriers that a police uniform can inadvertently instil.

The hon. Member for Croydon Central asked about young people. Shortly after I came into this role, I invited youth charities, young people and former gang members into the House, and she was good enough to attend. Such meetings are important not only for me as the Minister—I have the pleasure of meeting these young people and charities frequently—but for all colleagues across the House, to whom they are not necessarily available. Inviting people into the House to tell us of their experiences in their own words was part of the engagement exercise not only for the Bill but for the strategy. I want to continue that because it is very valuable. I also visit the many charities that we support, and value each enormously.

Break in Debate

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 11:04 a.m.

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?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 11:04 a.m.

I am not familiar with the detailed workings of the previous taskforce. The current taskforce involves the Mayor of London. I do not know his diary, but I suspect that trying to get him together on a weekly basis with all the other players in the room, including Secretaries of State, the heads of Public Health England and other such organisations, is not easy, which is why we have set our sights on meeting once a month. However, that does not mean that intensive work is not going on in between the meetings. At the moment, the Home Secretary has set the meetings and is content that we are making progress, but it is about what we achieve through them.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of police funding. As she raised it, I will gently rebut her assertions—I hope in a similar tone. We are committed to working closely with the police and have protected police funding over the last few years.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 11:05 a.m.

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?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 11:06 a.m.

When the Prime Minister was Home Secretary, she insisted on that protection. That was in 2015. This year, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service met or spoke to every chief constable. With the help of police and crime commissioners, we are securing an extra £460 million in overall police funding.

In terms of the numbers, the hon. Lady mentioned the last violent crime peak. I am not sure that it was just 2008—I do not necessarily accept her assertion that that is not comparable with this period. Of course, we had far higher police officer numbers in the mid to late 2000s, yet we had that last violent crime peak. That is why we are steering a middle course by raising police funding as far as we can, and by giving police and crime commissioners the power to recruit more officers if they wish to. Indeed, most police and crime commissioners are recruiting more officers, and we welcome that—that is their decision.

Offensive Weapons Bill (Tenth sitting)

Debate between Victoria Atkins and Louise Haigh
Tuesday 11th September 2018

(2 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 2:08 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. As the right hon. Gentleman has set out, there are existing offences under section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 and section 139A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which deals with incidents of threat or possession on school premises. The Bill extends these offences to cover further education premises as well as school premises.

The intention behind the amendments seems reasonable, but there are several reasons why we did not consider it necessary to extend the corrosive substance provisions in this way when developing the Bill. First, the scale of knife crime is significantly higher than that involving a corrosive substance. There were more than 18,000 recorded offences of knife possession last year and more than 40,000 recorded knife offences involving a bladed article. By contrast, there are only around 800 attacks a year using corrosives.

The impact of any crime using a knife or a corrosive substance is devastating, but the scale of the problem is different. In drawing up the Bill, we tried to keep in mind the proportionate use of corrosives. We wanted to take action against the possession of corrosives on the street because there is little evidence to suggest that possession of corrosives on educational premises was an issue. However, I accept that crime and crime types change. We were reassured by the fact that existing offences that can already be used in relation to possession of corrosives on school premises, and in future on further education premises, cover the situations to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.

For example, if a student is carrying a corrosive cleaning fluid on school premises and there is evidence that they intend to use it as a weapon, such as indicating on social media or through talking to friends that they intend to do that, the offence of possessing an offensive weapon on school and further education premises would apply. Similarly, decanting the corrosive into another container to make it easier to use as a weapon would also be covered by that offence. Carrying any corrosive substance on the way to school or college would also be an offence under clause 5.

The only scenario in terms of possession that is not covered is where a student has a corrosive substance on school or further education premises in its original container and there is no evidence that they intend to use the substance to cause injury. This is a very discrete possibility, but one that the right hon. Gentleman has alerted us to. As I have already indicated, I will be happy to consider this further.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab) - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 2:08 p.m.

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?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 2:09 p.m.

As I was saying, this is a discrete exception to the definition. I accept the point made by the right hon. Member for East Ham that there seems to be a gap in the law on the small area where corrosive substances are in their original container on further education premises and there is no evidence that they are intended to be used to cause injury. That is why I will take that point away to consider.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 2:09 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 2:10 p.m.

I am just looking into the detail of that. The fact of the intention makes it different from the very limited set of circumstances that I have just dealt with, where the substance is in the original container and there is no evidence that the person intends to use it to cause injury.

On new clause 4, and the creation of a new offence of threatening with a corrosive substance on school and further education premises, the gap is perhaps even smaller. It is already an offence to threaten someone with an offensive weapon on school premises, which will be extended by the Bill to cover further education premises. Any student threatening someone with a corrosive substance would be caught because they clearly intend the corrosive to cause injury.

As I said, I will continue to consider new clause 3. On that basis I invite the right hon. Member for East Ham to withdraw it.

Break in Debate

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 2:14 p.m.

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”—

it was—

“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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 2:23 p.m.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Bristol South, who has been campaigning on this issue because of the experience of a family in her constituency who were so terribly affected by an air rifle being used in circumstances that we cannot begin to imagine. The Government recognise concerns about air weapon safety, particularly with regard to access by under-18s and in terms of security in the home. The Minister for Policing and the Fire Service announced a review of the regulation of air weapons in October last year, following the death of Ben Wragge, who we have just heard about. The review has received more than 50,000 representations.

A large proportion of the responses concerned the shooting with air weapons of domestic cats and other animals, and we recognise that air weapon safety and regulation is a topic that arouses strong feelings. Naturally, the strongest feelings are among those who have been affected by air weapon shootings and, of course, the Members of Parliament who represent them. We will announce the outcomes of the review shortly.

New clause 7 seeks to abolish two of the exceptions, namely that which permits persons aged 14 and over to have an air weapon on private land with the consent of the occupier, and that for persons under the age of 18 when under the supervision of a person aged at least 21. If the new clause were implemented, it would mean that under-18s could possess air weapons in only two circumstances, namely if they shoot either as a member of an approved target shooting club or at a shooting gallery, such as at a fairground, where the only firearms used are air weapons and miniature rifles not exceeding .23 inch calibre.

I listened with great care to what the hon. Lady said. I am also conscious of the fact that the review has received many responses. The issue is being considered very carefully by the Policing Minister, and I, in turn, would like to consider the merits of restricting access to air weapons for under-18s. I will go away and consider it and I ask the hon. Lady not to press the new clause.

New clause 8 would require us to publish, within six months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent, a report on the safe use of air weapons, and it specifies the topics that the report must cover. The review is considering the specified topics, particularly safe storage and access by over-18s. It is also considering other topics, including manufacturing standards, post-sale modification and the merits of introducing a licencing system. We will publish the outcomes of the review shortly and I would therefore ask hon. Members not to press the new clause.

Break in Debate

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 2:55 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 3 p.m.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for East Ham for tabling new clause 12, on one of the most difficult issues of our time—how we police the internet and ensure that those who profit from the exchange of information and ease of sales on the internet conduct their business in a socially responsible way. I am also grateful to the hon. Members for Sheffield, Heeley and for Lewisham, Deptford for new clause 31.

Let me say at the outset—because it sets the scene for my answer—that the Home Office is working jointly with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the forthcoming White Paper on online harms, which will be published in the winter. It will set out the details on the legislation to be brought forward to tackle the full range of online harms, both legal and illegal. Serious violence, including the consideration of the depiction of weapons, falls within its scope, and we are looking at what more we can do to ensure that persons or companies act responsibly and do not facilitate sales of “articles with a blade or point” or “corrosive products” in their platforms. The White Paper will establish a Government-wide approach to online safety that will deliver the digital charter’s ambition to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online while also leading the world in innovation-friendly regulation that supports the growth of the tech sector. The White Paper will include a review of the code of practice—which we are already asking technology companies to abide by—to establish transparency reporting. We should therefore consider the new clauses in the light of this major piece of ongoing work.

On new clause 12, as the right hon. Member for East Ham will know, it is already an offence to sell or hire—or to offer to sell or hire—offensive weapons to which section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 applies. That includes disguised knives. The new clause seems to be aimed at ensuring that the owner of the website where the item is listed is also liable for the offence, and not just the seller. I absolutely agree that website owners and marketplace platforms must comply with the law and should not allow sellers to advertise prohibited weapons in their marketplaces. However, section 141 already makes it a criminal offence to supply an offensive weapon to which it applies, or to offer to do so, and the offence is worded in such a way—this is certainly the CPS view—that it is sufficiently flexible to include the owner of a website on which the article is offered for sale.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard

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?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

As I said at the start of my speech, the backdrop to this debate is the major piece of ongoing cross-governmental work on the online harms White Paper. My officials have certainly been looking at the adequacy of existing offences as part of that review, but we already have in place legislation that applies to sales, be they face-to-face or remote, and it would be for the CPS to answer how many offences have been prosecuted under the relevant section. I hope that this debate has enabled the Committee to give comforting reassurance to those who investigate and prosecute that they can and should look at online platforms under the 1988 Act.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 11:03 a.m.

I am coming to that. It is also possible to bring charges under sections 44 to 46 of the Serious Crime Act 2007—that is, for intentionally encouraging or assisting an offence, encouraging or assisting an offence believing it will be committed, or encouraging or assisting offences believing one or more will be committed. It is possible that a website that facilitates sales, either by selling directly or through a marketplace model, could be prosecuted for allowing an advertisement to sell a prohibited weapon on the website, even if the site is not the seller. Powers are currently in place for persons or companies that list, advertise or facilitate the sale of an offensive weapon through a website registered under their name. In the circumstances and against the backdrop of the online harms White Paper, new legislation to criminalise such behaviour is not required at this stage. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to not press the new clause to a vote.

Subsection (1) of new clause 31 refers to offensive weapons. Those who have looked at it in detail wonder whether, in fact, the intention was to refer to articles with a blade or point, which are subject to age restrictions under section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The new clause uses the term “offensive weapon” and, like new clause 12, duplicates existing legislation. It is already an offence under section 141 of the 1988 Act to advertise, list or sell offensive weapons to which the section applies, regardless of the age of the buyer. We consider that if any company or person who owns the website were proven to be selling, offering to sell or exposing for the purpose of sale offensive weapons listed in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988, they would have committed an offence under section 141. On age-restricted sales of articles with blades or points, it is an offence under section 141A of the 1988 Act for any person to sell to a person under the age of 18 an article to which the section applies.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 3:07 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 3:08 p.m.

Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 applies to weapons listed in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988, which include any knife that has

“a concealed blade or a concealed sharp point and is designed to appear to be an everyday object of a kind commonly carried on the person or in a handbag, briefcase or other hand luggage”.

The offence applies to all kinds of sales, be they face-to-face or remote. We consider that a website selling directly, or using a marketplace model to allow sellers to use a website, would probably be caught under the wording of the legislation. The Crown Prosecution Service agreed with this analysis—in fact, I have just been handed information that says that there seem to have been no such cases. This is an untested area of law, but the Crown Prosecution Service seems to be of the view that the legislation already covers this area.

Last week, we discussed kitchen knives—or rather, knives that have a legitimate purpose and are not offensive unless they are used with an offensive intent.

Break in Debate

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:05 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:06 p.m.

I thank the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley for raising those important points. The issue of the display of knives was raised by the British Retail Consortium and the British Independent Retailers Association during the Committee’s oral evidence sessions. We note their concern about the potential cost implications for small retailers of having to operate the secure displays and install the fixtures and layouts in their stores. The voluntary agreement with retailers, including larger retailers already sets out a requirement in relation to the display of bladed articles.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:09 p.m.

I was not aware of that specific example, but I appreciate the concerns. I am told that we would have to have a full public consultation on such a measure. That is certainly something about which I would like to think further, to see what can be achieved within the realm of the public consultation and so on. I would like us to keep the pressure up on those retailers that are already signed up to the voluntary agreement. I will consider this point in further detail.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:09 p.m.

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.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:09 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:12 p.m.

The new clause would remove the provision in the Firearms Act 1968 that exempts from control the operators and users of miniature rifle ranges and shooting galleries. For those who are not familiar with firearms, those are less powerful than other weapons under clause 28.

Section 11(4) of the 1968 Act allows a person conducting or carrying on a miniature rifle range or shooting gallery at which only miniature rifles and ammunition not exceeding .23 inch or lower-powered air weapons are used to purchase, acquire or possess miniature rifles or ammunition without a firearm certificate. Additionally, a person can use those rifles and ammunition at such a range without a certificate. The 11(4) provision is used extensively by small-bore rifle clubs, and by some schools and colleges. There are smaller clubs, which do not meet the criteria to qualify as Home Office-approved clubs, that would be severely affected by removal of the exemption.

Exemption certificates issued by the National Small-bore Rifle Association or the Showmen’s Guild do not have legal force, but the Home Office firearms guide indicates that they may be considered proof that a person is operating a miniature rifle range or shooting gallery when, for example, a person relying on the 11(4) provision is purchasing a firearm from a registered firearms dealer. The exemption from certificate control for miniature rifle ranges and shooting galleries has been in place for many years, and removal of the provision did not feature among the recommendations for legislative change made by the Law Commission in its December 2015 report.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:14 p.m.

Will the Minister confirm whether she has received representations from NABIS or counter-terrorism police that the exemption be removed?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:14 p.m.

I have not.

Many of the Law Commission recommendations were subsequently acted on by Government, with the aim of strengthening firearms controls and protecting public safety, in the Policing and Crime Act 2017. The Bill’s priorities must be to address the areas that present the most risk to public safety. On that basis, I invite the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley to withdraw the new clause. However, it is vital that firearms law is kept under review. We will continue to assess the position relating to section 11(4) and listen carefully to the advice of law enforcement personnel and any concerns they have about how the provision operates.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard

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

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:18 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:19 p.m.

New clause 20 would require the Home Secretary to review the exemption under section 9 of the Firearms Act 1968, which relates to auctioneers, carriers and warehousemen, and to report back to Parliament within six months. The exemption allows auctioneers, carriers, warehousemen and their servants to possess firearms and ammunition in the ordinary course of their business, without needing to hold a firearm or shotgun certificate.

However, there are some controls relating to the exemption. Section 14 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 requires that an auctioneer, carrier or warehouseman must take reasonable precautions for the safe custody of the firearms or ammunition in their or their servants’ possession. The loss or theft of any such firearm or ammunition must be reported to the police immediately. Failure to comply with those requirements is an offence carrying a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment. Before an auctioneer can sell firearms or ammunition by auction, they must either be registered with the police as a registered firearms dealer, or they must have obtained a permit from the police for that purpose.

It is also worth noting that the exemption does not apply where those people want to possess prohibited weapons or ammunition. In such circumstances, they must first obtain the Secretary of State’s authority under section 5 of the 1968 Act. The Government are not aware that the exemption is causing any public safety problems, and nor have the police and wider law enforcement agencies identified it to us as a priority for Government action. I have noted, however, what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley said. Although I invite her not to press the new clause, I will take that point away for confirmation. Of course, we keep all aspects of firearms law under review in order to maintain public safety and to tackle crime.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:20 p.m.

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.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:20 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:23 p.m.

A firearms consultative committee existed for a number of years following the introduction of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988. It consisted of representatives from shooting organisations, law enforcement, technical experts and other interested parties. The purpose of the committee was to keep the workings of the Firearms Acts under review, following the terrible shootings by Michael Ryan in Hungerford in 1987 and the subsequent introduction of the 1988 Act.

The committee was discontinued in 2004, so it is something for which the coalition Government cannot be blamed. Thereafter the views of interested parties and experts have been sought by Government when particular issues arise. For example, the Government have held meetings and sought views widely when developing policy on issues in relation to antique firearms and fees for prohibited weapon authorities, and we will shortly be conducting a public consultation on the introduction of statutory guidance to the police on firearms.

This consultative approach continues in a more flexible way than is envisaged through the proposed introduction of a statutory consultative committee. There would inevitably be greater administration and cost associated with introducing and supporting the functioning of a statutory body to which particular members are appointed, and potentially less flexibility and speed of response than there is with the current approach, whereby the Government consult interested parties swiftly as firearms issues arise. I therefore invite the hon. Lady to withdraw the new clause.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:25 p.m.

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.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:25 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:28 p.m.

I thank the hon. Lady for this new clause, which addresses an issue raised in Committee by the police during the evidence sessions.

Those who look at such things and know about drafting are of the view that the new clause as drafted is probably technically defective. It would insert the new offence into section 1 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, although that section amends section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 to extend the class of prohibited weapons and ammunition and to enable the Secretary of State to add weapons or ammunition to section 5 by order.

The key components of ammunition are the gunpowder, which burns rapidly to propel a projectile from a firearm, and the primer, which is an explosive chemical compound that ignites the gunpowder. The remaining components are the cartridge case and the projectile itself, which are inert metal. Primers are controlled by the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. Under section 35, it is an offence to sell or purchase primers unless the purchaser is authorised to possess them, for example, by being a registered firearms dealer or by holding a firearms certificate authorising them to possess a firearm of the relevant kind. The maximum penalty for this offence is six months’ imprisonment.

Break in Debate

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:32 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:33 p.m.

I am not saying this critically, but we can only vote on the clause we have before us. On the substantive point, we are looking at these issues in the context of antique firearms. The Government intend to introduce regulations later this year. On that basis, unless there is anything else, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the clause.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard

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

Antique Firearms

‘(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.

Break in Debate

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:34 p.m.

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.”

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:42 p.m.

The Government share the concerns expressed about the increasing use of antique firearms in crime, and we are committed to strengthening controls to tackle the problem. That is an important part of our work to tackle gun crime, as set out in the “Serious Violence Strategy”.

It may help to explain our position on the new clause if I explain the background to this issue and what the Government are doing to address it. As has been stated, in 2015 the Law Commission carried out an independent review of firearms law. It raised the issue of the increasing use of antique firearms in crime and recommended that the exploitation of the definition of “antique firearm” to obtain old, functioning firearms should be addressed by introducing a statutory definition. The Government accepted that recommendation and included provisions in the Policing and Crime Act 2017 to define “antique firearm” in regulations by reference to a firearm’s propulsion system and the type of cartridge it was designed to use. A cut-off manufacture date, after which a firearm cannot be considered an antique, can also be specified.

Late last year, the Home Office undertook a full public consultation to seek views on the detail of the regulations. As I said, we are considering the responses we received, many of which were unnecessarily technical, and it is our intention to lay regulations before Parliament by the end of the year. I hope that reassures the Committee that the Government are taking steps to tackle this serious issue.

New clauses 23 and 24 would add antique firearms to the scope of specified offences in the Firearms Act 1968. I am pleased to say that the new clauses are not necessary, since their effect is covered by existing legislation. Section 126(3) of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 will amend the 1968 Act by extending the offences in sections 19 and 20 of that Act to antique firearms. Section 126 will be brought into effect early next year. The remaining offences covered by the two new clauses already apply to antique firearms because those offences require the weapon to be used with criminal intent. Anyone using an antique firearm in that way would not be possessing it as a curiosity or ornament and the exemption for antique firearms would therefore not apply. The Law Commission reached the same conclusion in 2015.

New clause 26 would make it an offence to purchase antique firearms by cash and other non-traceable methods. That is intended to provide a record of transactions involving antique firearms that would enable the police to trace the supply chain when they are recovered in crime. The Law Commission considered that aspect of the controls in 2015. It concluded that although stopping cash payments might in theory allow the police to trace a purchaser, it could work only if they knew who the seller was. The owners and dealers of antique firearms are not licensed and so are not known to the police or other authorities. In that light, the Law Commission made no recommendation on that point.

The new clause would therefore not be effective—it would require a form of licensing of antique firearms and those who deal in them and there are no current plans to introduce such a licensing scheme. The vast majority of owners and dealers are law abiding and do not present a public safety risk. We want to be proportionate in controlling antique firearms, targeting criminal misuse while recognising legitimate collectors and dealers. We are none the less strengthening the controls on antique firearms by defining them in law. We have also proposed arrangements regularly to review the controls, to give us a chance to monitor how they are working and, if necessary, to consider further measures.

New clause 27 would require anyone who trades in antique firearms to keep a register of transactions. Like new clause 26, it is intended to provide an audit trail of transactions to allow the police to trace the supply of antique firearms that are recovered in crime. The Law Commission considered that and made no recommendation. As with the cash payments proposal, it could work only if the police knew who the seller was. In the absence of any licensing or registration of owners and dealers, it is not possible. New clause 27 would therefore not work.

As I set out, we are actively strengthening the controls on antique firearms by defining them in law. We are also committing to regular reviews of the controls involving law enforcement and other stakeholders. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley for tabling the new clause. I hope the explanation of the Government position has helped with the complexities of this important issue and therefore ask her to withdraw the proposals.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard

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.

Break in Debate

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:40 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:46 p.m.

I am tempted. I thank the hon. Lady for tabling the new clause, but again—I feel sorry to point this out—those who know about these things believe the wording to be technically defective. The relevant certificate would be a shotgun certificate rather than a firearm certificate, for example.

On the substance, we believe that the new clause is unnecessary, because legislation already contains an appropriate level of control on shotgun ammunition. It is not subject to licensing, and therefore does not have to be entered on a certificate in the same way as firearm ammunition, but section 5 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 applies an important check at the point of sale by making it an offence to sell shotgun ammunition to anyone who is not a registered firearms dealer or a shotgun certificate holder. The maximum penalty is six months’ imprisonment.

A purchaser must present a valid shotgun certificate to a dealer before she or he can be sold shotgun ammunition, or must otherwise demonstrate their entitlement to be sold the ammunition. It is true that that does not prevent someone who has lawfully purchased shotgun cartridges from subsequently gifting them to a non-certificate holder, but we are not aware that that is happening in practice or that it is causing a serious public safety problem. If it is, we would be keen to see the evidence so that we can consider what might be done in response.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:48 p.m.

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.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:48 p.m.

That is a very interesting question, and one that I might need to reflect on. If I may, I will take the chance to reflect on it now, because that does seem like a very large number of shotgun cartridges. I do not shoot myself, but I know those who do.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:49 p.m.

That is a very interesting suggestion. The explosives regulations also come to mind, because the limit on holding gunpowder is set by those regulations, and these are the limits set by those regulations. I will take away the suggestion that perhaps the regulations need to be looked at to ensure that they meet the public safety test and expectations that we all have. That will be consistent with us keeping firearms law under review, as always, and examining any significant vulnerabilities that are brought to our attention. I hope the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley will withdraw her amendment.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 4:47 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Sep 2018, 5:07 p.m.

On a point of order, Mr Gray. As we are nearing the end of our deliberations, may I say a few words of thanks to everyone who has been involved in the scrutiny process? We have scrutinised the Bill seriously and thoroughly, and have had plenty of time to consider it in great detail. I am grateful to you, Mr Gray, and to Mr Gapes, for the excellent chairing, keeping us all in order in what has been a very warm Committee Room.

I am incredibly grateful to all Committee members for the constructive way in which they have approached their deliberations. I am also grateful that, despite points of disagreement, the Committee’s passion and determination to help law enforcement and others to tackle these serious crimes has come through very strongly. I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley and the right hon. Member for East Ham for their many considered and expert contributions, and to—wish me luck—the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. He is not even here to appreciate my efforts, but he brought a different perspective to the issues we have been debating.

I also thank my officials. Our consideration of the issues has demonstrated how complex their job has been, both in preparing the Bill and as we have been scrutinising it. I also thank everyone who has supported the Committee, including the Doorkeepers, the Hansard reporters and, of course, the Committee Clerks. I am sure that our deliberations in Committee have put us in a good place as the Bill progresses.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh -