Committee (2nd Day)
My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and will resume after 10 minutes.
40: Before Clause 14, insert the following new Clause—
“Sale etc of bladed articles to persons under 18
(1) In section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (sale etc of bladed articles to persons under 18), in subsection (3) (articles to which the section does not apply)—(a) at the end of paragraph (a) insert “or”, and(b) omit paragraph (b) and the “or” at the end of that paragraph.(2) In Article 54 of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 (SI 1996/3160 (NI 24)) (sale of bladed articles to persons under 18), in paragraph (3) (articles to which the Article does not apply)—(a) at the end of sub-paragraph (a) insert “or”, and(b) omit sub-paragraph (b) and the “or” at the end of that sub-paragraph.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would modify the offences of sale of a bladed article to a person under 18 in section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and Article 54 of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1996. Currently these offences do not apply to weapons to which section 141 of the 1988 Act applies and the new Clause would remove that exception.
My Lords, the purpose of the amendments in this group is to remove loopholes in the law relating to the sale of offensive weapons to persons under the age of 18. Amendment 40 amends Section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which prohibits the sale to a person under 18 of knives, knife blades, razor blades, axes and other articles with a blade or sharp point made or adapted for causing injury.
The prohibition does not apply to weapons covered by Section 141 of the 1988 Act. Section 141 prohibits the supply of certain offensive weapons that are set out in secondary legislation. These include knuckle-dusters, push daggers and zombie knives, which are excluded from Section 141A on the basis that their supply, including their sale, is already prohibited and therefore the prohibitions on their sale to a person under 18 and their dispatch to a residential premise or locker is not relevant.
However, a significant number of exclusions and defences apply to the supply of weapons covered by Section 141. These include an exemption for antique weapons and defences for swords with a curved blade of 50 centimetres or more made before 1954 or by traditional methods and for sporting, re-enactment purposes and religious reasons. Given these defences and exemptions, it is possible that offensive weapons covered by Section 141 could be sold to a person under the age of 18. Amendment 40 therefore removes the exclusion of offensive weapons covered by Section 141 from Section 141A of the 1988 Act. Amendments 48 to 53 to Clause 19 are directed to the same end.
Clause 19 defines a “bladed product” for the purposes of the new offence of arranging delivery of a bladed product to a residential premise or locker under Clause 17. “Bladed product” excludes any weapons in an order made under Section 141 of the 1988 Act. It is therefore possible that offensive weapons covered by Section 141 could be dispatched to a residential premise or locker on the basis that they were covered by one of the exemptions or defences available to Section 141 articles—for example, if they were an antique or intended to be used for sporting purposes. Amendments 48 to 53 therefore remove the exclusion of Section 141 from Clause 19.
I hope that, with that explanation, noble Lords will agree that these amendments sensibly close a gap in the existing law and the provisions in Clause 19. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am glad as always to have the Government’s explanation for their amendments, and my comments are not about substance. Earlier in the Bill as well as on this clause, I found that I spent quite a lot of time going to and fro between Section 141, the order, Section 141A and so on. That is okay for us—it is our job—but one would not like to think of members of the public having to scour through all this to find out what sort of offensive weapon they might have. Will the Home Office give some thought as to how they can produce a Keeling schedule for the public?
I can utterly appreciate the noble Baroness’s point. When I look at legislation, I have to refer to other legislation, and it can be a minefield, but such is the nature of legislation built up over time. The guidance will help people in that endeavour and, as I said on Monday with reference to another issue, it will be very helpful to members of the public in knowing exactly where the offences are and what aspects of the Bill strike out other aspects of legislation.
The noble Baroness was on her feet very quickly but I hope that I can still ask a question. As was said a few minutes ago, this is a bit like a Russian doll—you uncover one thing and it leads to another. Having been rather green on this subject, I would like to know where these exceptions are contained, as I cannot find them in Section 141.
I echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. It is a problem throughout our legislative activity; this is bad enough but FiSMA 2000 is even worse, having been amended so often.
I hope that after the madness of Brexit has settled down, we can give some consideration to helping these debates by providing richer Explanatory Notes, particularly where a single theme is being carried through. However, we have no objection to the amendment.
Amendment 40 agreed.
Clause 14: Defence to sale of bladed articles to persons under 18: England and Wales
40A: Clause 14, page 14, line 8, leave out from beginning to “they” in line 10 and insert “The seller is to be regarded as having taken all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence if”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would provide for a statutory basis, in addition to police and CPS discretion, to rely on reasonable precautions and diligence before the seller is charged.
In moving Amendment 40A in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, I shall also speak to the other amendments in the group.
Amendment 40A is simply about the wording of the legislation, somewhat contrary to the Member’s explanatory statement. The other amendments are similar to those in our debate on Monday. Amendment 40A questions the way in which proposed new subsection (3) of new Section 141B is worded. It currently states:
“The seller is not to be regarded as having proved that they took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence unless, as a minimum, they prove that the following conditions are met”.
Surely it would be better to say that the seller is to be regarded as having taken all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of an offence if, as a minimum, they prove that the following conditions are met. That is effectively putting it positively rather than negatively.
Amendments 42A, 43F, 57B and 57C again turn the offences of delivering a bladed article to residential premises and delivery of bladed articles to persons under 18 from those for which there is an offence if charged into offences where, if the accused has taken all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid committing the offence, they do not commit an offence. We debated this way of legislating at our last sitting. In criminal law, there are two elements—actus reus and mens rea: the guilty act and the guilty mind. The offences in this Bill are completely without any examination of the mens rea until after someone has been arrested, detained and potentially charged. As this legislation is drafted, only after arrest and charge is it necessary to consider the mens rea; it is a defence for a person charged with an offence to prove that they took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of an offence. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said on Monday,
“we should stick to the normal principles that have worked well for us: you are not guilty of anything and have not committed an offence unless your mental state was simultaneously as criminal as the actions you committed … This way of legislating for criminal justice is inappropriate and we should avoid it. We should certainly be very careful not to allow it to happen without us spotting it and stopping it”.—[Official Report, 28/1/19; GC 153.]
My Lords, we spotted it and we are trying to stop it. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, says, these amendments return us to the debate we had on Monday about the proper construction of the offences in the Bill. We had a good discussion on Monday, and I will not cover the ground in the same detail as I did then.
Amendment 40A would alter the defence provided in relation to the sale of bladed articles. Section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 provides that it is an offence to sell, with some exceptions, articles with a blade or point to persons under the age of 18. It is a defence for a person charged with an offence to prove that he or she took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid committing the offence. Clause 14 modifies the operation of the defence in relation to remote sales to include a number of conditions that must be met as a minimum. Amendment 40A removes the post-charge element of the defence and instead requires the enforcing agency to make a judgment whether the seller took all reasonable precautions before a charge is made.
I understand the noble Lord’s intention, but the defence provided in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 has been in place for quite some time. I am not aware of any problems or concerns with how the police, prosecutors and the courts apply the legislation. It has been in place for over 30 years, so it cannot be said that we are introducing a new construct into the criminal law.
Amendments 42A and 43F provide that failure to take all reasonable precaution in relation to the offence of delivering a bladed product to a residential address would be criteria to be taken into account before a person is charged. This is in contrast to the defence provided under Clause 18, which can be invoked when a person is charged with the offence.
Amendments 57B and 57C apply the same principles to Clause 20, which is concerned with the delivery of bladed articles sold by sellers based outside the UK. Clause 20 applies to delivery companies that have entered into an arrangement with a seller based abroad and provides that it is a criminal offence for a delivery company to deliver a bladed article into the hands of a person under 18. It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under Clause 20 to prove that he or she took all reasonable precautions and exercised due diligence to avoid committing the offence.
In practice, the enforcing agency—the police, the CPS or local authorities—will always consider whether the seller or the person who delivers the article has taken reasonable steps and exercised due diligence before bringing a charge. It would not be in the public interest to bring a prosecution if the enforcing agency considers that it is very likely the court will find that the seller had taken all reasonable precautions to avoid committing the offence. As I said before, this type of defence has been in place for some considerable time in relation to the sale of articles with a blade or point, and we are not aware of any issues in its operation.
In short, the approach taken in the Bill both in relation to knives and corrosives is well precedented. The existing law has operated for 30 years without difficulties, and it would further complicate the law and lead to confusion if we now adopted a different approach in the Bill. I suspect—as in the discussion on Monday—noble Lords will want to return to this issue, but for now I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for his brief intervention and to the Minister for her response.
The fact that the defence is similar to that in the Criminal Justice Act 1988, but contrary to almost every other piece of legislation on the statute book, including the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 which specifically deals with offensive weapons—that is, you are not guilty if you have a reasonable excuse for your actions—does not persuade me, I am afraid, that the Government are right in this case and that we are wrong. The Minister mentioned that the prosecuting authorities would not bring a prosecution if the person had taken all reasonable steps, but that does not stop the person being arrested and detained before that charging decision is made. The problem is still there. It is contrary to most criminal law on the statute book and it is the current legislation, rather than the amendment, that adds to the confusion. We will return to this on Report, but at this juncture I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 40A withdrawn.
Clause 14 agreed.
Clauses 15 and 16 agreed.
Clause 17: Delivery of bladed products to residential premises etc
41: Clause 17, page 17, line 22, at end insert—
“(aa) the seller is not a trusted trader of bladed products, and”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would create a trusted trader status for those selling bladed products.
My Lords, Amendments 41 and 43 in the name of my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe are intended to enable a trusted trader scheme and status to be set up for sellers of knives and other bladed products in the UK. As drafted, the Bill will prohibit the delivery of bladed objects and products to residential properties. The concern is that this will have a detrimental impact on the business of small and medium-sized knife manufacturers and retailers here in the UK. As more and more sales move online, consumers normally expect to receive their deliveries at home. My colleagues in the Opposition fully support the aims of the Bill, but have concerns that this is a legislative sledgehammer that will affect small and medium-sized businesses here in the UK, while having very little impact on knife crime. To achieve the objectives we all want to see delivered—a reduction in knife crime and violence, but at the same time not damaging or destroying businesses—I suggest that we need a greater enforcement of existing legislation that prohibits the sale of knives to under-18s and the carrying of a knife without good reason. The amendments we are debating will seek to enable good, well-run businesses to operate in a trusted trader scheme, while not causing difficulties or putting their businesses at risk.
I understand that the Home Office carried out a consultation between October and December 2017 on these issues, with more than 10,500 responses. On 25 July, the Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins MP, wrote to my friend the Member for Sheffield Central in the other place, Mr Paul Blomfield MP. In her response, the Minister indicated that there were concerns over the delivery of knives purchased to residential premises, and concerns about the sale of knives online to under-18s—which, of course, is already illegal—but that some sellers were not doing enough to stop children buying knives.
My friend Paul Blomfield, Clive Betts and some Sheffield knife manufacturers met the Minister on 15 January. The department had looked at the trusted trader scheme, but seemed to rule it out on the basis that it would add more bureaucracy and burden to the businesses. They looked at placing the burden on delivery companies, and the measures in this Bill.
It is an offence under the Criminal Justice Act, as we know, to sell knives and other bladed products to a person under the age of 18. But there is a defence if the person can prove that they took steps to make all reasonable precautions and exercise due diligence to avoid committing an offence. The sellers will have to meet these conditions to rely upon that defence but the industry also agrees with the objectives of the Bill: to reduce knife crime and make it more difficult for people under the age of 18 to order knives. Many businesses already exercise robust age-verification checks and label their packets accordingly. Their concern is that the Bill’s prohibition on selling bladed products to residential premises will cause them particular damage.
This is about the damage to small and medium-sized businesses, with its knock-on effect on UK manufacturers. The larger retailers and a lot of companies often buy their knives from overseas, so there is really no issue for them. But these small producers are selling niche and often highly priced products, which are not sold anywhere by the large companies. The industry would like some evidence. What is the evidence of people purchasing knives online to commit crime? Apparently, there are roughly 424 million knives in the UK at the moment and there is little or no evidence that people buy knives online to go out and commit a crime. There are plenty of knives around everywhere. The Metropolitan Police and the Cutlery and Allied Trades Research Association have suggested that most knives used in violent crime are old knives, which people can get their hands on from a variety of sources.
The trusted trader scheme would in effect mirror what is presently in place for the delivery of alcohol. Such a scheme would help to drive up standards across the board while providing protection for responsible businesses. Coupled with better enforcement of existing legislation, the scheme would help and not impede small and medium-sized enterprises. The industry wants this, so the objection from the Government that it would mean more bureaucracy does not really hold water for me. If there is a choice between a ban—not being able to sell your products for delivery to homes—and having a scheme which ensured that you verify who you are selling to, this would be better for them. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, while I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is trying to do with his amendment, if he is quoting the Government correctly then I agree that it would be an expensive, bureaucratic scheme and difficult to enforce. It would be impossible to enforce in relation to sellers outside the United Kingdom. It would be to the benefit of large retailers. Perhaps the amendment is trying to appeal to the Home Office’s usual approach to these things by saying that it should be self-financing. Membership of the scheme would clearly involve a fee; large retailers would easily find the money for that, whereas it would disadvantage small businesses.
As we discussed previously in relation to corrosive substances, we are again heading for a situation where UK sellers of bladed articles are unable to sell such products for delivery to residential premises, whereas overseas sellers will be able to sell bladed articles for delivery to home addresses. In the case of overseas sellers, the courier has to ensure age verification at handover but UK sellers are unable to use this scheme. The real solution to the problem that the noble Lord is trying to solve is to allow age verification at the handover of bladed articles at residential premises for all sellers, both UK and overseas, so that both corrosive substances and bladed products can be delivered to people’s homes.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has just asked, what evidence is there that gang members, for example, are ordering ordinary kitchen knives, such as carving knives, online in order to use them in crime? I am not talking about prohibited knives, such as zombie knives or the type of knife that the Government seek to ban in the Bill. The evidence from the police is that most people carrying knives have got them from the kitchen where they live because they are there already. Why would a criminal who is looking to commit knife crime create an evidential trail by ordering online rather than going to a shop and paying cash to get their hands on a weapon? I seek the Government’s explanation as to why this provision is necessary.
We discussed on Monday whether a residential premises is used for carrying on business. I have had a communication from a company that deals with the sale of bladed items online. It says:
“Our information after consulting Royal Mail and UPS is that there are no means to quickly and robustly identify tradesmen who operate from home as opposed to individuals who might pose as tradesmen. These so-called defences are wish fulfilment from the Home Office and are unworkable in the real world”.
My Lords, I sympathise with the request made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for some information from the Minister on why this clause will make anything better. I have been unable to find any evidence that knives delivered in this way are a measurable, let alone a serious, source of supply for knives used in offences. It seems entirely wrong to penalise ordinary people, particularly British traders, when no good will come out of it; it is mere virtue signalling by the Home Office. If this is a real danger, let us deal with it properly—my next group of amendments seeks to do that—but none of this is justified if it is not real. We have allowed age verification for sulphuric acid to be at the gate. What is the difference between that and a kitchen knife? They are equally dangerous items; it is exactly the same process that one is asked to go through, and you get a system that is completely sensible and useable by British traders. One can see the reasonableness of it. In other words, it is a small addition to the bureaucracy that people go through for a small addition to safety. I do not see that the Government have produced any evidence to justify the approach that they are taking in this clause.
My Lords, I support what has been said by other speakers on this amendment. I believe that we are engaged in something of a futile pursuit in this part of the Bill. Hundreds of millions of knives are broadly available. This measure will not stop one single person getting hurt. I agree with an awful lot of what the Government are trying to do in the Bill. Flick-knives, zombie knives and products of that type are terrible and every effort should be made to prevent them being sold and held, but anyone can put an edge on a screw driver, chisel or kitchen knife—they are everywhere.
We are using up parliamentary time to put in place regulations that are highly unlikely to make a contribution to what we are all looking to achieve. The Government have to be careful not to bring the law into disrepute to pursue an easy target, when measures such as those highlighted by Members of the Committee far more knowledgeable than me about the subject are needed to deal with the reality of people holding knives on the street. There is a terrible epidemic of knife crime and I empathise with all the measures being taken to stop it, but preventing the delivery of knives is unlikely to have any effect in preventing a single stabbing incident.
My Lords, since our Grand Committee sitting on Monday we have heard from the police that they identify 10,000 children who are being exploited by organised crime to deliver drugs in county lines. This is newish and important information relevant to this debate as an important conduit for children to access knives. On Monday we debated mandatory sentences for children. We are hearing that children are being groomed to deliver drugs and are provided with weapons—not guns, but knives and so on. This may put a very different complexion on our debate. Will the Minister provide the Committee with a note before Report responding to this new information in the context of our discussions on mandatory sentencing for children?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for explaining the trusted trader scheme. I hope to set out the context of the provisions of the Bill. I agree with the Committee that evidence is important to this end.
It is already an offence to sell a knife to somebody under the age of 18, but we know that some sellers are not doing enough to stop children buying knives online. Evidence from online test purchase operations shows that a worrying number of online sellers sampled failed to have effective age-verification procedures in place. Trading standards conducted two online test purchase operations in 2008 and 2009. A test purchase operation commissioned by the Home Office conducted in 2014 showed that 69% of the retailers sampled failed the test. This was a slight improvement on the exercise five years previously but showed that a large majority of online test purchases failed and retailers were breaking the law.
A further test purchase operation was carried out in December 2016. The results showed that 72% of retailers tested failed to verify the age of the purchaser at the point of accepting the order and only 19% went on to require further evidence of age and refuse the sale when the evidence was not produced. Recent test purchases targeting online retailers conducted in late 2018 under the Government’s new prosecution fund show that 42% of the retailers sampled failed the test and sold knives to persons under the age of 18. We have evidence that online retailers are selling to people under the age of 18.
All the information I have is the test purchases. If test purchases show a failure in the system, that suggests to me that there is an ongoing failure in the system. It does not matter whether the person is actually 18 or is pretending to be; if the system is failing, the system is failing. If an online seller is selling to someone who says they are under 18, the system is failing and the Government are concerned by that. We know that test purchases show that under-18s are being sold knives. In most cases, it is not possible to determine whether the knife purchased is being used in crime, but we have evidence that young people say that buying a knife online is easy. That information was obtained when we were researching the knife-free campaign.
We know through the test purchases that the sellers are breaking the law and we hear the evidence from young people. With the provisions in the Bill, we are sending a clear signal to online sellers that their age- verification processes must improve. The fact that there is still a high rate of failure should be a matter of concern to noble Lords and tell us that the provisions in the Bill are needed. It is not enough for retailers selling remotely simply to ask the purchaser to tick a box to say that they are over 18. It is unacceptable when it comes to delivering the article simply to hand it over to a person without verifying their age or, worse, simply to push the package through the letter box or leave it on the doorstep without any checks about the age of the recipient. We know the tragic consequences of not having strong checks in place to prevent under-18s buying knives online, from the beginning of the transaction through to the end of the sale process.
I utterly understand the thinking behind the noble Lord’s amendment, but it would in effect transfer the responsibility for complying with the legislation and responsible sales from the seller to the Government, by requiring the Government to set out the details of the proposed trusted trader scheme, which would then allow for the delivery of bladed products to residential addresses. The scheme would require sellers to demonstrate that their age-verification systems and procedures, from the point when they receive the order to when their designated delivery company hands the item over at the point of delivery, are robust and that it is not possible that a knife will be handed to a person under 18. In the light of the results of recent test purchase operations, however, we are not persuaded that sellers can provide such reassurance in a systematic and consistent way. We believe that only by requiring age verification at the point where the item is physically handed to a person, at a dedicated collection point, is it possible to guarantee that a bladed product will not be handed over to a person under 18.
There is another point. Setting up, administering and overseeing a trusted trader scheme would create burdens of its own, although I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that it could be self-funding.
I am sorry—well, I would have accepted the point. In addition, simply being part of a scheme or being in possession of a seal of approval as a trusted trader does not guarantee compliance with the conditions in the scheme. I hope that I have been able to set out the Government’s explanations—
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. She repeated something that she mentioned on Monday, which I questioned but did not receive a response on. Why is age verification at the point of handover at a delivery point likely to be more thorough or more successful than age verification at the point of handover at the front door of a residential premises? The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggested a scheme whereby the delivery agent would take a photograph of the driving licence or passport to show proof of age at the front door. I accept from what the noble Baroness has said that the age-verification process that online retailers put in place must be thorough and rigorous and that there must be penalties for those who fail to comply, but I do not understand the blanket ban on delivery to residential premises when people have carte blanche to order online and collect from what could be a local newsagent. Last week, I ordered something from Amazon and collected it from a convenient store where the people are very busy. I do not see what advantage there is, when it comes to age verification, for such an article to be handed over at a collection point rather than at the front door of a residential premises.
I am sure that I could point to such cases if I had them in front of me. What I can point to is the evidence I have just given to the Committee that young people have said it is easier to buy knives online. I am not saying those young people are the ones going on to commit crimes, but the fact that it is easier for an under-18 to purchase online says to me that it is an easier route, should that person have criminal intent, to make that purchase online. I hope that is helpful to my noble friend.
Will the Minister tell us what sanctions have been imposed on people failing to obey the law in this way? It seems to me that there is plenty of scope for people to be charged. That will still apply. On the trusted trader scheme, perhaps the one point that has not been mentioned is that the designation could be taken away were there any doubt that somebody was not complying with the law, rather than having to go through some legal process that might deter people or make them more certain to check.
I hope that I have outlined what the Government have found through these test purchase failings. They have improved over recent years, but there is undoubtedly a basic failure in the system of the online purchase. Regarding the sanction for current failures in the system, it is a criminal offence, although it has been shown not to be a terribly compliant environment. It is far easier to have robust arrangements in place at a central delivery point rather than on each and every doorstep. That is the thinking behind the delivery point rather than the residential address.
I am grateful to the Minister. There is no such thing as a central delivery point. When you ask for these articles to be delivered to a delivery point, they are all over the place. There are five within a mile of where I live—corner shops are the places where these items are being delivered. In support of that, does the Minister have any information on these test purchase operations? Specifically, how many of these knives were successfully delivered to somebody who appeared to be under the age of 18 at a residential premises, and in how many of the offences were the knives delivered to a collection point? This might provide the evidence that the Government seem to have that it is much safer for it to be delivered to a collection point than to the front door of a home.
I have provided the detail on the test purchase failures. To return to my noble friend the Duke of Montrose on how many persons or companies who sold knives to under-18s have actually been prosecuted, I understand that there have been 71 prosecutions between 2013 and 2017 under Section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act. If I have any further information for the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I will certainly put it in writing. I hope I have given a general overview of some of the failures within the system of the online sale.
My Lords, I am still at a loss as to why we have two systems in this Bill—Clause 4 and Clause 17 —applying to products which the Government say are equally dangerous. If we need Clause 17—prohibition of delivery to residential premises for knives—why are we not asking for that with corrosive products? What is the difference?
I think I may be able to help the Committee. The noble Lord is right that we are in a parallel situation, but you cannot order online from a UK company and have corrosive substances delivered to your home address. You can order corrosive substances from a company that is outside the UK and have them delivered to your home address. The parallel situation also applies with knives, which shows how absolutely ridiculous this whole thing is.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I probably forgot to ask the Minister to meet a delegation of Sheffield MPs and businesses concerned before Report. I am sure she will.
There have been some really interesting figures in this debate. We have 424 million knives in circulation and 71 prosecutions of companies selling knives online incorrectly. If the Bill goes ahead, we will ban businesses operating in the UK selling knives online, but if they are based in France, Germany or the United States, it will be fine—off you go, no problem at all. That is some of the nonsense that we have here.
I respect the Minister very much, but I was disappointed by her response. I do not believe she has made the case for this. As other noble Lords have said, we are not convinced that this part of the Bill will do what it seeks to achieve. If that is the case, I would be very happy if it were not in the Bill at all. I moved this amendment because the industry is keen to avoid this ban and to have something else in place, and it has been working with Sheffield MPs on this. This amendment was put forward in the Commons and I have put it forward again today. This is not a scheme we have dreamed up.
These businesses sell niche products that are not available in most shops. If you go into a big shop, the knives in them are likely to have been made in China and elsewhere. These are businesses whose products have not been bought by high street retailers and which now survive by selling their products online. We are now going to make that harder for them without any particular evidence that it is causing problems. If you are going to go out and commit crime with a knife, where would you go? I would go to my knife drawer at home—I have a load of knives in there. That is what people would do. I do not believe that people are buying these knives online to commit crimes. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, they would be creating an evidence trail if they are then hauled up. For me, that is a problem.
I hope the noble Lord will not mind if I intervene on that point. He is right that, if you want to commit knife crime, you could go to your kitchen drawer and probably get a fairly effective weapon out of it. But that is not the nub of this legislation or of what we are trying to achieve. There are a number of interventions we are trying to make. I think I explained right at the outset when I introduced the Bill that no one intervention is going to solve the problem in and of itself. It is the range of measures that we have in place, including this legislation, that we hope will reduce what has become a scourge in society which is blighting the lives of young people.
My Lords, I should first declare an interest as chair of National Trading Standards which is a recipient of Home Office money and was responsible for the test purchases that have been talked about. However, I do not intend to comment on the detail of those test purchases—partly because I have not been briefed on them—but to make a specific point on the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about creating an evidence trail.
One of the issues of concern is young people who decide they need to carry a knife notionally for their protection. It is not that they intend to use it, but they carry it for their protection and unfortunately it then gets used. One has to be particularly concerned about that category of person. They may well have a careful parent who would notice the disappearance of a knife from a knife drawer, or they may believe that they would be stopped or other social pressures be applied if they tried to get one in a way other than online; they would therefore be attracted to the online route. So while this particular mechanism may or may not be the most effective way of dealing with it, this is the category of person one should be concerned about. It is about dealing not with those who are intent on committing knife crime but those who seek to have a knife that no one else knows about, which they can carry with them, because they think it will defend them.
The noble Lord makes a very good point. Young people are being forced to carry knives for protection. We have an awful situation where young people become both victims and perpetrators of knife crime, both in self-defence and, perhaps, more maliciously. I thank him for making that point.
I wonder how the Minister can say that young people are forced to carry knives for their own protection and, at the same time, bring in mandatory prison sentences for children who carry knives. There does not seem to be much consistency in that. I do not expect the Minister to respond but, if children are feeling forced to carry knives in fear for their own safety, how can one introduce mandatory prison sentences—they have already been introduced— for children who carry knives? It seems a bit of a puzzle to me.
I thank my noble friend for that point, although I am not sure that I agree with him.
As I was saying, I do not believe the Government have made their case on this. We have seen 71 prosecutions and the evidence here. There are issues with knives and we all want to see knife crime reduced. This is the classic case of the Government using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
The Minister nodded to say that she would be happy to meet the Sheffield MPs and knife manufacturers. This is about the high-end, niche manufacturers who do not, or very rarely, sell their products in UK stores any more but almost wholly online. We will potentially damage their businesses but, at the same time, allow firms abroad to sell here with no restrictions whatever. That is regrettable.
I will leave it there for now. I will bring this issue back on Report—I guarantee that—but before then we can have that meeting and try to persuade the Government to look at this again. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 41 withdrawn.
42: Clause 17, page 17, line 24, at end insert—
“( ) For the purposes of this section a person in the United Kingdom is to be regarded as a seller if they perform fulfilment functions for a seller outside the United Kingdom.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to ensure that UK fulfilment operations are liable under the Bill.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 42 I will also speak to Amendments 54 and 57. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for educating me in the course of the last amendment. I apologise for my misreading of the Bill.
If we are going to take online purchase and delivery so seriously, we must deal with overseas purchases. While the noble Lord was speaking, I managed successfully to order a pretty nasty-looking knife online. There was no hint of age verification. It appeared to be a British company that I was ordering from but, actually, I happen to know that this company is based in Holland. The knife will be shipped from Holland by ordinary post. How will this be prevented? The company is a big, well-known retailer of knives online. It is an ordinary place that a lot of people know; it carries a good variety of knives and other things. Nothing in this Bill, as it is at the moment, prevents someone ordering in that way.
I am not saying that my amendments have any particular merit in the mechanisms they propose. But if the Government are serious about this, we need to tackle things that are obviously going to happen and make it possible for us to prevent—since the Government are convinced that this needs preventing—the delivery of knives that are ordered with great ease and facility from overseas suppliers.
First, we should deal with fulfilment in this country. Amazon has a very large fulfilment business. You appear to be purchasing goods from an overseas supplier, but actually they are sitting in an Amazon warehouse, where the instruction comes through and they dispatch. There are a number of independent people in the fulfilment business too; they know exactly what they are sending out. They are the ones who do the packing, and must be caught by this legislation. We cannot allow that obvious loophole—that is my purpose in Amendment 42.
When we are dealing with standard imports by post, we have systems to prevent people sending in guns. It is a fairly obvious thing, to make sure that if guns are coming in postal packages, you intercept them. People who are shipping them in bulk in engine blocks are a different kettle of fish, but wrapping one up and sending it as a parcel is something which we believe there are mechanisms to deal with. Those mechanisms will work for knives, but we need to empower the border authorities when they come to their notice to open the packages, confiscate the knives and not compensate anyone. It needs to be easy for our border security people to do, in the same way that it is not easy for someone to send guns through the post. That is what I am trying to do in Amendment 54: to replicate or allow for the replication of the system that we have for controlling guns sent through the post, and extend that to blades sent through the post.
In Amendment 57, I am merely trying to strengthen the contractual obligation that people are under when they are delivering these things; they cannot pretend, like the three monkeys, that they did not know that they should have taken sensible steps to know that they are dealing with a seller who deals in bladed products, and therefore need to take care. I beg to move.
I see what the noble Lord is trying to do with Amendment 42, but again I am not sure it is a practical solution. He talked about buying a knife from a company in Holland where it is going to be delivered by ordinary post. How does the post office know what is in the parcel? One can think of circumstances where they would not know what is being delivered.
In relation to Amendment 54, I understand that there is a scheme for firearms and you need a licence before you can import them. But if you order a set of cutlery to use for Sunday lunch from a German manufacturer, which includes knives, do you need an import licence in order to buy it and have it delivered to your home? The problem here is that firearms are a very narrow type of good, whereas knives cover a whole spectrum—I think we get on to palette knives and butter knives later—through to zombie knives and very dangerous items.
I come back to the issue that if it is a foreign seller, the Bill has to provide that age verification has to happen at the front door of residential premises. If the Government are placing so much weight on preventing under-18s getting hold of knives generally, why that age verification at the front door of a residential premises can … not also apply to UK sellers as it does to overseas sellers?
My Lords, I had not really intended to intervene but I have come here and it is a fascinating series of amendments.
The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is an extremely interesting one and has much wider ramifications than the purposes for which he has put it forward. There is a real issue—again, I refer to my interests as chair of National Trading Standards—about fulfilment houses in relation to all sorts of trading standards offences and issues. The noble Lord talks about Amazon, but that is at the upper end of the fulfilment house market. There are plenty of fulfilment houses that have essentially been set up by people in their front rooms. I am not sure which of those is more or less likely to know the content and precise nature of some of the orders they are fulfilling. There are a lot of attractions in going in the direction that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, wants us to go, which would place an obligation on that stage of the distribution process as well as on the point of sale. But I suspect it raises much wider issues around how other laws—for example, consumer protection laws—would apply to fulfilment houses.
I would quite like to see fulfilment houses having to take some of that responsibility, but it is the same argument about internet service providers taking responsibility for the content of what appears on their services. There is a lot to be said for that as well. I suspect, however, that tackling the issue may not sit easily in this Bill, as opposed to perhaps a rather more widespread look at the role of fulfilment houses—an area that will grow inevitably with the increase of online markets.
I would hope the noble Lord thinks the Government always try to give comprehensive answers to things raised.
Moving swiftly on, Amendment 42 would in effect extend the offence created by Clause 17, which is concerned with the delivery of bladed products to residential premises, to any UK-based company that assists in the process between the sale of the item over the internet and the delivery of the item to the buyer where they provide fulfilment functions. I will take a minute to explain fulfilment functions.
We understand what my noble friend is referring to: activities such as stocking, dispatching the order, customer service and returns for sellers outside the UK. In the Bill, the word “seller” carries its normal meaning and is therefore unlikely to cover circumstances where an overseas seller uses a platform in this country to complete or facilitate the transaction, if the company here is not involved in its actual sale. The offence created by Clause 20 is intended to address the issue of overseas sellers. The Government are of the view that it would be a step too far to apply Clause 17 to companies that provide a fulfilment function but are not themselves the sellers. The Government expect that companies facilitating sales online will make sellers who use their platforms aware of the legislation in relation to the sale of knives in the UK, but it is not in their power to compel a seller based abroad—or in the UK, for that matter—to comply with the legislation. They can, of course, remove the seller from their platforms if they fail to comply with UK legislation. I hope that they consider doing so, as sellers that do not comply with the law will damage the reputation of their company.
This does not mean that sellers based abroad, whether they use online platforms or sell directly, will not be affected, albeit indirectly, by the provisions in the Bill. We cannot enforce legislation on to sellers based abroad, and that is why Clause 20 introduces an offence for a delivery company to deliver a bladed article into the hands of a person under the age of 18. Where a platform provides a fulfilment function relating to delivery, Clause 20 may apply to them.
Amendment 54 seeks to introduce measures to ensure that imports of bladed products from sellers based abroad are subject to checks. This is achieved by introducing a licensing scheme for bladed products as defined in Clause 19. The scheme would require importers to have a licence. The amendment would therefore have the effect of limiting the number of persons who would be able to import these items. At the moment, anyone can buy bladed products from abroad. However, if a licence were required, only licensed buyers would be able to import these items.
I believe that the amendment—the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was quick to click on to this—has been modelled on the registered firearms dealer scheme. However, as the noble Lord pointed out, there are significant differences between firearms and bladed products, as bladed products have much wider application. Whereas it is desirable to have a control mechanism to ensure that only authorised persons can import firearms, I am not persuaded that it would be proportionate to introduce a similar scheme for bladed products. Everyday products present in most households, such as a wide range of knives, gardening tools and the like, are capable of being bladed products. These items can be purchased in the UK freely without a licence, provided that the buyer is over 18.
The Government’s intention is not to stop people buying bladed products or bladed articles in general. We want only to stop these items being sold and/or delivered to people under the age of 18. In relation to remote sales, the Bill already provides for measures to achieve this aim. It does this in relation to domestic sales through the provisions in Clause 17 and in relation to sellers based abroad through Clause 20. A licensing scheme is likely to place burdens on sellers and, either directly or indirectly, on local and central government, which will need to provide administration of the scheme and monitor compliance.
My noble friend is rightly concerned about whether the Bill provides adequate provisions to prevent bladed articles from sellers based abroad being delivered to persons under 18. I believe that the provisions in the Bill are adequate to achieve this end. I state again that we cannot enforce the legislation against sellers based abroad, but we can place the onus on the person who delivers the merchandise here. That is the reason why Clause 20 introduces an offence for a delivery company to deliver a bladed article into the hands of a person under the age of 18. If a bladed article is being delivered on behalf of a seller based abroad, the delivery company has the responsibility to ensure that the item is not handed over to a person under 18, whether the item is delivered to a private address or to a collection point.
Finally, Amendment 57 is concerned with the online sale of bladed articles by sellers based abroad. It would prevent bladed articles from being delivered to under-18s by ensuring that the deliverer takes adequate precautions to ensure that this does not happen. As I indicated, we cannot apply Clause 17 to sellers who are beyond the jurisdiction of UK law and our courts. Sellers based abroad may not be able to determine when they sell a bladed article whether the delivery address is residential or business or whether the seller is under 18—indeed, they may not care. That is why Clause 17 will not apply to sellers based abroad.
The Government consider that it is fair and proportionate to adopt a different approach in relation to delivery of items from sellers based in the UK. In the case of UK-based sales, the Clause 17 offence is committed by the seller, not the person who delivers the article. We think that this is a sensible and practical approach, which will go further in restricting the sale of these items to under-18s. Clause 20 deals specifically with sellers based abroad and the offence is committed by the person who makes the delivery in the UK, who, in this instance, will be the person within the jurisdiction of the UK courts. This addresses the perennial problem of tackling illegal sales made by those based abroad who can otherwise circumvent the intent of our domestic legislation.
Clause 20(1)(d) requires that,
“that person was aware when they entered into the arrangement that it covered the delivery of bladed articles”.
Is there any provision which requires a foreign exporter of bladed instruments to identify on the outside of the packaging what is inside it so that nobody can be in any doubt that what is being posted from, let us say, Holland is a knife with a 10-inch blade? If it says on the outside of the packet, “This is a butter knife”—subject to one believing the description on the label—that might prevent a number of the problems that we seem to have been discussing. It seems fairly simple to stick a label on the outside which places the burden on the original seller, makes the importer or functionary aware of what they are handling and makes the postman or parcel deliverer to the address or corner shop concerned equally aware of what is going on. It could not cost very much to stick a label on.
The noble Lord make a very valid point. I shall certainly read Hansard carefully, because some of the Minister’s responses may have been contradictory. If I was a manufacturer of high-end knife products in Holland or Germany, I would be very pleased when the Bill became law because I could then launch a big campaign. I would know that the British Government were attempting to hamstring manufacturers in their own county but that I could carry on selling this stuff with no problem at all. We have no jurisdiction beyond our own borders. All we are doing here is hurting British business on the basis of very little evidence.
My Lords, as usual, I need educating. How is even a British business to know that a particular address is residential? What source of information do the Government expect a seller of knives to use to establish whether, for instance, 1 Lavender Hill SW11 is a residential or business address, particularly when in such a location there is probably a shop on the ground floor and flats above? What source of information will be reliable and satisfactory in a prosecution for someone to demonstrate that they believed reasonably that it was not a residential premises?
We had that debate on Monday, but I am happy to go over it again. On my noble and learned friend’s point about labelling bladed products, it would be very good practice if foreign sellers did that, but we do not have the legal jurisdiction to make them do it.
I am sorry to be tiresome and to interrupt yet again. We could prevent the import of a parcel or the continuance of its progress if it arrived at Dover, Felixstowe or wherever it might be with no label on. It could then be held up. If on the other hand it said on the outside, “butter knife”—assuming that we could trust the writer of the label—or “hand grenade” or “sharp knife”, the answer seems self-evident.
My noble and learned friend would have a very good point if it was clear that the object contained in the package was a knife. It becomes a lot more difficult where it is not clear what is in the package. I do not disagree with him that it would be good to label such packages, but we cannot compel foreign companies to do it and it might not always be clear what is in the package to stop it at the port. My noble friend makes a very practical suggestion—I am sorry to be the blocker of practical suggestions—but that is the explanation.
My noble friend Lord Lucas asked how one proves an address—we went over that on Monday a couple of times. There are various ways in which a seller can ascertain whether a premises is used as a business. The buyer could provide evidence that their house was registered for business purposes or confirmation in writing of their business entity and that their business was run from home.
The noble Lord is right that a house could be registered for business purposes because it could be a business. I think we went through that on Monday. Clause 20 creates an offence relating to overseas sales, with the focus on ensuring that the delivery company does not deliver a bladed article into the hands of a person under the age of 18. I think that was all I was going to say on the subject and the amendments. I know that the foreign company versus the UK company issue will come back again and again, but I hope the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, the Government have certain contradictions in the way they are approaching this. Suppose a Dutch company sells a knife to a residential address. It drops it into the post, nicely wrapped as a parcel with nothing on the outside to indicate what the contents are. Who puts the contents of a parcel on the outside? I cannot recall when a package came to me containing something I had ordered over the internet which said obviously on the outside what was on the inside. The Royal Mail, which looked at this, has no ability to know that the parcel contains a bladed product. The only point at which it becomes possible to know that is at the point of importation.
I know the Government have systems—and I know what they are, but I am not going to describe them in public—for preventing the importation of weapons, firearms in particular, which would apply very nicely to the importation of knives. That is the point at which we as a country know that there is a knife, and since the Government have oversight of the process through which it is being imported, that is the point at which they can establish whether the address is likely to be residential premises. If we want this to be an effective prohibition against a company abroad sending a knife to a residential address here, we need to give those authorities the power to confiscate the knife at that point. I propose one way of doing that, and there are surely many others, but we absolutely need to do it.
The other way in which an overseas sale can get into residential premises is if I apparently order from a website abroad. That website abroad telegraphs its fulfilment house here and someone in that fulfilment house takes the knife out of a box, puts it in a package, addresses it and pops it into the post. There we have someone absolutely within our jurisdiction who knows that it is a knife and who should know that the premises are residential, but we are not catching them. We cannot expect the poor old postman to know what is in the package. We have two very good opportunities to intercept knives and other bladed products coming in from abroad. I do not mind how the Government achieve that, but it is so easy to get knives from abroad. If someone really wants to get a knife delivered to residential premises all they have to do is order it from overseas and it will happen without interruption because sellers will organise themselves so they do not get their delivery agents into trouble. They will just use the Royal Mail. These are small items that do not require special delivery and fit through postboxes.
The amendments show that there are good, easy, efficient and effective ways in which the Government can get a bite on the main streams of supply from overseas agents. As my noble friend said, overseas agents will respond by sticking a label on the outside. If that is what they are asked to do, and if that is what it takes to get it through customs, that is fine—in supplying all over the world, they are used to customs regulations. This is not hard or expensive for us to do; it is easy, and it is the only thing that makes sense of the Government’s interest in stopping the ordering of knives over the internet. If we stop only UK sellers and leave the door wide open to overseas sellers, we are not achieving anything other than obstructing UK business.
Does the noble Lord agree that the Committee generally agrees with the laudable aims of the Bill but on all sides we are highlighting the large holes in it? It is easy to make a mockery of what is being set out here. I hope that the Government will listen carefully to this. We want to have discussions between now and Report so that we can get this legislation right. Where we are at the moment is honestly ridiculous. The more discussions I hear now, the worse things seem to me.
I echo the noble Lord’s comments. We want to do whatever it takes to reduce the availability of knives for use in knife crime. I hope that, in all our discussions, it has not gone unnoticed that we oppose this group of amendments and the previous group.
I will probably be disciplined by my party for saying so but, presumably, if you are buying from a supplier outside the customs union, there needs to be a customs declaration on the package as to what is contained in it. That is a legal requirement. It is not about trying to get a foreign supplier to comply with British law; rather, it is internationally accepted that you need to put a customs label on a package describing what is inside. I do not know whether that applies if the supplier is within the European Union, but certainly if you buy something from the United States of America, for example, there has to be a visible customs declaration on the outside to say what the product inside the parcel is. That would enable whoever is delivering the parcel to the end delivery point to take the appropriate action in accordance with Clause 20, if the label describes that it is a bladed product.
If noble Lords will allow me, rather than pointing out what might be missed by this legislation, I want to draw to the attention of the Committee places where people will be caught. One that strikes me, given my background of having been responsible for the sheep industry, is this. In the clipping of sheep, we use largely foreign clippers, often from New Zealand. They come here and stay in bed and breakfasts. As they move around, their blades have to be sharpened and replaced. I am sure that, in the current system, they just ask the company to supply it by post, but they do not have a residential address. They could probably work their way round it, but I want to highlight the problems that people will have.
Is it the noble Lord’s wish to withdraw his amendment?
I was still mid-flow. Having allowed those interventions, I very much hope that the Government will listen to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and consider whether there is something we can do here.
I know that there is a system of customs declarations and that misdeclaration on small packages is responsible for the UK losing about £1 billion in VAT every year. I am not confident, therefore, in that system—someone has to check what is inside. We have the ability to do it, and I agree that a bad customs declaration would result in inaction. But, by and large, we do not open small packages to see what is inside, or else we would be better at collecting the VAT when something said to be worth 5p is actually worth 50 quid.
We can do better in preventing knives coming in from overseas. I very much hope that the Government will look again at the opportunities. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 42 withdrawn.
Amendments 42A and 43 not moved.
43A: Clause 17, page 17, line 37, after “solely” insert “or principally”
Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment, along with the amendments to page 17, lines 38 and 41, is to probe the extent to which the offence in Clause 17(2) covers delivery to a person who works from home.
My Lords, in moving this amendment I will speak also to Amendments 43B and 43C. We are still on the issue of residential premises, and I will not go down the route of customs declarations or indeed of the Immigration Bill as it might apply to New Zealand sheep-clippers and so on. There are a lot of aspects that could be raised.
On Monday, the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, asked about farm-houses. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and my noble friend Lord Paddick asked how you know about residential premises. My noble friend, referring to UPS and Royal Mail, quoted comments made by a company in this sector about unworkability in the real world. The Minister convinced me on Monday about not wanting to criminalise Royal Mail through my amendment. She mentioned then that Clause 17(6) was there to satisfy concerns about small traders—individual craftspeople and those running relatively small businesses from home. I would like to raise aspects of that in this group of amendments.
The first of my amendments would provide that residential premises are premises used solely or principally for residential purposes. We have gone round in so many circles on this, but it seems to me that the amendment would be of reassurance to individual craftspeople, to take just one group, who use a shed at the back of their house or a room in the home for their business.
Amendment 43B is a drafting point, and not a very good one. I am afraid that Amendment 43C would create a double negative, but, again, it deals with the owner or occupier who resides in the premises. It probes whether the premises can be residential for somebody other than the resident carrying on a business in it, even if the residential area is only a small part of the whole of the premises.
I have been trying to apply the terminology of the clause to what one knows goes on in all sorts of different types of premises, because we are causing—certainly for me—a good deal of confusion. As I have said before, one wants to get it right, and, as my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, we are trying to make this Bill workable and fair. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining these amendments. I do not think we are far apart in what we want to achieve in relation to deliveries to residential premises. I hope that I will be able to clarify our intentions and assuage any concerns that might remain.
Clause 17 makes it an offence for a remote seller of bladed products to send them to residential premises or a locker. When developing the offence, we were keen to ensure that it did not apply to the delivery of products to residential premises from which a business was run—the noble Baroness gave the example of a craftsperson in a shed. We heard during the consultation from builders, plumbers and others who ran businesses from their homes. These people sometimes needed to have tools and other bladed products delivered to them quickly to allow them to carry on their businesses. We were also keen to ensure that farms would not be affected by the prohibition on delivery to residential premises. This point was made on Monday by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, and again today by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose.
To achieve this, the definition of a residential premises at Clause 17(5) is limited to those that are,
“used solely for residential purposes”.
This means that anyone who runs a business from their home can continue to have bladed products delivered there. To put this beyond any doubt, Clause 17(6) explicitly states that, where a business is carried on from a premises, it is not to be regarded as a residential premises. I hope this addresses the example that the noble Baroness gave; her face suggests that she is not entirely convinced.
Amendments 43A, 43B and 43C would achieve the same effect but are unnecessary. Where a person runs a business from residential premises which they own or occupy, the Bill already ensures that they can have bladed products delivered to such premises. It will be for the seller to satisfy themselves that they are not sending the bladed products to an address that is used solely for residential purposes. The noble Baroness raised the earlier example from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, of UPS, the delivery company. The noble Lord is right that there is no fool-proof way of establishing whether a property is a genuine business address. However, we are creating in Clause 17 a new offence for the seller, and in Clause 18(1) we set out the defences to that offence. We hope that these together will motivate the seller to take “all reasonable precautions” in verifying the address, although we acknowledge that there is no fool-proof way of doing that.
There are various ways that a seller could ascertain whether a premises is used as a business. The buyer could provide evidence that the house was registered for business purposes or they could provide confirmation in writing of the business entity and confirmation that the business is run from home. In many cases the seller will also have a relationship with the buyer as a business, possibly having supplied them with bladed products over many years. I hope this provides the clarity sought on these provisions and that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendments.
Again, going back to my problem of sheep-clippers, or itinerant workers, do the business premises being delivered to have to be in the name of the person carrying out the business? If you happen to land with somebody who is running a business, could you have something delivered there?
My Lords, the Official Report has already recorded my response, as noted by the noble Baroness.
I think we will all want to spend some time after this stage of the Bill looking at the various provisions that together make up what can and cannot be done. I would add to the mix the point raised on Monday which arises under Clause 18—it is not only my noble friend’s campaign about offences and defences—about the terms “all reasonable precautions” and “all due diligence” and how “all” applies in this situation. I want to spend quite a lot of time understanding what we have been told, how it is reflected in the Bill and what we should pursue at the next stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 43A withdrawn.
Amendments 43B and 43C not moved.
43D: Clause 17, page 18, line 2, leave out “imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks” and insert “a community sentence”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and the other to page 18, line 5, would replace the short-term custodial sentences in Clause 17 with community sentences.
I shall speak also to Amendments 43E, 63A, 63B, 64A, 65A, 65B, 65C, 65D, 65E and 65F. This takes us back to community sentences. We debated their value and the problems associated with short custodial sentences extensively on Monday. I do not want to rerun all the same points today on Clauses 17, 22, 23 and 24, although I have noticed that Clause 23 brings in the possibility of an indictment where the term would be much longer. To the extent that that is relevant to this discussion, it strengthens my view that seriousness can be reflected by the prosecution being sent up to the Crown Court. The Minister directed the Committee to Section 150A of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 reminding us—or in my case, informing me—that a community sentence can be imposed only if the offence might attract a custodial sentence. I would say that was game and set—or some other sporting analogy—but I am not sure it is quite yet match, at least not until I am convinced that this is a good way of going about sentencing as there is a much wider issue behind this.
Section 150A does not apply if Section 151(2), which confers power to make a community order, does apply. Section 151 is about community orders for persistent offenders previously fined. Am I right in thinking that this is not yet in force? Has it been shelved? Is there an intention to review it? More widely, does the Minister accept that, given the potential value of community orders, the generally acknowledged problems with short custodial sentences and the state of our prisons, it would be a good move to review Section 150A as she explained it on Monday? I beg to move.
My Lords, this group of amendments echoes one of our debates on Monday; namely, whether it is appropriate to provide for custodial penalties of less than six months’ duration for certain new offences in the Bill. It will not come as a surprise to the noble Baroness to learn that I remain unpersuaded of the case for replacing custodial sentences of up to six months with community sentences for the knife-related offences in the Bill. As we have already discussed in Committee, we all know that the impact of knife crime on society is devastating. Young people getting hold of knives by using remote sales can have tragic consequences if they go on to use the weapon for a crime. The possession of prohibited weapons is and should be a serious offence. The Government believe it is proportionate and fair that those committing these offences should expect robust sentences.
The noble Baroness will recall that I explained on Monday that community sentences cannot be set as a maximum penalty for an offence as, under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, community sentences are available only for offences which are imprisonable. In providing this maximum custodial penalty, we are providing the courts with a range of penalties. This gives courts the option to impose a custodial sentence, a community sentence, and/or a fine as they deem appropriate, having regard to all the circumstances of the offence and the offender. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, welcomes this flexibility and the range of sentencing options which we considered earlier in the week.
As I mentioned on Monday, there is also the requirement under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that the court has to be satisfied that the offence is so serious that only a custodial sentence can be justified. I therefore remain confident that the courts will sentence offenders appropriately, taking into account the circumstances of the offence and the offender. Where a custodial sentence is justified, they will impose it, but where a community order would be better for punishment and rehabilitation, while protecting the public, then nothing in our provisions prevents that.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is not in his place, but he said on Monday that,
“some short sentences do some good because they punish the offender”.—[Official Report, 28/1/19; col. GC 169.]
I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment, and we should not now be depriving the courts of the full range of sentencing options.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act she referred to are in force. I will have to write to her on that specific question, if she is amenable to that. On that note, I ask that she withdraw the amendment.
I would expect the Minister to answer no less. She started by saying that I would not be surprised by the Government’s response, and she will not be surprised to hear that we are not persuaded either.
I accepted what she said about Section 150, which is why I looked it up and spent the usual frustrating few minutes trying to work out whether something that applied to it was in force or not. I think it is not, which is why I took the opportunity to ask the question. My overall question is whether it would be a good move to review Section 150A and bring that part of our attitude to sentencing up to date. But we clearly cannot pursue this any further today and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. I will, however, ask the Minister to accept that I have fulfilled my undertaking to be very quick—the clock had not even reached one minute by the time I had finished.
Amendment 43D withdrawn.
Amendment 43E not moved.
Clause 17 agreed.
Clause 18: Defences to offence under section 17
Amendment 43F not moved.
43G: Clause 18, page 18, line 21, leave out from “buyer” to end of line 23
Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to seek clarity as to how the seller can necessarily know the purpose for which the buyer intends to use the knife; and why adaptations are not dealt with in the same way as design.
My Lords, Clause 18 sets out defences to an offence under the previous clause. One defence, in subsection (3), is if the person charged proves that,
“the bladed product was adapted for the buyer before its delivery in accordance with”,
the buyer’s specifications and that,
“the adaptations were made to enable or facilitate the use of the product by the buyer or its use for a particular purpose”.
My amendment would take out the latter part of that provision.
I wrote down “designer knife” as a heading for my notes and then thought that it has a very different and much more sinister connotation than referring to a chef’s knife, which is the sort of thing that I understand this provision is aimed not to block, especially when we talk about adaptations in the context of designer knives. No doubt the proof— there has to be proof here—would in the event be a matter for the jury. But in view of the wording I referred to a few moments ago about the defence of taking all reasonable precautions and exercising all due diligence, it is important that the person who may commit an offence knows what precautions to take.
Proof that the product was designed in accordance with specifications that the buyer provided seems likely to be easier. They would be unlikely to make an order which does not set out the specifications but that may not be the same with adaptations, because they might have a conversation on the phone about their requirements. I want to pursue that issue, and why the activities which amount to the defence are to be undertaken “before its delivery” when those words are not in Clause 18(2). I do not see the distinction there nor the distinction between the two subsections, given the words “for a particular purpose”. How does the person who may be charged know the purpose? I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for setting out the amendment in the name of her noble friend Lord Paddick. As we have seen from earlier debates, these are complicated provisions but unavoidably so, I am afraid. She wants to know two things: first, how the buyer can know what purpose the bladed product will be used for and, secondly, why the provision relating to the adaptation under Clause 18(3) differs from that for design and manufacture under Clause 18(2). I hope to be able to provide some clarity but perhaps I may first summarise what we are talking about.
The defences at subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 18 are aimed at allowing the dispatch of bespoke, handmade knives to a person’s home address. One issue that came out clearly from the consultation is that there is a significant number of makers of handmade knives. These are often individual tradespersons who make specialist knives for individual buyers. The most commonly cited example, which the noble Baroness gave today, is chef’s knives, which are made or adapted to specifications provided by the chef—for example, on the length or shape of the blade, or the weight of the handle. Such handmade bespoke knives are very expensive and, in most cases, there is a relationship between the seller and the buyer, which means there is no risk of these knives being sold to a young person. We therefore wanted to allow such knives to continue to be sent to the buyer’s home address.
Clause 18(2) covers where a buyer asks a seller, who in such cases is also likely to be the manufacturer, to design or make specific knives to specifications that they have provided. This would cover where a chef, for example, asks the seller to make them a set of knives to very specific specifications. The seller in these cases will often have a relationship with the buyer and it should be easy for the seller to prove that they are making the knife to specifications, because they will have correspondence with the buyer setting out the requirements.
Clause 18(3) covers where the buyer wants an existing knife adapted to meet specific specifications—for example, where a chef wants a blade shortened or changed in shape or where they want the handle changed, or where a disabled person wants changes to a knife so that they can use it—and these changes are to enable the knife to be used for a particular purpose, such as catering, outdoor pursuits or other activities. Again, in these cases the seller will often have a relationship with the buyer and they will easily be able to evidence that the bladed product was adapted in accordance with specifications of the buyer and the purpose for which it was going to be used, because this would be part of the conversation or communication on which adaptations to make. For example, the maker would know that the knife was needed for gutting fish—that issue was raised the other day—or because the buyer had one hand and needed it for sawing branches, as that would be part of the decision on what changes needed to be made. The purpose of Clause 18(3)(b) is to exclude the etching of a person’s name on a bladed product, as we did not want to provide a defence for bladed products where the only adaptation to the product was the engraving of words on, or similar superficial adaptation to, the product.
I hope that, in light of that explanation, the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, the Minister’s last point about engraving a name had not occurred to me, although I do not quite see how it is distinct from the situation under subsection (2), where you might ask for a product to be manufactured with the specification of adding your name. I will go through what the Minister said, but for the moment, at any rate, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 43G withdrawn.
Clause 18 agreed.
Clause 19: Meaning of “bladed product” in sections 17 and 18
44: Clause 19, page 19, line 7, leave out “and 18” and insert “, 18 and 20”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to probe and clarify the definition and use of “bladed article” under Clause 20.
My Lords, I will also speak to the other amendments in this group. Most of the amendments were tabled just to give me an opportunity to listen to the Minister on why the Bill contains two definitions of bladed items: “bladed article”, which is the current definition in legislation, and “bladed product”, which is introduced just for the purposes of Clauses 17 and 18. I would like to know the reason for the choice of application and the need for two definitions.
On the definition in Clause 19, why does a pointed article appear to be excluded? If I was to wander about the streets wanting to do people harm, a sharpened knitting needle would be a pretty good thing to take with me. It would be easy to shove through clothing and it has a nice little button on one end, so that it does not go into me. Under the clause as drafted, it appears to be exempt. Why is that?
If we are going to use such a wide definition, we need to help people who are in the business of selling products to understand that it has a wide application. As I read it, it would apply to a helicopter—not that many helicopters get delivered to residential premises—as a helicopter is a bladed article. It would also apply to fans, if not to Mr Dyson’s fans, and it would apply to lawnmowers and various other things that have blades. It ought to be clear to people who have to obey this law whether they will be caught by it. I do not object to how widely the Government draw it, but its extent should be made clear, as it should in respect of which items people are likely to have to apply it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I too look forward to the Government’s explanation of the difference between “bladed product” and “bladed article”, and of why there is a distinction between the offence of delivering of a bladed product to residential premises and that of delivering a bladed article to persons under 18. I thought the whole point—no pun intended—of banning delivery to residential premises was to prevent under-18s getting their hands on it. Why does it need to be a bladed article in one part and a bladed product in another?
In relation to Amendment 45, I agree with the noble Lord and would go further. In the course of my duties as a police officer, I have seen daggers with very sharp points, but with blades not necessarily sharp enough to cut—the dagger is specifically designed to stab people, but is not capable of cutting. It would be exempt from the definition as written in the Bill. I am not sure whether it is necessary to list examples of what are and are not bladed products, but we certainly need a much better idea of what we are trying to do here.
I was not intending to come in on this item, but the more I sit here listening to this Bill, the more concerned and confused I get. I support the intentions of the Government in trying to deal with knife crime and violence—they are absolutely right there—but, listening to this, I am not convinced we are on the right track.
Is the Minister aware of the Better Regulation Executive? It is part of BIS, or whatever the department is called now, and is in charge of regulatory reform across the British Government. Its policy is described in these terms:
“Some regulations are ineffective and unnecessary. Complying with them costs businesses time and money, and can restrict economic growth … Governments generally attempt to ensure regulations are fair and effective. The Better Regulation Executive's purpose is to effectively strike the right balance between protecting people’s rights, health and safety and freeing them from unnecessary bureaucracy”.
If it has not gone there already, the Bill needs to go there straightaway. Clearly, there is a lot of mess in this Bill. I say it should go there because we are affecting lots of British businesses and putting them at a competitive disadvantage to other businesses in Europe and around the world. We need to get our businesses up and working well, and I do not see how this is helping. Maybe it has gone there already and been improved by it. If it has not, I hope we can get the Bill off to it and maybe get something back before Report.
I certainly would. I would be delighted for it to go through the process, because the scheme I have been keen we talk about has come not from me, but from the industry. They want the scheme, so I would be delighted for it to go there, since they are the people who make these niche products and are worried that the Government are putting them at a competitive disadvantage.
My Lords, I wonder how the rest of the world deals with these issues. The Minister may have described that to us at some point. The situation clearly seems to cry out for international co-operation if there are serious issues in other nations with knife crime and corrosive substances. For instance, what does Germany do with regard to these issues? I know that recent circumstances here have changed very rapidly, so it may be an issue just in this country. The United States probably has an even more significant problem with it and may be more resistant to intervene than we would be.
Knife crime is a symptom of many other things, including, as we were hearing yesterday, our issues around drugs. We heard from two police officers, one a retired undercover drugs detective. He was saying that since the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Regulations 1988, we have seen a soaring in the number of people using drugs. He pointed out that 10% of users take up 50% of the supply of serious drugs; so 10% of chronic heroin users are consuming 50% of the drugs market.
If one addressed the needs of these drug users, as we used to do before the misuse of drugs Acts—if we provide users quickly with methadone and with safe places to take drugs—the demand would disappear and the supply would shrink. These would perhaps be more effective options. Maybe the Minister can write to us about what happens in other nations and how they deal with these issues.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for outlining his amendments. Amendments 45 and 46 are intended to bring weapons such as stilettos and—as he mentioned—knitting needles within the definition of “bladed product”. We have deliberately not defined the word “cutting” in the Bill. It will carry its normal meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb “to cut” as, among other things, to,
“make an opening, incision, or wound in (something) with a sharp-edged tool or object”,
“trim or reduce the length of (grass, hair, etc) by using a sharp implement”.
The normal meaning is therefore capable of capturing a wide range of items with which cutting, in all its ordinary meanings, can be done, including knives, scissors, axes, machetes and the like. It follows, therefore, that items such as stilettos, knives or daggers are already caught by the definition of “bladed product” in the Bill because they have a blade and are capable of cutting the skin.
My Lords, perhaps I may address that particular point in relation to Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which refers to,
“any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed”.
Clearly the drafters of that clause felt the need to define “or … sharply pointed”. In other words, something that is sharply pointed does not have, and is not, a blade. It is essential that in Clause 19(1) the object we are talking about is, or has, a blade, whereas Section 139 clearly differentiates between an object that has a blade and an object that is sharply pointed. I do not see how we can have at the same time in legislation one clause that says these two things are separate and another which maintains that they are the same.
I hope that I will get some inspiration from behind me in the course of what I am going to say. I started by saying that items such as stiletto knives or daggers are already caught by the definition of “bladed product” in the Bill, because they have a blade and are capable of cutting the skin. There is, therefore, no need to add a further reference to piercing the skin, which would be the effect of my noble friend’s amendment. I note that he has clarified that his concern is to ensure that the definition covers “weapons such as stilettos”. I hope he will accept that the definition in the Bill is already sufficient to capture stiletto knives. I do not think that he has in mind stiletto heels—or does he?
That is good. These would not fall within the definition in the Bill as they do not generally have a blade. It is our intention that the definition of “bladed product” excludes those articles with a blade that are unlikely to cause serious injury if used as a weapon. They might include cutlery, fans and lawnmowers—which he mentioned—among other things. We believe that it is unlikely that such items will be procured by persons under 18 to be used as weapons. We also want to exclude articles that can cause serious injury only other than by cutting, for instance when used as a blunt object. Ultimately, it will up to the courts to determine whether an item is or has a blade and is capable of causing serious injury by way of cutting the skin. However, we will issue guidance in consultation with the police and business to provide further clarity on this and other provisions in the Bill.
Perhaps I might add that Amendment 46 highlights the risk of including an indicative list of examples in legislation, which brings complications of its own. For example, one might ask why the list includes screwdrivers but not chisels, or lawn mowers but not hedging shears and so forth. It is better, I suggest, to leave it to the police, prosecutors and the courts, supported by the guidance to which I have referred, to determine relevance in the circumstances of each situation.
This leads me to Amendments 44, 47, 55 and 56, which would change the types of articles to which Clause 20 applies from “bladed articles” to “bladed products”. My noble friend Lord Lucas has rightly asked why, in Clause 20, the term “bladed articles” is used rather than “bladed products”. A bladed product is defined in Clause 19 as,
“an article which … is or has a blade, and … is capable of causing a serious injury to a person which involves cutting that person’s skin”.
“Bladed article” is defined by Clause 20(11), in the case of England and Wales, as an article,
“to which section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 applies”.
My noble friend referred to this.
Section 141A applies to: any knife, except a folding pocket knife with a blade of three inches or less; any knife blade; any razor blade, except those permanently enclosed in cartridges; any axe; and any other article which has a blade or which is sharply pointed and which is made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person. “Bladed article” therefore captures a wide range of articles with a blade from kitchen knives to cutlery knives, scissors, and so on. This is the language used in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 in relation to the sales of knives and possession offences. “Bladed product” refers to a smaller set of items with a blade: those which can cause serious injury by cutting the skin, as defined in Clause 19. The effect of Amendments 44, 47, 55 and 56 would therefore be that the range of articles to which Clause 20 applies would be smaller than is currently the case in the Bill.
I hope that my noble friend is reassured by the provisions in Clauses 17 to 20. If a bladed article is delivered on behalf of a seller based abroad, the delivery company has the responsibility to ensure that the item is not handed over to a person aged under 18, whether the seller uses a marketplace platform or sells direct, or whether the item is delivered to a private address or a collection point. As I said earlier, we cannot enforce legislation against a seller who is based abroad but, in this instance, we have the ability to place the onus on the person who delivers the merchandise here to ensure that they do not deliver a bladed article into the hands of a person aged under 18.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked about the business impact. I concur with him that we should be concerned about the impact on British businesses. We have published an impact assessment alongside the Bill, which can be found on the Bill’s page on GOV.UK.
In terms of better regulation, I do not think that it has but I will double-check before Report. It probably has not.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked about the position in other countries and the approach we have taken. Of course we always learn from other jurisdictions, and I hope that they learn from us, but we must legislate as we consider it appropriate to address the position as we find it in this country. Regarding the problems underlying drug addiction, we will come on to that when we reach Amendment 63 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who I do not think is in her place at this point.
I want to make one final point about articles with a blade or point: we do not want to capture items such as screwdrivers and crochet needles because they are not usually used for harm—that is not to say they are not used for harm, but not usually. Hence we are referring to “blade” and not “sharp point”. I hope that, with those explanations, the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Before we get to that point, the Minister has mentioned guidance, which will certainly be very welcome. Can we be assured that the practitioners—I do not mean those with real knives, but those in the criminal justice sector, prosecution, the Bar Council, police and so on—are consulted about how the guidance is presented? I can see a nod at that. That will be very helpful.
I cannot help observing that whoever gave the Minister the note about crochet needles is not someone who uses them, because they have a curved end.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for that explanation. I shall read it with care in Hansard. I expect, as with the previous amendment, that I might like to ask her to put the requirement for guidance in the legislation, because it is important that people should know what the ambit of this legislation is. I thank her on behalf of vampire hunters everywhere that they can have their wooden stakes safely delivered to their houses without obstruction. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 44 withdrawn.
Amendments 45 to 47 not moved.
Amendments 48 to 53
48: Clause 19, page 19, line 15, leave out from beginning to “or”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the Minister’s amendments at page 19, lines 16, 21, 22, 30 and 31 would modify the offences relating to delivery of a bladed product in Clause 17. Currently these offences do not apply to weapons to which section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 applies and the amendments would remove that exception.
49: Clause 19, page 19, line 16, leave out “that Act” and insert “the Criminal Justice Act 1988”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanation of the Minister’s amendment at page 19, line 15.
50: Clause 19, page 19, line 21, leave out paragraph (b)
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanation of the Minister’s amendment at page 19, line 15.
51: Clause 19, page 19, line 22, leave out “that Act” and insert “the Criminal Justice Act 1988”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanation of the Minister’s amendment at page 19, line 15.
52: Clause 19, page 19, line 30, leave out from beginning to “or”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanation of the Minister’s amendment at page 19, line 15.
53: Clause 19, page 19, line 31, leave out “the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1996” and insert “that Order”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanation of the Minister’s amendment at page 19, line 15.
Amendments 48 to 53 agreed.
Clause 19 agreed.
Amendment 54 not moved.
Clause 20: Delivery of bladed articles to persons under 18
Amendments 55 to 57 not moved.
57A: Clause 20, page 20, line 7, leave out subsection (3)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is to probe why this exemption exists.
My Lords, I did not move Amendment 55A because there was an equivalent that we debated on Monday. Amendment 57A would have had an equivalent amendment, but I missed it—nobody is perfect. However, this allows us to return yet again to the distinction between sellers outside the UK and sellers carrying on the,
“business of selling articles of any kind from premises in any part of the United Kingdom”,
at the time of the sale.
I was curious about that distinction, and have one or two points I would like to check. Am I right to think that “carrying on business” does not mean that the business has to be based or domiciled to fulfil that description? I assume that the seller does not have to have his own premises and can operate, for instance, from a contractor’s premises; and that the description “selling articles of any kind” will be met if the seller sells teddy bears, for instance, rather than knives from within the UK.
On a wider point, the Minister has confirmed that one can buy corrosives and have them delivered to residential premises if they are bought from a seller overseas but not if they are ordered from a UK seller. The succinct description of that from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was:
“That seems a bit odd”.
My noble friend Lord Paddick talked, as he has done since, about how this fits with age verification, saying on Monday:
“Clause 4 says that if the courier knows it is a corrosive substance”—
for that, one can read bladed products or articles—
“they have to take these precautions … It makes no sense to me at all. If age verification at the point of handover is effective in preventing under-18 year-olds getting hold of substances in the case of overseas sellers, why cannot age verification at the point of handover be effective in preventing them getting hold of corrosive substances delivered to residential premises from a UK supplier? It seems to make absolutely no sense whatever”.
I read that because I wanted to check the Minister’s response, which was:
“I think it is because there is an unwillingness to do that with UK sales”.—[Official Report, 28/1/19; cols. GC 185-6.]
The Committee has indicated that it does not feel this to be a satisfactory situation. Can the Minister say anything more about the unwillingness to create extra provisions that UK sellers, as distinct from overseas sellers, would have to meet? Is that what underlies this? She has offered a discussion before Report. I want to put that on the agenda, but she might be able to say a little more about it in this public session. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am sorry to have missed a bit; the Committee may have dealt with this. On overseas and online sales, on Monday I mentioned Amazon. I have confirmed that Amazon is an international seller. It is headquartered in Ireland and qualifies as such, but the delivery mechanism is within the UK. Apparently, that is a clear ruling from elsewhere so there is a big problem, as the noble Baroness has just said. I was also told, because I was chairing a meeting on the subject, that retailers are now dropping the sale of ordinary kitchen knives and such things. It is just too difficult. They will drop all sorts of other household products if they think they might fall under the Act. It will just cause great inconvenience for UK households.
I thank the noble Baroness for outlining her amendment. I understand that its purpose is to probe the meaning of Clause 20(3). Obviously, we will have a discussion before Report and I am happy to discuss the unwillingness of companies, but I go back to the first group of amendments, where I outlined the failing in the system of test purchases.
Clause 20(3) sets out when a seller, other than an individual seller, is to be regarded as outside the UK. Where an overseas seller is an individual, it is relatively easy to establish that they are based overseas, but where a seller is a company it might not be so obvious where they are based. For example, the company might operate mainly from China, where its headquarters are based, but might also have offices and shops in the UK.
The provision is constructed so that a company selling bladed articles is considered to be based outside the UK only when the business is not conducted from premises in any part of the UK—that is, where the company is based solely overseas and does not sell articles in this country. If the seller conducts the business in any part of the UK, it would be subject to the provisions in Clause 17 and prohibited from dispatching bladed articles to a residential premises or locker. I hope that that explanation helps the noble Baroness.
Well, my Lords, perhaps we could enter into some correspondence about that. What Amazon does in this country is the fulfilment; the selling is done from Ireland or Liechtenstein, but certainly not from within this country. We need to be clear that these activities can get split, particularly in the case of big companies. The whole action of selling the knife, preparing it for delivery and delivering it is what should be considered as selling it, not just the technical act of selling.
My Lords, that is why I asked some of my questions, as the activities can be split—although I do not want to promote Amazon. These issues may not be far from the taxation points that arise in connection with some of these organisations. As it happens, I do not quite agree with the noble Lord about who is selling. Last night, I looked up an item that I have only been able to find to buy through Amazon and the website said, “This is dispatched from and sold by” somebody else. However, a lot of questions remain.
I was here at our last meeting, when this issue was discussed. It has obviously caused us a great deal of misunderstanding and we have found it quite difficult to undo. I am concerned about the customers; I am not sure that they would understand it at all. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will agree to try to work this out in a way that the public can understand. Part of what we are trying to do is to make suitable controls. I was not able to be here earlier, but I have been here for this discussion. Even so, I am in the same position as I was when we talked about this before: I do not understand it wholly and I am not sure that the noble Baroness does, although she is very clever and often understands things when I do not. Clearly, we do not understand it, so is it possible for us to look at it again? If it means that it is better to be a seller from abroad than to be a seller at home, frankly I would not like to have to explain that on a platform to the public. I would find that difficult. In the end, we ought not to help people who are domiciled abroad in order to avoid paying taxes and who undermine people who are here paying taxes. I am not terribly keen on that and, again, I would not like to explain it on a platform. I always think this about the small “p” political things: if I were standing on a platform and someone asked me the question, could I give them an answer that would not mean that the hall threw rotten apples? I am afraid that this is rotten-apple time.
My Lords, I am grateful for that. I do not think that I would manage even to get as far as the rotten apples, because I would have bored the audience. It is not just the buyer who needs to be clear about this; it is the seller and everybody in the chain. There needs to be more clarity than I have obtained and I look forward to the meeting when we will discuss this further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 57A withdrawn.
Amendments 57B and 57C not moved.
Clause 20 agreed.
58: After Clause 20, insert the following new Clause—
“Prohibition of bladed product displays
(1) A person who in the course of a business displays a bladed product in a place in England and Wales or Northern Ireland is guilty of an offence.(2) The appropriate Minister may by regulations provide for the meaning of “place” in this section.(3) The appropriate Minister may by regulations make provision for a display in a place which also amounts to an advertisement to be treated for the purposes of offences in England and Wales or Northern Ireland under this Act—(a) as an advertisement and not as a display, or(b) as a display and not as an advertisement.(4) No offence is committed under this section if—(a) the bladed products are displayed in the course of a business which is part of the bladed product trade, (b) they are displays for the purpose of that trade, and(c) the display is accessible only to persons who are engaged in, or employed by, a business which is also part of that trade.(5) No offence is committed under this section if the display is a requested display to an individual aged 18 or over.(6) The appropriate Minister may provide in regulations that no offence is committed under subsection (1) if the display complies with requirements specified in regulations.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would prohibit the open display of bladed products in shops.
My Lords, this amendment in the name of my noble friend seeks to insert a new clause after Clause 20 to prohibit the display of bladed products in shops. The honourable Member for Lewisham Deptford, Vicky Foxcroft, the chair of the Youth Violence Commission, has done some excellent work on this matter. Members from all sides in the other place, along with academics, practitioners, youth service workers, the police and experts connected with youth violence have been very involved in the work of the commission. I commend the commission’s report, which was recently published—it should be read by all noble Lords. One of its important recommendations is the prohibition of knife displays in shops. During consideration in the other place, USDAW—the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—was asked 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”,—[Official Report, Commons, Offensive Weapons Bill Committee, 19/7/18; col. 98.]
and they have assured themselves that a transaction is safe. I want people’s ages to be checked properly when they seek to purchase knives.
We must also protect against the theft of knives. There are several restrictions in law relating to other products, most obviously the extremely restrictive provisions for the sale of tobacco, which prohibit the display of tobacco products in relevant shops and businesses in England. The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 refers specifically to under-18s, so the principle already exists in law to protect under-18s from harm by prohibiting the open display of goods. I see no reason why this should not be extended to bladed products. I beg to move.
My Lords, if I understand this amendment correctly, I do not feel I can support it. Clearly bladed products should be displayed in a way that ensures they are safe and cannot easily be stolen, but I cannot agree with the suggestion that they need to be hidden in case they lead people into being tempted to use them for criminal purposes, if that is what the noble Lord is saying. The noble Lord mentioned cigarettes. They are now hidden from view and advertising them has been banned because they are always and in every circumstance bad for your health and addictive, but the same cannot be said for knives. We do not conceal alcohol or glue as they have legitimate uses, and we do not believe it is necessary to conceal knives.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, has explained, this amendment would make it a criminal offence for a businessperson to display a bladed product. The amendment seeks to replicate for knives the legislation in place on the display of tobacco products.
As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has just pointed out, the prohibition on the display of tobacco products is to help reduce the major risk to public health that comes from smoking: it is to help reduce smoking uptake by those under 18 and to support adult smokers who want to quit by removing temptation from open display. We do not want to stop people buying knives, only to stop their sale to under-18s. Requiring businesses to remove all bladed products from open display and to have them hidden away could have significant cost implications in terms of staff to operate the secure displays and for fixtures and the layout of stores. Our estimate shows that the cost to business of a requirement to lock bladed products into cabinets would be very significant. The Government believe a legal requirement not to display knives for all sellers, regardless of whether knife crime is a problem in the area where the business is placed, is not a proportionate measure. We believe that voluntary action on a risk-based basis will achieve the same aim.
The Home Office voluntary agreement with retailers including Wilko, Morrisons, Tesco and Argos includes an agreement that retailers will ensure knives are displayed and packed securely as appropriate to minimise risk. This includes retailers taking practical and proportionate action to restrict accessibility, avoid immediate use, reduce the possibility of injury and prevent theft. Retailers are also looking at more technology-based measures to prevent theft and to ensure that age verification takes place consistently in every case. For instance, retailers tell us that the use of tagging and more advanced bar-coding have proven to be an active deterrent in relation to both theft and age verification.
However, the Government want much stronger voluntary action in relation to displays, and we are working with retailers, the police and trading standards to promote good practice. We are encouraging an approach where the police work with retailers to advise on the use of locks or tags, or cabinets in stores located in knife crime hotspot areas. Some police forces have already been working with retailers to identify risks and stores that are more likely to be targeted by young people wanting to get their hands on knives.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, mentioned his concern about normal retailers finding it too tiresome to stock knives. The evidence we have is that those limitations on displays apply in high-priority areas. For example, Morrisons has decided not to display kitchen knives in its stores in areas which, in consultation with the police, have been identified as high priority. Similarly, Poundland has removed kitchen knives from sale across the UK as a result of its commitment to the Home Office voluntary agreement on the sale of knives, and has stopped selling kitchen knives in its stores. The actions taken by these retailers illustrate how working closely with them on a risk-based approach produces positive results.
We will also use the framework of the Primary Authority scheme, which we may come on to in the next group, to consolidate consistent best practice across business. Government Amendment 82 would expand the scheme to the sale of knives and corrosive substances.
I hope I have been able to persuade the noble Lord of the Government’s commitment to ensure that bladed products are displayed securely, and therefore he will be content to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for her response. I felt that it was more persuasive in favour of the amendment than my own words, but I cannot agree with the conclusions she came to. Sadly, given the widespread support for the amendment, I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment 58 withdrawn.
59: After Clause 20, insert the following Clause—
“Enforcement of sections 1, 3, 4, 17 and 20
(1) It shall be the duty of every authority to which subsection (4) applies to enforce within its area the provisions of sections 1, 3, 4, 17 and 20 of this Act.(2) An authority in England or Wales to which subsection (4) applies shall have the power to investigate and prosecute an alleged contravention of any provision under sections 1, 3, 4, 17 and 20 of this Act which was committed outside its area in any part of England and Wales.(3) A district council in Northern Ireland shall have the power to investigate and prosecute an alleged contravention of any provision under sections 1, 3, 4, 17 and 20 of this Act which was committed outside its area in any part of Northern Ireland.(4) The authorities to which this section applies are—(a) in England, a county council, metropolitan borough council, unitary authority, district council or London Borough Council, the Common Council of the City of London in its capacity as a local authority and the Council of the Isles of Scilly;(b) in Wales, a county council or a county borough council;(c) in Scotland, a council constituted under section 2 of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994;(d) in Northern Ireland, any district council.(5) In enforcing any provision under sections 1, 3, 4, 17 and 20 of this Act, an authority must act in a manner proportionate to the seriousness of the risk and shall take due account of the precautionary principle, and shall encourage and promote voluntary action by producers and distributors.(6) Notwithstanding subsection (5), an authority may take any action under this section urgently and without first encouraging and promoting voluntary action if a product poses a serious risk.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause, for the relevant authorities, would create (a) a duty for them to enforce the relevant sections of this Bill, and (b) a power for them to investigate alleged offences under this Bill.
Amendments 59, 60 and 86 in this group, which are tabled in my name, seek to give trading standards powers to enforce the relevant provisions of the Bill and a power to investigate alleged breaches of the relevant provisions contained in the Bill. There are excellent examples of good work already going on, which this amendment seeks to build on. Croydon Borough Council has worked with local retailers to improve their understanding of the law around knife sales through training and to encourage them to go further than required by law through responsible retail agreements and has caught traders willing to break the law on underage sales by using test purchasers in person and online. Croydon trading standards now has 145 retailers signed up to its responsible retailer agreements. It ran eight “Do you pass?” training sessions with retailers over the past year, encouraging additional measures, such as Challenge 25 and the responsible display of knives in stores. The training sessions are a good indicator of which retailers are keen to work responsibly and which might not be. Finally, 61 test purchases of knives have been carried out in the past year to identify those retailers which are not complying with the law. We have also seen excellent work done in this regard by the police in Greenwich through test purchases by cadets.
These additional responsibilities will create a resource issue as this will be an additional power and an additional requirement, but one that I think is needed. I recognise that the Serious Violence Strategy released by the Home Office contained the promise of a prosecution fund for trading standards for two years to support targeted prosecution activity against online and instore retailers in breach of the law on the sale of knives to underage people. The strategy is not clear about how much funding will be made available and gives no clarity to trading standards about support two years down the line. Perhaps the Minister can update the Grand Committee on this.
In putting these amendments forward, I am aware that the budget for trading standards has been cut by half since 2010, from more than £200 million to barely £100 million, while the number of trading standards officers has fallen by 56% in the same period. The cuts I refer to have led to the downgrading of the protections that consumers depend on. In many cases, they have been reduced to a system based on consumer complaints. Relying on such a system is not an effective way to enforce laws, particularly when we talk about the purchase of knives or corrosive substances. I hope to get a positive response and that the Minister will speak to her amendments in this group. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am not sure whether the Minister wants to introduce the government’s amendments now, so perhaps I should just ask some questions. At Second Reading, I raised the role of trading standards so it is obviously welcome that it is being addressed.
There are some obvious questions about the Government’s amendments. First, why weights and measures authorities? I confess that I have not looked up the statutory definition of a weights and measures authority, but there must be one. Why is it that rather than local authorities? The Chartered Trading Standards Institute makes the point that if the obligation was placed on local authorities as a whole, they might have more flexibility in how they dealt with the issue. Secondly, why is it not a statutory duty? On that point, the institute says that, in its experience, local authorities are less likely to provide the resources to deal with a problem, let alone with the training and recruitment of staff. The issue of resources is huge, and it is the elephant in the room in this context. We are all aware of the constraints on local authorities. It is a while since I was a local councillor, and I used to think that we had problems then. I do not know how local authorities manage now to juggle the calls on their resources, so I must make that obvious point as well as asking these few questions. It is right that the role of trading standards is recognised here, as is their role with offensive weapons as a whole, given their understanding of how the communities where they work actually operate.
My Lords, I apologise for missing the first few words of my noble friend’s introductory remarks on this amendment. I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said because I wonder whether the wording in the government amendment is as precise as it is intended to be. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute—I refer to my interests in terms of trading standards—says that a correct definition, if you mean just weights and measures authorities, would be,
“a local weights and measures authority”,
in Great Britain,
“within the meaning set out in section 69 of the Weights and Measures Act 1985”.
The Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland may enforce within its area, rather than simply talking in those terms. I wonder whether a broader definition would not make sense, given that in many local authorities now the trading standards function, which is so diminished, is often spread with other responsibilities. That may be something the Government want to take away and look at to make sure that what they are trying to achieve meets the obligation.
The second point about whether this should be made a duty is important as well. People I know very well in the Chartered Trading Standards Institute try to get this both ways: they complain constantly about all the statutory duties placed on local authorities, and therefore the inability of local authorities to take them seriously, but they also say, “Here is something which ought to be a statutory duty”. The psychological effect of making it clear that the Government wish to place a responsibility on local authorities to pursue their role in this matter would be extremely helpful and valuable. If the Government were to find some way of making the resources available, so that, rather than just placing the duty, they could also ensure that local authorities had the wherewithal to take effective action, that would be extremely helpful.
My Lords, the amendments in this group are directed at a common end—namely, to support the effective enforcement of the provisions of the Bill by local authorities. Amendment 59 introduces a legal duty on local authorities to enforce the legislation in relation to the sale and delivery of bladed articles and corrosive substances.
Local authorities in England and Wales already regulate the sale of bladed articles using general powers in Section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972. Under that section, where a local authority considers it expedient for the promotion or protection of the interests of the inhabitants of its area, it may prosecute, defend or appear in legal proceedings and, in the case of civil proceedings, may institute them in its own name.
There is no reason why local authorities could not use the general powers under the Local Government Act 1972 to enforce the provisions in the Bill in relation to the sale of corrosive products. It is also possible for the legislation in relation to sales of bladed articles and corrosive products to be enforced by the police. Consistent with these existing powers, the Government do not believe that it is necessary to impose a duty on local authorities to enforce the legislation in relation to the sale of bladed articles and corrosive products.
That is not to say that local authorities’ enforcement powers in this area cannot be strengthened. This leads me to Amendment 60, which seeks to extend the application of the investigative powers provided for in the Consumer Rights Act 2015. These powers enable local authorities to: require information from sellers; observe the carrying on of business; enter premises without warrant; inspect products; test equipment; require the production of documents; or seize and detain goods.
I agree with the noble Lord that extending the powers under the 2015 Act to the sale of corrosives and knives would enhance the ability of local authorities to enforce the legislation in these regulatory areas. Government Amendment 81 covers similar ground to the noble Lord’s Amendment 60. Given that local authorities have used the general powers under the Local Government Act 1972 to enforce provisions similar to those in the Bill, we see no need to create a duty, although we are well aware of the concerns of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute in this regard. We agree with the noble Lord that it is important that local authorities are given the investigatory powers they need.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the use of local weights and measures authorities. This approach goes with the grain—
I am very slow today. The Minister has spent a lot of time agreeing with me and then she has not suggested that we should adopt the amendment. Is she suggesting that we should adopt the amendment or is she trying to persuade me that it is not necessary?
Returning to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about weights and measures, I am advised that this approach goes with the grain of existing legislation. We believe that weights and measures authorities are in fact local authorities, but I will confirm that in writing.
We will gladly do that.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked for more detail about the prosecution fund that was announced in the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy. The Government committed £500,000 in 2018-19 and another £500,000 in 2019-20 to support local authorities to bring prosecutions, where appropriate, in relation to age-restricted sales of knives. The prosecution fund is managed by National Trading Standards, which is the body that brings together trading standards representatives in England and Wales. The fund will be used by 11 local areas identified as having a knife crime problem to test compliance with sale of knives legislation. I think the noble Lord will be pleased to hear that Croydon is among the 11 areas since he referred to the good work that is going on there.
Amendment 86 would enable local authorities and companies to establish partnerships with the purpose of complying with the provisions in the Bill. The noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong, but I suspect that this amendment is aimed at extending the benefits of the primary authority scheme. The primary authority scheme was created in response to recommendations in the Hampton report published in 2005, which noted widespread inconsistencies of regulatory interpretation between different local authorities. It was introduced in April 2009. The Enterprise Act 2016 included measures to amend the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 to enable many more small businesses and pre-start-up enterprises to participate in primary authority.
The primary authority scheme provides greater regulatory consistency for businesses operating across a number of local authority areas. This is expected to improve compliance with the legislation. The scheme is based on the creation of a statutory partnership between a business and its primary authority. The primary authority acts as a key point of contact for a business that it partners with, in relation to the business’s interaction with local authorities that regulate it, known as enforcing authorities. The primary authority acts as co-ordinator of other local authority inspections of that business. The primary authority supports businesses in meeting their obligations by helping them to understand what needs to be done to achieve or maintain compliance: setting out a way of doing so, or providing information that the method of compliance chosen by the business is acceptable. For the benefit of noble Lords, I will mention that all the major supermarkets, Amazon and the Association of Convenience Stores—given that your Lordships have mentioned the importance of smaller retailers several times—are all part of the primary authority scheme. The scheme has been received positively and has had widespread uptake and support from businesses, professional bodies and local authorities. Government Amendment 82 therefore extends the scheme to the sale of bladed articles and corrosive products. Amendments 88 and 90 are consequential on the earlier amendments.
In short, the government amendments in this group achieve much the same end as the amendments in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Kennedy. On that basis I hope that the noble Lord will be content to withdraw Amendment 59.
Amendment 59 withdrawn.
Amendment 60 not moved.
Clause 21: Amendments to the definition of “flick knife”
61: Clause 21, page 21, line 27, after “knife” insert “, which utilises energy stored in a spring or other device”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to exclude from the provisions of the Bill knives that are opened using pressure from the thumb on a small protuberance on the blade (rather than a nail nick), to enable climbers, fishermen and others to make use of knives that can be opened one-handed.
In moving Amendment 61, I shall speak also to Amendment 62. Amendment 61 is intended to remove or make it clear that certain knives do not fall under the prohibition in Clause 21. There are a number of occupations and trades where it is very important to be able to have a knife that can be opened with one hand. This is often a safety-critical feature—if you are a climber, an at-sea fisherman, a parachutist or in various other trades that involve the use of ropes, you need to be able to cut and at the same time use your other hand to hold on to something. The way that is generally achieved is to have a small button looking something like a wart on the blade that you can push using the pressure of your thumb to open it; sometimes the alternative is a large opening in the blade.
I want to make sure that the Government are clear that those sorts of knives are not intended to be caught by this clause, because—coming on to the history behind Amendment 62—when Clause 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 was promulgated, allowing folding knives with blades shorter than three and a half inches, it was widely assumed that that would allow blades that locked, because nobody who is going to use a knife wants a blade that does not lock. A folding knife with a blade that does not lock is a toy—you can use it to sharpen a pencil and nothing much else safely. If you have any use for it in hobbies or business, you need a blade that will lock open. The locking requirement was introduced as a result of case law.
If the Government wish to maintain that, I would like my noble friend to make it absolutely clear that “good reason” is understood to be really quite wide. A tradesman will generally have among his tools a knife with a blade that locks, because that is all that is safe to use. You can therefore expect to find it in and about their vehicle, when their vehicle is in a public place, or when they are moving between, or might be going to, places where they will need to employ their knife.
At present, people who use knives in such ways tell me that the police are understanding, but if we reach the point of being much harder on the carrying of knives, I want to be sure that it really is understood that a locking knife is an essential tool of the trade, that people who have a trade or hobby that requires it will often have it in their possession and that the police take an understanding attitude to that at a time of heightened tension. I beg to move.
My noble friend and I have given notice that we oppose Clause 21 standing part of the Bill. Our concern was that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about people who need to be able to open a knife with one hand because their other hand is otherwise engaged in the same operation. We wanted also to know how the needs of disabled people who may have the use of only one hand are to be dealt with. A button, spring or other device that the noble Lord has described seems to be exactly the sort of knife that would fall within this clause. I see a problem there, and I am glad that he has identified it more specifically than we have done. I could not quite see the way to deal with it, so I took the rather wider approach of opposing the clause standing part, but we have to pin it down in a way that satisfies everyone—and not just by the police being understanding.
My Lords, I draw to the Committee’s attention that that this type of knife is often contained in a multi-tool type product, for which there are numerous applications. Motorists, hobbyists, farmers and all sorts of people regularly carry them. They often have small blades which, because of the multiplicity of functions within the product, are accessed by a knob or protuberance of metal. It would be regrettable if such products were caught by accident within the clause.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister a question to which I would be happy for her to reply in writing—it refers to something that we have recently passed. If an individual were to steal a knife from a shop, would they be considered to be guilty also of being in possession of that knife, of carrying it? If not, I suggest that it might be looked at in regulations and that the law should consider it a more serious offence than stealing something of the equivalent value of a Mars bar or some other food item, but it is a technical point.
I thank my noble friend for clearly outlining the intention of his amendments. On Amendment 61, I say from the outset that it is not the intention of Clause 21 to prohibit knives that can be opened manually. The types of knives covered by the legislation are those which can be opened automatically, from either a closed position or a partially opened position to the fully opened position. The legislation makes no reference to knives that can be opened manually and therefore those knives that can be opened with one hand using pressure from the thumb on a small protuberance, usually known as a thumb stud, do not fall under the legislation.
Amendment 62 would exempt folding knives which may be locked into position when fully extended, provided that the blade is less than three inches long. In responding to this amendment, it may assist the Committee if I briefly outline the current legislation regarding possession of bladed articles. Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 makes it a criminal offence to carry a knife in a public place, except for folding pocket knives if the cutting edge of the blade does not exceed three inches. Section 139(4) and (5) of the 1988 Act provide a good reason or lawful authority defence for persons to have the article with them in a public place. In addition, and without prejudice to the generality of this defence, there are specific defences where the bladed article is for use at work, in a person’s possession for religious reasons, or is part of a national costume. Therefore, if a person needs to carry a folding locking knife owing to the nature of the activity to be undertaken—for example, to participate in outdoor activities such as fishing—they can avail themselves of one of the defences provided in the legislation.
It is unarguable that knife crime has regrettably been on the increase for a number of years. I am not persuaded that it would be in the public interest to relax the current legislation along the lines proposed in this amendment. A folding knife that can be locked open, if used with criminal intent, can cause as much damage as a knife with a fixed blade. Those who carry folding knives with a lockable blade for a good reason, including any of the specific defences provided for in the legislation, may continue to do so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about people who have only one functioning hand or work situations where someone needs to be able to open a knife with one hand. We are aware of situations where it is necessary to open a knife with only one hand—for instance, someone up a ladder will need to be able to open a knife easily without having to use two hands. This is why knives that can be manually opened with one hand are not banned. This includes knives which can be opened with a thumb stud, which is one of the most common designs. Similarly, knives with a mechanism that opens the blade slightly but not completely, and can then be fully opened only by hand, will not fall within the definition.
My noble friend Lord Goschen asked about shoplifting. If someone steals a knife and they are under the age of 18, they are most definitely caught by the offence. Whether they are over or under the age of 18, they could be done for shoplifting in addition. I hope that answers his point and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
I am very grateful—whoever I may be —to receive that answer, which, in respect of Amendment 61, was all the comfort I could have asked for. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I have the greatest difficulty in understanding how a person with one hand can open a modern milk bottle. There are greater tests than opening a pocket knife. I understand what my noble friend says about folding knives that can be locked open, but one very much relies on the police to take a sensible attitude to the necessary prevalence of these items among people who use knives for a purpose. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 61 withdrawn.
Clause 21 agreed.
Amendment 62 not moved.
Clause 22: Prohibition on the possession of certain dangerous knives
63: Clause 22, page 21, line 35, at end insert—
“(1AA) A person charged with an offence under subsection (1A) who is certified by the relevant police force as being addicted to drugs must be referred for treatment to an addiction rehabilitation service, and, if they comply with their treatment, must not be referred to court.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require those charged with the offence of carrying a flick or gravity knife who are also certified by the relevant police force as being addicted to drugs to be referred to a rehabilitation service for treatment before attending court. Charges would be dropped if they complied with their treatment.
My Lords, I must first apologise to the Committee that I have been horribly absent, but there was an event in the other place that I had to attend—I will not bore your Lordships with the explanation, but there really was no option.
Amendment 63 aims to ensure that vulnerable children or young people found with an offensive weapon in a public place are assessed for addiction. So many of these vulnerable children and young people are addicted to drugs. If they are found to be so addicted, they should not be processed through the criminal justice system; rather, they should be referred to a rehabilitation service for help with their addiction and related problems. Many of them are homeless and have all sorts of mental health problems and so forth. The Government have recognised that short-term prison sentences are generally unhelpful. Re-offending rates following such sentences are very high. In the case of drug addicts, a prison sentence will generally achieve—I really mean this—absolutely nothing positive, but it is very likely to increase the vulnerability and addiction, and therefore the criminal activity of these young people.
Several noble Lords attended an interesting meeting yesterday where senior police officers and a police and crime commissioner from the West Midlands explained this. I quote one of the officers, “The police cannot reduce the illegal drugs market, however many drug dealers we arrest and imprison”. That is a powerful statement on behalf of men on the front line who deal with these things day in, day out. Those people spend their lives that way. Neil Woods, who has written two books about his time as an undercover officer arresting drug dealers over many years, explained that he came to realise that he was not achieving any reduction in the availability of drugs. He was completely wasting his life away, so he changed to a very different view about how these things should be dealt with.
The police officers also talked about how much more effective alternatives to punishment are in persuading young people to back away from the illegal drugs market. Ronnie Cowan MP talked about the work in Glasgow where young people are diverted from the criminal justice system and helped to return to a normal life. Perhaps the Minister will tell the Committee whether she is familiar with the work in Glasgow. If she is not, it may be worth her looking into it before Report.
This amendment is really important from the pure efficiency point of view on reducing addiction and crime in this context, but let us also look at it from the point of view of the children and young people involved. As I said at the beginning, a very high proportion of children found carrying a knife or another offensive weapon in a public place will be vulnerable children, who have become addicted to drugs or been targeted by the drug gangs. The Children’s Commissioner estimates that at least 46,000 children in England are involved in gang activity. It is estimated that about 4,000 teenagers in London alone are being exploited through child criminal exploitation in what has come to be known as county lines. These vulnerable children should be seen as victims of trafficking and exploitation rather than as criminals.
Gangs are deliberately targeting vulnerable children. They watch for a child walking home from school day after day alone, head down, looking miserable. These children are unsafe, unloved or unable to cope for one reason or another. Gangs take advantage of their vulnerability. They threaten or trick children into trafficking their drugs for them. They may threaten a young person physically or threaten a family member. They often offer food, which the child or family may desperately need, alcohol or clothing to the child or their family in return for co-operation.
Once children have received gifts, they feel indebted to the gang. They quickly feel they have no option but to continue. As many noble Lords will know perfectly well, the gangs use these vulnerable children to store their drugs and to move cash proceeds or the drugs themselves. No doubt they give them a knife or something else to protect themselves with. The county lines groups use high levels of violence, including the ready use of firearms, knives and other offensive weapons, to intimidate and control members of the group and its vulnerable victims. The victims are exposed to varying levels of exploitation including physical, mental and sexual harm. Some of the young people are trafficked into remote markets to work. Others are falsely imprisoned in their own homes, which have been taken over using force or coercion. I must say that I had not heard of that until I read it rather recently.
The National Crime Agency report County Lines Violence, Exploitation & Drug Supply 2017 analysed the exploitation of vulnerable people, including those with mental health or physical health problems. Sixty-five per cent of police services reported that county lines activity was linked to the exploitation of children. The police know perfectly well that we are dealing with victims here. Once involved, victims may want to get out of their situation but do not want to involve the police for fear of self-incrimination or retribution by the perpetrators. They are really caught in the middle. These victims may carry a knife or other weapon for self-protection, as I have mentioned. The real question is whether they are really criminals for carrying that knife for self-protection. Other noble Lords talked about what is in the mind. These children have got a knife not to attack others, but to protect themselves. That surely makes all the difference to one’s approach to dealing with these children.
This is a very complex problem but the courts and the prison system are not the right vehicles for dealing with victims. Yes, send the gang leaders to prison, though retraining and psychological treatment will be essential for them, too, if they are not to spend their time in prison, come out of it later and then start all over again, with just a little more bitterness added to what they already had. I hope we can have a discussion—a serious discussion—before Report about drug issues in relation to the Bill. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendment because it advocates one public health approach, along the lines advocated in the serious violence strategy. The sad fact is, however, that too many of the intervention and preventive measures outlined in the strategy are not sufficiently resourced and may not materialise.
Last week, the drugs, alcohol and justice cross-party group that I co-chair heard about an initiative from Thames Valley Police, about which I immediately wrote to the Home Secretary, encouraging him to take an interest in it. It is a diversion scheme—modelled on the mental health diversion scheme so successfully introduced after the report by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley—requiring those found to be in possession of drugs to attend for voluntary treatment. The interesting thing was that the constables on duty in the Thames Valley streets reported that they found it extremely simple and clear to use.
As many other noble Lords have pointed out, knife carrying is a symptom of wider social issues. Many young people carry them because they fear for their lives. However, in confirmation of my warning that too many of the intervention and preventive measures outlined in the serious violence strategy are not sufficiently resourced, the Institute of Mental Health in Nottingham —I declare an interest as a member of its external advisory board—has found that only 18% of the community commissioning groups recognise that they have any responsibility for funding probation, which includes mental health and drug treatment. This emphasises the need for this significant programme of work—words used by the Home Secretary to describe the strategy—to involve a wide range of government departments, including liaison between the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health on this issue.
My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendment. She referred to cuckooing, which is when a vulnerable adult has someone move in who then uses their home to supply drugs. I have heard of this happening in the past among care leavers. Sometimes a local authority will provide a young person leaving care with a flat but they are vulnerable and feel isolated, so it is very easy for people to take advantage of them and start misusing their premises in that way.
I attended the meeting yesterday with the former undercover detective and a senior detective from the Midlands police force. They were talking about drugs and county lines. I asked them, “Since we are dealing in Committee with knife crime and corrosive agents, do you have any advice relating to your experience on them?”. The detectives’ response was that dealing effectively with drugs would probably be a more effective way of tackling the problem than the legislation we are working on at the moment.
I thank the Government for taking such a vigorous role in addressing drug misuse in this country. The National Crime Agency produced a report last week and has been taking action: there were 600 arrests in the course of last week. The report revealed that some 400 vulnerable adults and 600 children had been referred to safeguarding services. Although I am not quite sure who I should attribute it to, there was an estimate of 10,000 children, including 16 and 17 year-olds as well as some younger than that, being used by the county lines networks. It was a much bigger figure than had been estimated in the past. It is quite a revelation that so many children are being exploited in this way.
I can only support what my noble friends Lady Meacher and Lord Ramsbotham have said: that their approach offers a much more humane and effective way of tackling this part of the problem. I support it strongly and hope that the Minister will give a sympathetic response.
My Lords, the Minister will expect us to support the principle of what is encompassed in this amendment. I do not need to repeat what has been said about the importance of diverting—in every sense of the word, with or without a capital “D”—people away from the criminal justice system and towards something that can help them to deal with the problem in all its manifestations. I am not quite sure about some of the wording of the clause—about the need to look at whether there has been a charge or certification by the police force—but those points do not detract from our general support for the approach.
I agree with a lot of what the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has been saying. In fact, I am involved with a charity in Gloucestershire which deals with women who would otherwise go to prison; instead, the criminal justice system sends them to us. We have three houses in Swindon, Gloucester and Somerset. Most of the women who come to us have been drug addicts and we find that in most cases their problems started when they were teenagers. We have had terrific success in treating them in our houses, giving them the chance of a much better life and of moving on. I ask the Government to think seriously about this amendment.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for affording us the opportunity to discuss her amendment and to outline the Government’s approach to tackling that combined problem of drug misuse and knives. Noble Lords will have heard the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, talking about the link between knives and the growth of the drugs market. It is absolutely right that she has tabled this amendment. I pay tribute to all the work that she has done in this area and to the work done by the charity of the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, to divert vulnerable women from prison.
Clause 22 prohibits the possession in public and private of flick-knives and gravity knives. A person guilty of this offence is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months’ imprisonment, a fine or both. However, under this amendment, a person who is dependent on drugs would have charges dropped if the police refer the person to treatment and the person complies with the rehabilitation treatment. It is worth noting that Clause 25 prohibits the possession in private—the possession in public is already a criminal offence—of offensive weapons to which Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 applies, for example push daggers and zombie knives.
The aim of this amendment is that a person who is addicted to drugs would have charges for possession of a flick-knife or gravity knife, but not any other prohibited knife, dropped if the police refer such a person to treatment and the person complies with the rehabilitation treatment.
I know the noble Baroness and others are keen, as we all are, to deal with the underlying issue where offenders have a substance misuse problem. We will not break the cycle of offending unless we do just that. She and other noble Lords said that. I assure the noble Baroness that the Government are already taking action to address the links between drug misuse and offending. A key aim of the Government’s Drug Strategy 2017 is to take a much smarter approach to drug-related offending to address the drivers behind the crime and prevent further substance misuse and offending.
The police have a range of powers at their disposal to deal with drug-related offences in a way that is proportionate to the circumstances of the offender and the public interest. This includes the appropriate use of out-of-court disposals. We continue to encourage wider use of drug testing on arrest to support police forces in monitoring new patterns around drugs.
The West Midlands police and crime commissioner made the point that the police do things almost outside the law, if you like, but it is quite uncomfortable. They want a change in the law to make it clear that the right thing for the police to do is to get drug-addicted young people into really good services that will move them on and get them right away from the illegal drug market. I do not think it is okay to say that the police are doing things—even though they are—because they are not really happy about it. They want the Government to lead.
We have to get the balance right between protecting vulnerable people from becoming further involved in drugs or crime generally and criminalising some of the people who caused them to get into that life in the first place, which may involve drug abuse.
I shall outline some of the things the Government are doing, which go right to the heart of what the noble Baroness is talking about—early prevention, intervention and treatment. Noble Lords will have heard me talking about the Home Secretary’s commitment to a public health approach to drugs, taking into account all the resources that different agencies have at their disposal to tackle such problems. The noble Baroness was talking about the work in Scotland, which is very effective and very good in terms of intervention.
NHS England is rolling out liaison and diversion services across the country. They operate at police stations and courts to identify and assess people with vulnerabilities, substance misuse and mental health problems and criminality, which are quite often interlinked. They refer them into appropriate services and, where appropriate, away from the justice system altogether. If we went back 10 years, the noble Baroness could talk about the police operating aside from the law, but there is much more understanding now that early intervention and diversion are the way forward. The schemes that the NHS is currently running cover around 80% of the population in England, and we are looking to full coverage by 2021.
The Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Justice are working with NHS England and Public Health England to develop the community sentence treatment requirement protocol. The protocol aims to increase the use of community sentences with drug, alcohol and mental health treatment requirements as an alternative to custody, to improve health outcomes and reduce reoffending. It sets out what is expected from all involved agencies to ensure improved access to mental health and substance misuse treatment for offenders who need it. The Department of Health is currently leading an evaluation of the implementation of the protocol across five test-bed sites to inform further development.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, also talked about funding. I do not know whether he knows, but a youth endowment fund of £200 million is being introduced—quite a substantial amount of money. It will run for 10 years, so it is not a short-term approach. The fund will open shortly, so I hope that alongside some of the things we are doing, it will help us in our endeavours to tackle some of the root causes with early interventions and diversions from that type of activity. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
I shall briefly raise a matter I should have raised before. I thank the Minister for her reply, for the tone of what she said and for her recognition of the need to get to the underlying problems. I omitted to develop the concern about children and young people in care and care leavers. As the Minister will know, there is a long-standing concern about the criminalisation of young people in care and care leavers. Very few arrive into care because of criminal activity, but far too many are represented in our prisons, both as children and as adults. My noble friend Lord Laming led an inquiry into reducing the criminalisation of children, and he is concerned to see all agencies working together to keep young people—both those who have left care and those who are in it—out of the criminal justice system. What the Minister and the noble Baroness have said is helpful in this regard. But there is also a new strengthening duty on the corporate parenting responsibilities of all agencies to support young people leaving care. These are important matters to relate to this particular issue, and I thank the noble Baroness for allowing me to make those points.
I thank the Minister very much for her thoughtful response, but she did not respond to my reference to Report stage or to whether we could do something to align this Bill with the Government’s thinking on people addicted to drugs who get into these awful situations with gangs. Does the Minister feel able to say something about what we might do between now and Report?
I am happy to discuss this further with the noble Baroness. She and I have had many discussions on this subject—we have not had one for a while, so perhaps it would be worth having another. Early intervention and prevention, and a multi-agency approach to assist in diverting people away from the criminal justice system, need to be balanced with the fact that there are quite hardened criminals out there involved with drugs and gangs who we need to capture via the legislation. We need to run both in parallel.
I thank the Minister, and could not agree with her more. In my little remarks, I also made the point that there are such hardened criminals who are turning these young people into victims. It would be good to discuss all that before Report. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 63 withdrawn.
Amendments 63A and 63B not moved.
64: Clause 22, page 22, leave out lines 29 to 33 and insert—
“(2I) It is a defence for any person charged in respect of his or her conduct relating to a weapon to which this section applies—(a) with an offence under subsection (1) or (1A), or(b) with an offence under section 50(2) or 50(3) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 (improper importation),to demonstrate that his or her conduct was only for the purposes of functions carried out on behalf of the Crown or of a visiting force.(2J) In this section—reference to the Crown includes the Crown in right of Her Majesty’s Government in Northern Ireland; and“visiting force” means any body, contingent or detachment of the forces of a country—(a) mentioned in subsection (1)(a) of section 1 of the Visiting Forces Act 1952; or (b) designated for the purposes of any provision of that Act by Order in Council under subsection (2) of that section,which is present in the United Kingdom (including United Kingdom territorial waters) or in any place to which subsection (2K) below applies on the invitation of Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom.(2K) This subsection applies to any place on, under or above an installation in a designated area within the meaning of section 1(7) of the Continental Shelf Act 1964 or any waters within 500 metres of such an installation.(2L) It is a defence for a person charged in respect of his or her conduct relating to a weapon to which this section applies—(a) with an offence under subsection (1), or(b) with an offence under section 50(2) or (3) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979,to show that his or her conduct was for—(a) the purposes of theatrical performances and of rehearsals for such performances;(b) the production of films (within the meaning of Part 1 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 – see section 5B of that Act);(c) the production of television programmes (within the meaning of the Communications Act 2003 – see section 405(1) of that Act).(2M) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) or (1A) to show that the weapon in question is one of historical importance, as certified by subject matter experts from museums or auction houses or militaria experts as designated by the Secretary of State in regulations.(2N) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) or (1A) to show that the weapon in question is an antique, manufactured before 1945. (2O) For the purposes of this section a person shall be taken to have shown a matter specified in subsection (2D), (2E), (2I), (2L), (2M) or (2N) if—(a) sufficient evidence of that matter is adduced to raise an issue with respect to it; and(b) the contrary is not proved beyond reasonable doubt.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would widen the defences for those charged under the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 or the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 to cover conduct relating to a weapon for the purposes of functions carried out on behalf of the Crown or a visiting force, for the purposes of theatrical performance or filming, or in relation to a weapon of historical importance or manufactured before 1945.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 64 I shall speak to Amendment 65. The purpose of these amendments is to explore the potential for defences for the weapons covered under Clause 22 to bring them into line with the defences that are available to weapons to which Clause 24 applies. Clause 24 will cover, for instance, samurai swords. There is a substantial set of defences available under Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, so the second amendment in this group simply has the effect of closing down the relevant bit of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959, and dropping all those weapons into Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act, so that we have a common set of defences whatever the particular type of weapon.
If, however, we are keeping it in Section 22, there are a number of defences that we ought to explore: first, for forces of the Crown and visiting forces, and, secondly, for theatrical use. Both of these are reasonably self-explanatory. The third defence is for items of historical importance.
Coming under this clause at the moment is a whole collection of bits of thuggery that were used in World War I, when people were quite commonly not nice to each other on a large scale. These items, by and large, go for a substantial price. They therefore tend not to be the sort of thing people will buy to use in crime. There are far cheaper alternatives available if they want to buy something, and, if they do want to shell out a large sum of money on an Edwardian sword stick, compared to a modern imitation, there are substantial disincentives to being found with one in public—you will lose it and lose a lot of money. These things tend not to be the weapon of choice in crime.
I have tried to construct a defence of historical importance to make sure that it is the item which is exempt and not the person. I do not think it is a sensible route to go down to designate someone as a collector—either an item has historical importance or it does not. One particular weapon to which Clause 22 applies at the moment is World War II German parachutists’ gravity knives. One of their features is that they have no point; they are not something you can use to stab people because they were designed for cutting parachute lines when you landed. They are blunt and have an edge, not a point. They are very specific items: there are around 10,000 of them in this country and they are worth around £500 a time. We are landing ourselves with a compensation bill of £5 million for an object that cannot be used in any sensible way in knife crime.
We ought to look at the boundary in a sensible way and say that some of these objects are not of any practical worry to police forces or to us in general because they will never, in any sensible way, be the kind of knife people will chose to use in criminal activity. As an earlier speaker pointed out, there are many millions of knives in the UK. These objects are among the least likely to be used in crime. They are, to those who collect them, objects of significant value and interest. We should, I think, allow them to continue to be possessed. I beg to move.
I am grateful to my noble friend for his explanation of these amendments which relate to the provisions in Clause 22, updating the prohibition on flick and gravity knives. Amendment 64 seeks to widen the defences for those charged under the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 or the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 to cover conduct relating to a weapon for the purposes of functions carried out on behalf of the Crown or a visiting force, for the purposes of theatrical performance or filming, or in relation to a weapon of historical importance or which was manufactured before 1945. It may be helpful if I describe briefly the current legislation and the changes provided for in the Bill.
Section 1(1) of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 makes it a criminal offence to manufacture, sell, hire or lend a flick-knife or a gravity knife. The importation of such knives is prohibited by Section 1(2) of the Act. Clause 21 amends the 1959 Act to update the definition of a flick-knife. The current definition is quite old, and new designs are available that mimic the speed with which a flick-knife can be opened, but do not strictly fall under the existing definition. For example, in many models currently on the market, the mechanism that allows the blade to open at great speed may not be in the handle—as required by the current definition—but the knives nevertheless mimic a flick-knife.
Clause 22 extends the current offence of possession of a flick-knife or gravity knife in a public place to cover any possession, whether in a public or private place. These weapons have no legitimate use, and we believe that it is appropriate that they are prohibited both in public and in private. This will ensure that the police will be able to seize these weapons if they come across them.
Clause 22 provides a defence for a person charged with an offence under the 1959 Act if the person shows that they have the weapons in their possession for the purpose of making the knives available to a museum or gallery, or if the person is acting on behalf of a museum or gallery. We have included this defence following responses to the public consultation that informed the Bill. In relation to whether a defence should be provided for the purposes of functions carried out on behalf of the Crown or a visiting force, flick and gravity knives have been prohibited for a long time. As my noble friend would expect, we have consulted the Ministry of Defence about these provisions and it has advised us that there is no need for such a defence to cover the Armed Forces. In relation to a defence for the purpose of theatrical performance or filming, new subsection (2F) already allows the lending and hiring of flick-knives and gravity knives by museums or galleries for cultural, artistic or educational purposes.
Nor am I persuaded that a defence should be provided for items of historical importance or which were manufactured before 1945. I am concerned that this defence may be used by people who want to use these weapons in crime. Such a person may deliberately seek to acquire a knife made before 1945, or they may argue that the knife belonged to their parents or grandparents and that the weapons were manufactured before 1945. I believe that we need to be cautious and should not provide defences under this legislation that could be easily abused. I hope that my noble friend agrees with me on this point.
Amendment 65 also seeks to exclude from the ambit of the law flick and gravity knives manufactured before 1945. As I understand it, my noble friend’s intention is also to future-proof the legislation to ensure that, irrespective of the passage of time, a flick or gravity knife manufactured after 1945 can never acquire the status of an antique. Again, I hope I can persuade my noble friend that this amendment is not needed. The 1959 Act does not provide an exemption for antique flick and gravity knives. The antique exclusion applies only to weapons to which Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 applies, which brings me to the beginning of my noble friend’s earlier words. I accept that there is a disparity between these two provisions, but it is one that has been in place since 1988. Moreover, the prohibition on flick and gravity knives has now been in place for 60 years and has operated successfully without an exception for antique knives. That being the case, I am unpersuaded that we should now alter this approach by merging the regimes under the 1959 and 1988 Acts as the amendment seeks to do. I hope I have been able to persuade my noble friend that these amendments are unnecessary and that he will be content to withdraw them.
My Lords, I hope that I will have the opportunity to pursue some details of this with my noble friend afterwards. I am particularly interested in what the Government propose to do about the major item to be prohibited under this legislation, which is World War II German paratroopers’ knives. Since these are of no conceivable use—they are gravity knives but without a point—they are not something that can sensibly be used in knife crime. I do not know whether the Government intend to compensate people who are currently legal owners of these objects and let themselves in for a large bill or whether they are to be turned in without compensation, but I am happy to cover those matters in conversations between Committee and Report. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 64 withdrawn.
Amendments 64A and 65 not moved.
Clause 22 agreed.
Clause 23: Prohibition on the possession of offensive weapons on further education premises
Amendments 65A and 65B not moved.
Clause 23 agreed.
Clause 24: Prohibition on the possession of offensive weapons
Amendments 65C to 65F not moved.
Clause 24 agreed.
Clause 25: Prohibition on the possession of offensive weapons: supplementary
66: Clause 25, page 28, line 10, at end insert—
“(2A) In paragraph 1, after paragraph (s) insert—“(t) the weapon sometimes known as a “cyclone knife” or “spiral knife” being a weapon with—(i) a handle,(ii) a blade with two or more cutting edges, each of which forms a helix, and (iii) a sharp point at the end of the blade.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would make it an offence under section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to manufacture, supply or possess a weapon known as a “cyclone knife” or “spiral knife” in England and Wales or Northern Ireland.
My Lords, these amendments add a knife often referred to as a “cyclone knife” or “spiral knife” to the list of offensive weapons prohibited under Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The prohibition will apply in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Sections 141(1) and (1A) of the 1988 Act prohibit the manufacture, sale or hire, and possession in private of those offensive weapons specified in an order made under Section 141(2). Currently 19 weapons are prohibited in England, Wales and Northern Ireland under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988, with separate legislation applying in Scotland.
So-called cyclone knives are designed and manufactured in a way that has no purpose other than to cause injury. We have not been able to identify any legitimate alternative uses for such knives. The way they are marketed in the USA is purely in terms of their ability to inflict significant harm to individuals and cause maximum injury. We have also seen videos on several platforms where the weapon is promoted for its ability to pierce police armour and to leave a wound which is “difficult to stitch up”.
Although there is no evidence that these weapons are being marketed in the UK in the same way, we believe that there are no reasons why they should be on sale. There is no evidence, as yet, that cyclone knives have been used in criminal activity in the UK, although a cyclone knife was discovered by Metropolitan Police officers in a dawn raid in Lewisham in August, along with class A and class B drugs. We believe that it is right to act pre-emptively and prohibit these knives now.
In defining a cyclone knife, the most important elements are that it has a twisted blade, a point and a handle. The handle is important because we want to avoid capturing large screws and drill bits in the definition. Certain types of drill bits will have sharp edges along the length of the bit, but it is the presence of a handle that would make any item useful as a weapon. An implement with twisted blades but a blunt point would also be limited in its utility as a weapon. Finally, what distinguishes a cyclone knife from others is that it has more than one cutting edge along the length of the helix. I am sure noble Lords would agree that there is no place for such knives where their only conceivable use is as a weapon. I beg to move.
Amendment 66 agreed.
Amendments 67 to 69
67: Clause 25, page 28, line 40, leave out from beginning to “, after” in line 41 and insert—
“(8) The Schedule to the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons)(Scotland) Order 2005 (SSI 2005/483) is amended as follows.(8A) In paragraph 1, after paragraph (q) insert— “(r) the weapon sometimes known as a “cyclone knife” or “spiral knife” being a weapon with—(i) a handle,(ii) a blade with two or more cutting edges, each of which forms a helix, and(iii) a sharp point at the end of the blade.”(8B) In paragraph 2”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would make it an offence under section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to manufacture, supply or possess a weapon known as a “cyclone knife” or “spiral knife” in Scotland.
68: Clause 25, page 28, line 43, leave out “amendment made by subsection (8) is” and insert “amendments made by subsections (8A) and (8B) are”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment at page 28, line 40.
69: Clause 25, page 28, line 45, leave out “that subsection” and insert “subsection (8)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment at page 28, line 40.
Amendments 67 to 69 agreed.
Clause 25, as amended, agreed.
70: After Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Criminal Justice Act 1988 is amended as follows.(2) After section 141A, insert—“141B KirpansFor the purposes of sections 139, 139A, 141 or 141A it shall be lawful for a person to possess a Kirpan for religious, ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that the Kirpan, a mandatory article of faith for a Sikh, possessed for religious, ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons is exempt from provisions relating to the possession of offensive weapons under the relevant sections of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.
Amendment 70, tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy, and with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, would place in the Bill a provision to exempt the kirpan from the provisions relating to the possession of offensive weapons under the Criminal Justice Act. There is no question that the Sikh community is fully behind tightening the law on offensive weapons. We are all appalled by the toll that knife crime is taking on innocent young lives. The Government have responded to this issue in the Commons but I seek to go further, and that is the purpose and intention of what I am moving today.
The noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, raised the issue during the Second Reading debate, and my noble friend Lord Kennedy responded to those legitimate concerns in his speech. Observance of the Sikh faith for practising Sikhs requires adherence to keeping what I understand is called the five Ks, one of which is to wear a kirpan. Larger kirpans are used on many religious occasions such as during Sikh wedding ceremonies. It is fair to say that noble Lords in all parties and on the Cross Benches would be concerned if restrictions in this Bill had unintended consequences for the Sikh community in observing and practising their faith or caused upset or concern where a member of the community was using a kirpan for ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons.
My first ask of the Minister is that she meet my noble friend Lord Kennedy, the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, and representatives of the Sikh community. In asking for a meeting, I put on record that the status quo is not adequate, as it only provides a defence of religious reasons if a person is charged with a criminal offence. It does not cover other reasons such as ceremonial, historical or sporting, where kirpans are offered as gifts to dignitaries. The status quo only provides a defence if a person is charged—the amendment in the name of my noble friend will provide an exemption for the possession of kirpans. The amendment will provide specific reference in the law for the kirpan, which Sikhs have been calling for. Sikhs are a law-abiding community who make a wonderful contribution to the United Kingdom. However, the community still faces difficulties in workplaces, education and in leisure with their kirpans, and this amendment will provide great assistance in education about the kirpan. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. I shall give just a little background. Sikhs are sometimes referred to as a martial race. The description is wrong on two counts: we are neither martial, nor are we a race. Sikh teachings criticise all notions of race or caste, emphasising that we are all equal members of one human race.
The martial assumption comes from the fact that Sikhs have had to endure being a persecuted minority for many years—at one time, there was a price on the head of every Sikh caught dead or alive. Sikhs have had to develop dexterity with a sword to survive, and, importantly, to protect the weak and vulnerable of other communities in society. Kirpan, the Sikh word for sword, means “protector”, and figures prominently in religious practice and ceremony.
This amendment is particularly necessary to protect the Sikh tradition of presenting a kirpan as a token of esteem. Recipients have included royalty, a former Speaker of the Commons and a police chief. Sikhs are grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Tunnicliffe, for introducing this amendment and for a large measure of cross-party support.
My Lords, I will also speak to the amendment initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. As a member of the Sikh community, I know that the kirpan is an important part of our identity. As the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, rightly pointed out, it is part of the five Ks, particularly for all practising Sikhs.
Adding to what the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said, the Sikh community is one of the most law-abiding in this country. This symbol is often very well hidden when worn; it is there as a symbol and nothing more. As the noble Lord, Lord Singh, said, it is often gifted to those who come offering friendship to us. I hope that, given its essence as part of the Sikh community’s cultural identity, this will be one area around which we will all coalesce. I know that both my noble friends take these cultural issues seriously, as does the Home Secretary, and we need to try to find a way of being able to ensure that the Sikh community does not feel that it has not been heard properly by Parliament. I hope that, when the Sikh community comes, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, will extend his invitation to all Members who are interested in meeting with them.
My Lords, I begin by saying that I agree with Amendment 70. The amendment seeks to protect the tradition of the kirpan and those who possess it. It permits individuals to possess the kirpan for,
“religious, ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons”.
There is disquiet among those in the Sikh community, who feel that their right to possess a kirpan is being threatened, and they need assurances to be able to do so. There needs to be a comprehensive solution which is acceptable to the Sikh community.
I was born and brought up in east Africa, where there were people of different religions and racial backgrounds. I learned to speak several languages and developed an understanding and respect for all religions. I am actively involved in promoting harmony and peace between various racial and religious groups. Although I am a Muslim, I am a patron of non-Muslim associations, including the Sikh Forum and the British Sikh Association. I am also the chairman of Guru Nanak Worldwide, which promotes the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh religion.
I have a strong connection with the Sikhs and have visited their temples, which are called gurdwaras, on numerous occasions. I have studied Sikhism and have written a book on the life and times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In this book, I have included some principles of the Sikh religion and also mentioned the teachings of the 10 Sikh gurus. The 10th and last human guru was Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who transformed the Sikh faith. In 1699, he created the Khalsa, a community of the faithful who wore visible symbols of his faith and trained as warriors. Today, the Khalsa community comprises a significant proportion of the Sikh community. As has been mentioned, Guru Gobind Singh Ji also proclaimed five kakars, which were kacha, karha, kesh, kanga and kirpan.
Sikhs are proud of the five Ks and therefore comply with what has been proclaimed. The kirpan represents the values of the Sikh faith and is an essential article of faith for the Khalsa Sikhs. The kirpan is curved, contained in a sheath. It is often made of steel or iron and can be of varying sizes. It is normally worn in a strap, which is called a gatra. In the Sikh community, the kirpan is used for ceremonial and cultural practices such as during weddings and processions. It is also used in martial arts and can be given as a gift. In fact, I was presented with a kirpan in Amritsar when I visited the Golden Temple. My family’s connection with Amritsar goes back nearly 200 years, so I was privileged to be presented with a kirpan, among other items, in the Golden Temple.
The UK as a whole has a long history with the Sikhs, stemming from colonial India and the World Wars. We recently celebrated the centenary of the Armistice ending the First World War, and I have spoken in your Lordships’ House on the contribution of the soldiers from the sub-continent of India. India raised an army of over 1 million soldiers, 20% of whom were Sikhs. We owe gratitude to the Sikhs for the sacrifices they have made to preserve our way of life. This amendment is an opportunity to provide a specific defence for those who possess—I emphasise “possess”, as they do not necessarily wear it—the kirpan.
I cannot recall any occasion where a Sikh possessing the kirpan has used it as an offensive weapon and caused physical harm to anyone. This afternoon, in fact, I spoke to an ex-commander of the Metropolitan Police who verified what I say; it has not been used as an offensive weapon by the Sikhs. I therefore feel that a kirpan should not be deemed an offensive weapon and provision must be made for that in this legislation. As has been mentioned, the Sikhs are law-abiding people. The kirpan needs to be exempted from the relevant sections of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.
My Lords, I support this amendment, which is why I added my name to it. There is little that I can usefully add because, as members of the Sikh community, the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, have already articulated exactly why this amendment should be accepted. I hope that the Government can accept it.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for setting out the case for exempting all kirpans from the relevant provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. I can reassure him from the outset that both I and my noble friend Lady Williams would be delighted to meet representatives of the Sikh Council UK and other noble Lords as the noble Lord sees fit to discuss their concerns.
Before I go on, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and my noble friend—
I thank the noble Lord for the correction. The spirit of my comment is that we will respect whoever he feels it is appropriate for the Minister and me to meet. I also thank him for his very helpful introduction, which gave us a sense of the historical context of the discrimination that Sikhs have faced over the years, despite their values, which he outlined for us. I thank also my noble friend Lady Verma for her explanation of the importance of the kirpan to the cultural identity of the Sikh community.
While I have great sympathy for the issue raised by noble Lords, a key difficulty with this amendment is how to define a kirpan in legislation in a way that does not open up a glaring loophole that could be readily exploited. A kirpan is only a kirpan in relation to Sikh culture and faith, otherwise it is simply a knife or a sword. In our discussions with the Sikh community, it was made clear that there is no such thing as a standard kirpan. They can come in all forms: some have curved blades and some do not; some have long blades, while others have short blades. The fundamental problem with the noble Lord’s amendment is that it depends on a legally sound definition of a kirpan which until now simply does not exist. The only thing that distinguishes a kirpan from other swords and knives is its use for religious purposes.
Under Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 it is already a defence to possess a bladed article, including a kirpan, in a public place with good reason or lawful authority. The legislation is clear that good reason includes religious reasons. Similarly, Section 139A of the 1988 Act, which prohibits possession of a bladed article or offensive weapon on school premises, includes a good reason defence which again includes religious reasons. As the noble Lord is aware, Clause 25 amends the Criminal Justice Act (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988 to provide a religious reasons defence for the possession in private of weapons covered by Section 141 of the 1988 Act, which can include large ceremonial kirpans where they have a curved blade of more than 50 centimetres.
The possession of kirpans for religious reasons is therefore covered under all of the possession offences. In addition to religious reasons, the offences include other defences—for example, for re-enactment activities and sporting purposes, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, and for items of historic importance—but these are not just aimed at kirpans.
Finally, we should be clear that when a kirpan is possessed for non-religious reasons it should be treated like any other bladed article. Crime is unfortunately committed by all parts of our society including, sadly, the Sikh community. Just because something is claimed to be a kirpan does not mean it cannot be used as a weapon, and it is quite right, for example, that the police might want to question why someone is carrying a ceremonial kirpan at three in the morning if they are hanging around a former partner’s home. Clearly Sikhs should be able to own and carry kirpans in public and use them in Sikh martial arts where this is part of their faith. The law already provides for that.
I hope I can be helpful to my noble friend. The kirpan is worn as part of the five Ks. We do not carry the kirpan in any other form. It is worn. Where the difficulty will lie is that it is always worn for religious purposes. People who are practising Sikhs have to have it as part of their five Ks. I am looking to the noble Lord, Lord Singh, who is much more experienced in this than I am, as I do not know how we would be able to differentiate the carrying from the wearing for religious purposes. I understand what my noble friend says about gifting it to a non-practising Sikh when it could be seen as a weapon, but in worship through the Sikh faith the kirpan is worn as a religious item. I hope that clarifies this rather than muddying the waters.
I thank my noble friend for her helpful explanation. I hope we can explore these things in detail when we meet, before too long, I hope.
The Sikh Federation (UK) and the Sikh Council UK raised concerns via the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Sikhs about the provisions.
I wish to put in context that the Sikh Federation (UK) is not a representative body of the Sikh community. Concerns have been raised by the Network of Sikh Organisations. They are trying to capitalise and muddy the waters. It would be helpful if the Government dealt with the Network of Sikh Organisations, which represents the vast part of the Sikh community.
I thank the noble Lord for his advice. As I mentioned earlier, the spirit of our meeting is that we will take his steer on who we should talk to about this. The point I raised simply reflected the fact that those organisations raised concerned with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on UK Sikhs about the provisions in the Bill.
I thank the noble Lord for clarifying that point. Concerns were raised on the possession of long kirpans. As a result, the Government amended the Bill to include a defence for religious reasons rather than religious ceremonies, which is narrower. No concerns were raised in relation to any other provisions of the Criminal justice Act. Moreover, members of the Sikh community have been able to carry kirpans in public, including long kirpans, in religious parades—I am not sure whether that addresses my noble friend’s earlier point—and the Bill will not change that. I am therefore not persuaded that a wholesale exemption for kirpans from the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 is needed. I fully understand the importance the Sikh community attaches to this issue. Indeed, I understand it better thanks to the interventions of noble Lords. With the reassurance of a future meeting, I hope I have been able to persuade the noble Lord that we have the balance right and that he will be content to withdraw his amendment.
This takes me back to those heady days when we had a Labour Government and I was a lowly Whip. That sounds like a very Treasury counterargument. One day when I was handling a particular clause, I was told that it was impossible to frame the legislation to meet the need. I said, from my lowly position in the massive meeting, “You’d better try because otherwise you will get the words that are in the amendment because it will pass at the next stage”. At that, there was a great writing of things and, lo and behold, the Government managed to find an amendment which was satisfactory. I strongly recommend that the Government make an intense effort to frame an amendment of their own which meets the across-the-board support for the spirit of this amendment.
Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, it should be said that concerns are being expressed at the impression being given by the Government of there being no room for negotiation on this issue. I hope that they will at least approach that meeting with an open mind rather than giving the impression, as might be inferred from what the Minister has said from the Dispatch Box, that there is no room for manoeuvre.
I can reassure the noble Lord that the Government will approach the meeting with an open mind. I tried to be clear that the key issue is achieving a specific definition for a kirpan, which we will obviously make every effort to work with. We will see whether that is possible.
I have had representations from various Sikhs in the past few days—not members of the association but ordinary Sikhs—asking me to speak on this subject. They feel very strongly about it. What is being asked for is reasonable. As I said, there is great disquiet among Sikhs that this is happening. I therefore suggest to my noble friend that she enter dialogue and not close the door. That would be greatly appreciated by the community—I do not necessarily mean the association; the noble Lord, Lord Singh, has already alluded to that. Let us have a discussion with the community to see whether an amicable settlement can be reached that is acceptable to it. I speak as a Muslim and not as a Sikh.
Amendment 70 withdrawn.
Committee adjourned at 7.57 pm.