Consideration of Lords amendments
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is involved in Lords amendments 27, 28, 35, 43 to 48, 50, 51, 53, 55, 57, 62, 63, 65, 66, 69, 73, 88 and 93. If the House agrees to any of these amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.
I must also remind the House that certain of the motions relating to Lords amendments are certified as relating exclusively to England and Wales as set out on the selection paper. If the House divides on any certified motion, a double majority will be required for the motion to be passed. I inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected all the amendments as provided on the relevant papers.
Delivery of bladed products to residential premises etc
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 27.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government motion to disagree with Lords amendment 28.
Government amendments (a) to (k) in lieu of Lords amendments 27 and 28.
Lords amendments 1 to 6.
Lords amendment 7, and amendments (a) to (d) thereto.
Lords amendment 8.
Lords amendment 9, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 10, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 11.
Lords amendment 12, and amendments (a) to (c) thereto.
Lords amendment 13.
Lords amendment 14, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 15 to 22.
Lords amendment 23, and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 24 to 26.
Lords amendments 29 to 61.
Lords amendment 62, and Government amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendment 63, and Government amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 64 to 95.
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for what I know to be quite a complicated bit of procedure. I hope that I deal with the procedure correctly, and I am very grateful to your learned Clerks for advising me on the wording. I shall be speaking to amendments 27 and 28, Government amendments (a) to (k) which are laid in lieu, and Lords amendments 1 to 26 and 29 to 95. I may not be able to speak to the details of some of those later amendments, but, obviously, I will be very happy to take interventions.
The Offensive Weapons Bill is an important piece of legislation. It is just one of the measures that the Government are taking to tackle serious violence in the serious violence strategy. The Bill has enjoyed a collaborative approach across the House, and I thank all hon. and right hon. Members and noble lords who have helped with the passage of the Bill thus far. I am sure that this afternoon will continue in that spirit.
I will first address Lords amendments 27 and 28, which were moved by Lord Kennedy in the other place. I am grateful to him for his assistance on this part of the Bill. We have laid amendments in lieu, because the Government cannot agree with the trusted courier amendments as they sit, but I very much hope that the amendments that we have laid in lieu will meet with the House’s approval.
The trusted courier scheme would have practical difficulties in its bureaucracy and regulation. It risks making it more difficult to determine whether a delivery company can be trusted to provide reassurances that a bladed product will not be handed to a person aged under 18, and it is not clear, for example, how this scheme would apply to self-employed delivery drivers working on a casual basis for some of the larger firms. We are also concerned that simply being part of a scheme, or being in possession of a seal of approval as a trusted courier, does not guarantee compliance with the conditions in the scheme. We note that no responsibility is placed on the courier or company, and therefore there does not appear to be any consequence for the courier company if it fails to comply with the requirement not to hand a bladed product to a person aged under 18. One can envisage a courier in a rush, for example, pushing a package through a letterbox without conducting checks. It is this lack of liability for age checks in the scheme that we believe risks undermining the purpose of the Bill, which means that we must, I am afraid, disagree with it at this stage.
The Government have, however, given considerable thought to the views expressed on the sale-of-knives provisions throughout the passage of the Bill by Members both in this place and the other place and, importantly, by representatives of the business community, particularly those in small and medium-sized businesses in the capital of knife and steel manufacturing in Sheffield. I am very grateful to the hon. Members for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) for their assistance in this. We have tabled amendments (a) to (k) in lieu of Lords amendments 27 and 28, which I hope address their concerns. In short, these amendments in lieu would enable a remote seller to deliver a bladed product to residential premises where they have arrangements in place with a deliverer not to hand them over to a person aged under 18. This approach mirrors, largely, the clause already in the Bill regarding delivery companies relating to overseas sales, although it is limited to bladed products and to deliveries to residential premises. Regulations on overseas sales by contrast apply to deliveries to all premises and to all bladed articles.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, and I hope that she will show me where I am wrong, but I always understood that delivery companies, particularly those delivering post and packages, have an X-ray procedure to see what the contents are.
I am not sure whether I am in a position to answer that. Of course, every company will have its own security arrangements. The hon. Gentleman will know that what we have inserted through this Bill are further conditions on sellers to ensure that their packages, if they contain bladed products, are labelled very clearly so that anyone handling that package understands what is inside it. We appreciate that perhaps not everyone has access to those facilities.
I thank my hon. Friend for the huge amount of work that she has done on this very important Bill and on this particular issue as well, which will make it much more difficult for people, especially young people, to buy knives online. Last week, I was very interested to hear that Asda will no longer sell individual knives, and I wondered whether she might like to comment on that.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. She has taken a keen interest in this matter both as a constituency MP and in her contributions to this place. She is absolutely right to raise the example of Asda. Asda and other major retailers are signed up to our voluntary commitments when it comes to the sale of knives online, and we believe that that is another way in which we can ensure that retailers are doing what they should be doing in terms of selling bladed products and sharp knives responsibly. I am delighted that Asda has taken that decision of its own volition. I know that other retailers are doing great things in this space as well, but we all want to ensure that those standards are met not just by the large retailers, but by smaller ones, too.
I thank the Minister for meeting my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and me and I also thank her colleague in the House of Lords for doing the same. I also thank them both for listening. What clause 17 does is recognise the importance of making sure that knives are not sold to young people, but here it establishes a procedure for proving that young people are 18, as they are checked at the point of sale and at the point of delivery. The measure also protects small businesses such as Taylor’s Eye Witness, which manufactures knives in my constituency, from the effects of the original legislation. I also want to say that the real thanks go to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central and his assistant Paula who have done an incredible amount of work on this. They, along with Lord Kennedy in the House of Lords, deserve particular thanks for getting this far.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his words and for that meeting I had with him. He is absolutely right that we wanted to listen on this. As I said at the beginning, this Bill has been, I hope, a good example of collaborative work across the House and I am extremely grateful to hon. Members for that.
My concern about retailers has always been not with the Asdas or John Lewises, whom one would expect to do the right thing—they have a public image as well—but with the disreputable merchants. Will my hon. Friend at least keep this matter on watch, so that if it turns out that those not following the code are seen to be doing wrong, we can review the amendment that was discussed the last time we considered the Bill?
Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend, who has been particularly persistent about locking away bladed products or sharp knives. We absolutely keep that point under review. We have had a good response from the retail industry thus far, but we will of course keep the pressure up, and I am extremely grateful to him for his contribution to that.
Liability under our amendments in lieu attaches only to companies that enter into arrangements to deliver bladed products. A delivery company could choose simply not to do so. Our amendments therefore provide the flexibility that the hon. Member for Sheffield South East described, so that if a seller does not enter into an arrangement with a delivery company, the provisions in the Bill that prohibit delivery to residential premises of a bladed product will still apply. A seller in those circumstances will not be able to send a bladed product to residential premises and the product will have to be collected in person at a collection point, which at least gives small and medium-sized businesses the choice over how to conduct their business. We believe that these amendments will help to address the concern behind the Bill and achieve the aim of stopping young people and those under 18 having access to these products through online sales when they should not have such access. I very much hope that our amendment will meet the approval of the House.
Let me turn to knife crime prevention orders. It is vital that the police have the powers they need to prevent knife crime and to protect the public from the devastating effects of violent crime on our streets. It is frankly already too late when we prosecute young people for knife crime. If measures are available that might help to steer children and young people away from carrying or using a knife, we should not hesitate to put them in place. That is why the Government have introduced, in short order, knife crime prevention orders in the Bill. The police made that request of us at the very end of summer last year, and we were pleased to insert the provision into the Bill in the House of Lords. These are civil orders aimed at young people at risk of engaging in knife crime, people whom the police call habitual knife carriers of any age and those who have been convicted of a violent offence or an offence involving knives.
Will the Minister confirm that although these are civil orders, if they are breached they become criminal, and that 12-year-old children could end up in prison for two years? Will she also confirm that not a single organisation, from the magistrates and local government to charities, lawyers and anybody involved in youth offending teams, supports this change? They all think that we are acting too quickly and need to take more time looking at the implications before introducing it.
I am about to come to the framework for these orders, because I am conscious that in an ideal world we would have had the measure in the Bill when it was first laid before the House in early summer last year. However, the police came to their view and alerted us to their thinking at the end of summer, and although we have frankly acted pretty quickly, we could not by definition have put the measure in the Bill before the police asked us to. We are doing this in response to the express wish of the police; in fact, the Mayor of London wrote to the Home Secretary in December asking that the orders be inserted in the Bill.
I do not know whether the hon. Lady has had a chance to speak to the Mayor of London, but the reason we are introducing these orders is that we want to try to help local communities to tackle knife crime. They are one measure. We do not pretend that they will solve all knife crime, but they are about preventing young people from getting ensnared in criminal gangs or getting into a situation where they think that carrying a knife will protect them. This is about trying to wrap services around those children before they become criminalised.
I know that concerns have been raised about the age at which the orders can be imposed. The orders apply from the age of 12 upwards because the police tell us that the age at which people carry knives is getting younger. We also know from hospital data that younger children are victims and perpetrators. That is why we have chosen that age. If we are serious about tackling knife crime on our streets, the measures that we take must apply to young people and children.
I will give way, but then I must make some progress.
I think the whole House is with the Minister in the determination to tackle knife crime and to try to prevent young people from getting into it, but can she tell the House what other mechanisms, orders or contracts the Government looked at before concluding that this was the right way forward? I have spoken to her privately about antisocial behaviour orders, which in the past did not work, whereas acceptable behaviour contracts, which worked with the young person, did work. Have the Government looked at those?
I think the right hon. Gentleman and I talked about that last week. As I have said to him, I will happily look into those. We looked at whether gang injunctions are appropriate, but as Members across the House will know, not every child carrying a knife is a member of a gang. We also looked at criminal behaviour orders, but both those measures are contingent on a child being convicted of a criminal offence. With knife crime prevention orders, we want to try to reach those children before they are convicted of carrying a knife. The orders are also available upon conviction, because we want to wrap services around children if they are convicted and serve a detention training order. We wanted an extra structure around children to try to tackle the issue.
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must make some progress.
The order may impose such requirements or prohibitions on a person as a court considers necessary to protect any person from risk of harm or to prevent the commission of an offence involving a bladed article. A KCPO that imposes a requirement must specify a person who is responsible for supervising compliance with that requirement. Again, I emphasise that this is about protection and prevention. It is not about criminalising children. The order is a civil order. We do, however, accept that the breach of an order is, in itself, a criminal matter. I know that some have argued that it would be better to go down the antisocial behaviour injunction route, which applies to children as young as 10. The argument is that having a contempt of court rather than a criminal offence for a breach would make the orders more palatable, because it would mean that children did not get a criminal record. The advice from the police—it is advice that we must listen to very carefully—is that making it a criminal offence to breach an order is important if we want these orders to be taken seriously.
May I congratulate my hon. Friend most sincerely on producing a much needed Bill? Acid, knives and certain firearms are issues that we absolutely need to crack down on. Does she agree that knife prevention orders are a good mechanism? It is becoming de rigueur in some of our cities for people to carry knives in self-defence, in case they might want to use them, which is totally the wrong culture. With these orders, the police will be able to warn youngsters that if they carry knives again, they will be subject to an order and could be subject to a criminal penalty if they breach it.
My hon. Friend summarises the orders succinctly, and I thank him for all his work on the Bill. The point of the orders is to try to reach those children before they are in the criminal justice system. They include, for example, the ability to prohibit a child from accessing social media or entering certain postcodes, because we know the tensions arising on the streets from particular groups of young people in certain parts of our large cities. This is not about criminalising those young people; it is about trying to reach them.
In the Minister’s discussions with the police about programmes that work and the investment that they want to see, has she considered expanding Prevent, a programme with proven successes, or early intervention measures such as investing in our youth services? What the police keep saying, and what Ministers keep quoting, is that we cannot just police our way out. If that is the case, we need to invest in all those programmes that support our young people, so I would be grateful if the Minister said something about Prevent in particular.
I thank the hon. Lady again for all the work that she does through the Youth Violence Commission. She is absolutely right. As I said at the beginning of the debate, the Offensive Weapons Bill is but one measure within the serious violence strategy, and these orders are but one measure within the Bill. We do not for one moment claim that the orders are going to solve everything, but we hope that they will be a path to reaching some of the children who are currently so difficult to reach, as the hon. Lady knows. These measures come on top of all the early intervention and the youth endowment fund, through which we are investing £200 million over the next 10 years to give certainty to the organisations that win bids. All those measures are really important.
As I have stated previously in the Chamber, the Offensive Weapons Bill has been a cause of serious concern within the British Sikh community, with a feeling that the centuries-old religious requirement of wearing a kirpan, a Sikh sword, could be unintentionally criminalised, and that even the tradition of honouring a non-Sikh within a gurdwara, a place of worship, by bestowing them with a kirpan could be deemed illegal. However, thanks to the strong leadership of the noble Lord Roy Kennedy and others in the House of Lords, with excellent assistance from Lord Singh, Lord Paddick, Baroness Verma, the organisation Sikhs in Politics and others, amendments were tabled. As Lord Tunnicliffe and Baroness Williams said, those amendments were passed with unanimity. Although I am extremely grateful to the Minister for the courtesy that she extended to me during our recent meeting to seek my views on the matter, for the record—and to assuage community concerns—can she confirm that the Government wholeheartedly support those amendments and will incorporate them into the Bill?
The hon. Gentleman has jumped right to the end of my speech. However, I will respond now because I am conscious that it is such an excellent intervention. I will then return to KCPOs.
Let me put on record my thanks to the hon. Members for Slough (Mr Dhesi) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) and many noble Lords in the other place for their work to ensure that this Bill reaches the issues in knife possession that we really want to tackle, and it does not inadvertently and completely mistakenly in any way affect the gifting, use or possession of Sikh kirpans, which was never the Government’s intention. I am grateful to all hon. Members, as well as to the many Sikh organisations that have been involved in this process, for helping us to clarify and improve the law.
I can confirm that the amendments will create defences to sections 141(1) and 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and section 50(2) and (3) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 relating to the custom of gifting kirpans by ceremonial presentation. The amendments will create a defence for a person of the Sikh faith to present another person with a curved sword in
“a religious ceremony or other ceremonial event.”
They will also provide a defence for possessing such swords for the purposes of presenting them to others at a ceremony, and for the recipients of such a gift to possess swords that have been presented to them. It was never the intention of the Bill to affect this custom, and I am extremely grateful to hon. Members for their work on these measures.
Will the Minister give way?
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must move on because I am conscious that others wish to speak.
Let me return to KCPOs. I know that the shadow Minister has tabled some amendments, and I will deal with them in a moment. On the question of age and the concern that youth offending teams must be consulted, we have included in the Bill a requirement that youth offending teams must be consulted on any orders for people under the age of 18. We have also said that we will consult publicly on the guidance with community groups, youth organisations and others before these orders are brought into force.
Before the Minister finishes discussing prevention orders, will she tell the House a little bit more about the pilots? How many pilots are there going to be, when are they going to start and how long will they last? Given the urgency of implementing this legislation and the concerns that have been raised, will the Government report back to the House on how the pilots have operated, so that we have a further opportunity to amend and adapt the measures if necessary?
Yes. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the pilots. Some of the concerns raised today were also raised in the other place, so their lordships saw fit to insert an amendment regarding piloting. I hope that it gives some comfort to the House that we will pilot the provisions in one or more specified areas in England and Wales. We have not yet determined which forces will have the privilege of starting these pilots. The second condition of piloting is that the Secretary of State will lay before Parliament
“a report on the operation of some or all of the provisions”
relating to KCPOs, so the House will be fully updated on the progress. I am sorry that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman more details regarding the operational aspects of the pilots at this precise moment in time, but I want to deal with the amendments tabled by the shadow Minister.
Amendments (b) and (c) to Lords amendment 7, and amendment (a) to Lords amendment 14, would make it a requirement for the police to obtain—and, by implication, for the youth offending team to produce—a pre-injunction report, including an assessment of the defendant, before making an application on conviction, or otherwise than on conviction if the defendant is under the age of 18, and to provide that report to the court as part of their application. It follows from this proposed amendment that the outcome of the consultation should be available to the court. The requirement to consult is an important safeguard to ensure that the youth offending team has a chance to influence the process, and we expect the YOT’s view to be before the court when it is considering the application. We will state in guidance that we expect the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to share with the court the outcome of the consultation with the youth offending team, and we will reinforce the message during the pilots that the applicant police force should share the outcome of the YOT consultation with the court.
Amendment (c) to Lords amendment 12 would also set down a requirement in relation to a pre-injunction report. Again, we believe that the requirement to consult the youth offending team addresses this, and I am not persuaded that it would be appropriate to include a requirement to consult the youth offending team if an application without notice were made, given the urgency of such applications. However, the consultation requirement must be fulfilled before the full hearing takes place.
Amendment (d) to Lords amendment 7 is not needed. The Bill already provides a power for the court to require evidence from the individual responsible for promoting, supporting and monitoring compliance with any requirement included in the order. That individual could be the youth offending team, but it could also be a community group or a charity, for example. Let me remind the House that the police fully support the provisions in the Bill as they stand in the Lords amendments that we have tabled in the Home Secretary’s name. There are already safeguards in the Bill to ensure that the orders are proportionate, and that the views of the youth offending teams are taken into account during the application process. I therefore ask the shadow Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) not to press their amendments.
Amendment (a) to Lords amendment 23 requires a report to be laid before Parliament on the outcome of the pilots. I would expect that, as has already been set out in our amendment, a report will be laid before Parliament about the success or otherwise of the pilots, and that KCPOs will be the subject of ongoing scrutiny.
Will the Minister confirm that when that report is laid before Parliament, there will not be a further roll-out of the KCPOs without our seeing it in Parliament first?
I think the hon. Lady is talking about the amendment tabled by the shadow Minister. We do not agree with that amendment. We believe that piloting and then the Secretary of State laying a report before the House is a perfectly proportionate way of assessing the pilots’ success. Let us not forget that we are talking about youth courts and magistrates courts using civil orders, with all the safeguards that are in the regime. This regime mirrors similar regimes used in, for example, gang injunctions. We should have trust in our youth courts and others that they will be able to meet the expectations of the House in terms of ensuring the wellbeing and the welfare of the young people they are looking after. The aim of these orders is to protect young people and also the wider community. On the proposal that a full report should be laid out, I am afraid that, in the usual way, such regulations are not subject to any parliamentary procedure, and the Government see no reason to adopt a different approach in this case.
There are of course other provisions that I have not even begun to address, although I may well have a chance do so at the end. However, I hope that my focusing on the three main issues arising during the passage of the Bill meets with colleagues’ approval. I very much look forward to hearing their contributions in the rest of the debate.
I thank those in the other place for their careful consideration of this Bill, which is certainly in better shape than when it left this Chamber.
As the Minister has outlined, we have offered our sincere and constructive support throughout the passage of the Bill for the Government’s attempts to respond to the surge in violent crime. We offered our support in Committee, on Report and at Third Reading. We have fought to enhance protections on the sale of knives, to close dangerous loopholes in our gun laws, to force the Home Office to release evidence on the consequences of cuts to vital services for levels of serious violence, to force the Government to assess whether the police have the resources they need to tackle violence involving offensive weapons, and to put the rights of victims of crime on a statutory footing—rights that have been neglected despite repeated manifesto promises by the Conservative party.
Let us not forget the absolutely farcical spectacle of the Home Secretary and the Minister, on Second Reading and in Committee, making the case for a ban on high-powered rifles—guns that have an effective range of 6 km—and then coming back to the Chamber on Report and making the exact opposite case in the face of Back-Bench rebellion. Our gun laws are in need of updating, and it is a sad reflection on the Government that all the passage of this Bill has done is weaken the provisions on firearms and kick the can down the road once again in pushing the issue to consultation. Furthermore, the Bill as it stands still ignores much of the key evidence contained in a leaked Home Office report on the drivers of serious violence. This included compelling evidence that violence was, in part, being driven by a precarious and vulnerable youth cohort shorn of the support, early intervention and prevention work necessary to stop those vulnerable people falling into a spiral of serious violence.
Turning to the amendments, I am grateful for the work of the noble Lord Kennedy, and that of my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who have managed to find a consensus on the delivery of knives to residential premises that protects children while not unduly hampering specialist knife manufacturers and businesses. We are therefore happy to support the amendment in the name of the Home Secretary whereby businesses will need to prove they have taken all necessary measures to ensure that a knife is delivered into the hands of an adult or will feel the full weight of the law.
On kirpans and Sikh ceremonial swords, I again congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Mr Dhesi) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) on their work. We understood the concerns raised across the House, and I am pleased that the Labour Lords amendment has been accepted that will allow Sikhs to practice their religion freely without fear of criminalisation.
But undoubtedly the biggest change has been the introduction of knife crime prevention orders, and that is what I wish to focus my remarks on. It is important when making any changes to the suite of police powers that Parliament has the fullest opportunity to consider the evidence and implications. That is why we are extremely concerned about both the way in which these proposed orders have been brought forward and some of their content. Our concerns are threefold, and I will address each in turn. As the Minister said, our amendments to the Lords amendments speak to those concerns.
First, it is regrettable there has been little to no parliamentary scrutiny—far below the standard we would expect for potentially punitive orders that impose criminal sanctions on children as young as 12. Secondly, there is no statutory requirement for the needs of the child who may be subject to an order to be assessed, to establish their circumstances and what support may be beneficial. That eschews all evidence on combating youth violence, which is clear that the focus should be on avenues to a route out of crime and not on punitive restrictions. Finally, we are extremely concerned that the lack of consultation and evidence base for these orders may lead to them doing more harm than good.
Our point about parliamentary scrutiny is not just some narrow concern about process. The orders carry criminal sanctions of up to a two-year custodial sentence for a breach. The civil standard of proof could find a child on the receiving end of a prison sentence for breach of an order that was itself imposed only on the balance of probabilities. It is wholly inappropriate to have introduced such potentially punitive penalties in the House of Lords, once scrutiny of the Bill in the Commons had already taken place, and for this to be the first, limited opportunity for the Commons to debate them.
In Committee, we took evidence from a wide range of witnesses, including the police and counter-terror police, on the need to ban .50 calibre rifles, which the Government later dismissed. At no point were these orders mentioned, and it is regrettable that they may enter legislation with such little scrutiny or opportunity to test the opinion of experts in the field of youth violence.
We were pleased that our colleagues in the other place fought and won the case for the orders to be delivered initially as a pilot, so it will be possible for authorities to test them and learn lessons before they are rolled out across the country. Unfortunately, we still do not have any further detail on where those pilots will be, how long they will last and what report will be laid before the House once they have been completed.
The Lords amendment brought forward by the Government does not go far enough. That is why we have tabled amendments that would establish a parliamentary lock on the roll-out of knife crime prevention orders, allowing Parliament to review the evidence, examine the pilot and its effectiveness, see the departmental justification and be assured that proper regimes will be in place to monitor their use before any wider roll-out. We would require the Government to report on which practitioners have been consulted. It is astonishing that the Youth Justice Board, the Children’s Commissioner and local government services were not involved in drawing up these orders. Since they have been published, the Magistrates Association, the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers and the Local Government Association have all voiced concerns.
To correct the record, these orders have been discussed in the serious violence taskforce, which is attended by the Children’s Commissioner and many of the others that the hon. Lady mentioned. This is action that the police required of us. We turned it around as quickly as we could to get it into the Bill, in order to protect children. We are doing it on the advice of the police.
I would respectfully suggest that putting before Parliament orders that would criminalise children for up to two years requires more than discussion at a meeting. It requires full consultation and full parliamentary scrutiny, and none of that has happened.
Before Parliament approves any roll-out, the Government should release a report giving an explanation of what guidance has been given to authorities on the burden on proof, which is a civil standard, the impact of orders on the rights of children and the impact on different racial groups as defined in section 9 of the Equality Act 2010.
Does the hon. Lady not think it is a bit rich that she is complaining on the one hand about the Government introducing a full consultation on a whole range of firearms issues enshrined in statute under the Bill, and on the other hand that the Government have not consulted enough on knife crime prevention orders, which are suggested by the police and are a much-needed part of the armoury in the fight against knife crime?
The Government consulted on the ban on weapons ahead of the Bill and concluded, on the basis of evidence from the most senior counter-terror police in the country, that it was right to ban assault rifles. It was only in response to a Back-Bench rebellion led by the hon. Gentleman that the Government caved and made the exact opposite case to the one that they made on Second Reading.
These are very basic requests for what is, in truth, information that Parliament should already have when being asked to pass legislation. The parliamentary lock we are seeking to add to the orders should not be necessary, but we know the damage that can result from a lack of joined-up thinking in youth justice, and our communities simply cannot afford another misstep. That is why it is only right that parliamentarians are given the full facts before being asked to approve a further roll-out.
Turning to the content of the orders themselves, all of us in this place are united in our mission to do everything in our power to bear down on the terrible scourge of knife crime, but we must be wary of taking action for the sake of action. Interventions must be evidence-based, have a clear purpose and fill a gap in the existing legislation. The police already have a substantial suite of powers for those they suspect of possessing a knife. The issue is, and has been for several years, the ability and capacity of the police to enforce those powers. As the chair of the Police Federation has said:
“How the Home Secretary thinks we have the officers available to monitor teenagers’ social media use or check they are at home at 10pm when we are struggling to answer 999 calls is beyond me.”
This Government have taken 21,000 police officers off our streets. Response times have rocketed, and in some force areas residential burglaries are rarely attended. The police’s capacity to respond to crime has been extremely diminished, so it is beyond doubt that they do not have the capacity to place orders on people who have not actually committed a crime, and then to monitor and implement those orders effectively. There has been no impact assessment of the resource implications for the police or any of the other services that may be brought in by these orders. We are concerned, and this is what our amendments speak to, that in trying to establish so-called wraparound care for young people, these orders will inevitably end up focusing on the restrictive elements such as curfews, social media bans and prohibitions, rather than the potential for positive, rehabilitative action.
I think we have now reached consensus in this place that in order to combat youth violence effectively, a whole-system, cross-governmental public health approach is required. These orders could have been an attempt to bridge such a divide, but instead they place sole responsibility on the police as the only authority that can apply for an order, which risks narrowing the focus of the suite of options available. The fact that there is no statutory requirement to assess the needs of a child, establish their circumstances and consider the safeguarding implications of an order or their family history prior to an order being granted should be fatal for a legislative proposal that the Government have styled as a route to access wraparound services. It simply does not do what is required. That is why our amendments would establish a statutory requirement to consult with the YOT to produce a pre-sentence report. However, we are satisfied with the Minister’s commitment that this will be made clear in guidance.
Furthermore, I wonder whether the Government, in using the example of a youth worker as someone to be responsible for the delivery of an order, recognise the bind they would be putting such an individual in if they were responsible for reporting any breaches to the police. Central to a public health approach is a consistent, constant adult in vulnerable young people’s lives. This could provide an opportunity for that, but it cannot do so if such individuals are then forced to report them to the criminal justice system every time they do not abide by the conditions laid down in their order.
I will round off with a number of questions to which I hope the Minister will respond when she speaks again. The civil burden of proof is concerning, so what sort of intelligence does the Minister envisage would be sufficient for a court to grant an order? Will the police use the gangs matrix to target individuals? Will association with known offenders be sufficient for an order to be placed? Will past offending be sufficient, as the Minister in the other place appeared to suggest?
Does the Minister share the concerns of Members across the House that we risk criminalising children as young as 12 who have not actually committed a criminal offence? Does she really believe that a two-year custodial sentence is proportionate to a breach of a civil order, and can she give an example of when such a sentence would be appropriate? What exactly can KCPOs require or prohibit? Will guidance be brought forward on what measures are effective in tackling knife crime, or will it be anything that the court deems necessary, proportionate and enforceable?
Finally, who will be required or allowed to know that a child has an order, and what action will their school or alternative provider be expected to take when one has been granted? The implications for alternative provision are potentially severe, as some providers refuse to take children who have knife convictions, leaving them completely out of education and therefore much more vulnerable to becoming involved in violence. What consideration has been given to this?
I do not think that the Minister has satisfactorily answered the concerns raised by the Opposition in our amendments or those of expert organisations that work on these issues every single day, such as the Magistrates Association and the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers. We will therefore divide the House on our amendment (a) to Lords amendment 23 in relation to the parliamentary lock, as the report that the Home Secretary brings forward must be voted on before the pilots can be rolled out.
I conclude by thanking and congratulating my right hon. and hon. Friends who have significantly improved the Bill and subjected it to scrutiny during its passage, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield Central, for Sheffield South East, for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), for Birmingham, Edgbaston and for Slough. The amendments in our names have sought to strengthen and improve the weak legislation before us today. They have sought an evidence-based response to the long-term trend of violence that we are witnessing as a result of this Government’s austerity agenda. We hope that the Government will accept that much more needs to be done if we are to prevent any more young lives from being needlessly taken, and we hope that the Government will accept the amendments in our names today.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh).
I should like to focus on knife crime prevention orders. If we are to reduce knife crime, we need to address the issue of drug usage. So many of the young people dying in our communities are dying as a result of the drugs trade—particularly cocaine. We need to consider increasing the costs attached to the usage of drugs, because drugs are historically extremely cheap at the moment; and if you want to attack usage, you have to increase the costs attached to recreational possession. The Minister said that she had looked at dealing with gangs—she had looked at knife crime prevention orders—but I think we need to look at drug prevention orders.
I think it is appalling that the chattering classes, wherever you may find them, whatever their politics, are wringing their hands about the deaths of mostly young men and children on our streets and then, moments later, too many of them are shoving a line of cocaine up their noses. That is not a line of white powder; that is a line of blood, and users of cocaine have blood on their hands—the lives of many, many young people and children.
So I say this to the Minister. Let us not build more prisons. Let us not lock more recreational users up—but let us hit them in the pocket. If they are caught in possession of cocaine, if they are responsible for the deaths on our streets, they should be fined accordingly. Let us say that you are a City trader on £300,000 a year, Minister: you should be fined a third of your income—a third of your income—if you are caught in recreational possession. Then users might start to think. If they do not care about the young lives being lost on the streets, they might start thinking about the consequences to themselves and their finances.
It may be a City trader. It may be a Member of Parliament. It may be a doctor. It may be a teacher. But if they are using cocaine, they are responsible for the tragedies that are happening daily, and I think they should pay—pay for recreational usage. They should pay by being fined a significant amount of their income the first time they are caught in possession, 50% the second time and 100% the third time. When we introduce laws like that, Minister, people may start taking this matter seriously, and we may actually start to address the mayhem, destruction and tragedy that is afflicting so many of our communities.
I start by confirming that the SNP has supported the Bill from the outset. As I previously acknowledged, the Government here have worked closely with the Scottish Government on many of its provisions, given that the Bill’s subject matter covers a range of both devolved and reserved competences. We remain of the view that the Bill will help tackle crimes involving corrosive substances, knives and certain firearms, so it continues to enjoy our support. However, we took—and continue to take—the view that more important tools include police funding, police numbers, cross-government working and a genuine switch to a public health approach to knife crime.
For today, though, the 95 amendments passed in the Lords focus on three specific areas. One set of changes proposed in the Lords does not convince us at all. One set of changes appears absolutely reasonable to us. Another group of amendments is welcome but still falls short of what was in the Bill at the outset. We are far from convinced on the knife crime prevention orders. As we have heard, things have moved very quickly, essentially closing down time for proper consideration, scrutiny and consultation. It is fair to recall, however, that this morning the Metropolitan Police Commissioner defended the proposals robustly before the Home Affairs Committee. I absolutely respect the fact that they are well-intentioned. I question, however, whether the reasoning behind them and the form they now take are well-founded. The all-party group on knife crime, excellently chaired by the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), heard evidence from a series of groups who have significant concerns about the impact they will have. As we have heard, concerns have been raised by magistrates, local government, the Children’s Society, the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, the Prison Reform Trust and the Police Federation.
Ultimately, I find it difficult to see how 12, 13 or even 15-year-olds groomed into gang violence are going to turn around to the gang leader and those grooming them and say, “Sorry, I’ve had a knife crime prevention order made against me and I can’t have anything more to do with you.” I am concerned that there is a danger that, rather than preventing or steering away a young person from falling into the youth justice system, it may instead accelerate it when the orders are breached. I very much hope that I am proved wrong. If this was not a matter for England and Wales only, I would definitely support the safeguards proposed by the official Opposition. Even then, I doubt I would be persuaded that the case for these powers has yet been made. However, it is a matter for Members for England and Wales, so having briefly provided my tuppence-worth, I will leave colleagues to grapple with the clear divergence of opinion that has emerged.
On the amendments and new clauses on deliveries to residential premises, I, too, want to congratulate the hon. Members who pursued this issue in earlier stages, including the hon. Members for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts)—Sheffield, the capital of steel. I am pleased that the Government have listened and worked up what seems to me a suitable alternative proposition, one that commands our support. The changes go some way to addressing one of the anomalies I flagged up in Committee, in that the Bill placed various obligations on couriers who were operating on behalf of sellers stationed outside the UK, but not on couriers operating on behalf of sellers who were in the UK. That seemed as strange to me as it did to many Members of the House of Lords, although, as the Minister said, there remain some differences in treatment. Anyway, the amendments have our full support.
Finally, on the vexed issue of firearms, obviously we voted against the Government when, on Report, they took out the provisions on high-energy rifles without any form of replacement provision. It is of course welcome, therefore that at least there are now some enhanced measures on security back in the Bill. Members on both sides of our earlier debates can unite on that. Like the official Opposition, however, we remain very concerned about how we got into this position. When he introduced the Bill, the Home Secretary said that the original prohibition measures were based
“on evidence that we received from intelligence services, police and other security experts.”—[Official Report, 27 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 918.]
and the Minster said such a prohibition was necessary in light of
“the threat assessment of the National Crime Agency and the police.”—[Official Report, 27 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 997.]
The Minister referred to the range of these weapons and to recent seizures of higher-powered weaponry and ordnance at the border showing growing demand for more powerful weaponry in the criminal marketplace. That was backed up by the evidence we heard in Committee. I know that the witnesses the Committee heard from have not in any way changed their minds. Only the Government have changed their mind. If the Government accepted that evidence and the need for prohibition, I do not understand how they can justify their change of stance.
As I said in earlier stages, we do not take lightly the banning of anything, but we are talking about the leisure pursuit of a very small number of people, perhaps 150 in total. If the evidence the Home Secretary and the Minister referred to is correct, it seems a troubling change of stance but we are where we are. Although the Minister will not be speaking again in the debate today, I will be seeking assurances that this does not mean we are watering down what have previously been fairly robust firearms laws and making this new enhanced security category the new default for firearms that had previously been prohibited, based on evidence, under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968. I also seek assurance that the Scottish Government and Police Scotland will be fully involved in developing any new conditions for high-powered rifles.
In conclusion, we welcome the Bill, subject to the concerns I have laid out. However, the key to tackling serious violence remains in police numbers, police funding and cross-government co-ordination. It depends on the genuine adoption of a public health approach to tackling knife crime and youth violence, as we have seen through the work led by the Violence Reduction Unit in Glasgow. The Bill is a small positive step, but the Government have many other, much bigger steps to take if they are to be seen to be properly and urgently tackling the serious problem of youth violence.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), whose constituency I will not even try to pronounce correctly. He always speaks with such eloquence. I attended the same meeting of groups hosted by the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) and listened to the arguments about knife crime prevention orders. It was hard not to be persuaded by some of those arguments, but I want to explain why I think introducing those orders is the right thing to do.
The Government are absolutely right to follow a public health approach to knife crime. It is time to look holistically at all our agencies in delivering both a health-based solution and a criminal justice solution. We have the youth endowment fund and the review of drugs policy, and we should recognise that prison sentences for knife crime have increased: 85% of people convicted serve at least three months, compared with 53% only 10 years ago. The courts are putting in place a whole range of tougher measures, and the Government and local authorities are looking to introduce wraparound support, yet the reality is that knife crime is endemic and will not be solved in the short term with those measures alone. I therefore absolutely support knife crime prevention orders.
What makes this issue so stark for me is the number of recorded knife crime offences in the 12 months to September 2018. There were 40,000—an increase of two thirds since March 2014. Those figures are appalling. In the context of overall violence having fallen by a quarter since 2013, it is clear that we have an issue specific to the carrying of knives. I was struck by a recent survey by the Centre for Social Justice, in which 6% of Londoners polled confessed to having carried a knife in the past 12 months. There is a contagion effect. Young people carry knives to protect themselves, because they do not feel confident, but we all know that someone is more likely to die when they are carrying a knife than when they are not. We must make some kind of intervention to tackle that.
The Mayor of London was absolutely right in his letter to the Home Secretary in December. He was critical because nothing had yet been inserted into the Bill. He said that he was
“concerned to note that despite requests from the police…no amendments have yet been tabled”.
Now they have, which is to be welcomed. He went on to say that the introduction of the orders would
“enable better protection for the community, particularly those working with vulnerable and high-risk young people,”
“At the same time, they will enable the police and partner agencies to intervene and prevent future crime.”
They will prevent future tragedies, too.
Last month, I heard from senior officers in the Met who have asked for knife crime prevention orders to be introduced. Again, it was hard not to be impressed by what they had to say. Absolutely, introducing the orders is a slight roll of the dice—they are new and innovative—but it is important that we do so.
I think the main point is that if someone is on a knife crime prevention order, people around them will realise that they are and may concentrate more on looking after them and stopping them doing something wrong again. That is very important too.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is about that care and intervention as well as having a deterrent. Of course there has to be a deterrent.
We must not overlook the fact that applications will have to be made by either the Crown Prosecution Service or a chief officer of police, and that the court will have to be satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that on at least two occasions in the previous two years the defendant had a bladed article in a public place or a place of education. That is not enough, either: if there has been a big conversion, that can be demonstrated, and the magistrates court must think it is necessary to make the order to protect the public from harm from a bladed article or, indeed, to protect the respondent from committing an offence.
We talk about locks; there is a series of locks in the magistrates courts, and we must trust our magistrates to look fairly and objectively at the evidence before putting in place an order, which I say will deter young people from causing a tragedy to themselves or other people. Only if that order is breached will we be talking about a custodial sentence. Orders will be reviewed if they are longer than 12 months, and they can be varied too. To me, they make absolute sense.
I will conclude by explaining why I feel so passionately about this issue. We can talk about long-term interventions, but the reality for young people who carry knives is that one mistake leads to loss of life—either theirs or others’. The impacts of that are dramatic. In 2007, the number of knife crime-related homicides was high—it was 272. We —both Labour and Conservative Governments—brought it down to 186 in 2015. It has now risen to 285 killings in the last year, which is the highest since records began in 1946. Something has to be done, and done now.
I want to back up what my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) just said. In addition to the safeguards my hon. Friend has ably set out, there is the provision for under-18s that, before an order can be granted, a youth offending team has to be consulted, meaning they can be helped by experts not to reoffend.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; YOTs will be consulted. I do not agree with the idea of having a more specific order, because that would tie the whole process up in knots, whereas this needs to be a fluid process. YOTs would indeed be consulted, and then appropriate adults—youth workers—would supervise any requirements under the order.
These interventions can help people turn their lives around. I spent five years working in a youth organisation that was trying to turn young people’s lives around and stop them making these mistakes. We helped with their education and encouraged them to put their energy into sports, performing arts, environmental projects, and so on—something that could turn them away from a life of crime and give them something more interesting, exciting and exacting to work on. That said, we have now regressed. Far too many young people are being attracted by gangs and carrying knives either because of the glamour or as protection. We need to do something now to turn that around and save lives.
The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) speaks with authority as a former youth worker, and one listens to him with great attention, but I disagree with his conclusion that the proposal before the House is the best way forward. I want to suggest alternatives that I hope he will consider.
There is no doubt that action on knife crime is needed—that fact unites us all—and a lot of the action will involve spending money, whether on policing, including community policing, or on youth workers. There may have been a lot of youth workers when the hon. Gentleman was active, but when I look around communities today I do not see many youth workers or community police officers, but we will need them to implement these orders. We will need to spend money if we are to have the people in place to give those young people alternatives and protect them. We as a Parliament have to recognise that the public health approach is not a cheap option.
Do we need another legal power? The Government argue that, despite the panoply of powers already on the statute book, we need a new one, which is why the House is right to scrutinise the proposal; I only wish it had more time. Will the proposal work? We have some evidence from the past. As you will remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, we have had many debates in this House, in previous Parliaments, on how to tackle antisocial behaviour, and we have seen policies such as antisocial behaviour orders, on which, I believe, these knife crime prevention orders are modelled. My noble Friend Lord Paddick in the other place has pointed out some of the major problems with ASBOs that we believe knife crime prevention orders will also have.
I want to be constructive, however, and to support the Minister in her work to tackle knife crime. I hope that she will agree to meet me to discuss the Liberal Democrats’ proposal for what I have named anti-blade contracts—linked to the ABCs, or acceptable behaviour contracts, of the past—which could be far more effective in preventing young people from carrying knives in the first place. I would also make the case for other similar initiatives, such as what I call knife crime prevention injunctions, which would have the benefit of not resulting in criminal records for young people.
First, though, I will make the case against the Government’s proposal. The fundamental problem is that these will be pre-conviction orders—as opposed to on-conviction orders—which means that young people as young as 12 could be handed a court order on the grounds that, on the balance of probability, they may have carried a knife. That ought to alarm every colleague. Guilty before anything has been proven—that is a shocking legal principle. I am surprised that a lawyer as distinguished as the Minister feels comfortable about young people getting court orders even when it has not been proved that they committed a crime.
The Minister’s mitigation is that this is a civil offence, but if the order’s conditions are breached, it becomes a criminal offence. A condition may, for instance, be a requirement to notify. A young person who fails to notify the police of a change of address within three days will be in breach of the order, and could be imprisoned.
This legislation has no link to real life—to the chaotic lives that some of these young people lead. The idea that they will remember to notify a police officer within three days that they have changed their address because they have moved from one parent or carer to another, thus avoiding a prison sentence, is total nonsense. Why do we need to criminalise young people who have not committed a crime? Where is the evidence that that will tackle knife crime? Prisons are overcrowded, and there are high levels of self-harm. Is this really a sensible approach?
The point of the orders is that there is information suggesting that these children have been carrying a knife on two or more occasions. The criminality, if we are talking in those terms, would be in the fact of the possession, and a magistrates court or a youth court would consider that very carefully. A child who is carrying a knife may well get into terrible trouble with the police because he or she has used it against someone, and we are trying to get to children before that happens.
There I have sympathy with the Minister, and I want to propose an alternative which addresses that very point. However, she was beginning to suggest—I am not sure that she meant to—that a criminal test had to be passed, and that is not what is in the Bill. It is not a criminal test that must be passed; it is a civil test, which could then result in a criminal record. I think that the House should think very carefully before going down that road.
Let me say a little about the alternative model that I want the Minister to consider. I am proposing what I have called “anti-blade contracts”. The idea is that a police officer, along with the parents or a carer, or possibly a youth officer, would sit down with a young person and require them to sign a contract saying that they should not carry a knife and that there would be consequences—for instance, fines or community sentences —if they were caught doing so. Crucially, however, linked with the public health or prevention approach would be positive elements. Young people could, for example, contact a named youth worker or police officer if they were concerned about their safety. There could also be a package of other support, which might involve access to youth services.
That is the way to change behaviour. That is the way to prevent a young person from ending up on the pathway to more crime. People who go to prison often see it as a college of crime, and we must try to avoid that. The approach that I am suggesting would do what the Minister wants: it would meet her objectives, but without the cost and without the potentially damaging impact that her orders would have.
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that all young people should sign such contracts? That has a certain appeal to me—the idea that everyone at school, say, is given a lesson and then signs a contract, so that they understand what they are doing. Is that what the right hon. Gentleman is proposing?
Not in the first place. The idea—and this goes alongside the Government’s proposal—is not that every young person would be open to the process, but that it could be offered to young people who were thought to be in danger. I am not sure whether we would want it to be applied to every young person, although it could go further and be part of an educative process as well. Given the lack of resources in the police and youth services, I think that we should target those who are most at risk in the first instance.
The crucial part of my argument is that I am putting forward something that is based on evidence. The evidence from the Home Office, in its reports on the difference between antisocial behaviour orders and acceptable behaviour contracts back in 2004, and the evidence from the National Audit Office in a 2006 report, suggested that ABCs were far more effective in changing young people’s behaviour, which is what we want to do. More important—or, at least, as important—was the fact that they were cheaper. They took less time. Orders that need to go to court require considerable police resources, and we do not have those resources. They also take up the time of magistrates, which is already rather stretched, so we are putting forward something that goes against the evidence from the past and that we know is going to be more expensive and more time consuming. This is an urgent problem, and our proposal based on evidence does not need even this place to legislate. We could get on with it; we could issue guidance. Why on earth are we doing this? The situation is far more urgent than the Government seem to think. The Minister’s proposal would take so much time and money when we know that is not available.
I implore the Minister: I am pleased that she has nodded from a sedentary position to indicate that she is prepared to meet me to discuss our proposal—
I confirm that I am.
I am very grateful to the Minister for doing that, but I hope she will reflect on this.
I will be supporting the Labour amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) tonight, which are well tailored. The Labour proposal requiring this House to vote on a report on the evidence from the pilot is a good compromise; it is an example of this Parliament working together to make sure that what we do is evidence-based. The good thing the Minister could do if she goes down my route is proceed with my anti-blade contracts while those pilots are going on, because an anti-blade contract does not need to bother this legislature.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) and I agree with much of what he said. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) put his finger on it when he said that these knife crime prevention orders are a roll of the dice. That is absolutely the point we all want to make, and while I completely disagree with the conclusion he has come to, this is what we are doing in this House: we are rolling a dice and there might be unintended consequences that we do not know yet. That is what I want to speak about today. I shall speak to the amendments I added my name to: 7, 9, 10, 12 and 23.
I chair the all-party group on knife crime, and yesterday we hosted an event on knife crime prevention orders. We heard evidence from the Magistrates Association, lawyers, academics, charities, and youth offending teams who work with children and young people involved in knife crime. There was resounding agreement: they all want to stop knife crime and protect young people, but they all believe that these orders are not the answer. I think they are a knee-jerk reaction to a moral panic and they risk exacerbating, not diminishing, the problem. Lawyers, magistrates and youth offending teams are all in agreement that, far from being preventive, as the name of the orders suggests, the orders will have unintended consequences that could criminalise a generation of young people and actively work against the Government’s stated aim of reducing knife crime.
This final stage of the Offensive Weapons Bill is the first opportunity MPs have had to have our say on whether or not these orders should become law. This is indicative of the Government’s approach of late: rushing through ill thought-out plans so they can appear to be doing something without actually listening or engaging with experts or allowing parliamentary scrutiny. No real consultation took place other than some rushed consultation within the police—although we heard yesterday that even the senior police representative for children and young people was not asked about these knife crime prevention orders.
As far as we can tell, the orders are the result of a few behind closed doors conversations between the Home Office and a few senior Met police. They have not comprehensively been thought out, and they were not a part of the Government’s own serious violence strategy. This is not the proper way for the Government to create laws, and it is an example of how bad, ineffective policy is created.
As we have heard, these are civil orders which would be placed on children as young as 12 who are suspected of carrying a knife. They could place severe, lengthy and potentially unlimited requirements and restrictions on the person subject to the order. If the requirements are not all met, a breach will be punishable by up to two years in prison. We have a situation in which somebody—a child—who may never have carried a knife and never have broken the law will end up with a criminal record and potentially a prison sentence for an order placed on them just on the basis of probability, rather than a criminal standard of proof. This leaves room for subjective decisions being made and for many young people to feel unfairly targeted.
The Government should be seeking to draw people away from the criminal justice system, not pushing children into it. And for solutions to be effective, they need to target the underlying cause of the behaviour. Sending children to custody does not work and is not an appropriate or proportionate response. Vulnerable young people must have access to education and employment so that they have routes away from drug gangs and the like. Criminal records and other criminal sanctions will disrupt lives and further marginalise young people, locking them out of mainstream society and exacerbating the root causes of violence. Children and young people have told our all-party parliamentary group many times that many are picking up knives out of fear. They feel that it is a necessary form of self-protection because everyone else has one and the police are not there to help them. Knife crime prevention orders will not deter children from picking up knives. They would rather be in prison for carrying a knife than be stabbed to death.
Another thing that was clear from our meeting yesterday was that the orders are neither necessary nor new. Magistrates and lawyers who are involved in children’s sentences have not called for more sentencing options. There are already intervention options available that could be promoted and developed. Many youth offending teams have programmes to address knife carrying, and if they had the money to do more outreach, they could help more children in this way. Conditional cautions can place requirements on children and young people, such as having to see their youth offending team and attend education programmes. These have lower reoffending rates than other more punitive responses, and they deal with behaviour outside the court system. Likewise, there is the triage system, where a young person who is arrested in a police station can be directed to appropriate intervention without being unnecessarily over-criminalised.
The similarities between knife crime prevention orders and the old antisocial behaviour orders are clear. The author of the Youth Justice Board report on ASBOs told us yesterday that they were disproportionately used on children, and that they were breached in over two thirds of those cases. The use of ASBOs petered out over time because the courts and other agencies became increasingly concerned that they were counterproductive. Children had come to view them almost as a badge of honour and to define their identity around them. ASBOs were actually encouraging the behaviour they were designed to discourage. Over a nine-year period, more than 5,500 children were sent to prison for breaching their order. The bottom line was that they were not effective, because the kids kept coming back.
A number of other concerns have highlighted how little time has been given to the detail of these orders. Who will monitor them? Who will be responsible for reporting breaches? It seems that charities running programmes with young people would be expected to tell on their young people if they did not turn up. That would betray all the trust those organisations had carefully built up and would undoubtedly affect engagement. If the orders are imposed on the basis of probability, will not the victims of crime be more resistant to going to the police in case they get an order slapped on them, too? If school exclusions are already a big problem and a driver of young people becoming involved in violence, what impact do the Government expect the orders to have on access to education? A school will not want to take on a child who has been issued with a knife crime prevention order.
Finally, young black boys are already disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, and there are real problems with trust and community relationships with the police. The imposition of restrictive orders such as these, especially when someone is only suspected of carrying a knife, will feed into those young boys feeling disproportionately targeted or harassed by police, their feelings of marginalisation and alienation, and their feeling that they are being treated less fairly than others by the justice system. This will be a major setback.
In 2010, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), described ASBOs as a
“top-down, bureaucratic, gimmick-laden approach”.
She said that they were
“too complex and bureaucratic…they were too time consuming and expensive and they too often criminalised young people unnecessarily, acting as a conveyor belt to serious crime and prison.”
The Government should listen to that now. They should also listen to the wide coalition of professional bodies and organisations that have come out against these orders. They should listen to concerns raised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and to the Justice Secretary himself, who has highlighted a lack of evidence that the orders will be effective. They should also look at the evidence of what works to tackle violent crime. They should consult, and they should work out the actual impact of the policy before imposing it.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones). On behalf of the all-party parliamentary group for British Sikhs, I want to thank Members across the House for their support for the amendment that we tabled in this House, and for their subsequent support for removing the unintended consequences for the Sikh community that the Bill would have had in its previous form. Unamended, the Bill would have meant that Sikhs who possessed a 50 cm kirpan in the home would be committing a criminal act and subject to a year’s imprisonment, so I am grateful for the Minister’s intervention to amend the justification for a Sikh possessing a kirpan from the narrow “religious ceremonies” to “religious reasons”. This was a fundamental change to protect the rights of Sikhs to purchase and possess a kirpan.
The Lords have made a further amendment on the gifting of the kirpan to others at a ceremony, and I thank Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick for their work. I also pay tribute not only to the work done behind the scenes, especially by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) and the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), but to the Offensive Weapons Bill team in the Home Office.
With this amendment, the Sikh community have been given a clear commitment by the Government that they will not be penalised, and I hope that that approach will be taken by all other Departments. The APPG would like to work with the Minister on developing the statutory guidance surrounding the amendment, and I hope that she will continue to work with us to protect the Sikh community from any further discrimination.
I will speak briefly about the Government’s response to Lords amendments 27 and 28. The Minister talked about the collaborative approach that has been adopted in relation to many aspects of the Bill, and I want to thank her for her engagement and also thank her colleague Baroness Williams. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) and I had two constructive meetings where we brought knife manufacturers to meet the Minister and Baroness Williams, and we were pleased with how the Minister engaged with the concerns that were raised. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East, who is no longer in his place, for his generous comments and—there is a bit of a Sheffield theme here—the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh)—[Interruption.] Sheffield is the centre of the world, depending on where you start from.
The point on which we all agree relates to the deep concern within all our communities that are affected by knife crime in some of the most horrific ways. We all want effective action to tackle the problem, and the emphasis should be on effective action. We need the right laws to tackle the problem without unintended consequences. I was concerned about the original proposals, which would not have addressed the problem and would have caused unnecessary damage to the knife manufacturing sector and to small businesses in particular, to which the Minister referred in her opening remarks.
It was for that reason that I proposed a trusted trader scheme on Report simply to open up the debate, and that discussion developed in the Lords into the proposals for a trusted courier scheme. I pay tribute to Lord Kennedy for taking up the issue effectively, brokering some of the meetings and engaging productively with Ministers. Although the proposals that we have from the Government today offer a different approach, they nevertheless address our concerns and are probably better than my original amendment on Report.
I have consulted with the local businesses who joined us at the meetings, and I pay particular tribute to James Goodwin from Egginton Bros Ltd for first raising the issue with me, and also to Alastair Fisher from Taylor’s Eye Witness. They welcomed the Government’s proposals in response to the Lords amendments. More widely, the knife manufacturing sector and retailers, which also had a lot at stake in ensuring that we got things right, will also welcome the proposals. With that, I join other hon. Members in endorsing the Government’s proposals.
Lords amendment 27 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 28 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) to (k) made in lieu of Lords amendments 27 and 28.
Lords amendments 1 to 22 agreed to.
Amendment (a) proposed to Lords amendment 23.—(Louise Haigh.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House proceeded to a Division.
I remind the House that the motion relates exclusively to England and Wales. A double majority is therefore required.
26 March 2019
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
Lords amendment 23 agreed to.
Lords amendments 24 to 26 and 29 to 61 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 35, 43 to 48, 50, 51, 53, 55 and 57.
Government amendment (a) made to Lords amendment 62.
Lords amendment 62, as amended, agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived.
Government amendment (a) made to Lords amendment 63.
Lords amendment 63, as amended, agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived.
Lords amendments 64 to 95 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 65, 66, 69, 73, 88 and 93 .
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019
Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) Act 2019
Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland Arrangements) Act 2019.