Report (2nd Day)
Clause 18: Delivery of bladed products to residential premises etc
74: Clause 18, page 17, line 36, at end insert—
“(aa) the seller is not a trusted trader of bladed products, and”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would create a trusted trader status for those selling bladed products.
My Lords, Amendments 74 and 77 in my name seek to establish a “trusted trader” scheme to enable bladed products to be delivered to home addresses. This is an issue that I raised in Committee. The Bill as drafted prohibits the delivery of bladed objects to residential properties, and there are serious concerns among small and medium-sized knife manufacturers and retailers that this will have a detrimental impact on their businesses.
As more sales move online, consumers expect to be able to receive deliveries directly to their home. I fully support the aims of the Bill but I think this is a legislative sledgehammer that will affect small and medium-sized businesses based in the UK while having little impact on knife crime. There is no evidence that these high-quality knives sold online are being bought with criminal intent; if there were any evidence, it would have already been presented. I think we all accept that if you bought a knife online with criminal intent, you would be creating a very easy evidence trail for the police to follow.
We all want to achieve the objective of the Bill, which is to reduce knife crime, but at the same time we do not want to destroy UK-based businesses. There is a need for greater enforcement of existing legislation prohibiting the sale of knives to under-18s and the carrying of a knife without good reason, and these amendments would enable a trusted trader scheme to come into force. All that I am seeking to achieve is protection for British businesses, whether with the scheme in these amendments, with the scheme suggested last week by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, or with some other form of approved deliverer scheme, which we discussed when we had a very positive meeting last week with the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams of Trafford and Lady Barran, and representatives of the business community from Sheffield—who, in my opinion, put a very convincing case to the Minister—along with the honourable Members for Sheffield Central and Sheffield South East.
I am aware that a trusted trader scheme has been ruled out by the Home Office, which claims that it would add more bureaucracy and would cost businesses to establish, but I point out that the scheme is being suggested by the very businesses that would be affected. I make clear that I am not fixed on any scheme; I just want to find a solution for what I think the Minister accepts is a real issue that could have damaging consequences for British businesses. I know that is not the Government’s intention—in fact, I support their actual intentions—but we have a problem here. I beg to move.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, that this legislation is seriously to the detriment of UK companies versus overseas companies, in that if you order a bladed instrument or knife from an overseas company or website it can be delivered to your home, but if you order one from a UK company it cannot. However, I am not sure the trusted trader scheme that he has outlined in the amendments is the answer. Obviously, overseas companies would not have to be members of a trusted trader scheme and therefore the bureaucracy, expense, fees payable and so forth would still disadvantage UK companies.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for mentioning that I have already suggested a solution to this problem: to extend to UK companies the age-verification scheme at handover on the doorstep, which the Government have set out in the legislation and which currently applies only to overseas companies. I believe that is the solution to this problem, rather than the trusted trader scheme that the noble Lord suggested.
My Lords, I add to this unanimity of voice. I entirely agree with what both noble Lords have said. The scheme that the Bill sets out enables people to buy knives from foreign websites. A lot of the time you will not know that it is foreign website as it will appear to be in the UK and it will deal in sterling; it is just posted from France, the Netherlands or wherever it might be. It comes through the post in an unmarked packet and is delivered to whoever ordered it. We apparently think this is a reasonable thing to do and that people should be allowed to do this. This is a way in which your average 16 year-old can obtain a knife quite legally under the Bill.
We are imposing much more stringent arrangements on our own internet traders, which will appear exactly the same to customers. All it means is that we will be disadvantaging our own traders to the advantage of overseas traders and we are not achieving anything in terms of safety. I absolutely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said. I support the aims of the Bill. We want to prevent knives getting into the hands of people under 18. Let us have an effective way of doing it that does not disadvantage our own people. Several alternatives have been offered. I very much hope my noble friend will indicate that she is prepared to pick up one of them.
My Lords, I support everything the three noble Lords have said. I completely concur with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said. He is absolutely on the nail.
Just for fun, today I put on a tie that shows a mouse eating a chunk of cheese. I do not know whether noble Lords remember that there was a book some time ago called Who Moved My Cheese?, in which mice run around a maze and get to eat cheese at the end. One day the cheese was moved. One mouse explored and found where the new cheese had been moved to and therefore survived. The other one kept revisiting the old place and died. I recommend this book to the Home Office. The world has changed—the cheese has moved—yet we are legislating as if we did not have an online world and methods of verifying age, and as if people did not have smartphones that they can link to biometrics. We are living in the past. I cannot believe we are passing a piece of legislation such as this. I concur with everything that has been said. I do not mind what scheme is done so long as it is more sensible than the one proposed in the Bill.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for these amendments. I am particularly grateful to him and the Sheffield knife manufacturers for coming to meet me the other week for what I thought was a very helpful and constructive meeting.
We are returning to something we debated in Committee: whether trusted traders should be exempt from the prohibition in the Bill of arranging delivery of bladed products to residential premises or a locker. When we considered these amendments previously, I said that test purchases continue to show that a significant number of online sellers fail to undertake adequate checks to ensure that knives are not sold to under-18s. The most recent test purchases of online retailers, conducted in late 2018, showed that 42% of the retailers sampled failed the test and sold knives to persons under 18.
As the noble Lord has explained, his amendments seek to address this problem by saying that where we know someone is a responsible retailer they should be able to continue to send their products to a person’s home address or a locker. This would apply only to the dispatch of bladed products under Clause 18 and not to the sending of corrosive products to a residential premise under Clause 3—presumably on the basis that the noble Lord is content that corrosives should not be sent to a person’s home.
These amendments would transfer the responsibility for complying with the legislation, and for ensuring that all sales are handled properly, from the seller to the Government. They would do this 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 premises. A trusted trader scheme would require sellers to demonstrate that their age-verification systems and procedures, from the point when they receive the order to the point that their designated delivery company hands the item over, are robust and that they can guarantee that the knife will not be handed over to a person under 18.
The Government are not persuaded, in the light of the results of recent test purchase operations, that sellers can provide such reassurance in a systematic and consistent way. 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. Setting up, administering and overseeing a trusted trader scheme would create a further burden on the Government or local authorities, with inevitable cost implications. 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 of the scheme. Many of us know this to our cost, having hired a plumber or builder accredited by a trusted trader scheme. Such a scheme would impose regulatory burdens on participating businesses. In addition, it would need to be administered by an independent regulatory body or by local authorities, albeit with the expectation that participating businesses would be required to meet the cost of running it.
I hope that I have provided a clear explanation of why the Government do not consider that the noble Lord’s amendments would provide the necessary assurance that young people under 18 cannot get hold of knives using online sellers. In coming to this view, I have reflected on the recent helpful meeting with Sheffield knife retailers—which I am very grateful to the noble Lord for arranging—in which something was said about Amazon’s view on the issues this amendment raises. He knows that I cannot promise anything, and we are yet to have a definitive statement on it, but I hope that this being the case, he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, could she just qualify what she said about the test purchase results? Was this a failure in age verification at the point of purchase or at the point of handover?
The noble Baroness also talked about a burden on the Government to design an age verification scheme, but is that not exactly what this Bill does with knives that are bought overseas and that are handed over at residential premises?
Thirdly, could the Minister again tell me why age verification at handover point is likely to be better than age verification on the doorstep?
Such a scheme would impose an additional burden. The noble Lord talks about other burdens; I am not denying that there will be burdens on various people from the introduction of whatever scheme comes in, but this would very much pass on that burden to local government.
As I understand it, the failures in online test purchases have lain at the point of sale.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I put this provision forward, but I am not stuck on this or any other particular scheme, and I hope I made that clear in my remarks. I am generally very grateful to the Minister for the way she met with the traders—they were very impressed with the interest she took.
All I want to do is to stop us putting on the statute book something which harms British business—nothing else. The Minister has confirmed that discussions are still going on, so will she allow me to bring the issue back at Third Reading? If so, I would be very happy to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I cannot commit to bringing it back at Third Reading, but I know the noble Lord will bring it back at Third Reading. By then, I hope that I will have further information for him.
Just to clarify, is the Minister happy for me to bring it back at Third Reading? I do not want any disputes with the clerks afterwards about this situation.
I do not think there will be any disputes with the clerks.
My Lords, in that case, that is all clear and correct. I am delighted to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 74 withdrawn.
75: Clause 18, page 17, line 41, at end insert “unless the product is for an agricultural or forestry management purpose”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would allow a seller to deliver bladed agricultural or forestry equipment to residential premises.
My Lords, I rise to move this amendment and speak to others standing in my name—namely, Amendments 80, 83, 84 and 85. For those of us who have not had the good fortune to spend our days looking at the wording of the various Acts introduced since 1953 to control unruly public behaviour, I must express my gratitude to Mark Wilcox for giving general access to the Keeling schedule he produced following our amendments in Committee. I am sure this was aimed at Members of your Lordships’ House who are much more familiar with these documents than I am, but it provided some enlightening weekend reading for me, such as what is currently defined as a public place and how this legislation will affect sharply pointed articles—it explained that this is limited to those,
“made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person”,
as stated in Section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.
There are other provisions which might answer some of my concerns as well, but I wish to enlarge on the problem which my amendments focus on; this looks at what we have just been discussing from the other end—the purchases end. As I have mentioned before, I approach this legislation as someone who has had to carry on a variety of businesses in a rural context, where many sharp instruments and corrosive substances are involved—an area which has been subject to immense changes, both in its purpose and in how it is envisaged. A current complication arises in that there are fewer and fewer people available and there is less access to public transport and other essential services. The strong message we get is that the Government expect us to carry on most of our business digitally and online. As the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, pointed out, it appears that this has not been thought through from the point of view that this Bill could limit the effect of that.
I again declare my remaining interest as the recent president of the National Sheep Association.
Your Lordships will be aware that, in many parts of the country, farmers have sold off their traditional farmhouse and at times even the steading. They then farm in a way that might be termed “remotely”, while living in some more urban location, possibly without any permanent structures on the site where they farm. Another factor is that fewer and fewer of those who assist a farmer are employed directly. Some are called in as contractors and presumably can be taken as having their own business to worry about. However, there is always an element of those who are simply employed as casual labour but, even so, would like to bring some of their own tools of the trade. One thinks of people who come to assist at lambing time and others repairing fences. When it comes to the forestry world, there are certainly mechanised felling machines but there is still a need for the self-employed, whose living is made up of constant work with their chainsaw or other sharp weapon.
My noble friend the Minister has shown great patience in responding to my concerns as to what makes a house a place of business. If this is clear, it would naturally make life a whole lot easier for those who are so recognised and wish to obtain articles by post. On our previous day on Report, my noble friend used the phrase “registered business address”. I would like to look at that for a minute, since in a rural context there are certainly not so many who would conduct business at the level where they would be registered at Companies House. Many farmers will simply conduct the business in their own name, seemingly without having to register with anyone. Where will the recognition of their place of business come from? Perhaps they can rely on being recognised as having a registered agricultural holding. For others, it might be possible to say that they are registered for VAT; there will be others again who do not conduct a business which reaches the threshold for that registration. Would these reasons be sufficient, or is it just a matter of notifying your supplier and hoping that some of the other authorities which I have noted have not seen what you have been doing?
All these individuals will have to be aware that the Revenue website says that, if you occupy a property part of which is used for non-domestic purposes, you will probably be required to pay business rates. There are two possible ways of relieving this situation: one is that the property you occupy must have a rateable value of less than £12,000, in which case you qualify for 100% relief from business rates; the other is whether your property would be recognised as agricultural, which might be a long shot if you occupy a semi-detached in a suburb. I can see that there will be problems for those who are unwilling or unable to have a site which qualifies as the site of a registered business. I am not saying that there are not many activities which one might seek to exclude in the same way from the prohibition on receiving articles by post, along with agriculture and forestry, but in my judgment they are not constrained by seasonality in the same way and should be in a better position to work their way round the disadvantages.
Two particular activities strike me—though I admit there may be others. One is the gangs who assemble, often from around the world, and come to carry out the essential sheep-shearing operation that takes place every year. They gradually progress northwards through the country, as the season allows, before returning to their homes and countries. They require a constant turnover of clipping blades, which have to be resharpened to an industrial level and then remounted on the clipping machines. These blades have multiple points and are razor sharp. Occasionally, they may even require some old-fashioned sheep shears, which are even more lethal in the context of the Bill. Another element of the agricultural world is the small triangular knife sections that have to be bought and replaced when they go missing from the 10 to 20 foot cutting blades of a combine harvester. In the forestry context, you have independent workers who have to go wherever work is available, and often land up staying in camp for long periods in caravans, in remote places. They need some way of getting access to items that they might need to carry out their trade. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have some sympathy with the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, on this issue but again suggest that the answer is to have a system of age verification at handover, as there is for overseas sellers.
On the issue of whether a business is carried out at a residential address, the Government accept that overseas companies cannot be expected to know whether that is the case. Again, UK companies are being disadvantaged compared with overseas companies.
I do not know whether the noble Duke can explain why Amendment 75 talks about a product that,
“is for an agricultural or forestry management purpose”,
“exclusively designed for an agricultural or forestry management purpose”,
“specifically to be used for agricultural or forestry management purposes”,
and if those differences are deliberate and explicable.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, as he raises valid points. Again, we do not want anything in the Bill that disadvantages UK business.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendments as well. A lot of effort is going into preserving hill farming and small farming. There is a lot of focus on that area, yet along comes the Home Office, without consulting Defra, Natural England or anyone else, and it could wipe out all the good that has been done elsewhere. We need to start looking at this approach.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, which runs through the whole thing, this is about disadvantaging UK against foreign business. There is no logical reason to do that. I say to the Minister that, just because this amendment is aimed at knives because it is in this part of the Bill, that does not mean you would not logically continue that through to corrosive liquids. I cannot think how to describe the argument that says that it does not cover that as well, when we have moved on to this part of the Bill. The intransigence of the Home Office has been evident throughout this, and I do not think that is a good argument against sensible amendments later.
I am grateful to my noble friend for his amendments, which return us to the proposed prohibition on the dispatch of bladed products to residential premises and lockers.
I hope I can quickly provide my noble friend with some reassurance on the point he has raised but, before I do so, I would like to answer the point he raised on Report, on 26 February, about the definition of “pointed articles” and whether it includes things like screws carried in someone’s pocket. Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 makes it an offence to possess in public,
“any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed”,
“good reason or lawful authority”.
Section 141A of the same Act prohibits the sale to under-18s of articles with a sharp point that are,
“made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person”.
The wording “sharply pointed” is used in various parts of the Bill, including Clauses 15 to 17 and Clause 31.
The new offence of arranging delivery to residential premises or a locker is limited to “bladed products”—that is an article which is, or has, a blade and which is capable of causing serious injury by cutting the skin, so does not include pointed articles. It will be for the courts to decide whether an article is sharply pointed, or has a sharp point, in each specific case, but the legislation was clearly never intended to include screws, which are not generally considered to be offensive weapons and which have not been made or adapted for the purposes of causing injury. We are not aware that the definition of pointed articles has caused any problems with the operation of existing offences over the past 30 years.
The amendments in this group would enable bladed products that are used for agricultural or forestry management purposes to be sent by the seller to a solely residential premise. Some agricultural and forestry management items will be caught by the definition of bladed product, and it is therefore reasonable to assume that they will no longer be able to be sent to solely residential premises or a locker. However, the definition of residential premise is limited to those premises that are used solely for residential purposes. My noble friend eloquently set out a number of ways that one could demonstrate whether something was also a business address. It will be a matter for the seller of a bladed product to satisfy themselves that the delivery address is not used solely for residential purposes.
This means that bladed products will still be able to be sent to business premises and this includes, importantly, where a business is run from a residential premise. Therefore, bladed products could be sent to a farm, an agricultural supplier or a forestry centre. They could be sent to the home of a person who runs a self-employed forestry business from their home. We have been clear from the outset that deliveries to farms will not be prohibited under the Bill and, in most cases, agricultural and forestry tools will be related to business activities and should not be affected.
Clause 19 also includes a regulation-making power which will enable further defences to be added by secondary legislation if it becomes clear that the prohibition on home delivery is having a particularly negative impact on certain types of business or not-for-profit activities. A defence for agricultural and forestry equipment could therefore be provided if it becomes clear that there is a detrimental impact on this type of trade or activity. However, for the reasons I have set out, we do not currently think that this is necessary.
I hope I have given my noble friend sufficient reassurance that the deliveries of agricultural and forestry equipment should be largely unaffected by the measures in the Bill. On that basis, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for all her efforts in answering the questions which I have raised from time to time. What she has said has been much more reassuring. It sounds as if a letter to your supplier is critical to whether or not you have a registered business. It does not have to be certified in any way; you can just say to your supplier: “This is my business address”. Maybe that situation is adequate, though there are obviously loopholes.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made an interesting point. The amendments were attached to different parts of the Bill. I thought the wording was a little more appropriate in each case, but I would not stand by it terribly much.
I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. We are in a happier position, for those who require blades and pointed instruments, than we were when it started. I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 75 withdrawn.
Amendments 76 and 77 not moved.
Clause 19: Defences to offence under section 18
Amendments 78 to 80 not moved.
Clause 20: Meaning of “bladed product” in sections 18 and 19
81: Clause 20, page 19, line 24, at end insert—
( ) The Secretary of State must, before the coming into force of sections 18 and 19, publish guidance as to how the definition in subsection (1) may be interpreted.Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, following the Minister's remarks at Committee stage (28 January, HL Deb, col 160GC), is intended to ensure that guidance will be issued, so that those responsible for designing and carrying out sales and dispatch procedures will be able to judge whether a particular item (for instance, a food processor) falls under it.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for substituting for me in my absence on the first day on Report. She obtained for me a very useful answer to the question that underlies this amendment, which is: how is someone going to know? I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister would make it clear that the Government understand how important it is to get this guidance clear. Big retailers are going to have to decide whether something is a bladed product or not: they need to be able to take that decision with certainty. A reputable UK retailer does not want to find itself on the wrong side of this legislation. It will have to make these decisions every day in relation to items of kitchen equipment which they might ship, and they need to do it properly. It is really up to the Government to get this right. I would be grateful for an assurance that the Government understand this and will use the provisions in Amendment 106 to achieve that effect. I beg to move.
My Lords, is not really possible to substitute for the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but I was happy to introduce some of his amendments, as my noble friend did, on our first day on Report. We have Amendments 82 and 86 in this group. Amendment 86 also requests guidance on articles that are not bladed products for the purposes of the Bill—in other words, a negative approach. Amendment 82 would provide that the term does not,
“include a product intended for domestic use which incorporates a blade if the product does not function without the blade”.
I could go off down a separate avenue about the range of experiences that we draw on in this Chamber: I could not have begun to talk about sheep shearing; the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, might want to talk about food processors—I do not know. Clause 20 defines “bladed product” for the purpose of the clauses dealing with delivery to residential premises. Of course, I am not taking issue with the overall approach of my noble friend, but, as the Government have been resisting, this is to look at the detail.
The definition excludes all sorts of things, some of which I have never heard of: flick-knives, gravity knives, knuckle-dusters, death stars and other weapons whose sale and importation is already prohibited, as well as items excluded from the prohibition on the sale of bladed articles to those under 18. I think it is appropriate to pause here, while thanking the Government for providing Keeling schedules, to say that it is really not immediately obvious what is within Clause 18—in other words, what products it will be an offence to deliver to residential premises. There was a degree of confusion when this was debated in the Public Bill Committee in the Commons. We have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, about the distinction between a pointed article and an article with a cutting edge, but it seems to me that that must depend on how the items are used. Surely, with something that is pointed, if you pull it down against somebody’s skin it is likely to cut the skin.
In our view, it ought to be clear which items make delivery to residential premises an offence. Apart from its substance, the clause’s complexity and its dependence on orders made under other legislation—more accurately, the exclusion of items that are the subject of such orders—is not in the tradition of well-written Acts of Parliament. One cannot employ the defence of reasonable precautions and all due diligence when there is an issue with the definition.
I have occasionally bought art materials online for delivery at home. Go on to any art materials website and you will find a range of palette knives and craft knives, some of which would fall foul of the definition. Not everyone paints, does craft work or shears sheep—but everybody eats, which is why I picked domestic kitchen items. They are relevant to many people’s lives, as they buy them either for themselves or for others, for instance from a wedding gift list.
Other noble Lords may have received a letter from John Lewis representatives—whom the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and I met a couple of weeks ago—who expressed concern that the definition would prohibit them selling and delivering to a residential address a wide range of everyday kitchen products containing blades, such as food processors and scissors. They described to us the careful age-verification steps they take in respect of sales in store, but said:
“Online sales at John Lewis and partners are a key part of our business strategy and account for over 40% of our total sales … Around 50% of these online sales are delivered direct to customers’ homes. Any restriction on our ability to continue to sell and deliver products, such as food processors, online would negatively … impact our business. We do not believe this is the intention of the Government”—
nor do I—
“and nor do we believe that this would do anything to help address the issue of knife crime”.
We agree. This amendment is not intended as a plug for John Lewis; rather, it seeks clarity and a common-sense outcome in which businesses do not regard more items than is necessary as outlawed from home delivery.
The British Retail Consortium supports the three amendments in this group. In Committee and earlier on Report, we sought to address the issue through the amendments to which my noble friend referred. I appreciate that Amendment 82 only scrapes the surface of the issue, but I wanted to highlight the point.
As we know, under government amendment 106, the Secretary of State “may”—that is the term used—issue guidance. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, says “must”; Amendment 86, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Paddick, says “shall”. No doubt we will be told that “may” means “will”, or other close synonyms, but guidance cannot override legislation, so it is essential to get that right. Of course, guidance will be produced by the Executive without parliamentary approval and it can be changed without approval. So at least we should hear from the Dispatch Box—I look forward to the Minister’s explanation—what consultation on the guidance the Government intend to undertake. Clearly, it should be thorough. I suspect that the Government have also had a bit of difficulty in pinning down a definition—otherwise we would have one. That simply demonstrates how important this issue is.
My Lords, we having been discussing this issue in the Digital Policy Alliance’s age verification and internet safety working group. Being clear on definitions is absolutely essential.
The Minister said in the previous debate about pointed items that it will be up to the courts to decide. Who can afford that? How can people afford to go that far? That is the trouble. The natural reaction of business will be to be overly cautious. That will close down entire avenues of business and inhibit normal people’s ability to carry on with their normal lives. A lack of clarity will cause so much trouble and you will get an awful lot of flak in the papers. I suggest that this group of amendments be taken together so that we can sort something out and produce absolutely clear guidance. We are trying to legislate for only a few outrageous incidents. The trouble is that regulations never prevent what they seek to prohibit. You cannot stop all of this by regulation. Let us make reasonable regulations, which allow normal people to continue with their normal lives. Given that, clarity in the definitions is absolutely essential.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has raised the question of pointed articles possibly being used by troubled people to cause injury. I should like further confirmation of my reading of the Keeling schedule that we were offered. I took great comfort from that. The part of the 1988 Act to do with supplying knives and blades to people aged under 18 refers to,
“a blade which is sharply pointed and which is made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person”.
That, to my mind, rules out an ordinary pointed article. You would have to prove that it had been used or adapted to cause injury.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for these amendments. My noble friend has been clever about weaving back into last week’s debate on statutory guidance and the one that we have just had on the trusted trader scheme.
I can see that Amendments 81 and 82 attempt to provide further clarity for manufacturers and suppliers of kitchen utensils and to limit the impact of Clause 18 on such companies. As noble Lords will know, I met representatives of some knife manufacturers in Sheffield and I heard at first hand their concerns about this provision. Amendment 81 seeks to assist manufacturers, retailers and others by providing for statutory guidance on which items are covered by the definition of a bladed product. Amendment 82 clearly goes further and excludes from that definition any product “intended for domestic use” that requires a blade to function. As I understand it, the intention is that items such as food processors, and perhaps bread knives and steak knives, could be sent to residential premises if they have been sold remotely. Food processors and similar items are clearly not the sort of things that can be used as offensive weapons and it is not intended that they will be covered by the prohibition on arranging delivery to a residential premises or a locker. Products such as table knives are also excluded from the definition of bladed products because they are not capable of causing serious injury by cutting a person’s skin.
I turn to the wording of Amendment 82. The term “intended for domestic use” perhaps lacks clarity. Although most people would accept that kitchen knives are intended for domestic use, there may be some doubt as to whether hobby knives, camping knives and DIY tools can also be said to be intended for domestic use. I worry that amending the definition in this way could lead to sellers of fairly nasty knives marketing them as purely for domestic use to get around the delivery prohibition. That said, if a prosecution was brought for this offence, it would be for the seller to show that the product did not fall within the scope of the offence as it was intended for domestic use. The approach in Amendment 82 is therefore not without risks and there may be issues around defining what is meant by “domestic purposes”. However, I agree with my noble friend that this is certainly an area where guidance for retailers and others will be beneficial and it is our intention to provide such guidance, exercising the power conferred by Amendment 106, which we debated last week.
Why is it thought that guidance is less likely to lead people to seek to evade the purposes of this legislation than putting a definition in the scope of the Bill itself?
If I understand the noble Lord’s question, he is asking whether guidance is less likely to make people abide by the law and why we do not just put it in the Bill. I am struggling to answer that question.
The Minister has expressed concern—she may well be right—that, if the Bill were amended to make clear what is and is not covered, there is a risk that sellers would seek to use that definition to try to get around the contents of the Bill. Given that she says that these matters will be dealt with by guidance, is there not the same risk? Would it not be better to define in the Bill what the Bill covers and does not cover, not least because guidance will not bind the courts? It is for the courts to interpret. The problems of uncertainty will inevitably arise if the Government rely purely on guidance. That is the point.
I stick by the point that people will use the list in the Bill to try to get around the law, and therefore guidance is helpful. It is helpful both to the retailers who will be selling items but also to the courts in interpreting the legislation. Of course, the difficulty in this legislation is that knives have myriad uses, which in many ways is why this has been quite a difficult Bill to take through.
My Lords, given the problems with the Bill itself, I make a point so that at least Hansard is accurate on this. The Minister talked about using terminology such as I have used to allow retailers to sell knives online and deliver them to domestic premises—she talked about bread knives and steak knives. This wording would require the product to function only with a blade. That clearly would not apply to a bread knife; if it does, every knife can function only with a blade. I am not suggesting that the precise detail of this amendment be included in the Bill, but this all goes to show that if we resist being specific here, we risk causing more problems, not fewer. If I did not say so before, nothing I have said seeks to undermine in any way what my noble friend Lord Paddick said about his overarching approach, which we should be following.
It comes back to the noble Baroness’s point about consultation. In developing the guidance, we must and will engage with business and organisations such as the BRC. The intention is that it will be developed with them. We could have a circular argument here about whether things should be directly specified in the Bill or how helpful the guidance will be in helping retailers and the criminal justice system, but guidance generally will help the Government keep pace with developments.
Amendment 86 is similar to Amendment 81 and again seeks to require the Secretary of State to issue guidance. We have already debated government Amendment 106, which will enable the Secretary of State, Scottish Ministers and the Northern Ireland Justice Department to issue statutory guidance on certain parts of the Bill, including those dealing with offences of remote sale and delivery of knives. We intend that there should be guidance to retailers on what items are prohibited from dispatch to residential premises or a locker under Clause 18. I think the government amendment is adequate to cover this.
I apologise for persisting but the Minister referred to table knives being excluded from this prohibition. The table knife that I was given to eat my roast beef with in a restaurant yesterday could cause serious harm to an individual by cutting. Is it or is it not therefore a table knife? This will inevitably lead to a decision by major retailers such as John Lewis not to deliver any knife of any description to residential premises for fear, as the Minister said, that if there is a prosecution the supplier will have to provide a defence in court to the offence. Not many suppliers will be prepared to take that risk.
I do not think that John Lewis currently delivers table knives or any type of bladed products to residential premises. As it stands, John Lewis does not deliver knives; people have to pick them up or buy them in the shop.
I appreciate the noble Lord’s point about table knives. That is why this legislation is difficult. In many ways it will be for the courts to determine in what context the knife is being used. I am not denying what the noble Lord says.
When this discussion is over I invite the Minister to read Hansard and to reflect on the debate—it is distressing. We are talking about table knives, steak knives and knives to shear sheep and so on when we have a serious problem on our hands in this country with knife crime. This Bill completely misses the point. People have been murdered over the weekend and it is frustrating that this legislation completely misses the point.
My Lords, we are not missing the point: we are trying to get a balance between people selling products which can be used for perfectly legitimate purposes and those seeking to abuse these products in order to do harm to people. One of the attacks at the weekend took place round the corner from me. I fully have in mind the danger that knives can cause but we are trying to get the balance right.
I appreciate the difficulties the Government are having in trying to get this clause right. I go back to the first amendment we debated today and the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and I that we are disadvantaging British sellers relative to overseas sellers for no advantage to the peace of the realm. If someone wants to get a knife, all they have to do is order it from Holland and then it can be delivered to their house. It really matters whether we focus this prohibition on British sellers widely or narrowly, and the way the clause is drawn at the moment is capable of wide interpretation.
The guidance will have to be good and clear. I agree that it will not have the force of the law but it will have an effect on police officers, I hope, in deciding whether to launch a complaint or a prosecution. It will have an effect on the CPS, and it will certainly have an effect if it is reported in a newspaper that there has been a prosecution. It will be the prosecution that is laughed at, rather than the retailer condemned, if the guidance makes it clear that something should be allowed. It matters in relation to large items such as food processors; if they and all the rest of one’s wedding gifts cannot be delivered to one’s home address, people will go somewhere else, which would be abroad. It is a big enough item to make such a decision about and it is not obvious why it should be prohibited, whereas we can all accept that we should have to jump through a few hoops when obtaining a knife because they are dangerous and we must behave ourselves. I hope that the Government will draft the guidance with the interests of British traders at heart.
I am grateful for my noble friend’s reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 81 withdrawn.
Amendments 82 to 86 not moved.
Clause 21: Delivery of bladed articles to persons under 18
Amendment 87 not moved.
88: After Clause 21, insert the following new Clause—
“Powers to confiscate bladed articles
If bladed articles are detected in transit from overseas to a UK residential address, other than under arrangements as described in section 21(1)(c), and without the requirement for age verification on delivery being clearly evident on the outside of the packaging, they may be handed in to the police for destruction without compensation.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to address issues discussed in Committee as to how to deal with bladed articles coming in from abroad, using generic carriers such as Royal Mail, without arrangements as described in 21(1)(c).
My Lords, if we are going to have this arrangement whereby overseas sellers are advantaged, at least we need to make it effective. At the moment, if I was to go on to a foreign website and order a flick knife that was then dropped into the post, it could come straight to me. Such a prohibited weapon could come to me if I was 14 years old. Nothing in the process would allow it to be intercepted. There is an arrangement in the Bill for overseas sellers who choose to use a contracted delivery arrangement in the UK, which would presumably apply to Amazon fulfilment or a similar arrangement, whereby age verification would take place on the doorstep. However, we are allowing an enormous hole to appear: if someone uses a common carrier such as the Post Office, there is nothing to stop a product ordered overseas being delivered straight to a minor at a residential address. If there is to be this enormous disadvantage on British businesses, let us at least have effective controls on overseas websites.
When goods come into this country, they are, by and large, inspected. We are concerned about people shipping pistols into this country and keep an eye out for such packages. The same techniques will be effective against bladed products. However, if someone involved in that process discovers a bladed product in a standard, unmarked pack, it is currently unclear whether they have a right to do anything about it. If we are to allow knives to arrive in unmarked standard postal packages, it would defeat the whole purpose of a great chunk of the Bill. To stop that happening it should be clear that when something is identified as a bladed product, and the arrangements for making sure that it will be signed for by an adult on delivery have not been complied with, the authorities must be able to confiscate that product, or the Bill does not work. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment, which is eminently sensible. Why should one have something that does not work? This should be part of the armoury to stop bladed products getting into the wrong hands and I cannot see how else it could be done.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for returning us to this difficult issue about what we do in relation to overseas sellers of knives. Noble Lords will recall that the issue is that while we can place requirements, such as those under Clause 18, on remote sellers based in the UK, we cannot do the same in relation to overseas sellers. This is because we cannot practically take extraterritorial jurisdiction over sellers based abroad. We have tried to address this through the provisions in Clause 21. These provisions make it an offence for delivery companies in the UK, which are operating under specific arrangements to deliver bladed articles on behalf of overseas sellers, to deliver those articles into the hands of a person under the age of 18.
We accept that this is not the complete answer to the problem because overseas sellers can simply send the items unmarked through the international mail. This is exactly the situation that my noble friend’s amendment seeks to address. It would provide a power to confiscate bladed articles that are sent from overseas to a UK residential address and which are, first, not subject to specific arrangements between the delivery company in the UK and the overseas seller and, secondly, not labelled to show that age must be verified on delivery.
Although it is not clear from the amendment, the power is presumably to be exercised by Border Force because the amendments refer to detecting the articles in transit from overseas. The amendment would mean, in effect, that only bladed articles sold overseas which are subject to specific delivery arrangements in the UK would be allowed. I can therefore sympathise with the intention behind this amendment.
However, there are a number of problems with the amendment. At present, Border Force can seize two types of bladed articles. It can seize weapons prohibited under Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, such as zombie knives and death stars, and Section 1 of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959, which covers flick knives and gravity knives, because the importation of these weapons is banned. It can also seize any weapon which it believes is evidence in relation to a criminal offence.
This amendment would mean that Border Force would have a power to seize items which are not prohibited by law and where they are not evidence in relation to a criminal offence. This would mean that a wide range of items which are going to a residential address in the UK from overseas could be seized and handed to the police to be destroyed. The amendment is not limited to overseas sales, so it would mean that bladed articles sent from a relative overseas to someone in the UK could also be seized. It would mean that someone bringing back a bladed article from their holiday, such as a souvenir, could have it seized or that a fencer returning from a competition overseas with their swords could have them confiscated by Border Force. It would mean that articles which have been legally sold overseas and legally bought by someone in the UK could be seized.
Secondly, the amendment assumes that there is some way of detecting such articles. Not all items coming into the UK are scanned, so unless Border Force happens to come across bladed articles as part of routine searches, they are unlikely to be detected. Even if such items were detected, Border Force would need to ascertain whether they were being sent to a residential address. For example, it would need to decide whether 12 High Street is a residential or business address. Finally, it would need to establish whether they were subject to specific arrangements between a delivery company and the overseas seller. It would then have to have arrangements for handing the articles to the police for destruction. This would all have significant resource implications for Border Force. It is for all these reasons that I am afraid I cannot support my noble friend’s amendment. I hope that in these circumstances he will withdraw it.
Before the Minister sits down, will she explain why the Government cannot exert extraterritorial jurisdiction over foreign websites when they are doing exactly that when it comes to online pornography on overseas websites? In that case the BBFC, acting on behalf of the Government, gets in touch with the online pornography website and threatens them that unless and until they have approved age verification on their sites, BBFC will instruct UK internet service providers to block access to those websites from the UK. Why cannot a similar system be used to block overseas companies which are known to be selling prohibited weapons to the UK?
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is absolutely correct, as Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act provides. In her response, the Minister said that the sender would not know whether they were sending to a residential address. A UK business has exactly the same problem, yet she was using this to justify blocking UK sales. I do not see how she can apply one rule to UK companies and another to foreign companies. We need to be even-handed.
My Lords, in an ideal world, we would have the same systems for overseas and domestic sales. We cannot exercise ETJ—
As I understand it, we cannot. We have had the example of pornography. The system I am referring to relates to online sales. Am I right in thinking that the system referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, relates to streaming? He will correct me if I am wrong.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness. These are paid-for websites. People are paying for a service—there is an exchange. There is another option—I am grateful to the Minister for reminding me. Most financial transactions involving foreign websites are processed by UK credit card companies and so forth. The other way of ensuring that these transactions do not take place even though the company is beyond the UK’s jurisdiction is to ask UK card companies not to process payments to those particular companies. That is the second string to the BBFC bow in order to stop under-18s in the UK from, effectively, buying pornography from overseas websites. Similarly, the Government could put pressure on UK card companies to not process payments to overseas companies which are selling prohibited weapons to under-18s in the UK.
The noble Lord will agree that not all their sales would be of prohibited items.
My Lords, surely that is not an answer. We want to stop the whole thing.
My Lords, we have tried—
I will try to help the Minister. The Government or the regulator would be deciding whether a foreign supplier was breaching the terms before informing the credit card agency. You would not go and inform the credit card companies about a foreign supplier that was not selling weapons to underage buyers. It would be triggered by the Government deciding whether a foreign supplier was breaching the rules.
My Lords, that would require a global trawl of every company in the world selling knives, prohibited or otherwise.
This has been covered widely in the pornography provisions of the Digital Economy Act, which the good online suppliers of adult content are helping to police. All the systems for online age verification and everything else are in there. Some co-operation and consultation with DCMS and BBFC could be very helpful to the Home Office, because there is an exact parallel. You could almost translate the whole thing over to offensive weapons, which is why we are discussing how this could be done in external groups.
I suggest to the Minister that the point is not about a trawl of all foreign sellers. If I understand the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the point is that, if the Home Office realises that specific overseas sellers are breaching the principles in the Bill, the Secretary of State ought to enjoy some power to take action to prevent such a company continuing to supply into this country. Using the methods adopted in relation to pornography, either to prevent the website communicating or through the payment methods, seems a real possibility. Will the Minister and the Home Office give further thought to this important matter before Third Reading to see whether some progress can be made?
To assist the Minister further, I can assure her that there are more websites worldwide providing pornography than there are providing offensive weapons, yet that has not prevented the Government taking action.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, for his intervention. I was not making a glib comment about a trawl; regarding the examples of card companies and delivery companies, we are taking action where we can, but I acknowledge, as I have all the way through the Bill, that we are trying to find the right balance. It is not absolutely perfect, but we are using everything in our armoury to help us guard against the sale of knives to those aged under 18.
My Lords, I entirely accept the strictures that the Minister has discussed concerning the wording and theme of my amendment but, as has been shown in this discussion, its substance remains. If we allow the Bill through as it is, it will quickly become known that there are one or two sites, not far away, across a little bit of water, to which anyone with criminal intent can go in complete safety, buy any knife they want, and have it delivered to them at home. Therefore, anyone intent on getting a knife for criminal purposes will be able to do so with total disregard for the rest of the Bill. All we will have succeeded in doing is disadvantaging British sellers; the Bill will have no other effect.
We do not need to achieve perfection; we just need to make dangerous the process of illegally ordering a knife overseas, or of ordering a knife overseas and having it delivered to someone underage. We need to make it something that might well go wrong: either the knife might be confiscated, or the people involved in selling it—who presumably have a lot of legitimate business as well as supplying to criminals—might lose everything through being put on the Home Office blacklist. As has been suggested by several noble Lords, this is proving an effective system in pornography. Those we allow to dominate the market in the UK, because they do proper age-verification, want to keep others out, so they become an effective police force that we do not have to pay for. There are other routes to getting there, which make the whole business of buying from an overseas supplier more difficult and chancy.
If we want an effective Bill—I join the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in saying that we absolutely do—we must urge the Government to use the time between Report and Third Reading to talk to their colleagues in DCMS and look again at whether this is a loophole they can close. Without that, we will have a Bill that is much less effective at achieving what we want it to achieve. But I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 88 withdrawn.
Clause 23: Prohibition on the possession of certain dangerous knives
89: Clause 23, page 22, leave out lines 39 to 43 and insert—
“(8) It shall be a defence for any person charged in respect of any conduct of that person 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 (3) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 (improper importation),to show that the conduct was only for the purposes of functions carried out on behalf of the Crown or of a visiting force.(9) In this section “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 (10) below applies on the invitation of Her Majesty’s Government.(10) 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.(11) It shall be a defence for a person charged in respect of conduct of that person relating to a weapon to which this section applies—(a) with an offence under subsection (1) or (1A) above, or(b) with an offence under section 50(2) or (3) of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979,to show that the conduct was only for the purposes of functions carried out as the operator of, or as a person acting for, a specialist licensed armoury company holding an authority to possess prohibited weapons granted by the Secretary of State under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 for one or more of the purposes specified in subsection (12) and subject to all the conditions in subsection (13).(12) Those purposes are—(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).(13) Those conditions are—(a) the weapon is accompanied by a supervising armourer or handler in attendance throughout the production,(b) disposal of the weapon by sale or gift is only permitted to another similar specialist licensed armoury company or a museum or by export to another state or country where the laws of that state or country permit import of the weapon.(14) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) or (1A) to show that the weapon in question is antique.(15) For the purposes of subsection (14) a weapon is an antique if it was manufactured in or before 1945.(16) For the purposes of this section a person shall be taken to have shown a matter specified in subsection (3), (4), (5), (8), (11) or (14) 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 a reasonable doubt.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would introduce a series of defences in respect of activities (1) of non-public museums operated by the Ministry of Defence or police forces, (2) of visiting forces, (3) of the film, theatre and television industries and (4) in relation to antiques.
My Lords, I shall speak at the same time to Amendment 90. I am very grateful to the Home Office for bringing a large and intelligent team to listen to representations concerning in particular the use of weapons in film and antique weapons. I am grateful for the time that we were given. I have not received any feedback since those meetings so I have tabled these amendments as a way of receiving that feedback.
There are three sections here. The first concerns an exemption for the Crown Forces. The Government have said they do not think it is required, but as a matter of routine overseas forces issue their personnel with gravity knives and flick-knives and it is said that our own Special Forces use them from time to time. Some members of our Armed Forces are being picked up and persecuted for crimes when they thought that they were acting in the line of duty, and we should not expose them to attack for having a weapon that was required and legal at the time. We should give them some protection.
Secondly, there is the question of film. We make a lot of money out of making films in this country. By and large, film directors want their close-up shots to be authentic in terms of the look, sound and heft of real weapons. Clearly, these things have to be used in secure conditions, but we allow heavy machine guns, assault rifles and similar items to be used in films made in this country under conditions of strict control. There are licensed armourers who supply such weapons for dramatic performances and films. It does not seem to me that people who are trusted with such weapons should not be trusted with the weapons prohibited under the Bill. To have a film of “Mack the Knife” without a flick-knife would seem a bit odd. I cannot see that by allowing an exemption for film and performance, we are doing anything more dangerous than we allow for other weapons at the moment. This is a direction in which we should feel comfortable about moving.
Thirdly, the same applies to antique weapons. At least in this House, many of our parents were heavily involved in the Second World War. There are many items used in that war that were issued to members of civil defence or captured from German troops that are very properly considered collectible and part of our national history, but are not so unique that the British Museum would want to end up with a large collection of them. We ought to allow these items, as we allow other weapons, to be part of collections. We allow old swords and other very dangerous weapons to be collected. Why not the weapons that we are prohibiting under the Bill, as long as they are antique?
I think 1945 is a convenient time to end the definition of “antique”, mostly because shortly thereafter steel became contaminated with radioactive elements from the aerial atom bomb tests, so you can distinguish old steel from new. Also, designs changed a good deal after the war, and there was a long period when some countries did not produce. So 1945 is a convenient cut-off: you can tell what is pre-1945 and what is later, and that is also where the intense history ends. It would be sensible to allow us all to possess the mementos from the last great war and to prohibit weapons produced after it. Apart from anything else, these antique weapons go for a considerable price and are very unlikely to be bought by someone who just wants to use them in a crime and then throw them away.
I very much hope that my noble friends will be bearing me at least a semblance of an olive branch on this amendment, and that we will be able to look in a constructive way at these three potential exemptions. I am not holding out for any of the detailed wording in the amendments, but I hope this is an area that my noble friends will feel able to smile on. I beg to move.
I am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Lucas, for these amendments. As he mentioned, we had a very useful discussion on the issues covered by them on 13 February that went through in detail the concerns of collectors and theatrical suppliers.
These amendments would create new defences for the supply and possession of weapons covered by Section 1 of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959, namely flick-knives and gravity knives. The amendments would provide defences for Crown functions and visiting armed forces, for theatrical, film and television production purposes, and for flick-knives and gravity knives made before 1945. As I set out in Committee, Section 1 of the 1959 Act makes it a criminal offence to manufacture, sell, hire or lend a flick-knife or gravity knife and prohibits their importation. Clause 23 extends that prohibition to cover the possession of flick-knives and gravity knives.
I turn first to the proposed defence for Crown functions and visiting armed forces. I am afraid we are not persuaded that a defence is needed in this area. The supply, including importation, of flick-knives and gravity knives has been prohibited for a long time and the Ministry of Defence has advised that there is no need to provide defences for this purpose. We are also not aware of any Crown function that would use flick-knives or gravity knives, unlike under Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act where curved swords may be an issue. In any event, the general principle in law is that statutes do not bind the Crown unless by express provision or necessary implication. Where acting as agents or servants of the Crown, the military will benefit from the Crown exemption. The Government are therefore not persuaded that any defence for the Crown or visiting armed forces is needed.
On a defence for the purpose of theatrical performance or filming, it was clear at the meeting that the supply of flick-knives and gravity knives for such purposes has not been an issue in the past 60 years, despite their supply being banned. The supplier at the meeting suggested that most of the items used for these purposes are blunt, so it is doubtful they meet the knife definition in the 1959 Act. Given this, again, we are not persuaded that any defence is needed for flick-knives and gravity knives for theatre and film purposes.
I have more sympathy for the proposed defence for flick-knives and gravity knives made before 1945. We are aware that there are collectors of these weapons and we also know that families sometimes inherit them from relatives who fought in the war. Possession of the weapons will be banned under the Bill, so collectors and families will need to surrender any weapons they own and claim compensation, or gift them to a museum where they are of historic importance.
Our concern in accepting a defence for pre-1945 weapons is that it will be difficult to operate on the ground. In contrast to what my noble friend suggested, the police will not know with any certainty which knives had been made before 1945 and which are more modern. I appreciate this is not the answer that my noble friend would like to hear, but given that the supply of the weapons has been banned in this country since 1959 we remain of the view that there is no good reason why anyone should possess them.
Can the noble Baroness reassure me on a question that I raised at Second Reading? Does the Royal Company of Archers, the Queen’s bodyguard in Scotland, qualify for the Crown’s exemption on weapons? I also asked about a rather shady area, which the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, is probably more familiar with than I am. Are the Atholl Highlanders taken to be doing historical re-enactments, or are they likely at some point to take up weapons as a legal army?
Given that they are the only private army, but are sanctioned by Her Majesty, after Queen Victoria, I find it a very interesting question.
I can reassure the noble Lord on both questions, and I will write to him to clarify the details.
My Lords, naturally I am very saddened to hear my noble friend’s answers, but I see no point in trying to pursue this further, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 89 withdrawn.
Amendment 90 not moved.
91: After Clause 26, 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 section 139, 139A, 141 or 141A it shall be lawful for a person to possess a Kirpan for religious, ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that the Kirpan, a mandatory article of faith for a Sikh, possessed for religious, ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons is exempt from provisions relating to the possession of offensive weapons under the relevant sections of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.
My Lords, Amendment 91, tabled in my name and with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, seeks to place on the face of the Bill a provision to exempt the kirpan from the provisions relating to the possession of offences weapons under the Criminal Justice Act 1988. I raised this issue in Committee, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, for meeting me and a number of other noble Lords from all sides of the House, along with representatives of the Sikh community, including the noble Lord, Lord Singh. It was very much appreciated by everybody present.
There is no question but that the Sikh community is fully behind the intention of the Bill to tighten the law on offensive weapons. We are all appalled by the toll that knife crime is taking on young lives; even today we are seeing more tragic events on the news. The Government have responded to the very reasonable requests of the Sikh community on an issue in the Commons, but my intention with this amendment is to go further. The noble Lord, Lord Singh, raised the issue at Second Reading, and I supported him. It came up again in Committee, and many noble Lords spoke then.
For practising Sikhs, observance of their faith requires adherence to the “five Ks”, one of which is to wear a kirpan. Larger kirpans are used on many religious occasions, such as Sikh wedding ceremonies. I think it is fair to say that noble Lords in all parties, and on the Cross Benches, would be concerned if restrictions in this Bill had unintended consequences for the Sikh community as they observe and practise their faith, or caused upset or concern when a member of the community used a kirpan for ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons. The status quo is not adequate, as it provides a defence of religious reasons only if a person is charged with a criminal offence. It does not cover other reasons such as ceremonial, historical or sporting events, where kirpans are offered as gifts to dignitaries.
The status quo provides a defence only if a person is charged. My amendment will provide an exemption for the possession of a kirpan. It will provide a specific reference in the law, which Sikhs have been calling for. Sikhs are members of a law-abiding community that makes a wonderful contribution to the United Kingdom. The community still faces difficulties in workplaces, education and leisure with the issue of kirpans. This amendment will provide great assistance to Sikhs and will educate all of us about the kirpan. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment, which I fully support. One of the Minister’s main arguments against granting exemption to the Sikh community was that the Government could not single out one particular community—the Sikhs—for an exemption. In that case, I ask the Minister: what other communities have made representations to the Home Office for exemption under the Act?
My Lords, Sikhs are asking for nothing more than respect for their religious and cultural practices and requirements. The main majority of the community is catered for in this Bill—regarding sporting activities, films, television, historical enactments and so on.
My Lords, the description of the kirpan given by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, was absolutely correct: it is a religious requirement which has been known to British Governments and the British people since the two World Wars. In the Army, there was a Sikh batch of religious people who used to have a ceremonial sword in front of the holy book. There is nothing wrong with that; it is used purely for religious purposes and I think would be good if this amendment were accepted.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his amendment. It deals with an issue which we discussed at length in Committee and which was the subject of a very productive round table on 13 February, attended by members of the Sikh community, the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy, Lord Paddick and Lord Singh, and my noble friend Lord Suri. I was also grateful to have a separate discussion with my noble friend Lady Verma. I have provided a fact sheet to noble Lords, setting out the current position under the offensive weapons legislation in relation to kirpans, and I would happily place a copy in the Library of the House.
The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, seeks to ensure that Sikhs are not prosecuted for possessing a kirpan and to allow the gifting of large kirpans by Sikhs to non-Sikhs. The amendment would therefore exempt kirpans from the offences of possessing a bladed or sharply pointed article in a public place or school and further education premises, and from the offence of possessing an offensive weapon under Section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. I believe that the intention is also to exempt kirpans from the offence of supplying an offensive weapon under Section 141 of the 1988 Act—albeit the current amendment only references possession. The exemption would apply where the kirpan is possessed for,
“religious, ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons”.
My main issue with the amendment is that it refers to kirpans but does not define them. Kirpans vary considerably in size and shape, the only common factor being their association with the Sikh faith. This is why the existing defences of possession and supply for “religious reasons” work so well—they define by reference to purpose. It would not be workable to have an exemption for kirpans without saying what they are, otherwise everyone caught in possession of a knife or sword could claim that it was a kirpan and that they possessed it for,
“religious, ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons”.
The police and the CPS would have to prove otherwise, in effect having to prove that the item was not a kirpan, the person was not a Sikh, or that the person was not possessing it for sporting, ceremonial or other reasons, rather than the defendant proving or showing that they have a defence for possessing the weapon.
I appreciate that the intent behind the amendment is to deal with the issue of the gifting of kirpans, because there is already a defence for religious reasons under Sections 139, 139A, 141 and 141A of the 1988 Act, and there is already a defence for sporting purposes under Sections 141 and 141A of that Act. The Government are sympathetic to the need to find a solution to the issue of the Sikh cultural practice of gifting a kirpan. Within government, we are continuing to look actively at this issue and to meet the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and others to make sure that we come to the right solution. I am very hopeful that something can be done in this area and that it will be possible to bring forward a suitable government-drafted amendment at Third Reading.
I also note that as drafted, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, does not render the supply of a kirpan—that is, the act of gifting—lawful; it exempts only possession. This is one issue which we will need to consider further, ahead of the next stage. In the usual way, noble Lords will understand that I cannot give a cast-iron guarantee that the Government will be able to support a more targeted amendment at Third Reading. However, we will make our intentions clear in advance so that, if necessary, the noble Lord can bring back this amendment or some variant of it. But on the basis—
May I just finish before the noble Lord comes in? On the basis that we want to work with noble Lords to find an equitable solution, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment at this stage. The answer to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about what other communities came forward, is: none.
My Lords, much is being made of the definition of a kirpan. It was said in a meeting with Home Office people that a kirpan is simply a Punjabi word for a sword, and that there is no other need for a definition as it is nothing very different. This has been said again and again, yet the definition is being used as a reason for delay and further consideration, which completely confuses me.
Before my noble friend the Minister sits down, can she give us any examples of how the current legislation allowing for religious reasons has worked out? Have there been cases where it has been cited, and was it effective?
My Lords, following exactly from that point, the Minister has relied on the wording “for religious reasons”, which would be substituted in the Bill by “in religious ceremonies”. By saying that the Government will continue to work on this, is she in fact suggesting that that is inadequate? While I understand the concerns, it seems to me that there is a lot in support of what she has been saying about the use of that phrase.
I am trying to say that we are trying to come to a workable solution, particularly for the Sikh community. On the question of other legislation, what immediately springs to my mind is that there was of course the exemption for Sikhs on mopeds who were wearing a turban. So we are, I hope, trying to reach a solution that will work for the Sikh community.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for that response. All through this debate, she has always engaged positively with all sides of the House and with the Sikh community, whose members I know are very grateful for that. I am delighted at this stage to withdraw the amendment and I look forward to the solution which I hope will be brought back at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 91 withdrawn.
Clause 28: Payments in respect of surrendered offensive weapons
92: Clause 28, page 30, line 38, leave out “such”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would remove a surplus word from Clause 28(11)(b).
My Lords, Clauses 28 and 37 to 39 make provision for payments to be made to owners of offensive weapons, firearms, bump stocks and ancillary equipment, who will be required to surrender these items to the police by virtue of them being prohibited by the Bill. The purpose of Amendments 93, 98, 100 and 102 is to widen the regulation-making powers as drafted in these clauses so as to allow the Secretary of State, Scottish Ministers and the Northern Ireland Department of Justice, as the case may be, to set the amount of compensation that will be paid to each claimant. This will be necessary for claims to be settled, given that the amount paid out will be based on the evidence of the value of the weapon provided by the claimant.
We believe that this is the right approach, given that the value of individual surrendered items will vary greatly and it would not, therefore, be equitable to the owners or in the interests of the public purse for the regulations to specify a fixed amount of compensation for each type of item made unlawful by the Bill. I remind noble Lords that the compensation regulations, which we have published in draft, are subject to the affirmative procedure. Accordingly, they will need to be debated and approved by both Houses before they can come into force. Amendments 92, 97, 99 and 101 are minor drafting amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am sorry to prolong this a little. As the Minister said, the amendments allow for discretion, both as to whether to make a payment and as to the amount under the provisions relating to the surrender of weapons. The Secretary of State, Scottish Ministers and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland must make regulations and may make regulations restricting eligibility and the procedure to be followed, which is understandable. So we have an overall mandatory context but a discretion both as to whether to make a payment and its amount. How can that operate justly and fairly?
The Minister said that the arrangements must be equitable, and I agree, but the draft regulations include provisions about eligibility for compensation and determining the amount of compensation,
“taking account of the valuation evidence supplied”.
They also provide for no compensation if the Secretary of State is not satisfied that, under the regulations, compensation is payable. Is what I have just quoted a discretion? It does not seem so to me. The term “discretion” in the amendments suggests there is a distinction for people who surrender weapons in an arbitrary fashion. I cannot believe that is what the Government intend but, given that we already have provision for valuing the weapons, why is discretion needed on top of secondary legislation that provides for the valuation?
If I have followed the noble Baroness’s question correctly, there are two elements to this. First, there is an element of discretion around the need for the individual who is surrendering weapons to show documentary evidence that they are the legal owner, and that the weapons have been lawfully acquired. Secondly, there is a range of valuations that could be provided, including from an auction house or for insurance. My understanding is that there is an element of discretion in judging the validity of those.
My Lords, I understand why the Secretary of State or whoever has the final say in that, but I do not think that that is the same as discretion. I will not pursue the matter any further now.
Amendment 92 agreed.
93: Clause 28, page 30, line 41, at end insert—
“(c) provision enabling a person to exercise a discretion in determining—(i) whether to make a payment in response to a claim, and(ii) the amount of such a payment.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would confirm that regulations under Clause 28 providing for compensation for surrendered offensive weapons may allow a person determining an amount of compensation to exercise a discretion in doing so.
Amendment 93 agreed.
Clause 29: Offence of threatening with offensive weapon etc in a public place etc
94: Clause 29, leave out Clause 29 and insert the following new Clause—
“Penalty for affray
(1) Section 3 of the Public Order Act 1986 is amended as follows.(2) Insert at the beginning of subsection (7) “Subject to subsection 8,”.(3) After subsection (7) insert—“(8) A person guilty of affray in which a corrosive substance or a bladed article has been used is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 4 years or a fine or both, or on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment achieves the same end as the Government's approach by adding provisions relating to corrosives and bladed articles to the existing offence of affray.
My Lords, we return to the argument that the Bill is full of unnecessary new legislation that has clearly not been thought through and which is already adequately covered by existing legislation. The Bill is being used simply to send a message that the Government are taking the issues of knife crime and corrosive liquids seriously, instead of investing in those things that really make a difference, such as youth services and community policing.
In Committee I raised the fact that the offence of affray was almost identical to the proposed changes to the existing offences of threatening with an article with a blade, a pointed article or an offensive weapon. Section 1A(1) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 states that:
“A person is guilty of an offence if that person … has an offensive weapon with him or her in a public place … unlawfully and intentionally threatens another person with the weapon, and … does so in such a way that there is an immediate risk of serious physical harm to that other person”.
Subsection (2) says:
“For the purposes of this section physical harm is serious if it amounts to grievous bodily harm for the purposes of the Offences against the Person Act 1861”.
Section 139AA of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 states:
“A person is guilty of an offence if that person … has an article to which this section applies with him or her in a public place or on school premises … unlawfully and intentionally threatens another person with the article, and … does so in such a way that there is an immediate risk of serious physical harm to that other person”.
Again, serious physical harm means grievous bodily harm under the Offences against the Person Act 1861.
The main differences proposed by the Bill concern the nature of the risk, which is changed from,
“immediate risk of serious physical harm”—
to the person threatened, to a much wider definition of,
“a reasonable person (“B”) who was exposed to the same threat as A”,
that is, the person being threatened,
“would think that there was an immediate risk of physical harm to B”,
that is, the reasonable person.
So we go from an immediate risk of GBH to the person being threatened to a much vaguer concept of a reasonable person—is that a reasonable martial arts expert or a reasonable old-age pensioner—thinking that there was an immediate risk of physical harm. Does that mean common assault, ABH or GBH?
In Committee, the Minister and I engaged in an intellectual and legalistic argument over the technical differences between the offence of affray—in Section 3 of the Public Order Act 1986—and the proposed new offences. That section states:
“A person is guilty of affray if he uses or threatens unlawful violence towards another and his conduct is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety”.
So in affray we have,
“uses or threatens unlawful violence towards another”,
“unlawfully and intentionally threatens another person”.
In affray we have,
“his conduct is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety”,
“a reasonable person (“B”) who was exposed to the same threat as A would think there was an immediate risk of physical harm to B”.
Can the Minister really tell the House that there is a practical difference between a “person of reasonable firmness” fearing for their personal safety and a “reasonable person” thinking there was an immediate risk of physical harm? I would be grateful for an example. Indeed, the affray definition does not rely on the extremely vague concept of a “reasonable person” but instead refers to,
“a person of reasonable firmness”—
not a reasonable martial arts expert or a reasonable old-age pensioner but what we are really talking about: a person of reasonable firmness.
This legislation also adds further education premises to school premises in the 1988 offence, but affray can be committed in private as well as in public, so all premises are covered. Therefore, the only substantive difference between affray and the new offences is the maximum sentence on indictment: three years for affray and four years for the 1988 offence. This amendment addresses the one outstanding issue by increasing the maximum penalty for affray to four years for an offence in which a corrosive substance or bladed article has been used. I beg to move.
My Lords, this amendment returns, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, just said, to an issue that he raised in Committee about the differences between the revised offence of threatening with an offensive weapon in public in Clause 29 of the Bill and the offence of affray under Section 3 of the Public Order Act 1986. I wrote to him on this matter on 21 February. I will try to clarify the difference to your Lordships’ satisfaction and give an example of how it will work in practice. The difference between the two offences is not simply a matter of different maximum penalties, as Amendment 94 implies.
The offence of affray deals with circumstances where a bystander observes someone threatening another person and where the bystander feels threatened. The offences of threatening with an offensive weapon in public under Section 1A of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 and of threatening with an article with a blade or point or offensive weapons under Section 139AA of the Criminal Justice Act 1998 deal with circumstances where a person is themselves being threatened. Indeed, in practice it is possible to commit both offences at the same time, as the noble Lord will be aware and as the CPS charging advice sets out. An example would be where someone is holding person A by the throat in the road, screaming and shouting, but also waving a knife around in the air so that person B thinks that the defendant might also come for them—that would be an offence of affray—or someone might start a fight in a pub in such a way that people nearby think that the person might also start on them, as opposed to cases where there is not that perception that a bystander would be affected. Case law examples include driving a car at another occupied vehicle or setting dogs on the police with the words, “Go on! Go on!”—only in case law does such language get used.
Therefore, affray concerns a reasonable bystander who witnesses someone else being threatened and fears for their own personal safety. This is a different test from that under the offences amended by the Bill, which ask whether a reasonable person exposed to the same threat as the victim would think that there is an immediate risk of physical harm to that victim. Under the offences in the Bill it is therefore what a reasonable person in the victim’s shoes would be likely to feel when threatened, rather than whether a person witnessing a threat against someone else also feels threatened. Amendment 94 therefore fails to address the fact that these offences deal with different things. As I have indicated, it is not just about penalties, although I fully accept that I highlighted this as a key difference in Committee. Affray is a public order offence and therefore focuses on the weapon and the threat to the wider public, rather than the impact on the victim. The offences of threatening in public deal with the victim being threatened.
I hope, in the light of this further explanation, that the noble Lord is persuaded that we are not creating unnecessary duplication in the criminal law and, on that basis, will be content to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation. I do not think that it does away with my general comments about the legislation as a whole but on this occasion, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 94 withdrawn.
Clause 33: Prohibition of certain firearms etc: England and Wales and Scotland
95: Clause 33, leave out Clause 33 and insert the following new Clause—
“Prohibition of certain firearms etc: England and Wales and Scotland
(1) The Firearms Act 1968 is amended as follows.(2) In section 5 (weapons subject to general prohibition), in subsection (1), after paragraph (af) insert—“(ag) any rifle from which a shot, bullet or other missile, with kinetic energy of more than 13,600 joules at the muzzle of the weapon, can be discharged;(ah) any rifle with a chamber from which empty cartridge cases are extracted using—(i) energy from propellant gas, or (ii) energy imparted to a spring or other energy storage device by propellant gas, other than a rifle which is chambered for .22 rim-fire cartridges;”.(3) In section 5(1), for the “and” at the end of paragraph (b) substitute—“(ba) any device (commonly known as a bump stock) which is designed or adapted so that—(i) it is capable of forming part of or being added to a self loading lethal barrelled weapon (as defined in section 57(1B) and (2A)), and(ii) if it forms part of or is added to such a weapon, it increases the rate of fire of the weapon by using the recoil from the weapon to generate repeated pressure on the trigger; and”.(4) In section 5(2), after “including,” insert “in the case of weapons, any devices falling within subsection (1)(ba) of this section and,”.(5) In section 5(2A)(a), after “weapon” insert “, device”.(6) In section 51A(1)(a) (minimum sentences for certain offences under section 5), in each of sub-paragraphs (i) and (iii), after “(af)” insert “, (ag), (ah), (ba)”.(7) In Schedule 6 (prosecution and punishment of offences), in Part 1 (table of punishments)—(a) in the entry for section 5(1)(a), (ab), (aba), (ac), (ad), (ae), (af) or (c), in the first column, after “(af)” insert “, (ag), (ah), (ba)”,(b) in the entry for section 19, in the third column, for “or (af)” substitute “, (af), (ag), (ah) or (ba)”, and(c) in the entry for section 20(1), in the third column, for “or (af)” substitute “, (af), (ag), (ah) or (ba)”.(8) The amendments made by subsection (6) apply only in relation to—(a) an offence under section 5(1)(ag), (ah) or (ba) of the Firearms Act 1968 which is committed after the coming into force of subsection (6), and(b) an offence under a provision listed in section 51A(1A) of that Act in respect of a firearm specified in section 5(1)(ag), (ah) or (ba) of that Act which is committed after the coming into force of subsection (6).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would return the prohibition of high-powered firearms in England, Scotland and Wales to the Bill, which was removed during the Bill's passage through the Commons.
My Lords, in my nine years in your Lordships’ House, I have never had to come to the Dispatch Box and speak to two amendments that were originally in the government Bill. I am proposing a government clause here. I suppose we all have to do new things at some point, but it is a strange situation when the opposition spokesperson moves to add two clauses on these matters that were in the Bill in the other place.
I shall read out a couple of quotes that may interest the House. First:
“There is concern about the availability of .50 calibre and rapid-fire Manually Actuated Release System (MARS) rifles being available to some civilian firearms licence holders. The range and penetrative power of .50 calibre rifles makes them more dangerous than other common firearms and were they to be used in criminal or terrorist activities would present a serious threat to the public and would be uniquely difficult for the police to control. Due to the rate of discharge MARS rifles pose a comparable risk to the public and police as other self-loading weapons already banned in the UK. The Government need to intervene to ensure the purchase, ownership or possession is illegal”.
That is the opening statement of the Government’s impact assessment.
Moving on, at Second Reading in the House of Commons, the Secretary of State said:
“We based those measures on evidence that we received from intelligence sources, police and other security experts … According to the information that we have, weapons of this type have, sadly, been used in the troubles in Northern Ireland, and, according to intelligence provided by police and security services, have been possessed by criminals who have clearly intended to use them”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/6/18; cols. 918-19.]
What happened? What persuaded the Government to do a complete about-turn by Third Reading? I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response. Apparently, these weapons can immobilise a truck or hit a person over a mile away. I am surprised by the about-turn between Second Reading and Third Reading. We raised this issue in Grand Committee and have still had no explanation. I seek to put two government clauses back into the Bill. I look forward to the debate and I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for returning us to the issue of high muzzle energy—HME—rifles with an explanation of his amendment. I want to point out that I have never opposed the proposed ban on MARS or lever-release rifles, as I am sure the noble Lord will recognise, although I have eased back on my opposition to the compensation arrangements for them.
Amendments 103A, 103B, 107A, 107B, 108A, 110A, 113A, 116 and 117 in this group are in my name. The first two are substantive; the rest are consequential. In Committee, my noble friend Lord Lucas and I suggested that we did not need to put these high muzzle energy, .50 calibre target rifles in Section 5 and thus prohibit them from general use. However, we need to make certain that they cannot fall into the wrong hands. We can achieve that by requiring the same levels of security currently applied to Section 5 firearms—those with no legitimate civilian use, such as self-loading rifles and automatic weapons, among others. My noble friend Lord Lucas mentioned level 3 security in his amendment while mine sought to give an order-making power to the Secretary of State to achieve much the same. In addition, my amendment provided for transport conditions.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, made a powerful intervention in support of the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to ban high muzzle energy rifles. We can well understand the noble Lord’s motivation, which is pure. In doing so, he suggested that we should always follow the advice of senior Ministers on matters of security. I have to say that I found that somewhat odd. The noble Lord will be well aware that Ministers are reliant on advice from officials. While that advice is often very good, it is not infallible. My noble friend Lord Howe had a brush with this difficulty when he was dealing with the noble Countess, Lady Mar, about organophosphates.
Our role is to be a revising Chamber, an additional check on the Executive, and a source of expertise. I think we do this very well. During the period when the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, was serving with distinction as the Secretary-General of NATO, the then Prime Minister convinced us, as a matter of national security, that we had to invade Iraq to deal with weapons of mass destruction. Let us just say that for nearly all of us it was not our finest moment in a parliamentary democracy.
The other point that I will make gently to the noble Lord is that there will almost certainly be cross-fertilisation between the .50-calibre target shooting community and the UK military. However, we should be in no doubt that we are talking about exceptionally powerful and potentially accurate firearms. This is the case even when considering a standard ball round, let alone a military armour-piercing or incendiary round. On the other hand, HME rifles are heavy and clumsy, and there is no history of them being used illegally in the UK. Moreover, considerable skill is required to be able to exploit their potential. I certainly do not have that skill; I would not even dare fire one because I would be too worried about the recoil. Even today, the police are very cautious about to whom they will issue a firearms certificate for one of these rifles. Nevertheless, we should never forget what can go wrong if we do not get this right. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, was right to draw our attention to the risks when he spoke in Committee and I suspect he will be even more eloquent in this debate.
In Committee, I was encouraged by the response of my noble friend the Minister and I felt that I could tempt the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, with a better drafted amendment on Report. I am grateful to the officials in the Bill team who have given me detailed advice on how I could improve my amendment while ensuring that it would have largely the same effect. There is no need to worry about the definition of a rifle as there is no scope for misunderstanding. The amendment addresses the licensing system, not the enforcement system. Noble Lords will notice that there are requirements for consultation and a negative instrument to implement any changes that appear desirable as a result of the consultation.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will feel able to withdraw his amendment, on the understanding that I will move my amendments when they come up in their place on the Marshalled List.
My Lords, I think we are all agreed that this is an important issue which needs to be debated. As my noble friend said, he is simply moving in his amendment what the Government put in their original legislation, so one would have thought that it would be uncontroversial. My noble friend has read out what the Home Secretary said in the debate at Second Reading in the other place. I think it is legitimate for us to ask the question and be given an answer as to why the Home Secretary has chosen to ignore the advice of the agencies concerned when he withdrew the amendment to the Bill. However, having said that, the Government have promised a consultation on this matter, which is an important statement on their part, and therefore it would be wise not to press the amendment to a vote today.
In the consultation that is to take place, I expect that the agencies quoted by the Home Secretary will want to tell Members of both Houses what their view is of the dangers of these weapons. As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has outlined, officials have given a view about these pretty dreadful weapons. A .50 calibre rifle sounds almost innocuous, but they are basically sniper rifles that can take out a vehicle and human beings at a mile’s distance. These are formidable weapons in war. They are highly prized and valued in conflict given their accuracy and lethality.
I recall as Defence Secretary going to Bosnia and watching Operation Harvest involving members of the Royal Highland Fusiliers in Banja Luka. One of them, with a broad Glasgow accent, came back from one of the houses in the village with a sniper rifle. Since he did not have an interpreter with him, I wondered how he had managed to persuade the individual in the house to hand over such a prized instrument of the conflict. I think it was the nature of his accent that persuaded the inhabitant of the house that he was not a friendly force and they should therefore hand it over. It was regarded as enormously significant that day that he had managed to persuade them to hand over what was regarded as one of the key instruments of the conflict there.
It is quite legitimate for Members of the House to listen to the words of the Home Secretary read out by my noble friend. The Home Secretary said that he based these measures on,
“evidence that we received from intelligence sources, police and other security experts”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/6/18; col. 918.]
That is pretty all-embracing. This is not just a handful of individuals putting this forward. We are talking here about representatives of 43 police forces in the United Kingdom, the Secret Intelligence Service, the Security Service, GCHQ and the National Crime Agency. Their distilled view and wisdom was that if these weapons were to fall into the hands of criminals or others with malign intent, they would have particularly dangerous effects. The Home Secretary did not underestimate it. He said:
“According to the information that we have, weapons of this type have, sadly, been used in the troubles in Northern Ireland”—
the noble Earl said they had never been used in the United Kingdom, but we are told by the Home Secretary that they have—
“and, according to intelligence provided by police and security services, have been possessed by criminals who have clearly intended to use them”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/6/18; col. 919.]
We have had a discussion about knife crime, a huge issue affecting us at present. One can only imagine what would happen if the Home Secretary were right and criminal elements got their hands on .50 calibre rifles, and what damage they could do.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, poured scorn on advice given by officials. I was a Secretary of State and had officials who gave me advice in NATO as well. It is the role of Ministers to listen to advice and to make decisions, but the Home Secretary presumably would not come to Parliament not having given careful attention to the advice offered to him on that occasion. There must have been something pretty radical to change his mind—not just the assembled Members of Parliament who argued vociferously against it.
I went through the great debate about handguns in 1997-98, and I have heard all the arguments before. Yes, they will be safe if we have safeguards and the police are satisfied. I remember the number of people who had these handguns, some of them large numbers of handguns, and being assured that they were all safe—yet we saw the two major incidents in Hungerford and Dunblane caused by the private ownership of handguns.
I am not reassured by some of the statements that have been made. I would prefer to follow the course of action laid down by the Home Secretary in his opening speech at Second Reading. I hope that during the consultation we will be able to make that case and that the Home Secretary will return to his original view.
My Lords, I understand why the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, are saying what they say. I am not as surprised as the noble Lords, in that my experience is that Governments argue until they are blue in the face that they could not possibly adopt an opposition amendment, only to adopt it at the next stage. Such a change of view is not without precedent when it comes to these matters.
I am more warmly disposed to the calls of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for a compromise, if you will, of increased security. However, I hope to be even more convinced by the Minister that the right way forward is further consultation.
My Lords, I join this debate for a couple of reasons, having listened to it in Grand Committee in the Moses Room. I was disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, did not try to copy the accent of the HLI Jock. Your Lordships would have understood why the rifle was handed over.
I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench will solve an argument that I had at the weekend about how easy it is to modify a rifle that is constructed above 13,600 joules to below 13,600 joules. If that could be on the record it would be helpful. Also, could he not introduce the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Attlee under Section 63 of the 1968 Act?
My Lords, the answer to the noble Earl’s question about the energy of the rifle is that there is a huge gap between the next lowest powered rifle and the .50 calibre rifle.
My Lords, people have spoken to me about this and, from what I understand, these weapons are only used now in international competition. If I am right, it would be sad if we were to lose our ability to take part in them. I cannot see what the problem is, given that these weapons have not been used in terrorist incidents. I also understand that it is hard to get hold of armour-piercing and dangerous ammunition, which is not used in international target competition. You have to find a terrorist source, effectively, to get that; a casual thief would not be able to handle it. The additional security proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, would be satisfactory and enable Britain to take part in international competition.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has indicated, Amendments 95 and 96 would restore the prohibition on civilian access to high muzzle energy rifles, which was a feature of the Bill on its first introduction in the House of Commons. These rifles are currently available for civilian use or ownership under general firearms licensing arrangements administered by the police.
We discussed these amendments in Grand Committee, and the question of whether these particular rifles should be prohibited also received much scrutiny in the House of Commons. I hope therefore it will not be necessary for me to repeat all that I said in Grand Committee but, in the light of the challenge of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, it may assist your Lordships if I briefly reiterate the Government’s position.
The Government originally included in the Bill the prohibition of high muzzle energy rifles because of the concerns raised by the police and the National Crime Agency about the potential for damage, serious injury or fatalities if these rifles were to fall into the hands of criminals or terrorists. They are larger and more powerful than the typical rifles that are licensed by the police for civilian use under our existing firearms legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked me: what has changed? There is a simple, one-word answer, which is democracy. There are differing views in Parliament and beyond about whether we need to go as far as prohibition, or whether, given the particular characteristics of these rifles—their weight and size, for example—enhanced security around their storage and transportation would sufficiently meet the risk of theft and misuse that has been articulated to the Government by the police and others. The Government wish to test this further through the public consultation that has already been announced to look in more detail at firearms safety issues following the Bill. This will provide an opportunity for all the experts and others to have their say on the issue of prohibition and security standards, and enable the Government to take a more informed view in the light of the consultation’s responses. That is not to say that the Government are no longer concerned about the risks that these rifles pose; we do not row back from the clear statements made on the nature of these weapons.
That brings me neatly on to the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Attlee, which will help to address this issue. Amendments 103A and 103B concern the security conditions that the police place on the certificates of those who have access to the high muzzle energy rifles that we are concerned about here. These certificates are issued by the police under Section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968 or Article 3 of the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004. They allow the police to stipulate specific conditions that must be met by the certificate holder.
We discussed the issue of secure storage in Committee, where there was some debate on the need for so-called level 3 security. The different levels of security arrangements are set out in the Home Office Firearms Security Handbook, with level 3 being the highest level in the handbook. My noble friend’s amendments do not, helpfully, reference level 3 explicitly. As I said in Committee, it would be an anomaly to specify in the Bill detailed security conditions for a particular rifle type, and it would not be appropriate to refer specifically in legislation to the guidance set out in the Firearms Security Handbook because the guidance carries no specific legal weight and can be amended administratively. Rather, the amendments now put forward by my noble friend address the issue of firearms security by placing a duty on the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Department of Justice to set out in rules made under the existing firearms legislation the security requirements for the storage and transit of high muzzle energy rifles.
This will enable the Secretary of State and Department of Justice to specify the security requirements by making them conditions subject to which the relevant firearms certificates are issued by the police. Just what those storage conditions will be is something the Government will include in the public consultation that has been committed to. This will give all those with an interest an opportunity to express their views on whether we should be mirroring level 3 in the intended secondary legislation or whether these specific firearms require something more. However, the overall effect of Amendments 103A and 103B, and the accompanying rules, will be to ensure that these dangerous firearms are kept and stored as securely as possible when held in the community, both when not in use and when being transported from place to place. For this reason, the Government are content to support my noble friend’s amendments.
My noble friend Lord Caithness asked how easy it is to power down from 13,600 joules. Even if a rifle is converted to a lower power level, it would still be caught by the definition of a rifle capable of such pressures.
Having regard to everything I have said, to our debate on Amendments 95 and 96 and to our commitment to run a full public consultation on this issue, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for his contribution. This has been an interesting debate. I am proposing the position the Government took only a few months ago in the other place. They are now opposing that position. I suppose we live in interesting times.
I was very clear at Second Reading that I fully support the Home Secretary. I am just disappointed that the Government have changed their mind. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for his amendments. They go some way towards allaying my fears. I am very pleased to learn from the Minister that the Government will support them. That is progress, and I thank the noble Lord for tabling the amendments today.
I also welcome the government consultation. I hope everyone involved and interested will contribute to it. My concern is that we will have the consultation and get the results many months after this Bill has passed into law. If the Government decide to ban these weapons, I will be asking how they are going do so and when there will be legislation. That has happened before. Noble Lords know that I am going to mention the rogue landlords database in the dreaded Housing and Planning Act. We wanted it to be made public, but the Government opposed us all the way. We won at least two votes, but the Government would not have it, so the public cannot access the database. The Government have now changed their mind, but when I ask about it, they say, “You’re absolutely right, Lord Kennedy, but we cannot find a bit of legislation to make it public yet”. That is the frustration with these consultations. The Government look at things, change their mind, but we cannot get changes.
I am not going to test the opinion of the House. I am tempted to see whether the Government vote against their original position, but I shall not do that today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 95 withdrawn.
Clause 34: Prohibition of certain firearms etc: Northern Ireland
95A: Clause 34, page 34, line 44, at beginning insert “and is thereby, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, enabled to fire at a substantially faster rate than a bolt-action rifle”
My Lords, in Grand Committee my noble friend and I had a discussion on this subject and he said that he would do his best to find me the evidence that the Government were working on that rifles that are targeted in this part of the Bill are capable of a higher rate of fire than ordinary target rifles. I have not received, as far as I can find out, anything from my noble friend.
My amendment is not intended to look at the process. After all, targeting only where the energy source is the gas from the firing of the previous cartridge leaves the possibility that a similar mechanism might be powered by electricity or clockwork. I think that the Government are saying that they do not want in common use rifles that are capable of a higher rate of fire than a standard bolt-action rifle. That seems reasonable, and if that is what the Government want to achieve, let us have legislation that achieves that and does not go at just the particular way a higher rate of fire—if there is indeed a higher rate of fire—is being achieved. That will allow us to develop a weapon that can be conveniently used by disabled people but which will be acceptable to the Government in the long term. That was very much why these weapons came into being. They were perfectly legally created but were adapted to the needs of particular shooters.
Let us have out in the clear, in legislation, that the basic thing that the Government want to avoid is fast-firing rifles. Let us ban them. Then something that does not have a higher rate of fire, in the Secretary of State’s opinion, can be allowed and created to meet need of these particular target shooters.
Under this subsection we are looking at a compensation payment of around £15 million, as far as I can discover, which is not enormous on the Grayling scale but is nevertheless a serious amount of money for the Government to focus on whether this is a justified expenditure or not. I would like to be sure that the rifles are being banned because they exceed a rate of fire that the Government find acceptable. If we are going to do it by the mechanism in this Bill because we have not got time to change anything else, let us at least see the evidence. What measurement of the rate of fire of these rifles have the Government made to justify spending £15 million? If that evidence is not immediately forthcoming, let us refocus on the underlying concern—the rate of fire. Let us make that the prohibited thing. That way, we can adapt to changes in technology as they come along and make sure that this bit of the Bill continues to achieve its intended effect into the future, and not just until someone finds another technological workaround. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this amendment. I find it very sad that we wish to discriminate in legislation against people who cannot handle certain equipment in general—that is a general principle in life—and in this case rifles for competition. Some of them develop great skill. It gives them something to achieve and excel at. It is highly discriminatory and very sad that we have to discriminate against disabled because of a few concerns and an inability to think this through properly. I therefore support the amendment and really think we should put something like it through.
My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint my noble friend, especially in light of my success with the amendments that I will be moving formally a little later. I am afraid that these MARS and lever-action rifles are self-loading. The mechanism inside them works in exactly the same way as the automatic rifles that I used in Her Majesty’s service. I do not support these. I thought that we had banned them post Hungerford. At the time of Hungerford, I was surprised that you could privately own a self-loading rifle—a 7.62 military-specification rifle.
Going back to the point by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, I did not realise that, post Dunblane, there was a so-called sporting discipline of combat shooting. Noble Lords will recall the noble Lord, Lord Howard, talking about those who don the trappings of combat. I was unhappy that people could do combat shooting—in other words, changing fire positions and, most importantly, changing magazines. That is the edge that the security forces have over a private person: they train to make sure that they do not pull the trigger and find that they have an empty magazine.
So I am afraid that I do not support retaining the civilian ownership of MARS or lever-action rifles. They are self-loading rifles, and I thought we had banned them a long time ago.
My Lords, although this amendment refers to Clause 34, I have assumed for the purposes of my reply to my noble friend that he would like to apply the additional wording to Clause 33 as well, for consistency.
These clauses will prohibit civilian access to certain types of rapid-firing rifles, defined as,
“any rifle with a chamber from which empty cartridge cases are extracted using … energy from propellant gas, or … energy imparted to a spring or other energy storage device by propellant gas”.
As has been made clear during previous stages of this Bill, the Government are concerned about the potential risk to public safety if these rifles were to fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals. At present, these rifles are available to target shooters who have obtained a firearms certificate from the police, for which they have been vetted. However, the police and National Crime Agency are concerned about the rate of fire of these rifles and consider that stricter controls are needed.
The Government recognise that the vast majority of people who own firearms use them safely and responsibly and that it is important to be proportionate when considering additional controls. However, it is also important to recognise the recent changes in the nature of gun crime and the threats to public safety from terrorist attacks. In his amendment, my noble friend proposes the addition of a statement to the effect that these rifles are, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, enabled to fire at a substantially faster rate than a bolt-action rifle. I have to say that, if we were not of this opinion, we would not be looking to introduce stricter controls.
I will pause here to describe the types of rifle we are talking about. There are two types that use the energy from the propellant gas in the way described. One is generally referred to as the MARS rifle, which uses a second pull of the trigger to assist in swift reloading. The other uses a lever release system that makes use of a lever operated by the user’s thumb to release the bolt and chamber a fresh round. I will pause further to reflect on the fact that Parliament has seen fit over the years to prohibit automatic and self-loading rifles, for the very reason that their rapid rates of fire are unacceptable for civilian use. While it is true that the rifles we are seeking to prohibit in this Bill are fitted with what might be termed “interrupter devices”, requiring a second pull of the trigger or the flick of a lever, they are still akin in the way they operate to the self-loading rifles that have been previously banned.
My noble friend has asked me to clarify the basis on which the Government reached their policy position. The simple answer is that the advice we have had from law enforcement agencies is crystal clear: these rifles can fire at a rate that is significantly faster than a bolt-action rifle. I accept that some disabled shooters may choose to use these rifles because of the benefit they bring in terms of ease of reloading. I also accept that there a few shooters who can manipulate the bolt on a conventional rifle to fire off a number of rounds more quickly than most shooters. In answer to the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, we have given careful thought to the position of disabled shooters. The point was raised in discussion on the Bill in the other place. The view we came to is that there was a decision to be made about whether to ban these weapons outright, and our view was that we should. It is therefore important for those who provide shooting facilities to consider what alternative assistance might be provided to disabled shooters—whether by adapting other rifles or the places where disabled people shoot, or by providing other forms of assistance.
My Lords, I would like to suggest something to the Minister that has just occurred to me: how about including them with the rifles covered by the amendments of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee?
We received only a very few representations about these weapons as opposed to those covered by my noble friend Lord Attlee’s amendments, where there was a distinct division of opinion about what we should do.
My Lords, is another possibility for disabled shooters to use .22 self-loading rifles, which are still available?
I am grateful to my noble friend. I am sure that that point will be taken on board by the clubs concerned and those who assist disabled shooters.
I do not think we can escape the fact that, were they to get hold of them, criminals or terrorists could cause more harm with this type of rifle than they ever could with a conventional one—acknowledging, of course, that all firearms are lethal and should be controlled. The Government are already satisfied, for the reasons that I have given, that these rapid-firing rifles meet the criteria that the amendment seeks to impose. For that reason, we think the additional wording is not required. I hope that on that basis my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, yes, of course I am going to withdraw my amendment but before I do, I again urge the Government to look at the harm that they are focused on rather than the mechanism by which that harm is delivered. If, as I think is entirely reasonable, the Government do not want rapid-firing rifles, why does the Bill not say that? Just because the energy from firing the previous shot is conveniently available—that is the way that these rifles work at present—does not mean that you could not create a rifle that worked off previously stored compressed gas, batteries, a wind-up clockwork mechanism or some other means of storing energy that would allow a round to be automatically loaded, or loaded with an interrupt mechanism, after the previous round had been fired.
In this legislation we seem to be dealing with the mechanism rather than the underlying problem. Surely, if we deal with the underlying problem, we will not get the situation arising again where a couple of designs of rifle have been allowed to be created—they have not grown up without permission—and have been sold, when, fundamentally, as my noble friend Lord Attlee has pointed out, we feel uncomfortable about self-loading rifles. We are not banning self-loading rifles here; we are banning one particular mechanism of self-loading. That seems short-sighted and not the best way of tackling the problem.
I would be really grateful if my noble friend the Minister could share the evidence that these particular rifles are in fact faster-loading than a bolt-action rifle, not so much because I am concerned about this particular case but because I would like to know that when it comes to making this sort of judgment in future we can look at and understand the basis on which the decision has been taken.
My Lords, my understanding is that the evidence provided to the Government by the National Crime Agency is already in the public domain.
My Lords, I would be immensely grateful if my noble friend could point it out to me because no one else has been able to. That would certainly be helpful. As my noble friend has requested, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 95A withdrawn.
Amendment 96 not moved.
Clause 37: Payments in respect of surrendered firearms other than bump stock
Amendments 97 and 98
97: Clause 37, page 36, line 38, leave out “such”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would remove a surplus word from Clause 37(8)(b).
98: Clause 37, page 36, line 38, at end insert—
“(c) provision enabling a person to exercise a discretion in determining—(i) whether to make a payment in response to a claim, and(ii) the amount of such a payment.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would confirm that regulations under Clause 37 providing for compensation for surrendered firearms may allow a person determining an amount of compensation to exercise a discretion in doing so.
Amendments 97 and 98 agreed.
Clause 38: Payments in respect of prohibited firearms which are bump stocks
Amendments 99 and 100
99: Clause 38, page 37, line 26, leave out “such”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would remove a surplus word from Clause 38(9)(b).
100: Clause 38, page 37, line 26, at end insert—
“(c) provision enabling a person to exercise a discretion in determining—(i) whether to make a payment in response to a claim, and(ii) the amount of such a payment.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would confirm that regulations under Clause 38 providing for compensation for surrendered bump stocks may allow a person determining an amount of compensation to exercise a discretion in doing so.
Amendments 99 and 100 agreed.
Clause 39: Payments in respect of ancillary equipment
Amendments 101 and 102
101: Clause 39, page 38, line 23, leave out “such”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would remove a surplus word from Clause 39(7)(b).
102: Clause 39, page 38, line 23, at end insert—
This amendment would confirm that regulations under Clause 39 providing for compensation for ancillary equipment which has been surrendered or disposed of may allow a person determining an amount of compensation to exercise a discretion in doing so.
Amendments 101 and 102 agreed.
103: After Clause 39, insert the following new Clause—
“Statutory firearms licensing guidance
(1) The Secretary of State must, within the period of three months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, publish a policy statement setting out proposals for the introduction of statutory firearms licensing guidance under section 55A of the Firearms Act 1968.(2) The Secretary of State must, within the period of three months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, open a public consultation on the proposals set out in subsection (1).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would place a duty on the Secretary of State to open a public consultation on proposals for the introduction of statutory firearms licensing guidance within three months of the passing of this Act.
My Lords, I refer noble Lords to my entry in the register. The purpose of Amendment 103 is to place a duty on the Secretary of State to open a public discussion on proposals for the introduction of statutory firearms licensing guidance within three months of the Bill becoming an Act. I spoke about this matter at length at Second Reading and in Grand Committee, where I found considerable sympathy with my proposals, in particular the medical aspects of firearms licensing guidance. I do not intend to repeat those arguments, save to say that my proposals have widespread support from the police, the British Shooting Sports Council and the APPG for Shooting and Conservation. I understand that the suggestions agreed with the Home Office by these bodies some two years ago also have the Home Office’s support.
However noble its intentions, the Home Office is the cause of much frustration in the ranks of various stakeholders through its constant delaying—the answer to the introduction of the promised consultation varying between “soon”, “shortly”, and, indeed, “as soon as possible”, as stated in my noble friend’s response to me in Grand Committee:
“I have a partial answer for my noble friend. The consultation will be launched after Royal Assent, but I am sure that the spirit of that undertaking is as soon as possible after Royal Assent”.—[Official Report, 6/2/19; col. GC 418.]
I and many in the shooting organisations believe that the continuing delay is because the Home Office simply has yet to get its ducks in a row. Further delay is neither fair nor good enough. The amendment serves to enhance the safety of the public. I believe I have cross-party support on it. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. I beg to move.
My Lords, I put my name to this amendment in Committee, but when I came to put my name to it on Report I found that three others had already done so. I hope my noble friend is impressed that support for the amendment is from not only the Cross Benches but the Back Benches of the Labour Party.
This is a hugely important amendment. I will not repeat what I said in Grand Committee, but I hope my noble friend will understand that the amendment is designed to enhance public safety. If it had been enacted before Dunblane I think some of the problems there would not have happened. Anybody who has access to the shotgun or rifle cabinet must be properly scrutinised. As my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury said, the Home Office is dragging its feet on this. We want it to hurry up. I hope my noble friend will ensure that my former department gets a move on and does this consultation extremely quickly.
My Lords, while I support my noble friend’s amendment, which I am sure is a good idea, I return to the issue of the old Firearms Consultative Committee, which fell into disuse. If that was still in operation, we would not have had the MARS lever action release problem and we would have saved £15 million in compensation, because I am sure that that committee would have nipped its development in the bud and saved an awful lot of money.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for raising this issue and for the opportunity to discuss it with him at a meeting last week. As he explained, his amendment would place a duty on the Secretary of State to open a public consultation on statutory firearms licensing guidance within three months of Royal Assent.
The Policing and Crime Act 2017 introduced a power, contained in Section 55A of the Firearms Act 1968, for the Secretary of State to issue statutory guidance to chief officers that will apply to issues such as background checks, medical suitability, and other criteria to protect public safety. This will help ensure high standards and consistency of approach for police firearms licensing. We have said that there will be a public consultation on the draft guidance before it is promulgated.
My noble friend has indicated that he is particularly interested in the medical aspects of the guidance, for understandable reasons. He and other noble Lords wish to see the consultation launched as soon as possible, as a further step towards improving the operation of the medical arrangements. There is a need for strong information-sharing arrangements between GPs and police, to ensure that those in possession of a firearm or shotgun certificate are medically fit and do not pose a risk to themselves or others. But the Government recognise that there is variation in how GPs are responding to police requests for information, and in the fees being charged to applicants, and that following this, the police are not always responding in a consistent way if they do not receive the medical information they require. In addition to holding a public consultation on the introduction of the statutory guidance, the Government will continue to engage with shooting representatives, the police and the medical profession to ensure that the system operates as effectively as possible.
As to the timing of the consultation, my noble friend’s amendment seeks to have the consultation go live within three months of Royal Assent. This is not an unreasonable timetable. My only hesitation is the unknown date of Royal Assent. To allow for this variable, the Government are ready to give a commitment to open the consultation by the Summer Recess. This could even be ahead of the timetable proposed by my noble friend. I hope that in the light of this clear undertaking, my noble friend is content to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his words. I am quite happy to withdraw the amendment, on his undertaking. Would he be prepared to put that in a letter in the Library?
I would hope that, on reflection, my noble friend will accept that as my words will be printed in large letters in Hansard, the undertaking very definitely stands.
Ten points for trying again, my Lords. With that, I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 103 withdrawn.
Amendments 103A and 103B
103A: After Clause 39, insert the following new Clause—
“Conditions applying to certain firearms: England and Wales and Scotland
(1) The Firearms Act 1968 is amended as follows.(2) After section 27 insert—“27A Conditions for storage etc of certain firearms(1) This section applies to a firearm if it is a rifle from which a shot, bullet or other missile, with kinetic energy of more than 13,600 joules at the muzzle of the weapon, can be discharged.(2) The Secretary of State must by rules under section 53 prescribe conditions—(a) subject to which a firearm certificate relating to a firearm to which this section applies must be granted or renewed, and(b) which impose requirements as to the storage of a firearm to which this section applies and as to the security measures to be taken when such a firearm is in transit.(3) Before making rules under section 53 which prescribe conditions of the kind mentioned in subsection (2) the Secretary of State must consult such persons likely to be affected by the rules as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”(3) In section 53 (rules for implementing the Act)—(a) the existing text becomes subsection (1), and(b) at the end of that subsection insert—“(2) A statutory instrument containing (whether alone or with other provision) rules under this section which prescribe conditions of the kind mentioned in section 27A(2) (conditions for storage etc of certain firearms) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to prescribe conditions which must apply to firearm certificates relating to certain high muzzle energy rifles and which relate to the storage and secure transit of such rifles.
103B: After Clause 39, insert the following new Clause—
“Conditions applying to certain firearms: Northern Ireland
(1) The Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 (SI 2004/702 (NI 3)) is amended as follows.(2) In Article 6 (conditions), after paragraph (3) insert—“(3A) Paragraphs (1) and (2) are subject to Article 6A (conditions for storage etc of certain firearms) and regulations under that Article.”(3) After Article 6 insert—“6A Conditions for storage etc of certain firearms(1) This Article applies to a firearm if it is a rifle from which a shot, bullet or other missile, with kinetic energy of more than 13,600 joules at the muzzle of the weapon, can be discharged.(2) The Department of Justice must by regulations prescribe conditions—(a) subject to which a firearm certificate relating to a firearm to which this Article applies must be granted, and(b) which impose requirements as to the storage of a firearm to which this Article applies and as to the security measures to be taken when such a firearm is in transit.(3) If a firearm certificate is granted subject to conditions prescribed under paragraph (2), that certificate may not be varied so as to vary or revoke those conditions.(4) Before making regulations under paragraph (2) the Department of Justice must consult such persons likely to be affected by the regulations as the Department considers appropriate.”(4) In Article 11 (variation of firearm certificate), after paragraph (1) insert—“(1A) Paragraph (1) is subject to Article 6A (conditions for storage etc of certain firearms) and regulations under that Article.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland to prescribe conditions which must apply to firearm certificates relating to certain high muzzle energy rifles and which relate to the storage and secure transit of such rifles.
Amendments 103A and 103B agreed.
Clause 40: Interpretation of sections 33 to 39
Amendments 104 and 105
104: Clause 40, page 38, line 25, leave out from first “in” to third “in” and insert “this Part as it applies”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the Minister’s amendment at page 38, line 28 would convert references to certain Clauses of the Bill relating to firearms into references to a Part of the Bill.
105: Clause 40, page 38, line 28, leave out from first “in” to third “in” and insert “this Part as it applies”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanation of the Minister’s amendment at page 38, line 25.
Amendments 104 and 105 agreed.
106: Before Clause 43, insert the following new Clause—
“Guidance on offences relating to offensive weapons etc
(1) The Secretary of State may from time to time issue guidance about—(a) section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 (prohibition of the carrying of offensive weapons without lawful authority or reasonable excuse),(b) section 1 of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 (penalties for offences in connection with dangerous weapons) as it has effect in relation to—(i) England and Wales, or(ii) the importation of a knife to which that section applies into any other part of the United Kingdom,(c) section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (offence of having article with blade or point in public place) as it has effect in relation to England and Wales,(d) section 139A of that Act (offence of having article with blade or point (or offensive weapon) on educational premises) as it has effect in relation to England and Wales,(e) section 141 of that Act (offensive weapons) as it has effect in relation to England and Wales,(f) section 141A of that Act (sale of bladed articles to persons under 18) as it has effect in relation to England and Wales,(g) section 141B of that Act (limitations on defence to offence under section 141A: England and Wales),(h) any of sections 1 to 4 of this Act (sale and delivery of corrosive products) as they have effect in relation to England and Wales or Scotland,(i) section 6 of this Act (offence of having a corrosive substance in a public place) as it has effect in relation to England and Wales, or(j) any of sections 18 to 21 of this Act (sale and delivery of knives etc) as they have effect in relation to England and Wales.(2) The Scottish Ministers may from time to time issue guidance about—(a) section 1 of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 as it has effect in relation to Scotland and other than in relation to the importation of a knife to which that section applies,(b) section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 as it has effect in relation to Scotland,(c) section 141A of that Act as it has effect in relation to Scotland,(d) section 141C of that Act (defence to offence under section 141A where remote sale or letting on hire: Scotland),(e) section 6 of this Act as it has effect in relation to Scotland, or(f) any of sections 18 to 21 of this Act as they have effect in relation to Scotland.(3) The Department of Justice in Northern Ireland may from time to time issue guidance about—(a) Article 22 of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 (SI 1987/463 (NI 7)) (carrying of offensive weapon in public place),(b) section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 as it has effect in relation to Northern Ireland,(c) section 139A of that Act as it has effect in relation to Northern Ireland, (d) section 141 of that Act as it has effect in relation to Northern Ireland,(e) Article 53 of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 (SI 1996/3160 (NI 24)) (manufacture or sale of certain knives),(f) Article 54 or 54A of that Order (sale of bladed articles to persons under 18),(g) any of sections 1 to 4 of this Act as they have effect in relation to Northern Ireland,(h) section 6 of this Act as it has effect in relation to Northern Ireland, or(i) any of sections 18 to 21 of this Act as they have effect in relation to Northern Ireland.(4) A national authority who issues guidance under this section may from time to time revise it.(5) Subsection (6) applies if a national authority proposes to issue guidance under this section—(a) on a matter on which the authority has not previously issued such guidance, or(b) which the authority considers to be substantially different from guidance previously issued under this section.(6) Before the national authority issues the guidance, the authority must consult such persons likely to be affected by it as the authority considers appropriate.(7) A national authority must arrange for any guidance issued by the authority under this section to be published in such manner as the authority thinks appropriate.(8) This section does not permit a national authority to give guidance to a court or tribunal.(9) In this section “national authority” means—(a) the Secretary of State,(b) the Scottish Ministers, or(c) the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland.(10) Until the coming into force of the repeal of section 141(4) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (ban on importation of weapons) by paragraph 119(2) of Schedule 7 to the Policing and Crime Act 2009, this section has effect as if—(a) subsection (1)(e) referred to section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 as it has effect in relation to—(i) England and Wales, or(ii) the importation of a weapon to which that section applies into any other part of the United Kingdom;(b) subsection (2)(b) referred to that section as it has effect in relation to Scotland and other than in relation to the importation of a weapon to which that section applies, and(c) subsection (3)(d) referred to that section as it has effect in relation to Northern Ireland and other than in relation to the importation of a weapon to which that section applies.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would permit the Secretary of State, the Scottish Ministers or the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland to issue guidance about the operation of offences relating to offensive weapons.
Amendment 106 agreed.
Clause 44: Regulations
Amendment 107 not moved.
Clause 45: Extent
Amendments 107A and 107B
107A: Clause 45, page 41, line 10, leave out “40” and insert “39”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendments to insert new Clauses after Clause 39.
107B: Clause 45, page 41, line 10, at end insert—
“(ja) section 40;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendments to insert new Clauses after Clause 39.
Amendments 107A and 107B agreed.
108: Clause 45, page 41, line 12, at end insert—
“(la) section (Guidance on offences relating to offensive weapons etc);”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment to insert a new Clause before Clause 43.
Amendment 108 agreed.
108A: Clause 45, page 41, line 28, at end insert—
“(da) section (Conditions applying to certain firearms: England and Wales and Scotland);”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment to insert the first of two new Clauses after Clause 39.
Amendment 108A agreed.
Amendments 109 and 110
109: Clause 45, page 41, line 44, at end insert—
“(ba) Part 1A;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment to insert a series of new Clauses after Clause 13.
110: Clause 45, page 41, line 46, leave out “sections 29 to 32” and insert “Part 4”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would convert references to the Clauses of the Bill relating to threatening with an offensive weapon into a reference to Part 4 of the Bill.
Amendments 109 and 110 agreed.
110A: Clause 45, page 42, line 20, at end insert—
“(ha) section (Conditions applying to certain firearms: Northern Ireland);”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment to insert the second of two new Clauses after Clause 39.
Amendment 110A agreed.
Clause 46: Commencement
Amendments 111 to 113
111: Clause 46, page 42, line 36, after “to” insert “section (Piloting) and”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment to insert a new Clause on piloting relating to knife crime prevention orders etc as one of a series of new Clauses to appear after Clause 13.
112: Clause 46, page 43, line 4, at end insert—
“(i) section (Guidance on offences relating to offensive weapons etc) so far as it confers functions on the Scottish Ministers.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment to insert a new Clause before Clause 43.
113: Clause 46, page 43, line 15, at end insert—
“(ha) section (Guidance on offences relating to offensive weapons etc) so far as it confers functions on the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment to insert a new Clause before Clause 43.
Amendments 111 to 113 agreed.
113A: Clause 46, page 43, line 15, at end insert—
“(hb) section (Conditions applying to certain firearms: Northern Ireland);”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment to insert the second of two new Clauses after Clause 39.
Amendment 113A agreed.
Amendments 114 and 115
114: Clause 46, page 43, line 20, at end insert—
“(za) section (Guidance);”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment to insert a new Clause on guidance relating to knife crime prevention orders etc as one of a series of new Clauses to appear after Clause 13.
115: Clause 46, page 43, line 20, at end insert—
“(zb) section (Piloting);”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment to insert a new Clause on piloting relating to knife crime prevention orders etc as one of a series of new Clauses to appear after Clause 13.
Amendments 114 and 115 agreed.
Amendments 116 and 117
116: Clause 46, page 43, line 45, leave out “40” and insert “(Conditions applying to certain firearms: England and Wales and Scotland)”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment to insert new Clauses after Clause 39.
117: Clause 46, page 43, line 45, at end insert—
“(ka) section 40;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendments to insert new Clauses after Clause 39.
Amendments 116 and 117 agreed.