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House of Lords Hansard
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08 October 2019
Volume 799

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure that retailers selling kitchen knives adhere to regulations on the sale of knives.

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I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and in doing so I declare an interest, in that my daughter has a cook-shop in Bedford.

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My Lords, it has been an offence for many years to sell a knife to anyone under 18 in England and Wales, including kitchen knives. The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 will further strengthen the law on the online sale and delivery of knives. We continue to work with retailers to ensure that they have effective measures in place to prevent underage sales of knives.

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Does my noble friend agree that we should pay tribute to the supermarkets and others which have carried out age challenges? Are there not two other areas we should seriously consider concerning the awful challenge that we face? First, could trading standards not do a thorough check throughout the retail trade and with the online trade in some way to ensure that everybody is complying with the age challenge? Secondly, could Her Majesty’s Government not consider introducing legislation to extend the Primary Authority scheme to knives as soon as possible, ideally in the Queen’s Speech?

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I join my noble friend in paying tribute to the supermarkets and the work they have done in this area. I think it is Morrisons and Lidl which have decided not to sell knives in store. Asda has stopped selling single knives and other supermarkets have either stopped or restricted the sale of knives in areas where levels of knife crime are particularly high. We enforce this Act through trading standards and the use of test purchase operations in store and online. The £500,000 prosecution fund, which was introduced as part of the serious violence strategy, helps trading standards to prosecute rogue retailers that repeatedly fail test purchases.

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My Lords, I speak as the mother of a victim of knife crime. I am surprised that the “No Points” campaign has not been mentioned; perhaps Members are unaware of it. However, identifying which variables can be changed to make it difficult to commit a particular harm has been proven to succeed. For example, restricting the amount of paracetamol that you can buy led to fewer deaths from paracetamol overdoses. Sixty years ago, our domestic gas supply changed from coal gas to natural gas, thus effectively removing an effective means of taking one’s own’s life that was readily to hand, and there was a profound drop in the rate of suicide. Does the Minister agree that it would be worth piloting the recommendations in the “No Points” campaign to see if it can achieve similar results for homicide? The point of the campaign is that you do not need a point in the kitchen, and there are good designs available.

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I totally empathise with where the noble Baroness is coming from. She speaks from personal experience when she outlines the devastation that knives can cause to communities. I have some empathy with the “No Points” campaign, although there are very dangerous knives that do not have points at all, such as machetes. The Government believe that the current controls, which will be strengthened by the Offensive Weapons Act, will support this. A further point—no pun intended—is that it is not only legislation that will reduce and curtail knife crime.

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I declare my interest as chair of National Trading Standards, an organisation that receives Home Office money to deal with the sale of knives to underage people. Can the noble Baroness tell the House what further measures she thinks are necessary in respect of handling online sales—making sure that delivery points are properly safeguarded and follow the law—and whether similar arrangements should be extended to the sale, in stores or online, of acids and corrosive materials?

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This is a subject that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and others discussed with me during the passage of the Bill. We decided not to do so—that corrosive products are clearly labelled. It is true that in both the online and retail worlds, age has to be verified at both ends, and how the online or street retailer does that is up to them. It is, however, an offence to deliver to a delivery box or a residential address without that verification.

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My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my local authority interests as recorded in the register. This year’s APPG report on knife crime demonstrated a link between the serious cuts in services to young people—for example, local authority youth services received a 70% cut in funding—and knife crime. Effective measures to reduce knife crime must include significant rises in funding for youth services. Does the Minister agree?

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What I do agree with is that the issues of knife crime are complex, many and varied.

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My Lords, as the Bishop of London, knife crime is of huge concern to me and a source of great sorrow. I thank the noble Baroness for her response regarding the “No Points” campaign. However, research undertaken by the Home Office Scientific Development Branch showed that round knives had significantly less penetration capability than pointed knives and are therefore less likely to be life-threatening. Will the noble Baroness comment on how the Government are responding to the advice given by the Scientific Development Branch?

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I thank the right reverend Prelate for that question. On round versus pointed knives, as I said to the noble Baroness, it is not necessarily the point that is lethal, hence machetes. The legislation is not the only solution in tackling this problem.