Offence of threatening with an offensive weapon etc in a private place

Offensive Weapons Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 28th November 2018.

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‘(1) A person (“A”) commits an offence if—

(a) while A is in a private place, A unlawfully and intentionally threatens another person (“B”) with an article or substance to which this subsection applies, and

(b) A does so in such a way that there is an immediate risk of serious physical harm to B.

(2) Subsection (1) applies to an article or substance if it is—

(a) an offensive weapon within the meaning of section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953,

(b) an article to which section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (offence of having article with blade or point in public place) applies, or

(c) a corrosive substance.

(3) In the application of subsection (1) to an article within subsection (2)(a) or (b), “private place” means a place other than—

(a) a public place,

(b) a place which is part of school premises, or

(c) a place which is part of further education premises.

(4) In the application of subsection (1) to a corrosive substance, “private place” means a place other than a public place.

(5) For the purposes of subsection (1) physical harm is serious if it amounts to grievous bodily harm for the purposes of the Offences against the Person Act 1861.

(6) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, to a fine or to both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 4 years, to a fine or to both.

(7) In relation to an offence committed before the coming into force of section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (maximum sentence that may be imposed on summary conviction of offence triable either way), the reference in subsection (6)(a) to 12 months is to be read as a reference to 6 months.

(8) In this section and section [Search for corrosive substance on school or further education premises]—

“corrosive substance” means a substance that is capable of burning human skin by corrosion;

“further education premises” means land used solely for the purposes of—

(a) an institution within the further education sector (within the meaning of section 91 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992), or

(b) a 16 to 19 Academy (within the meaning of section 1B of the Academies Act 2010),

excluding any land occupied solely as a dwelling by a person employed at the institution or the 16 to 19 Academy;

“public place” includes any place to which, at the time in question, the public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise;

“school premises” means land used for the purposes of a school, excluding any land occupied solely as a dwelling by a person employed at the school; and “school” has the meaning given by section 4 of the Education Act 1996.’—(Victoria Atkins.)

This new clause and NC17 and Amendment 25 make provision for and in connection with a new offence of threatening another person with an offensive weapon, bladed article or corrosive substance in a private place.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 17—Search for corrosive substance on school or further education premises.

New clause 1—Protection for retail staff—

‘(1) A person (“the purchaser”) commits an offence if they intentionally obstruct a person (“the seller”) in the exercise of their duties under section 1 of this Act.

(2) In this section, “intentionally obstruct” includes, but is not limited to, a person acting in a threatening manner.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.’

New clause 5—Prohibition of bladed product displays—

‘(1) A person who in the course of a business displays a bladed product in a place in England and Wales or Northern Ireland is guilty of an offence.

(2) The appropriate Minister may by regulations provide for the meaning of “place” in this section.

(3) The appropriate Minister may by regulations make provision for a display in a place which also amounts to an advertisement to be treated for the purposes of offences in England and Wales or Northern Ireland under this Act—

(a) as an advertisement and not as a display, or

(b) as a display and not as an advertisement.

(4) No offence is committed under this section if—

(c) the bladed products are displayed in the course of a business which is part of the bladed product trade,

(d) they are displays for the purpose of that trade, and

(e) the display is accessible only to persons who are engaged in, or employed by, a business which is also part of that trade.

(5) No offence is committed under this section if the display is a requested display to an individual age 18 or over.

(6) The appropriate Minister may provide in regulations that no offence is committed under section 1 of the display complies with requirements specified in regulations.’

New clause 6—Report on the causes behind youth violence with offensive weapons—

‘(1) The Secretary of State must, within 6 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, lay a report before Parliament on the causes behind youth violence with offensive weapons.

(2) The report under subsection 1 must consider, but is not limited to,

(a) The effect of the reduction in police numbers on the levels of youth violence with offensive weapons;

(b) The effect of the reduction in public spending on—

(i) children’s services,

(ii) Sure Start,

(iii) state-maintained schools,

(iv) local authorities,

(v) youth offending teams,

(vi) Border Force, and

(vii) drug treatment programmes.

(3) The report under subsection 1 and the considerations under subsection 2 must consider the benefits of the public health approach to violence reduction.

(4) The report must contain all departmental evidence held relating to subsection 2 and 3.’

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to review the causes behind youth violence with offensive weapons.

New clause 7—Offence of threatening with an offensive weapon—

‘(1) Section 1A of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 (offence of threatening with offensive weapon in public) is amended as follows.

(a) After “Offence of threatening with offensive weapon” leave out “in public”.

(b) In subsection 1(a), after “weapon” leave out “with him or her in a public place”.

(c) In subsection 3, after “section” leave out ““public place” and “offensive weapon” have” and insert “offensive weapon” has’

This new clause would mean that threatening with an offensive weapon anywhere would be an offence, not merely in a public place.

New clause 10—Threatening with a bladed article or offensive weapon in a dwelling—

‘(1) Section 139AA of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (offence of threatening with article with blade or point or offensive weapon) is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection 12 insert—

13 Where the threatening offence takes place in a dwelling, a person charged with this offence may rely on the defence available in a “householder case” set out in section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

14 In subsection 13 above, “dwelling” has the meaning given in section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.’

New clause 11—Threatening with a bladed article or offensive weapon in a dwelling (No.2)—

‘(1) Section 1A of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 (offence of threatening with offensive weapon in public) is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection 10 insert—

11 Where the threatening offence takes place in a dwelling, a person charged with this offence may rely on the defence available in a “householder case” set out in section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

12 In subsection 11 above, “dwelling” has the meaning given in section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.’

New clause 12—Threatening with a bladed article or offensive weapon in a dwelling (No.3)—

‘(1) Section 1A of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 (offence of threatening with offensive weapon in public) is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection 10 insert—

11 Where an offence under this section takes place in a dwelling it shall be a defence for a person charged with such an offence to prove that he had lawful authority or reasonable excuse for having the article with him.

12 In subsection 11 above, “dwelling” has the meaning given in section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.’

New clause 13—Threatening with a bladed article or offensive weapon in a dwelling (No.4)—

‘(1) Section 139AA of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (offence of threatening with article with blade or point or offensive weapon) is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection 12 insert—

13 Where an offence under this section takes place in a dwelling it shall be a defence for a person charged with such an offence to prove that he had lawful authority or reasonable excuse for having the article with him.

14 In subsection 13 above, “dwelling” has the meaning given in section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.’

New clause 14—Protection for retail staff: bladed articles—

‘(1) A person (“the purchaser”) commits an offence if they intentionally obstruct a person (“the seller”) in the exercise of their duties under section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

(2) In this section, “intentionally obstruct” includes, but is not limited to, a person acting in a threatening manner.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.’

New clause 15—Offence of threatening with blade or offensive weapon (No.2)—

‘(1) Section 139AA of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (offence of threatening with article with blade or point or offensive weapon) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection 1(a), after “applies” leave out “with him or her in a public place or on school premises”.

(3) Omit subsection 2.

(4) Omit subsection 3.

(5) Omit subsection 5.’

This new clause would mean that threatening with a knife anywhere would be an offence, not merely in a public place or school/further education premises.

New clause 20—Offence of threatening with a non-corrosive substance—

‘(1) A person commits an offence if they threaten a person with a substance they claim or imply is corrosive.

(2) It is not a defence for a person to prove that the substance used to threaten a person was not corrosive or listed under schedule 1 of this act.

(3) In this section, “threaten a person” means—

(a) that the person unlawfully and intentionally threatens another person (“A”) with the substance, and

(b) does so in such a way that a reasonable person (“B”) who was exposed to the same threat as A would think that there was an immediate risk of physical harm to B.

(4) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.’

New clause 21—Prohibition on the possession of a corrosive substance on educational premises—

‘(1) A person commits an offence if that person has a corrosive substance with them on school premises, further education premises or higher education premises.

(2) It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) to prove that they had good reason or lawful authority for having the corrosive substance on school premises, further education premises or higher education premises.

(3) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (2), it is a defence for a person charged in England and Wales or Northern Ireland with an offence under subsection (1) to prove that they had the corrosive substance with them for use at work.

(4) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (3), it is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) to show that they had the corrosive substance with them for use at work.

(5) A person is to be taken to have shown a matter mentioned in subsection (4) or (5) if—

(a) sufficient evidence of the matter is adduced to raise an issue with respect to it, and

(b) the contrary is not proved beyond reasonable doubt.

(6) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable—

(a) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to an imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, to a fine or to both;

(b) on summary conviction in Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both;

(c) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 4 years, to a fine or both.

(7) In relation to an offence committed before the coming into force of section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (maximum sentence that may be imposed on summary conviction of offence triable either way) the reference in subsection (7)(a) to 12 months is to be read as a reference to 6 months.

(8) A constable may enter any school, further education premises or higher education premises and search those premises and any person on those premises, if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence under this section is, or has been, committed.

(9) If, in the course of a search under this section, a constable discovers a corrosive substance they may seize and retain it.

(10) The constable may use reasonable force, if necessary, in the exercise of entry conferred by this section.

(11) In this section—

“corrosive substance” means a substance which is capable of burning human skin by corrosion;

“school premises” means land used for the purpose of a school, excluding any land occupied solely as a dwelling by a person employed at a school;

“school” has the meaning given by—

(a) in relation to land in England and Wales, section 4 of the Education Act 1996;

(b) in relation to land in Northern Ireland, Article 2(2) of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 (SI 1986/ 594 (NI 3).

“further educational premises” means—

(a) in relation to England and Wales, land used solely for the purposes of—

(b) in relation to Northern Ireland, land used solely for the purposes of an institution of further education within the meaning of Article 2 of the Further Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 (SI 1997/ 1772 (NI 15) excluding any land occupied solely as a dwelling by a person employed at the institution”.

“higher education premises” means an institution which provides higher education;

“institution” includes any training provider (whether or not the training provider would otherwise be regarded as an institution);

“higher education” means education provided by means of a higher education course;

“higher education course” means a course of any description mentioned in Schedule 6 to the Education Reform Act 1988.’

New clause 22—Offence of threatening with corrosive substance on educational premises—

‘(1) A person commits an offence if that person threatens a person with a corrosive substance on school premises, further education premises or higher education premises.

(2) In this section—

“corrosive substance” means a substance which is capable of burning human skin by corrosion;

“threatens a person” means—

(a) unlawfully and intentionally threatens another person (“A”) with a corrosive substance, and

(b) does so in such a way that a reasonable person (“B”) who was exposed to the same threat as A would think that there was an immediate risk of physical harm to B.

“school premises” means land used for the purpose of a school, excluding any land occupied solely as a dwelling by a person employed at a school;

“school” has the meaning given by—

(a) in relation to land in England and Wales, section 4 of the Education Act 1996;

(b) in relation to land in Northern Ireland, Article 2(2) of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 (SI 1986/594 (NI 3).

“further educational premises” means—

(a) in relation to England and Wales, land used solely for the purposes of —

(b) in relation to Northern Ireland, land used solely for the purposes of an institution of further education within the meaning of Article 2 of the Further Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 (SI 1997/ 1772 (NI 15) excluding any land occupied solely as a dwelling by a person employed at the institution”.

“higher education premises” means an institution which provides higher education;

“institution” includes any training provider (whether or not the training provider would otherwise be regarded as an institution);

“higher education” means education provided by means of a higher education course;

“higher education course” means a course of any description mentioned in Schedule 6 to the Education Reform Act 1988”.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable—

(a) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to an imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, to a fine or to both;

(b) on summary conviction in Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both;

(c) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 4 years, to a fine or both.

(4) In relation to an offence committed before the coming into force of section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (maximum sentence that may be imposed on summary conviction of offence triable either way) the reference in subsection (7)(a) to 12 months is to be read as a reference to 6 months.’

New clause 23—Advertising offensive weapons online—

‘(1) A person or company commits an offence when a website registered in their name is used to advertise, list or otherwise facilitate the sale of any weapon listed in Schedule 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order (SI 1988/2019) or any offensive weapon capable of being disguised as something else.

(2) No offence is committed under this section if—

(a) the website removes the advertisement or list within 24 hours of the registered owner of the website being informed that the advertisement or list includes a weapon listed in Schedule 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order (SI 1988/2019) or any offensive weapon capable of being disguised as something else.

(3) The registered owner of a website that is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable—

(a) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks, to a fine or to both;

(b) on summary conviction in Scotland or Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.’

New clause 24—Enforcement—

‘(1) It shall be the duty of every authority to which subsection (4) applies to enforce within its area the provisions of Clauses 1, 3, 4, 17 and 20 of this Bill.

(2) An authority in England or Wales to which subsection (4) applies shall have the power to investigate and prosecute for an alleged contravention of any provision imposed by or under this section which was committed outside its area in any part of England and Wales.

(3) A district council in Northern Ireland shall have the power to investigate and prosecute for an alleged contravention of any provision imposed by or under this section which was committed outside its area in any part of Northern Ireland.

(4) The authorities to which this section applies are—

(a) in England, a county council, district council, London Borough Council, the Common Council of the City of London in its capacity as a local authority and the Council of the Isles of Scilly;

(b) in Wales, a county council or a county borough council;

(c) in Scotland, a council constituted under section 2 of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994(1);

(d) in Northern Ireland, any district council.

(5) In enforcing this section, an enforcement authority must act in a manner proportionate to the seriousness of the risk and shall take due account of the precautionary principle, and shall encourage and promote voluntary action by producers and distributors.

(6) Notwithstanding subsection (5), an enforcement authority may take any action under this section urgently and without first encouraging and promoting voluntary action if a product poses a serious risk.’

New clause 25—Investigatory powers for trading standards—

‘(1) Schedule 5 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 is amended in accordance with subsection (2).

(2) In Part 2, paragraph 10, at end insert—

“section (Enforcement)”.’

This new clause is consequential on NC24

New clause 26—Aggravated offence of possessing a corrosive substance or dangerous knife—

‘(1) A person is guilty of an aggravated offence of possessing a corrosive substance in a public place if—

(a) they commit an offence under section 6 of this Act, and

(b) at the time of committing the offence, the offender was—

(i) the driver of a moped or motor bicycle, or

(ii) a passenger of a moped or motor bicycle.

(2) A person is guilty of an aggravated offence of possessing certain dangerous knives if—

(a) they commit an offence under section 1A of the Restrictions of Offensive Weapons Act 1959, as amended, and

(b) at the time of committing the offence, the offender was—

(i) the driver of a moped or motor bicycle, or

(ii) a passenger of a moped or motor bicycle.

(3) A person guilty of an aggravated offence under this section is liable—

(a) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, to a fine or both;

(b) on summary conviction in Scotland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, to a fine or both.

(4) For the purposes of this section, “moped” and “motor bicycle” have the same meanings as in section 108 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.’

New clause 30—Review of the Act—

‘(1) The Secretary of State must, within one year of this Act receiving Royal Assent, appoint an independent person to conduct an annual review of the provisions contained in this Act and the effect those provisions have had on crimes involving offensive weapons.

(2) The review under section 1 must consider, but is not limited to—

(a) the impact the provisions on corrosive substances have had on crimes involving these substances, and whether these provisions are still adequate;

(b) the impact the provisions on firearms have had on crimes involving these weapons, and whether the provisions are still adequate;

(c) whether existing police funding is sufficient to ensure the adequate enforcement of the provisions of this Act and offences relating to offensive weapons; and

(d) anything else the Secretary of State, or independent person appointed to conduct the review, thinks appropriate.

(3) The annual review under section 1 must be laid before both Houses of Parliament.’

New clause 31—Amendments to the Crossbow Act 1987—

‘(1) The Crossbow Act 1987 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 1 insert—

“1A Requirement of crossbow certificate

(1) Subject to any exemption under this Act, it is an offence for a person to have in their possession, or to purchase or acquire, a crossbow to which this section applies without holding a crossbow certificate in force at the time, or otherwise than as authorised by such a certificate.

(2) It is an offence for a person to fail to comply with a condition subject to which a crossbow certificate is held by them.

(3) This section applies to crossbows with a draw weight of which is to be determined in regulations designated by the Home Secretary, following consultation with—

(a) the National Police Chiefs’ Council;

(b) any other person or body the Home Secretary may deem necessary.”

(3) After section 1A insert—

“1B Application for a crossbow certificate

(1) An application for the grant of a crossbow certificate must be made in the form prescribed by regulations issued by the Home Secretary to the chief officer of police for the area in which the applicant resides and shall state such particulars as may be required by the form.

(2) A crossbow certificate shall be granted where the chief officer of police is satisfied that—

(a) the applicant is fit to be entrusted with a crossbow to which section 1 of this Act applies and is not a person prohibited by this Act from possessing such a crossbow;

(b) that he has a good reason for having in his possession, or for purchasing or acquiring, the crossbow in respect of which the application is made; and

(c) in all the circumstances the applicant can be permitted to have the crossbow in his possession without danger to the public safety or to the peace.”

(3) In section 6 (punishments), in subsection 1, after “section 1” insert – “, or section 1A or section 1B”.

(4) After section 7 insert—

“7A Regulations

(1) A power to make regulations under this Act is exercisable by statutory instrument.

(2) Regulations under this Act may make provisions for the issuing of a crossbow certificate.

(3) A statutory instrument which contains regulations under this Act is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”’

Amendment 12, in clause 1, page 2, line 11, leave out “imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks” and insert “a community sentence”

This amendment, along with Amendment 13, would replace the custodial sentences for the new offence in Clause 1 (sale of corrosive products to persons under 18) with community sentences.

Amendment 13, page 2, line 14, leave out “imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months” and insert “a community sentence”

This amendment, along with Amendment 12, would replace the custodial sentences for the new offence in Clause 1 (sale of corrosive products to persons under 18) with community sentences.

Amendment 14, in clause 6, page 7, line 7, after “place” insert “with intent to cause injury”

This amendment would make it an offence to have a corrosive substance in a public place only with the intent to cause injury to someone.

Amendment 3, page 8, line 3, after “otherwise” insert

“and means any place other than premises occupied as a private dwelling (including any stair, passage, garden, yard, garage, outhouse or other appurtenance of such premises which is not used in common by the occupants of more than one such dwelling).”

This amendment would extend the definition of public places in relation to England and Wales and Northern Ireland to include communal spaces within residential blocks.

Amendment 15, page 8, line 39, leave out clause 8

This amendment, along with Amendment 16, would remove mandatory custodial sentences for people convicted under the new offence in Clause 6 who have at least one previous relevant conviction.

Amendment 16, page 9, line 37, leave out clause 9

This amendment, along with Amendment 15, would remove mandatory custodial sentences for people convicted under the new offence in Clause 6 who have at least one previous relevant conviction.

Government amendment 56.

Amendment 8, in clause 17, page 16, line 41, at end insert—

“(ab) the seller is not a trusted trader of bladed products, and”

Amendment 9, page 17, line 3, at end insert—

‘(3A) The Secretary of State may by regulations determine the conditions of being designated a trusted trader of bladed products in England and Wales for the purposes of section 17(1)(ab).

(3B) Scottish Ministers may by regulations determine the conditions of being designated a trusted trader of bladed products in Scotland for the purposes of section 17(1)(ab).

(3C) The Department of Justice in Northern Ireland may by regulations determine the conditions of being designated a trusted trader of bladed products in Northern Ireland for the purposes of section 17(1)(ab).”

Amendment 1, in clause 18, page 17, line 44, at end insert—

‘(4A) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under section 17 to prove that they reasonably believed that the buyer bought the bladed product for use for decorating purposes.”

Amendment 2, page 18, line 24, at end insert—

‘(10) For the purposes of this section a bladed product is used by a person for decorating purposes if and only if the product is only used to make improvements, enhancements or repairs to real property or personal property.”

Amendment 4, in clause 23, page 23, line 8, after “further education premises” insert

“and higher education provider premises”

Amendment 5, page 23, line 10, after “further education premises” insert

“and higher education provider premises”

Amendment 7, page 24, line 8, at end insert—

‘(7A) After subsection (6A) insert—

(6B) In this section “higher education provider” means an institution which provides higher education; “institution” includes any training provider (whether or not the training provider would otherwise be regarded as an institution); “higher education” means education provided by means of a higher education course; “higher education course” means a course of any description mentioned in Schedule 6 to the Education Reform Act 1988”.

Amendment 6, page 24, line 11, after “further education premises” insert

“and higher education provider premises”

Government amendments 57 to 61.

Amendment 22, in clause 25, page 26, line 41, leave out “the purpose only of participating in religious ceremonies” and insert “religious reasons only”

This amendment extends the defence to cover the possession of a ceremonial Sikh Kirpan for religious reasons on occasions other than religious ceremonies.

Amendment 17, page 28, line 28, leave out clause 28

This amendment, along with Amendments 18 and 19 would retain the current definition of risk for the existing offences in Section 1A of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 and Section 139AA of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and for the new offence in Clause 29.

Amendment 11, page 29, line 6, leave out clause 29

This amendment would mean that threatening with a knife anywhere would be an offence, not merely in a public place or school/further education premises.

Amendment 18, in clause 29, page 29, line 14, leave out “(“A”)”

This amendment, along with Amendments 17 and 19, would retain the current definition of risk for the existing offences in Section 1A of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 and Section 139AA of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and for the new offence in Clause 29.

Amendment 19, page 29, line 16, leave out from “that” to the end of line 18 and insert

“there is an immediate risk of serious physical harm to that person”

This amendment, along with Amendments 17 and 18, would retain the current definition of risk for the existing offences in Section 1A of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 and Section 139AA of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and for the new offence in Clause 29.

Amendment 10, in clause 39, page 35, line 34, after “section” insert “17(3B),”.

Government amendments 25, 62 and 63.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

This group of new clauses and amendments deals with matters on which I know there is a great deal of agreement across the House. I will speak to Government new clauses 16 and 17 and Government amendment 25, and in response to new clauses 7, 10 to 13, 22 and 15 and amendment 11, tabled by my hon. Friend Philip Davies.

Let me start by saying how grateful I am to my hon. Friend for his new clauses and amendment. I know that he has raised this issue in the past, and, of course, he spoke very eloquently about it during our Second Reading debate on 27 June. There are offences available for the prosecution of a person who threatens someone with an offensive weapon in private, but those offences do not describe the criminality sufficiently, and do not attract the same penalties as those that are possible when the offence is committed in public. I have therefore been convinced by my hon. Friend that there is a gap in the law that should be filled.

Under new clause 16, it would be an offence for a person unlawfully and intentionally to threaten another person with a corrosive substance, a bladed or pointed article, or an offensive weapon in a way that poses an immediate risk of serious physical harm to that person. The offence will apply in any private place, which means anywhere other than a public place or school, or further education premises, where it is already an offence. In respect of a corrosive substance, a private place means anywhere other than a public place. The lawyers have been terribly exercised about that.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

As the Minister probably knows, there was a nasty incident in Coventry a couple of days ago when a young man lost his life as a result of people carrying knives. How does she propose to strengthen the Bill? We have been here before—we have had amnesties and all sorts—but we never seem any nearer to tackling the problem. Has the Minister any proposals in that regard?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Let me say first that I am terribly sorry to hear of the incident in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but I cannot comment on the specifics. The Bill is but one part of the Government’s serious violence strategy, which has been a rolling programme of action since April. The purpose of these measures, particularly in relation to knives, is to address the concern expressed to us by charities, the police and others about the ability of young people to get hold of knives.

Photo of Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Labour, Slough

Does the Minister appreciate the serious concern in the British Sikh community about people being in possession of a kirpan? As president of Gatka Federation UK, I know that many people are concerned about the practice of that Sikh martial art. Various individuals and organisations, including the Sikh Council UK and the Sikh Federation UK, have expressed solid concerns, and I think that an amendment has also been tabled. I hope that the Minister can allay those genuine concerns.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am delighted to say that I can, and I promise to deal with that in more detail in due course. I pay tribute to Preet Kaur Gill, her colleague Emma Reynolds and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, who have led discussions on the issue.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

May I make a little more progress?

In relation to the issue of a private place, it will become an offence to threaten someone with a corrosive substance on educational premises, for example, a point raised under new clause 22 by Stephen Timms. This provides for a maximum penalty of four years, in line with the maximum penalty for the public offence and considerably more than the current six-month maximum for a threat that amounts to common assault, which is the offence that may be charged currently.

The Government amendment would avoid householders having to justify owning their kitchen knives—again that demonstrates the balancing exercise we have had to do in this Bill. It targets the criminality that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley wants to address while denying my fellow lawyers the chance to argue about possessing domestic implements, a sentiment I know my hon. Friend will endorse. New clause 17 will provide the necessary powers to enter and search for a corrosive substance on school and further education premises in support of the new offence.

Government amendment 25 simply sets the extent of the new offence as England and Wales, but I know my hon. Friend and others are keen to ensure that householders who have to defend themselves against burglars are not caught inadvertently by this new offence. That is not the intention of the Government, or I suspect the House, if this new offence is passed. The new offence is designed to capture perpetrators who have no recourse to the well-established defences of self-defence, defence of another and defence of property.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for giving way. The Minister said that the corrosive substances offence applies only to England and Wales, but I understand that some of the legislation applies to Northern Ireland. Can the Minister confirm either now or later that this legislation, which we welcome and wish to see, can be applicable in Northern Ireland under the rules and laws we have there as well?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The hon. Gentleman is drawing me into the incredibly complex area of applicability in Northern Ireland. He is right that many of the measures in the Bill have corresponding provisions for Northern Ireland, but I am sure that in due course I will be able to help the House with the particular point on corrosive substances, if I may return to that.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

The Minister will see in the Bill that for the specific provisions in clauses 1 to 4 it is for a newly appointed Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland to bring forward an order on the day that they so appoint.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right.

I hope that this new offence will attract widespread support across the Chamber. It recognises that some threats in private can be very serious indeed. I will therefore ask my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley not to press his amendments and I commend to the House new clauses 16 and 17 and amendment 25.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I thank the Minister very sincerely for the way she has engaged in this issue. Clearly it was a ridiculous loophole that the offence of threatening somebody with a knife applied only in a public place and not in a private place, and I am delighted that the Minister listened to the argument and engaged with it and has brought forward these new clauses today, which I will happily support. On that basis I am very happy to confirm to her that I will not press my new clauses in this regard.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend and thank him again for his help not just on this but on a drafting correction that we made in the Bill Committee.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

My colleague sitting next to me is quite right: my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley is always helpful.

Government amendments 56, 62 and 63 are minor amendments and have been included at the request of the Scottish Government. It is fair to say, as I said in Committee, that my officials have had a good working relationship with the Scottish Government on this Bill. These new amendments are intended to facilitate the operation of the new offences within the Scottish legal system. Under the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 provision is made for matters of routine evidence in criminal proceedings. These provisions operate so as to allow to be admitted into evidence certain routine matters by virtue of a certificate provided by an authorised expert. That means that if the accused person does not provide at least seven days’ notice of an intent to challenge the evidence prior to trial it is admitted without any further proof being necessary. Given that many prosecutions in this area may be at summary court level, requiring expert testimony in these cases as a matter of course would be unduly expensive, so these amendments will ensure that the new corrosive offences included in the Bill are subject to the existing matters of routine evidence provisions.

Amendments 57 and 58 will limit the new offence of possession of an offensive weapon in section 141(1A) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to possession “in private”. That is to prevent overlap with existing offences. In shorthand, the aim of clause 24 is to prohibit the possession in private of offensive weapons as defined by section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988—for example, zombie knives. Amendments 57 and 58 clarify this to mean in private, because it is already against the law to possess any bladed article—which is obviously wider than the definition of offensive weapons—under section 139 of the 1988 Act.

The approach that we have taken to the new possession offence in the Bill is to mirror the defences that already applied to the manufacture, importation, sale and general supply of curved swords. The burden of proof for the defences that apply to the current legislation for manufacture and so on is to show that the defence applies. Therefore the burden of proof for the defences provided for the new possession offence in the Bill will also be to show that the defence applies. However, the burden of proof for the defence in relation to possession of an article with a blade in public is to prove, which is a higher burden, so to avoid inconsistency we are limiting the new possession offence in the Bill to places other than a public place. In this way, we will continue to rely on existing legislation for possession in public, and the new possession offence in the Bill will apply only in private.

I shall turn now to amendments 59 and 61, and to the Opposition’s amendment 22. Amendments 59 to 61 clarify the wording of clause 25 so as to include “religious reasons”, rather than “religious ceremonies”. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, Mr McFadden and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve, who tabled amendment 22 and worked with me and my officials to get the law into a better place. This included facilitating discussions with representatives of the Sikh Federation last week, and it was a pleasure to meet them. We can now ensure that the Bill does not inadvertently prohibit the possession and supply of kirpans as part of the observance of the Sikh faith.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

I should like to thank the Minister for her response to the amendment on the possession of the kirpan, the religious sword that is used by Sikhs. My hon. Friend Seema Malhotra and I represent a large Sikh community, and they have been very concerned about the omission in the Bill. We would also like to congratulate the all-party parliamentary group for British Sikhs on the work that it has done, and we thank the Minister and the Secretary of State for their willingness to listen and to act on behalf of the Sikh community.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I want to make it clear that it was never the Government’s intention to worry anyone or inadvertently to criminalise acts of faith in that way. I hope that the Sikh community and those who represent them understand that we did this with the very best of intentions.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Labour, Wolverhampton South East

I should like to thank the Minister for the open, listening approach that she has taken in response to representations from myself, my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill, Mr Grieve, the Sikh Federation and others who have contacted her. Can she clarify that the effect of the Government amendments to the Bill will be to maintain the status quo as far as Sikh religious practice is concerned? That is all that the community were asking for throughout this process, and if that is what the amendments will do, I believe that they will be warmly welcomed.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am happy to confirm that. The original wording mirrored the wording used in existing legislation for offences in public, but we have of course understood that praying at home, for example, may not fall within the definition of ceremony. We do not want to leave any doubt or room for worry; we are amending the Bill to enable prayers and so on at home to continue.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South 4:00 pm, 28th November 2018

The Minister has been very generous in giving way. May I identify myself with my colleagues in support of the amendment? Like them, I have been approached by the Sikh Federation, and when I referred earlier to the knives issue, I was not referring to the federation and its members’ religious practices; I was talking about crime and so on.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Of course. I am sure that everyone who works in this complex area has sympathy with the hon. Gentleman in wanting to clarify the point he raised in his earlier intervention.

As the Government have tabled amendments 59 to 61, I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston will not press amendment 22.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I shall move on to new clause 1. David Hanson continues to raise the issue of the safety of retail staff, and I thank him for that. Indeed, I recently discussed that issue with him, and also with the head of the British Retail Consortium. Although the Government fully understand the concern of retailers and their staff about being threatened or attacked if they refuse to sell a corrosive product or bladed article to a member of the public, we do not believe that a new criminal offence as set out in new clauses 1 and 14 would provide additional protection or result in more people being prosecuted. The law already provides the police and Crown Prosecution Service with sufficient powers to prosecute this type of offending and provide protection to retail staff. A number of criminal offences are available to cover a wide range of unacceptable behaviour, including that described in the tabled amendments, ranging from abusive and threatening language to actual violent offences against the person. So, we submit that there is no gap.

Photo of Gloria De Piero Gloria De Piero Shadow Minister (Justice)

A group of women shopworkers came to see me because of regular threatening behaviour by a gang of youths. These women were afraid and fearful, especially when they had to work alone. We have an opportunity today to strengthen the law; it clearly needs strengthening. We should do so.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am extremely concerned to hear that, but I wonder why the local police are not using the powers already available to them, because if a gang is behaving like that, there are offences that would enable the police to deal with that threatening behaviour, and any violent acts.

The Sentencing Council has set out, in its definitive guideline on assault offences, that it is an “aggravating factor” for an offence to be committed against those who are either working in the public sector or providing a service to the public, and an offence against either group could result in a more severe sentence within the statutory maximum for the offence—and that includes retail and shop staff.

However, there is more to this than the shape of the legislation, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree. That is why, in October 2017, the National Police Chiefs Council—with the support of Home Office funding—launched the national business crime centre, a repository for good practice, standards and guidance for all business nationally. It also acts as a national alert and data feed service, to enable businesses to have more information regarding crime in their local area.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

If all the Minister says is true, why has every retail organisation in the country, and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, argued in favour of new clause 1, which I shall be moving shortly?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

They are of course free to do so, but we have looked carefully at the law. However, I chair the national retail crime steering group, which brings retailers and police together to tackle retail crime, and I am happy to ask the police, in that forum, why retailers feel this way.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Treasury)

If the Minister genuinely does not want to frustrate the content of new clause 1, could she not simply accept it given that there is genuine concern out there that, currently, the law does not go far enough?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I know this will not meet with the approval of Opposition Members but, having looked very carefully at it, we have not been able to identify a gap in the law, which is why, regrettably, I cannot accept new clause 1. We encourage closer local partnerships between police and retailers so that better crime prevention measures are put in place, because that must be a factor. We want to ensure that local police respond effectively to reported crime.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

The reality on the ground, and USDAW and the Co-op Group have been clear about this, is that the police do not consider offences such as shoplifting, and all the things that go on around it, seriously enough even to turn up at a store to take a statement. It is a fact that shop workers at the tills are the ones enforcing the legislation that we pass. When we demand that identification is presented for alcohol and cigarette sales, and the like, it is those workers who are on the frontline in defending the legislation we pass. Surely they deserve our support, too.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Of course, anyone working on the frontline deserves our support. The criminality the hon. Gentleman describes, such as shoplifting, is already enforced, so the discussion should be about local policing priorities. If he writes to me with particular instances in his constituency, I am very happy to raise it through the national retail crime steering group.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Labour, Chesterfield

The hon. Lady is very kind. She says that she will speak to her committee of retail representatives about why they feel this is necessary, but should she not have done that before rejecting the amendment? It is clear that they are saying it is necessary, so it is a little late for her to say she will vote against the amendment while saying she will start consulting on it.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

As part of our discussions—I not only include myself but Home Office officials—of course we talk about the safety of retail staff. As I said, I had a meeting very recently. It is not a question of just starting now; we are aware of these concerns. Of course, hon. Members voicing those concerns in the Chamber gives me and my officials more material to ask the National Police Chiefs Council what is happening on this and whether there is more that can and should be done at local level.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

I appreciate the Minister’s courtesy in allowing me to come back. The reality is that serious violent crime, organised crime and online crime, and the protection of vulnerable groups, takes up a significant amount of police time. In Greater Manchester we have lost 2,000 frontline officers, so it is not right for the Government who have made those cuts and made that decision to put the pressure back on Greater Manchester police to maintain a police service with diminishing resources when crime is going up. It just is not correct. She has an opportunity to respond to the debate, to respond to new clause 1 and to show that we are sticking up for shop workers. It is not good enough to defer responsibility on this.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Forgive me, but it is not a question of deferring responsibility. It is the responsibility of the local police and crime commissioner and the chief constable, under our system of policing, to decide local policing priorities. That is why we had the police and crime commissioner elections a couple of years ago.

David Hanson is assiduous in his parliamentary questions to me about retail crime, but if hon. Members have concerns that retailers and retail staff in their local area are not being looked after, I encourage them to take it up with their police and crime commissioner, because it really is their decision as to how local resources are prioritised.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling

Does the Minister not realise quite how this looks? Shop workers across the country—in every part of the country, every constituency and every region—the frontline workers, their union and the police are saying, “We do not need consultation; we need a change in the law to protect us.” What the Minister is saying, and I say this with respect, is that she and her officials know better. I say we should listen to what the shop workers of this country are telling us and mend the gap in the law.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I do listen—I must disagree with the hon. Gentleman on that. The point I am making is that the laws that can protect shop workers are already in force, so it is not a question of making a new law because we hope that that will address the criminality, because those laws are already in place. There are public order offences, so where someone is rude or abusive, that is a criminal offence already. Our job here is to make law, but this is also sometimes about how it is applied on the ground, and that is what I am talking about. I am talking about saying to the NPCC and others, “What’s happening on these concerns colleagues are raising about how retail workers are being treated in their shops?” I know that this is an important issue, not only to Labour Members, but to my colleagues and to me. That is why if we can do nothing else, we should get the message out there that the law already exists to protect shop workers. We should focus on how that is pushed and put into effect.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Labour, Clwyd South

I am grateful to the Minister for that. Does she realise that many shop workers across the country are scared to death about all this? They are scared to death of knives being pulled on them. This is no longer just a problem in our inner cities; it goes right across the country. This is happening in rural areas and in small towns. My view is that we need to make the legislation as strong as possible, not just to protect the shop workers, but to send a message to people out there that this is a really serious issue.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I completely agree that we need to communicate the fact that the behaviour the hon. Lady described is utterly unacceptable, but she has given the example of a knife being pulled on a shop worker and legislation is already in place to deal with that. Furthermore, the independent Sentencing Council, which sets the guidelines for the judiciary across the country, has said that in that scenario the fact that the knife was pulled on a person in their line of work can be an aggravating factor. So the law is already there and we just need to make sure it is being used as effectively as possible, not just by our police, but by our judiciary.

On the point about serious violence more generally, the hon. Lady will know that we published the serious violence strategy in April. It has marked a step change in how we tackle serious violence, because we acknowledge that serious violence is no longer restricted to our large urban centres and is spreading out across the country, particularly with the rise of county lines. She will know that one of the drivers behind this rise in serious violence is drugs—the drug markets. A great deal of work is being done just on that one stream to tackle that.

For example, a couple of weeks ago we held an international conference, drawing together law enforcement and public health officials from across the world to talk about the rise in serious violence, because this is happening not only in the UK, but in other countries. From that conference, which I was able to attend, although sadly just for a little while, we could see the lessons that we can learn from other policing experts across the world and from public health officials. That is also why the Home Secretary has announced recently that we are looking into a consultation on making tackling serious violence a public health duty for local authorities—all arms of the state. That goes further than the models in Scotland and in Wales, which are often rightly cited as good examples, because we want to look into whether having a public duty will help with the sharing of information and the working together. Those of us who served on the Public Bill Committee and those of us who take a particular interest in this topic know that these things do not always work as well as they should.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

Interestingly, the Minister said that the Home Secretary has talked about adopting a public health approach—I believe that was at the Conservative party conference. Since then we have heard absolutely nothing in this Chamber about what is happening on the public health approach. I believe I have asked nine times in this Chamber when we will be getting a debate on this. I do not suppose the Minister would like to respond to that now.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The hon. Lady asked me about this at the last Home Office orals and I said I would be delighted to debate with her. She has asked this in business questions, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has written to me and to the Home Secretary. I am keen to have the debate, which I think is really important, and the Whip, my hon. Friend Michelle Donelan, has heard this exchange, so who knows what opportunities may be made available.

For all the bustle and tussle in the Chamber, there is broad cross-party agreement on this issue. Short-term measures need to be taken, but much longer-term measures are also required, which is why we have announced the setting up of a £200 million endowment fund that will be able, over 10 years, to invest in projects using a much longer-term model than is necessarily the case now. I hope it will be able to do some quite innovative work and to do some work to help young people to avoid getting ensnared by criminal gangs.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I give way to the hon. Lady, whom I am tempted to call an hon. Friend because she and I have discussed this issue so often.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I am delighted that the Minister modelled this part of the Bill on my asks on acid crime. I know that she will have studied my 5 September speech really closely to see our other asks on this issue. When might she find the time to introduce a strategy to deal with the violent crime that is rising from the county lines experience across the country and that will literally join up all the cross-Government actions that have been taken to deal with it?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady and her constituency neighbour, the right hon. Member for—I am going to get this wrong—

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Thank you. She and Stephen Timms have done a great deal on not only county lines but on corrosive substance attacks. She will know that we now have the corrosive substance action plan, which is a voluntary commitment that we introduced at the beginning of the year to get all the major retailers on the right page when it comes to the sale of corrosive substances, because we knew that it would take time to introduce legislation in this place. I hope that she is pleased and satisfied with the Bill’s provisions on corrosive substances.

On county lines, the hon. Lady will know that we have announced the launch of the national co-ordination centre. It brings law enforcement together because, frankly, law enforcement has not been sharing information as well as it could throughout the country on the movement of these gangs of criminals, who exploit the distances between the major urban centres and rural and coastal areas, knowing that constabulary boundaries sometimes get in the way. The national co-ordination centre was launched in September and had an extraordinary week of action in which something like 500 arrests were made. If have got that figure wrong, I am sure I will be able to correct it in due course.

It is important to note that the co-ordination centre brings together not only law enforcement officials but those involved in looking after children—local authorities—because we know that the most vulnerable children have been targeted as they are attending pupil referral units or while they are living in care homes. We need to ensure that when the police go in and do a raid, we have social services there to pick up the children and start caring for them, to avoid their being re-trafficked. Indeed, I hope the fact that so many cases are now being prosecuted not only in the traditional manner, for conspiracy to supply class As, but using the Modern Slavery Act 2015, brings real stigma to those gangs that bizarrely and extraordinarily think that it is somehow okay to exploit children.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I hear what my hon. Friend says about the national co-ordination centre. From my experience talking to my local police force, I recognise that crime is interlinked. We can talk about drugs and we can talk about weapons, but they are interlinked issues, and they are interlinked with so many other things. We are asking the police to think holistically in how they look at these issues so that they can put into place a better strategy for dealing with these problems.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

That is very much the case. Indeed, in my previous career prosecuting serious organised crime, on occasions we prosecuted organised crime gangs for, for example, the importation of counterfeit cigarettes, because that is what we could get them on. We suspected that they were importing other things, because if they had the lines open to import one type of illicit material, it followed that they probably had the ability to important other illicit materials. Sadly, as we get better at identifying modern slavery, we know that that can also include people.

Let me turn to new clause 5, which deals with an important area that colleagues across the House have expressed interest in.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

If I have understood correctly, the key thing that new clause 16 does is to fill a gap in the law to cover things that happen in private properties, such as the flat in lower Westgate Street in Gloucester, where one of my hapless constituents was murdered precisely because of an argument over drug selling receipts. Can the Minister confirm that police and others would have powers under new clause 16 to move much earlier against the sort of threat that might arise in that situation?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

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

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

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

The Minister is absolutely right that new clause 5 would impose a blanket ban on retailers displaying bladed products, but the Government are proposing a blanket ban on the sale of bladed products to residential premises. Why is it one rule for online and another for face-to-face retailers?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

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

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

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

When packages are delivered to post offices to be picked up, are they clearly marked, “This is a knife”, or does the post office official know that it is a knife so that it cannot be given to someone under the age of 18?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The conditions in the Bill require those who are selling such products to make it clear on the packaging.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Oh, gosh. I am going to try to finish my speech by 4.30 pm, so I will give way to Anna Turley because she has tabled amendments to which I will not have time to speak.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Labour/Co-operative, Redcar

I appreciate the Minister’s generosity. I hope to speak to those amendments but if time eludes me, fair enough; that is why I want to raise this issue now. Have the Government done an impact assessment of the implications of these measures for online retailers? I speak on behalf of a constituent who runs a DIY shop, and thinks that the implications would be in the region of £30,000 if he was unable to sell wallpaper scrapers and specific DIY knives to residential addresses.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The hon. Lady’s constituent will be able to sell the products. We are not banning the online sale of bladed products; we are making it clear that retailers have to conduct proper checks as to the age of the person to whom they are selling. They should be doing that at the moment anyway, and this legislation means that they will also have to package the items up as they do if they are selling online or at a distance. The point is that the package has to be labelled, and that it will then be kept at the post office or wherever before being picked up by a person with ID.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee

Sheffield is obviously the home of knives in this country—knives for proper purposes. I visited Taylor’s Eye Witness, a firm in my constituency that manufactures and wholesales knives. As it is a wholesaler, 10% of its business is by post, passing things on through other retailers. It says that that aspect of its business is threatened by this legislation. Will the Minister consider amendment 9 in the name of my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield, suggesting a trusted trader scheme, to see whether the requirements of this measure could at least be reduced for trusted traders? This business employs 60 people, whose jobs could be at risk.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Of course I acknowledge the great history of Sheffield as the centre of knife making in this country and, dare I say it, across the world. We have looked very carefully at the trusted trader amendments, but we believe they would introduce more bureaucracy for retailers, which is why we do not support them. This is simply a matter of conducting checks, and then the grown-up who is buying their kitchen knife going to a post office and showing their ID to prove that they are in compliance with the law.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

The Minister is extremely kind. Although I and, I dare say other hon. Members, can understand the public interests of this proposal entirely, retailers would want to be satisfied that there is a level playing field, so that overseas retailers importing knives into the UK are governed by the same rules, and that they are not going—if this is not too much of a pun—to undercut domestic suppliers.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he has identified one of the problems with which we grappled in Committee. The Bill includes a clause specifically for overseas sales. The requirement is that any delivery company that enters into a contract with an overseas retailer or manufacturer must itself conduct the checks as to the age of the person to whom it is delivering. Arguably, the checks are more arduous on delivery drivers for overseas retailers than for UK-based retailers. He will understand that, if a retailer resides in China, there is very little we can do to require it to comply with these laws, but we have tried to address that point.

I hope and believe that the Bill addresses the concerns that have been raised about the sale and delivery of corrosive products, the possession of corrosive substances, the sale and delivery of knives and so on. I will listen with interest during the rest of this debate because hon. Members have tabled several interesting amendments. I hope that I have answered their concerns with regard to the amendments and new clauses I have spoken on thus far, but I may seek to address one or two amendments at a later stage if there are particular questions they would like me to answer.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn 4:30 pm, 28th November 2018

I rise to speak to new clause 1. I say to the Minister straightaway that I think she has missed the point on this. We are trying to strengthen the Bill to protect retail staff who are upholding the law. I support the Government’s position in relation to the banning of sales to under-18s of corrosive products and the restrictions on sales of knives. However, the question is whether it is right that those who hold stocks of those items are accordingly prosecuted if they sell them.

The key question for this House is: what about the people who are at the frontline in upholding the law through enforcing this legislation? Under this Bill, in the case of refusal to sell corrosive products and knives, it will not be the police or the security services, police community support officers or police and crime commissioners, or the local council or trading standards who are at the frontline in upholding the legislation that we hope the House will pass this evening. It will be the individual shop staff—often alone; often, perhaps, not much older than some of the people who are trying to buy these products—who are at the frontline of that challenge.

Let us just picture for a moment a large, 24-hour supermarket open at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning with a shop assistant at the front counter refusing to make a sale of a corrosive product or a knife, upholding the legislation that the Minister proposes. Imagine for a moment a small, open-all-hours shop refusing to sell these products, or a DIY store on a Saturday afternoon refusing to sell at that frontline. When that member of staff says no, they say no on behalf of us all in upholding this legislation.

The simple measure that I have brought before the House would strengthen the Bill to give those people some protection. It would tell them what their rights are in upholding this legislation and what defences we are giving to them.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows, I worked for Asda for 12 years before I first entered this place, and what he has said about shop staff is absolutely right. It is a hellishly difficult job working on the checkouts in a supermarket—or in any shop, for that matter—and we ask an awful lot of those people, who are not paid an awful lot to do the really responsible job that they do. I agree that the least that we can do in this House, when we put such pressures on them, is to give them the support that they need. On that basis, I very much support his new clause 1.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. As he will know, the frontline staff are the people who are upholding the law not just on this issue but on all age-related sales. While today we can only discuss amendments on corrosive products and on knives, the Minister needs to look at this issue in relation to all age-related sales. Shop staff are upholding the law on our behalf, and they deserve protection. My new clause would strengthen that protection. It provides for a level 4 fine of up to £2,500 for abusive behaviour when staff are enforcing the legislation that the Minister proposes.

Photo of Gareth Snell Gareth Snell Labour/Co-operative, Stoke-on-Trent Central

I, too, support my right hon. Friend’s new clause 1. Does he agree that there is a particular point about staff in small shops that are often open until 8, 9 or 10 o’clock at night? The shop will often be the only place open in that community and not in an area where people are walking past. The one or two staff in there could find themselves under immense pressure from people wanting to buy substances, and they have to reject them with nobody about to help.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

My hon. Friend is right. If the Bill was passed with new clause 1 included, shop workers could at least point to a sign on the till saying, “You will face a fine if you do not desist from this behaviour.” There are fewer police on the streets to call, but this is an opportunity to at least strengthen the protection of individuals working in these shops.

The retailers we have all met in the past few weeks as part of the “Freedom from Fear” campaign are doing their bit. They are installing CCTV and putting security measures in place. I visited the Co-op in Leeswood in my constituency, where staff have handsets and headphones so that they can communicate, and individuals are being banned from stores. It knows that it has a duty of care for its staff. All I am asking is that the Government recognise they have a duty of care also.

Photo of Paula Sherriff Paula Sherriff Shadow Minister (Mental Health and Social Care), Shadow Minister (Mental Health)

I, too, support my right hon. Friend’s new clause. Does he agree that workers in rural locations, where shops are often single-staffed and the distance from the nearest police station may be significant, are often left in a very vulnerable situation indeed?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Indeed. My new clause—if adopted, or if the Minister looks at this as part of age-related sales—would give additional protection to shop workers who are upholding the legislation that this Government have introduced.

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, of which I am a proud member and which—I declare an interest—gives some support to my constituency party, supports my new clause. The Co-op party, the co-op movement, the Association of Convenience Stores, the British Retail Consortium and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents all support the new clause publicly and visibly because they recognise that they have a duty of care to their staff.

This matters because, in the past 10 years, we have seen a rise in the incidence of assaults on and threatening behaviour towards retail staff. An USDAW survey showed last year that 66% of staff have reported verbal abuse, and the number who reported threats of physical violence increased to 42% in the past year alone.

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing)

I support my right hon. Friend’s new clause. I visited a Co-op shop in Croydon recently. The manager there had had a knife pulled on him. There had been several occasions in recent times when incidents had occurred but the police had not come, because the incidents were not deemed important enough. Those shop workers were having to deal with all kinds of incidents. They feel a lack of protection, and they support what my right hon. Friend is trying to do.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

My new clause would give added protection, but more importantly, it would show retail staff on the frontline that we are on their side, backing them up and giving them the support they need.

The British Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores have identified violence to staff as the most significant risk in the sector. The National Federation of Retail Newsagents has published research showing that there are 2,300 incidents daily among its members. The Association of Convenience Stores has said that enforcing the law on age-restricted sales is one of the biggest triggers of abuse against people working in convenience stores. The British Retail Consortium has said that age verification checks are one of the key triggers for attacks. USDAW has said that shop workers are on the frontline of helping to keep our community safe, so their role should be valued and they deserve our respect. The Co-op and police and crime commissioners such as Paddy Tipping in Nottingham have said the same.

If the Minister can agree to this new clause or take it away and look at the general principle with the National Police Chiefs Council, she will be standing shoulder to shoulder with every member of staff who is upholding the law. She will be saying that she is with them and protecting them. She should do the right thing. The 15,000 members of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents want this new clause. The British Retail Consortium, representing 70% of retail trade, wants this new clause. The Association of Convenience Stores, representing 33,000 stores, wants this. The Co-op group wants it. The Co-op party wants it, and the USDAW trade union wants it. It seems that the only person who does not is the Minister. I know that she is concerned about this issue. I ask her to reflect upon it, to support this new clause and to work with those bodies to come to a solution that protects retail staff who are enforcing the legislation that this House has enacted.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

At the moment, many of our constituents seem to think the only thing we are discussing in this place is yet more Brexit, so it is with great pleasure that I am here to speak about something so important, unfortunately, to the daily lives of many of our constituents.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak to a group of 16 to 18-year-olds in my constituency. Colleagues will know that that can sometimes be quite a challenging group of constituents to please. When I told them that one of the things we were working on in Westminster was a new law that would make it so much more challenging to buy and sell dangerous knives—zombie knives and the like—on the internet, they stood up and clapped, because it is so near the top of their list of concerns and of their agenda for how to keep themselves safe when they are out on the streets. They have been shocked, as we all have been shocked, by the rise in violent crime across the country. When violent crime increases, it is, unfortunately, very often our young people who suffer. I believe that it is the first job of politicians to try to keep our constituents safe, and that is why I welcome the Bill.

We have discussed the sale of knives online, stopping them being sent to residential addresses, and if they are legal sales—in other words, sales of a permitted bladed article to someone over the age of 18—making sure that those who receive them provide identification. I welcome the parts of the Bill that make it illegal to possess the most offensive weapons in private as well as in public, including zombie knives and knuckledusters. New clause 16, moved today, will make the offence of threatening with an offensive weapon in a private place part of the Bill. This new offence of making it unlawful to have offensive weapons in private means that, when the police find a zombie knife in a private place or someone’s home—as members of Chelmsford police have—they can arrest and charge the owner with the proposed offence and remove the weapon from the owner.

I am extremely pleased that the Bill extends the current offence of possessing such bladed articles or offensive weapons on school premises to cover all further education premises in England and Wales as well as schools. As I have said, it is this group of 16 to 18-year-olds in my constituency who have campaigned very hard since my election for stronger laws against this type of crime and for stronger action against this type of weapon.

In Essex, we have the highest number of violent incidents relating to urban street gangs and county lines in the whole of the east of England, but we have a police and crime commissioner who is committed to reducing that. While violent crime across the country has increased by 12%, the police and crime commissioner in my own county—the police, fire and crime commissioner; she has now taken on the fire commissioner role as well—told us just last Friday night that it has increased by 3% to 4% in Essex. That is lower than the national rise, but it is still increasing.

Thanks to Ministers listening to the pleas from Essex police, we will now have 150 additional police officers on the streets in Essex, because we have been able to increase the police precept. Essex MPs were united in asking for the increase in the police precept. I am sure the Minister will be very glad to hear that a whole tranche of those new Essex police officers will hold their passing-out parade on Friday afternoon. We are very proud to see that decision actually turning into reality.

At the end of the summer, I spent a day and a night on patrol with my local police. While I have the Minister’s attention, I will mention some other items that I would like her to consider. The officers in my district alone did 172 stop and searches last month. They said that the power to stop and search is vital for tackling county lines and getting on top of the increase in violent crime. Stop and searches quite often result in the seizure of offensive weapons, such as the ones we have been discussing.

My local police are also running Operation Showman to tackle drug use and supply. It has been really successful at targeting the people at the top of the drugs gangs, and a number of arrests have been made. The police would like to see stronger sentencing when they find those people. They can arrest and re-arrest them, but sometimes the sentences are not as strong as they would like. They would also like stronger stop-and-search powers, especially in cases where they smell cannabis, because it is unclear what they can do at the moment, but that is often linked to other gang-related activity.

There is particular concern about vulnerable young people being targeted by gangs and used as drugs mules. The police have asked me to draw this to the Minister’s attention. Sometimes the police, the youth offending programmes and the Crown Prosecution Service will decide to put a curfew on a young person to safeguard them, because the gangs will be unable to exploit them by asking them to go out at night and get involved in violent crime, which is linked to the violent weapons we are discussing today. Of course the young person—we are talking about 14-year-olds—will not say publicly that they want the curfew, but they know that it will protect them. However, when the case gets to court, the magistrate has decided on occasion to overturn the curfew because they think the young person has human rights and should be allowed out after 10 o’clock at night. There does not seem to be a process that allows the police, the youth offending programmes and the CPS to pass that intelligence on to the magistrate before sentencing, so how can we improve the dialogue to ensure that all the information is taking into consideration to safeguard these vulnerable young people?

In the Women and Equalities Committee, we have been looking at sexual harassment, especially in public places and at night. One of our report’s recommendations is to encourage more parts of the country to consider purple flag schemes for busy city centres. In my constituency, we are very proud of our purple flag team, who recently won the national award for best Pubwatch scheme. The scheme brings together pub and nightclub owners. My constituency has a very busy nightlife. Indeed, I spent the Saturday before last following the bouncers in five different nightclubs to see the work they do.

Most of those clubs run a scheme that allows absolutely no drugs and has strong co-ordination so that anyone suspected of being involved in drugs or violence is banned, and the ban goes across all the pubs and clubs in the scheme. It has resulted in a 35% drop in night-time violence. It is hugely innovative. The scheme has also introduced acid attack kits to ensure that all those working in the clubs can take swift action if someone is attacked with acid. That is a very innovative, and it has definitely meant that those visiting the clubs and the club owners feel much better prepared.

On a recent visit to my local mosque, I was very taken by the fact that the young people, both boys and girls, were telling me how concerned they were by the rise in acid attacks. I am absolutely delighted that the Bill introduces additional restrictions on carrying dangerous corrosive products. The young people I spoke to, both in schools and in the mosque, were absolutely delighted to hear about this piece of work. New clause 17, which will allow searches for such corrosive substances in schools or further education premises, will also help. I am therefore delighted to support the Bill, which I believe is a very important step forward in reassuring our young people and keeping them safe.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Labour/Co-operative, Redcar 4:45 pm, 28th November 2018

I rise to support my two amendments, amendments 1 and 2, with regard to a specific constituency case I mentioned earlier to the Minister. I am afraid her response did not go quite far enough to satisfy me, so I would like to press my case a bit further.

My point refers specifically to an online decorating business in my constituency, which expressed deep concerns that the proposed legislation could potentially force them out of business. My constituent estimates that were the Bill to be enacted as it stands, he would lose approximately £32,000 per year. That is probably enough to destroy a small business. He currently sells a number of bladed decorating tools, including bladed paint scrapers, craft knives, safety knives and utility blades—all very niche tools for the DIY trade. These items are delivered to residential addresses and so the provisions under clause 17 could potentially make a significant part of his trade illegal.

There could also be a wider impact on the rest of his business. As customers often purchase those items with other decorating materials such as wallpaper and paint, my constituent is concerned that if people are forced to visit decorating stores to buy a single tool, such as a scraper or a knife, they will buy all their decorating materials and bladed items there in one go. That would have a huge impact on his business.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham

I wonder whether my hon. Friend has seen, as I think would be the case under the Bill, that people like her constituent would not be able to post those products to somebody’s home, whereas somebody selling identical products from overseas would freely be able to carry on sending them by post to the purchaser.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Labour/Co-operative, Redcar

My right hon. Friend makes a really important point. That is just another huge loophole in the Bill that will have an impact on British businesses, forcing them to be unable to compete. Ahead of Small Business Saturday, I really hope Ministers will take that under consideration.

In response to my question earlier, the Minister responded that the simple difference would be that people would just have to go to a post office to sign for these goods. In areas like mine, people often travel as far as six or eight miles to get to the nearest post office. That is a long way, so why would they not go to the nearest B&Q or other big store to buy all their DIY needs? We are driving out small online businesses who have struggled to get themselves up and running. They are losing out yet again to major stores, because we are making their customers’ lives more difficult.

My constituent is just one example of many small and medium-sized businesses across the country that could be inadvertently affected by the Bill. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and local communities, and we will all be celebrating them this weekend. I am sure the Government did not intend for the Bill to unjustly penalise online retailers and I am sure this is just an oversight in the drafting. The proposed legislation already makes very specific exemptions on bladed items for activities such as sporting or re-enactment. It would therefore not be unreasonable to extend that flexibility to decorating items which similarly support a genuine public purpose and are used regularly by law-abiding citizens.

I would also like to speak in support of amendments 8 and 9, tabled in the name of my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield, which seek to address the same problem. There will obviously be a number of other businesses—we have already heard today about the importance of Sheffield steel and Sheffield knives—affected by the poor drafting of the Bill, including in the catering and the arts and crafts industries. The amendments would create a trusted trader status entitling qualifying businesses to sell bladed products to residential premises, creating another means of protecting such legitimate businesses. As long as there was not a resulting excessive administrative burden or unnecessary delays to trading while registering, the trusted trader approach could be an effective means to ensure a satisfactory balance between necessary restrictions on the sale of blades to those who intend to use them as weapons, and ensuring legitimate businesses can continue to operate.

The Minister raised the point about overburdensome regulation in opposition to the amendments. Again, she is already asking people to send their customers to the post office, so that we try to make sure that they are not selling to those under the age of 18. We are already putting such restrictions on people. I do not think it is that burdensome to ask someone to register as a trusted trader, which is a positive thing for them to sign up to and would enhance, not jeopardise, their businesses.

I hope that the Government will look again at the amendments and recognise that there is, I am afraid, a serious flaw in the drafting of the Bill. I hope that they will work with the Opposition to amend the Bill as it continues its passage through the House, while engaging fully with the retailers and others affected. Otherwise, I am afraid that the Bill as it stands will have a disastrous effect on many of our hard-working small businesses, which are the lifeblood of economies such as mine.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

It is a pleasure to follow Anna Turley, who is a fellow Arsenal fan and one of the nicest people in this place—[Interruption.] There was no career to lose—at least for me.

I want to speak about new clauses 5 and 26. I am conscious that Tulip Siddiq has not yet spoken, so I will leave time for her to do so. Generally, I am very supportive of the Bill, and I am very concerned that the number of offences of violence against the person recorded by the police in 2017 was 21% higher than in 2016. That demonstrates the need for more to be done across the House to support the police. There was also the highest level of offences involving knives or sharp instruments since 2011, so we clearly have a problem. This should not be a party political issue; it should be for all of us as constituency MPs to work together to deliver a solution. That certainly came through to me last night, when I was due to be meeting a friend—not just a friend to me, but to many in this place—who works for Save the Children and who I went to the Syrian border with. She did not turn up to the meeting that we were due to have because she was attacked and mugged by somebody carrying a large knife. She is well known to us all, so this is going on in our communities.

Let me deal with new clause 5. I am indebted to the Minister, who is not in her place, but we spoke at length this morning. When I look through the clause, which was tabled by the shadow police Minister, Louise Haigh, it is very difficult to see anything in it that I would not agree with. I can see that the issue may be the impact that it could have on small businesses. However, if I wished to harm myself by going into a shop and buying a packet of cigarettes, those cigarettes would be behind a counter locked in a cabinet, often in very small premises, yet if I wished to harm somebody else, I could go into a shop and pick up a bladed article to do that. Of course, the issue is with regard to shoplifting. Although I absolutely agree with the need to support small businesses and be proportionate, I say to the Minister, through the Front Benchers who are here now, that if we find out from a review over a period of months that we still have difficulties with knives, and that the measures taken on internet restrictions and delivery to addresses have not dealt with this matter, the new clause will need to be looked at again. I therefore ask those on the Front Bench, in return for me supporting their position and the Bill overall—notwithstanding that I think the new clause is excellent—to ensure that we see the new clause again if it is absolutely demonstrated to be necessary.

When I was speaking to the Minister, I had the feeling that we were looking for other solutions, because if we compare the scenario in south London, where knife crime is prevalent, with my constituency, where it is not as prevalent, we see that a one-size-fits-all ban across every single shop may not be proportionate. However, we do have public spaces protection orders, which were brought in to allow local authorities to put orders in place to prohibit certain behaviour relevant perhaps just to that community. Such an order can be applied for if the activities are being carried out in a public space within an authority’s area and those activities have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality and are likely to be persistent, unreasonable and justify such a restriction—so, something as crucial as knife crime should fit within that.

I understand from the Minister, who is back in her place, that the difficulty is that the definition of “public space” would not include a shop. I am sure that that has been tested legally. I was trying to find the research, and in the short time I had I could not do so, but I did notice that the US definition would actually include a shop because, in effect, it only precludes areas relevant to a private gathering or other personal purposes. I understand that a “public space” would tend to be open, but I would ask if lawyers could reconsider whether that is relevant and, if it is, whether local authorities in areas where knife crime is prevalent should be able to apply for such orders. That would have the same effect as the new clause.

I hear the Minister when she says that many shops and stores are taking voluntary action. My concern, however, is that those are bound to be the responsible, good stores, and in a way that probably highlights the need for the Government to step in for those stores that are not taking the same action. I ask her to keep an eye on this and, if it turns out the clause is needed and that the rest of the Bill does not fix the problem, or at least reduce it, to consider adopting the provisions in the new clause.

New clause 26 is another clause against which it is difficult to argue. Moped usage as an aggravated feature is absolutely an issue, particularly, as I understand it, in the constituency of Tulip Siddiq. I am sure the counter view is that the courts will always look at certain matters, including matters prevalent in their own localities, and make an example, and they already have the powers to do that, but if it turns out that the Bill does not reduce that prevalence and that the courts are not targeting in the way that I have described, I would again ask the Government to reconsider the new clause after a period of months and adopt its provisions.

Finally, in case it sounds like I am standing up as an Opposition Member, I would take issue with the point made by the shadow Home Secretary, who has taken her place now, about the police causing moped riders to come off their mopeds before a serious crime takes place. I recognise that, as she says, it is potentially very dangerous—I agree that it should not be legal for anyone and that the police are not above the law—but we are seeing a horrendous increase in the number of crimes involving these machines, and it is absolutely right that the police should intervene to stop the ultimate action that these individuals seek to achieve.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Treasury) 5:00 pm, 28th November 2018

The hon. Gentleman rightly says that the shadow Home Secretary has recognised that the use of excessive force is an offence already. The fact that she has drawn attention to that in this place and elsewhere should not be such a big issue, surely.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

Of course, we are all entitled to our point of view.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

I understand it is the law, but it also sends out a certain message, does it not? The police are looking for our support in dealing with an incredibly difficult problem. I have mentioned how it is blighting many constituencies, including those of Opposition Members. To send out a message that they should not be doing this, and thereby to focus on the police rather than the perpetrators—I made a similar point to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley about new clause 5—is rather demoralising for the police.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

I will not give way again because many others wish to speak.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

Unfortunately, there is not time for me to address all the amendments in the group, but I thank my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms, my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and for Redcar (Anna Turley), my right hon. Friend David Hanson and my hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq, who have all tabled reasoned, evidence-based amendments that would significantly improve the Bill. I support them all wholeheartedly.

Huw Merriman was very kind in offering his support to new clause 5, which would introduce a simple prohibition on the display of bladed products in shops. The new clause is the result of a huge amount of work led by my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft, who is chair of the cross-party Youth Violence Commission. One of her most important recommendations was the prohibition of knife displays in shops, a matter that was discussed when experts gave evidence to the Committee. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers said that it would be helpful to put knives behind displays in shops. A representative said:

“Obviously, now big retailers are increasingly going down the route of making it more difficult for customers to get their hands on the product until they have been age-checked and the transaction is safe. The problem with it, of course, is that all sorts of bladed things are being sold and it is about where you draw the line.”––[Official Report, Offensive Weapons Public Bill Committee, 19 July 2018;
c. 98, Q239.]

Obviously we want retailers to check people’s ages properly when they seek to purchase knives, but the fact of the matter is that many young people who want to access knives will go into shops and steal them if they are readily available. Ultimately, there is little point in having the provisions in the Bill, and putting all the restrictions and burdens on online retailers, if we are not asking face-to-face retailers to abide by the same regulations.

There are a number of restrictions under the law relating to other products—most obviously, the extremely restricted provisions relating to the sale of tobacco, which prohibit the display of tobacco products except to people over the age of 18. The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 specifically refers to under-18s, so the principle already exists in law. New clause 5 simply transposes to knives the already sufficient and proportionate response to tobacco. As the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said, if we walk into a shop and buy cigarettes with which to kill ourselves, they will be behind locked cabinets. A young person, or any person, who walks into a shop and steals a knife in order to kill another person is free to do so: as things stand, the knives are not even behind locked cabinets. We see no reason why that should not be extended to bladed products. Given that the Government are so committed to clamping down on online sales, we hope they recognise that face-to-face sales are a clear issue that needs further consideration.

While we are on the topic of restricting the supply of knives, let me turn briefly to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central. The clause to which they relate was debated extensively in Committee. We fully support the Government’s intention, but are worried that the clause may punish businesses while having little impact on the ultimate aim—to reduce violence.

I remain baffled as to why the Home Office has not simply put strict age verification controls on the sale of knives online, as it does, for example, with gambling, but instead has chosen to punish the online sales industry and traders such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar. My hon. Friend’s amendments are very reasonable compromises, put forward by the very businesses that the Minister claims have complained that they are too bureaucratic. I fear that the clause has not been thought through sufficiently, and will have untold consequences.

New clause 1 was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn, whom I congratulate on his incredible, impassioned speech and the fantastic campaign that he has mounted. We have made clear from the outset that we are prepared to support amendments to protect shop workers. In Committee, we heard powerful evidence from USDAW and the British Retail Consortium about the increase in the number of attacks on shop workers as a result of restricted sales, and we wholeheartedly support any measure that which will improve their protection. I congratulate USDAW on its brilliant campaign.

Let me now deal with new clause 31. The death of a pregnant woman, Sana Muhammad, just a few short weeks ago in the constituency of my hon. Friend Wes Streeting has, in his words,

“shocked people…to the core.”—[Official Report, 14 November 2018;
Vol. 649, c. 310.]

She was attacked in front of her five children by a man with a crossbow, and was tragically pronounced dead a short while afterwards. That tragic case has brought to light, once again, the remarkably weak controls on crossbows, which have lethal effects. It is incumbent on us as a Parliament to decide whether we are comfortable with circumstances in which a lethal weapon is freely available to anyone over the age of 18, with no licensing restrictions at all.

There have been many tragic and disturbing incidents involving crossbows, and the law as it exists has developed only incrementally. Our new clause would create a licensing system. That is not a step that any Parliament should take lightly, but we believe that it has the potential to remove the unregulated sale and possession of some of the most lethal crossbows, while also ensuring that the law-abiding community who use crossbows for sporting purposes are still able to carry out their legitimate pursuit. The clause also creates safeguards which allow further consideration of the power under which a crossbow would become subject to licensing provisions, allowing the Secretary of State to make regulations determining the appropriate draw weight.

Our new clause 6 calls for a report on the causes behind youth violence, a topic that is not discussed much in the entire debate around offensive weapons. The new clause goes to the heart of our issues with the Bill and the Government’s seriously weak serious violence strategy. The strategy was published only in April yet we have already seen a U-turn from the Home Secretary, finally agreeing that the public health model must be adopted and that agencies need to be working better to tackle violence. We have been telling the Government all of this for at least the last year, so we are pleased to see progress, but we are alarmed that the strategy is so desperately short on detail. Members hear almost every day from constituents about the levels of crime and the cuts to policing in our constituencies.

The police service is at risk of becoming almost unrecognisable to the public and irrelevant according to the Home Affairs Committee. “Panorama” reported recently that up to half of crimes are being “screened out” by some forces, meaning they get no investigation at all. This is just the latest indication of a police service creaking under the strain of soaring demand after eight years of austerity. When crimes are not being investigated, deterrence reduces and crime rises further still. It is a vicious circle and one the present Government have locked us into with little recognition of their role in it.

Axing the police was a political choice that has done incalculable harm to our communities, and it is a choice that I suspect many Conservative MPs who voted for swingeing cuts privately regret.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Labour, Wolverhampton South East

I strongly agree with the points my hon. Friend is making. Does she agree with me that if the Government get the police pensions wrong, the issue she has just highlighted will become even worse, because we have been warned by chief constables and police and crime commissioners around the country that thousands more officers could be lost if they are forced to pay for it out of existing police budgets?

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

My right hon. Friend is right. After eight years of cuts to frontline policing, the Government have slapped on another £465 million cut by 2022, which we have been warned will cut another 10,000 police officers from our communities. It is completely intolerable.

New clause 6 would release the Home Office evidence—that we know exists, thanks to leaks—to public scrutiny. We know that Home Office officials believe that the reduction in police numbers has led to a reduction in so-called hotspotting and to an increase in violent crime.

But of course this is not just about police numbers; we need a wholesale review of the impact of the Government’s austerity agenda on the vital safety nets that keep our communities safe and the consequent impact on rising crime levels. The now famous example of where we have seen a successful approach is on our doorstep in Scotland, where a 20-year strategic approach was taken to reducing youth violence. That is what is required, as opposed to the Government’s strategy, which uses the rhetoric of early intervention and prevention but represents at most a three-year strategy.

The amendments in my name and those of my hon. Friends seek to strengthen and improve the weak legislation before us today. They seek an evidence-based response to the long-term trend in violence that we are witnessing as a result of this Government’s austerity agenda. We hope the Government will accept that much more needs to be done if we are to prevent any more young lives from being needlessly taken and will accept the amendments in our name.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Labour, Hampstead and Kilburn

I rise to speak in support of my new clause 26, and I thank my hon. Friend Louise Haigh for her support in that. I also, surprisingly, thank Huw Merriman for his support for the amendment, although I am disappointed that he did not say that I am one of the nicest people in the House—perhaps I can prove that to him afterwards.

Some Members have already referred to the Metropolitan police video that went viral showing officers tactically nudging criminals off their bikes in the height of chase. Regardless of whether people support that police strategy, the strength of feeling on this matter is demonstrated by the fact that the video was retweeted thousands of times and appeared on the front pages of the papers. That is because so many people have been, or know someone who has been, a victim of crimes committed by people on mopeds.

Criminals use mopeds because of the element of surprise it gives when attacking the victim, the victim’s helplessness when hit by someone on a moped, and the speed at which the criminal can get away, which makes it particularly effective for theft. Constituents in Hampstead and Kilburn have told me that they are now scared to walk down the street either talking on their phone or showing any of their possessions because they fear someone on a moped snatching those items away. I speak today to give those people a voice and to speak up on behalf of those who believe that the existing legislation to deal with such crimes is no longer sufficient.

In Committee, I tabled a similar amendment that sought to ensure that the use of a moped while possessing an offensive weapon would become an aggravating factor in sentencing. Committee members supported that move. My right hon. Friend Stephen Timms noted the close link between acid attacks and the use of mopeds. I think it is fair to say that my right hon. Friend probably knows this Bill better than anyone else in the House—I hope the Minister will forgive me for saying that—and I will say more about his testimony in support of my amendment in a moment.

My hon. Friend Sarah Jones has done an enormous amount of work on knife crime in her constituency, and she spoke of a couple who had been out walking with their seven-year-old daughter when two people wearing masks and on mopeds came up to them and held a knife to the neck of the daughter. I am sure that Members will understand how frightening and scary that must have been for the family. I am pleased to say that the Minister, who is not in her place, supported the sentiment behind my amendment. She spoke about the short-term and long-term effects of moped crime and acknowledged that their presence in attacks using corrosive substances was a “worryingly frequent occurrence”. However, the Government voted down my amendment, which has paved the way for my new clause today.

New clause 26 seeks to introduce an aggravated offence of possessing a corrosive substance or dangerous knife. A person would be guilty under the new clause if they committed an offence under clause 6 while driving a moped or while a passenger on a moped. If found guilty, offenders would be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to a fine, or to both. The liability would be the same for England, Wales and Scotland. I know from the Minister’s feedback to the Committee that she was concerned that my amendment was restrictive, which is why I have reflected on it and returned with a new clause that will instead legislate for moped-enabled acid possession to be an aggravated form of the basic offence, rather than being treated as an aggravating factor when sentencing for the basic offence. In other words, new clause 26 addresses the serious specific circumstances that are unique to moped crimes while leaving the sentencing to the discretion of the court.

I should like to remind the Minister and Conservative Members that there is a clear precedent for taking this route. Under section 12 of the Theft Act 1968, taking a vehicle without consent carries a maximum sentence of six months. The aggravated offence under section 12A of that Act—driving the taken vehicle in a dangerous manner—carries a maximum sentence of two years. Let us also remember the campaign of my hon. Friend Chris Bryant. Common assault under section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 carries a sentence of six months. An assault under section 1 of his Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 carries a maximum sentence of 12 months. Members from across the House have told me that they are sick to death of moped crime in their constituencies and the misery that it creates for people living there. They are looking for further deterrents, and my new clause provides an opportunity that I hope we can all get behind.

Beyond looking at the precedents involved, I urge the Government to support my new clause today, because moped crimes are far too numerous for us to be content with the current strategy. Innovative action from the police—whether the spray-tagging of mopeds or tactical collisions—has led to a not insignificant fall in moped crime, but the problem still exists. In June last year alone, Camden suffered 1,363 moped crimes. In 2017, the Metropolitan police reported that 24% of their pursuits involved officers chasing mopeds or scooters. This year, the figure rose to 40%.

I quote one constituent from Hampstead Town, who said:

“I’m on the verge of moving out. The situation is out of control. I’ve” suffered attempted muggings

“twice in 10 days. I was walking on the pavement and people on motorbikes tried to steal my wallet, in the middle of the day.”

Such stories are common across all the forums in my constituency, especially among young mothers, who when pushing their prams are particularly worried about being attacked from the back, because they are keeping an eye on their child but also trying to keep an eye on their possessions.

In Committee the Minister rightly argued against complacency, but objected to my amendment, saying that,

“aggravating factors…could be too restrictive, in terms of only applying to mopeds”.

That surely is not a reason to vote down new clause 26; it is a reason to accept my measure and look at expanding the scope.

In addition, conviction rates are unacceptably low. In 2017-18, detection rates for offences resolved through a sanction stood at just 2.6%, which means that more than 97% of moped criminals escaped justice in just that year. That is appalling and unjust.

Moped crime is also costly. As the Minister said in Committee,

“we focus on the terrible psychological and physical impact of these crimes, but often…there is an economic impact”––[Official Report, Offensive Weapons Public Bill Committee, 11 September 2018;
c. 316-7.]

on livelihoods. I urge Members to read the testimony of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, who spoke about the economic impact on delivery people, and the impact on their livelihood when they are hit by moped crime. It should give us all pause for thought as to whether the current strategy is really working, or whether we should be doing something about the current strategy to ensure that we are not all hit by moped crime over and over again.

Of course the Metropolitan police is entitled to celebrate its considerable successes when it reduces any form of crime by a significant degree, but I am sure that Metropolitan police officers and all constituents would say there is a lot more that we can do, and that greater deterrents for moped criminals would be welcome.

My new clause seeks to provide a remedy to that problem. The Minister’s rhetoric on moped crime is welcome, but we need to ensure that our legislation actually reflects the unique fears and threats that moped criminals represent to the public. Viral videos will not deter future moped criminals from instilling fear in my constituents, but tougher approaches to the offence may just do that. That is why I commend new clause 26, and hope that Ministers and Tory Members will see fit to support it.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 5:15 pm, 28th November 2018

I shall be brief, as lots of hon. Members wish to speak.

The provisions in the Bill in relation to corrosive substances and knives are also largely welcomed on the SNP Benches, but I do not think anyone is arguing that the new provisions will transform or revolutionise the fight against knife crime or acid attacks; they can merely play a part in reducing the number of lives affected.

There has been close working between the UK and Scottish Governments, including on amendment 56, which the Minister highlighted. Many of the other amendments in the group would not extend to Scotland, or do not seem intended to do so, so we would argue that further changes to the criminal law of Scotland should be left to that Parliament and I shall speak only to one or two of the amendments tabled.

I welcome the changes to the defence relating to possession of swords for religious ceremonies. We congratulate all involved in tabling and supporting amendment 22 and we welcome the Government response, which we trust will ensure that the new offence of possessing certain particularly offensive weapons catches only those who it is really aimed at, not those involved in religious ceremonies.

It is important to speak about new clauses 1 and 14. We agree absolutely that they flag up a serious problem that must be addressed, and it is good that it has been highlighted today. In Committee, we heard evidence about the growing problems faced by shop workers and the increasing number of thefts and attacks that they face. As part of the recent Respect for Shopworkers Week and USDAW’s Freedom from Fear campaign—like other Members, I suspect—I visited a local Co-op store to hear about the challenges faced there and the steps needed to help support shop workers. I totally agree that the problem must be tackled.

A private Member’s Bill is being finalised for tabling in the Scottish Parliament in relation to the protection of shop workers, having attracted the requisite cross-party support. The Scottish Government have said that they have an open mind on whether they would support such a Bill. The proposals contained in the Bill consultation for new offences cover not just shop workers selling age-restricted goods, but bar staff, and indeed door staff. I appreciate that those tabling the amendments before us today have been restricted by the scope of the Bill before us, but as the consultation in the Scottish Parliament pointed out, age restrictions on tobacco and alcohol are almost certainly the most common flashpoints, and if we are to take a legislative approach, I would argue that ideally that would need to cover such sales, too, rather than simply corrosive substances and knives. In short, although I sympathise with the arguments that have been made today, I leave it to the Scottish Parliament to decide the issue holistically in respect of that offence in Scotland.

I will not further delay the House by talking about other amendments with which I sympathise but that relate to devolved matters. New clause 6, which would give rise to a reporting requirement, is slightly shoehorned into the Bill. A general report on the causes of youth violence would clearly be better than one restricted to youth violence with offensive weapons only, but it would, of course, be open to the Secretary of State to go further. Although crime is devolved, some of the possible causes that would be reported on under new clause 6 are not; they are reserved. To finish on a happy note, we willingly shoehorn in our support for new clause 6.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

I rise to comment on two of the new clauses. First, my hon. Friend the Minister has spoken convincingly on new clause 16 and there is widespread agreement in the House that extending the Bill to cover private places, as well as public places, is important. To add to what I said earlier, several recent knife crimes in Gloucester have been committed in public places, most tragically one at the All Nations club, one outside the Pike and Musket pub and others, but, more recently, some have been committed very much in private places—in flats and properties—and I am delighted that new clause 16 covers those places.

New clause 1 was tabled by David Hanson, and everyone in this House wants to see not just shop workers but everyone who engages with the public—including people who work in our railway and bus stations, who are often on the frontline against such antisocial behaviour—fully protected by the law against totally unnecessary behaviour by other members of the public.

It seems to me, and I stand to be corrected, that new clause 1 would apply only to the handling of corrosive substances or bladed instruments. Although that is a good thing, most shop workers want to know that if somebody intentionally obstructs them—in other words, if somebody acts in a threatening manner—that same behaviour would be a crime whether it is a bottle of beer, a bottle of whiskey or a bladed instrument. The new clause perhaps does not suit shop workers as well as it might, but I ask the Minister to consider taking it back to the Home Office for discussion to see what might be done about it.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I hope my hon. Friend realises that I listened with great care to the speech of David Hanson, and I agree that we want to ensure that our shop workers feel protected, as well as being protected, by the law. If I may, I will reflect further on new clause 1, and I invite the right hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend Richard Graham and organisations involved in the retail arena, including trade unions, to the Home Office for a roundtable so we can further discuss the concerns that have been raised this afternoon.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

I am very grateful to the Minister. That is a really good step forward, and I wonder whether the right hon. Member for Delyn would like to comment.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

I happily accept the Minister’s offer to revisit this with the trade unions and shop organisations. The reason why new clause 1 would cover only corrosives and knives is because that is the scope of the Bill; it should cover age-related products. I would welcome it if we can reflect on that, but I reserve the right to return to the matter in another place should the meeting not prove successful.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

I am not sure this is how these things often work on the Floor of the House, but this is a helpful way forward for all sides. I am grateful to the Minister and the right hon. Gentleman.

On that note, I have said all I want to say on new clause 16, which I think is good, and new clause 1, which will be taken away for consideration.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling

Let me start by saying that I think we are all pleased with what the Minister has just said to my right hon. Friend David Hanson about his new clause 1. The shop workers of the country, the unions and people across the whole of our nation will be pleased with that and will look forward to what we come up with in due course.

In the short time available, as so many others wish to speak, I want to refer to the excellent new clause 6, tabled by my hon. Friend Louise Haigh. Serious violence in this country with the use of offensive weapons is almost an epidemic, if it is not already one. Across our nation, young people, in particular, are regularly being killed on our streets. Young people in particular, including in Gedling, in Nottingham and beyond, face attacks with knives day after day, week after week. This is a national emergency. In the short term, all of us would of course want to see tougher policing and the perpetrators being put behind bars. All that is a given, but new clause 6 says that as a community and as a country we also have to have a better understanding of what is actually going on.

My right hon. Friend and I were just reflecting on how we were in the Home Office in the 2008 to 2010 era, when there again was a big spike in serious violence. We brought everyone together and discussed this with the victims, the perpetrators even, the police and, above all, the local communities affected. We went to them, including on stop-and- search; the stop-and-search we introduced was done on the basis of what those communities found acceptable. That is what we did.

I say to the Minister that I wanted to use this discussion about new clause 6 to say that I do not believe that Parliament discusses serious violence as much as we should. There is a serious violence strategy, but when have we debated it? When has there been a statement? When have we come to this House with the rage and anger that people across this country feel about what is happening? It is bewildering that we are not raging in this place, not biting my hon. Friend’s hand off and saying that we will accept new clause 6 as an indication to the public that we recognise the seriousness of this situation and that we are going to do something about it. I am sick of it. I am sick of turning on the radio when I wake up in the morning and hearing about the latest knife or gun attack. I am sick of families having to meet the police and others to talk to them about their son, as it nearly always is, who has been murdered or stabbed. I am sick of people being terrified by other people carrying weapons. It used to be that this was always in the inner cities, but no longer. New clause 6 gives us a real opportunity to discuss as a Parliament what we as a Parliament we are going to do about it.

Let me finish by asking this: is there a greater national emergency? I know Brexit dominates, but this Parliament should be discussing, almost every week, serious violence and why it is happening. We should be having a huge debate on it. For goodness’ sake, given the number of young people being killed, and the number of knife crimes offences and other offensive weapons crimes that there are, surely we, as a Parliament, need to wake up and debate it with the priority people in this country would expect.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:30 pm, 28th November 2018

I congratulate Vernon Coaker on his excellent speech and I associate myself with his sentiments. The Bill makes some welcome improvements to how the police and courts tackle threats to the public from offensive weapons. Given the violence and the deaths we are seeing now, it is vital that we act. I welcome some of the amendments, particularly those tabled by Labour colleagues, including new clauses 1 and 6. However, a number of details in this Bill would prove counterproductive in the fight against crime—things that are not based on evidence—so I have tabled a range of amendments. I will speak only briefly to some of them now, given the time available and that fact that other Members wish to get in.

Amendments 12 and 13 would in essence replace short-term prison sentences with community sentences. As the Bill stands, the new offence in clause 1 of selling corrosive products to under-18s is punishable by up to 51 weeks in prison. We are puzzled by this, because it directly contradicts Government policy as articulated at the Dispatch Box. The Secretary of State for Justice himself has said that short-term prison sentences do not work. He said that they should be used only “as a last resort.” Amendments 12 and 13 therefore appear to be in line with Government policy and would ensure that the offence set out in clause 1 is punishable by an effective community sentence and/or fine, instead of by an ineffective short-term prison sentence.

Amendment 14 would amend the welcome new offence of possession of corrosives by adding to clause 6 the words “with intent to cause injury”. I assume that the current wording is the result of a drafting error.

Finally, amendments 15 and 16 would remove mandatory prison sentences for a second offence of possession of corrosive substances. In other words, they would prevent this House from yet again trespassing on judicial discretion. I have never understood why Governments and colleagues think that they are capable of second-guessing the facts of a case that has not yet happened, or why this House should pretend that it makes any sense at all to bind the hands of judges, who see and hear the real facts of the case, are trained to assess the facts and are experienced in sentencing.

The House may remember when, back in 2014, a Conservative Back-Bench new clause was passed to create mandatory prison sentences for a second offence of possession of a knife. My party voted against that new clause on the principle that mandatory sentences tie judges’ hands, put more pressure on already overburdened prisons and mean that more people, especially young people, end up with ineffective short-term prison sentences. Regrettably, that new clause was passed, thanks to some Labour MPs supporting it, the Conservative Front-Bench team abstaining and Conservative Back Benchers voting for it.

To be fair, there were Labour MPs who voted with those of us who opposed the tying of judges’ hands. One Labour MP in particular made a fine speech, and said:

“There is a principle at stake here. There is a Sentencing Council and legislation on what is and is not a crime, but surely it must be for the courts to determine what is appropriate for the prisoner in front of them, rather than to have that laid down by statute.”—[Official Report, 17 June 2014;
Vol. 582, c. 1041-1042.]

That MP was Jeremy Corbyn, so I hope that the Labour Front-Bench team will support our amendments to get rid of mandatory prison sentences.

Back in 2014, when the House debated similar proposals in respect of knife crimes, the supporters of tying judges’ hands said that it would send a message to the people, and that that message would reduce knife crime. That was a rather odd argument, which seemed to assume that young people especially tuned into our proceedings with enthusiasm. It had no basis in fact at the time. We now have the benefit of seeing how four years of limiting judicial discretion over knife crime has worked—how the message that Parliament apparently sent was heard.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Mr Speaker, you are right to be confident because I am.

There may now be more people behind bars to whom the judges might have given, on the evidence, community sentences. We may now as a society pay more in taxes to keep locked up people whom it would be better not to lock up, so we may not be able to use the money that is currently spent on prisons in other ways, such as for spending on police or youth services.

All that does not look like a good outcome from the message sent by mandatory sentences, so why are we repeating the mistake? What evidence are Ministers using to introduce more mandatory sentences? What happens if the person was coming home from the shops and he or she was holding his mum or dad’s shopping bags when stopped and searched? Surely it is for judges to act on the basis of fact, not for Parliament to second-guess it. We do not think that mandatory sentences are the right approach, and I hope that the other place will deal with the matter.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham

Given the constraints on time, I will speak only to new clause 23, from among the six new clauses that I have tabled, which deals with a particularly important subject.

It might come as a surprise to the House, as it did to me, to learn that weapons that cannot lawfully be purchased in the UK can be purchased online without anyone committing an offence. That cannot be right. The aim of new clause 23 is to plug that gap. It differs from the proposal that we debated in Committee as it allows for a defence if the website removes the offending advertisement for an illegal weapon within 24 hours of being informed of it. That reflects some recent helpful discussions that I have had with eBay about the practicalities of implementing the change that I propose.

The background is that the Criminal Justice Act 1988 introduced a list of weapons that are illegal to sell in the UK, which was expanded in 2002 to include disguised knives. A disguised knife is

“any knife which has a concealed blade or concealed sharp point and is designed to appear to be an everyday object of a kind commonly carried on the person”.

It is now illegal to sell that kind of weapon in the UK.

I have been speaking to Mr Raheel Butt, who runs an organisation in the borough of Newham called Community and Rehabilitation Solutions. He is from a gang background and has served a prison term, but since he left prison in 2012, he has made it his mission to stop others making the mistakes that he made. He has pointed out to me that a lot of the weapons being used to kill young people on the streets of our cities, as my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker pointed out, are being bought online, a lot of them from eBay.

I should say that since I raised these points in Committee, disguised knives have been removed from eBay, although they can still be freely found on other websites. Mr Butt tells me that it is on those sites that those who are killing young people are getting their weapons. However, is it illegal for a website with a UK domain name to advertise weapons that are illegal to buy in the UK? Surely the answer ought to be yes, yet there is some uncertainty about that. If I understood her correctly, the Minister advised us in Committee that she thought that it was unlawful for an illegal weapon to be sold in that way, but then she wrote to us and said, “Actually, no. There is a defence available, because these are simply platforms.” My argument is that selling a weapon on a UK website that it is illegal to purchase in the UK should be illegal. That is the aim of my new clause 23.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I will do my very best, Mr Speaker.

I rise to speak to my amendments 8, 9 and 10, to which a number of colleagues have referred. I fully support the objectives of the Bill. We have a serious problem with knife crime. We need serious solutions, but we need the right solutions. Knife manufacturers in my constituency are seriously concerned about the possible unintended consequences of clause 17, which prohibits the delivery of bladed products to residential properties, and believe that it will not provide the right solution. I raised this issue with the Home Secretary on Second Reading and wrote to him afterwards. I appreciate the response from the Minister, who said that the Government do not intend to stop people purchasing knives online or to stop manufacturers selling their products online.

I have tabled my amendments in that spirit. Large retailers with regional shop networks might well be able to deal with age-verified collection easily and with little impact on cost, but smaller manufacturers, which use the internet to reach niche markets, will struggle. They are acutely aware of the risks of knife crime and they already take proactive steps and have stringent controls to tackle the issue. They are responsible companies. They are traders whom we can trust. They support measures that would make such safeguards widespread across the industry.

The Bill makes an exception for bladed products used for sporting purposes. Under those provisions, a sword could be delivered to a residential property, but one of my local manufacturers’ steak knives could not, and nor could the decorating tools that my hon. Friend Anna Turley mentioned earlier.

Much more could be done to develop effective age verification for all sorts of online activities, but a trusted trader scheme could tackle the specific issue of knife sales. Online sales actually offer a better audit trail and record keeping than face-to-face sales. The Minister said earlier that the Government were interested in working with the industry on a voluntary basis to tackle problems in relation to retail sales in shops. If she is prepared to work with the retail sector, why not with the manufacturing sector? Will she agree to meet me and representatives of the industry to discuss how a trusted trader scheme might work, so that we can amend the Bill as it progresses? If she will, I will be happy to withdraw my amendments.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons) 5:45 pm, 28th November 2018

I will try to be brief to ensure that everybody has a chance to speak. I served on the Bill Committee and am grateful for another opportunity to speak on the Bill’s content. As many of my hon. Friends will know, I also chair the cross-party Youth Violence Commission, so this a subject of significant interest to me.

I will use my time to pick up on two main points. The first is my disappointment that new clause 6 was rejected in Committee. It calls for a report on the causes behind youth violence with offensive weapons within six months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent. Although many of the Bill’s provisions are to be welcomed, I am concerned that the siloed approach of dealing with offensive weapons in isolation will do little to tackle serious violence. From my work with the commission, I know that the increase in youth violence that we are seeing is the result of a vulnerable cohort of young people being denied the support and multi-agency early intervention work necessary to prevent them from falling into a downward spiral.

New clause 6 calls for the Home Secretary to examine the effect not only of the reduction in police numbers on the levels of youth violence with offensive weapons, but of the reduction in public spending on children’s services, schools and local authorities. When the Minister was making her opening remarks, she struggled to stick within the confines of the Bill and touched on all these areas, so this new clause could be extremely useful to her.

My second point concerns the sale of knives. As recently as September, Lewisham police responded to reports of 40 young people storming a branch of Poundland in my neighbouring constituency of Lewisham East, with the intention of stealing knives and sharp implements. There is the Minister’s evidence. That is one of the reasons that she should implement this proposed legislation.

In the Make Your Mark ballot, more than 1.1 million young people voted for knife crime as their top priority. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker; we should be talking about this issue every single week in this Chamber. This issue is so important—our young people and our communities say it is important. If the Minister accepts one measure tonight, I urge her to accept new clause 6, so that we can thoroughly debate the issue.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development)

I have tabled an amendment to this Bill that has cross-party support. Members of all parties and I were concerned that the Bill would place severe restrictions on the ability of members of the Sikh community to observe and practise their faith. I thank the Minister for her clarity and assurances today, and I will not press my amendment.

I believed these consequences would have been inadvertent and perhaps due to a lack of consultation with the Sikh community, so I welcomed the opportunity to meet the Secretary of State and the Minister to outline these concerns and to clarify their position. Following these meetings, I was pleased to see a desire to avert what would have been the Bill’s damaging consequences for the Sikh community. I welcome amendments 59, 60 and 61, which are the Government’s own amendments to avoid that situation, and I fully support them.

On behalf of the all-party parliamentary group for British Sikhs, I would like to record my appreciation to the Secretary of State and the Minister for listening to the concerns raised by the APPG and the Sikh Federation about the Sikh kirpan. I thank my right hon. Friend Mr McFadden and Mr Grieve for their support in this process. I will briefly outline the importance of the Government amendments in ensuring that the Bill will maintain the status quo in continuing to legally safeguard the sale, possession and use of large kirpans.

I should say at the outset that the Sikh community in the UK is fully behind tightening the law on offensive weapons. We have all been appalled by the toll that knife crime is taking on innocent young lives, and every Member supports a robust and just system of law to crack down on this very serious problem. That system of law should include the measures in the Bill on restriction of sales of particular types of knives and appropriate punishments. It must also be paired with early intervention to tackle youth violence and the police being provided with adequate resources to tackle violent crime. We cannot go on with the level of knife crime that is taking place in many parts of the country.

Observance of the Sikh faith for practising Sikhs requires adherence to keeping what we call the five Ks, one of which is to wear a kirpan. Larger kirpans are used on many religious occasions such as during all Sikh wedding ceremonies up and down the country, during nagar kirtans in April and November, in front of the holy scriptures, in gurdwaras and in homes, and during gatka demonstrations where thousands take part. I could go on.

The Bill in its current incarnation would—I paraphrase from the policy equality statement produced by the Home Office in June 2018—place limits on the use and availability of these ceremonial kirpans that can be found in virtually all Sikh households. The current language would expose Sikhs who have kept kirpans at home for years to prison sentences of up to a year for doing nothing other than following one of the key tenets of our faith and the Sikh way of life. There are strict rules about the carrying and use of the kirpan. It is strictly ceremonial and must never be used in an aggressive, confrontational or offensive manner. These rules are respected and understood by the Sikh community.

Our amendment sought to amend the Bill to allow the use of ceremonial kirpans as they have been used, with no threat to public safety or public order, up until now. The Government’s amendment does nothing other than to maintain the status quo. I am pleased to support it, alongside the understanding that there will be an accompanying set of documentation that explicitly mentions the kirpan and therefore reflects the importance of not criminalising the Sikh community for the sale or possession of large kirpans.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I want to focus on new clause 6 as well. Although we all know how falling police numbers are impacting on crime in our communities, we also need to look at other things, including cuts to children’s services. I have heard directly from parents who are most affected by social workers no longer having the time to build proper relationships with families, or not having had the right training so they do not recognise when a child is being groomed by criminals in a gang and instead blame the family and criminalise the child.

I am happy to see that this issue is being dealt with through training, as recognised in the new protocol against criminalising children this month. However, I am concerned, yet again, about whether any additional resources will be available to fund the big programme of training we desperately need and to monitor its implementation. The fact is that when public services are underfunded, that makes it easier for the county lines gangs to exploit local children, and that exploitation breeds violence. I seek further measures that would ensure that the police and courts focus on the true perpetrators of county lines violence—those who control the gangs and reap the profits. The Minister talked about the reported arrest of 500 groomed children or young adults, but, with all due respect, that will not change the nature of the county lines infiltration into our communities. Only by arresting the groomers—those who are reaping the massive financial rewards at the top of the tree—will the game be changed.

We need to support youth workers who prevent grooming and violence by working with children of all ages, all year round. We need training for every professional who works with young people, from the police to social workers to teachers, so that they understand the threat of gang grooming and the tactics that groomers use. We need a third-party reporting system that young people will actually use; they will not do so at the moment because they believe that the police can get information without anyone being put in danger. We have to make public authorities responsible for protecting people who are at risk because they have done the bravest of things and given information to the authorities. We need to support them and their families with a path to a secure future. We need to take stronger action against incitement online. We need to support communities after the trauma of a young death.

This Bill is a start, but it ain’t the panacea that my community so desperately needs. We need further legislation from this Government to tackle the real issues that are afflicting our communities.

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing)

I rise to speak in support of new clause 6. I was pleased to serve on the Public Bill Committee, and I am glad to see the Bill finally coming back to the Floor of the House. My hon. Friend Vernon Coaker spoke passionately about why new clause 6 is so important. Simply put, it says that the Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament on the causes of youth violence with offensive weapons. We are trying to fix a problem, and we have to understand what that problem is before we can fix it.

I want to make two points. The first is about data. We do not know where the people who commit these offences get their knives from. We do not know at what exact time of day these knife crimes are committed, although we have some evidence. We do not know how many people are involved in gangs who commit knife offences. That is really important, because a very small number—somewhere between 3% and 25%, depending on what we measure—of people who commit knife offences are in gangs. There is a lot that we do not understand about what is going on in this situation that we are trying to fix.

The second important part of the new clause relates to evidence. There is a growing consensus that there is an epidemic of violence—the Secretary of State has said it, and the Minister said it today. It is spreading out across the country. Violence breeds violence. There is evidence that can fix this growing national problem. We know from what has worked in other areas how effective interventions can be when they are evidence-based. I think of my friend, Tessa Jowell, whose memorial service you and I attended recently, Mr Speaker. Her interventions in introducing Sure Start and the teenage pregnancy reduction strategy were evidence-based and had a real impact. That is what we need to seek to do.

My final point is that when we look at the evidence, we need to look at the increasing number of children who are being excluded and finding themselves lost to the system. If we are trying to fix this national problem, why on earth would anyone want to vote against this new clause?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank all Members for a most interesting and informative debate. I want to clarify a point made by Gavin Robinson about the applicability of measures on corrosive substances in Northern Ireland. Those measures are within scope for Northern Ireland. It is possible for them to extend to Northern Ireland, and I will ask officials to look into that with their Northern Irish colleagues.

I thank Stephen Timms for his contribution on new clause 23. Anyone who sells or hires, offers for sale or hire, exposes or has in his possession for the purpose of sale or hire anything contained in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988 is guilty of an offence. That applies to not only people but bodies corporate. Where the user of a website places advertisements for anything contained in the order on that website, the website service provider may be able to rely on the defence under regulation 19 of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002. Whether regulation 19 applies will depend on the facts of the case. There may well be jurisdictional issues if the service provider is based overseas. Regulation 19 does not apply where the provider of the website is offering the items for sale directly and where the provider had actual knowledge of the unlawful activity. We therefore consider that the provider of a website who sells items on it directly would be likely to be caught under the wording of the legislation. Where the provider of the website is enabling advertisements to be placed by others, the defence under regulation 19 may be available. That is an awful lot of legalese, but this discussion is timely, as the Government prepare the online harms White Paper.

I turn to amendments 8, 9 and 10, tabled by Paul Blomfield. Age verification checks cannot be done only at the point when the seller is processing the sale and preparing the item to be dispatched. Checks also need to be done when the item is handed to the purchaser. That is why we are stopping bladed products—namely, articles with a blade capable of causing serious injury—from being delivered to residential addresses. The amendments would undermine what the Bill is trying to achieve and seem to introduce some sort of validation scheme by the Government to enable certain online sellers—those awarded trusted seller status—to deliver bladed products to residential addresses. That goes against what the Bill seeks.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am conscious of the time, so I will not. I am always happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, but it is important to make it clear that we do not believe his amendments fit in with the overall structure of the Bill.

Finally, on new clause 6, we published the serious violence strategy this year, which already takes a public health approach, stressing the importance of early intervention and prevention through a multi-agency approach to tackle the root causes. We appreciate the need to keep parliamentarians informed of progress on delivery of the strategy, but we do not believe that a statutory requirement is necessary. We believe that scrutiny will be provided by the serious violence taskforce and the House, and we hope that the House can contribute its views on this very important piece of legislation.

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the clause be read a Second time.

Question agreed to.

New clause 16 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

The Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

New Clause 17