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

Part of Offensive Weapons Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 28th November 2018.

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Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 4:45 pm, 28th November 2018

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.