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

Part of Offensive Weapons Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 28th November 2018.

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Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing) 5:00 pm, 28th November 2018

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.