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

Part of Offensive Weapons Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 28th November 2018.

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Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development) 5:45 pm, 28th November 2018

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.