Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order no. 83M(5)),
That the Committee consents to the following certified Clauses of and Amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill—
Clauses certified under SO No. 83L(2) as relating exclusively to England and Wales and being within devolved legislative competence
Clauses 8 to 10, 14, 28 and 29 of the Bill as amended in Committee (Bill 265), and New Clauses NC16 and NC17 added on Report.
Amendments certified under SO No. 83L(4) as relating exclusively to England and Wales and being within devolved legislative competence
Question agreed to.
The occupant of the Chair left the Chair to report the decision of the Committee (
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair; decision reported.
I beg to move, that the Bill be now read the Third time.
As the House is all too aware, we have seen a rise in violent crime, including knife crime and homicides, in recent years. That is why there is an urgent need for us to tackle the whole issue of serious violence and see what more we can do. I know that Members across the House will agree that we must do all we can to try to put an end to the bloodshed on our streets, and we must do everything in our power to try to bring more perpetrators to justice. I believe that the Offensive Weapons Bill is an incredibly important part of our response. It provides additional powers for the police to tackle serious violence. It will prevent the sale of corrosive products to young people, and make it a crime to possess corrosive products in public with no good reason. It will make it harder for young people to purchase deadly weapons, and make the possession of knuckle dusters, zombie knives and death stars illegal, even in private premises. Sellers will be required by law to impose vigorous age verification measures to prove that anyone purchasing blades or corrosives is over the age of 18, or they will face prosecution.
Simply put, the Offensive Weapons Bill is all about preventing young people from getting their hands on dangerous weapons such as knives and acid, and causing irreparable damage.
The Bill has of course, as many Bills do, raised some tricky issues. We recognise, for instance, that knives, corrosives and firearms are not in themselves offensive weapons, and that they have many lawful and legitimate uses in people’s everyday lives. That means that a balance needs to be struck between protecting the public and ensuring that legitimate activities are in no way unduly affected. I believe that the Bill strikes the right balance.
We have made some important changes to the Bill after debate. So, for example, we have made it an offence to threaten someone with an offensive weapon in private as well as in public, and I thank my hon. Friend Philip Davies for first suggesting such a change and then helping us to work that through. We have also ensured that our museums are able to continue to keep important examples of historic knives in their collections, and we have made changes to reflect the different legal system in Scotland.
We have also addressed the concerns raised by the Sikh community, and by Preet Kaur Gill, who I was pleased to meet to discuss the issue regarding the private and public ownership of kirpans.
During the Bill’s progress, a number of important points have been raised on firearms, which we think merit further consideration. I thank my hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown for his work on this matter. I will be looking to launch a public consultation to consider those issues in further detail.
Ultimately, I urge Members to focus on the important changes that this Bill will bring about, and I am in no doubt that the Bill is key to tackling violent crime. The public rightly want violent crime to be dealt with properly and to be dealt with urgently. They want to feel that their neighbourhoods and their children are safe, and this Bill will help to ensure just that.
I commend the Bill to the House.
Labour will not oppose the limited measures in this Bill tonight, but we regret how very limited the measures are. This country is facing a contagion of serious violence and, faced with that challenge, the Government have introduced a Bill that barely tinkers around the edges. We have record levels of knife crime, the largest continuous rise of violent crime on record, and high-harm offences are all on the rise. The number of unsolved crimes now stands at more than 2.1 million. We have a national crisis in detective numbers and a Government who are unwilling to take the action necessary to plug it. Some 21,000 officers, 6,800 PCSOs and 18,000 police staff have gone yet, rather than give the police the resources they need to launch a national offensive against violent crime, the Government instead seem intent on lumbering the police with a bill for hundreds of millions of pounds of pension liabilities, which the National Police Chiefs Council warns could lead to the loss of another 10,000 officers.
The levels of serious violence are not a spike; they are part of a now five-year trend. Behind the figures are stories of young lives destroyed and families torn apart. The serious violence strategy and the Offensive Weapons Bill stand as the Government’s response—it is nowhere near enough. It does not even begin to scratch the surface. As long as they insist on underfunding our police, nobody can say that they are taking serious violence seriously.
With regard to the limited provisions of the Bill, Labour has sought to enhance protections on the sale and possession of knives, to close dangerous loopholes in our gun laws that have been left open for too long, to force the Home Office to release evidence on the consequences of cuts to vital services for the levels of serious violence, and to advocate for the rights of victims of crime, which have been neglected, despite repeated manifesto promises from the Conservative party. There is no doubt that the Bill would have been enhanced by the inclusion of those measures. It is a matter of regret that important issues in relation to serious violence and the rights of victims have not been accepted by this Government.
I am slightly confused. I thought that, during the opening speeches, Labour Members suggested that the Government should have moved quicker with this Bill and that they are disappointed that there have been some delays, yet they do not seem to welcome any elements of the Bill. They just seem to regret the excellent progress that we have made.
We supported this Bill on Second Reading and in Committee, and we supported the Home Secretary’s attempt to ban the .50-calibre rifle, on which the Government have now capitulated to their Back Benchers in the face of overwhelming evidence from police, security and intelligence officials. We backed the measures in the Bill; it is a shame that the Home Secretary did not back his own measures.
We will not oppose these limited measures tonight, but we must be clear that they will not stem the tide of serious crime without measures to address its root causes and without a recognition from the Government of their own culpability in creating the conditions for crime to thrive. With a vulnerable cohort of young people without the support they need as services fall away and an ailing police force unable proactively to gather intelligence and build community relations, and unable adequately to investigate crimes that have taken place, this Government are unwilling and unable to address the consequences of their own actions. As such, this Bill can never meet its objective to bear down on violent crime.
I commend the Minister for steering the Bill through the House of Commons, and I commend the shadow Minister and other Opposition Members for the constructive way in which they have probed and questioned. I thank all the Committee and research staff who have supported our work as helpfully as ever.
The Home Affairs Committee recently launched its new inquiry into serious violence, and it heard powerful and moving evidence from the parents of young people who have lost their lives in stabbings and shootings. It was a timely reminder, if one was needed, of the awful impact that knives, firearms and other offensive weapons are still having on too many.
Obviously, the provisions in this Bill will not stop knife crime and shootings, but they will surely save some lives, as we can see when we can look at the case of Bailey Gwynne, the 16-year-old from Aberdeenshire who was murdered by another young teenager who had arranged online for a knife to be delivered and left at a shed behind his family’s house. That prompted a letter to the Home Office from the Justice Secretary in Scotland seeking a tightening of the rules around online sales and delivery. Delivery like that would, we hope, no longer be possible.
Officials in Edinburgh and at the Home Office have worked closely on this Bill, and we welcome the results, not only the provisions on the online sale of knives, but the new provisions on corrosive substances. We have, however, expressed our concern today about changes that have been made to the Bill in relation to firearms.
As we all know, the Bill is not a game-changer, and I do not think anyone can pretend it will be. Much more important are efforts to stop individuals feeling the need or desire to carry and use knives and other weapons in the first place. Strategies and policies that work require support, such as the successful violence reduction unit based in Glasgow, which has been mentioned earlier in debates. In short, we need proper resourcing of public services by the Chancellor—that would be a genuine game-changer.
One problem we often have is that the Opposition parties are critical of some of the legislation we bring forward. That is when they see it in isolation. This Government are making great progress in a number of Departments, on a number of fronts, which collectively are addressing crime. That applies to this Bill as it does to a Bill considered earlier outlining our reforms of the judiciary, which provides a great opportunity to change the allocation of responsibilities for staff, so that we can streamline the way the service works and make sure—
My hon. Friend makes an important point and I agree with it completely. The Express & Star newspaper that covers my constituency ran a campaign to ban zombie knives, so I was keen to support the Bill in its earlier stages and to champion that newspaper’s campaign, which has proved invaluable. The newspaper does a great job of highlighting issues locally, and it must be good for it to see that this Government respond to those needs. My hon. Friend is right to say that there are many strands to tackling crime—and not only dealing with it once it has been committed; this Government also invest considerably in preventing crime. I came into the House from the YMCA, where I worked with young homeless people who had come out of prison. I was aware of the work the Government had done with them, supporting them in prison in order to improve their academic attainment, and allowing them to learn new skills and services that would help them find employment when they left prison. Obviously, it was unfortunate that some of those people then ended up needing the services of YMCA, but I say again that the Government support supported housing as well.
I just want to put on the record my thanks to the Government for bringing this excellent Bill through. I know that the police in Yeovil are very keen to have these measures in place so that they can make more arrests, get more prosecutions and, in particular, get knives off the street. We have had some terrible incidents in Yeovil recently, and this Bill will make a genuine difference in trying to combat the awful scourge of knife crime.
I commend Ministers for their efforts on this Bill. Although the Secretary of State introduced the Third Reading debate, I engaged with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins throughout this process. I had never served on a Bill Committee and had never had the joy of going through the intricate detail of a Bill such as this, but the Minister met me more times than I had planned and more than she would wish. We had thoughtful engagement and the outcome is right. I stand now only to say that some of the comments made from the Opposition Front Bench were facile. They do a disservice to the efforts that went into this Bill and the outcomes that will be the product of it. We will have protections in place on streets and protections against corrosive substances, and we will do further work on significant calibre weapons. I commend and praise the Minister for her efforts, where she has engaged thoughtfully across the range of issues contained in this Bill, and I say the same about her officials.
I shall not talk for long; the Whips are worried that I might inadvertently talk out the Bill, which of course I would never want to do because I absolutely support it.
As I did not do so earlier, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for giving me a lot of her time and reassuring me about some measures about which I was concerned. Across party lines, some great suggestions have been made this afternoon. A lot of them came from the Opposition Benches, and I would struggle to vote against them. I hope that in a few months the Minister will assess whether the measures in the Bill as passed will fix some of the issues; if not, we should reconsider new clauses 5 and 26, and perhaps some of the other proposals, because they have a lot to recommend them. Overall, I support the Bill and hope that the House will give it a Third Reading.
It is now my challenge not to talk out the Bill.
It is a pleasure for me to close the Third Reading debate on this important Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, the measures in it will prevent young people from accessing dangerous weapons such as knives and acid and causing irreparable damage with them, not only to the lives of others but to their own lives.
I am genuinely grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members from all parties—particularly those from Northern Ireland—for their valuable contributions and for the debates that we have had on the Bill. We have had a series of constructive debates, and at times like this the House is at its best, so I thank hon. Friends and colleagues for their contributions.
Particular thanks must go to my hon. Friends who served on the Bill Committee and scrutinised the Bill line by line. It was an absolute pleasure to serve with them in doing that important work. I also thank the Parliamentary Private Secretaries. We do not often get the chance to thank them, but they are the ones who make sure that the political wheels run smoothly. Of course, I also thank the officials, who have done an incredible amount of work on the Bill. [Interruption.] I am being prompted, but I had made a note, so now that I have finished thanking the officials I thank the Whip, the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, my hon. Friend Paul Maynard, because I know which side my bread is buttered. I also thank those in the Whips Office for their hard work on the Bill. Every time that we excited and enthusiastic Ministers put policies and legislation before the House, it is the Whips Office that has to deliver it, and I am extremely grateful for the help I have had on this Bill.
I extend my thanks to Louise Haigh, Stephen Timms and Vicky Foxcroft for their contributions, not only today but in Committee, and for the constant attention that they pay to this really important issue. I hope that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford will keep pressing her case for a debate at tomorrow’s business questions.
Let me end this Third Reading debate by drawing the thoughts of the House back to the people whom the Bill is intended to help and protect. I thank every single victim of knife crime and corrosive-substance attacks, as well as every family member who has been affected, sometimes devastatingly, by serious violence. It is for those people that we put the Bill and the other measures in the serious violence strategy at the forefront of our thoughts, as well as for the communities that we all represent, who really do want us to ensure that our laws are up to date and that we have in place the strategy to keep our country safe.
On that note, it is my absolute pleasure to send this Bill elsewhere. I hope that it goes with the best wishes and best intentions not only of every colleague present, but of the victims whom we seek to serve and represent.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Speaker has ruled several times that the convention of Members notifying other Members before visiting their constituencies applies to Ministers on official visits. I was deeply disappointed today to find out that the Scottish Secretary and the Prime Minister no less have visited Bridge of Weir in my constituency and that I have yet to receive a notification. The Scottish Secretary found time to tweet about his visit to Bridge of Weir just over two hours ago, to which I replied, asking for notification. He has not complied with that request. Clearly, paragraph 10.10 of the “Ministerial Code” applies in this case.
The sad thing is that the Prime Minister said earlier in answer to my question at Prime Minister’s questions that she knew nothing about Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Systems’ green deal mis-selling, which affects hundreds of people in my constituency. Had I been made aware of the visit, I could have scheduled meetings with the constituents affected, at which she could have learned a lot more about this terrible issue. Can you advise me, Mr Deputy Speaker, what recourse I have when the ministerial code is broken and Ministers fail through their answers in their obligations to Members and this House?
It is the convention for any Member going to another Member’s constituency to carry out political business to inform the Member concerned, whether that be the Prime Minister or whoever. Please, do the right thing by colleagues and always inform the Member you are going. You do not have to meet the Member, but at least let us keep with convention. That is the advice that I would give. I am sure that hon. Gentleman will remind the Secretary of State when he catches up with him and has a debrief on his constituency, and I am sure that it will be a great pleasure for him to receive that debriefing.