Delivery of bladed products to residential premises etc

Part of Offensive Weapons Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 26th March 2019.

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Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing) 3:30 pm, 26th March 2019

I thank those in the other place for their careful consideration of this Bill, which is certainly in better shape than when it left this Chamber.

As the Minister has outlined, we have offered our sincere and constructive support throughout the passage of the Bill for the Government’s attempts to respond to the surge in violent crime. We offered our support in Committee, on Report and at Third Reading. We have fought to enhance protections on the sale of knives, to close dangerous loopholes in our gun laws, to force the Home Office to release evidence on the consequences of cuts to vital services for levels of serious violence, to force the Government to assess whether the police have the resources they need to tackle violence involving offensive weapons, and to put the rights of victims of crime on a statutory footing—rights that have been neglected despite repeated manifesto promises by the Conservative party.

Let us not forget the absolutely farcical spectacle of the Home Secretary and the Minister, on Second Reading and in Committee, making the case for a ban on high-powered rifles—guns that have an effective range of 6 km—and then coming back to the Chamber on Report and making the exact opposite case in the face of Back-Bench rebellion. Our gun laws are in need of updating, and it is a sad reflection on the Government that all the passage of this Bill has done is weaken the provisions on firearms and kick the can down the road once again in pushing the issue to consultation. Furthermore, the Bill as it stands still ignores much of the key evidence contained in a leaked Home Office report on the drivers of serious violence. This included compelling evidence that violence was, in part, being driven by a precarious and vulnerable youth cohort shorn of the support, early intervention and prevention work necessary to stop those vulnerable people falling into a spiral of serious violence.

Turning to the amendments, I am grateful for the work of the noble Lord Kennedy, and that of my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who have managed to find a consensus on the delivery of knives to residential premises that protects children while not unduly hampering specialist knife manufacturers and businesses. We are therefore happy to support the amendment in the name of the Home Secretary whereby businesses will need to prove they have taken all necessary measures to ensure that a knife is delivered into the hands of an adult or will feel the full weight of the law.

On kirpans and Sikh ceremonial swords, I again congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Mr Dhesi) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) on their work. We understood the concerns raised across the House, and I am pleased that the Labour Lords amendment has been accepted that will allow Sikhs to practice their religion freely without fear of criminalisation.

But undoubtedly the biggest change has been the introduction of knife crime prevention orders, and that is what I wish to focus my remarks on. It is important when making any changes to the suite of police powers that Parliament has the fullest opportunity to consider the evidence and implications. That is why we are extremely concerned about both the way in which these proposed orders have been brought forward and some of their content. Our concerns are threefold, and I will address each in turn. As the Minister said, our amendments to the Lords amendments speak to those concerns.

First, it is regrettable there has been little to no parliamentary scrutiny—far below the standard we would expect for potentially punitive orders that impose criminal sanctions on children as young as 12. Secondly, there is no statutory requirement for the needs of the child who may be subject to an order to be assessed, to establish their circumstances and what support may be beneficial. That eschews all evidence on combating youth violence, which is clear that the focus should be on avenues to a route out of crime and not on punitive restrictions. Finally, we are extremely concerned that the lack of consultation and evidence base for these orders may lead to them doing more harm than good.

Our point about parliamentary scrutiny is not just some narrow concern about process. The orders carry criminal sanctions of up to a two-year custodial sentence for a breach. The civil standard of proof could find a child on the receiving end of a prison sentence for breach of an order that was itself imposed only on the balance of probabilities. It is wholly inappropriate to have introduced such potentially punitive penalties in the House of Lords, once scrutiny of the Bill in the Commons had already taken place, and for this to be the first, limited opportunity for the Commons to debate them.

In Committee, we took evidence from a wide range of witnesses, including the police and counter-terror police, on the need to ban .50 calibre rifles, which the Government later dismissed. At no point were these orders mentioned, and it is regrettable that they may enter legislation with such little scrutiny or opportunity to test the opinion of experts in the field of youth violence.

We were pleased that our colleagues in the other place fought and won the case for the orders to be delivered initially as a pilot, so it will be possible for authorities to test them and learn lessons before they are rolled out across the country. Unfortunately, we still do not have any further detail on where those pilots will be, how long they will last and what report will be laid before the House once they have been completed.

The Lords amendment brought forward by the Government does not go far enough. That is why we have tabled amendments that would establish a parliamentary lock on the roll-out of knife crime prevention orders, allowing Parliament to review the evidence, examine the pilot and its effectiveness, see the departmental justification and be assured that proper regimes will be in place to monitor their use before any wider roll-out. We would require the Government to report on which practitioners have been consulted. It is astonishing that the Youth Justice Board, the Children’s Commissioner and local government services were not involved in drawing up these orders. Since they have been published, the Magistrates Association, the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers and the Local Government Association have all voiced concerns.