Offensive Weapons Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 7th January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 3:08 pm, 7th January 2019

My Lords, in the last few years we have seen a very concerning rise in the number of serious violent crimes in the UK. This includes an ongoing rise in knife crime, as well as the emergence of acid attacks.

Such horrific crimes seem to be increasing in not only their frequency but their severity, with ever worse injuries for victims who are increasingly younger and younger. Tragically, the rise in knife crime has contributed to an increasing number of homicides, and the House will be aware of the tragic event last Friday where a father was fatally stabbed on a train from Guildford to London. I am sure the whole House will join me in offering our sympathy to the victim’s family and friends.

Violent crime can have a devastating effect on communities and can blight the lives of young people. In 2018, 134 homicides were recorded in the Metropolitan Police area, 79 of which involved knives. The Offensive Weapons Bill is born out of the necessity to tackle this serious issue. Violent crime must be reduced and its perpetrators brought to justice. Tackling serious violence will require a united approach from the Government, working with key partners on the ground, be they police officers, parents, teachers or charities. That collaborative approach is at the heart of the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy, which was published in April 2018. The strategy sets out a comprehensive programme of action and looks to multiagency working to deliver real results on our streets and in our communities. A crucial part is its focus on early intervention and prevention to stop young people getting involved in violent crime in the first place. We have established a serious violence task force to oversee this work, which consists of members of the police and community groups, the Mayor of London and government departments.

The Bill is a key part of the Government’s response to serious violent crime and will create new offences as well as provide additional powers for the police. Legislation alone can never be the complete answer to such complex problems, but it is an important component of the wider government response to serious violent crime. The Bill covers three main areas: acid attacks, knife crime and the risks posed by firearms. On all of these areas we have engaged widely through consultation and close collaboration with the police and other interested parties, to make sure that we are providing the powers that they need. The measures contained in the Bill aim to stop under-18s getting hold of particularly dangerous acids and purchasing knives online, and will give the police the powers they need to take action when people are in possession of dangerous weapons in private.

Acid attacks have life-altering consequences and there are no reasons why industrial strength corrosives should be sold to under-18s. The Bill will ban the sale of highly corrosive products to under-18s, both in stores and online. It will also make it an offence to possess a corrosive substance in public without a good reason, which will enable the police to directly tackle the issue on the streets, extending their powers to perform stop and search for the confiscation of corrosives.

The sale of knives to under-18s is already illegal, but too often knives are still finding their way into the hands of young people, with tragic consequences. In particular, it is too easy for under-18s to acquire knives from online retailers, including those operating overseas. The Bill will mean that online sellers in the UK need to meet certain conditions when they sell knives online. It will also prohibit the delivery of bladed products to a residential premise or locker. We are making it an offence for a delivery company in the UK to knowingly deliver knives to a person under the age of 18 where these have been bought online from a seller overseas.

The Bill makes it an offence to possess certain offensive weapons in private. This will mean that police can act on intelligence concerning people possessing shocking weapons such as zombie knives and knuckledusters, designed only for violent purposes. It also extends to further education premises the current ban on possession and threatening with bladed articles and offensive weapons in schools, and makes it an offence to threaten with an offensive weapon in private.

Turning to firearms, the Bill bans the possession of rapid-firing firearms, as well as bump stocks, which have been specifically designed to circumvent existing prohibitions and are often marketed as such. Due to their higher rate of fire, these weapons pose a heightened risk to the public if they were to fall into the wrong hands.

There has been much debate in the progress of this Bill on the prohibition of high-power rifles. This has been shown to be a particularly complex issue requiring further consideration before we proceed with legislation. It is for this reason that the House of Commons removed from the Bill the clause prohibiting such weapons. However, the Government are committed to further public consultation on this issue, including with the law enforcement agencies and the target-shooting community. I am sure that noble Lords will also want to debate this issue and I welcome the contribution that they will bring to our further consideration of the appropriate regulation for these weapons.

The public want violent crime to be dealt with now, and rightly so. This Bill will help to do that—I therefore commend it to the House.