Offensive Weapons Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:36 pm on 7th January 2019.

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Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative 5:36 pm, 7th January 2019

My Lords, as the last listed Back-Bench speaker, it has been encouraging to hear the great support all around the House for the purposes of the Bill and to listen to all the experience and wealth of statistics being brought forward.

I shall talk about some of the peripheral effects of the Bill. It has a simple title but, as we see from its 48 pages, it is far from easy to have workable legislation on this topic. It is endlessly complicated by having to allow for three devolution settlements, with special sections peppering the text. I am most encouraged to read in the accompanying notes that the Scottish Parliament has passed a legislative consent Motion. I should be interested to know whether, if amendments are passed in this House, we will have to go back to legislative Assemblies around the country to see whether they approve.

The rural life that I have led, rather in parallel to that of my noble friend Lord Lucas, has been full of what are described as corrosive substances, offensive weapons and firearms. In all of these, one was given instruction in their use and the dangers that they could pose. One is conscious that is not available to those who live in urban areas and the use to which they tend to put the weapons which fall into their hands.

I declare an interest as an office-bearer of the National Sheep Association and of the National Farmers Union of Scotland. In that context, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the rural scene has changed radically since the main legislation in this area was framed. Many of the rules which will apply refer to “a public place”. As we see in Clause 6(9), a public place is no longer confined to what one normally thinks of—a road, a highway or a building—but includes anywhere where the public are permitted access. This now includes large sections of the countryside.

Another element that has changed is that, in many parts, traditional farmhouses, which used to be the focus and constantly manned part of the business, have been sold off, and farmers are managing their business from a house somewhere else. A lot of the time, there may be no one on the site of the farming activity. That begins to bear some relevance when we talk about the supply of corrosive substances or weapons to the farming community. There may be a question, too, whether your supplier is prepared to regard your house as of a sufficient size to be your place of business. Problems will arise for those taking delivery of the substances required by the business. The Bill rules out delivery to a locker, but will that mean that deliveries will have to be received by somebody in person? Who knows what time of day a delivery man or courier will appear? We have all experienced waiting for their non-appearance.

I have similar concerns to those of my noble friend Lord Lucas on corrosive substances. I hope that the Minister can give the House more of an indication of how wide the interpretation of the given definition is envisaged to go. Clause 6(9) defines them as anything capable of “burning human skin”, but Schedule 1 goes on to list specific compounds, mainly of an inorganic nature, and says that they might give rise to chemical abstracts. Is that definition considered fairly wide, or is the schedule designed to limit the products to which the ruling can be applied? Formic acid is one of the things listed; I am aware that it is used in farming to preserve silage. I have also had experience of another extremely aggressive organic acid—propionic acid—used to preserve moist grain. It gives rise to a product known as Propcorn, which is not at all the sort of thing you might buy in the cinema. Will these organic acids be covered by some definition?

On a slightly lighter note, but in a similar vein to the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Singh, I notice that for some reason only in Scotland is there a focus on bladed weapons when they come into your possession if the defence is used that they were required for theatrical performances, films or television programmes. Of course, those also occur in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I happen to be a member of the Royal Company of Archers, which parades around the country with swords and arrows. I wonder where this regulation will leave it and other bodies, such as one known as the Atholl Highlanders—the private army of the Duke of Atholl—which are given to producing weapons that would certainly be considered dangerous.