Amendment 74

Offensive Weapons Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:10 pm on 4th March 2019.

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Moved by Lord Kennedy of Southwark

74: Clause 18, page 17, line 36, at end insert—“(aa) the seller is not a trusted trader of bladed products, and”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would create a trusted trader status for those selling bladed products.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, Amendments 74 and 77 in my name seek to establish a “trusted trader” scheme to enable bladed products to be delivered to home addresses. This is an issue that I raised in Committee. The Bill as drafted prohibits the delivery of bladed objects to residential properties, and there are serious concerns among small and medium-sized knife manufacturers and retailers that this will have a detrimental impact on their businesses.

As more sales move online, consumers expect to be able to receive deliveries directly to their home. I fully support the aims of the Bill but I think this is a legislative sledgehammer that will affect small and medium-sized businesses based in the UK while having little impact on knife crime. There is no evidence that these high-quality knives sold online are being bought with criminal intent; if there were any evidence, it would have already been presented. I think we all accept that if you bought a knife online with criminal intent, you would be creating a very easy evidence trail for the police to follow.

We all want to achieve the objective of the Bill, which is to reduce knife crime, but at the same time we do not want to destroy UK-based businesses. There is a need for greater enforcement of existing legislation prohibiting the sale of knives to under-18s and the carrying of a knife without good reason, and these amendments would enable a trusted trader scheme to come into force. All that I am seeking to achieve is protection for British businesses, whether with the scheme in these amendments, with the scheme suggested last week by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, or with some other form of approved deliverer scheme, which we discussed when we had a very positive meeting last week with the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams of Trafford and Lady Barran, and representatives of the business community from Sheffield—who, in my opinion, put a very convincing case to the Minister—along with the honourable Members for Sheffield Central and Sheffield South East.

I am aware that a trusted trader scheme has been ruled out by the Home Office, which claims that it would add more bureaucracy and would cost businesses to establish, but I point out that the scheme is being suggested by the very businesses that would be affected. I make clear that I am not fixed on any scheme; I just want to find a solution for what I think the Minister accepts is a real issue that could have damaging consequences for British businesses. I know that is not the Government’s intention—in fact, I support their actual intentions—but we have a problem here. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, that this legislation is seriously to the detriment of UK companies versus overseas companies, in that if you order a bladed instrument or knife from an overseas company or website it can be delivered to your home, but if you order one from a UK company it cannot. However, I am not sure the trusted trader scheme that he has outlined in the amendments is the answer. Obviously, overseas companies would not have to be members of a trusted trader scheme and therefore the bureaucracy, expense, fees payable and so forth would still disadvantage UK companies.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for mentioning that I have already suggested a solution to this problem: to extend to UK companies the age-verification scheme at handover on the doorstep, which the Government have set out in the legislation and which currently applies only to overseas companies. I believe that is the solution to this problem, rather than the trusted trader scheme that the noble Lord suggested.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I add to this unanimity of voice. I entirely agree with what both noble Lords have said. The scheme that the Bill sets out enables people to buy knives from foreign websites. A lot of the time you will not know that it is foreign website as it will appear to be in the UK and it will deal in sterling; it is just posted from France, the Netherlands or wherever it might be. It comes through the post in an unmarked packet and is delivered to whoever ordered it. We apparently think this is a reasonable thing to do and that people should be allowed to do this. This is a way in which your average 16 year-old can obtain a knife quite legally under the Bill.

We are imposing much more stringent arrangements on our own internet traders, which will appear exactly the same to customers. All it means is that we will be disadvantaging our own traders to the advantage of overseas traders and we are not achieving anything in terms of safety. I absolutely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said. I support the aims of the Bill. We want to prevent knives getting into the hands of people under 18. Let us have an effective way of doing it that does not disadvantage our own people. Several alternatives have been offered. I very much hope my noble friend will indicate that she is prepared to pick up one of them.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

My Lords, I support everything the three noble Lords have said. I completely concur with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said. He is absolutely on the nail.

Just for fun, today I put on a tie that shows a mouse eating a chunk of cheese. I do not know whether noble Lords remember that there was a book some time ago called Who Moved My Cheese?, in which mice run around a maze and get to eat cheese at the end. One day the cheese was moved. One mouse explored and found where the new cheese had been moved to and therefore survived. The other one kept revisiting the old place and died. I recommend this book to the Home Office. The world has changed—the cheese has moved—yet we are legislating as if we did not have an online world and methods of verifying age, and as if people did not have smartphones that they can link to biometrics. We are living in the past. I cannot believe we are passing a piece of legislation such as this. I concur with everything that has been said. I do not mind what scheme is done so long as it is more sensible than the one proposed in the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for these amendments. I am particularly grateful to him and the Sheffield knife manufacturers for coming to meet me the other week for what I thought was a very helpful and constructive meeting.

We are returning to something we debated in Committee: whether trusted traders should be exempt from the prohibition in the Bill of arranging delivery of bladed products to residential premises or a locker. When we considered these amendments previously, I said that test purchases continue to show that a significant number of online sellers fail to undertake adequate checks to ensure that knives are not sold to under-18s. The most recent test purchases of online retailers, conducted in late 2018, showed that 42% of the retailers sampled failed the test and sold knives to persons under 18.

As the noble Lord has explained, his amendments seek to address this problem by saying that where we know someone is a responsible retailer they should be able to continue to send their products to a person’s home address or a locker. This would apply only to the dispatch of bladed products under Clause 18 and not to the sending of corrosive products to a residential premise under Clause 3—presumably on the basis that the noble Lord is content that corrosives should not be sent to a person’s home.

These amendments would transfer the responsibility for complying with the legislation, and for ensuring that all sales are handled properly, from the seller to the Government. They would do this by requiring the Government to set out the details of the proposed trusted trader scheme, which would then allow for the delivery of bladed products to residential premises. A trusted trader scheme would require sellers to demonstrate that their age-verification systems and procedures, from the point when they receive the order to the point that their designated delivery company hands the item over, are robust and that they can guarantee that the knife will not be handed over to a person under 18.

The Government are not persuaded, in the light of the results of recent test purchase operations, that sellers can provide such reassurance in a systematic and consistent way. Only by requiring age verification at the point where the item is physically handed to a person at a dedicated collection point is it possible to guarantee that a bladed product will not be handed over to a person under 18. Setting up, administering and overseeing a trusted trader scheme would create a further burden on the Government or local authorities, with inevitable cost implications. Simply being part of a scheme, or being in possession of a seal of approval as a trusted trader, does not guarantee compliance with the conditions of the scheme. Many of us know this to our cost, having hired a plumber or builder accredited by a trusted trader scheme. Such a scheme would impose regulatory burdens on participating businesses. In addition, it would need to be administered by an independent regulatory body or by local authorities, albeit with the expectation that participating businesses would be required to meet the cost of running it.

I hope that I have provided a clear explanation of why the Government do not consider that the noble Lord’s amendments would provide the necessary assurance that young people under 18 cannot get hold of knives using online sellers. In coming to this view, I have reflected on the recent helpful meeting with Sheffield knife retailers—which I am very grateful to the noble Lord for arranging—in which something was said about Amazon’s view on the issues this amendment raises. He knows that I cannot promise anything, and we are yet to have a definitive statement on it, but I hope that this being the case, he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Before the noble Baroness sits down, could she just qualify what she said about the test purchase results? Was this a failure in age verification at the point of purchase or at the point of handover?

The noble Baroness also talked about a burden on the Government to design an age verification scheme, but is that not exactly what this Bill does with knives that are bought overseas and that are handed over at residential premises?

Thirdly, could the Minister again tell me why age verification at handover point is likely to be better than age verification on the doorstep?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

Such a scheme would impose an additional burden. The noble Lord talks about other burdens; I am not denying that there will be burdens on various people from the introduction of whatever scheme comes in, but this would very much pass on that burden to local government.

As I understand it, the failures in online test purchases have lain at the point of sale.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I put this provision forward, but I am not stuck on this or any other particular scheme, and I hope I made that clear in my remarks. I am generally very grateful to the Minister for the way she met with the traders—they were very impressed with the interest she took.

All I want to do is to stop us putting on the statute book something which harms British business—nothing else. The Minister has confirmed that discussions are still going on, so will she allow me to bring the issue back at Third Reading? If so, I would be very happy to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, I cannot commit to bringing it back at Third Reading, but I know the noble Lord will bring it back at Third Reading. By then, I hope that I will have further information for him.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

Just to clarify, is the Minister happy for me to bring it back at Third Reading? I do not want any disputes with the clerks afterwards about this situation.