Amendment 75

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 The Duke of Montrose

75: Clause 18, page 17, line 41, at end insert “unless the product is for an agricultural or forestry management purpose”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would allow a seller to deliver bladed agricultural or forestry equipment to residential premises.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative

My Lords, I rise to move this amendment and speak to others standing in my name—namely, Amendments 80, 83, 84 and 85. For those of us who have not had the good fortune to spend our days looking at the wording of the various Acts introduced since 1953 to control unruly public behaviour, I must express my gratitude to Mark Wilcox for giving general access to the Keeling schedule he produced following our amendments in Committee. I am sure this was aimed at Members of your Lordships’ House who are much more familiar with these documents than I am, but it provided some enlightening weekend reading for me, such as what is currently defined as a public place and how this legislation will affect sharply pointed articles—it explained that this is limited to those,

“made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person”,

as stated in Section 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

There are other provisions which might answer some of my concerns as well, but I wish to enlarge on the problem which my amendments focus on; this looks at what we have just been discussing from the other end—the purchases end. As I have mentioned before, I approach this legislation as someone who has had to carry on a variety of businesses in a rural context, where many sharp instruments and corrosive substances are involved—an area which has been subject to immense changes, both in its purpose and in how it is envisaged. A current complication arises in that there are fewer and fewer people available and there is less access to public transport and other essential services. The strong message we get is that the Government expect us to carry on most of our business digitally and online. As the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, pointed out, it appears that this has not been thought through from the point of view that this Bill could limit the effect of that.

I again declare my remaining interest as the recent president of the National Sheep Association.

Your Lordships will be aware that, in many parts of the country, farmers have sold off their traditional farmhouse and at times even the steading. They then farm in a way that might be termed “remotely”, while living in some more urban location, possibly without any permanent structures on the site where they farm. Another factor is that fewer and fewer of those who assist a farmer are employed directly. Some are called in as contractors and presumably can be taken as having their own business to worry about. However, there is always an element of those who are simply employed as casual labour but, even so, would like to bring some of their own tools of the trade. One thinks of people who come to assist at lambing time and others repairing fences. When it comes to the forestry world, there are certainly mechanised felling machines but there is still a need for the self-employed, whose living is made up of constant work with their chainsaw or other sharp weapon.

My noble friend the Minister has shown great patience in responding to my concerns as to what makes a house a place of business. If this is clear, it would naturally make life a whole lot easier for those who are so recognised and wish to obtain articles by post. On our previous day on Report, my noble friend used the phrase “registered business address”. I would like to look at that for a minute, since in a rural context there are certainly not so many who would conduct business at the level where they would be registered at Companies House. Many farmers will simply conduct the business in their own name, seemingly without having to register with anyone. Where will the recognition of their place of business come from? Perhaps they can rely on being recognised as having a registered agricultural holding. For others, it might be possible to say that they are registered for VAT; there will be others again who do not conduct a business which reaches the threshold for that registration. Would these reasons be sufficient, or is it just a matter of notifying your supplier and hoping that some of the other authorities which I have noted have not seen what you have been doing?

All these individuals will have to be aware that the Revenue website says that, if you occupy a property part of which is used for non-domestic purposes, you will probably be required to pay business rates. There are two possible ways of relieving this situation: one is that the property you occupy must have a rateable value of less than £12,000, in which case you qualify for 100% relief from business rates; the other is whether your property would be recognised as agricultural, which might be a long shot if you occupy a semi-detached in a suburb. I can see that there will be problems for those who are unwilling or unable to have a site which qualifies as the site of a registered business. I am not saying that there are not many activities which one might seek to exclude in the same way from the prohibition on receiving articles by post, along with agriculture and forestry, but in my judgment they are not constrained by seasonality in the same way and should be in a better position to work their way round the disadvantages.

Two particular activities strike me—though I admit there may be others. One is the gangs who assemble, often from around the world, and come to carry out the essential sheep-shearing operation that takes place every year. They gradually progress northwards through the country, as the season allows, before returning to their homes and countries. They require a constant turnover of clipping blades, which have to be resharpened to an industrial level and then remounted on the clipping machines. These blades have multiple points and are razor sharp. Occasionally, they may even require some old-fashioned sheep shears, which are even more lethal in the context of the Bill. Another element of the agricultural world is the small triangular knife sections that have to be bought and replaced when they go missing from the 10 to 20 foot cutting blades of a combine harvester. In the forestry context, you have independent workers who have to go wherever work is available, and often land up staying in camp for long periods in caravans, in remote places. They need some way of getting access to items that they might need to carry out their trade. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:30 pm, 4th March 2019

My Lords, I have some sympathy with the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, on this issue but again suggest that the answer is to have a system of age verification at handover, as there is for overseas sellers.

On the issue of whether a business is carried out at a residential address, the Government accept that overseas companies cannot be expected to know whether that is the case. Again, UK companies are being disadvantaged compared with overseas companies.

I do not know whether the noble Duke can explain why Amendment 75 talks about a product that,

“is for an agricultural or forestry management purpose”,

Amendment 80,

“exclusively designed for an agricultural or forestry management purpose”,

Amendment 83,

“specifically to be used for agricultural or forestry management purposes”,

and if those differences are deliberate and explicable.

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 rise briefly to support the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, as he raises valid points. Again, we do not want anything in the Bill that disadvantages UK business.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

My Lords, I rise to support the amendments as well. A lot of effort is going into preserving hill farming and small farming. There is a lot of focus on that area, yet along comes the Home Office, without consulting Defra, Natural England or anyone else, and it could wipe out all the good that has been done elsewhere. We need to start looking at this approach.

On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, which runs through the whole thing, this is about disadvantaging UK against foreign business. There is no logical reason to do that. I say to the Minister that, just because this amendment is aimed at knives because it is in this part of the Bill, that does not mean you would not logically continue that through to corrosive liquids. I cannot think how to describe the argument that says that it does not cover that as well, when we have moved on to this part of the Bill. The intransigence of the Home Office has been evident throughout this, and I do not think that is a good argument against sensible amendments later.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am grateful to my noble friend for his amendments, which return us to the proposed prohibition on the dispatch of bladed products to residential premises and lockers.

I hope I can quickly provide my noble friend with some reassurance on the point he has raised but, before I do so, I would like to answer the point he raised on Report, on 26 February, about the definition of “pointed articles” and whether it includes things like screws carried in someone’s pocket. Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 makes it an offence to possess in public,

“any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed”,

without,

“good reason or lawful authority”.

Section 141A of the same Act prohibits the sale to under-18s of articles with a sharp point that are,

“made or adapted for use for causing injury to the person”.

The wording “sharply pointed” is used in various parts of the Bill, including Clauses 15 to 17 and Clause 31.

The new offence of arranging delivery to residential premises or a locker is limited to “bladed products”—that is an article which is, or has, a blade and which is capable of causing serious injury by cutting the skin, so does not include pointed articles. It will be for the courts to decide whether an article is sharply pointed, or has a sharp point, in each specific case, but the legislation was clearly never intended to include screws, which are not generally considered to be offensive weapons and which have not been made or adapted for the purposes of causing injury. We are not aware that the definition of pointed articles has caused any problems with the operation of existing offences over the past 30 years.

The amendments in this group would enable bladed products that are used for agricultural or forestry management purposes to be sent by the seller to a solely residential premise. Some agricultural and forestry management items will be caught by the definition of bladed product, and it is therefore reasonable to assume that they will no longer be able to be sent to solely residential premises or a locker. However, the definition of residential premise is limited to those premises that are used solely for residential purposes. My noble friend eloquently set out a number of ways that one could demonstrate whether something was also a business address. It will be a matter for the seller of a bladed product to satisfy themselves that the delivery address is not used solely for residential purposes.

This means that bladed products will still be able to be sent to business premises and this includes, importantly, where a business is run from a residential premise. Therefore, bladed products could be sent to a farm, an agricultural supplier or a forestry centre. They could be sent to the home of a person who runs a self-employed forestry business from their home. We have been clear from the outset that deliveries to farms will not be prohibited under the Bill and, in most cases, agricultural and forestry tools will be related to business activities and should not be affected.

Clause 19 also includes a regulation-making power which will enable further defences to be added by secondary legislation if it becomes clear that the prohibition on home delivery is having a particularly negative impact on certain types of business or not-for-profit activities. A defence for agricultural and forestry equipment could therefore be provided if it becomes clear that there is a detrimental impact on this type of trade or activity. However, for the reasons I have set out, we do not currently think that this is necessary.

I hope I have given my noble friend sufficient reassurance that the deliveries of agricultural and forestry equipment should be largely unaffected by the measures in the Bill. On that basis, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for all her efforts in answering the questions which I have raised from time to time. What she has said has been much more reassuring. It sounds as if a letter to your supplier is critical to whether or not you have a registered business. It does not have to be certified in any way; you can just say to your supplier: “This is my business address”. Maybe that situation is adequate, though there are obviously loopholes.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made an interesting point. The amendments were attached to different parts of the Bill. I thought the wording was a little more appropriate in each case, but I would not stand by it terribly much.

I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. We are in a happier position, for those who require blades and pointed instruments, than we were when it started. I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 75 withdrawn.

Amendments 76 and 77 not moved.

Clause 19: Defences to offence under section 18

Amendments 78 to 80 not moved.

Clause 20: Meaning of “bladed product” in sections 18 and 19