Amendment 88

Offensive Weapons Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 4 March 2019.

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Moved by Lord Lucas

88: After Clause 21, insert the following new Clause—“Powers to confiscate bladed articlesIf bladed articles are detected in transit from overseas to a UK residential address, other than under arrangements as described in section 21(1)(c), and without the requirement for age verification on delivery being clearly evident on the outside of the packaging, they may be handed in to the police for destruction without compensation.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment is intended to address issues discussed in Committee as to how to deal with bladed articles coming in from abroad, using generic carriers such as Royal Mail, without arrangements as described in 21(1)(c).

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, if we are going to have this arrangement whereby overseas sellers are advantaged, at least we need to make it effective. At the moment, if I was to go on to a foreign website and order a flick knife that was then dropped into the post, it could come straight to me. Such a prohibited weapon could come to me if I was 14 years old. Nothing in the process would allow it to be intercepted. There is an arrangement in the Bill for overseas sellers who choose to use a contracted delivery arrangement in the UK, which would presumably apply to Amazon fulfilment or a similar arrangement, whereby age verification would take place on the doorstep. However, we are allowing an enormous hole to appear: if someone uses a common carrier such as the Post Office, there is nothing to stop a product ordered overseas being delivered straight to a minor at a residential address. If there is to be this enormous disadvantage on British businesses, let us at least have effective controls on overseas websites.

When goods come into this country, they are, by and large, inspected. We are concerned about people shipping pistols into this country and keep an eye out for such packages. The same techniques will be effective against bladed products. However, if someone involved in that process discovers a bladed product in a standard, unmarked pack, it is currently unclear whether they have a right to do anything about it. If we are to allow knives to arrive in unmarked standard postal packages, it would defeat the whole purpose of a great chunk of the Bill. To stop that happening it should be clear that when something is identified as a bladed product, and the arrangements for making sure that it will be signed for by an adult on delivery have not been complied with, the authorities must be able to confiscate that product, or the Bill does not work. I beg to move.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

My Lords, I support the amendment, which is eminently sensible. Why should one have something that does not work? This should be part of the armoury to stop bladed products getting into the wrong hands and I cannot see how else it could be done.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 4:15, 4 March 2019

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for returning us to this difficult issue about what we do in relation to overseas sellers of knives. Noble Lords will recall that the issue is that while we can place requirements, such as those under Clause 18, on remote sellers based in the UK, we cannot do the same in relation to overseas sellers. This is because we cannot practically take extraterritorial jurisdiction over sellers based abroad. We have tried to address this through the provisions in Clause 21. These provisions make it an offence for delivery companies in the UK, which are operating under specific arrangements to deliver bladed articles on behalf of overseas sellers, to deliver those articles into the hands of a person under the age of 18.

We accept that this is not the complete answer to the problem because overseas sellers can simply send the items unmarked through the international mail. This is exactly the situation that my noble friend’s amendment seeks to address. It would provide a power to confiscate bladed articles that are sent from overseas to a UK residential address and which are, first, not subject to specific arrangements between the delivery company in the UK and the overseas seller and, secondly, not labelled to show that age must be verified on delivery.

Although it is not clear from the amendment, the power is presumably to be exercised by Border Force because the amendments refer to detecting the articles in transit from overseas. The amendment would mean, in effect, that only bladed articles sold overseas which are subject to specific delivery arrangements in the UK would be allowed. I can therefore sympathise with the intention behind this amendment.

However, there are a number of problems with the amendment. At present, Border Force can seize two types of bladed articles. It can seize weapons prohibited under Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, such as zombie knives and death stars, and Section 1 of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959, which covers flick knives and gravity knives, because the importation of these weapons is banned. It can also seize any weapon which it believes is evidence in relation to a criminal offence.

This amendment would mean that Border Force would have a power to seize items which are not prohibited by law and where they are not evidence in relation to a criminal offence. This would mean that a wide range of items which are going to a residential address in the UK from overseas could be seized and handed to the police to be destroyed. The amendment is not limited to overseas sales, so it would mean that bladed articles sent from a relative overseas to someone in the UK could also be seized. It would mean that someone bringing back a bladed article from their holiday, such as a souvenir, could have it seized or that a fencer returning from a competition overseas with their swords could have them confiscated by Border Force. It would mean that articles which have been legally sold overseas and legally bought by someone in the UK could be seized.

Secondly, the amendment assumes that there is some way of detecting such articles. Not all items coming into the UK are scanned, so unless Border Force happens to come across bladed articles as part of routine searches, they are unlikely to be detected. Even if such items were detected, Border Force would need to ascertain whether they were being sent to a residential address. For example, it would need to decide whether 12 High Street is a residential or business address. Finally, it would need to establish whether they were subject to specific arrangements between a delivery company and the overseas seller. It would then have to have arrangements for handing the articles to the police for destruction. This would all have significant resource implications for Border Force. It is for all these reasons that I am afraid I cannot support my noble friend’s amendment. I hope that in these circumstances he will withdraw it.

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

Before the Minister sits down, will she explain why the Government cannot exert extraterritorial jurisdiction over foreign websites when they are doing exactly that when it comes to online pornography on overseas websites? In that case the BBFC, acting on behalf of the Government, gets in touch with the online pornography website and threatens them that unless and until they have approved age verification on their sites, BBFC will instruct UK internet service providers to block access to those websites from the UK. Why cannot a similar system be used to block overseas companies which are known to be selling prohibited weapons to the UK?

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is absolutely correct, as Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act provides. In her response, the Minister said that the sender would not know whether they were sending to a residential address. A UK business has exactly the same problem, yet she was using this to justify blocking UK sales. I do not see how she can apply one rule to UK companies and another to foreign companies. We need to be even-handed.

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, in an ideal world, we would have the same systems for overseas and domestic sales. We cannot exercise ETJ

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

As I understand it, we cannot. We have had the example of pornography. The system I am referring to relates to online sales. Am I right in thinking that the system referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, relates to streaming? He will correct me if I am wrong.

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

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness. These are paid-for websites. People are paying for a service—there is an exchange. There is another option—I am grateful to the Minister for reminding me. Most financial transactions involving foreign websites are processed by UK credit card companies and so forth. The other way of ensuring that these transactions do not take place even though the company is beyond the UK’s jurisdiction is to ask UK card companies not to process payments to those particular companies. That is the second string to the BBFC bow in order to stop under-18s in the UK from, effectively, buying pornography from overseas websites. Similarly, the Government could put pressure on UK card companies to not process payments to overseas companies which are selling prohibited weapons to under-18s in the UK.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, surely that is not an answer. We want to stop the whole thing.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

I will try to help the Minister. The Government or the regulator would be deciding whether a foreign supplier was breaching the terms before informing the credit card agency. You would not go and inform the credit card companies about a foreign supplier that was not selling weapons to underage buyers. It would be triggered by the Government deciding whether a foreign supplier was breaching the rules.

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, that would require a global trawl of every company in the world selling knives, prohibited or otherwise.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

This has been covered widely in the pornography provisions of the Digital Economy Act, which the good online suppliers of adult content are helping to police. All the systems for online age verification and everything else are in there. Some co-operation and consultation with DCMS and BBFC could be very helpful to the Home Office, because there is an exact parallel. You could almost translate the whole thing over to offensive weapons, which is why we are discussing how this could be done in external groups.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

I suggest to the Minister that the point is not about a trawl of all foreign sellers. If I understand the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the point is that, if the Home Office realises that specific overseas sellers are breaching the principles in the Bill, the Secretary of State ought to enjoy some power to take action to prevent such a company continuing to supply into this country. Using the methods adopted in relation to pornography, either to prevent the website communicating or through the payment methods, seems a real possibility. Will the Minister and the Home Office give further thought to this important matter before Third Reading to see whether some progress can be made?

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

To assist the Minister further, I can assure her that there are more websites worldwide providing pornography than there are providing offensive weapons, yet that has not prevented the Government taking action.

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

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, for his intervention. I was not making a glib comment about a trawl; regarding the examples of card companies and delivery companies, we are taking action where we can, but I acknowledge, as I have all the way through the Bill, that we are trying to find the right balance. It is not absolutely perfect, but we are using everything in our armoury to help us guard against the sale of knives to those aged under 18.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I entirely accept the strictures that the Minister has discussed concerning the wording and theme of my amendment but, as has been shown in this discussion, its substance remains. If we allow the Bill through as it is, it will quickly become known that there are one or two sites, not far away, across a little bit of water, to which anyone with criminal intent can go in complete safety, buy any knife they want, and have it delivered to them at home. Therefore, anyone intent on getting a knife for criminal purposes will be able to do so with total disregard for the rest of the Bill. All we will have succeeded in doing is disadvantaging British sellers; the Bill will have no other effect.

We do not need to achieve perfection; we just need to make dangerous the process of illegally ordering a knife overseas, or of ordering a knife overseas and having it delivered to someone underage. We need to make it something that might well go wrong: either the knife might be confiscated, or the people involved in selling it—who presumably have a lot of legitimate business as well as supplying to criminals—might lose everything through being put on the Home Office blacklist. As has been suggested by several noble Lords, this is proving an effective system in pornography. Those we allow to dominate the market in the UK, because they do proper age-verification, want to keep others out, so they become an effective police force that we do not have to pay for. There are other routes to getting there, which make the whole business of buying from an overseas supplier more difficult and chancy.

If we want an effective Bill—I join the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in saying that we absolutely do—we must urge the Government to use the time between Report and Third Reading to talk to their colleagues in DCMS and look again at whether this is a loophole they can close. Without that, we will have a Bill that is much less effective at achieving what we want it to achieve. But I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 88 withdrawn.

Clause 23: Prohibition on the possession of certain dangerous knives