Examination of Witnesses

Offensive Weapons Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:04 pm on 17th July 2018.

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Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Kearton and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Duncan Ball gave evidence.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 3:04 pm, 17th July 2018

Q May I welcome our next witnesses, who come from the National Police Chiefs Council? Before I ask you to introduce yourselves, I want to let you know that at 3.30 pm strange bells will ring, which means there is a Division in the House. The Committee will be suspended for a quarter of an hour for one Division, or a quarter of an hour plus 10 minutes for each subsequent Division. There may be two or three, which could mean quite a long suspension. Do not be alarmed if the bells ring—it just means that we have to go and vote. Perhaps I could now ask you to introduce yourselves.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ball:

Good afternoon. I am Duncan Ball, Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the Met, and I am the National Police Chiefs Council lead for knife crime, gang crime and county lines.

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

Good afternoon. My name is Rachel Kearton. I am the Assistant Chief Constable at Suffolk constabulary and the National Police Chiefs Council lead for corrosive substances.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Q Good afternoon and thank you for joining us. My first question is to Deputy Assistant Commissioner Duncan Ball. Could you help us understand why we need to crack down on online sales of knives?

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ball:

Knife crime as a whole is hugely challenging, not just for police but the public sector and voluntary organisations in general. One thing we have been able to do, particularly over previous years, in addition to enforcement is to look at the retail sector within the high street. That is certainly a more traditional area for policing and other agencies to operate in.

One particular challenge we found over the past two or three years is the availability of knives and the access that young people in particular have to knives online. Although it is not a completely ungoverned space, clearly the opportunities are there for young people in particular to get hold of knives that they perhaps would not be able to across the normal shop counter. They are quite prevalent; one look through the internet will show the huge array of knives on sale.

We do quite a lot of regular test purchase operations, both with the police and trading standards. There are quite a number of fails, which mean in a shop sale context that the retailers are selling knives to under-18-year-olds, we also see that as a quite significant area as well online. We do see a number of cases where children, young people, are getting knives online. Certainly from a policing perspective, there is a real need to try to put some regulation and legislation around that, to try to restrict that access.

There is one point I would like to make. Because knife crime is so complex for so many different measures that we have to put in place, we certainly recognise that there is not a one size fits all; there is no one solution. In terms of marginal gains, every opportunity that we have to limit access and prevent the sale of knives to young people, particularly people under 18, is certainly an opportunity we would look to take hold of.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Q To put those comments in context, could you give us an idea of the other things that the Metropolitan police and other constabularies across the country are doing, such as Operation Sceptre?

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ball:

You will be aware, Minister, that we ran Operation Sceptre earlier in the year, so we had all 43 forces, plus British Transport police, involved in that. That was a national knife crime week of action. We looked at a whole range of activities, from the most important part, clearly, of engagement with schools and prevention activity, through to test purchase operations with retailers, which I have just mentioned. It also included other preventative measures, such as weapons sweeps, so trying to remove knives from playgrounds and parks, where young children have ready access to them.

There was also a very strong enforcement message. Clearly, when people are using knives, we would rather they were not doing that in the first place. We had a strong enforcement drive, particularly round those who continually carry knives and use them with impunity. We see on a regular basis the absolute tragedy—we have seen a number of murders in London and nationally this year—that each of those crimes represents.

That was our week of national action but underlying that there is the daily work that goes on within forces, local communities and neighbourhood policing to reach out to young people in the prevention work that we do. There is also really robust enforcement around those people who do not choose to put their knives down and those who are obviously causing significant violence and harm to communities.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Q Thank you. Assistant Chief Constable Kearton, could you help us with how these measures in the Bill will help you and your colleagues police the sale and use of corrosive substances in violent attacks?

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

There has been a lot of activity in the last 12 months on what can be done to moderate the use of corrosive substances and to make sure that they are in the right hands and are used for legitimate purposes. One point I would like to make is that the substances used are often legitimate household goods, which brings a number of difficulties and challenges around their control. However, the data return shows that they are being used by young people, and similar constraints on sale to under-18s will work alongside and in tandem with constraints on the sale of knives and other objects to help to control young people’s access to these substances, the use of which can cause significant psychological and physical harm.

On access and use in public places, the onus has previously been on police officers to identify those liquids, which is a challenge in itself; they have often been decanted into other containers and are not held in their original sales vessels. The onus is also on the police officer not only to say that something is a corrosive substance—it may just be a clear liquid—but that there is intent to use it for grievous bodily harm or in an offensive attack. This change will put the requirement on the individual on the street to explain the circumstances in which they are in possession of these corrosive substances.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Q We obviously want to stop young people using acids in the first place. Are there any emerging thoughts on how we can prevent young people—or anyone—from using corrosive substances in such a vile manner?

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

A lot of work has been put into a preventive strategy in the last 12 months, working very closely with the British Retail Consortium, which represents 170 or more retailers across the country. That activity has included voluntary agreements with those retailers to restrict sales to individuals that they have concerns about, communication to young people through education projects, and multi-agency work to emphasise the impact that these attacks can have. I again emphasise that psychological and physical impact, which I believe—based on the research done in recent months—has not been fully understood by a lot of our young people.

One example I want to highlight is Project Diffuse, which has been carried out by the Metropolitan police—working with the Institute of Licensing and the Security Industry Authority—in the context of nightclubs and licensed premises. It engages security personnel in the identification of liquids before they enter an entertainment premises and in taking appropriate action to remove substances that may cause harm. A lot is being done around prevention to address this emerging problem.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

Q What is your analysis of why, particularly over the last four years, we have seen such a rise in knife, gun and acid-related crime? Why is it suddenly so prevalent?

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ball:

I will start with knife crime. There are obviously huge challenges in the knife crime picture at the moment. We have seen a 20% increase in knife crime nationally in the last calendar year. It is a hugely complex issue and there are a huge number of contributory factors.

One real issue with younger people coming through at the moment is their frame of reference and how they view knives. It could be argued that there is a social acceptance in some circles of the legitimacy of carrying knives. We can look at, for example, the impact of social media; people being anaesthetised to violence and sexual violence on the internet; pornography, which is readily available to young children; or video games. All those things end up anaesthetising them and a certain acceptance of that sort of violence, or a predisposition to violent activity. They also play into a potential fear of crime in young people in particular; that is certainly something we hear from young children. We know that a lot of children or young people do not go out carrying a knife specifically to use it, but they will carry it for self-protection. The more that knife crime happens, the greater the risk of young people perceiving that the issue is worse than it is, and therefore going out with a knife and continuing to arm themselves.

There are some challenges with availability of diversion services for young people on knife crime. With austerity in general it is important that money is focused toward the right areas, and we have certainly seen some good initiatives for doing that. More than that, though, we see the rise in knife crime as being quite cyclical. If you look back over the years, it tends to rise and fall, and what is important in stemming that rise is recognising that it requires a whole systems approach.

Everybody has a part to play; it is not enforcement, because realistically, by the time the police get involved and somebody has actually picked up a knife it is perhaps too late. It is a multi-faceted challenge, and the answer is not one particular channel, but all agencies, charities and communities working across the sectors bearing down on that. The way I view knife crime is that every particular stabbing could, but for the skill of a surgeon’s knife, end up in murder and absolute tragedy.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

Q Do you have anything to add to that, Assistant Chief Constable? In particular, do you believe that neighbourhood policing is an important factor in tackling knife and acid crime?

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

From the point of view of corrosive substance attacks, they are an emerging crime and I believe we were previously not fully aware of the extent. Recording practices in the police is one area that I have been concentrating on in the last 12 months. As you are probably aware, there is not a specific offence in the sense of delivering that acid in a form of attack, so it has been recorded as grievous bodily harm. Part of my work is looking into which of those have been a consequence of an acid attack. My data goes back to an increase from 2015, in the region of 400 offences per annum, to 700 nationally across England and Wales. Compared with knife crime, it is significantly smaller.

Taking your question more broadly on the increase in violence as a whole, and talking as somebody who oversees local policing in an area of the UK, when I talk to youngsters there is a decreasing sense of hope. A number of teenagers feel that there is no hope for them. In personal conversations that I have had, mid-teens have said that they have reached a point where it is too late for them. There is almost a sense of hopelessness, which I would relate to the comments previously made by my colleague on diversion activities. The concentration of some of the youth offending schemes has been on mid-teens. I believe there is a requirement for us to look at a younger age range—work that is being undertaken in Suffolk, my home county.

As with all these complex issues, there are a number of impact factors, but the approach to social media and understanding the position of violence, what is acceptable, the impact and the increase, and, from a police perspective, understanding some of the data, are all important in order to be able to take preventive action.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

Q On online sales, I was recently shown some pictures from an app called Wish, which is a platform that enables sales from private sellers. There were prolific sales of items such as bracelets and credit cards that disguised knives. There were lots of different ways to conceal weapons, which were as cheap as 99p. Does the Bill sufficiently cover that app? My concern is that the Bill will wiggle around it, given that it is a platform, and that it will be very difficult to enforce the Bill against those who sell through such platforms.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ball:

We know that sale is made illegal by the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The Bill will bring in a defence around that, which applies particularly to online sales. Where you attribute responsibility or culpability will always be a challenge with those platforms. From an evidential perspective, you will need to prove a sale from the point of delivery all the way back to where there is knowledge, or at least recklessness in terms of people being aware. Such platforms will always present challenges compared with over-the-counter sales, where you have a direct relationship. As I said earlier, the Bill is not the be-all and end-all, but the way I view it is that it is preventive, because sellers may look at it and say, “It’s illegal if I’m not able to rely on that particular defence,” and we will have the opportunity to tackle online retailers, which we did not have before.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

Q Are there any offences that cover concealing a blade as something else—as a credit card or a bracelet, for example—or would that be covered by possession of a bladed article?

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ball:

It would be covered by possession of a bladed article. If it is a made offensive weapon, it could fall under the previous legislation too, but clearly you would need the mens rea—the mindset—to prove its intended use as well. My personal view is that they should not be for sale, full stop, because they do not serve a purpose.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Policing)

Q Would you support the locking up of knives in retail premises?

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ball:

Absolutely. If I may expand on that, the first thing I would say is that we have done a lot of work with retailers. There are a huge number of responsible retailers out there, who take their responsibilities very seriously. They do lock knives in cabinets and put blister packaging around them. The big companies—the ones you would expect—do very well at that. Some of the challenges we have concern some of the smaller independent retailers—but not all of them. My view is that if a young person cannot walk into a shop and get fireworks, why should they be able to walk into a shop and pick up a knife? Look at the relative harm that is caused by knives and fireworks. I just think it is quite disproportionate that there are not opportunities to put knives in a point of sale where they cannot be reached.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

Clearly, whenever a person is injured with a gun or a knife or with acid, that is a horrible crime. The rise in acid attacks is Q shocking, because they tend to be disfiguring crimes—often to the face—that blind people and leave them scarred for life. You mentioned that there was a social acceptance of carrying knives. Is there a social acceptance of carrying acid now, or is that still not as acceptable?

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

I actually think we might be seeing a slowing of the escalation, and I believe some of that is a consequence of the social inacceptance of carrying acid. We have talked about trends, and I have talked about the low numbers we have previously seen. There are a number of reasons for the increase. I recognise some of it as a consequence of better reporting by police officers about what they are finding. Another reason is that I have encouraged a lot more victims to come forward to report crimes that occur. However, last year’s figures were in the region of 700 and this year’s—it is difficult to understand whether they are precise—indicate in the region of 800, which is not the escalation seen two years ago.

You ask about social acceptability. I have emphasised through the communications strategy and the prevention strategy the psychological impact as much as the physical impact of some of these offences. Some offenders say—we have received feedback anecdotally—they did not realise it would have quite the effect it did. We are talking about a lot of young people—not all young people—using something they have never seen the impact of and they have never known anybody who has done this before; it is something they have tried out.

Time will tell. A piece of qualitative research is under way by the University of Leicester, talking to offenders about why they used and chose that mode of attack. I hope that when that reports at the end of the summer, I will have a better understanding of some of those reasons why, and we can then form the strategy around that.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

Q If the mindset of young people could be changed now, that could be timely, because often these things escalate and become more and more acceptable. Do you see that as an opportunity to effect results for the future?

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

I do. There is a huge opportunity to feed in now, early on. There is a good multi-agency strategy, with all the emergency services working well together alongside retailers and other interested partners. This is the opportunity we have to nip this one in the bud before it escalates even further.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

Q Just to go back to the sales point, you are having conversations on this with the British Retail Consortium. I would like to know a little more about those conversations. Is there active discussion and consideration of limiting the strength of drain cleaner? Sulphuric acid can be produced in other ways, such as from powder or granules, which may be less easy to deal with. Is that being actively considered? Around those discussions, what activities will lead to changes?

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

Another group of partners I have not mentioned yet are the manufacturers who provide the substances to the retailers, and they are looking to see whether they can separate some of the chemicals out into less harmful components that, when brought together, have a chemical reaction, to deliver the necessary legitimate requirement of that product.

Retailers have been working to advise people in the retail consortium on storage and sales, with voluntary restrictions on who they sell to and questioning on the purpose for the sale. However, the important element is that these are legitimate products and there is a commercial reason why they are being sold. Everybody in the room probably has some of them at home, so a big part of this is prevention and education: how we keep these products safe and what the purposes are for which they are used.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I think there is about to be a Division. Stephen Timms, you may start, but I think you will be interrupted.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham

I want to ask you about the corrosive substance aspects of the Bill. I am a bit puzzled about why there are two different definitions of a corrosive substance in the Bill. One is the list in schedule 1 and the other is in clause 5, which defines it as something

“capable of burning…skin by corrosion”

From a policing point of view, which is the more useful definition? [Interruption.]

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

If it is agreeable to the Committee, I think we should take another 10 minutes or so of evidence from our current panel—perhaps a quarter of an hour, depending on how it goes—and then move on to the third panel of the retailers, aiming to wrap up by 5 o’clock. There are more votes at 5 o’clock and I cannot see any point in going away for more votes and coming back. We will need to constrain ourselves a little bit in order to get dealt with by 5 o’clock.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham

Q I was asking about the two different ways in which the Bill defines corrosive substances. There is the list in schedule 1, and then clause 5(9) states,

“‘corrosive substance’ means a substance which is capable of burning human skin by corrosion”.

From a policing point of view and arresting people carrying out these crimes, which is the better definition for you to work with?

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

It depends on the policing function and the offence being considered at the time. The first is very specific; it defines the corrosive content of a liquid that is being sold. In that instance, if the offence was the sale to somebody under the age of 18—so we are considering the retailer as having committed the offence—it would be necessary to know the content of that specific substance, whatever it might be: the drain cleaner, the bleach, the product. In terms of operational policing, I suppose the most likely place for most police officers in terms of interaction would be out on the street in a public place. Those offences are likely to come to light through local intelligence, through a stop and search driven by those reasonable grounds to believe that somebody is going to commit an offence and to be able to identify that liquid, which we know from previous offences is often decanted into a container that is completely different from the original one. It is important to be able to seize that liquid and take it back for a degree of analysis, which is the second definition around whether it is capable of burning skin—in other words, is it offensive. Part of that police officer’s requirement would be to identify the malicious intent of holding that liquid in a public place.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham

Q Is the list in schedule 1 the right list? Are there things that you are aware of that are problematic and perhaps ought to be on the list, or does the list seem to you to be complete?

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

I would not confess to being the best chemist in the room. I have learned a lot about the content of chemical substances, but that is the list that I have been advised on and has been put forward. They are the most harmful, but also the most prevalent substances that have been used in previous offences.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham

Q A welcome aspect of the Bill is making it an offence to have a corrosive substance in a public place, just as, for a long time, it has been an offence to have a knife in a public place. The Bill also develops the offence that has been there for a while of having a knife in educational premises by extending it to further education. Do you think there ought to be a parallel offence around having acid in a school or educational premise? Would that be helpful to the police?

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

I believe there is a requirement to consider the context of that liquid. As was said earlier, the very stark differences between knives and corrosive substances are that corrosive substances will be in all our properties at home in domestic circumstances. They will be present in schools. The question then is, why is it there and what is the intent in having that liquid there? I can see potential difficulties about identifying in an educational setting the difference between having something that is there for a legitimate purpose and having something that is going to be used, or is intended to be used as an offensive weapon. That is a challenge.

If one is in a public place, I believe it is harder to say that it is being owned for or carried for a legitimate purpose, especially if it is concealed and within the context of other information that supports the hypothesis that it may be used for an offensive weapon.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham

Q In a sense, you could equally have a knife in a school for a perfectly legitimate purpose. I wonder whether there is an analogy between the two.

I would like to raise another issue. It struck me for a while that there is a bit of uncertainty about the number of acid attacks taking place because we have not focused very much on them. They have risen very suddenly over the last few years. The figure you gave us earlier sounded a little different from the figure that Mr Shah from the Acid Survivors Trust gave us. Can you tell us the state of play on producing reliable, accepted numbers on how many acid attacks there are?

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

Mr Jaf Shah and I have communicated quite a lot over numbers. He receives his information from different sources and has been one of the very useful supportive partners trying to encourage those who are victims of this particular crime to come forward and report what is happening. As with many offensive assaults against victims, there is an understanding by the police that we do not always have a true record because, for various reasons, people do not want to come forward and report to us. An area of policing strategy has been to focus on information sharing between health professionals. For example, we would see a victim go to A&E rather than come to the police service, and it would be for us to try and gather that data and share that information so that we can have the most accurate information possible.

In 2015, the data return that was carried out on behalf of the National Police Chiefs Council by the Home Office was 408. In 2016, the number was 700 and the most recent number, which is based on the last six months of last year but extrapolated to an annual figure, came back at 800, so there is a slight increase. It is important to understand how much of that is an increase in offensive incidents and how much is better recording practice by the police service alongside more confidence among victims to come forward and, potentially, more awareness of and use of such offensive attacks.

There is also the question whether that 800 figure is a true and accurate record, or whether some people are still going to A&E and not coming forward to report to the police service. There will always be some difference in reported figures, but they indicate a trend and I am having further analytical work carried out to identify any indicators that will help us understand this offence better.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham

Q Are we going to see more systematic, reliable and accepted figures in this area in the future?

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

Yes. For the future, I have been able to gain some agreement from the Home Office that offences of corrosive substance attacks will form part of the annual data return to the Home Office. All 43 forces across England and Wales will be mandatorily required to report their instances to the Home Office on an annual basis.

Photo of James Morris James Morris Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Q I want to ask Commander Ball about sentencing for knife crime. To what extent do you think the threat of a mandatory sentence is important as a deterrent? Has that made a material difference to your ability to deal with the problem?

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ball:

The issue of sentencing is quite complex. We recently saw the two-strikes legislation, and we have seen an increase in sentencing from that. On the question of mandatory sentencing, I would probably draw a distinction between someone who is potentially a first-time offender, where it is necessary to look at the circumstances behind an arrest and a potential conviction, and someone who we would call a habitual knife carrier, who carries knives regularly and has multiple convictions. My view is that we need a stringent sentencing regime, certainly for those who habitually carry knives and have previous convictions. I think it is entirely appropriate to have a robust position in terms of the two strikes.

Let me bring this back to some of my earlier comments about why a young person might pick up a knife. They might do so not because they are going out to use one, but because they are in fear of crime—it might be for self-defence. That does not make it right to carry one, but there is a balance between getting really robust sentencing and not criminalising young people for the wrong reasons.

Photo of James Morris James Morris Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Q Do you think, though, that robust sentencing, including the threat of a mandatory sentence, sends a strong signal that actually has an impact on behaviour?

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ball:

I think it does send a robust message. I would question whether it is accepted across the spectrum. Again, it is not one size fits all—it might be a very robust deterrent for certain people but not more broadly. I guess it comes back to whether you can prevent it from happening in the first place. One of the things that needs to be actively considered alongside sentencing is what other opportunities there are, for example, to channel young people into diversionary activities and remove their need to carry knives in future.

Photo of James Morris James Morris Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Q I want to ask you about clause 26, which changes the definition of an offence. Will that help you to get more convictions?

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ball:

Sorry, I will have to familiarise myself with that clause.

Photo of James Morris James Morris Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Q Clause 26 amends the existing offence of threatening with an offensive weapon in public. It changes the definition from

“in such a way that there is an immediate risk of serious physical harm to that other person” to

“in such a way that a reasonable person…who was exposed to the same threat as” the victim

“would think that there was an immediate risk of physical harm”.

In a sense, it defines that threat in a slightly broader way.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ball:

Yes. Sorry, I am with you now in terms of threat. Yes, it definitely provides further opportunities. The current definition can be quite limiting, but this gives other opportunities to prove ability, so I wholeheartedly support that area.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I can fit in two more before we wrap up at 4.30 pm.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Assistant Chief Constable, we heard evidence this morning about how the Bill covers the sale of corrosive substances but not their supply. On the one hand, one witness expressed concern that you might have an adult purchase a corrosive substance on behalf of someone under 18 and not be guilty of any sort of criminal offence. On the other hand, another witness pointed out, as I think you did, that you would have to be very careful about criminalising perfectly innocent domestic circumstances. Do you have any views on how we can square that circle? Are other provisions already in place that would criminalise someone purchasing a corrosive substance on behalf of someone under 18Q ?

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

Yes—it is very similar to the licensing laws we have for alcohol purchases. I presume it would depend on the circumstances as well. There would be that criminal possession in a public place, potentially. It is a very valid question.

The issue behind it for me is to try to emphasise that we do not want young people to be buying this with intent, or for any reason. We want to manage the use of offensive weapons rather than to over-legislate. For me, it is more important to try to get that understanding that this is something that needs to be sold legitimately as a commercially viable product to the right people, who will then use it for the right purposes, rather than something that can then be misused with that malicious intent as an offensive weapon, than it is to rely on heavy legislation as the only answer to preventing this crime.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q This question is for you both. There are various obligations in the Bill on companies and businesses selling corrosive substances or bladed weapons remotely. Is there any risk that all their checks could be undermined if the delivery company is negligent or reckless? Is there enough in the Bill and existing legislation to ensure that delivery companies can be held accountable when they are careless or reckless about, for example, delivering a bladed weapon or corrosive substance to someone under 18?

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

Controls are in place for corrosive substances to take into account that a lot of sales are now online and that there is that opportunity to purchase. That needs to have restrictions, such as a requirement to take reasonable precautions that the person buying is of an appropriate age. The requirement is on the seller to prove that—whether online or through a premises. There must also be appropriate packaging that makes it clear that it is a corrosive substance, that it is harmful and contains something likely to cause harm, and that it must be delivered to someone responsible above the required age, not just handed over to a child on delivery.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q For example, you could have a delivery driver at the end of his final shift on a Friday who goes to a house and there is not anyone there who is 18 years old or over. So rather than going back to the depot and extending his shift by an hour, he decides to hand the delivery over. He is completely independent of the seller. Is there a loophole there that you are worried about?

Rachel Kearton:

My understanding is that that delivery has to be passed to a responsible person of an appropriate age. I would not say that leaving it on the front doorstep or in a back shed would be handing it to someone of an appropriate age.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ball:

It is an interesting point, particularly when you look at the responsibility on the seller in terms of the supply of knives. One of the biggest challenges is from suppliers overseas—websites—which we have no governance or control over. So I am particularly pleased that responsibility for that is placed—under clause 18, I think it is—on the delivery company to ensure that it is carrying out the right checks. There is a responsibility on those delivery companies in those circumstances, and presumably in terms of the contracts they would have with the companies that are selling, to ensure that they know what is in those packages.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q You mention clause 18, which would create an offence if the deliverer of the product hands it to tm;1somebody under 18. As I understand it, that applies only where the seller is from outside the UK. Why not have some provision for where the sale occurs in the United Kingdom as well? Why is that not necessary?

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ball:

It would be beneficial as well. The main responsibility is on the retailer to meet those particular conditions with what they are actually selling. Obviously, responsible retailers would have appropriate contracts with the delivery company. I guess, in the circumstances you describe, when the issue is about the delivery driver not delivering these things, something along those lines would potentially be of benefit.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I want a good half-hour to hear from retailers, so, very briefly and lastly, Stephen Morgan.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Labour, Portsmouth South

I will ask just one question because I am conscious that our good Chair wants to conclude this hearing. I am conscious that we have seen an increase in violent crime yet a fall in the number of police officers. What do you expect this Bill will look like in terms of success? What difference will it make, and what might it mean in terms of a reduction in crime?Q

Assistant Chief Constable Kearton:

I will start from my perspective. I hope I have stressed throughout the evidence given today that the policing strategy that I have been driving through is a collective response. It has been a multi-agency approach. I do not for one moment believe that policing has the answer to the rise in violent crime that we are experiencing in the country. It is collective, from our youngest children and their parents, to everybody who interacts with their young lives, influences their activities and development, and deters them from committing crime.

There is a reduction in policing resourcing, as you mentioned. That is something that we need to accommodate within the delivery of the strategy to combat the use of corrosive substances as an offensive weapon. I believe it is possible, as long as we do it alongside everybody else’s approach.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ball:

I support Rachel’s comments. One of the initial points I made was that there are marginal gains in everything. The Bill would provide us with the opportunity to deal with offences in different circumstances. The retailers, and the responsibility there, is something that we have been speaking to the Home Office about, and is something we are particularly keen to see.

There are obviously lots of other provisions in there, such as how flick knives are defined. Educational premises is another area. There is also, in particular, private possession, around some of the more dangerous offensive weapons. There is a huge amount of opportunity there in how we can deal with those things. We take the view that every knife that we can take away from somebody who is potentially going to use it makes every little step worth while.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Thank you both for your extremely useful and interesting evidence, which will inform better the consideration of the balance of the Bill. We are grateful to you for it. I apologise for the long gap in the middle when we were voting, but that is democracy for you. I ask the next panel to come and join us.