David Hanson contributions to the Offensive Weapons Act 2019


Wed 28th November 2018 Offensive Weapons Bill (Commons Chamber)
3rd reading: House of Commons
Report stage: House of Commons
25 interactions (1,937 words)
Wed 27th June 2018 Offensive Weapons Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
Money resolution: House of Commons
7 interactions (162 words)

Offensive Weapons Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office
Legislation Page: Offensive Weapons Act 2019

Offensive Weapons Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
David Hanson Excerpts
Wednesday 28th November 2018

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Home Office
Mr Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 12:39 p.m.

The purpose of my amendments 23 and 24 is to avoid banning lever-release rifles. They are probing amendments; I just wish to explore the Government’s position, and I do not intend to press them to a Division.

I would like to start by thanking Little Chalfont Rifle and Pistol Club and my constituents who are members of it for helping me better to understand lever-release rifles by allowing me to fire several of them. Lever-release rifles are built and designed in the UK. They have a mechanism by which the rifle unloads itself with propellant gas but stops short of reloading. In a sense, they are self-cocking, but not self-loading. A lever is pressed to release the working parts and load the next round. My amendments would allow lever-release rifles but ban so-called MARS—manually activated release system—rifles, which allow the working parts to come forward using a second trigger press.

The lever-release mechanism was produced within current firearms law to be suitably used and owned on a section 1 firearms licence. These rifles are a valuable resource for disabled and elderly shooters in particular, who can struggle with conventional operating actions, and are no more dangerous than any other legally owned firearm of a similar calibre. The mechanism is not a bump stock, which has no place in target shooting; there seems to be unity about that.

The National Rifle Association has provided evidence that lever-release systems do not significantly increase the rate of fire capability of rifles. Lever-release rifles have a comparable rate of fire to bolt-action rifles—that is, one to two rounds per second, against one or less with a bolt-action rifle. Those rates of fire are based on un-aimed shots. In reality, the rate of fire for aimed shots, including the time taken to come back to aim and replace magazines, will yield an aimed shot about every two to four seconds in the hands of an expert marksman, regardless of the system used. I can certainly testify to that, having tried them. They have considerable recoil, and the idea of having a high rate of fire with aimed shots is really for the birds.

The lever-release system can allow an able-bodied shooter to maintain their firing position, assisting accuracy in a sport that is defined by accurate shooting. According to British Shooting, disabled people currently make up 25% of recreational shooters—a number that it is committed to increasing further. The NRA has informed us that 42.5% of its members are aged 60 or older. Lever-release rifles can allow less able people to continue to participate in the sport.

It seems unnecessary to ban lever-release rifles. My amendments would ban so-called MARS firearms, where the trigger is pulled a second time. I would like the Minister to set out exactly why shooters with lever-release rifles should have those weapons taken from them. A cornerstone of democracy is minority rights. I do not think that these weapons represent a significant additional risk for having a lever-release mechanism, and though I am only probing the Government’s position, I would like the Minister to set out in detail why owners will be stripped of those firearms.

Finally, in the original impact assessment, published alongside the consultation document, the Government estimated the total cost of compensation for the owners of these firearms to be between £1 million and £1.1 million in the first year of the policy. Responses to the consultation suggest that this was a considerable underestimate, and I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give us a new and more accurate estimate of the cost of the compensation.

David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab) Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 3:09 p.m.

I wish to speak in support of new clause 2, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), and new clauses 18 and 19, which I tabled for the House to consider today.

I confess that I would not have tabled new clauses 18 and 19 had we had some clarity from the Government on the consultation on air weapons. Members will recall that the Government were asked to undertake a consultation on air weapons safety by the West Suffolk coroner on 10 October 2017 and that the Government announced a consultation on air rifle legislation on 12 December 2017. It closed on 6 February 2018, to which as I recall—on 20-something November 2018—we still have not had a response, despite some 50,000 consultation responses.

The reason why I want this to be looked at is quite clear and quite tragic. My constituent George Atkinson was killed by an air rifle in a tragic accident at a cousin’s house some years ago. The air rifle in the house was not locked in a cabinet, and George had access to it. Playing with air rifles, as I did myself in my own house as a child, resulted in George’s accidental death, and his family had the tragedy of losing their 13-year-old son.

John and Jane Atkinson, George’s parents, have campaigned very strongly to try to get some measure of safety added to air rifles. They are not against the use of air rifles as a whole, but they want some safety measures added. The figures back up their concerns. We have seen some 25 cases of serious injury from air rifles this year and 288 cases that resulted in slight injury, while air rifles have been used in some 2,203 incidents—not just accidents, but deliberate use—involving offences in 2016-17.

The legislation—this is where I hope my two new clauses will come in—is currently the Firearms Act 1968, which says that it is an offence for a person in possession of an air weapon to fail to take reasonable precautions to prevent someone under the age of 18 from gaining unauthorised access to it. However, it does not define what reasonable precautions are in relation to protection for individuals.

As I have said, my constituents, although they have lost their son, do not wish to see airguns banned; they wish to see them made safer. My new clauses would do two things. The first new clause would ensure that airguns had to be kept in a lockable cabinet at home, with the key kept separate from the cabinet. If that had been in place, it would accordingly be an offence if the cabinet was accessed. There has to be a lockable cabinet.

The second new clause shows that we want trigger guards to be added to air rifles that, again, are only accessible by the owner of the air rifles. That does not prevent anybody from owning an air rifle or using an air rifle, or impose legal requirements on using one for sport or any other purpose. However, the new clauses would put in place two significant measures that would strengthen the Firearms Act and make the reasonable precautions measurable. Without measurable reasonable precautions, nobody can say what a reasonable precaution is.

For the memory of children and young people such as George Atkinson, it is important that we seek to have reasonable precautions. I want to hear from the Minister whether she will look at and support new clauses 18 and 19, and when she expects to respond to the consultation. Will she take on board those two suggestions, and, ultimately, not ban such weapons, but—perhaps as part of the wider examination mooted in new clause 2, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South—look at what measures we can take to make them safer?

Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP) - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 3:14 p.m.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that when the firearms legislation was revised in 2002, just before he became a Northern Ireland Minister, it brought anything firing a projectile with over 1 kJ of energy within the ambit of a firearms certificate? That distinguishes between airsoft and air rifles, so every air rifle in Northern Ireland has to be on a firearms certificate. That does not ban them, but it brings in the security protections and measures that he has outlined.

David Hanson Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 3:15 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of the proposals that were brought in for Northern Ireland.

New clauses 18 and 19 are reasonable. A lockable cabinet and a lockable trigger guard will ensure that children and young individuals, who do not realise the potential power of these weapons, have more difficulty accessing weapons whose legal owners may currently keep them in an unlocked cabinet and without a trigger guard. I think the Minister needs to look at this, and I hope that she will support the new clauses. If she will not do so, I hope for a good explanation why not.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 3:15 p.m.

I wish to speak to Government amendment 26 and other related amendments. I had not intended to speak, but I feel duty bound to do so. Some time back, when the proposal to ban .50 calibre weapons came to the fore, like many of my Conservative colleagues, I wrote to the Minister to ask for the evidence base for it. The response I got back did not ultimately persuade me that there was such an evidence base. I think of myself as a libertarian, and if we are going to ban anything, there needs to be a justification for doing so. I was very much part of raising that query and concern.

I absolutely supported the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), which would have tightened up some of the rules around gun clubs with regard to these weapons. I am speaking in order to do almost an about-turn—I touched on this in my intervention during my hon. Friend’s speech—and this has really come to light for me. The issue is not so much about the .50 calibre weapons. I take the point, and it is well made, that one would not be able to remove and use this type of weapon in such a way; they are used for a specific purpose. None the less, if we are not careful with our gun clubs and do not make sure that the rules are tight, there will be situations where there are breaches that have tragic consequences. I want to reference what I touched on in my intervention.

I will run through the exchange that happened during the court process. Mr Craig Savage, the constituent I referred to—in fact, this happened just into a neighbouring constituency—managed to book his local gun club. It is my local gun club—I have actually used it—and the same one that has written to me to try to persuade me how safe it is and what a great pursuit the sport is.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 4:03 p.m.

I am extremely concerned to hear that, but I wonder why the local police are not using the powers already available to them, because if a gang is behaving like that, there are offences that would enable the police to deal with that threatening behaviour, and any violent acts.

The Sentencing Council has set out, in its definitive guideline on assault offences, that it is an “aggravating factor” for an offence to be committed against those who are either working in the public sector or providing a service to the public, and an offence against either group could result in a more severe sentence within the statutory maximum for the offence—and that includes retail and shop staff.

However, there is more to this than the shape of the legislation, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree. That is why, in October 2017, the National Police Chiefs Council—with the support of Home Office funding—launched the national business crime centre, a repository for good practice, standards and guidance for all business nationally. It also acts as a national alert and data feed service, to enable businesses to have more information regarding crime in their local area.

David Hanson Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 4:03 p.m.

If all the Minister says is true, why has every retail organisation in the country, and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, argued in favour of new clause 1, which I shall be moving shortly?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

They are of course free to do so, but we have looked carefully at the law. However, I chair the national retail crime steering group, which brings retailers and police together to tackle retail crime, and I am happy to ask the police, in that forum, why retailers feel this way.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he has identified one of the problems with which we grappled in Committee. The Bill includes a clause specifically for overseas sales. The requirement is that any delivery company that enters into a contract with an overseas retailer or manufacturer must itself conduct the checks as to the age of the person to whom it is delivering. Arguably, the checks are more arduous on delivery drivers for overseas retailers than for UK-based retailers. He will understand that, if a retailer resides in China, there is very little we can do to require it to comply with these laws, but we have tried to address that point.

I hope and believe that the Bill addresses the concerns that have been raised about the sale and delivery of corrosive products, the possession of corrosive substances, the sale and delivery of knives and so on. I will listen with interest during the rest of this debate because hon. Members have tabled several interesting amendments. I hope that I have answered their concerns with regard to the amendments and new clauses I have spoken on thus far, but I may seek to address one or two amendments at a later stage if there are particular questions they would like me to answer.

David Hanson Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 4:30 p.m.

I rise to speak to new clause 1. I say to the Minister straightaway that I think she has missed the point on this. We are trying to strengthen the Bill to protect retail staff who are upholding the law. I support the Government’s position in relation to the banning of sales to under-18s of corrosive products and the restrictions on sales of knives. However, the question is whether it is right that those who hold stocks of those items are accordingly prosecuted if they sell them.

The key question for this House is: what about the people who are at the frontline in upholding the law through enforcing this legislation? Under this Bill, in the case of refusal to sell corrosive products and knives, it will not be the police or the security services, police community support officers or police and crime commissioners, or the local council or trading standards who are at the frontline in upholding the legislation that we hope the House will pass this evening. It will be the individual shop staff—often alone; often, perhaps, not much older than some of the people who are trying to buy these products—who are at the frontline of that challenge.

Let us just picture for a moment a large, 24-hour supermarket open at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning with a shop assistant at the front counter refusing to make a sale of a corrosive product or a knife, upholding the legislation that the Minister proposes. Imagine for a moment a small, open-all-hours shop refusing to sell these products, or a DIY store on a Saturday afternoon refusing to sell at that frontline. When that member of staff says no, they say no on behalf of us all in upholding this legislation.

The simple measure that I have brought before the House would strengthen the Bill to give those people some protection. It would tell them what their rights are in upholding this legislation and what defences we are giving to them.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 4:33 p.m.

As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows, I worked for Asda for 12 years before I first entered this place, and what he has said about shop staff is absolutely right. It is a hellishly difficult job working on the checkouts in a supermarket—or in any shop, for that matter—and we ask an awful lot of those people, who are not paid an awful lot to do the really responsible job that they do. I agree that the least that we can do in this House, when we put such pressures on them, is to give them the support that they need. On that basis, I very much support his new clause 1.

David Hanson Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 4:34 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. As he will know, the frontline staff are the people who are upholding the law not just on this issue but on all age-related sales. While today we can only discuss amendments on corrosive products and on knives, the Minister needs to look at this issue in relation to all age-related sales. Shop staff are upholding the law on our behalf, and they deserve protection. My new clause would strengthen that protection. It provides for a level 4 fine of up to £2,500 for abusive behaviour when staff are enforcing the legislation that the Minister proposes.

Gareth Snell (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab/Co-op) Parliament Live - Hansard

I, too, support my right hon. Friend’s new clause 1. Does he agree that there is a particular point about staff in small shops that are often open until 8, 9 or 10 o’clock at night? The shop will often be the only place open in that community and not in an area where people are walking past. The one or two staff in there could find themselves under immense pressure from people wanting to buy substances, and they have to reject them with nobody about to help.

David Hanson Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 4:34 p.m.

My hon. Friend is right. If the Bill was passed with new clause 1 included, shop workers could at least point to a sign on the till saying, “You will face a fine if you do not desist from this behaviour.” There are fewer police on the streets to call, but this is an opportunity to at least strengthen the protection of individuals working in these shops.

The retailers we have all met in the past few weeks as part of the “Freedom from Fear” campaign are doing their bit. They are installing CCTV and putting security measures in place. I visited the Co-op in Leeswood in my constituency, where staff have handsets and headphones so that they can communicate, and individuals are being banned from stores. It knows that it has a duty of care for its staff. All I am asking is that the Government recognise they have a duty of care also.

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab) Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 4:34 p.m.

I, too, support my right hon. Friend’s new clause. Does he agree that workers in rural locations, where shops are often single-staffed and the distance from the nearest police station may be significant, are often left in a very vulnerable situation indeed?

David Hanson Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 4:34 p.m.

Indeed. My new clause—if adopted, or if the Minister looks at this as part of age-related sales—would give additional protection to shop workers who are upholding the legislation that this Government have introduced.

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, of which I am a proud member and which—I declare an interest—gives some support to my constituency party, supports my new clause. The Co-op party, the co-op movement, the Association of Convenience Stores, the British Retail Consortium and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents all support the new clause publicly and visibly because they recognise that they have a duty of care to their staff.

This matters because, in the past 10 years, we have seen a rise in the incidence of assaults on and threatening behaviour towards retail staff. An USDAW survey showed last year that 66% of staff have reported verbal abuse, and the number who reported threats of physical violence increased to 42% in the past year alone.

Sarah Jones Portrait Sarah Jones (Croydon Central) (Lab) - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 4:34 p.m.

I support my right hon. Friend’s new clause. I visited a Co-op shop in Croydon recently. The manager there had had a knife pulled on him. There had been several occasions in recent times when incidents had occurred but the police had not come, because the incidents were not deemed important enough. Those shop workers were having to deal with all kinds of incidents. They feel a lack of protection, and they support what my right hon. Friend is trying to do.

David Hanson Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 4:30 p.m.

My new clause would give added protection, but more importantly, it would show retail staff on the frontline that we are on their side, backing them up and giving them the support they need.

The British Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores have identified violence to staff as the most significant risk in the sector. The National Federation of Retail Newsagents has published research showing that there are 2,300 incidents daily among its members. The Association of Convenience Stores has said that enforcing the law on age-restricted sales is one of the biggest triggers of abuse against people working in convenience stores. The British Retail Consortium has said that age verification checks are one of the key triggers for attacks. USDAW has said that shop workers are on the frontline of helping to keep our community safe, so their role should be valued and they deserve our respect. The Co-op and police and crime commissioners such as Paddy Tipping in Nottingham have said the same.

If the Minister can agree to this new clause or take it away and look at the general principle with the National Police Chiefs Council, she will be standing shoulder to shoulder with every member of staff who is upholding the law. She will be saying that she is with them and protecting them. She should do the right thing. The 15,000 members of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents want this new clause. The British Retail Consortium, representing 70% of retail trade, wants this new clause. The Association of Convenience Stores, representing 33,000 stores, wants this. The Co-op group wants it. The Co-op party wants it, and the USDAW trade union wants it. It seems that the only person who does not is the Minister. I know that she is concerned about this issue. I ask her to reflect upon it, to support this new clause and to work with those bodies to come to a solution that protects retail staff who are enforcing the legislation that this House has enacted.

Vicky Ford Portrait Vicky Ford - Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 4:39 p.m.

At the moment, many of our constituents seem to think the only thing we are discussing in this place is yet more Brexit, so it is with great pleasure that I am here to speak about something so important, unfortunately, to the daily lives of many of our constituents.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak to a group of 16 to 18-year-olds in my constituency. Colleagues will know that that can sometimes be quite a challenging group of constituents to please. When I told them that one of the things we were working on in Westminster was a new law that would make it so much more challenging to buy and sell dangerous knives—zombie knives and the like—on the internet, they stood up and clapped, because it is so near the top of their list of concerns and of their agenda for how to keep themselves safe when they are out on the streets. They have been shocked, as we all have been shocked, by the rise in violent crime across the country. When violent crime increases, it is, unfortunately, very often our young people who suffer. I believe that it is the first job of politicians to try to keep our constituents safe, and that is why I welcome the Bill.

We have discussed the sale of knives online, stopping them being sent to residential addresses, and if they are legal sales—in other words, sales of a permitted bladed article to someone over the age of 18—making sure that those who receive them provide identification. I welcome the parts of the Bill that make it illegal to possess the most offensive weapons in private as well as in public, including zombie knives and knuckledusters. New clause 16, moved today, will make the offence of threatening with an offensive weapon in a private place part of the Bill. This new offence of making it unlawful to have offensive weapons in private means that, when the police find a zombie knife in a private place or someone’s home—as members of Chelmsford police have—they can arrest and charge the owner with the proposed offence and remove the weapon from the owner.

I am extremely pleased that the Bill extends the current offence of possessing such bladed articles or offensive weapons on school premises to cover all further education premises in England and Wales as well as schools. As I have said, it is this group of 16 to 18-year-olds in my constituency who have campaigned very hard since my election for stronger laws against this type of crime and for stronger action against this type of weapon.

In Essex, we have the highest number of violent incidents relating to urban street gangs and county lines in the whole of the east of England, but we have a police and crime commissioner who is committed to reducing that. While violent crime across the country has increased by 12%, the police and crime commissioner in my own county—the police, fire and crime commissioner; she has now taken on the fire commissioner role as well—told us just last Friday night that it has increased by 3% to 4% in Essex. That is lower than the national rise, but it is still increasing.

Thanks to Ministers listening to the pleas from Essex police, we will now have 150 additional police officers on the streets in Essex, because we have been able to increase the police precept. Essex MPs were united in asking for the increase in the police precept. I am sure the Minister will be very glad to hear that a whole tranche of those new Essex police officers will hold their passing-out parade on Friday afternoon. We are very proud to see that decision actually turning into reality.

At the end of the summer, I spent a day and a night on patrol with my local police. While I have the Minister’s attention, I will mention some other items that I would like her to consider. The officers in my district alone did 172 stop and searches last month. They said that the power to stop and search is vital for tackling county lines and getting on top of the increase in violent crime. Stop and searches quite often result in the seizure of offensive weapons, such as the ones we have been discussing.

Break in Debate

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 5:28 p.m.

I am very grateful to the Minister. That is a really good step forward, and I wonder whether the right hon. Member for Delyn would like to comment.

David Hanson Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 5:29 p.m.

I happily accept the Minister’s offer to revisit this with the trade unions and shop organisations. The reason why new clause 1 would cover only corrosives and knives is because that is the scope of the Bill; it should cover age-related products. I would welcome it if we can reflect on that, but I reserve the right to return to the matter in another place should the meeting not prove successful.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham - Hansard

I am not sure this is how these things often work on the Floor of the House, but this is a helpful way forward for all sides. I am grateful to the Minister and the right hon. Gentleman.

On that note, I have said all I want to say on new clause 16, which I think is good, and new clause 1, which will be taken away for consideration.

Offensive Weapons Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office
Legislation Page: Offensive Weapons Act 2019

Offensive Weapons Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Money resolution: House of Commons)
David Hanson Excerpts
Wednesday 27th June 2018

(2 years ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Home Office
Sajid Javid Portrait Sajid Javid - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 1:55 p.m.

The Bill does not focus on drugs, but my hon. Friend has made an important point. It is clear from the evidence that we have seen at the Home Office that changes in the drugs market are a major factor in the rise in serious violence, not just in the UK but in other European countries and the United States. We want to take a closer look at the issue to establish whether more work can be done on it.

The Bill covers three main areas: acid attacks, knife crime, and the risks posed by firearms. We have consulted widely on these measures, and have worked closely with the police and others to ensure that we are giving them the powers that they need. The measures on corrosives will stop young people getting hold of particularly dangerous acids, the measures on online knife sales will stop young people getting hold of knives online, and the measures on the possession of offensive weapons will give the police the powers that they need to act when people are in possession of flick knives, zombie knives, and other particularly dangerous knives that have absolutely no place in our homes and communities. I believe that the Bill strengthens the law where that is most needed, and gives the police the tools that they need to protect the public.

David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab) Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 1:57 p.m.

I support the Bill—I do not want the Home Secretary to think otherwise—but may I make a point about clause 1? When it comes to refusing to sell goods to individuals, it is shop staff who will be on the front line, and it is shop staff who may be attacked or threatened as a result. Would the Home Secretary consider introducing, in Committee, an aggravated offence of attacks on shop staff? They, like everyone else, deserve freedom from fear.

Sajid Javid Portrait Sajid Javid - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 1:57 p.m.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s support for the Bill. As he will understand, we want to restrict sales of these items in order to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands, but he has made an interesting point about those who may feel that they are under some threat, particularly from the kind of people who would try to buy knives of this type in the first place. If he will allow me, I will go away and think a bit more about what he has said.

Break in Debate

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 2:39 p.m.

I heartily recommend that the hon. Lady reads the Home Office’s own analysis, which suggests that cuts to neighbourhood policing and early intervention have played a part in the rise of serious violence, but of course I accept that some excellent work is going on throughout the country. That is exactly the point I am making: we need a proper evidence-based analysis of that work to make sure that we roll out the successful pilots.

Let me turn to the possession and sale of corrosives. We welcome the move to clarify the law. In March, the Sentencing Council explicitly listed acid as a potentially dangerous weapon, but it is welcome that that is made clear in the legislation. Nevertheless, concerns remain about the lack of controls on reportable substances. We welcome the passing of secondary legislation to designate sulphuric acid as a reportable substance, but the time has come for a broader look at the two classes of poisons to determine which are causing harm and should therefore be subject to stricter controls.

The purpose of the legislation prior to the Deregulation Act 2015 was to allow the sale of commonly used products while protecting the individual from their inherent dangers. The sale of such poisons as hydrochloric, ammonia, hydrofluoric, nitric and phosphoric acids was restricted to retail pharmacies and to businesses whose premises were on local authorities’ lists of sellers. That situation was not perfect, but in considering reform we should note that the Poisons Board preferred a third option, between the previous system and what we have today, which would have designated as regulated all poisons listed as reportable substances, meaning that they could be sold only in registered pharmacies, with buyers required to enter their details.

The Government have conceded the point that some acids that are currently on open sale are dangerous and so should not be sold to under-18s. Schedule 1 lists hydrochloric acid and ammonia as two such examples, but we know that only one in five acid attacks are conducted by under-18s. That means that four in five attackers will be free to purchase reportable substances despite the clear evidence of harm. Of the 408 reported acid attacks, ammonia was used in 69 incidents. In the light of that, will the Government conduct a full review of the designation of reportable substances and bring forward regulations to re-designate those causing clear harm?

We note that the Government have failed to extend to corrosive substances the specific provisions on the possession of knives in schools. There can surely be no justification, beyond a reasonable defence, for the possession of corrosive substances on a school premises. If we are to send a message that the possession of corrosive substances will be treated with the same seriousness as the possession of knives, it should follow that the provisions that apply in respect of knives in schools are extended to acid.

On knife possession, the measures on remote sales and residential premises are important, but a cursory internet search demonstrates the easy availability of a wide range of weapons that are terrifying in their familiarity: knives disguised as credit cards and as bracelets; weapons designed with the explicit purpose to harm and to conceal. With the increasing use of such weapons and the widespread use of machetes in certain parts of the country, we wish to explore with the Government what further action can be taken to bear down on such pernicious weapons, and how apps and platforms on which such weapons are made readily available can be held to account.

As the Bill is considered in Committee, we wish to explore the concerns, mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) earlier, of retailers and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers about the offences imposed on retailers.

David Hanson Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 2:39 p.m.

As the chair of the USDAW group of MPs—I declare that interest—I welcome that commitment. I was greatly encouraged by the fact that the Home Secretary said that he will look into this issue. I hope that we can consider it on a cross-party basis to ensure that shop workers are free from fear and that regulations can be put in place to make sure that we defend those who will have to defend the Bill’s provisions on the frontline, in shops.

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 2:43 p.m.

My right hon. Friend is a long-standing campaigner for the rights of shop works and I echo his point about hoping that we can do this on a cross-party basis.

Concerns remain about the open sale of knives in smaller retail stores, which is an issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft). Many of the larger stores have taken steps to secure knives in cabinets, but the fact that it is far too easy to steal knives from smaller stores renders much of the control of knife sales ineffective.

It was surprising to see that higher education institutions have been omitted from the extension of possession offences, given that they were considered in the consultation earlier this year. The justification that the Government gave for the proposal then was, I think, right, so I am interested to hear why higher education institutions have been omitted from the Bill.

On firearms, the laws in the UK are among the toughest in the world, but there is concern that restricted supply might be leading to the repurposing of obsolete firearms, meaning that law enforcement must be alive to the changing nature of firearms use. There has been a significant rise in the use of antique guns that have been repurposed to commit serious crime: 30% of the guns used in crime in 2015-16 were of obsolete calibre. The repurposing of handguns designed to fire gas canisters, and of imitation weapons, has grown in the past 10 years. We intend to press the Government on whether the laws surrounding decommissioned firearms, which are not subject to the Firearms Act 1968, need to be strengthened. The availability of firearms has been shown to be increasing through the legal-to-illegal route, so we very much support the Government’s proposals.