Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown contributions to the Offensive Weapons Act 2019


Tue 26th March 2019 Offensive Weapons Bill (Commons Chamber)
Ping Pong: House of Commons
11 interactions (243 words)
Wed 28th November 2018 Offensive Weapons Bill (Commons Chamber)
3rd reading: House of Commons
Report stage: House of Commons
21 interactions (1,612 words)
Wed 27th June 2018 Offensive Weapons Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
Money resolution: House of Commons
37 interactions (1,998 words)

Offensive Weapons Bill

(Ping Pong: House of Commons)
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Excerpts
Tuesday 26th March 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
26 Mar 2019, 3:25 p.m.

If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must make some progress.

The order may impose such requirements or prohibitions on a person as a court considers necessary to protect any person from risk of harm or to prevent the commission of an offence involving a bladed article. A KCPO that imposes a requirement must specify a person who is responsible for supervising compliance with that requirement. Again, I emphasise that this is about protection and prevention. It is not about criminalising children. The order is a civil order. We do, however, accept that the breach of an order is, in itself, a criminal matter. I know that some have argued that it would be better to go down the antisocial behaviour injunction route, which applies to children as young as 10. The argument is that having a contempt of court rather than a criminal offence for a breach would make the orders more palatable, because it would mean that children did not get a criminal record. The advice from the police—it is advice that we must listen to very carefully—is that making it a criminal offence to breach an order is important if we want these orders to be taken seriously.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con) - Hansard
26 Mar 2019, 3:27 p.m.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend most sincerely on producing a much needed Bill? Acid, knives and certain firearms are issues that we absolutely need to crack down on. Does she agree that knife prevention orders are a good mechanism? It is becoming de rigueur in some of our cities for people to carry knives in self-defence, in case they might want to use them, which is totally the wrong culture. With these orders, the police will be able to warn youngsters that if they carry knives again, they will be subject to an order and could be subject to a criminal penalty if they breach it.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
26 Mar 2019, 3:28 p.m.

My hon. Friend summarises the orders succinctly, and I thank him for all his work on the Bill. The point of the orders is to try to reach those children before they are in the criminal justice system. They include, for example, the ability to prohibit a child from accessing social media or entering certain postcodes, because we know the tensions arising on the streets from particular groups of young people in certain parts of our large cities. This is not about criminalising those young people; it is about trying to reach them.

Break in Debate

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
26 Mar 2019, 1:09 p.m.

I would respectfully suggest that putting before Parliament orders that would criminalise children for up to two years requires more than discussion at a meeting. It requires full consultation and full parliamentary scrutiny, and none of that has happened.

Before Parliament approves any roll-out, the Government should release a report giving an explanation of what guidance has been given to authorities on the burden on proof, which is a civil standard, the impact of orders on the rights of children and the impact on different racial groups as defined in section 9 of the Equality Act 2010.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
26 Mar 2019, 3:45 p.m.

Does the hon. Lady not think it is a bit rich that she is complaining on the one hand about the Government introducing a full consultation on a whole range of firearms issues enshrined in statute under the Bill, and on the other hand that the Government have not consulted enough on knife crime prevention orders, which are suggested by the police and are a much-needed part of the armoury in the fight against knife crime?

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh - Hansard
26 Mar 2019, 3:50 p.m.

The Government consulted on the ban on weapons ahead of the Bill and concluded, on the basis of evidence from the most senior counter-terror police in the country, that it was right to ban assault rifles. It was only in response to a Back-Bench rebellion led by the hon. Gentleman that the Government caved and made the exact opposite case to the one that they made on Second Reading.

These are very basic requests for what is, in truth, information that Parliament should already have when being asked to pass legislation. The parliamentary lock we are seeking to add to the orders should not be necessary, but we know the damage that can result from a lack of joined-up thinking in youth justice, and our communities simply cannot afford another misstep. That is why it is only right that parliamentarians are given the full facts before being asked to approve a further roll-out.

Turning to the content of the orders themselves, all of us in this place are united in our mission to do everything in our power to bear down on the terrible scourge of knife crime, but we must be wary of taking action for the sake of action. Interventions must be evidence-based, have a clear purpose and fill a gap in the existing legislation. The police already have a substantial suite of powers for those they suspect of possessing a knife. The issue is, and has been for several years, the ability and capacity of the police to enforce those powers. As the chair of the Police Federation has said:

“How the Home Secretary thinks we have the officers available to monitor teenagers’ social media use or check they are at home at 10pm when we are struggling to answer 999 calls is beyond me.”

This Government have taken 21,000 police officers off our streets. Response times have rocketed, and in some force areas residential burglaries are rarely attended. The police’s capacity to respond to crime has been extremely diminished, so it is beyond doubt that they do not have the capacity to place orders on people who have not actually committed a crime, and then to monitor and implement those orders effectively. There has been no impact assessment of the resource implications for the police or any of the other services that may be brought in by these orders. We are concerned, and this is what our amendments speak to, that in trying to establish so-called wraparound care for young people, these orders will inevitably end up focusing on the restrictive elements such as curfews, social media bans and prohibitions, rather than the potential for positive, rehabilitative action.

I think we have now reached consensus in this place that in order to combat youth violence effectively, a whole-system, cross-governmental public health approach is required. These orders could have been an attempt to bridge such a divide, but instead they place sole responsibility on the police as the only authority that can apply for an order, which risks narrowing the focus of the suite of options available. The fact that there is no statutory requirement to assess the needs of a child, establish their circumstances and consider the safeguarding implications of an order or their family history prior to an order being granted should be fatal for a legislative proposal that the Government have styled as a route to access wraparound services. It simply does not do what is required. That is why our amendments would establish a statutory requirement to consult with the YOT to produce a pre-sentence report. However, we are satisfied with the Minister’s commitment that this will be made clear in guidance.

Furthermore, I wonder whether the Government, in using the example of a youth worker as someone to be responsible for the delivery of an order, recognise the bind they would be putting such an individual in if they were responsible for reporting any breaches to the police. Central to a public health approach is a consistent, constant adult in vulnerable young people’s lives. This could provide an opportunity for that, but it cannot do so if such individuals are then forced to report them to the criminal justice system every time they do not abide by the conditions laid down in their order.

I will round off with a number of questions to which I hope the Minister will respond when she speaks again. The civil burden of proof is concerning, so what sort of intelligence does the Minister envisage would be sufficient for a court to grant an order? Will the police use the gangs matrix to target individuals? Will association with known offenders be sufficient for an order to be placed? Will past offending be sufficient, as the Minister in the other place appeared to suggest?

Does the Minister share the concerns of Members across the House that we risk criminalising children as young as 12 who have not actually committed a criminal offence? Does she really believe that a two-year custodial sentence is proportionate to a breach of a civil order, and can she give an example of when such a sentence would be appropriate? What exactly can KCPOs require or prohibit? Will guidance be brought forward on what measures are effective in tackling knife crime, or will it be anything that the court deems necessary, proportionate and enforceable?

Finally, who will be required or allowed to know that a child has an order, and what action will their school or alternative provider be expected to take when one has been granted? The implications for alternative provision are potentially severe, as some providers refuse to take children who have knife convictions, leaving them completely out of education and therefore much more vulnerable to becoming involved in violence. What consideration has been given to this?

I do not think that the Minister has satisfactorily answered the concerns raised by the Opposition in our amendments or those of expert organisations that work on these issues every single day, such as the Magistrates Association and the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers. We will therefore divide the House on our amendment (a) to Lords amendment 23 in relation to the parliamentary lock, as the report that the Home Secretary brings forward must be voted on before the pilots can be rolled out.

I conclude by thanking and congratulating my right hon. and hon. Friends who have significantly improved the Bill and subjected it to scrutiny during its passage, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield Central, for Sheffield South East, for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), for Birmingham, Edgbaston and for Slough. The amendments in our names have sought to strengthen and improve the weak legislation before us today. They have sought an evidence-based response to the long-term trend of violence that we are witnessing as a result of this Government’s austerity agenda. We hope that the Government will accept that much more needs to be done if we are to prevent any more young lives from being needlessly taken, and we hope that the Government will accept the amendments in our names today.

Break in Debate

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman - Parliament Live - Hansard
26 Mar 2019, 4:09 p.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is about that care and intervention as well as having a deterrent. Of course there has to be a deterrent.

We must not overlook the fact that applications will have to be made by either the Crown Prosecution Service or a chief officer of police, and that the court will have to be satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that on at least two occasions in the previous two years the defendant had a bladed article in a public place or a place of education. That is not enough, either: if there has been a big conversion, that can be demonstrated, and the magistrates court must think it is necessary to make the order to protect the public from harm from a bladed article or, indeed, to protect the respondent from committing an offence.

We talk about locks; there is a series of locks in the magistrates courts, and we must trust our magistrates to look fairly and objectively at the evidence before putting in place an order, which I say will deter young people from causing a tragedy to themselves or other people. Only if that order is breached will we be talking about a custodial sentence. Orders will be reviewed if they are longer than 12 months, and they can be varied too. To me, they make absolute sense.

I will conclude by explaining why I feel so passionately about this issue. We can talk about long-term interventions, but the reality for young people who carry knives is that one mistake leads to loss of life—either theirs or others’. The impacts of that are dramatic. In 2007, the number of knife crime-related homicides was high—it was 272. We —both Labour and Conservative Governments—brought it down to 186 in 2015. It has now risen to 285 killings in the last year, which is the highest since records began in 1946. Something has to be done, and done now.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
26 Mar 2019, 4:09 p.m.

I want to back up what my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) just said. In addition to the safeguards my hon. Friend has ably set out, there is the provision for under-18s that, before an order can be granted, a youth offending team has to be consulted, meaning they can be helped by experts not to reoffend.

Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman - Hansard
26 Mar 2019, 4:10 p.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; YOTs will be consulted. I do not agree with the idea of having a more specific order, because that would tie the whole process up in knots, whereas this needs to be a fluid process. YOTs would indeed be consulted, and then appropriate adults—youth workers—would supervise any requirements under the order.

These interventions can help people turn their lives around. I spent five years working in a youth organisation that was trying to turn young people’s lives around and stop them making these mistakes. We helped with their education and encouraged them to put their energy into sports, performing arts, environmental projects, and so on—something that could turn them away from a life of crime and give them something more interesting, exciting and exacting to work on. That said, we have now regressed. Far too many young people are being attracted by gangs and carrying knives either because of the glamour or as protection. We need to do something now to turn that around and save lives.

Offensive Weapons Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Excerpts
Wednesday 28th November 2018

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Home Office
Mr Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 2:31 p.m.

I believe that they have been, but I advisedly used “in this jurisdiction” for that purpose.

If we are to start banning things just because of the use to which they might be put, logic could dictate that all firearms should be used, as well as all knives. That is not my idea of a free society.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con) - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 2:31 p.m.

Just to correct what our hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) said, the weapons used in Northern Ireland were illegally imported into this country.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 2:31 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for that important clarification.

The National Crime Agency position brief was received by the Library and heavily commented on by shooting experts across the board. The following points are based on their feedback. The NCA brief states that .50 calibre rifles

“are built around enormously powerful cartridges originally designed for military use on the battlefield and to have devastating effect”.

That is true, but it is also true of one of the most common target rifles ever used, the .303 Lee Enfield rifle and one of the most common hunting rifles, the .308, which is also based on a military round. The current full bore civilian target shooting round, at 7.62 mm, is a military round often used in machine guns. The NCA brief further states:

“The propellant mass in a standard M33 .50 calibre ‘ball’ round is nearly ten times as great as that in the standard ‘ball’ round used in the…Army’s primary battlefield rifle, the L85.”

However, that is simply disingenuous, as the 5.56 round used in the L85 is specifically designed to be light and to perform a totally different role from the .50 calibre rifle. In particular, that round is designed to enable large quantities to be carried by troops and is faster firing and easier to use at close quarters, but to say the L85 is any less dangerous as a result is bizarre.

The irony is that .50 calibre firearms could have their barrels shortened, thus taking them beneath the maximum velocity. The 13,600 J limit is entirely arbitrary, and many owners and manufacturers could simply adapt their guns down to the new limit. The NCA refers to recent seizures of guns, including fully automatic weapons, as showing that crime groups are seeking more powerful weapons, but the .50 calibre is not automatic and there is no evidence of crime gangs ever having wanted to use it.

There was also a failure to consider the historic arms position. People should have the right to engage in shooting sports, unless serious possible injury to the public can be proved. I am a Conservative, and Conservatives to my mind do not ban things for the sake of it.

Break in Debate

Louise Haigh Portrait Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 2:36 p.m.

May I begin by reiterating Labour’s support for the Bill? We gave our support on Second Reading and in Committee, but let me also say how disappointed we have been at the Government’s consistent mismanagement of this important legislation. This should have been a comprehensive and honest response to the horrifying surge in violence that we are seeing in every community in our country. Instead, it is a relatively meagre collection of proposals that, rather than being strengthened in making its way through the House, has been watered down, as the Government have rolled over in response to their Back Benchers.

It is deeply regrettable that the Bill before us is far less effective than what was presented on Second Reading and that, in the Government’s complete paralysis in the middle of Brexit negotiations in their own party, they have refused to listen to the voices of the most senior counter-terror and security experts in the country and instead have once again allowed ideology to win the day.

It is a very sad reflection on our times that matters of great public importance—no task is more important than the Government keeping their citizens safe—are being sacrificed at the altar of Brexit. We have offered our sincere and constructive support throughout the passage of the Bill, supporting the Government’s efforts to respond to the surge in violent crime. We offered our support in Committee and now on Report in their attempt to ban the .50 calibre rifle, but, unfortunately, once again they have proven themselves unable to govern in the national interest, in hock to a group of Members who are prepared to risk public safety.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Parliament Live - Hansard

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. As the lead signatory to the amendment that sought to remove these 0.50 calibre weapons from the Bill, the hon. Lady has implicitly accused me of endangering public safety. That is completely untruthful and unworthy, and she should withdraw her remarks.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle) - Hansard

I did not see that comment as a personal accusation. One thing is clear—the hon. Gentleman has certainly put his view on the record.

Break in Debate

Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle) - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 2:50 p.m.

Order. We have lots of Members who wish to speak, so if we can be brief we can try to get in as many as possible.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 2:50 p.m.

I am very grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, to catch your eye in this debate on this important Bill, which contains necessary provisions on the use of corrosive substances and on knives. I think the whole House would applaud that. What the Government should be doing, as I will demonstrate in the few words that I have to say, is acting on the basis of real evidence.

As the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) said, this is the third time that the Government have listed for debate this Bill’s remaining stages. For me, as the lead signatory to amendments trying to remove .50 calibre weapons from the Bill, this is third time lucky. After extensive negotiations with the Government, I persuaded them that there was, as I will demonstrate, no real evidence to ban these weapons, and that they should remove them from the Bill and have a proper evidence-based consultation as to whether these weapons do or do not form a danger to the public.

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con) Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 2:51 p.m.

My hon. Friend may have seen that I sought to intervene on the shadow Minister on this earlier. He may wish to confirm that it is also the case that there are legitimate reasons for wishing to possess these weapons.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 2:52 p.m.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. Of course, those who possess these weapons use them for entirely peaceful purposes. They are some of the most law-abiding people in this country. To ban these weapons on the basis of, as I will demonstrate, very little evidence, if any, is a completely illiberal thing for a Conservative, or indeed any, Government to do.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary very much indeed for reviewing the evidence on these rifles. He listened to everything that I and other colleagues had to say. My amendments attracted no fewer than 75 signatures from across the House. I thank every single one of my colleagues who signed them. I particularly thank and pay tribute to the Democratic Unionist party of Northern Ireland, all of whose Members signed them.

There is very little evidence for banning these weapons. The press seemed somehow to think that my amendments were all about Brexit and assumed that all those who had supported them did so to achieve Brexit. Nothing could be further from the truth. We were genuinely—I speak as chairman of the all-party shooting and conservation group—trying to do the right thing by a group of citizens who, as I indicated to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), are some of the most law-abiding in the country.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 2:53 p.m.

I just want to put it on the record that I support shooting and I supported getting rid of this clause, and I do not support Brexit.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 2:53 p.m.

Indeed. There will be lots of other colleagues who signed the amendments who are also of the remainer class. I do not agree with them, but I am nevertheless grateful to them for supporting my amendments.

Since the Bill was published, I have become aware that shooting associations have been concerned that the advice received by Ministers was not based on the facts but on a misrepresentation of target shooting. The consultation in advance of the Bill described .50 calibre single-shot target rifles as “materiel destruction” weapons. Nothing could be further from the truth. Civilian target rifles fire inert ammunition at paper targets. Only the military possess materiel destruction weapons that fire explosive and armour piercing rounds—all illegal in this country for civilian use.

Much of the evidence given to the Public Bill Committee continued on this theme. These target rifles were described by those who advised the Government as “extreme” and “military”, and inaccuracy, exaggeration and misrepresentation were given full play to support the ban. Much of this was refuted by the shooting organisations. They pointed out that the National Ballistics Intelligence Service was mistaken in declaring that the effective range of these .50 calibre rifles is 6,800 metres. The actual effective range is much less than a third of this.

I want to go on to the National Crime Agency’s letter, which the Government seem to place such reliance on and which was placed in the Library of this House.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab) - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 2:59 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman may well be coming on to this, but I thank him for giving way. I wonder what evidence he wants if evidence from one of the most senior counter-terrorist police officers in our country is not good enough for him. I wonder why he feels that he maybe knows more about these weapons than they do.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 2:56 p.m.

I greatly respect the hon. Lady, and if she will just be a little patient, I will give her exactly what she is asking me for.

The National Crime Agency wrote to the Home Secretary and the letter was circulated to MPs and placed in the Library. It was signed by Steve Rodhouse, the director general of operations at the National Crime Agency. The argument he used, essentially, is that these very powerful rifles might do serious damage. But the same could be said of most commonly used sporting rifles. Indeed, the most commonly used deer rifle in the UK is a .308 that could, and does, do lethal damage. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) pointed out, that is what it is designed to do. It is designed to kill vermin against which it is licensed to be used.

In the letter, Mr Rodhouse uses the words “military” and “extreme”. Nearly all calibres of commonly used civilian rifles originated as military rounds. He also quotes the MOD requirement for immobilising a truck at 1,800 metres. What he does not say is the round used, as I have said, is a high-explosive, incendiary and armour-piercing projectile. That is illegal for civilian use in the UK, where these rifles are used for punching holes in paper targets. It is as illogical to say that a civilian .50 calibre rifle should be banned because the Army uses it to fire at trucks as it would be to ban a .308 deer rifle because the Army uses the same calibre to fire at men. Equally, the residual strike of a .50 calibre bullet and the strike of a .308 bullet are both going to achieve the same end.

With regard to security, which was the basis of my original amendments, and to which I urged the Government to pay very close attention in their consultation, every firearms dealer in this country has to adhere to a level 3 security requirement, and the chief police officer of every police force that licenses every firearms dealer has to be satisfied that those requirements are in place. Some firearms dealers carry weapons that are far more lethal than a .50 calibre weapon because they store them on behalf of the Army. I would suggest that level 3 security would have prevented at least one of these crimes because there would have been the necessary security involved to do that.

Bill Wiggin Portrait Bill Wiggin - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 2:58 p.m.

I have been very upset to hear the nature of this debate, because the worst thing for any police officer must be to knock on someone’s front door to tell them that their loved one is a victim of crime. This is not a moment to play party politics at all. All guns are dangerous; all guns are for killing. These things are lethal; they require proper protections. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: what we all want to do is to make it as difficult as possible for these accidents to happen, and a ban is not the right way to achieve that.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard

rose—

Sir Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle) - Hansard

Can I just say to Sir Geoffrey that hopefully he will recognise that we have six more Members and the Minister to get in?

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 2:59 p.m.

I am grateful for your advice, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it is important, in view of what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) had to say, that I refute some of the facts that have been put about.

The figures for stolen firearms should be put into context, which Mr Rodhouse does not do. There are 2 million firearms in civilian hands. Up to July this year, only 204—I accept that that is 204 too many—had been stolen, and the vast majority were shotguns, not rifles. Only 1% of non-airgun firearms crime is committed with rifles, and none of those has ever been from a .50 calibre legal weapon.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley might be interested to know that Mr Rodhouse did not give the whole story regarding the case of the stolen .50 calibre weapon. The police dealing with the theft considered it opportunistic and that the .50 calibre was stolen with other firearms and not specifically targeted—[Interruption.] She should just listen for a minute. The .50 calibre was rapidly abandoned, and there is a suggestion that the police were told where to find it. All this points at the criminals finding the .50 calibre unsuitable for their purposes, and one can understand why—a single-shot rifle, requiring hand-loaded ammunition, weighing 30 lb and around 5 feet long, is very difficult to carry, let alone use in a criminal or terrorist incident.

The second case mentioned is the Surdar case. The whole point is that Surdar did not sell his legally held .50 calibre rifle to criminals; they did not want it. In the first case, level 3 security would have prevented a crime, and in the second case, it was a dealer who was not entirely above board.

Mr Rodhouse goes on to talk about the threat of illegal importations. That will not be cured by banning legally held guns. How many .50 calibre weapons have been seized as illegal imports? The answer is none. It is true that most UK firearms law is the product of outrage in the wake of atrocities such as Dunblane or Hungerford. At least legislators in those cases were seeking to improve the law with clear evidence. Mr Rodhouse, on the other hand, is seeking to persuade Parliament to change the law in relation to .50 calibre weapons without any significant evidence whatsoever.

The Government’s original proposal was not supported by the evidence. We in this House have a duty to protect minorities and to ensure that we do not act illiberally by banning things when there is no evidence. I submit that the Government have done the right thing in withdrawing these weapons from the Bill and are right to have a properly evidence-based consultation, to which all experts, including the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley, can give evidence. If, at the end of it, the Government conclude that there is an issue of public safety, we will need to debate that further in the House. I rest my case.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP) - Hansard
28 Nov 2018, 12:39 p.m.

It is good to finally get down to further consideration of the Bill, at the third attempt. Let me say at the outset that my party welcomes the Bill. There has been close working between the UK and Scottish Governments in relation to it, and we are largely, but not completely, happy with where it has got to after a pretty thorough Committee stage.

The Bill covers a mixture of reserved and devolved matters, with legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament required for some parts of the Bill. How far the legislation should encroach on devolved issues such as Scots criminal law has been carefully worked through by the Governments to serve specific purposes, and we take the view that that is pretty much as far as the encroachment should go.

There are a number of amendments that I will speak supportively and sympathetically about and will not oppose, but in so far as they are drafted in a way that extends to Scotland, we ultimately take the view they would be better left to the Scottish Parliament to exercise its devolved competence. That includes the three new clauses relating to air weapons. I am sympathetic to what the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) seeks to achieve with those new clauses and the work she is doing, but as she pointed out, the regulation of such weapons was devolved to the Scottish Parliament, which has established a new licensing regime under the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015. For those reasons, as far as Scotland is concerned, we wish to leave any further reform of air weapons licensing and regulation to the Scottish Parliament.

There are other amendments, however, that are clearly in reserved territory and that we will consider supporting, including new clauses 3 and 4. For the sake of time, I will not repeat all the arguments made by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). I will simply say that we agree with her analysis.

On high-energy and .50 calibre rifles, having looked at all the evidence in the round, we would have supported the position set out by the Home Secretary and the Minister at every previous stage of the Bill’s passage. We echo much of what the shadow Minister has said today. In Committee, we heard persuasive evidence from the NCA, the National Police Chiefs Council, ballistics experts and counter-terrorism police about the power of these weapons. The evidence we heard was that these rifles are dangerous because of their range and because there is little—perhaps nothing—that the police have in the way of body armour or even protected vehicles that could go up against some of these weapons.

I emphasise that we are not in favour of prohibition for the sake of it. If those same expert witnesses think that an alternative solution to alleviate risk can be found, we will listen. We fully appreciate the impact that this would have on the recreation of a small number of citizens, but it is a small number; we are talking about 18 certificates in Scotland altogether.

The point is that the Home Secretary said he would further consider the proposed prohibition months ago on Second Reading, way back before the summer, yet no amendments were forthcoming before the previously scheduled final stages of the Bill. There has been no adequate explanation of what has changed in the past couple of weeks, and as matters stand, the Bill will leave this place with the prohibition removed but no alternative measures in its place.

The Home Secretary is now going against and ignoring the evidence we received from the NCA, the National Police Chiefs Council, ballistics experts and counter-terrorism police, as well as what I have been told by Police Scotland. I have tried, without success so far, to find out whether any of those witnesses has changed their view. In the absence of any adequate explanation, this reeks of internal party politics trumping important issues of public safety. It is not the right way to make legislation, and it is not the right way to treat the public.

Offensive Weapons Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
(Money resolution: House of Commons)
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Excerpts
Wednesday 27th June 2018

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Home Office
Sajid Javid Portrait Sajid Javid - Hansard

I welcome the right hon. Lady’s support and the work she does on the Home Affairs Select Committee, which she chairs, to scrutinise this type of work. She is right that some of the announcements on the community fund to help with early intervention have focused on big cities, but this is just the start. We have more funding to allocate and are already talking to community groups well spread throughout the country. As I said right at the start, although there has been much debate about London and other big cities—we just heard about Birmingham—that suffer from these crimes, they are widespread and extend to our smaller towns and, in some cases, villages, so we have to look at all parts of the country.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con) - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 1:49 p.m.

As my right hon. Friend will know, there is some concern among Conservative Members about the proposal in the Bill to ban .5 calibre weapons, because it would criminalise otherwise law-abiding users of a weapon which, as far as I know, has never been used in a murder. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to enter into full discussions with his Ministers before the Committee stage?

Sajid Javid Portrait Sajid Javid - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 1:51 p.m.

I will say a bit more about that in a moment, but my hon. Friend has raised an important issue, and I am glad that he has focused on it. The Bill does make some changes in relation to high-energy rifles and other such weapons. We based those measures on evidence that we received from intelligence sources, police and other security experts. That said, I know that my hon. Friend and other colleagues have expertise, and evidence that they too wish to provide. I can give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance that I am ready to listen to him and others, and to set their evidence against the evidence that we have received.

Break in Debate

Lyn Brown - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 3:32 p.m.

I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. As so many others have gone outwith the Bill, I suggest that the Government could at the same time look at the minimum wage legislation, because that would give my constituents an awful lot of help.

The Government could have taken a different approach to the Bill. In my speech before Christmas, I argued that several corrosive substances need to be brought under greater control, including ammonia, sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid, as well as sulphuric acid. I am reassured that all those substances have been included in schedule 1 as corrosive products. The list in schedule 1 is new, and does not match the lists in parts 1 to 4 of schedule 1A to the Poisons Act. The Minister could use this Bill or a statutory instrument to move more poisons or chemicals into parts 1 or 2 of schedule 1A to the Poisons Act, meaning that they would require people to have an official licence and photo ID before purchase. That would prevent us having to rely so heavily on retail staff to spot suspicious purchases, and it would restrict these chemicals to the hands of trained professionals who, I presume, will use them safely.

Sulphuric acid has now been moved into part 1 of schedule 1A to the Poisons Act, as I and others have called for. It will require people to have a licence from the end of this week, which is very welcome. My question, however, for the Minister is: why was that decision made for sulphuric acid only, not for the other chemicals I have highlighted? Why not move hydrofluoric acid into part 2 as a regulated poison? It is highly dangerous: as I said in the debate before Christmas, exposure on just 2% of the skin can kill. Why not move ammonia into part 2 as well, given that ammonia was found at 20 out of 28 crime scenes tested by the Met? Perhaps the Department has better evidence about which chemicals are being used in crimes or about those that pose a risk, but if so, I would argue that such a case needs to be made, and made transparently, during the passage of the Bill. That only leaves me to welcome the progress that this Bill represents, although I hope the Minister will agree with me that there are still some serious issues to be addressed.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 3:35 p.m.

I am grateful to have caught your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, in this important and welcome Second Reading, although I am sorry that I have to be here. I say that because I have had extensive discussions with the Minister on a contentious clause, which proposes the banning of weapons with a muzzle energy of more than 13,600 joules or 10,000 foot-pounds. In this country, there are about a million firearms and shotgun certificate holders, who legally hold about 2 million weapons. They are some of the most law-abiding people in this country; only 0.2% of all recorded crime is committed with legally held firearms. I seek to persuade the House and the Ministers on the Front Bench that the proposal is wholly disproportionate, lacks an evidence base and penalises a group of very law-abiding citizens.

Bill Wiggin Portrait Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con) - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 3:36 p.m.

My hon. Friend is right about this. It is clear from listening to a few words from him and to the previous speaker that the Bill needs a lot of work in Committee. Properly evidenced crimes are clearly being missed by the Bill, yet we are taking out legal protection against a group of people who have never done anything wrong and never will, and who have weapons that are absolutely impractical for any sort of criminal activity. This is just badly thought-out legislation.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that, as he has made some of the points I wanted to make in my speech. When he examines the record, he will see that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has, at the Dispatch Box, given me a pledge that he will undertake extensive discussions with any right hon. or hon. colleague, or any stakeholder in this matter, who wishes to involve themselves in those discussions to see whether we can find a more sensible way forward between now and Committee.

Bill Wiggin Portrait Bill Wiggin - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 3:36 p.m.

I am sorry if I was too harsh.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard

My hon. Friend is not too harsh. I am simply saying to him that there is concern among Government Members, and it is worthy of further discussion.

Sir Edward Davey Portrait Sir Edward Davey - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 3:37 p.m.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some groups representing disabled shooters are concerned that this legislation may particularly affect them, although the Government’s equality statement says that it does not? Does he have a view on that matter?

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 3:38 p.m.

I do. Of course we want shooting to be used by every group in society; no group should in any way be excluded. I was not intending to talk about bump stocks and the VZ58 MARS—manually actuated release system—proposals in the Bill. I know that representations have been made that those semi-automatic additions to rifles help disabled groups, but I take the view, having received representations from the groups I represent, that such adaptations of otherwise bolt-action single-shot rifles, converting them into, in effect, semi-automatic rifles should be banned. After the horrific shootings in the United States, even President Trump was minded to say that they should be banned. On that basis, I think Ministers are doing the right thing, although I accept that it might well disadvantage some disabled people. We have to find other ways of helping those groups, perhaps by adapting rifles or the places where these people shoot.

I am chairman of the all-party group on shooting and conservation, and I work closely with all the professional shooting bodies, including the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Countryside Alliance and the British Shooting Sports Council. They have made lots of very professional representations to the Minister on this subject. I have also been working closely with my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), who represents the BSSC but could not be here for our debate because, unfortunately, he has had to attend a family funeral today. We are seeking to persuade the Minister to consider modifying the proposals.

In clause 28(2), the Government propose to ban all weapons that have a muzzle energy greater than 13,600 joules. The Bill would put them into section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968—in other words, it would make them a prohibited weapon. There are about 200 of those weapons—a small number—and just over 200 people, probably, have a licence to use them. I will discuss where the weapons should be stored, but I want to give the House a sense of the sort of people who are disadvantaged by the Bill by quoting paragraph 7 of the British Shooting Sports Council brief:

“In fact, the Fifty Calibre Shooters Association…which is dedicated to target shooting with this calibre has its origins in the early 1980s in the USA and has over 2,500 members internationally. It is affiliated with .50 calibre target rifle shooting groups in Australia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom and, in addition to regular competitions, hosts the annual World Championship in which UK FCSA target shooters compete. The UK FCSA is a Home Office Approved Club, has existed as a well-respected target shooting club since 1991 and has grown to a membership of over 400.”

These are the sorts of people whom we are disadvantaging. As I have already said, and as I stress again to the Minister, these are some of the most law-abiding people in the country.

Dr Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con) - Hansard

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Government’s latest impact assessment for the Bill suggests that the measure could cost them up to £6 million—not only in compensation for loss of weapons, but through the loss of revenue at Government Ministry of Defence rifle ranges?

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out that this is going to be expensive. Nobody would mind the expense if it was rooted in public safety—that is beyond question—but, as I will seek to explain in a minute, I do not think that it is.

In case anybody gets the impression that I am a mad rifle-wielding individual, I should say that, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on shooting and conservation, I have been working closely on making the licensing of firearms and shotguns more effective. There is a serious health and safety issue at the moment because some doctors are refusing to co-operate with the police in the granting of certificates. That is completely unacceptable: the Firearms Act 1968 is predicated on the basis that somebody can be licensed to have a shotgun or firearm only if they are a fit and proper person. If they have certain medical conditions, they should not hold a shotgun or firearms certificate. I believe, at this moment, that people out there have firearms certificates who should not have.

Bill Wiggin Portrait Bill Wiggin - Hansard

I think my hon. Friend means mental health conditions, not medical conditions. Does he agree that, happily, because of our stringent licensing system, evil terrorists are not committing crimes using legally held guns?

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard

My hon. Friend has pulled me up: words are important in this place. What I meant to say was medical conditions which might include a mental health condition—but there are medical conditions that might mean that someone was not granted a shotgun or firearms certificate.

I want to move on to the .50 calibre weapons themselves, and why they are not likely to be used in a crime—and never have been, as far as we know.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare - Hansard

A moment ago, my hon. Friend said he did not want to be caricatured, and that is absolutely right. It is important for everybody to understand that this is not a rampant, American, NRA-type debate, but one based on evidence, fact, practical experience and trying to make good law.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 3:45 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes a really potent and timely point; I was about to demonstrate why these weapons have never been implicated in any crime. There was one incident when one was stolen; the barrel was chopped down but the gun was quickly recovered and never implicated in a crime. There has been only one other incident: more than 20 years ago, a .50 calibre weapon was stolen in Northern Ireland and used in the troubles and then, again, recovered.

Instances of such weapons being likely to fall into the wrong hands are incredibly rare. Even if they did, they are most unlikely ever to be used by a criminal, as I shall try to persuade the House. They are as long as the span of my arms and incredibly heavy and bulky. They demand a great deal of effort between shots. They are simply not the criminal’s weapon of choice. The weapon of choice of a criminal is likely to be something gained from the dark web or the underground. It is likely to be a sawn-off shotgun, or a revolver or pistol of some sort. These really heavy, clunky weapons are simply not the weapon of choice of the criminal. In the one instance I suspect my hon. Friend the Minister will cite in her summing up, a criminal stole it, realised what they had got hold of and that it was not suitable to be used in a crime, and chucked it over a hedge.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 3:45 p.m.

My hon. Friend uses the phrase “weapon of choice” among criminals. Is it not an irony that the criminals’ weapons of choice are already banned and are held illegally?

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 3:46 p.m.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and it is very sad, when people gain pleasure from using these rifles, that the Government want to effectively ban them. The muzzle energy will effectively mean a ban on the .5 calibre. The only reason the Government are banning them is that they happen to be one of the largest calibres. The police and the other authorities are saying that because they are so large they must be dangerous. I have to tell the House that any rifle is dangerous in the wrong hands and used in the wrong way. A .22, the very smallest rifle, is lethal at over a mile if it is fired straight at somebody. All rifles need to be handled with great care and held in very secure conditions.

In summing up, the Government will, I think, cite some evidence as to why these rifles need to be banned. They will cite the one that was stolen and chucked over the hedge with the barrel chopped off, they will cite the fact that one was used in the troubles in Northern Ireland, and they will cite the fact that more high-powered weapons are being seized by customs at our borders. But this has nothing to do with .5 calibre weapons. It has everything to do with illegal weapons, the sort of weapons of choice that, sadly, the criminal and the terrorist will use, but not these particular weapons.

Simon Hart Portrait Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con) - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 3:47 p.m.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that the three examples he cites are actually applicable to pretty much any weapon, and that, if we concede on that point, perfectly legitimate rifles and shotguns would be at risk of being removed from society all together?

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 3:47 p.m.

That is precisely the point I am making. This whole thing would set a precedent: .5 weapons today, then .60—where do we go next? Just because people think they might get into the wrong hands and be used by the wrong people. That is the wrong way to govern. We should not prohibit things unless there is really good evidence for doing so.

I have been having discussions with Ministers. I have said that instead of banning these weapons, as there are so few of them and they are able to be fired legally at so few ranges by so few people, why not toughen up the rules on storage to make it absolutely impossible for them ever to be stolen? If they had to be stored in an armoury, at a gun club by arrangement with the police or in a military storage by arrangement with the military, storage would have to be approved by the police. There could be alarms and CCTV in the storage and weapons would not be licensed unless the police approved places of secure storage. That would be a much more effective and useful way of going forward if we want to stop weapons falling into the wrong hands, and would make it much safer for us all.

Chris Davies (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con) Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 3:49 p.m.

I agree with my hon. Friend 100% on the point he is making. One of the ranges used is in my constituency. In a bizarre way, I would say that when the club is shooting there it is one of the safest places to be, because people are trained and know what they are doing. We should be looking at the security and storage element, not banning these weapons.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard

My hon. Friend is exactly right. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to look at this again. The proposals in the Bill are disproportionate. They are unworkable, because they are very easy to get around. They target some of the most law-abiding people in the country and they will not make this country any safer, because the criminal will use a different weapon of choice.

Stephen Timms Portrait Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 3:49 p.m.

I want to express rather more support for the Bill than the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) did, but I will comment just on the elements that deal with corrosive substances. I particularly welcome clause 5, as others have, which creates the new offence of having a corrosive substance in a public place.

A year ago on 21 June, in our borough of Newham, Jameel Muhktar and his cousin, Resham Khan, were sprayed with acid while they were sitting in a car on the way to a party celebrating her 21st birthday. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) said in her excellent speech, after that event there was a wave of revulsion and fear across the borough. Mr Speaker was good enough to grant an Adjournment debate on 17 July, the intention of which was to bring forward proposals in response to that wave of fear. However, by the time we got to that debate, there had been the series of incidents on 13 July, when there were six acid attacks from the back of a moped in the space of 90 minutes across Hackney and Islington, and there was a lot of public interest in this whole issue. One of the two perpetrators involved in the attacks in Hackney and Islington was, we know now, aged 16 at the time, and he pleaded guilty to carrying them out.

In that Adjournment debate, at which my hon. Friend was present, we called for two specific changes to the law. The first was that the purchase of sulphuric acid should require a licence, and, as she pointed out, that has been done through a statutory instrument that will take effect from Sunday. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), in opening this debate for the Opposition, argued that there should be a review of the list of substances in that category under the explosive precursor regulations that require a licence to be purchased. I agree with her and I am very pleased that sulphuric acid has been added to that list, but we need to look at what else should be there as well.

The second change that we called for was that carrying acid should be an offence, just as carrying a knife is, and I am very pleased that that is included in clause 5. I thank the Minister for successfully delivering that change. She and I would probably both have been pleased had the legislation been introduced a bit faster, but I am very pleased that it is before the House today. I am also grateful to her for keeping me and other Members informed about the progress in working up the legislation.

I have some detailed questions, however. Clause 1 bans the sale of corrosive products to persons under 18. As we have been told, the products are listed in schedule 1. Would it not be better to do that in regulations rather than having a schedule to the Bill, so that the list can be added to or amended? It is unlikely that that list and the particular concentrations that are set out in the schedule will be the last word. I am interested to know how the particular list of concentrations was come up with, for example. It looks a bit arbitrary. There may be some reason for choosing those concentrations, and if so I would like to know what it is. This looks like the kind of thing we sometimes chide Ministers for wanting to put in regulations, but in this case I think there could be a good case for doing it through regulations so that it can be changed at a later date. It seems a bit odd that as things stand, any change to the list of substances or concentrations would require another Act of Parliament, so I wonder why it has been done in that way and whether it ought to be done in regulations instead.

Clause 5 bans having corrosive substances—not corrosive products—in a public place and it tells us that a corrosive substance is a substance capable of harming human skin by corrosion. I presume that means that it covers substances not on the list in schedule 1. It seems a bit odd to have two different definitions of “corrosive substance” in two different parts of the Bill, one in schedule 1 and one defined as causing corrosive harm to human skin. Clause 5 does not refer to schedule 1. Does the Minister expect the police in practice to use schedule 1 to work out which products are covered by clause 5, or does she expect them to come up with a different list? It seems a little untidy to have two definitions.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and others, I think it would be better to ban sales to under-21s, rather than under-18s. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley rightly suggested that the current restrictions, which the Bills extends, on knives in schools and further education colleges ought to apply to corrosive substances. What we already do for knives should apply as well to acid. I would hope that that extension could be made.

Acid Survivors Trust International has rightly made the case that more needs to be done to address the impact of acid attacks, which, as we all recognise, can be horrifying. The number of attacks in London nearly trebled between 2014 and 2017. I tabled a series of parliamentary questions last month to try to understand the economic impact of acid attacks—the cost to the police, the cost to the health service and the cost of imprisoning people who carry them out—and all received the answer: Ministers do not know what the impacts are. The Home Office does not collect national statistics on acid attacks. I think it should. We ought to make that addition to the statistics collected. In April, the Department asked the National Police Chiefs’ Council to undertake a data-collection exercise on acid attacks. Will the Minister tell us what came out of that exercise and whether she will consider adding these figures to those routinely collected by her Department? We should have a more systematic way of knowing the scale of this crime.

I pay tribute to Jabed Hussain, whom I believe the Minister has met. He is a moped delivery driver in London who was the victim of an acid attack and subsequently organised other drivers into what he calls the Workers Union London. He argues, correctly I think, that changes to the law, while very welcome—and I certainly welcome what is proposed in the Bill—will not solve the problem on their own. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley made this point powerfully. As Jabed Hussain points out, the scale of police cuts in London has made the problem significantly worse. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner herself has acknowledged that the cuts to police numbers have undoubtedly contributed to the surge in violent crime, and those cuts need to be reversed. Jabed Hussain also makes the point that we are nowhere near addressing the scale of the physical and psychological damage suffered by acid attack victims and their families, and that the children of victims need help, too, yet there is nothing available for them at the moment.

There is a correlation between gang membership and the use of acid as a weapon, as others have suggested. The Government’s efforts to step up their response to gangs will be crucial. I welcome the establishment of the centre in London to deal with the county lines issue around the country.

I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister, but I think that, alongside the Bill, an enormous amount more needs to be done.

Break in Debate

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 4:52 p.m.

My hon. Friend is right. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), was a prosecuting barrister in a previous life. She will know, as lots of other people do—[Interruption.] Ah, here she is; she arrives. As if by magic, my hon. Friend is summoned up. I was just saying that, in a previous existence, she was a prosecuting barrister, and I know—not least because she has told me this on so many occasions—that she will appreciate the importance of evidence. We are making law, and as important as the issues are that we are seeking to address, the law has to be based on evidence.

It may well be that there are certain things that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench cannot tell the House: there may be evidence from the National Crime Agency and others that it would be entirely inappropriate to share with those who are not Privy Counsellors, or whatever. However, I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier). Like colleagues, I have yet to find any canon of persuasive evidence that does not lead me, for what that is worth, to the conclusion that if we harry and pursue the softest targets—those who have a licence, those obeying the law to the letter and those who have clearly indicated, in response to consultation, their willingness to go the extra mile in terms of security, vetting, referencing and so on and so forth—they will be the ones most affected, without the concomitant benefit of increasing safety on our streets.

If there is evidence telling us that a whole cadre of crimes is committed on our streets by people who are licensed to have a shotgun or other firearm, clearly the House will need to recalibrate its message on that point.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 4:55 p.m.

The problem would be if people who lawfully hold a shotgun or firearm see this legislation and think that they might be criminalised next. They fear that this is setting a precedent and they do not know where it is going to end.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 4:55 p.m.

My hon. Friend is right about that. Those who see these things as the opening of a Pandora’s box are often right to see proposals in that way, and I am inclined to think that we are not necessarily looking at this from the right end of the telescope. I would much prefer a far more rigorous approach to sentencing, so that it actually acts as a deterrent, and my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester and others have intimated the same. I am not convinced that the criminal minds, the modern-day Fagins who recruit these often vulnerable youngsters to commit these crimes to aggrandise the Fagins of, particularly but not exclusively, the drug world, will give tuppence ha’penny about what statute law says. If they want to get hold of a shotgun or something else, they will jolly well do it. We need to be focusing a lot more attention on sentencing than we have hitherto.

Obviously, we have do this as part of a legislative mosaic, which, as others have said, calls for even greater intergovernmental and cross-departmental working. The Times has been running an interesting series of articles this week. It has alluded to all the things that we know about gang culture—family breakdown, the lack of feeling of belonging, a lack of aspiration, poor educational attainment, and that self-breeding fear and anxiety that says, “I live in an unsafe area so I must tool up to protect myself.” In that way, the cycle just continues and continues. A lot of additional work needs to be done and other Departments need to be involved in it.

I wish to say a few words about the impact on small businesses. I do not understand the logic of a lot of these proposals on where and how one can sell, and on not delivering to a residential address. I am sure the Minister will be able to fill, to the point of overflowing, the lacuna in my knowledge of this, but I cannot understand the differential in respect of being able to have something delivered to a business premises or a post office, but not being able to have it delivered to one’s own personal address—likewise, where the Bill says that even if someone has ordered something online, they have to collect it from the branch. That is fine for national operators, but I have received a number of representations on this. Some have come from Mr Duncan Chandler, an artisan manufacturer of woodland and survival knives in my constituency, who is anxious about this matter and the impact it has on his business. Others have come from Mr Philip Hart, who runs the excellent Harts of Stur, 80% of whose kitchenware, which includes knives, is sold online across the country—the company has only one branch and it is in North Dorset. I ask the Minister to think in Committee about the definition of “knife”. I am talking about rather peculiar things here and am flicking through my notes to try to find the reference point I was looking for but I cannot. I shall say merely refer to a constituent of mine who manufactures and sells straight razors for wet shaving. Are they to be included in the definition of “knife” or not? Will they fall within the new requirements?

In conclusion, I support this legislation. If it is pressed to a Division, I shall certainly vote in favour of its Second Reading, but with a presumption that there will be some fairly dramatic changes in Committee: a greater understanding of the needs and difficulties of small businesses in particular, and an element of rural proofing. We are trying to address a national issue, but as it stands the Bill does not reflect some of the differentials between urban and rural living. I draw comfort from the fact that the Minister understands rural issues to her fingertips, representing, as she does, the second most beautiful part of the country after North Dorset.

Break in Debate

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 6:04 p.m.

As I suggested, there is a social context that gave birth to the Bill—a huge increase in violent crime and fatalities in London. The two things, as I said, are related. If the Government are trying to address the issue of knife crime and fatalities in our capital, it is beyond my imagination to understand why .5 calibre guns should be banned as proposed in the Bill.

I am delighted that the Secretary of State has openly and generously offered to meet MPs and other people for a wider consultation on the details in the Bill.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 4:49 p.m.

The hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) has put his finger on an interesting point. Clause 28(2) references “any rifle” from which a shot of more than 13,600 joules can be fired. The Bill is drafted much wider than just .5 calibre weapons.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng - Hansard

That is a legitimate point. I hope that many of these difficulties and anomalies will be ironed out in Committee, because the Bill as drafted raises some interesting questions and, dare I say it, has a number of holes.

Broadly, we have to accept that something had to be done. The new spate of acid attacks is largely unprecedented. I understand, as a point of history, that in the 19th century people used sulphuric acid and other noxious substances in this way, but for our generation this is completely unprecedented, and it is quite right for the Government to legislate to curtail the sale of this offensive weapon.

Broadly, this is a good Bill and I am fully happy to support its Second Reading, as I suspect are the vast majority of Members on both sides of the House, but I urge Ministers to consider some of the objections made in this wide-ranging and stimulating debate to certain of its provisions.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 6:55 p.m.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Indeed she and my hon. Friends the Members for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez), for Hendon (Dr Offord) and for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) all focused on the importance of local policing and local leadership in policing. We introduced police and crime commissioners to enable local people to have the power to influence policing in their local area. Of course, I very much enjoy working with the Mayor of London and, as far as we are concerned, more power to his elbow when it comes to local policing.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 6:56 p.m.

My hon. Friend will have heard the widespread concern in many different parts of the United Kingdom. She seems to want to ban these big-calibre weapons solely on the basis that they might get into the hands of a criminal or a terrorist. If that is the case, rather than ban them why does she not adopt my suggestion of improving the secure places where such weapons have to be held? There should be all the security, with the weapons checked in and out, to make stealing them much more difficult.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
27 Jun 2018, 6:57 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention and for his contribution. He and I have been in constant conversation about this for some time. He will forgive me for not committing to changing the Bill on the Floor of the House, but we are in listening mode. Indeed, I was in listening mode when my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) made a typically robust but thoughtful contribution, and it may be that we work together on looking into that.