Draft Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment No. 2) Order 2008

[back to previous text]

The Chairman: Order. I hope that those concerns will be strictly relevant to the order.
Mr. George: Thank you, Ms Walley, for that guidance. If the explanatory memorandum on the draft Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment No. 2) Order 2008 is relevant, I believe that what I have to say is very relevant. The second paragraph outlines “a defence” in relation to
“curved swords for use in religious ceremonies.”
Many hon. Members represent Sikh constituents and we will all be aware that the kirpan is not a dagger, weapon or item of cultural symbolism. To describe it in that way is offensive to Sikhs.
Many Sikhs wear the instrument, if I may put it in that way, in their normal daily lives. Yes, when they go into a religious ceremony it is being worn in a gurdwara, but many who are deeply religious would use such a thing—not a dagger or weapon, but a religious symbol—in their normal daily lives. Is there any danger to that practice? I hope and suspect not. The phraseology refers to a defence of use in religious ceremonies. I would like clarification of and reassurance about that, even if it is not possible today.
I have a question about those who may now use the defence that they manufacture or use swords for other circumstances, including those who manufacture, sell or use certain curved swords, who will be able to say that it is now within the law. It might be that my question arises from ignorance, but given that the law lays down strict requirements for people who own guns legally, in relation to storage in secure circumstances, and given that even placing one’s legally held weapons in secure circumstances can be no bar to someone’s breaking in and taking those legally acquired guns, are there to be similar requirements for people who sell or hold weapons that in the wrong hands could pose a considerable danger to anyone who comes into contact with them?
The holding and use of weapons for criminal purposes is not confined to the lower sectors of society. They can be used by people who are higher up the social scale. If a person is angry and there is a weapon available to them, using it is an option.
My last point is about self-protection. If I found the curved Nazi sword that my father brought back from the second world war, would I be committing a criminal offence? I have been presented with two Gurkha kukris, as I am sure have other Committee members who have been on the Defence Committee. Are we too committing a criminal offence by holding a curved weapon?
I hope that I have not strayed too far from the order and incurred your wrath, Ms Walley. These are serious issues and I look for reassurances and information from the Minister.
4.56 pm
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): May I say what a great pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Walley? We on these Benches welcome what seem to be sensible changes made to allow ownership of curved swords from any country and so end the anomalous special status of Japanese curved swords. Many other cultures attach religious and cultural significance to curved swords, and it is right that the law recognises that. My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I are supportive of any measure that will uphold freedom of worship. For example, the measure ensures that Sikhs can carry, trade and lend the kirpan without fear of imprisonment or fine.
Many hon. Members will be aware that the ex-Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones, now a Liberal Democrat Peer, was attacked with a Samurai sword, and although he survived, his political assistant, Andrew Pennington, was killed. We are very sensitive to the potential misuse of such weapons. I would welcome the Minister’s response on what rules will appertain to guard against such a thing happening again, if the weapons are to be available. Can he address the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott) in the original debate? She found many samurai or curved swords available on the internet. She asked how the law would apply to weapons that are so widely available and what work the Department has done on potential online retail sources.
4.58 pm
Mr. Blunt: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Walley. I noticed that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green used the royal “we” to describe those on her Benches.
I would like the Minister to address the narrow point about the use of swords in the Army, with which I am familiar. Obviously swords are now used for ceremonial purposes. In the last debate, we discussed the example pertaining to me. I had inherited an infantry pattern sword which is, therefore, largely straight, other than the small curve at the end. I assume that that is not covered by the legislation.
The pertinent point is about curved swords manufactured after 1954. I would not want us inadvertently to put the Chief of the General Staff in a difficult position. All general officers carry curved general officer-style swords, which I suspect are machine-made rather handmade. While I suspect that most officers will be issued with a general officer’s pattern sword, it is possible that some may wish to buy a sword as a memento or will be presented with a sword to mark their service at general rank. That also applies to the cavalry regiments, which have curved cavalry pattern swords. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch said, they are probably manufactured rather than handmade.
I would be interested in the definitions that the Minister has obtained from the rather limited number of companies—there are at least two—that offer their services to officer cadets and their families. Obviously, on commissioning, families want to present young officers with a pattern of sword appropriate to the regiment into which they are being commissioned. Will the Minister reassure us that we are not inadvertently outlawing that trade and that the necessary consultations took place when the order was put together?
That said, let me put on the record once again my appreciation of the fact that we have returned here after less than six months to discuss the issues that were raised in our debate on 17 March 2008. It goes some small way towards addressing what we said. We have been sitting on the Opposition Benches for 11 years, and nothing else that we have said has been taken into account. I would therefore particularly like to thank the Minister for the fact that we are looking at the order again. I look forward to his answers.
5 pm
Mr. Coaker: May I say how grateful I am to the hon. Gentleman for what he has just said, because I was sitting here thinking, “I don’t know why we bother.”? I have spent the past few months listening to what was said about the issues raised in the previous statutory instrument debate and introducing an order to deal with all the points that have been made to me since then. I am therefore really grateful to him for saying what he did, because it has restored my faith in my somewhat unusual attitude of trying to change statutory instruments if somebody makes a reasonable point.
We have made changes on all the issues on which we had representations and all the measures have been agreed with collectors and manufacturers. As far as I am aware, nobody is now writing to me to complain, apart from belly dancers—that is why I mentioned them, as I hope my hon. Friends noticed—and one or two morris dancers. The hon. Member for Hornchurch mentioned martial arts, but I have had no representations from anybody involved in martial arts societies, nor have I had any from collectors or manufacturers. That is because they agree with the provisions.
I could go through the whole thing and make up all sorts of different scenarios where people may not be happy. All I can say to the Committee, however, is that people came to see me and we agreed on what would help. They said, “These are the measures that will enable our business to carry on and us to do the sorts of things that we need to do. This is the sort of change that we recommend you make.” I told my officials, “Take these measures away. If they are sensible and reasonable, put together an order, and I will take it back to the House of Commons. Hopefully, hon. Members will pass the order and we can take it to the other place.” That is exactly what we have done.
With respect to one or two of those who have spoken, I know people can say, “What about this and what about that?”, but none of the issues relating to sporting activities have been raised with me. I am not an expert on martial arts or the legitimate uses to which various weapons are put, but if any of the martial arts clubs had a problem, they would have made a representation to me by now, and they have not. I assume, therefore, that they must be happy with the measures. However, there were real problems with the collectors, which is why we did what we did.
Let me go through the specific points, although I take note of your diktat, Ms Walley, and I will not get into the issue of knife crime, serious though it is. Whatever debates take place, we all recognise the seriousness of knife crime. I will not go into that now, however, because we are debating the order.
We are considering what we are doing about online sales of goods such as samurai swords. I should, however, make the point that what is illegal offline is also illegal online. That is an easy thing to say, but it is the truth and we need to understand that. It applies not only to samurai swords, but to a range of issues relating to how we police the internet more effectively. As the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green will know, one of the big problems is that when we shut down a site, people shift somewhere else. That is not an excuse, and I am not an IT expert, but even the IT experts say that it is particularly difficult to deal with those things. Having said that, we need to address that important issue.
As I said, we have received no representations from martial arts societies or anyone else on the sporting issues, unless we count belly dancing and morris dancing as sports, which I do not wish to do because the issue is far more serious than that.
With regard to Scotland, we are still having discussions, but it fair to say that we do not yet have agreement. Those matters are ongoing. We had a useful meeting, but even useful meetings do not always provide outcomes as quickly as we might want. I hope we will have something that we can all agree and sign up to and that that will cover the whole UK, but we are not yet there.
We chose 1954 because that was the date in Japan after which people needed a licence to manufacture genuine Japanese swords. The Japanese were becoming concerned about imitations and changes, so after 1954 people needed a licence to be able to make genuine Japanese swords. That seemed a reasonable date to use, and for practical reasons we did not want to change it so that we would have had 1954 for Japanese swords and all sorts of other dates for swords from everywhere else.
I hesitated when answering the hon. Member for Reigate because I was not sure that we had met specifically with the manufacturers of Army swords, but I understand that we have talked to them and taken their concerns into account. They are happy with the order because, as we know, it will allow swords made before 1954 and those made after 1954 using traditional methods. In answer to many of his points, I can say that our view and the general view is that the Crown immunity covers all the issues he raised with regard to the 1988 Act.
We know that that defence covers all the issues surrounding the use of ceremonial swords—at the trooping of the colour, for example. Those are all Crown functions and, as such, are protected by the available immunity, and that defence has been available since 1988. Again, I have received no representations from the armed forces about that. With regard to the machine point, it is permissible to make those swords by machine if one of the defences applies, and the defence of Crown immunity from those provisions will apply in the case of Army swords.
Mr. Blunt: I realise that this is a narrow point, but what if the Chief of the General Staff were presented upon his retirement with a sword manufactured after 1954? Crown immunity would apply while he was using it, but once it was passed down to his family the immunity would cease to apply.
Mr. Coaker: Not at all, because that is possession, which is not an offence.
We had further discussions with DCLG, which had concerns about some of the order’s provisions and how they will apply to such things as daggers worn for ceremonial or religious purposes. We listened to those concerns and changed the order to create a defence for such things. If people wear those things in public, there is always an offence, but a chef who might have the most brutal knives on him will not be prosecuted for carrying them on the street, because he has a lawful reason to have them.
Similarly, someone who is wearing a knife for religious or cultural purposes will have the defence of having a lawful reason for doing so. Only knives that are carried on the streets for no such purpose will be affected by the order. If there is no lawful reason, people can expect to be prosecuted, and quite rightly. A Nazi sword is also a possession, and if it was made before 1954 it will be exempt from the provisions anyway.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South raised the interesting point that there are not the same sort of regulations on the storage of knives as there are on the storage of guns. Hon. Members will recognise that that raises the issue of what we class as a dangerous knife in the home. To be fair, the difficulties with the regulation of knives is demonstrated by the fact that we are having enough problems trying to discuss them now, despite everyone agreeing with the order. Indeed, if the hon. Member for Hornchurch looks back to his 2006 Bill, he will see that there are issues relating to all this.
Perhaps we should discuss the storage of knives with the police, but if my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South reflects on that, perhaps he will also question what should be done about kitchen knives and bread knives. There are knives in my house that would be lethal if used in the same way as some of the weapons that we have discussed. As I have said, there are not the same protections for knives as there are for guns, but most collectors, given the value, will tend to look after them.
I think that I have answered most of the major points that have been made. As always, such matters are kept under review, but we have made a reasonable step forward. We listened to all the people who came to us; notwithstanding belly dancers and morris dancers, they all agreed with the change that has been made. As far as I can remember, not one organisation asked for a change to the relevant orders that we have not listened to or to which we have not responded with an adaptation. The hon. Member for Reigate makes a point about the Army, but—again from memory—we have not been contacted by the Army or any of the armed forces about their concerns.
I hope that the Committee takes things in the spirit in which they are meant. I have made a positive attempt to make such Delegated Legislation Committees work a little better and to take account, as the hon. Members for Reigate and for Hornchurch mentioned, of views across the Committee, where they make sense, to try to move things forward. As I said, there have been 80 crimes in four years, and 10 murders. The measure will not resolve all the difficulties, but I think that most people will see it as a valuable contribution to ending one of the menaces that contribute to violent crime.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment No. 2) Order 2008.
Committee rose at eleven minutes past Five o’clock.
Previous Contents
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 8 July 2008