Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by Max Bone (Managing Director), Decorating Direct Ltd. (OWB57)

Executive Summary

Sect.17 of the Offensive Weapons Bill creates a new wide ranging definition of a "Bladed Product" that appears to encompass DIY Scissors, Snap-off Knives and Blades, and Paint Scrapers supplied to the DIY & Home Decorating market.

Sects.15 & 16 prohibit Decorating Direct's continued supply of DIY/Home-Decorating/Craft "Bladed Products" to residential customers addresses.

Sects.15,16 & 17 will cause a significant drop in Decorating Direct's sales (Para 5).

Retail customers behavioural changes caused by the bill, may produce a larger, long-term reduction in our sales.

The bill provides an attractive competitive advantage to large incumbent bricks'n'mortar retailers, and unfairly disadvantages smaller online retailers.

Section 16 already provides exemptions to some online suppliers, allowing the continued supply of more dangerous bladed products to residential addresses.

We propose amending sect.16, to allow us (and other online retailers) to continue to supply "Bladed Products" to residential addresses, if they are designed/intended for use in the DIY/Home Decorating/Crafts markets.

We argue that the committee should also consider whether removing sects 15, 16 and 17 entirely from the bill would be simpler.

Introduction

Decorating Direct is a small supplier of professional decorating tools, sundries, and paints based in the North East of England. We trade only online, and we do not offer customer accounts. We ship orders to customers from two 5000 sq. ft. warehouses in Middlesbrough. We have no retail or other collection facilities. We have traded online since the year 2000, supplying governmental organisations, commercial companies, painting and decorating contractors and the general public throughout the UK. The focus of the business is to supply high quality, and often unique professional painting and decorating products as a complete solution for any particular project.

Only very recently did we become aware that the Offensive Weapons Bill (OWB) as it is currently drafted, could have a detrimental effect on our business in the short-term, with a potentially greater effect over the longer term, which is why we are making this submission. We have also recently met with our Member of Parliament, Anna Turley, providing her with additional evidence, and discussing our concerns about the Offensive Weapons Bill.

Submission

1). Sections 15, 16 & 17 of the OWB when considered together, introduce a new definition of a "Bladed Product", and then make it a criminal offence for Decorating Direct to supply non-business residential addresses with such "Bladed Products".

2). The definition of "Bladed Products" in Section 17 para (1) is so wide, that the bill would make it illegal for us to continue supplying the general public at their own residential addresses with common DIY tools for their home decorating projects.

3). Decorating Direct regularly supply reusable snap-off knives, matching refill blades, scrapers and scissors. These sharp tools are normally essential at some point, when undertaking virtually all DIY/home decorating projects.

4). Examples of the types of tools we supply which currently fall within the definition of "Bladed Products" in OWB Section 17 para (1):

a) Tungsten Carbide, and Carbon Steel scrapers and their blades for removing old, loose and/or flaking paint from wooden, concrete, plaster and glass reinforced plastic surfaces prior to repainting and decorating (Fig 1).

b) Snap-off Knives and Utility Knives and Refill Blades for trimming and splicing wallpaper and lining paper; cutting protective floor paper, cardboard and plastic film which is applied over surfaces to protect them from paint spills and damage when decorating; Cutting and trimming masking tapes used to create straight paint lines on walls, and protecting architrave, decorative trim and glass etc. from paint; Cutting open a 310/400ml tube of mastic, bath and shower silicone or decorators caulk, and trimming the mastic application nozzle to the correct size and angle. (Fig 2)

c) Long bladed Wallpaper Scissors and Shears for making long straight cuts in wallpapers and lining papers prior to pasting, or for creasing and then cutting wallpaper when trimming soft wet papers that may tear if cut with a snap-off knife. (Fig 3)

d) Retractable Window scrapers, and spare single and double sided razor blade refills, used for scraping paint and dirt from glass, both before, and after decorating. (Fig 4)

5) To provide some idea to the committee of the immediate financial effect the OWB Sect.15 would have on our sales, we took a snapshot of orders placed over five consecutive working days at the start of this month (July 2018). From these orders, we then selected a subset of orders containing only the bladed products described above.

NON-BUSINESS ORDERS DELIVERED TO A RESIDENTIAL ADDRESS (N=15, Value inc VAT=£868.15)

BUSINESS ORDERS DELIVERED TO A RESIDENTIAL ADDRESS (N=14, Value inc VAT=£1053.26)

BUSINESS ORDERS DELIVERED TO A BUSINESS ADDRESS (N=8, Value inc VAT=£620.11)

TOTAL ORDERS DELIVERED ABOVE (N=37, Value inc VAT=2541.52)

Although the sales value of the "Bladed Products" themselves is quite small, they are an important, indeed often vital component of many DIY/Home Decorating projects. Our inability to supply this "Bladed" component of an order, together with the balance of the customers other ordered items for delivery to their residential address, will inevitably undermine our " ...complete solution... " business model as described in our introduction above.

6) We feel that Sections 15, 16 & 17 of the OWB as it is currently written, provide a very attractive soft monopoly to incumbent bricks'n'mortar retailers (i.e. B&Q, Wickes, Toolstation, Screwfix, B&M etc.,), over the supply of essential sharp tools for the DIY/home-decorating/Crafts sectors to the general public. And, that this soft monopoly unfairly disadvantages smaller online retailers such as Decorating Direct, who operate in these sectors. We feel this legislation would drive British DIY'ers who needed to buy a 'sharp' tool for use on a home decorating project, to travel into these competitors stores, rather than opting for collection. This is because the general public would be denied the supply of bladed products delivered to their home, so they would need to travel to a collection point anyway, and any price advantage from buying online from Decorating Direct for a collection-only service, would be absorbed, due to the increased cost of delivery we would have to charge for the use of a third-party collection point - such as the Post Office. Of course, once the customer has made the trip, and is within our competitors store, they may as well buy any other DIY items they need for their project at the same time.

7) Over the longer term, we feel this legislation may have a more detrimental effect on our business. It may begin to change the general public's DIY shopping habits, by forcing them to alter their behaviour to visit bricks'n'mortar retailers more regularly, to buy essential DIY Bladed Products, such as the odd pack of snap-off blades etc.

8) In our view it would be very strange for Decorating Direct to be able to continue to supply customers at non-business residential addresses with, for example, cartons of wallpaper and buckets of paste for hanging wallpaper, but not be able to supply them with the knife or scissors to cut the paper! Or, to no longer to be able to supply our existing retail customers, and boat owners of over 17 years, with our unique branded Fosbide tungsten carbide scraper replaceable blades, which fit the specialist scraper we previously sold them to help strip the Gelcoat from the fibreglass hull of their boat? These customers are law abiding British Citizens, often middle aged or retired, living in more rural areas with poor product distribution, and they wish us to continue supplying them with DIY tools and sundries etc. delivered directly to their home, often for the repair or decoration of that same property. We wish for the same thing.

9) Many of Decorating Direct's customers are small painting and decorating contractors, or itinerant handy-persons who "carry on a business" from their own home. These are generally sole traders. Many of them obtain work only through recommendation and word of mouth - they don't advertise, other than a leaflet through the letterbox, or a sign written van. Because of their small size, their main source of work comes from the general public, redecorating the interior and exterior of the general public's homes. These customers order sporadically, and infrequently. They often wish to have their orders delivered to the address at which they are working (their clients residential home) for a variety of reasons which include: a) they need the items quickly (the next day); b) there is no-one at their own home to accept the order; c) it saves travelling expense, and lost travelling time from their job. In short, getting goods delivered to where they are working makes them more productive.

In our sector at least, we therefore think it would be difficult in practice, to robustly identify those who claim to be 'carrying on a business' at their own residential address, from those who are working at a clients residential address, from residential addresses of the general public themselves. In any case, and partly for these reasons, we have no practical way to automatically, and robustly identify whether a supply address is residential or not. Currently, we can manually look at photographs on Google Street maps, to identify whether an address looks like an office, or an industrial unit, or a high street shop. But even if we can rule these out, say, because Street Maps shows a house with a drive and a front garden, we can't say for sure whether somebody is, or is not, carrying on a business at that residential address. The time taken to manually process orders in this way would also be prohibitively expensive, and as pointed out, inaccurate.

10) Ironically, it is arguable that it is online retailers like ourselves, (and not traditional bricks'n'mortar retailers), who know with more certainty where these "bladed products" have been sent, or to whom they have been sold to. We have a record of every single address, and because we only operate online, our theft from shoplifting is zero. Compare our zero figure from shoplifting, with the figure from Bricks'n'Mortar retailers? As the writer of this submission, and an ex-manager at B&Q, I can tell you that the stock loss from shoplifting is enormous. In one year at a smaller B&Q branch where I worked, the stock loss identified at stocktake was over £80,000, much of the loss being smaller items that could easily be secreted away on a shoplifters person, or thrown over the fence from the stores outdoor garden centre. I'm no expert, but I dare say that there is some overlap between those people who are willing to carry, or use knives, and those people who are willing to shoplift. How does "Challenge 25" stop underage access to "Bladed Products" if the person never declared the product at the stores checkout? How does "Challenge 25" help prevent underage access to a Bladed Product once it has left the store, and/or has arrived at a residential address?

11) OWB Section 16 has already been amended in response to earlier consultations on the bill in 2017. These new amendments in Sect. 16 provide a defence for some online suppliers, allowing them to continue supplying "bladed products" to non-business residential addresses. However, unlike the bladed products used for DIY/home decorating/Crafts, these exemptions have been given for bladed products which are specifically designed to inflict injury. Whereas DIY/Home-decorating/Craft 'bladed products' are not designed to inflict injury. Some examples of "bladed products" which would continue to be supplied to non-business residential addresses using the exemptions in OWB sect.16 are: Non-sport hand-made Bowie knives; Non-sport customised/modified throwing knives, axes, and tomahawks (KATTA UK); Samurai Swords; Kendo Swords (Martial Arts); Sabres, Foils, Epees, (Fencing Swords); And all combat knives, as used in International knife fighting sports.

12) The exemptions given in OWB Section 16 which allow the supply of the most dangerous bladed products to non-business residential address make very little sense to us, if, suppliers of DIY/home-decorating/craft bladed products are not also provided with the same exemption from Sect. 15.

Conclusion

13) We would ask the committee to amend section 16 of the OWB, with the effect that it allows Decorating Direct to continue to supply Bladed Products designed/intended for use in the DIY/Home Decorating/Crafts sector, to the general public at their residential addresses.

14) Further, even if that amendment is agreed to by the committee, we think it's arguable that Sections 15, 16 and 17 are in any case defunct, and should probably be removed completely from the bill, due to the points 3-12, made above, and in particular points 11 and 12.

10 July 2018

 

Prepared 17th July 2018