Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by Jonathan Watson (OWB84)

1. I am a private, retired, individual. I am a part time luthier constructing stringed instruments. To this end I use bladed products extensively; some are manual and some are power tools.

2. I also import equipment and tools, mainly, but not exclusively, from the USA. I import reluctantly since shipping costs are higher, VAT is applied on entry to the EU and US measurements and screw threads are not European norms. I import because specific items are simply not available nationally.

3. My objection to the Offensive Weapons Bill relates to Article 15, specifically the restriction on delivery of bladed products to residential addresses. I do not believe that this restriction will stop knives falling into the wrong hands; those that want them will simply take them from their own kitchen or acquire them from Tesco. I believe that the interests of the wider public are best served by deleting this Article in its entirety.

4. I also believe that the Bill's definition of bladed product is badly drawn. The existing wording also begs the question of sharpening blunt products.

Summary

5. From reading the Bill and its associated discussions I have seen no evidence that preventing the delivery of bladed products to residential addresses will achieve a reduction in knife crime. It is unlikely to prevent knives falling to the wrong hands while at the same time inconveniencing (sometimes severely) law abiding members of the public.

6. Forcing consumers and small businesses to collect their bladed products from a collection point will be an inconvenience in urban areas. However in rural areas (and particularly so for disabled consumers) the level of inconvenience will be significantly greater. This is evident in the mapped responses to the Article 15 Petition where the level of response is higher in rural areas. http://petitionmap.unboxedconsulting.com/?petition=222776)

7. The restriction on residential addresses brings with it significant risk of unintended consequences. While it is possible for a supplier or delivery company to verify the age of a consumer (at a price, the process is non-trivial) it is not possible to verify that a residential address is (or is not) a small business address; there is simply no applicable data set that can be examined.

8. The problem is exacerbated by deliveries from outside the UK, in these instances the delivery business assumes the entire risk for mis-labelled or mis-addressed product. Legitimate delivery businesses are likely to address this issues in different ways, all of which will cost and/or inconvenience both the consumer and the supplier.

9. Currently a court will decide if a consumer has good reason to carry a knife or a weapon if they are charged with carrying it illegally. The list of four good reasons for carrying a bladed product in a public place (https://www.gov.uk/buying-carrying-knives) do not include collecting it from a collection point (or, indeed, a shop). Why should a law abiding citizen run the risk of having to prove legitimate ownership?

Bladed Products

10. The Bill's definition of "bladed product" is an article which:

(a) is or has a blade, and

(b) is capable of causing a serious injury to a person which involves cutting that person’s skin.

11. Clearly this definition covers offensive knives. But it also covers e.g. chef's knives, Stanley and scalpel blades, chainsaws, lawnmower blades, planes, gouges and chisels, liquidisers, scissors, secateurs, axes large and small, drill and router bits and cabinet scrapers. These are not instruments of violence; they are the stock in trade of the chef, model maker, woodworker, luthier, gardener and dressmaker amongst many other law abiding citizens.

12. The existing definition is deficient in several areas. It is drawn too wide as noted above. But it also excludes un-bladed pointed instruments which can equally be used for violence. Furthermore even a butter knife can be sharpened and/or pointed. Should grinders and sharpening stones also be restricted?

Online shopping

13. The Bill makes the implicit assumption that online products that cannot be delivered to residential premises can instead be either purchased face to face in a local shop or collected from a defined collection point.

14. Shopping face to face is only viable in an urban environment. However it cannot substitute for the convenience of shopping out of hours, for the ability to compare prices from a variety of suppliers and for the ability to order specialist products with limited availability, either nationally or internationally.

15. Collection from a defined delivery point is less viable in rural areas and/or for those with limited mobility.

Residential addresses

16. The Bill assumes that residential and business addresses are, in the main, clearly defined and separate. This is simply not the case. Larger businesses do order products on-line but business to business traffic (B2B) accounts for only about 33% of parcel deliveries. (http://www.ftc2050.com/reports/westminster_parcels_final_Dec_2016.pdf)

17. The majority of the approximately 2 billion parcel deliveries per annum are to residential addresses. The delivery companies (perhaps 11,000 of them but only the largest 20 or so operate nationally) have no way of knowing whether a business operates from a residential address; there is no requirement to differentiate between the two either to HMRC or Companies House. Moreover the realities of physical delivery mean that individual drivers are not able to spend more time on a delivery than simply obtaining a signature.

18. Some small businesses operate from home but many do not. They operate from a shed or lockup in which tools and equipment are kept. Typically these locales have no need of delivery facilities or even a phone when a mobile suffices. Goods bought on-line are delivered to a home address; it is where the credit card is registered and there is usually someone there to take deliveries.

Overseas orders

19. Overseas suppliers are not subject to the Bill. Hence the delivery company that picks up the consignment from UK Customs and delivers to the customer runs all the risk of a consignment that has not (whether by accident or design) been correctly described and hence whether it can or cannot be delivered to a residential address. Different delivery companies will mitigate this risk in different ways but all will disadvantage the end customer, either in terms of price or convenience.

20. In the extreme some delivery companies may opt not to deliver overseas consignments. This means that some types of specialist equipment may simply not be available to UK consumers.

July 2018

 

Prepared 23rd July 2018