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On Question, Motion agreed to.

Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cash Searches, Code of Practice) Order 2008

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I beg to move the Motion standing in my noble friend’s name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cash Searches: Code of Practice) Order 2008. 12th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Serious Crime Act 2007 (Amendment of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002) Order 2008

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I beg to move the Motion standing in my noble friend’s name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Serious Crime Act 2007 (Amendment of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002) Order 2008. 12th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment) Order 2008

4.34 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead) rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment) Order 2008.

The noble Lord said: I do not know whether I gained this SI because I was president of the Royal Naval Amateur Fencing Association or because I tend to wear a sword with my No. 1 uniform.

The Criminal Justice Act 1988 introduced an order-making power to ban the manufacture, sale and importation of specified offensive weapons. Currently the offensive weapons order prohibits 17 weapons, including sword sticks, knuckle-dusters, disguised knives and batons. Today, in an effort to further improve public safety, we are seeking to add swords with a curved blade of 50 centimetres or over to the schedule of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order. This will make it an offence to sell, manufacture, hire or import any sword which fits that definition, subject to defences which seek to allow legitimate use of such items. A person would be liable on summary conviction to a maximum term of six months imprisonment and/or a fine.

Violent crime committed with bladed weapons is an ugly and destructive aspect of our society and totally unacceptable. The statistics reflect a far too common view among some that carrying and using bladed weapons is a way of displaying strength and earning respect. Our primary concern is public safety, and restricting the supply of weapons which are being used in violent crime is an important contributor to that.

The Government have been concerned for some time about reports of weapons described as samurai swords being used in violent crime, including murders. Police advice is that the availability of samurai swords makes them the weapon of choice for growing numbers of young men with criminal intentions, and the Association of Chief Police Officers fully supports this ban. We therefore published a consultation document in March 2007 on whether to ban the sale, hire and

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import of samurai swords and other weapons, and announced our intention to proceed with a ban on samurai swords in December 2007.

We have discussed with collectors, martial arts groups, lawyers and law enforcement agencies definitions to capture adequately samurai swords and defences to allow for legitimate uses of such swords. The definition and defences that we have arrived at capture the cheap imitation swords that the Government are most concerned about being used in violent crime while allowing the legitimate use of samurai swords by martial arts groups and collectors. We have also looked to frame the definitions and defences in such a way as to ensure that the ban is enforceable, minimising the need for subjective assessments by law enforcement bodies on what is and is not banned under the order and closing off loopholes which more unscrupulous retailers might use to circumvent the ban.

The definition we have arrived at is,

While such a definition potentially captures swords other than samurai swords, the Government think this is proportionate to ensure that we have a ban which is meaningful and which will have a real impact in reducing the availability of items that have been and can be used in violent crime.

Three gang members involved in violence and drug dealing who murdered a man in Newport with a samurai sword after he stood up to them were given a total of 60 years in jail in 2006. Noble Lords may recall the terrible incident in 2000 in which Nigel Jones—now the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham— the then MP for Cheltenham, was injured and his assistant murdered by a man armed with a samurai sword. Only last month, a young man was jailed for life for murdering his brother with a samurai sword in Lincoln.

Responses to the consultation made a good case for not discriminating against law-abiding citizens who use samurai swords for legitimate purposes. The defences in Article 3 of the order account for collectors of genuine high-value samurai swords of historical and cultural significance.

The defences set out in Articles 4 and 5 of the order provide defences for those people who use samurai swords to partake in historical re-enactments and those engaged with reputable martial arts associations. These defences are in addition to those that apply to Crown functions and those that exist for museums and galleries for all items over 100 years old and for defences in the Violent Crime Reduction Act relating to television, theatre and film productions.

At present, we do not propose to add items other than samurai swords to the offensive weapons order. Arriving at a definition that captures items such as fantasy knives and hunting knives but not knives that have a legitimate use—for example, penknives and domestic knives—has not proved possible in the time available. The Government will however continue to work with law enforcement and local communities to keep offensive weapons policy under review.

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The Government are determined to do everything they can to tackle the menace of violent crime and we have a strategy, overseen by the Prime Minister, to achieve that. We are taking action on a number of fronts: new legislation, increased penalties, holding a national knife amnesty in 2006, tough enforcement operations by police to detect those carrying knives, and support for community organisations working with young people. Banning samurai swords is not, in itself, the answer to tackling violent crime, as a number of people opposing the ban in our consultation correctly pointed out. However, it is a small but important part of our strategy.

Although legislation is already in place making it illegal to carry offensive weapons and most knives in public, there is nothing to stop any individual of 18 or over walking into a shop and getting hold of these dangerous weapons, which have been used in a number of murders and violent attacks in recent years. That is unacceptable. We need to cut off the supply of samurai swords and prevent them getting into the wrong hands, but we should allow for their legitimate use without compromising the effectiveness of any ban. That is what the order seeks to achieve and I urge noble Lords to support it. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment) Order 2008. 12thReport from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord West of Spithead.)

Baroness Hanham: Up until the day before yesterday I would have thanked the noble Lord and said that I had no questions to ask. However, on that day I received a briefing from an organisation called the Early Medieval Alliance. It raised a number of apposite questions which I should like to put to the Minister. I make it quite clear that we fully understand the rationale behind the order and are basically supportive of it, but these areas would benefit from being clarified.

The Early Medieval Alliance has put to us that the order will not ban all samurai swords, as Japanese-style, straight-bladed swords will still be legal; that it will not ban Japanese-style swords under 50 centimetres, which I believe are sometimes called ninja swords; and that it will not deal—the Minister touched on this—with cheap, fantasy-type swords. Therefore, it looks as though three fairly large areas will not be covered.

The definition of “third party insurance” in this order is not as comprehensive or as correct as the definition in the measures in the imitation firearm section of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. That Act also refers to liability insurance but the definition there is considered better and more appropriate than the one in the order.

Were sword manufacturers consulted during the consultation process? Can the Minister say with confidence that the order will do what is intended and that the definition of “samurai swords” is sufficient to ensure that all similar weapons will be banned? If it is found that it does not cover the full gambit of such weapons, will the order be revisited? Does the

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Minister agree that it will still be worth while for the Home Office to have discussions with those involved in the manufacture and use of these swords for historical re-enactment and historical martial arts to ensure that the effects are as anticipated and that they do not go counter to what is intended and hold up any historical re-enactments that might be envisaged?

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: On these Benches the order is particularly poignant. I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning the attack on my noble friend Lord Jones of Cheltenham, who, at the time, was an MP. Of course, our party lost a particularly hardworking researcher, with all the trauma that that brought for the family and friends involved. We are happy to see this order brought forward on to the statute book and support it.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister. First, he mentioned the valid defences of theatrical events and filming. I did not see that in print in the order; perhaps I have missed something.

Secondly, besides samurai swords, which are a distinct category—the Minister explained how it is defined—there are other weapons from other places. For example, Indonesia has a very similar weapon known as a kris, which is very long, has wavy edges and is lethal. Why have the Government chosen to be so specific about this? I presume it is just because samurai swords have become the weapon of choice for a particularly violent and unpleasant cult style of killing.

We support the order. I do not want to go into wider issues now, but knife crime concerns Members from all Benches. At some point, it would be interesting to have a debate in which the Minister can update us on the success that the police are having in tackling knife crime and on some of the initiatives, such as mobile arches to search individuals in areas with particularly high levels of knife crime. This is an area fraught with difficulty. In the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, the Government brought forward provisions on the possession of extreme, violent pornography. Extreme violence on its own, without the pornographic element, should also concern us.

Earl Attlee: I agree with everything that has been said by noble Lords, but I am curious about the curved blade. I am slightly anxious that it would be possible to import a batch of swords with straight blades, which would fall outside the provisions, and then, by a simple and well understood engineering process—putting them through a roller—cause the blades to bend. I do not understand why all long blades are not banned. I can foresee people importing straight blades and making them curved.

Lord West of Spithead: I thank noble Lords for those valid points. I hope I will be able to answer them all, and I appreciate the views. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, mentioned, correctly, that the definition does not pick up cheap ninja swords, which are straight, and that it touches slightly on krises. I

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remember reading about krises in the Wizard years ago in a story about a chap in Borneo. They are unpleasant, sharp, double-sided knives. In my initial speech, I tried to put across that the intention is to try to pick on ninja swords, which are very attractive to some young people. They watch films such as “Kill Bill” and think it is frightfully clever to have them to show off with. That touches on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about the pornography of violence. There are violent films with such swords, and some young people think it is very clever to have them. My initial position is that people kill people, not the things they have, but there are people for whom such swords make a difference to their ability to kill, so it is right that we try to constrain them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, was right about straight swords, but we felt it was too difficult to get a definition that would not mean that we would have a problem with buying a set of Sabatier knives. It is difficult to differentiate between them when laying down rules. We are still looking at this and, if we can come up with a definition that is properly enforceable, we intend to outlaw straight swords as well, but it is proving extremely difficult to do so. We keep offensive weapons policy under review all the time. I mentioned the large number of identified weapons in the order, but noble Lords identified a number of weapons that are just as unpleasant on which we cannot produce an enforceable definition at the moment as it is too tricky.

The noble Earl made a point about bending sword blades, and he is right that that can be done. We shall have to keep looking at this, and perhaps at some time in the future we shall say that any blade over 50 centimetres—which is long—should be banned. At the moment, it is difficult to do that.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 4.49 to 4.59 pm.]

Lord West of Spithead: I shall say a little more about bending a straight-bladed sword. That would fall under this legislation because it is manufacture. Once the person concerned curves the sword, it would constitute manufacture of a weapon of more than 50 centimetres in length. However, we need to think about the noble Lord’s broader point about straight swords of more than 50 centimetres. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, raised it as well. These matters are under constant review.

We will consult on historical re-enactment; it is currently a defence to use such weapons for historical re-enactments. I have not come across historical re-enactments with samurai swords, but one obviously does with others. It is clear that any of the curved-type cavalry swords would fall into that category, for example. We will review that.

I think that I have covered all the key points. The main aim of the order is to make communities safer. I reiterate the sad fact that it is people who kill people, but I am afraid that they get egged on by their weapons, which are meant to be very exciting for them—partly because of the opportunities they have in their lives—but are extremely dangerous to others. It therefore makes great sense to withdraw and keep

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out of their clutches weapons that make it easy to kill someone. Samurai swords fall within that category. The order is about making communities safer—I know that all of us agree with that—but, equally, it is about letting law-abiding people in this country do things which they have done over generations, such as collecting and re-enactments. The order will allow that to happen, and I commend it to the Committee.

Baroness Hanham: The Minister spoke about legitimate actions. I touched briefly on third-party insurance. I confess that I have not looked at how the previous Act differs from this one, but since it has been touched upon by people who undertake medieval alliance-type activities, it might be worth somebody checking the difference and what the implications might be. If necessary, I can put them in touch with the person who got in touch with me.

Lord West of Spithead: The noble Baroness is right: I failed to answer that question. The definition of “third parties” is the same as that used in the context of realistic imitation firearms. We are therefore following the precedent of what is a working defence. I do not know whether that answer is enough or the noble Baroness feels that we need to get in touch with the people to whom she referred.

Baroness Hanham: It might be helpful.

Lord West of Spithead: In that case, we will make sure that that is done.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Rail Vehicle Accessibility (B2007 Vehicles) Exemption Order 2008

5.03 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Rail Vehicle Accessibility (B2007 Vehicles) Exemption Order 2008.

The noble Lord said: The provision of an accessible public transport system in which disabled people can have the same opportunities to travel as other members of society is a key factor in improving the life chances of disabled people and promoting social inclusion. Without accessible transport, those who are disabled are limited in their ability to access work, visit friends and family, participate in leisure, or access healthcare and education facilities. That is why we have taken strong action to ensure that public transport services are increasingly accessible to the estimated 11 million disabled people in the United Kingdom.

Regulations requiring all new rail vehicles, buses and coaches to be accessible have already been introduced. There are already around 4,700 accessible rail vehicles in service which are covered by the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations, widely referred to as the RVAR. We should remember that many thousands of older vehicles have been made more accessible during refurbishment.

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We have strengthened these measures further by setting in the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 a date of 1 January 2020 by which all rail vehicles must be accessible. Another consequence of the Act, introduced at the express wish of your Lordships, is our securing greater scrutiny of applications for exemptions from parts of the RVAR, which is why we are here this afternoon. This is the first request for an exemption for two years.

In the case that we are considering today, the Docklands Light Railway wishes to introduce 55 new vehicles to allow longer trains, extensions to the network and increased frequencies, which will benefit all passengers. The DLR is already one of the most accessible transport networks in the country. Every station has lifts or ramps that allow step-free access to the platform, and there is level access between the platform and the train. However, because the DLR was opened before we introduced rail accessibility legislation, it has some constraints which prevent the new vehicles complying fully with the regulations. These relate to the train control and signalling system and the gap between platforms and trains at some, although not all, stations.

These new vehicles also include some features that are not currently permitted under the regulations. These features are based on the experience of operators and passengers since the regulations were introduced in 1998, and I give notice that we intend to bring forward a revised version of the RVAR later this year that would incorporate these improvements.

The order will result in significant improvements for all passengers. It enjoys the full support of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee—the Government’s statutory advisory body on the transport needs of disabled people—Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate and Members in the other place. For those reasons, I commend it to the Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Rail Vehicle Accessibility (B2007 Vehicles) Exemption Order 2008. 10th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

Earl Attlee: I am grateful for the Minister’s careful explanation of this order. I have no difficulty with it but it is right that we have a relatively high hurdle to clear, to ensure that the industry and officials do not quickly reach for an exemption order without having exhausted all possible alternatives.

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