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The Offensive Weapons Bill 2017-19 was introduced on 20 June 2018.  Accompanying Explanatory Notes and an Impact Assessment have also been published.

The Bill’s territorial extent is complex, as the Bill covers a mixture of reserved and devolved policy matters.  Annex A to the Explanatory Notes provides a useful clause-by-clause analysis of the Bill’s territorial extent, and whether a legislative consent motion will be required.

The Bill covers three types of weapon – acid, knives and offensive weapons, and firearms – and is the Government’s legislative response to a Home Office consultation that ran between October and December 2017.

The key changes that the Bill (as introduced) would make are as follows:

  • a new offence of possessing a corrosive substance in a public place;
  • a new offence of selling certain harmful corrosive products to under18s;
  • new restrictions on online sales of bladed articles and corrosive products, including restrictions on deliveries to residential premises;
  • a new offence of possessing certain offensive weapons in private (the weapons concerned are already subject to restrictions on their sale, manufacture and importation); and
  • reclassifying certain firearms as “prohibited weapons” under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968.

Lords amendments

The Commons is due to consider Lords amendments on 26 March 2019.  The Bill was subject to a number of amendments in the Lords, including one Government defeat.  The most significant areas of change include:

  • amendments successfully moved by Lord Kennedy of Southwark (resisted by the Government but approved on division by 234 votes to 213) to introduce a “trusted courier” exemption for the delivery of knives to residential addresses;
  • Government amendments to add new “knife crime prevention orders” to the Bill; and
  • amendments moved by Earl Attlee, with Government and Opposition support, requiring the Secretary of State to consult on and bring forward regulations to specify the safety conditions under which owners of certain high-powered rifles must keep their weapons.

A summary of the main Lords amendments is set out in section 4.4 of this Briefing Paper.  Minor and consequential amendments have not been covered.  Explanatory Notes are available.

Progress of the Bill through Parliament

The Bill received its Commons Second Reading on 27 June 2018. Its Commons Committee Stage was completed in ten sittings between July and September 2018.  No significant changes were made to the Bill during its Committee stage.

Commons Report and Third Reading took place on 28 November 2018 (having been postponed twice).  The most significant development at Report Stage, following concerns raised by a number of backbenchers, was Government amendments to remove the Bill’s provisions that would have prohibited certain high-powered rifles. The Government also committed to consult on “firearm safety”.  The Government said that this consultation would look again at the issue of prohibiting high-powered rifles as well as the other concerns relating to firearms raised during the passage of the Bill. 

The Bill passed through the House of Lords between 29 November and 19 March 2019. Substantial changes were made to many aspects of the Bill.

There was one Government defeat, involving amendments moved by Lord Kennedy of Southwark (resisted by the Government but approved on division by 234 votes to 213) to introduce a “trusted courier” exemption for the delivery of knives to residential addresses.

There was also significant debate on new Government amendments, which were agreed, that added new “knife crime prevention orders” to the Bill.

The issue of prohibiting high-powered rifles was returned to during the Lords stages. Amendments moved by Earl Attlee, supported by the Government, have added a requirement on the Secretary of State to consult on and bring forward secondary legislation to specify how licence holders of high-powered rifles must safely store their weapons. The Government spokesman Earl Howe indicated that the consultation previously committed to on ‘firearms safety’ would now also consider the secondary legislation that would be required under the Bill.

Help for Members of Parliament and their staff

In addition to writing and updating published papers as bills go through Parliament, the House of Commons Library can assist Members of Parliament and their staff with individual enquiries about bills, particularly on the policy background. 

The Public Bill Office (PBO) supports public bill committees. The staff working in the PBO can advise Members of Parliament on tabling amendments to bills and on the drafting of Private Members’ Bills.

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