I wrapped up Labour’s scrutiny of the Government’s flawed Offensive Weapons Bill in Parliament last week.
We should be united in our mission to do everything in our power to bear down on the terrible scourge of knife crime, but we must be wary of taking action for the sake of action. Interventions must be evidence-based, have a clear purpose and fill a gap in the existing legislation.
Instead, the Government hastily introduced new knife crime prevention orders into the Offensive Weapons Bill. The Tories have not allowed time for proper consultation or parliamentary scrutiny of these orders, which would impose criminal sanctions on children as young as 12.
The police already have substantial powers to deal with people suspected of possessing a knife. The issue is, and has been for several years, the ability and capacity of the police to enforce those powers. This Government have taken 21,000 police officers off our streets and, as a result, forces simply do not have the capacity to monitor and implement these new orders effectively.
Furthermore, the Bill ignores much of the key evidence contained in a leaked Home Office report on root causes of serious violence. This report included compelling evidence that violence was, in part, being driven by a cohort of young people shorn of the support, early intervention and prevention work necessary to stop vulnerable people falling into a spiral of serious violence.
In order to combat youth violence effectively, a whole-system, cross-governmental public health approach is required but this is absent from Tory action.
The Bill also failed to ban dangerous high-powered .50 calibre rifles. The Government consulted on the ban on weapons and initially concluded, on the basis of evidence from the most senior counter-terror police in the country, that it was right to ban .50 calibre rifles. However, in response to a Back-Bench rebellion, the Government subsequently removed the ban from the Bill.
With this Bill, the Government has again failed in its duty to keep citizens safe. Much more needs to be done if we are to seriously tackle violent crime that we are witnessing as a result of this Government’s austerity agenda.