HL Deb 21 June 2002 vol 636 cc1033-4

2.7 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th May be approved [30th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in 1988, the Criminal Justice Act introduced a power to ban the manufacture, sale and import of 14 specific offensive weapons, including butterfly knives, swordsticks and a range of martial arts equipment—all considered to be wholly unacceptable and without legitimate use.

When this list of offensive weapons was devised, it was not, I understand, intended to be definitive and there was an acceptance that further items, equally unacceptable, might be added to the list. On the basis that we accept that some weapons have no conceivable legitimate purpose, we are moving today to add the category of disguised knives to the schedule of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order.

The existence of disguised knives was first brought to our attention by the Chief Executive of the British Airports Authority. He pointed out to us a headline article in a Sunday paper, "Knife Terror on BA Jet", which described how a journalist made a return journey from London Heathrow. That person escaped detection while carrying three disguised knives, including a three-inch stiletto blade hidden within a ballpoint pen.

While I would not condone the action of this journalist, it brought home the threat of disguised knives deliberately manufactured to look like an everyday object someone would normally carry with them—such as pens, combs, brushes, telephones, lighters—and which is designed to be easily portable and concealable.

In his letter, the Chief Executive of the BAA called upon us to take urgent action to prevent the sale and supply of disguised knives, currently available without restriction in shops or on the Internet.

We share this concern. Disguised knives are unacceptable. I can see no legitimate reason why any individual would wish to carry a comb with a four-inch blade deliberately concealed within its handle, other than to evade detection and use it as a weapon. I do not mean the common penknife or sporting knife, but knives that tell a lie about themselves—knives manufactured to look like an everyday object and which hide their deadly potential.

Legislation exists to deal with the possession of these items in public but there is nothing to stop their manufacture, sale or import. This is not acceptable and the ease with which these items can be bought makes it of the utmost importance that we take action and reduce the number of disguised knives in circulation. This will make our airports and airlines safer, not least in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Centre.

The most effective means of stopping supply is by adding the category of disguised knife to the Offensive Weapons Order 1988 which will make it an offence to manufacture, sell, hire or lend or give away these dangerous items. Police and customs will have the powers they need to take action.

We view airline and airport safety as a matter of priority and, as we wish to deal with disguised knives quickly, we have not consulted widely over this issue but have worked closely with other government departments, the police and customs to move this forward. I am pleased to say that the Scottish Parliament introduced a parallel measure yesterday.

All our minds have been focused on airport and airline security following attacks on the World Trade Centre. The New York State Senate recognised earlier this year the threat of disguised knives and, as one of its Senators rightly said, given the lessons of September 11th, we cannot afford to overlook the threat to security that disguised knives present.

Prohibiting the sale, manufacture and import of disguised knives is a matter of public safety. It. is the most effective measure we could take to stop their supply and make it more difficult to get hold of these. Action is a matter of priority. I urge your Lordships to support this measure. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th May be approved. [30th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, this seems an eminently sensible order and we are happy to support it.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, this type of weapon might, in a more innocent age, have been described almost as a novelty. However, in the world of post September 11th, there is no element of novelty about these weapons. The whole world is aware of the apparently innocuous weapons used to hold up passengers and crew of at least one of the aircraft involved in that terrible day.

My wife is an expert at having her nail scissors discovered in her hand baggage. If she is lucky, she is given a chance to post them back to herself. If unlucky, she never sees them again.

These knives are apparently designed with the express purpose of being disguised and undetectable, either to the eye or, more significantly, to airport X-ray scanners. They can have no legitimate purpose and as such it is undesirable that they should be available for purchase or carriage in public.

The order will appear to have the secondary advantage of assisting in raising levels of security in other public places, such as football grounds, clubs and courts of law. We certainly support this order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.