The UK Government has been accused of failing the memory of tragic Aberdeen teenager Bailey Gwynne over delays to new knife laws.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said it would be an “utter disgrace” if it was true that the Offensive Weapons Bill had been held up in Westminster because the Conservatives were scared of a defeat by Brexit rebels.
He claimed the decision to postpone a debate on the draft law did “not do justice to the memory of Bailey Gwynne”.
The legislation is designed to prevent such tragedies by placing new restrictions on ordering knives online, including tighter rules on deliveries of the weapons to homes.
Bailey was stabbed to death when he was 16 by a fellow Cults Academy pupil in 2015, with the knife used having been bought online.
Last week, MPs were due to consider the Offensive Weapons Bill but the debate was delayed just three hours before it was due to start amid reports backbench Tories, who were concerned about a proposed ban on “high energy” rifles, could flex their muscles and deliver a symbolic, Brexit-linked victory over the government on the issue.
UK ministers insisted the rescheduling was due to time taken up by Theresa May’s Brexit update, but Labour MPs claimed that government whips had stepped in fearing a defeat.
The debate was moved to Monday this week but was delayed again because of the high number of urgent questions and statements in the Commons.
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Giving evidence to Holyrood’s justice committee yesterday, Mr Yousaf criticised the hold-ups to the legislation, which would create a UK-wide framework because it covers a “complex mix of devolved and reserved” issues.
Despite Holyrood and Westminster having worked “very collaboratively” on the plans, the SNP minister said: “If what is being reported is true then it is frankly a disgrace that the reason that this legislation is being postponed is that it might make life difficult for the UK Government because of the Tory rebels around the Brexit issue might just look to cause a defeat for the UK Government.
“If that – which is being reported – is true, then it is an utter disgrace.
“We have a particular interest in Scotland in this legislation. Every single member around this table will remember the tragic case of Bailey Gwynne.
“And of course this legislation looks to put further enforcement in place to prevent that kind of situation from happening again, when it comes to the sale of knives online, purchased online, and no longer being delivered to somebody’s house, but actually they having to collect it, show ID, further enforcement of who is picking up that weapon.
“Frankly, the fact that this legislation could be delayed because of politics and party politics, really it does not do justice to the memory of Bailey Gwynne.”
Mr Yousaf vowed to write to the UK Government over the “extremely worrying” issue.
Asked about the delay, a UK Government spokeswoman highlighted last week’s social media post by Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, which said: “Due to today’s urgent oral statements, the remaining stages of the Offensive Weapons Bill will be rescheduled at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Understanding the Offensive Weapons Bill
Introduced at Westminster in June, the Offensive Weapons Bill will make it harder for young people to buy knives and acid online.
Sellers will require rigorous age verification to prove those purchasing knives or corrosives are over 18, and could be left liable for prosecution if they fail to do so.
The Bill will also ban possession of weapons such as “zombie knives”, “knuckle dusters” and “death stars” both in public and private.
Unveiling the draft legislation, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The Bill forms part of the government’s response to the recent rise in serious violence, set out in the £40million serious violence strategy, which places a new focus on early intervention alongside robust law enforcement.”
It will create new offences for possessing a corrosive substance in a public place and selling certain harmful acids to under-18s, and introduce new restrictions on online sales of blades and corrosive products, including restrictions on deliveries to residential premises.
It is a UK Government Bill, but has been developed closely with the Scottish Government for areas that extend to Scotland.
For the areas of the Bill that are devolved, the Scottish Government will promote a legislative consent motion in Holyrood to seek consent for Westminster to legislative on devolved matters.