The UK government has confirmed an amendment to a new weapons bill going through the Parliament to ensure that it would not impact the right of the British Sikh community to possess and supply kirpans, or religious swords.
The Offensive Weapons Bill 2018 completed its various readings in the House of Commons this week and has now moved to the House of Lords for approval.
It involves a new offence of possessing certain offensive weapons in public and places new restrictions on the online sales of bladed articles and corrosive products in attempt to crackdown on rising knife and acid-related attacks in the country.
“We have engaged closely with the Sikh community on the issue of kirpans. As a result, we have amended the Bill to ensure that the possession and supply of large kirpans for religious reasons can continue,” a UK Home Office spokesperson said on Thursday.
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs led a delegation to the UK Home Office in recent weeks to ensure that the kirpan remains exempt when the new bill becomes law.
“I am pleased to see the government amendment and look forward to seeing an accompanying set of documentation, which reflects the importance of not criminalising the Sikh community for the sale or possession of large kirpans,” said Labour MP Preet Kaur Gill, Chair of the APPG for British Sikhs.
Gill, the first female Sikh MP in the House of Commons, was accompanied by APPG vice-chairs Pat McFadden and Dominic Grieve at a meeting with UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Home Office minister Victoria Atkins to discuss changes to the Offensive Weapons Bill, which would maintain status quo in continuing to legally safeguard the sale, possession and use of large kirpans.
Her fellow Sikh MP, Tan Dhesi, also made an intervention during the Offensive Weapons Bill debate in the Commons to seek “assurances about the kirpan, given the Sikh community’s serious concerns”.
Large kirpans, with blades over 50-cm, are used by the community during religious ceremonies in gurdwaras as well as for ceremonies involving the traditional Sikh Gatka martial art. They would have fallen foul of the new bill on the possession of large blades without the amendment, which has now been agreed.
The Offensive Weapons Bill 2018 is aimed at strengthening existing legislative measures on offensive weapons, focusing on corrosive substances, knives and certain types of firearm. The Bill will give new laws to ban the sale of corrosive substances to anyone under the age of 18, to target people carrying acid, to make it more difficult for anyone under the age of 18 to buy knives online and to ban certain types of firearms.