The NSO is delighted to report the government has approved an amendment to fully protect the kirpan in law.
The Offensive Weapons Bill (OWB) went through its third reading in the House of Lords yesterday in which ‘the legal presentation of a curved sword by a follower of the Sikh religion at a ceremonial event’ was discussed and an amendment to fully protect the kirpan passed unanimously. The opportunity to fully protect the kirpan was regrettably missed in the House of Commons.
Yesterday Minister Baroness Williams said, ‘My Lords, I will now speak to the amendments regarding kirpans, and in doing so express my gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Singh, and my noble friend Lady Verma. They have all been tireless in their promotion of this issue; I hope that the amendments will provide an outcome satisfactory to everyone. In particular, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for his advice and to the organisation Sikhs in Politics, which has engaged positively with officials on the development of these amendments.’
She went on: ‘As noble Lords will recall, we held a round table on the issue of kirpans following the debate on these clauses in Grand Committee. This identified a gap in the current defences in that the cultural practice of gifting large ceremonial kirpans by Sikhs to eminent non-Sikhs was not covered by the “religious reasons” defence. These amendments will therefore create a defence for a person of Sikh faith to present another person with a curved sword in a religious ceremony or other ceremonial event, as covered by Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.’
Lord Singh became aware of the omission referred to by Baroness Williams towards the end of last year. He immediately contacted the Minister before the Bill came to the Lords and, following discussion, raised the issue at the second reading. Because of his standing in the Lords, he received promises of support from all sides of the House.
The Bill then moved to Grand Committee and Lord Singh spoke in detail about the religious significance of the kirpan emphasising that it literally meant ‘protector’ of the weak and vulnerable. Lord Singh briefed Labour, Liberal and others from all sides of the House to say the same. Winding up for Labour, Lord Tunnicliffe remarked that in all his years in parliament, he could never remember such unanimity.
Lord Singh’s speech at the third reading and the full debate can be read here.
The NSO is grateful to our Director Lord Singh, Lord Paddick, Lord Kennedy, Baroness Verma and unanimous support from cross-party peers to see this important amendment pass. We would also like to extend our thanks to Sikhs in Politics for their support.