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Knife Crime

Volume 459: debated on Monday 30 April 2007

The Government fully recognise the importance of tackling knife crime. This is a complex issue and we are using a variety of measures, encompassing legislation, enforcement, education and prevention, to address it. Those measures form part of the Home Office action plan on guns, knives and gangs, which is being taken forward through the Home Secretary’s round table.

The recent spate of knife crimes, including those that claimed the lives of two young men in my constituency, might not be an indication of a worsening trend overall, but that is not how it feels on the street. A recent poll found that one in three Londoners thought that knife crime had reached an all-time high. Does my hon. Friend accept that perception is as important as actuality, particularly when it comes to discouraging young people from carrying knives for the purpose, as they see it, of defending themselves? What steps will he take to support the voluntary and community organisations, such as Working with Men, which deal with young people who carry weapons to defend themselves?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is important to get the facts out about knife crime. Without being complacent or underestimating people’s very real fear of knife crime, and given that knives are generally available, the British crime survey reports that only 6 to 7 per cent. of violent crime is knife-related. That figure has remained relatively stable for several years; in 1997, the figure was 5 per cent. However, we need to address the problem of knife crime, and we shall do so using a variety of measures, including tough enforcement of the law, increased police powers and, as my hon. Friend says, working with community organisations to try to address the fear of crime. We have done that through organisations such as the Damilola Taylor Trust and the Boyhood to Manhood initiative, and we are working through the Connected Fund to support more community organisations in getting across the message that knives are dangerous. We are doing all that we can to reassure communities.

In the areas of London where knives are routinely carried, the police could use section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to carry out random stop-searches. Will the Minister tell us why that is not being done, and whether it is a priority for him that it should be done?

It is being done when appropriate and when the police consider it necessary. The hon. Gentleman will also know that we have recently increased the sentence available to the courts for simple possession from two to four years. Knife crime is a problem that we need to address through tough enforcement of the law, through giving the police more powers and through working with communities to try to prevent young people from carrying knives in the first place.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the violent gang culture that generates knife crime also generates the gun crime that we see on the streets of my constituency? As well as ensuring that we have effective policing and the right sentence tariff, the Government need to do more to deal with family breakdown and educational under-achievement, which are partly at the root of the issue.

Of course we need to address the problems that my hon. Friend has mentioned. The Government are considering whether to make membership of a gang an aggravating factor in relation to sentencing. It is clearly a worry for us all that some young people seem to give more credence to the values of their gang than to the values of society in general. We will tackle that problem through a variety of means including increasing police powers and supporting communities. A recent community initiative that I have looked at is the Boyhood to Manhood initiative, which tries to give young black people, in particular, positive role models.

Given the Minister’s earlier comments, he recognises that effective enforcement to stop knives getting into the hands of young people is an essential part of the fight against violent crime. Yet in 2005, the last year for which figures are available, just 19 people were convicted of selling knives or blades to youngsters under 16. What commitment can the Minister give to address the failure in enforcement and to make it clear that there is no knife amnesty for selling blades to those who are under age?

The clearest indication of the fact that the Government take knife crime extremely seriously is the increase in the sentence for possession from two to four years, which we expect to be enforced. The sentence given to anyone charged with that offence and brought before the courts is a matter for the courts. Let there be no doubt, however, that the Government consider possession to be a serious offence, and expect the courts to act accordingly.

Will the Minister support and welcome the “Knives Ruin Lives” campaign run by my local newspaper, The Shields Gazette? Does he agree that the only way to tackle this blight on our streets is to ensure that anyone convicted of carrying a knife serves a jail sentence?

I am happy to congratulate The Shields Gazette on its “Knives Ruin Lives” campaign in Jarrow and beyond. That is just the sort of community initiative that we need. Of course, it is up to the Government to pass tough laws and see that they are enforced, which is what we want. The community and local media must also take action, however, and we must all work together to show that the knife culture in certain parts of some of our communities is not acceptable, and that we will take steps to deal with it.