Clause 58 — Interveners and costs
Criminal Justice and Courts Bill
2:39 pm

Amendment proposed: 35, page 58, line 2, leave out clause 58.—(Mr Slaughter.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided: Ayes 225, Noes 293.

Division number 7

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Aye

No

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment made: 1, page 61, line 10, leave out clause 62—(Jeremy Wright.)

New Clause 6

“Possessing an offensive weapon or bladed article in public or on school premises: sentencing for second offences for those aged 16 or over

‘(1) The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 1 (Prohibition of the carrying of offensive weapons without lawful authority or reasonable excuse) after subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) Section (2B) applies where—

(a) a person is convicted of an offence under subsection (1) committed after this subsection is commenced;

(b) at the time when the offence was committed, he was 16 or over and had one other conviction under—

(i) subsection (1),

(ii) section (1A); or

(iii) section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988;

(iv) section 139A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988; or

(v) section 139AA of the Criminal Justice Act 1988;

(c) the offence was committed after he had been convicted of the other.

(2B) Where a person aged 16 or over is convicted of an offence under this section, the court must impose an appropriate custodial sentence (with or without a fine) unless the court is of the opinion that there are particular circumstances which—

(a) relate to the offence or to the offender, and

(b) would make it unjust to do so in all the circumstances.

(2C) In this section “appropriate custodial sentence” means—

(a) in the case of a person who is aged 18 or over when convicted, a sentence of imprisonment for a term of at least six months;

(b) in the case of a person who is aged at least 16 but under 18 when convicted, a detention and training order of at least 4 months.

(2D) Where an offence is found to have been committed over a period of two or more days, or at some time during a period of two or more days, it shall be taken for the purposes of this section to have been committed on the last of those days.

(2E) In relation to times before the coming into force of paragraph 180 of Schedule 7 to the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, the reference in subsection (2B)(a) to a sentence of imprisonment, in relation to an offender aged under 21 at the time of conviction, is to be read as a reference to a sentence of detention in a young offender institution.”.

(3) The Criminal Justice Act 1988 is amended as follows.

(4) In section 139 (Offence of having article with blade or point in public place) after subsection (6) insert—

“(6A) Section (6B) applies where—

(a) a person is convicted of an offence under subsection (1) committed after this subsection is commenced;

(b) at the time when the offence was committed, he was 16 or over and had one other conviction under—

(i) subsection (1);

(ii) section 139A;

(iii) section 139AA; or

(iv) sections (1) or (1A) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953;

(c) the offence was committed after he had been convicted of the other.

(6B) Where a person aged 16 or over is convicted of an offence under this section, the court must impose an appropriate custodial sentence (with or without a fine) unless the court is of the opinion that there are particular circumstances which—

(a) relate to the offence or to the offender, and

(b) would make it unjust to do so in all the circumstances.

(6C) In this section “appropriate custodial sentence” means—

(a) in the case of a person who is aged 18 or over when convicted, a sentence of imprisonment for a term of at least 6 months;

(b) in the case of a person who is aged at least 16 but under 18 when convicted, a detention and training order of at least four months.

(6D) Where an offence is found to have been committed over a period of two or more days, or at some time during a period of two or more days, it shall be taken for the purposes of this section to have been committed on the last of those days.

(6E) In relation to times before the coming into force of paragraph 180 of Schedule 7 to the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, the reference in subsection (6B) to a sentence of imprisonment, in relation to an offender aged under 21 at the time of conviction, is to be read as a reference to a sentence of detention in a young offender institution.”

(5) In section 139A (Offence of having article with blade or point (or offensive weapon)) on school premises after subsection (5) insert—

“(5A) Section (5B) applies where—

(a) a person is convicted of an offence under subsection (1) committed after this subsection is commenced;

(b) at the time when the offence was committed, he was 16 or over and had one other conviction under—

(i) subsection (1);

(ii) section 139;

(iii) section 139AA; or

(iv) sections (1) or (1A) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953;

(c) the offence was committed after he had been convicted of the other.

(5B) Where a person aged 16 or over is convicted of an offence under this section, the court must impose an appropriate custodial sentence (with or without a fine) unless the court is of the opinion that there are particular circumstances which—

(a) relate to the offence or to the offender, and

(b) would make it unjust to do so in all the circumstances.

(5C) In this section “appropriate custodial sentence” means—

(a) in the case of a person who is aged 18 or over when convicted, a sentence of imprisonment for a term of at least 6 months;

(b) in the case of a person who is aged at least 16 but under 18 when convicted, a detention and training order of at least four months.

(5D) Where an offence is found to have been committed over a period of two or more days, or at some time during a period of two or more days, it shall be taken for the purposes of this section to have been committed on the last of those days.

(5E) In relation to times before the coming into force of paragraph 180 of Schedule 7 to the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, the reference in subsection (5B) to a sentence of imprisonment, in relation to an offender aged under 21 at the time of conviction, is to be read as a reference to a sentence of detention in a young offender institution.”.”—(Nick de Bois.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle

Lindsay Hoyle (Chairman of Ways and Means; Chorley, Labour)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 7—

“Possessing an offensive weapon or bladed article in public or on school premises: sentencing for second offences for those aged 18 or over

‘(1) The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 1 (Prohibition of the carrying of offensive weapons without lawful authority or reasonable excuse) after subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) Subsection (2B) applies where—

(a) a person is convicted of an offence under subsection (1) committed after this subsection is commenced;

(b) at the time when the offence was committed, he was 18 or over and had one other conviction under—

(i) subsection (1)

(ii) section (1A);

(iii) section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988;

(iv) section 139A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988; or

(v) section 139AA of the Criminal Justice Act 1988;

(c) the offence was committed after he had been convicted of the other.

(2B) Where a person is convicted of an offence under subsection (1) the court must impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of at least 6 months unless the court is of the opinion that there are particular circumstances which—

(a) relate to the offence or to the offender, and

(b) would make it unjust to do so in all the circumstances.

(2C) Where an offence is found to have been committed over a period of two or more days, or at some time during a period of two days or more, it shall be taken for the purposes of this section to have been committed on the last of those days.

(2D) In relation to times before the coming into force of paragraph 180 of Schedule 7 to the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, the reference in subsection (2B) to a sentence of imprisonment in relation to an offender aged under 21 at the time of conviction, is to be read as a reference to a sentence of detention in a young offender institution.”

(3) The Criminal Justice Act 1988 is amended as follows.

(4) In section 139 (Offence of having article with blade or point in public place) after subsection (6) insert—

“(6A) Subsection (6b) applies where—

(a) a person is convicted of an offence under subsection (1) committed after this subsection is commenced;

(b) at the time when the offence was committed, he was 18 or over and had one other conviction under—

(i) subsection (1);

(ii) section 139A;

(iii) section 139AA; or

(iv) sections (1) or (1A) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953;

(c) the offence was committed after he had been convicted of the other.

(6B) Where a person is convicted of an offence under subsection (1) the court must impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of at least 6 months unless the court is of the opinion that there are particular circumstances which—

(a) relate to the offence or to the offender, and

(b) would make it unjust to do so in all the circumstances.

(6C) Where an offence is found to have been committed over a period of two or more days, or at some time during a period of two or more days, it shall be taken for the purposes of this section to have been committed on the last of those days.

(6D) In relation to times before the coming into force of paragraph 180 of Schedule 7 to the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, the reference in subsection (6B) to a sentence of imprisonment, in relation to an offender aged under 21 at the time of conviction, is to be read as a reference to a sentence of detention in a young offender institution.”

(5) In section 139A (Offence of having article with blade or point (or offensive weapon)) on school premises after subsection (5) insert—

“(5A) Section (5B) applies where—

(a) a person is convicted of an offence under subsection (1) committed after this subsection is commenced;

(b) at the time when the offence was committed, he was 18 or over and had one other conviction under—

(i) subsection (1);

(ii) section 139;

(iii) section 139AA; or

(iv) sections (1) or (1A) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953;

(c) the offence was committed after he had been convicted of the other.

(5B) Where a person is convicted of an offence under subsection (1) the court must impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of at least 6 months unless the court is of the opinion that there are particular circumstances which—

(a) relate to the offence or to the offender, and

(b) would make it unjust to do so in all the circumstances.

(5C) Where an offence is found to have been committed over a period of two or more days, or at some time during a period of two or more days, it shall be taken for the purposes of this section to have been committed on the last of those days.

(5D) In relation to times before the coming into force of paragraph 180 of Schedule 7 to the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, the reference in subsection (5B) to a sentence of imprisonment, in relation to an offender aged under 21 at the time of conviction, is to be read as a reference to a sentence of detention in a young offender institution.”.”

Government new clauses 44 to 50.

New clause 34—Criminalising commercial squatting and squatting on land.

‘(1) Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 is amended as follows.

(2) In the heading, after “in”, leave out “a residential building” and insert “buildings and on land”.

(3) In subsection (1)(a) after “a”, leave out “residential”, and after “building”, insert “or on land”.

(4) In subsection (1)(c) after “building”, insert “or on the land”.

(5) In subsection (2) after “building”, add “or land”.

(6) Leave out subsection (3)(b) and insert “Land has the meaning defined in section 205(1)(ix) of the Law of Property Act 1925.

(7) After “building”, insert “or land”.

(8) (a) after “squatting in” leave out “a residential building” and insert “buildings and on land”.”

New clause 35— New form of joint enterprise offence.

‘(1) The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 is amended as follows.

(2) In the italic cross-heading before section 5, leave out all the words after “a” and insert “person”.

(3) In subsection 1(a) leave out “child or vulnerable adult” and insert “person”.

(4) In subsection (1)(a) after “unlawful act of”, leave out to end of the subsection and insert “someone” (“P”), where D was with P at the time of the unlawful act”.

(5) Leave out subsection (1)(b).

(6) Leave out subsection (3).

(7) Leave out subsection (4).

(8) In subsection 6 leave out the definitions of “child” and “vulnerable adult”.”

New clause 36—

“Intentional harassment, alarm or distress

‘(1) Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1)(a) leave out “, abusive or insulting” and insert “or abusive”.

(3) In subsection (1)(b) leave out “, abusive or insulting” and insert “or abusive”.”

Government new schedule 2—Ill-treatment or wilful neglect: excluded health care.

Government amendments 2, 45, 47, 48, 46 and 49

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to new clauses 6 and 7, which set out that adults would face a minimum six-month jail sentence on their second conviction for carrying a knife and that 16 to 18-year-olds would face a mandatory minimum four-month detention and training order if convicted of the same offence.

The new clauses seek to build on the precedent and experience of other mandatory sentencing, including my own amendment introduced into the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill in 2012, where we introduced a mandatory sentence for the new offence of using a knife in a threatening and endangering fashion. Other examples include mandatory sentencing in cases of possession of a firearm.

I pay tribute to my friend and neighbour, my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes, who brought tremendous skill and support, not least from his knowledge and understanding of criminal legal matters, to the discussions and in particular to the co-authoring of the new clause. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support.

Let us look at the background to knife crime in this country. For the first time, knife crime is down—by 4%. In London, including my constituency of Enfield North, fatal stabbings have halved since 2008. In respect of knife crime across the country, real but slow progress is being made. Such is the scale of the challenge, however, that it is important to note some other figures to help paint the picture. Last year there were more than 16,000 instances of someone being caught in possession of a knife and action being taken. Of those, one in four resulted in immediate custody, despite sentencing guidelines. The other three out of four were let off with what many offenders regard as softer options—and I agree—including

3,200 people simply being given a caution or a fine, and 4,500 receiving a community sentence for carrying a knife.

The House should require courts to send a clear and unequivocal message about carrying a knife. If we need more convincing that the message that people should not carry knives is currently weak, we need look no further than the thousands of children who do not regard it as a serious offence. More than 2,500 of those caught in possession of knives last year were aged 10 to 17. Nationally, 13% of offenders under 18 received a custodial sentence, but in London only 7% did, although 43% of all offences throughout England and Wales are committed here in London.

Photo of Tim Loughton

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

I have spent some time among gangs in Birmingham trying to understand gang culture and I support new clause 6. Does my hon. Friend agree that the most worrying thing is that, already in the playgrounds of primary schools, gangs are starting to form as children try to emulate their teenage and older colleagues? A knife is a badge of honour that they see the older kids using, so they think it is acceptable to have a knife too. Such children are getting younger and younger, and that is why the new clause is so important.

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

My hon. Friend touches on the important point that people should not see the carrying of a knife as a badge of honour. We should be looking to create more positive role models. I will touch on the wider issues that will help us to tackle such perceptions, which, in fairness, are not all about sentencing, although sentencing is a crucial element.

Photo of Bob Russell

Bob Russell (Colchester, Liberal Democrat)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the Home Affairs Committee report on knife crime, published in 2008-09, which addressed all the points that he has so far raised?

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

I read many Select Committee reports and I am aware of that one, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that I seek a change in sentencing not in the basis of the offence. Since that report was written, we have not seen any significant improvement in dealing with the knife culture in this country.

Photo of Douglas Carswell

Douglas Carswell (Clacton, Conservative)

Clacton has seen a spate of knife crime in recent months; the new clause will cut knife crime by handing out mandatory prison sentences to those caught carrying knives unlawfully a second time. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is not simply a question of sending a message? This is no mere declaratory legislation. As a result of the new clause, anyone who carries a knife unlawfully will go to prison.

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

My hon. Friend’s message is exactly the one I want to send. However, as I will go on to explain, in the context of some of the Government’s reforms, going to prison for a second offence—let us not forget that it is for a second offence—is not only a punishment but an opportunity to reform and rehabilitate.

Photo of Edward Garnier

Edward Garnier (Harborough, Conservative)

My hon. Friend has obviously done a lot of research. He mentioned at the outset that a large number of defendants convicted of this type of crime had not received a custodial sentence. Has he done any analysis into the facts on which those people were convicted?

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

It is difficult to establish from 16,000 cases exactly what went on, but I was intrigued by the remarks of the Mayor of London, who was most concerned at the high number of people in London committing multiple offences who were still receiving cautions or community service orders, as shown by the report from his office for policing and crime. To answer my hon. and learned Friend’s question, that was far enough for me to go to challenge the imposition of the guidelines, which do require sentencing.

Photo of Greg Knight

Greg Knight (East Yorkshire, Conservative)

My hon. Friend makes a powerful case, and it is difficult to see what grounds there could possibly be for opposing the new clause. Has he received any representations against what he seeks to do?

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

In fairness, the strongest representations have come from our coalition partners, as my right hon. Friend may be aware. However, I have also met representatives of many organisations and groups who have quite simply emerged from the street; they have either lived near, been involved in or had their lives touched by knife crime. My right hon. Friend might be interested in what I have to say about that later.

Photo of Philip Davies

Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

On the point made by my hon. and learned Friend Sir Edward Garnier, I should say that I did do some analysis of court sentences in city centres and more provincial courts. For offences such as this, sentences are likely to be much tougher in provincial courts than in city centre courts. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is probably because the offences are much less likely to come up in provincial courts and are therefore more shocking, and because judges in city centres become immune to the importance of the offences because they happen so often?

3:15 pm
Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

I agree. Sadly, that is particularly true for younger offenders, for whom sentencing in London is half the rate of elsewhere.

Photo of Julian Huppert

Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

The hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way. He carefully avoided the question of my hon. Friend Sir Bob Russell about whether he had had a look at the Home Affairs Committee report on knife crime. I urge him to do so. It is clearly against mandatory sentencing, but it also highlights that evidence suggests that the prospect of a custodial sentence may not deter young people from carrying knives. Does he accept that evidence from many people? Has he seen any evidence to the contrary?

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. In my follow-up paragraph, I deal directly with some people’s interpretation—that the measure will not act as a deterrent. I urge some caution; it is a

little peculiar that the hon. Gentleman’s party voted with such enthusiasm for mandatory sentencing two years ago, but somehow now does not see that as appropriate for existing offences.

I was talking about the shocking number of 2,500 young offenders carrying knives between the ages of 10 and 17, which is why the new clause starts by dealing with mandatory detention and training orders for 16 to 18-year-olds. Make no mistake: I am well aware that people are carrying knives far younger than that, but we have modelled the amendment on the previous amendment that is now part of the Legal Aid and Sentencing of Offenders Act 2012, and allowed us to deal comfortably with the 16 to 18-year-olds. As hon. Members may know, the Lord Chief Justice himself has called for an inquiry into the sentencing of younger offenders, given their prevalence in the courts and the courts’ concern at the number of young offenders under the age of 16. I welcome the commitment to explore that at a future date, and the issue may come back to the House.

Some have argued that sending a signal may not be enough and that potential offenders do not think of the consequences of pocketing a knife—a point made a moment ago. That is entirely possible, but let us not miss the wider point of this sentencing change. For those embarking on a journey that embraces the knife culture, the eventual destination may be serious injury to someone else, or even to the carrier of the knife. It may lead to a person’s death. They may take a life. That journey to destruction, which simply ruins lives, included picking up and carrying a knife for the first time. Quite simply, in the vast majority of cases, to kill someone with a knife, one first has to carry a knife. Our courts are dispensing sentences for possession of a knife in thousands of cases, which offenders treat as little more than an occupational hazard. With nearly 8,000 fines and cautions last year, I suggest that that fuels knife crime and does nothing to halt it.

Others may argue that custodial sentences are more likely to turn an offender into a serial offender. Under the new clause, mandatory sentencing would kick in for a second offence. The new clause targets the second offender, giving them a chance to turn their life around the first time. Being convicted a second time suggests that he or she is well on the road to being a serial offender. We have tabled the new clause in the knowledge that the Government are focusing their efforts on rehabilitation and reform in order to reduce reoffending and to help, not hinder, offenders in turning their lives around. For the first time, therefore, short-term prison terms are being accompanied by probation for those serving under a year, with “through the gates” mentoring and payment by results for reducing reoffending. I hope that that works. If prison can reduce reoffending, all the more power to this new clause so that we have yet another opportunity to turn someone’s life around before they potentially go on to commit a far more serious and grave offence.

I have never pretended to be an expert in this subject, and many in this House will probably be happy to support such a contention. However, I have regularly met people here in the Commons and in my constituency, courtesy of widespread engagement over the social media, in some cases, regarding the merits or otherwise of my new clauses. I have had extensive discussions with representatives of voluntary groups that have usually

emerged as a result of knife crime in their area or through knowing friends or relatives who have been touched by knife crime or gangs. While not all those representatives necessarily agreed with the new clause—I am pleased to say that the majority did—we were united on one thing: that early intervention, education, mentoring, and focusing on reform and rehabilitation are crucial components in tackling the insidious knife crime culture. I put on record my thanks to those who offered so much of their time.

While I am in absolutely no doubt that we are right to focus on sentencing, that will be only part of the solution, not all of it. However, the idea put to me by some that these two approaches are mutually exclusive does not stack up. Indeed, I argue the exact opposite—that they must go hand in hand as part of a wider solution to the problem. I was particularly impressed by the force of the arguments put by the groups I met that reflect their passion and their background. They are self-starter organisations determined to try to move youngsters away from a life of knife crime. I worry that these groups of volunteers are not being used enough by the official channels, often through local government programmes supported by central Government, to help to turn lives around. These groups often operate on the basis of small private donations, or no money at all, and are not sufficiently resourced to bid for projects to help them further expand their work. I think they should be listened to. I realise that this does not speak to the new clause, but it is worth putting on record that they can be a vital part of the wider solution to the knife culture.

Photo of Tim Loughton

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative)

I am following what my hon. Friend is saying very closely. I entirely agree that there has to be a two-pronged approach. I think of organisations such as Lives Not Knives, run by Liza Rebeiro in Croydon, or Young Disciples, with whom I have worked in Birmingham. Does my hon. Friend agree that the message to bring these kids in from the cold is best put across by kids who have been affected—who have themselves been a part of gangs and have seen their friends or family members killed by knives? Kids sit up and listen to them far more, and they can achieve far more than any Government programme or professional.

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

My hon. Friend is as insightful as ever. I would put it more crudely. I do not believe that people like me—a suit—will ever reach these sorts of people as effectively as those from communities that have been touched by knife crime. My concern is that despite this Government’s gang strategy, we are not getting some of the resources needed right down at the bottom end to help to support some of these groups. He names two groups. I have worked with a number of anti-knife crime groups who will never forgive me for forgetting them as I stand here in the pressure of this Chamber. They are exactly the sort of people with whom we should be engaging more positively, and I hope we will do so.

We have listened very carefully to the victims and the victims’ relatives—those left behind after the death of a loved one. I pay particular tribute to my constituent, Yvonne Lawson, who is my inspiration for unapologetically pursuing the knife culture, including through previous amendments in this House and today’s new clauses. The

loss of her son, Godwin, through a senseless and unprovoked attack has seen her witness a cruel journey that few, if any, of us in the Chamber will have experienced. She has devoted a remarkable amount of her time to turning around youngsters’ lives. Through her charity, the Godwin Lawson Foundation, named after her son, she raises awareness of the positive role that sport and education can have in challenging gang culture and the use of weapons as a status symbol. Her message on sentencing is clear and unequivocal: the courts need to play their part in making carrying a knife unacceptable. She and others fully support our attempts to put this into legislation.

Photo of Rehman Chishti

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham, Conservative)

I concur with and support everything that my hon. Friend has said. On listening to victims and victims’ families, my constituent, David Young, was stabbed once in the thigh and lost his life, and the offender was given seven years at Maidstone Crown court for manslaughter, which is completely unacceptable, in my view. His parents have been campaigning vigorously to ensure that those who were responsible should be given tougher sentences. Does my hon. Friend agree that because those who carry knives sometimes do not intend to carry out an offence, it must be made clear to them that carrying a knife in itself will lead to further consequences and tougher sentences?

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

Indeed. My hon. Friend’s constituent’s relatives have my deepest sympathy for what they have experienced.

Sending a message is very important. With the will of this Parliament, the courts should understand that we will not tolerate someone knowingly pocketing a knife when they go out, having once been convicted. They need to be clear in the knowledge that they will go to jail if this House supports the new clause.

Photo of John Pugh

John Pugh (Southport, Liberal Democrat)

Let me draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to new section (5B), which says:

“Where a person aged 16 or over is convicted of an offence under this section, the court must impose an appropriate custodial sentence…unless the court is of the opinion that there are particular circumstances which…relate to the offence or to the offender, and…would make it unjust to do so in all circumstances.”

I think he owes the House an explanation of what kinds of cases are covered by that.

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

I am sure that as we have constantly been advocating that the courts should have control of all matters, they will have exactly that. We are trying to change the presumption.

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

It would be extremely helpful if the hon. Gentleman would let me answer his first intervention. We are trying to change substantively the balance of weight of sentencing. He need look no further than the evidence that my constituent Yvonne Lawson looked to, which showed not only that the introduction of mandatory sentences for possession of guns sent a strong signal that we will not tolerate people carrying guns but that recorded gun crime has fallen significantly since mandatory sentences were introduced.

Photo of John Pugh

John Pugh (Southport, Liberal Democrat)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that answer, but what we are looking for is an illustration of a real-time case that would fall under new section (5B) and that would not receive a mandatory sentence. Surely he must have had something in mind when he drafted this section.

3:30 pm
Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

I am very happy to answer that question. The clauses the hon. Gentleman voted for in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill had exactly the same wording. If he would like to review those cases, he will get a very good picture. I am surprised he did not show the same concern then as he seems to be showing now, or should I have expected that?

Photo of Dominic Raab

Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton, Conservative)

On messaging and deterrence, one of the critical issues is the certainty of being caught and the severity of the sanction, which we are trying to toughen up. Does my hon. Friend know the view of the Metropolitan police? Based on what he has said, it seems that a lot of people are being caught but the sanction is not tough enough. Do the police support the new clause?

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner wrote to the Government several months ago urging them to introduce the measure. The police fully support it and they do not like the fact—and they are right not to like it—that an increasing number of multiple offenders are not getting custodial sentences. They want a better response so that cases are worth prosecuting.

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

Let me make a little more progress; I think I have been pretty generous so far.

As my hon. Friend Mr Raab has just illustrated with his comment on statistics, knife possession is not being treated with the gravity required to ensure public safety and justice for victims. It is reasonable to draw that conclusion when 8,000 people are still getting cautions and fines. Today, we can change that by turning the existing guidelines, which have a presumption in favour of prison, into a reality through mandatory sentencing, which would be another vital tool in the challenge of dealing with knife crime and knife culture.

Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

In fairness, we ought to remember that other Members wish to speak.

Let me summarise something very important. Even the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the Deputy Prime Minister, has not quite got this right. The new clause is not an attempt to change the basis of prosecution; we simply wish to toughen up the sentencing. Our new clause would not change the basis for prosecution of someone carrying a knife, so a tradesman carrying his tools or—the Deputy Prime Minister seemed overtly worried about this—someone carrying a small penknife is excluded from the proposal by existing legislation.

Photo of Sadiq Khan

Sadiq Khan (Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Shadow Minister (London); Tooting, Labour)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification, because the Deputy Prime Minister’s lack of knowledge is frankly shocking. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that a police officer would still have the discretion to decide not to charge little Johnny for carrying a penknife and that, even if he was arrested and taken to a police station, the custody officer and others would still be able to make the appropriate decision? It is completely wrong to say that the police’s hands will be tied if they stop a young person carrying an offensive weapon or a knife.

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Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely valid and pertinent point. I will put it much cruder: the scaremongering on penknives is absolute nonsense and defies common sense. I confirm exactly what the right hon. Gentleman has said. He and other Members may be interested to know that a scout leader—I seem to recall that scout leaders use penknives quite a lot—fully supported the proposals. He had no fear, so I hope the Deputy Prime Minister is reassured.

Let us accept that when an offender comes before a court for carrying a knife, current sentencing guidelines point to the expectation of prison. However, only one in four end up in prison. Our new clauses will make it clear to the court, the criminals, the public and the victims that the minimum expectation is a six-month sentence for over-18s.

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Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

I was just about to wind up, but I give way to my fellow member of the Justice Committee.

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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and apologise for missing the first part of this speech: I was in a meeting. He and I are members of the Justice Committee and we have interviewed at length people who have served either prison sentences or community service orders. Some have said that community service orders and restorative justice are much tougher and much more effective than going to prison, because they had to make decisions themselves and follow a programme. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that we should think about this a bit more?

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Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

I remember those evidence sessions and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of them, but I have to look at the evidence on the day and the total numbers involved. We have not had mandatory sentencing under the existing system. I do not dispute the argument that some other measures are tough and are seen as such—I accept that—but the reality is that we do not have mandatory sentencing and I am afraid the record shows that current sentencing is not doing an acceptable job given the statistics I gave at the beginning of my speech.

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Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

I am sorry, but I will not give way any more.

Our new clauses make clear to criminals, the public and victims our minimum expectation with regard to someone who goes out knowingly carrying a knife as a second offence. I believe that everyone should get a

chance, but the patience of the public, this House and victims is being sorely tested by what is happening in our judicial system. Today, we can make a difference by supporting new clause 6.

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Susan Elan Jones (Opposition Whip (Commons); Clwyd South, Labour)

I was not going to speak in this debate, but we have heard some powerful arguments. I support the new clause because we have made a distinction in law between crimes that involve guns and crimes that involve knives. I know that there are certain arguments for that—some will say that we were right to draw that distinction—but at the end of the day it makes precious little difference to families whether their teenage child is maimed by a gun or a knife. It is important that we reflect on the seriousness of crimes involving knives.

There is a specific liberal school of thought on the issue. I believe that many arguments could be made with greater force if new clause 6 related to a first offence with a knife, but that is not what it is about. A very important message is being sent.

From my personal experience as a councillor in Peckham, I know how seriously knife crime was viewed there. It concerns me that parts of the country that are many miles removed—culturally, economically and socially—from our inner cities now face crimes that 20 years ago would have been viewed as inner-city crimes. That is why it is important to send this message.

Those are some brief observations, but this is an important crime. This is not about not tokenism; it is about getting it right. If this country’s prison system is worth anything, we must also address rehabilitation so that the people who commit these crimes are put back on the right path. Let us not kid ourselves by arguing about abstract things. Knife crime is a cause of concern and I agree with the new clause.

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Jeremy Wright (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice; Kenilworth and Southam, Conservative)

This group covers several issues, but let me start with the Government new clauses and amendments. New clause 44 creates a new offence of police corruption. Police officers ensure our safety in the Palace of Westminster, and they put their lives on the line every time they go out on patrol. Many police officers regularly serve the public bravely up and down the country, but as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said on 6 March, the findings of Mark Ellison’s review of the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence are “profoundly shocking” and

“will be of grave concern to everyone in the House and beyond”.—[Hansard, 6 March 2014; Vol. 576, c. 1063.]

The public expect the police to act with honesty and integrity at all times, which is why the Government are introducing a range of measures to improve both the integrity and the transparency of the police. In the small number of cases where police officers fall short of the high standards we expect, it is right that the full force of the criminal law is available to punish and deter acts of corruption or other improper exercise of power.

Police corruption is currently dealt with in the criminal law as part of the common law offence of misconduct in public office. Although the number of prosecutions for misconduct in public office has increased in recent years, they have spanned a range of occupations, not just police officers. This Government believe that the British public expect on-duty police officers, as the

guardians of the law and the Queen’s peace, to conduct themselves to a higher standard than other public servants. If police officers fail to conduct themselves to those high standards, it is right that we should seek to uphold that higher standard by means of the criminal law.

We believe that the best way to do that is to create a new offence of police corruption that applies solely to police officers, alongside the existing broader common law offence. The new offence will be triable only in the Crown court, and it will carry a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment. It will send a clear message that police corruption is serious, and that Parliament has expressly set a high maximum sentence for those convicted.

We have deliberately cast the behaviour covered by the new offence more broadly than the existing common law offence to ensure that it catches all acts of corrupt or other improper exercise of police powers and privileges. For example, were an officer deliberately to focus lines of inquiry away from a suspect with whom he had a corrupt relationship, such as by arresting a person they knew to be innocent, they would commit the offence. The offence applies whether or not the benefit or detriment came about, and regardless of whether the officer was on duty at the time of the corrupt behaviour. It covers cases where an officer fails to act for a purpose that is improper, such as if the officer knows that a suspect did not commit a crime, but conceals that knowledge because of an improper relationship with the person who committed it. It also applies where an officer threatens to act or not to act, and that threat is made for an improper purpose.

Amendments 45 and 46 are minor consequential amendments to the Bill’s extent and long title that arise from new clause 44.

New clauses 45 to 50 and new schedule 2 introduce new criminal offences of ill-treatment or wilful neglect by an individual care worker, and ill-treatment or wilful neglect of someone following a gross breach of a relevant duty of care by a care provider. The House will well remember the appalling events that occurred at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. Much work has been put in train since February last year, when Sir Robert Francis published the final report of the public inquiry into those events, including the establishment of several reviews into specific issues.

The inquiry on patient safety, led by Professor Don Berwick, identified a small but significant gap in the existing legislation. It recommended the creation of a new offence of ill-treatment or wilful neglect to fill that gap. Of course, no sort of ill-treatment or wilful neglect of patients or those receiving social care is ever acceptable. Yet at the moment, no matter how egregious the conduct, prosecutions are difficult to pursue unless the victim either lacks capacity, is subject to the provisions of the Mental Health Act 1983, or is a child to whom section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 applies. That means that a significant group of patients and service users are denied the protection of an offence directed explicitly at ill-treatment or wilful neglect by those entrusted with their care, both individuals and organisations. There is a range of existing legislative and regulatory safeguards that may apply in some cases, but we share the view that they are not sufficient to cover all the situations that might arise from ill-treatment or wilful neglect.

New clauses 45 to 50 fill the gap identified, and ensure that there is consistency in the protections available to people should they suffer the very worst sorts of behaviours. They create new statutory criminal offences of ill-treatment or wilful neglect by individual care workers or care provider organisations. The formulation of the offences was informed by a full public consultation in March this year.

New clause 45 makes it an offence for a care worker to ill-treat or wilfully neglect anyone in their care. A care worker is defined as anyone who, as paid work, provides social care for adults or health care for children and adults, other than the excluded health care listed in new schedule 2. The offence is triable either way, with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and/or a fine. The objective is to ensure that only formal arrangements, where the provision of such services represents part of a care worker’s employment or contractual obligation, are captured by the offence. Informal or family carer arrangements will not be caught, nor will cases in which the provision of such care is incidental to an individual’s formal duties.

New schedule 2 sets out the range of children’s settings and services excluded from the scope of the offence. It includes all schools and children’s homes. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is clear that children’s and education services are already governed by a comprehensive regulatory and legislative framework that provides protection for individuals in the settings where those services are provided. All such settings are subject to rigorous regulation and inspection, and other criminal and civil law applies. That reflects the views expressed by the majority of key stakeholders in response to the consultation.

New clauses 46 to 50 establish a new offence applicable to care provider organisations. It is modelled on the approach to dealing with corporate failures and liabilities first developed in the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Rather than needing to identify a so-called controlling mind in the senior hierarchy of a care provider, the offence focuses on the way in which the provider manages or organises its activities. The offence is committed if the care provider’s management or the organisation of its activities amounts to a gross breach of a duty of care owed to a victim of ill-treatment or wilful neglect and, without that breach, the ill-treatment or wilful neglect of the victim would not have occurred or is less likely to have occurred. The offence will apply not only to organisations such as NHS trust hospitals or adult care homes, but to other types of providers, such as general practitioner partnerships or single-handed GP practices.

Just as the offence is modelled on the 2007 Act, so the penalties on conviction of the care provider are modelled on it. In addition to the imposition of a fine, a court will be able to make remedial orders and publicity orders, which will effectively compel a care provider to both publicise the fact that it has been convicted and to take steps to put right the practices or procedures that led to the conviction. That reflects the approach of the Care Act 2014 to the offence of providing false or misleading information, so there is precedent for its use in a health and care setting.

Amendments 47, 48 and 49 are minor consequential amendments to the Bill’s extent and commencement

provisions and to the long title that arise from new clauses 45 to 50 and new schedule 2.

Finally, I want to stress that the new offences are not about hounding a hospital worker who makes an honest mistake, or punishing an organisation for fair and informed prioritisation of services, but about holding to account the worst and most unacceptable acts and failures to act.

Government amendment 2 is a minor consequential amendment to the Bill’s extent provisions to ensure that there is consistency and clarity in relation to clause 16. It clarifies that, because clause 16(5) amends the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the extent of clause 16(5) is the same as that of the 1984 Act. That is in line with the general approach to extent that is set out in clause 66, which provides that where a clause in the Bill amends another Act, the extent of that clause is the same as that of the Act it amends.

I will turn to the new clauses that have been tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), starting with new clause 34. The House may recall that the offence of squatting in a residential building in section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 was introduced following widespread concern about the harm that squatters can cause when they occupy other people’s homes. The offence is working well and has provided welcome relief for home owners who have found their property violated.

I recognise that there are also concerns about squatters who occupy non-residential buildings and land, particularly when it has a damaging effect on business, jeopardises the livelihood of the owner or causes anxiety among the neighbouring community. I hope that my hon. Friends will be pleased to hear that we have been monitoring the situation closely and do not rule out further action if it is needed. However, it would be premature for us to make any changes until we have fully considered what they might mean in practice. The reforms that we made in respect of squatting in residential buildings followed a full public consultation exercise. We would need to think carefully about the impact of such a change on all the different groups affected.

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Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed, Liberal Democrat)

Will the Minister take account of the one new element in the situation, the development of social media, which makes it possible for a large crowd to be assembled for an illegal rave in a property that has been taken over for that purpose? That causes great problems for the neighbours.

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Jeremy Wright (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice; Kenilworth and Southam, Conservative)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He makes a very good point. That is one of the things that we need to look at carefully in considering whether to pursue the ideas that my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley and for Bury North are putting forward in new clause 34. We will continue to do that work and to keep the legal framework under careful review. However, I hope that my hon. Friends will understand that, for the reasons I have given, I cannot accept the new clause today.

New clause 35 seeks to extend the offence in section 5 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004—causing or allowing a child or vulnerable adult to die or suffer serious physical harm—so that it applies to causing or allowing any person to die or suffer serious physical harm. I understand that the intention of my hon.

Friends is to create a new form of joint enterprise offence. As they will readily recognise, the law on joint enterprise is complex. It forms part of the common law on secondary liability and requires a common purpose between two or more people, resulting in each of them being liable for any offences which might be committed in pursuit of, or as a consequence of, that common purpose.

The offence under section 5 of the 2004 Act, by contrast, is not an offence of joint enterprise. Under the section 5 offence, the person who allows the death or serious physical harm is liable on the basis that he or she failed to take such steps as he or she could reasonably be expected to take to protect the victim from a foreseeable risk of serious physical harm, and not necessarily because he or she shared some common purpose with the person who caused the death or serious physical harm.

The important point about the section 5 offence is that it applies only to members of a victim’s household who had frequent contact with the victim, and could therefore reasonably be expected to have been aware of a risk of serious physical harm to the victim, and to have protected the victim from such harm. The offence therefore covers domestic situations in which members of the household may feel under pressure to remain silent to protect themselves and other members of the household.

I am not persuaded that it would be right to extend section 5 in the way that is suggested, not least because it is not an offence of joint enterprise. Moreover, the Government in 2004 deliberately limited the section 5 offence to the special circumstances that pertain when a person, whether a child or a vulnerable adult, who particularly needs the protection of the law is within the sanctuary of their own home. It has been used successfully in a number of cases, most notably that of baby Peter Connelly. We believe that such circumstances deserve special and extraordinary measures that are separate from the norm.

In addition, the section 5 offence does not require the person who allowed the death or serious physical harm to have been present at the time of the unlawful act, but simply to have been a member of the same household who had frequent contact with the victim, and could therefore reasonably be expected to have been aware of a risk of serious physical harm to the victim. If the allower had to be present at the time of the unlawful act, as the new clause requires, it would raise more difficult evidential requirements for the prosecution in a baby P-type case. My hon. Friends’ new clause would therefore detract from the usefulness of the offence in the specific circumstance at which it is aimed, and it would not necessarily be workable in a wider context. For that reason, I am afraid I cannot accept it.

New clause 36 would change the scope of the offence under section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 of intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress to others by using

“threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour,”

meaning that “insulting” words or behaviour are no longer captured. My hon. Friends’ intention may be to bring that section of the 1986 Act in line with a similar amendment to section 5 of that Act, which came into effect earlier this year. There are, however, significant differences between the section 5 offence and

the more serious and deliberate offence made out under section 4A. The latter requires proof of intent to cause harm to another person, and proof that such harassment, alarm and distress were actually caused to another person. Those differentiating features make it much more serious and significantly raise the threshold of what must be proved. In light of that higher threshold, the Government do not agree that excluding “insulting” words or behaviour is justified.

Furthermore, during the long-running campaign that culminated in the change to section 5, one key argument put forward by those seeking to remove “insulting” was that removal would not have a negative impact on minority groups because the police had more appropriate powers available to deal with such unacceptable behaviour under section 4A of the 1986 Act. Having accepted that argument as part of the reasoning behind the removal of “insulting” from section 5, it does not seem sensible to remove the protections provided by retaining “insulting” in relation to words and behaviour in section 4A.

For new clauses 6 and 7 I pay tribute not just to my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes—to whom generous tribute was paid by my hon. Friend Nick de Bois—but, preventing his modesty from excluding the facts, to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North. He has done a huge amount to raise awareness of knife crime concerns, and few people in this place have done more to enhance the safety of the communities they represent, and indeed other communities, by a single-minded focus on this issue.

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government have done their bit on this subject. We have a comprehensive plan in place under the ending gang and youth violence programme, and—in no small measure down to his efforts—we extended new offences of threatening with a knife or offensive weapon in a public place or a school to young people as well as adults, and introduced a minimum sentence for those offences. We have stopped simple cautions being used for possession of a knife in the absence of exceptional circumstances, and as he knows, we are legislating further on cautioning in the Bill. We have taken this issue seriously throughout, and will continue to do so.

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Crispin Blunt (Reigate, Conservative)

When some of those measures were passed, full consideration was given to their consequences. What would be the consequences for the prison population of accepting new clauses 6 and 7?

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Jeremy Wright (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice; Kenilworth and Southam, Conservative)

As my hon. Friend and distinguished predecessor will understand better than most, these are not Government new clauses and therefore they do not come with the same assessments. He will appreciate that the two different new clauses would have different effects, but if the House of Commons decides that those changes should play a part in the Bill, we will make all the necessary assessments. He will also understand that the Government’s clear policy is to ensure that the right people are in prison and that the courts have the opportunity to send the right people to prison whenever they deem that appropriate. The way to deal with and reduce the prison population is, very straightforwardly, to ensure

that reoffending is reduced and that people do not continue to return to custody. My hon. Friend began the good work in that regard.

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Bob Russell (Colchester, Liberal Democrat)

The Minister, quite rightly, is using his words carefully. Following the intervention from my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt, would the sentence be mandatory, or would judges still have an element of discretion?

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Jeremy Wright (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice; Kenilworth and Southam, Conservative)

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North made the position very clear. It is a mandatory sentence in the absence of exceptional circumstances. The courts would have the opportunity to say that in those exceptional circumstances the penalty should not apply, but that is standard practice for mandatory sentencing across the criminal law, and entirely appropriate.

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Crispin Blunt (Reigate, Conservative)

I do not understand how my hon. Friend can vigorously oppose new clause 34, despite its evident merits—and on which I unusually agree with my hon. Friend Philip Davies—because it has not been fully considered, and not come out with a similar line about the cost of the measures before us, which ought to be part of our full consideration before we make our decision.

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Jeremy Wright (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice; Kenilworth and Southam, Conservative)

My hon. Friend is right that if he is in agreement with my hon. Friend Philip Davies, he does have me worried. He will appreciate that the arguments on new clause 34 are rather broader than its cost implications. As I have set out already, we cannot accept it at this stage for several reasons, and that is different from a specifically cost-related calculation.

I note that new clauses 6 and 7 contain some minor, technical flaws that would need to be addressed if either were to receive the approval of the House today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North knows, his objectives have considerable support among Conservative Members. However, as he also knows, although both coalition parties are fully committed to protecting the public, policy agreement has not been reached on these new clauses, so it will be for the whole House to decide on the conclusion to this debate. So that that debate may continue, I shall finally say that I hope that the House will support—

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

The Minister coyly described flaws in the new clauses. Would he care to list them so that the House may know exactly what they are?

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Jeremy Wright (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice; Kenilworth and Southam, Conservative)

I am not sure that this is the appropriate time. There are some minor and technical flaws, but my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North has made his case and the House will have to consider what he has said and decide what it wishes to do. Regardless of the fate of my hon. Friend’s new clauses, I hope that the Government’s new clauses, new schedule and amendments will find favour with the House.

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Andy Slaughter (Shadow Minister (Justice); Hammersmith, Labour)

I will take a different approach from the Minister’s and address the majority of my remarks to new clauses 6 and 7; I shall discuss the Government’s clauses at the end of my speech. I welcome this debate

and the chance to discuss a subject important to all hon. Members—perhaps particularly to those with constituencies in London, where almost half of knife-related offences take place. Knife crime is one of the most serious and intractable criminal justice issues, and one that often leaves irrevocable damage in its wake.

In my own borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, we have seen more than 800 knife crime incidents since 2010, with tragic consequences for the victims and their families. In London as a whole, that figure is closer to 40,000. In 2013-14, more than 50% of all murders in London were committed with a knife. Knife crime is not just an issue for London and other major cities: it is a national menace. Nearly a third of adult offenders currently receive an immediate custodial sentence. New clauses 6 and 7 would impose what has been referred to as a mandatory minimum custodial sentence on those convicted of a second knife possession offence. For those aged 18 and over, it would be six months; for those aged 16 to 18, it would be a four-month detention and training order.

Contrary to press reports, and statements made by the Deputy Prime Minister, the new clauses would permit judicial discretion, and that is key to our support. Subsection (2B) of new clause 6 states that

“the court must impose an appropriate custodial sentence…unless…there are particular circumstances”—

those are the words, rather than “exceptional circumstances”—

“which…relate to the offence or to the offender and…would make it unjust…in all the circumstances.”

It would also be a defence to the new offences if possession were with lawful authority or reasonable excuse. This measure should not be seen as a catch-all solution.

In light of the current overcrowding crisis in the prison system, The Guardian reported today that the Lord Chancellor will be unable to implement his legislation, if passed, for at least a year; his reverse King Midas touch extends, it seems, to all areas of the criminal justice system.

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Bob Russell (Colchester, Liberal Democrat)

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the policies of the last Government to deal with knife crime failed?

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Andy Slaughter (Shadow Minister (Justice); Hammersmith, Labour)

That is a peculiar conclusion to reach from the comments I have just made. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that I am just coming to the previous legislation on knife crime. In the meantime—this point may be of interest to Liberal Democrats—I should say that the issue is not just about increasing sentencing powers. In the next year, for example, the Home Affairs Committee will have concluded its inquiry into gangs and youth crime, with a remit including the effectiveness of current law enforcement and legislation, including gang injunctions and knife and gun crime legislation.

There are many other ways in which young people in particular can be discouraged from carrying knives. Prevention is better than cure. Education, tackling gang culture and deterrence all have a part to play, but it is important that the message should go out from this House that carrying a knife without good reason is unacceptable.

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Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed, Liberal Democrat)

Over my many years in the House, I have heard the expression “A message must go out from this House” so many times. If there is one group of the population that seems unable ever to hear these messages, it is those who commit crimes. Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that many of those who do either foolish or evil things tend not to think that they will get caught and not to think that, if they are caught, they will get whatever sentence the House has decided on?

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Andy Slaughter (Shadow Minister (Justice); Hammersmith, Labour)

The right hon. Gentleman has been here for a very long time and perhaps cynicism has entered his soul about the ability of the legislature to have any influence on the population at large. As a newer Member, I retain some hope that somebody out there might be listening to us at some point.

This is a serious debate, and I commend Mr Burrowes on the measured way in which he moved the new clause. However, I regret that both sides of the coalition have used an issue of such seriousness for what I can only call a bit of crude political brand management. The new clauses prescribe mandatory sentencing only if a second offence is committed, if there is no lawful authority or reasonable excuse and if the court does not find particular circumstances of the offender or the offence that make that unjust.

We will not hear either the movers of the clauses or the Liberal Democrats highlighting any of those factors—the movers, because they want to show how tough the Tory party can be, and the Deputy Prime Minister, to buff his tarnished liberal credentials. The leaking of the original letter highlighting the coalition dispute over this incredibly sensitive issue was cynically timed just before the local elections—elections that nevertheless saw both parties significantly stumble. Where was this new, improved brave and defiant version of the Deputy Prime Minister when the Tories came to carve up the NHS, slash legal aid or treble tuition fees? He was in the Lobby with them, ensuring their policies went through. I am glad he is taking a keen interest in justice policy, but his timing is noted for what it clearly is—a cheap political stunt to throw a bone to his increasingly malnourished base.

The hon. Member for Enfield North has already alluded to this point, but I led for the Opposition in the very lengthy Committee stage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the last attempt to honour the Tory manifesto promise that

“anyone convicted of a knife crime can expect to face a prison sentence.”

A new offence was created in that Act, of threatening with an offensive weapon in public. It was a serious offence, triable either way with a maximum term of four years on conviction on indictment. It imposed mandatory minimum sentences, as in the clauses under discussion. What was the Liberal Democrats’ response? It is there in Hansard, in the words of the then Justice Minister—he was here until a few moments ago—Crispin Blunt. He was asked what the view of the coalition was, and he said:

“Of course, we enjoy the full support of our Liberal Democrat colleagues on this.”––[Official Report, Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Public Bill Committee, 13 October 2011; c. 808.]

The new clause, with exactly the same provisions in respect of mandatory minimum sentences with judicial discretion—I have set out other caveats—was agreed without a Division. I ask Liberal Democrat Members in their places today: “What has changed since?” We will support the new clauses in the knowledge that they are not enough in themselves to tackle the problem and that they are a proportionate, not a draconian, response.

I shall speak briefly to the other provisions. We have at least had some time to consider new clauses 6 and 7, but the rest of the new clauses and amendments in the group were tabled by the Government so late as to make our scrutiny farcical. The fact that the intention behind them is laudable does not mitigate the appalling management of business, and they hardly have the excuse of being overloaded with legislation. It remains important to ensure that legislation, however consensual, does the job it purports to do.

We support new clause 44, as well as amendments 45 and 46. It creates the offence of police corruption. Alone, that is not the answer. We have called for a bolder and more radical way of tackling police corruption so that the good work of the vast majority of officers is not blighted by the actions of a few.

We have already called for the abolition of the Independent Police Complaints Commission and for its replacement with a stronger and more robust police standards authority. Notwithstanding the Minister’s comments about special responsibilities and a higher standard of police officers, I observe that if the Government are introducing this new offence because they believe that the offence of misconduct in a public office is in some way obsolete or arcane, they might at some stage need to address the other public professions covered by the same provisions. As I say, we do not oppose the Government’s proposals here.

Similarly, we support the new clauses and amendments dealing with wilful neglect in care homes by care providers. As they relate to care homes, almost identical amendments to these were proposed by my hon. Friend Nick Smith during the passage of the Care Bill. I am pleased to see in her place my hon. Friend Liz Kendall, who led the opposition to that Bill. She will no doubt confirm the similarity; we tabled amendments in Committee to make directors of care providers face jail if their management of services led to abuse or neglect. The Government voted that down on Report. I see no reason for that other than that they wanted to bring it up in their own time. There it is, however—better late than never. I often think that it is better for them to follow up and make their own way in the world.

I am afraid that a number of new clauses will not get proper scrutiny this afternoon if they do not cover the main issues for which most Members have attended the debate. It is to be hoped that the other place will give proper attention to the detail; a restricted debate on Report cannot do so here. The situation is to be regretted even more if we do not manage to reach the final group of amendments, which propose brand new provisions that have never been scrutinised here. The Government should desist from this policy, which is simply disrespectful to this House and all its Members.

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David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate, Conservative)

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, not least because I have been ill over the last couple of weeks. It is good to be back on my feet today, particularly to support new clauses 6 and 7, along with the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Nick de Bois. Full tribute has already been made to him, and I would like to repeat that he is indeed the best of advocates and a champion for his constituents, particularly when it comes to knife crime.

It has been good for me to be able to co-author the new clauses with my hon. Friend, although there is an element of sadness and no great pleasure because these provisions arise from the concern in Enfield about the prevalence of knife crime, which is shared across London and, indeed, the country. Welcome progress has been made under this Government on tackling knife crime in all its forms—its prevention and what happens when cases are taken to the courts. Knife crime as a serious form of youth violence is down by more than 19% in Enfield, but one knife attack is one too many, and it is hardly surprising that we are here again, wanting to ensure that sentencing on knife crime is as tough as it should be.

This issue is shared by many Members across the House—it is not exclusive to Enfield. The Opposition’s support is welcome. The Justice Secretary and the Home Secretary have been vocal and public in their support for the new clause, as have a number of politicians across the field. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has been particularly vocal, and has campaigned with us on this issue for a long time.

It may surprise members of the public that we are here in the first place and to learn that we need additional legislation. When someone is caught with a knife and then convicted, it might not be the first time that they have carried a knife. It might just be the first time that they ended up being caught and convicted. The public may be surprised that that person did not go to prison in the first place. We are considering what should happen the second time that that person gets get caught—not necessarily the second time that they are in possession of a knife—and the second time they end up being successfully prosecuted and convicted. The public may again be surprised that that person does receive a prison sentence. They will be surprised that the sentencing guidelines, which have been in place for many years and have an entry point of custody on the first offence, mean that when someone faces the court for a second time, it is not inevitable that they will receive a custodial sentence. A custodial sentence is often passed, but that is not always the case. We hear statistics that one in four do not receive a custodial sentence, and that must be a cause for concern.

The Minister is not able to give a full official assessment of the increase in the prison population, but in the discussions when this issue came to light reference was made to an increase in the prison population of perhaps some hundreds. What does that prove? It proves that this proposed legislation is needed, because it will have an effect. It will increase the prison population. Without it, there would not be that increase. We have already seen from assessments that the provision is necessary,

and we will no doubt hear a fuller assessment when the new clause is, hopefully, agreed to.

It is perhaps surprising that, as a criminal defence solicitor, I am advocating this measure, because it goes against the interests of many of my previous clients, and that I am advocating wholeheartedly toughening up the way we deal with knife crime. It has been recognised that dealing with knife crime is not just about sentencing. In fact, when an offender gets to court, it is probably already too late. We need to recognise the importance of early intervention, which is key. We need to provide appropriate boundaries and positive role models to raise the aspirations of young people beyond the need to carry a knife and to the need for training, qualifications and a job. In many ways, all that goes without saying. We are, across the House, all wholeheartedly supportive of that. Reference has been made to important Home Affairs Committee inquiries over the years on the need for those other measures, but we are here today to deal with sentencing.

4:15 pm
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Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

My hon. Friend refers to being a defence barrister. I am sure he was very distinguished. Reference was made earlier to prison being seen as the soft option, and that community sentences are much tougher. When he was a defence barrister or solicitor representing his clients, how many times did he ask for his clients to be sent to prison because it was considered to be the softer option and he wanted to avoid a community sentence at all costs?

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David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate, Conservative)

I can actually think of occasions when I looked at a magistrate and knew my client was inevitably going to get a custodial sentence, and I had to try to convince him of an alternative. One client would not come out of his cell and spent his time doing headstands. He could take any sentence doing it on his head. There were the odd occasions when one had to be counter-intuitive, particularly with magistrates, but my hon. Friend makes an important point.

The reality that I saw as a defence solicitor—not as a barrister, I have to say—was that all too often there were occasions when prison was avoided. A good plea of mitigation from an advocate—that the young person had the knife for his own protection, or was led up the wrong path by other people and so on—has led to individuals avoiding custodial sentences. Some may say that that should come within the exceptional circumstances category and that there is full discretion for magistrates. The new clause will make it resoundingly clear that there is a minimum mandatory sentence, and that it should only be in exceptional circumstances—coercion and other serious cases that do arise, but which are an exception—that magistrates can quite properly use their discretion. The new clause would ensure that it was very clear to victims, the public and offenders themselves that those who carry knives will go to prison. That has applied for some years to repeat drug offenders, repeat domestic burglars and repeat firearm carriers, and I understand that it is having an effect in relation to firearms offences in particular.

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Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed, Liberal Democrat)

Ought not the court to consider what sentence would make it most likely that the person concerned would never commit any more crimes?

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David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate, Conservative)

Obviously the court will always be concerned with the issue of reoffending. However, it must balance a great many factors, not least the severity of offences, the need for deterrence, and the need for offenders to be in prison so that they cannot commit further offences, but also the fact that it is important for others, not least the victims, to know that the offence is very serious. As has already been pointed out, people who carry knives are putting not just others but themselves in danger. We need to ensure that minimum mandatory sentences are par for the course, as they are in the case of other serious offending.

It surprises me that the Liberal Democrats oppose the new clause. In 2011, they agreed—unanimously, I believe—with a measure proposing a minimum mandatory sentence for knife crime which involved the same issue of discretion in exceptional circumstances. When it comes to mandatory minimum sentencing, what is the quantitative, indeed qualitative, difference, in terms of principle, between someone carrying a knife in a threatening manner and someone carrying a knife for the second time? The Liberal Democrats like to say that they are standing on a key issue of principle.

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman cannot work out the answer to his own question. There is a substantial difference between carrying a knife and threatening someone with a knife. In the first instance, the knife could be intended for protection; in the second, the person with the knife risks causing harm to someone else. There is a very clear difference, and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman cannot see it.

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David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate, Conservative)

It is clear that they are different offences, but my point is that the Deputy Prime Minister thinks that we should have nothing to do with a mandatory minimum sentence, as a matter of principle. I do not understand the difference between the examples given by the hon. Gentleman when it comes to the principle of mandatory sentencing. He said that people might carry knives for their own protection, but the issue is the same whether a person threatens someone else or whether that person is carrying a knife for the second time. In both cases, a mandatory sentence is applied. It would be necessary to go a considerable way to show exceptional circumstances to avoid a prison sentence.

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Andy Slaughter (Shadow Minister (Justice); Hammersmith, Labour)

I am puzzling over this as well. The Deputy Prime Minister said this in his article in The Guardian, which is in front of me:

“While minimum sentencing might sound attractive in media headlines there is a serious risk it could undermine the role of the judges, who are best placed to decide on sentencing.”

I cannot see how that differentiates between different offences, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman can.

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David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman may have put his finger on it. Perhaps the issue is the media, and the difference between the headlines of 2011 and those of 2014. Perhaps a differentiation strategy is now more important than an anti-crime strategy. Perhaps a political party is now more concerned about their own interests than about the interests of victims and the public.

Others wish to speak, so I shall not continue for too long, but the fact is that this is not something that has been cooked up on the back of a media issue to make a

point. It follows a long campaign, on which I have fought hard with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North for a number of years. Last year, Joshua Folkes was killed in an awful knife attack in Bowes road in my constituency. The circumstances are still not clear, despite a judicial determination. We do not know what happened, but we do know that knives were present, and that they caused a young person to die. That was unacceptable then, and we must be intolerant of such cases now.

Last year I asked the Prime Minister whether we could please be intolerant towards knife crime, and we have the answer to that today. Yes, we will be intolerant, following a long campaign that has been fought by many. The Mayor joined us in that campaign: in February he organised a meeting bringing together representatives of the Metropolitan police and others, and on 23 April he wrote to the Home Secretary calling for a measure such as this. We certainly have not come to this recently, therefore; we have been there for many years and, on behalf of the victims—the tragic cases of those, like Godwin, who have lost their lives—we must do more. We cannot rest when more people are losing their lives—being cut down in their prime—unnecessarily.

We must do it also because we, certainly on this side of the House, want to stick to our promises. We made a manifesto commitment to ensure there is an expectation that people go to prison for carrying a knife, and we want to continue to honour that, which is what we are doing today. That is why I call on all Members of the House to support new clauses 6 and 7.

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Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent, Labour)

I welcome new clauses 45 and 46 that would hold care home providers to account. Police Operation Jasmine was an £11.6 million seven-year investigation into care homes in the south Wales region. It uncovered shocking instances of neglect. Care home residents were not receiving the care and protection they deserved. One director’s inability to stand trial due to ill health saw a case with more than 10,000 pieces of evidence, and more than 100 families calling for justice, collapse. That remains a travesty to this day.

These new clauses will make wilful neglect an offence. They will make prosecutions more likely in the future. Older people in care homes and their families place their trust in care home staff and providers alike. Both should be held equally responsible when that trust is abused. With the support of Age UK, I tabled amendments to the recent Care Bill for one simple reason: so that victims and their families can get the justice they deserve.

Operation Jasmine went on far too long and cost too much money, but still failed to achieve justice. This change in the law will help right that wrong. I tabled an amendment to the Care Bill which would have made corporate neglect an offence. At that point, the Minister acknowledged the importance of this issue, but the Government did not support my amendment when it was put to a vote on Report. Even so, I am pleased that Ministers are now moving this much-needed change in the law to address a problem that refuses to go away.

The Welsh Government, backed by the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, have now begun their independent review into Operation Jasmine. I am thankful that the

100 families involved have a real chance at last to understand what went wrong.

I would like to thank my hon. Friend Liz Kendall for her support throughout this campaign. It has taken longer than it should, but we got there in the end.

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I want to begin by paying tribute to the quality of the speech by Nick de Bois? I do not agree with every point he made, but although we disagree on some things, I do not doubt his sincerity or the efforts he is making. I suspect we share a common goal; what we disagree about is how best to get there. However, I think he carefully avoided commenting on the mandatory/non-mandatory issue. It was noteworthy that when he addressed comments made by his colleagues he talked about it being mandatory, but when he addressed Members on the other side of the House he was careful to say that it was not. That is one of the key challenges.

We do not dispute that knife crime is a problem: too many people are attacked and injured with knives. Knife possession is, and should be, a criminal offence, although I was struck by a factual inaccuracy about laws relating to penknives and so on—nobody mentioned that the definition is a limit of up to 3 inches; it is not to do with anything else, and it is not to do with police discretion.

I am pleased that there has been a substantial decline in knife possession offences over the last three years. Fewer people are carrying knives—there are reductions of 30% for children and 23% for adults—which suggests that things are getting better, although they are clearly not perfect.

The argument today is not whether anybody thinks it is all right for people to carry knives. Clearly, it is not all right, and that is why the Government introduced the legislation on threatening people with a knife in a public place, including at school. The key issue there is the difference between threatening and carrying.

The question that the House must consider is whether we should do the thing that sounds the toughest or the things that actually work. A strong sanction is available: judges can, if they think it is appropriate, sentence people to up to four years in jail for first-time possession of a knife. Some of us believe in judicial discretion—that it is up to judges to consider all the details of a case to gain the best understanding.

4:30 pm
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Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

I want to return to the point that I am really struggling with. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks and the spirit they were made in, but the question is not the type of offence—on which I believe the Liberal Democrats should be challenged—but the principle of the mandatory sentence. More important than the type of offence—be it waving a knife around or carrying it in a pocket—is the principle of judicial discretion and the mandatory sentence. Two years ago, the hon. Gentleman supported that and now he does not. I have not heard an answer to that question.

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

If the hon. Gentleman wants to personalise this, in fact, I did not support it. He can check the record on that one, although I accept that, like all of us, he has not memorised every single Division ever in this House.

To my mind, there is a huge conceptual difference between possession and the act of threatening someone, because one of them is so much closer to—[Interruption.] Nobody is expecting that a caution should be given for an offence such as murder. Murder is clearly much more serious; there is that scale and there is a clear difference.

I will come on to mandatory sentencing in other areas in a moment, but I want to consider the fascinating evidence on knife crime that was given before the Home Affairs Committee. A range of people gave evidence, including Stella Creasy, as she now is—she is not in her place, which is a shame—who at the time was speaking for the Scout Association. I recommend her evidence in particular. John Bache, chairman of the Magistrates Association youth courts committee, said that, while he agreed that removing knives from the streets was of paramount importance, the Magistrates Association was against mandatory sentences. That is something we should listen carefully to. We also heard from deputy assistant commissioner Hitchcock, who led at the time for the Association of Chief Police Officers on this issue; he is now chief constable of the Ministry of Defence. He was very clear that he opposed mandatory sentencing, and what he said comes exactly to the point:

“I feel there is a difference, for example, between the mandatory sentence for gun crime, where someone has to be within certain criminal networks and has to procure the weapon…and knife crime where you are talking about a weapon that is easily accessible...and the circumstances in which a young person might come to have a knife in their possession can be quite varied. For example, you might have a 16 year old who is a recidivist offender, who is going out and committing robberies, who is going out and threatening other people, who is within a gang environment.”

He then compares them to a young person who

“has been having a bit of a hard time school, a bit of bullying and then stupidly puts the knife in their bag on one occasion and gets caught. If you have got a mandatory sentence then that person who is the recidivist, unpleasant, nasty offender is going to get the same sentence as the young person who has done something really stupid and should have a more appropriate sanction.”

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

I will happily give way, but I should highlight the fact that commissioner Hitchcock was talking about a first offence, and I accept—if this is the point the hon. Gentleman is about to make—that he did not comment on a second offence. I will still give way if the hon. Gentleman likes, but I suspect he was going to make the point I was about to make myself.

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman. It is always a pleasure to hear him try to stand up for liberalism, given the legislation that he and his party supported.

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Andy Slaughter (Shadow Minister (Justice); Hammersmith, Labour)

Whatever.

Yes, there is the question of the second offence, but more importantly, all the examples the Liberal Democrats give—be it the one the hon. Gentleman has just given, or the Deputy Prime Minister’s example of a vulnerable young girl hanging around with a gang—are exactly what judicial discretion, which remains in these clauses, is there to support: particular circumstances relating to the offender.

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

I find fascinating the hon. Gentleman’s efforts to bridge everything: he is in favour of mandatory sentencing as long as there is discretion for the police and the judges—and everybody else. He is thoroughly confused. The judge already has the power to sentence somebody for up to four years. Under this proposal, they will also have that power, so I do not understand what the hon. Gentleman’s point is. There are many such cases.

Mr Burrowes said that the cases in which there are exceptional circumstances are incredibly rare, but a huge range of cases will arise. They cannot be both incredibly rare and very common.

The main argument for the new clause seems to be that it sends a message out. It is not about changing what the judge can actually do; it is about sending out a message. As was said earlier, sending a message through legislation always seems like a pretty poor argument. I would be interested to hear whether there is evidence to suggest that people will listen to what such a message contains. We must understand why people carry knives: the Home Office has done a substantial amount of work on that over the years, and the main reason it found was that people feel they need protection. A Home Office study found that 85% of young people who reported carrying a knife did so for protection and only a tiny fraction did so to threaten or injure somebody.

People should not carry a knife for protection. It is not a sensible thing to do, but we should consider why they do it. We know that knife possession is particularly high among people who have been victims of crime, especially young males. Once they have been victims of crime, they are far more likely to carry a knife afterwards. That tells us something about the motivation, why they are carrying knives and how we can best persuade them not to do so. If somebody is literally terrified that they may be attacked—this is all too common—and they already know that they could get up to four years in jail for carrying a knife, will the new clause send a strong enough message? Are there better things that we could do to address the issue?

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David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman will agree that it is important to look at existing legislation rather than to over-legislate. It is important to use the right examples: if someone is in terror that they are about to be attacked, the existing common law covers duress and coercion, which could then be a defence. A defence is one thing, but mitigation is another. It does not in any way go against the need to ensure that legislation is tough and includes a mandatory sentence.

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

I confess that I am not a lawyer, but I think that it would be hard to make a defence—those who are lawyers may correct me—of generally being scared of being attacked over a long time period, given that people are not carrying a knife because they expect to be attacked on a particular occasion and in a particular place. That is the problem. These people are scared. They are carrying a knife because of the risk that somebody will attack them, not because they ever intend to use it or hope to use it. I recognise that the defence would apply if someone grabbed a knife to defend themselves from an attack, but it would not apply in this case.

The Home Affairs Committee carried out a detailed report into this subject. Incidentally, its findings were unanimous. Earlier, Philip Davies said from a sedentary position that the Committee had a left-wing majority. It was a unanimous report, and I am not sure whether we are seeing a clear majority on the left at the moment. The Committee concluded that

“evidence suggests that the prospect of a custodial sentence may not deter young people from carrying knives. Many young people do not think about the consequences of their actions, and for a small minority who feel at risk of violence, the prospect of jail seems preferable to the dangers of being caught without a weapon for protection.”

It is that issue that we need to think further about. None of us is happy that that is the way things are, and that people are concerned to that extent, but that is the situation that we face.

The Select Committee took lots of evidence from young people who have been involved in knife crime. They said:

“It does not go through your mind at all about prison or whatever; it does not exist.”

There is lots of evidence to show that sentencing does not have that much effect. The 2001 Halliday report on sentencing found no evidence to suggest that there was a link between differences in sentence severity and deterrence effects. It concluded that

“it is the prospect of getting caught that has deterrence value”

rather than the nature of the sentence itself.

The Centre for Social Justice said:

“An increase in the number of people imprisoned for knife possession does not warrant celebration, particularly when we know that the majority of young people carry knives out of fear and…custody exposes young people to more hardened criminals.”

That is another problem that was briefly touched on earlier. When young people have been led astray, and find themselves involved in gangs and knife crime, there are a number of paths that they can take. If they manage to avoid death or injury—unfortunately that is not the case for all of them—they might clean up their act, or they might settle into a life of repeated criminality. We all hope that they will sort themselves out, but we know that prison sentences push people into repeat offending. Prison has its place, and there are strenuous efforts now to try to improve rehabilitation, but we still see high reoffending levels. We should be wary of increasing the damaging effect that prison has on people’s futures.

We should also be looking for unintended consequences on people’s behaviour—if they are listening to the message being sent out. People in gangs who have been charged once with possessing a knife will simply react—if they pay any attention at all, and that will depend on the quality of policing—by making another more junior, more vulnerable gang member carry a knife for them. That will seem like a sensible and rational response, if they are listening to the message that is being sent out. Under-16s will be put under intense pressure to do that for the obvious reason that they would not be caught by the new clause. That would put under-16s at greater risk by leading them further into gang behaviour. If the new clause is added to the Bill, I expect one of the unintended consequences to be an increase in those aged 15 and under carrying knives.

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Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

Does the hon. Gentleman not see a contradiction in what he is saying? He says that no one will pay attention to the law because it will not be a deterrent, but he also says that they will plan to give knives to younger people.

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

The hon. Gentleman normally listens carefully. What I said, very clearly, was that if anybody listened, that would be the effect. I am sceptical about how many people will listen to the message being sent out, but even if they do, the new clause would simply drive that strong and unintended consequence. I am sure that some people listen to the messages that come out of this place, and I am sure that some of them read the Hansard transcripts of our debates, but I am sure that not everybody does.

I believe that there is a risk of serious, unplanned harm resulting from this well intentioned new clause. If it works in the way in which some hon. Members would like, by putting more people in jail, there will be another problem: there is not room in our prisons, which are already overcrowded. Perhaps I should not be surprised that the Labour party could yesterday complain about how full the prisons are and how awful it is that there is no space, but today try to fit more people into them. I am sure that there is a logic in there somewhere.

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Andy Slaughter (Shadow Minister (Justice); Hammersmith, Labour)

Turning that around, the hon. Gentleman is part of a coalition that says that there is plenty of space in the prison system and more coming on stream. He might want to ask the Government he supports why they have closed 18 prisons.

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

We may be going down a sidetrack, but I am delighted that under this Government there are fewer women and children in prison than the previous Labour Government ever managed. I am satisfied with that achievement. However, I realise that the Labour party is still in a space of wanting to lock up as many people as possible to show how tough on crime they can be.

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John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington, Labour)

I do wish that the hon. Gentleman would not rile the Front Benchers, because we end up going off on tangents. If someone is listening—with regard to the offenders; I did not mean listening to the Front Benchers—who might carry a knife, my concern is this. I have seen some evidence in my constituency that people have tried to avoid the existing legislation by looking for other weapons. In a recent murder in my constituency, an axe was used, and we have also seen the spraying of acid. If people listen to the message that they will be committing an offence by carrying a knife on two occasions, my fear is that they will diversify into other weapons to avoid that, if they are sufficiently calculating.

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point that I had not thought to add. He is absolutely right, and I hope that he will support us on the matter.

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David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate, Conservative)

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that although the focus of new clauses 6 and 7 is on knives and bladed articles, they cover offensive weapons. Any weapon, whatever it might be, that is determined to be offensive—whether per se, because it is carried with intent or because of its use—would be covered by new clauses 6 and 7.

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

I have not checked the exact wording, but I suspect that some things would not fall into that category because they have other uses. That may be one of the flaws that the Minister indicated.

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John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington, Labour)

I cannot see how that is covered in the new clauses, and it might be worth getting some clarity from the Minister.

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

Perhaps that is one of the flaws. I will move on, because I am not in a position to arbitrate between the two sides while I am speaking.

I see that the Justice Secretary has said that even if such amendments were passed in some form he would have to delay their implementation because there is no space in the prisons. That strikes me as something that we should consider in deciding whether to go ahead. Incidentally, it is also a strong argument for more rational sentencing decisions to ensure that we are locking up the right people and not the wrong people. We ought also to be more rational about how many years people get for different offences.

We have already heard from Labour’s Front Benchers that we should just open up more prisons, but—[Interruption.] There are clearly cheers for that idea from some on the right as well. As my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Beithpointed out yesterday, we already have one of the highest imprisonment rates in the western world. Why is that something of which we should be proud?

Every prison place also comes with a cost of about £40,000 a year on average, so there is an economic argument, too. Is locking people up for a second possession offence really the most effective way to spend money to keep us safe? Is that genuinely the best way to spend that money? The Government have a programme for ending gang and youth violence and I hope that we would all support that, but it is quite a small programme. The total budget of the entire ending gang and youth violence programme is less than the cost of putting 13 people in jail for a year. That is an astonishing figure. Surely we could ensure less gang violence and less knife crime by increasing the funding for that programme rather than putting it all into prisons. We should spend a lot more money, as £2 million extra spent on preventive work could make more of a difference, save more lives and ensure that more people live a life free of fear than the provisions in this Bill will achieve.

As the Minister pointed out, one flaw is that we do not know the consequences of the new clauses, because the figures have not been considered, but even just 100 extra people in jail for six months would cost £20 million. Is it genuinely the view of the whole House that, rather than spending the money elsewhere, that is the best way to reduce knife crime?

4:45 pm
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Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

May I ask the hon. Gentleman to factor in one other matter, as I think that his attention to the detail of the expenditure misses one valuable point? I would pay that money if my new clauses saved lives, as I believe they will.

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

I am fascinated that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to pay £20 million. My point is not for or against saving lives, but about which approach will save

lives more effectively. Will we save more lives by agreeing the new clauses, at a cost of £20 million? Or will we save more lives by spending that money on reducing the gang crime that blights our cities and other areas? Which will reduce knife crime by more? I am not saying that the hon. Gentleman’s proposals would not have any effect at all, but I would challenge whether they are the best way of proceeding and of saving the most lives.

If we had that extra money, we could do many more of the things that we should be doing. We could do more to teach 11 to 16-year-olds of the consequences of knife crime and the harm that can come to them, and to encourage them to report knife carrying so that it happens less in our schools and on our streets. We could make more young people aware of the downsides of gang culture and run much more effective anti-gang programs. We could extend the highly successful “This is abuse” campaign to girls who are associated with gang members and who are at particular risk of sexual exploitation. Those are all things that the Government could do that would stop people picking up a knife in the first place. We could use money for that instead of just locking people up.

The Secretary of State used to understand that. When he gave evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, he said that what

“I would seek to bring to Government, if we win the election, is all around the principle of early intervention...I think that the way in which we make the biggest difference to knife crime and indeed to other violent crimes, particularly amongst the young, is through more effective early intervention.”

He was right when he said that; the money should be spent on early intervention, as I think, and the Justice Secretary used to think, that that is more effective. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Hitchcock, as he was then, also explained why we are going to have things wrong, as I highlighted earlier.

We should make it very clear that carrying a knife for whatever reason, whether it is driven by fear or to threaten others, is not tolerated, but banging up people who have been misguided and making the situation worse is not the way to do that. This is about finding alternatives, and there are some fantastically effective alternatives. Since 2006, the organisation Redthread has been embedding workers in the trauma centre at King’s College hospital. Its staff work closely with accident and emergency staff to try to disrupt the cycle of violence that brings hundreds of young people to the hospital each year. Every week, their clinical colleagues see mostly young men who for a range of reasons find themselves victims or perpetrators of gun and knife crime. Redthread staff take the opportunity to try to turn around people who have been involved, injured and seen the worst that can happen as a result of such crime—at a time when they are shocked and their lives can be changed. Supporting anti-gang work at the scene in A and E, with better education and more awareness-raising in schools, seems to me to be the way to reduce knife crime further.

There is another thing we should do and which I am surprised the Justice Secretary has not done: insist that the Sentencing Council re-examine the current guidelines for knife crime. They were last looked at in 2008. There is a strong case to look at them again, and to look at them in the round to make sure that we have the right

sentences. I do not know why the Justice Secretary has not done that ahead of time. He could have done so easily, as he did recently for one-punch killing.

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Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood, Conservative)

Does my hon. Friend agree with my proposal that in order to ensure that sentences are looked at in the round, that they reflect the views of the public who elect us and that they are effective, the Sentencing Council should be a committee of this Parliament?

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Dawn Primarolo (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means; Bristol South, Labour)

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been very generous in giving way, but he has been speaking for some considerable time and there are at least six other Members who wish to speak before this debate terminates at 6 o’clock. May I gently suggest that he be less generous and make progress quickly?

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Julian Huppert (Cambridge, Liberal Democrat)

I am starting the last page of my speech and I shall try to avoid taking more interventions.

If the Justice Secretary did as I suggest, we could look in the round at everything from simple possession through to murder with a knife. We could have coherent guidelines for these offences and more proportionate sentencing. I want to see that. It would also help us with an evidence-based approach. We could look at the facts and at what makes a difference, and make sure we take the right steps to get knives off our streets and out of the hands of children.

I entirely understand the arguments of the supporters of the new clauses. I understand what they are trying to achieve and I have sympathy with it. I do not fault their intentions at all, but we should look at the consequences, the downsides and the alternatives. We should remain tough on those who use knives to harm other people and we should be tough on the causes of knife crime. We should not do just what looks tough.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Dawn Primarolo

Dawn Primarolo (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means; Bristol South, Labour)

Order. I remind hon. Members that this debate ends at 6 o’clock and we have to go back to the mover of the new clause, which means that we will entirely lose the last group of amendments. It is not possible in the time available for every Member to speak for 25 minutes. Therefore I ask Members to speak for 10 minutes or less and to be courteous to their colleagues in order to try to make time for them.

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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour)

I will restrict my remarks to new clauses 6 and 7 moved by Nick de Bois, who has left the Chamber. Much as I respect his work and his commitment to dealing with knife crime, I cannot agree with or support his amendments. I agree very much with the points just made by Dr Huppert on mandatory sentencing. There is a principle at stake here. There is a Sentencing Council and legislation on what is and is not a crime, but surely it must be for the courts to determine what is

appropriate for the prisoner in front of them, rather than to have that laid down by statute. Surely that is the right way forward, and we should respect it.

I do not underestimate the issue of knife crime. Less than two weeks ago a young man was killed in my constituency by yet another knife crime. As I have done with the other families concerned, I went to see the family afterwards. The shock, the horror, the loss and the waste, and then seeing the flowers placed alongside the spot where the young man died, and young people congregating around it—that is a pretty significant message to an awful lot of young people that that person died because of a knife crime. It is an important message to them about the loss involved in it.

I have been to funerals where the families have turned up grieving, and hundreds of young people have turned up. We have held memorial events at which an incredibly strong message has been given to young people that carrying knives is not a protection; it is in fact an increased danger to themselves and they are more likely to be injured by the knife they are carrying than they are to be able to defend themselves with it, and it is simply not the right way forward. Surely that is a strong message to get across. The sense of shock that affects young people is considerable. I was astonished when visiting a primary school last week to be asked questions about knife crime, because the pupils had all seen the stories of the murder in the community.

We must ask ourselves a number of questions. Is a mandatory sentence for someone who is carrying a knife for the second time the right thing to introduce? Will it reduce reoffending? Will it make the person who is convicted of carrying a knife for the second time more or less likely to reoffend, or is it more likely to brutalise them—because that is what our prison and youth justice system does—making them more likely to reoffend than someone who has not been given a custodial sentence?

The hon. Member for Enfield North kindly allowed me to intervene and I drew attention to the evidence taken in the Justice Committee when we were examining issues of youth justice. We visited a number of young offenders institutions and took evidence from former inmates and victims of crime. We took evidence from large numbers of people, and the piece of evidence that most strongly sticks in my mind is being told in no uncertain terms by a repeat offender—though not for knife crime—that their toughest sentence was a community service order in which they had to attend a place, carry out a task and do something to try to turn their lives around, because somebody was on their case, in a way that never happens when someone is in prison, and happens only to some extent in young offenders institutions.

Mandatory sentencing looks tough, sounds tough and will please some of the less thoughtful media in our society, but its implications are not helpful. I draw attention to the advisory note given to us for this debate by the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, which has looked at the issue and knows a thing or two about it. Its estimate is that 200 more young people—children actually, in law— will be put in prison as a result of the new clauses that we are discussing today, should they be agreed to and should the House of Lords want to put them into law.

I also draw attention to another, perhaps more difficult question. Those who are found in possession of a knife and convicted of that have not necessarily committed a crime. They have been found carrying a knife with a blade more than 3 inches in length. Often they have been found by stop and search or by intelligence gathering by the police. The House should not misunderstand me: I do not approve of anyone carrying a knife, but when one then looks at who is stopped and searched, one rapidly finds a wholly disproportionate picture of modern Britain and modern youth. A disproportionate number of black youngsters will have been stopped and searched, therefore a disproportionate number will be in possession of knives, and there will then be a disproportionate number in the prison system and a disproportionate number will reoffend. Surely the courts should have discretion on this matter, and instead we should redouble our efforts to provide young people with the opportunities, inspiration and ambition that takes them beyond gang culture and the idea that possession of a knife will protect them and provide them with some degree of security in the future.

The Prison Reform Trust has also looked at the issue in some detail and the latest Ministry of Justice figures show the rates of child and adult convictions for knife possession. In the first quarter of 2014, 652 offences involving knife possession were committed by children aged 10 to 17, resulting in a caution or a sentence. The adult figure was 3,262. The number of knife possession offences committed by children under 18 in the last quarter reduced by 34%, and I pay tribute to all those who have ensured that it has reduced. The number of knife possession offences committed in the last quarter by adults over 18 fell by 23% over the same period. It is also evidential that custodial sentences have the worst outcome of the sentencing options available, with nearly 70% of children and 58% of young people aged 18 to 20 being reconvicted within a year of release. The Prison Reform Trust says:

“Mandatory prison sentences for knife possession could drive up the numbers of children and young people in custody following a welcome period of decline both in youth imprisonment and youth crime.”

The Standing Committee for Youth Justice and the Prison Reform Trust have highlighted the disproportionate effect on black youngsters that will result if the new clause goes through.

It is very easy to follow newspaper headlines and media reports of the horror of death of any sort—from shotguns, firearms, knife crime or any other kind of murder—but we have a duty to try to make our society safer and better in future. I think that this knee-jerk reaction of more and more custodial sentences for our already overcrowded prisons will result in much greater cost for all of us, much higher rates of reoffending, which affect all of us, and a more criminalised rather than a more peaceable society. Surely we need to address the root causes of the issue. We should give the courts the discretion to give custodial sentences, yes, where necessary, but they should also have the discretion to use community service orders, restorative justice, and all the things that have been shown to work, rather than the one that does not work—the automatic imprisonment of so many of our young people.

5:00 pm
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Edward Garnier (Harborough, Conservative)

I broadly agree with what Jeremy Corbyn said, but equally I have agreed with much of what other people have said. The short response to the problem that we have set ourselves is that we simply do not know the answer, and we are struggling to find it by passing legislation of one sort or another. Despite the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend Nick de Bois, I am not at all convinced that the new clause provides us with the answer in discouraging youngsters from carrying knives; he concentrated mostly—in fact, entirely—on knives.

I am not persuaded either that the default position, as possibly indicated by the hon. Member for Islington North, is that a community sentence is the right answer. There will be cases where it is imperative that the offender should be sent to prison, and for a very long time, but by and large that will be when the knife has been carried in order to commit a crime that is then carried out. The Stephen Lawrence case ended up with murder. Other cases have ended up with crimes such as those under section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Serious offences are committed by knife carriers, but they tend to be convicted and sentenced for the greater crime that they go on to commit with the knife.

As I said, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North argued his case with huge enthusiasm. I suppose it is possible to be enthusiastically right. I also suppose that it is equally possible to be enthusiastically mistaken, and it may be possible to be enthusiastically wrong. Perhaps we need to be a little more understanding of the absence of certainty in what we are advocating or proposing.

My hon. Friend said that one in four offenders had not received a custodial sentence for possessing a knife. Of course, we do not know—he did not know—what had led those people to be brought to justice and convicted. He was not able to tell me what the facts of the case were, what the profile of the defendant was, what the mitigations were, or the surrounding circumstances that led the court to give a long custodial sentence. Until we know those things, we really cannot make an intelligent assessment of whether it is appropriate to give somebody a minimum sentence of six months if he is over 18 or four months’ detention and training if he is between 16 and 18.

I am also concerned that new clauses 6 and 7 concentrate not only on knives or “bladed articles”, but on “offensive weapons”, so a whole new swathe or category of offenders would be caught and possibly subjected to minimum sentences, removing the discretion of the judge to deal with the case based on the facts. A judge in a given case may well think it appropriate to give someone carrying an offensive weapon for the second time a custodial sentence, possibly for much longer than six months. There is a let-out, however, in the mandatory sentencing arrangements passed over the past decade or so; under new clause 6, new section (2B) would allow the mandatory sentence not to be passed if there are circumstances that

“relate to the offence or to the offender, and…would make it unjust to do so in all the circumstances.”

We simply do not know how that is going to bite on this particular set of offences.

I understand that the Government Front Benchers will abstain on the new clause. If it is accepted, I urge

the Government to be cautious and take into account my view that most of the difficulties involving the possession of knives are caused not by those over the age of 18, or even by those between the ages of 16 and 18—although some are—but by much younger teenagers, who are not caught by the new clause. Had my hon. Friends addressed that point, I might have had a little more sympathy with what they are no doubt genuinely trying to achieve. However, what we have here is neither fish nor fowl.

I urge the Government not to be swept up by the enthusiasm of some of my well motivated hon. Friends. If we are to pass legislation and amend the criminal justice provisions that deal with the possession of an offensive weapon or a bladed article, a lot more thought needs to go into it before it hits the statute book.

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Heidi Alexander (Opposition Whip (Commons); Lewisham East, Labour)

It is a pleasure to follow Sir Edward Garnier. I share some of his concerns, but not all of them, and I have arrived at a slightly different conclusion. He is right to say that there is a degree of uncertainty, but one of the things we need to consider when deciding how to vote on the new clause is the message it sends not just to those who may be caught up in knife crime, but to the victims of knife crime and their families.

Like Nick de Bois, I represent a London constituency and I know how our communities are scarred by the use of knives. Many of my constituents live with loss as a result of knife crime. The House needs to demonstrate how seriously we take the issue with regard to not just sentencing, but, as Dr Huppert said, all Government action to address the problem. That means preventive work as well as work at the other end of the process.

I have been a Member of Parliament for the past four years, and I have been struck when the Prime Minister has stood at the Dispatch Box on a Wednesday to talk about the fallen soldiers who have given their lives in conflicts. During those four years, I have met the families of a number of young men who have lost their lives thanks to knife crime. I do not necessarily make a comparison between the circumstances involved, but I think it is important for me to read out the names of the young men in my constituency who have been killed as a result of knives. In March 2012, Kwame Ofosu-Asare was stabbed to death in Brixton. In August 2012, Nathaniel Brown was stabbed to death in Downham. In September 2012, Kevin Ssali was stabbed as he got off a bus in my constituency. Those are the names just of my constituents; sadly, many other young people in London have lost their lives as a result of knives.

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Bob Stewart (Beckenham, Conservative)

I want to support and amplify what the hon. Lady is saying. The families of people who have lost sons serving in uniform abroad at least have the great satisfaction of knowing that their boy—or their girl—has died in the service of their country, but the families of someone knifed on the streets of Lewisham or any other London borough have no such satisfaction or support for their grief. I totally support her intention in making such an analogy.

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Heidi Alexander (Opposition Whip (Commons); Lewisham East, Labour)

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. People sometimes assume that those killed as a result of knife crime are themselves involved in gang culture, but that is not always the case. It is very important to put on the record that innocent lives can be taken away by the use of knives.

It is important for the House to be clear that carrying knives and committing offences with them is completely and utterly unacceptable. New clauses 6 and 7 may help us do that. Although they do not in any way represent a complete solution, we owe it to those who have lost their lives and their families to treat the issue with the seriousness that it deserves.

The hon. Member for Cambridge suggested that there is somehow a choice between being tough in sentencing and spending money to prevent people from getting caught up in gang culture and the use of knives. That is a false choice—we need to do both.

I recognise that the issue is very difficult. I have met young people in my constituency who tell me that they carry a knife to make them feel safe, while some have heard stories of young people being asked to carry a knife for somebody else. There is some logic to the argument that some people who end up committing crimes with knives are victims in some ways, as well as perpetrators. Young people in my constituency are concerned about their safety. I may feel safe when I walk the streets in Lewisham, but when I have gone to meet children in our schools—they do excellent work with some of the community groups set up to tackle this problem—it has been brought home to me that there is a real issue, and that we need to find a way to take knives off our streets.

Some young people carry knives because they think that it is glamorous, but the vast majority of young people in Lewisham do not carry knives. If young people know that the second time they are caught carrying a knife they will face a mandatory custodial sentence, that will be an important lesson. I recognise, however, that some discretion still exists for judges to consider exceptional circumstances.

I am interested in what happens to an individual when they receive a mandatory custodial sentence and go to prison for committing their second knife-related offence. I am reminded of the comments of my constituent, Barry Mizen, the father of a young man murdered on the streets of Lewisham—not as the result of a knife, but through a wholly different set of circumstances. When he talks about how we should tackle violence on our streets, the question of rehabilitation and what happens to people when they go to prison, he says something very powerful: “I’m less interested in how long someone goes to prison for than in what comes out at the end.”

I would like to use this opportunity to press Ministers on what is happening in our prisons. When people, be they young men or adults, go to prison for knife-related offences, what work is done to give them the skills and opportunities that they need to get on with their lives, but on a different course, when they leave prison? For me, some basic things need to be done in respect of where people live when they leave prison and their

ability to get a job. Work should be done to give employers a different attitude to giving such individuals a second chance.

5:15 pm
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Jeremy Wright (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice; Kenilworth and Southam, Conservative)

As the hon. Lady will understand, I will not have a chance to sum up this debate, so I will respond now, if she will forgive me. I hope that she will look carefully at our “Transforming Rehabilitation” proposals. Part and parcel of those proposals is that young and older people should have support that starts before they leave custody and sees them through the prison gate and out into the community. Many people who receive sentences for the knife crime offences that she is describing have custodial sentences of less than 12 months. As she will appreciate, no licence or rehabilitation automatically applies to such sentences at the moment. We have already changed that and the “Transforming Rehabilitation” proposals will support that.

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Heidi Alexander (Opposition Whip (Commons); Lewisham East, Labour)

I am grateful to the Minister for those remarks. However, most people would still agree that the level of reoffending in our society is too high. I am pleased that the Government are taking those positive steps, but I know that he will agree that there is still much more to do.

To conclude, this is a difficult issue but, on balance, I believe that the new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for Enfield North should be supported in the Division Lobby this evening. I will certainly support them.

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Stuart Andrew (Pudsey, Conservative)

I confess that I had intended to make only a short intervention today. However, having listened to the debate, I feel that it is better to make a longer contribution—although it will still be short, if that makes sense.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Nick de Bois for the work that he has done. I fully back the new clauses that he has tabled.

During the general election campaign, I was contacted by a constituent, a lady called Lorraine Fraser, with whom I have worked over the past four years. Her story is really quite harrowing. She had a 16-year-old son called Tyrone. One day, she was alerted to a problem outside the house. Sadly, she discovered that her son was being attacked by a gang of 30 youths. One of them was carrying a knife and stabbed him fatally. At the age of 16, he lost his life. In Lorraine’s own words, Tyrone was not always the best of boys, but he was always a considerate young man. It is really sad that he lost his life on that tragic day.

What has struck me is that, in the face of such a horrific experience, Tyrone’s mother has gone on to campaign tirelessly to do something about knife crime so that there is not another case like Tyrone’s somewhere else in the country. One thing that she has always asked of me and of Parliament is that we get a bit tougher in our rhetoric and our work on knife crime. I believe that new clause 6 is badly needed. I have seen some of Lorraine’s campaigning work, and I have been with her in schools when she talks to young people, telling them about the dangers of carrying a knife. Sometimes the answers she gets back from those young people are shocking.

I stand here today not in support of a newspaper or as a knee-jerk reaction, but because some of those young people will say that they want to carry a knife to

defend themselves, and they know there will be no consequence of that because too often people get away with it. Lorraine is constantly battling the system, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister who has worked tirelessly with her. She is extremely grateful for the support he has given.

It was recently 10 years since Tyrone was killed, and Lorraine held a service in a church in the centre of Leeds. People from across the city—certain areas in particular—came along to remember members of their families who have lost their lives. To sit in that church and listen to people talk about their fathers, sons, brothers and nephews was a difficult experience. One young boy spoke about his father. He did not really know him because he had been murdered thanks to gang crime. The boy pleaded with the Government to do something. He said that people in their community were doing their bit to try to get across the message about the dangers of carrying a knife, working with young people and engaging with them in the schools, but he wanted the Government to do something about knife crime. I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North is providing us with an opportunity to do that.

Even today on the news I saw a former gang member saying that for too long the Government have been too soft on this issue, and we need to come up with some serious consequences to stop the temptation to carry knives. I do not believe that people do not listen to the messages that come from this place; I think they get the message that the consequences are too soft, and we must send a much clearer message. Carrying a knife can totally destroy not only the life of the person who carries it, but the life of a young person such as Tyrone, and the lives of family members, as I have seen with Lorraine. For her sake, and for the sake of others around the country, I will be supporting the new clause.

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Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

I agree with my hon. Friend Nick de Bois and commend him on his new clause, which I will be supporting enthusiastically.

I will concentrate my remarks on the three new clauses that I have tabled in this group, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Nuttall for adding his name to them. I was disappointed that the shadow Minister, who usually has plenty to say about lots of things, had nothing to say about any of my new clauses. The Labour party having nothing to say on the economy appears to have transferred to justice, as they have nothing to say on these matters either.

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Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he now has something to say.

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Andy Slaughter (Shadow Minister (Justice); Hammersmith, Labour)

It was not that I forgot; it is simply that I did not think the new clauses were worth commenting on.

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Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. We have commented on whether people take notice of what Members say, but when I come to discuss the three new clauses, I think he may regret that he thought they were not worthy of any debate. Lots of

people up and down the country, such as victims’ groups and owners of commercial properties, will be very interested to know that.

Photo of Philip Davies

Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

It is no good the hon. Gentleman coming back; he does not care about any of these issues, and lots of people will be grateful to him for letting that cat out of the bag.

Before I come to the three new clauses, in fairness I should also refer to the Minister. On new clause 34 he trotted out the normal sort of Sir Humphrey guff about how it is an important area and we will keep it under review and all that kind of jazz, but I am not entirely sure—I shall have to look through the Sir Humphrey handbook later to find a translation. It may be that the Minister agrees with what I am saying but cannot be seen to be agreeing with that troublemaker Davies on the Back Benches, or perhaps he does not agree, but knows it is popular and does not want to be seen to disagree. Whichever way it is, we deserve a bit more clarity. He says that he will start to look at the issue: he is the Minister, for goodness’ sake. What has he been doing? He should be looking at these things. I know that he must spend a lot of time arranging for murderers and other dangerous criminals to walk out of our prisons, but in the time that he is not doing that perhaps he might want to look at some of the issues that I am talking about.

I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend’s predecessor, my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt, on these matters. If the current Minister wants to go even more left wing than his predecessor, we are in big trouble on this side of the House on criminal justice matters.

New clause 34, to which the Minister gave his Sir Humphrey blurb, is actually about squatting. This activity was criminalised in residential buildings in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012—it was one of the rare triumphs of that Act—and my new clause would extend the criminalisation from residential buildings to non-residential buildings and land. I was delighted to support the criminalisation of squatting, but because it applies only to residential properties, the problem has simply moved on to commercial property, by which I mean any property that is non-residential, including pubs, shops, restaurants and even schools—although the shadow Minister thinks that that is not important.

The now established principle that it is a criminal act to break into someone’s property and take it over without permission should apply whatever the property. It should make no difference whether it is a flat or a community centre. No one should have the right to enter someone else’s property without permission and stay there until evicted. At the time of the criminalisation of squatting in residential property, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate said:

“For too long squatters have had the justice system on the run and have caused homeowners untold misery in eviction, repair and clean-up costs. Not any more. Hard working homeowners need and deserve a justice system where their rights come first— this new offence will ensure the police and other agencies can take quick and decisive action to deal with the misery of squatting.”

I believe that should apply to everyone, not just home owners.

Squatters are using the fact that the law does not apply to commercial premises to take over pubs, for example. The door may have been slammed shut for squatters in residential properties, but it is wide open for non-residential premises and land. One example was the Duchy Arms in Kennington. Squatters realised that it had not been trading for a while and swooped in. They took over last summer and that small, friendly local pub was turned into the London Queer Social Centre overnight. It was overrun by those who cared nothing for what they damaged or how much upset and inconvenience they caused to others. They locked all the doors and put a sign on the front, delighting in the fact that the new law did not apply to them or the pub. It also said that if anyone entered the pub without their permission, they would be the ones guilty of a criminal offence. You really could not make it up. As they had not committed the offence of squatting in a residential building, they were not arrested by the police immediately and the pub was occupied for some time by people who had no regard for anyone or anything around them. When they were eventually evicted, the police had to go in and the premises were guarded for months by dogs to ensure there was no invasion by squatters. The clean-up costs for the owners will have been considerable and could have been avoided had the police been able to arrest the squatters on day one.

Another example that has come to my attention involves an office building owned by Kewal Investments Ltd. Having forced their way into the property, the squatters initially invited the director to agree to them staying there, saying that they would provide free security. The squatters were there from before Christmas until their eventual eviction, with bailiffs and police in attendance, months later. During their occupation, the squatters sought to try to gain entry to adjacent buildings owned by the same firm and the business had to spend money to protect its other properties as well as to seek an order of eviction through the courts.

When the business owners eventually gained entry, the property was in a state with waste everywhere. The squatters had used the back window as a rubbish chute and toilet, left graffiti all over the walls, put paint in a fire extinguisher and blocked the toilet. Those entering could barely get into the basement because of the smell. The director, who often used to give money to the homeless, has now been totally put off the idea. He feels let down by the system and has incurred substantial costs to gain access to his own building. On top of the considerable legal costs, he faces the cost and waste of time of simply restoring the building to its original state and ensuring that the squatters do not take it over again. I would have hoped that the Government—a party that should believe in people who own property—would want to do something about this instead of the Sir Humphrey words of the Minister. I suppose that that is better than the shadow Minister saying that he does not even care about the issue at all.

New clause 35 is on another issue about which the shadow Minister should be ashamed of saying that he does not care. It would create a new offence of joint enterprise. I would have thought that the shadow Minister would realise what an important issue that is. The proposal would amend the Domestic Violence Crime

and Victims Act 2004 to extend the offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult to cover everyone, so that this could be used as an alternative to joint enterprise prosecutions in certain cases.

I want to start by paying tribute to Jean Taylor and the Families Fighting for Justice organisation, which has meant that I have been aware for some time of problems relating to the lack of convictions in cases where one would have thought that the principle of joint enterprise would help see justice done. There are a significant number of cases where killers are walking free because the law cannot touch them. I am keen to do something about that.

I have met some of the families of people who have been killed and who feel they have been denied justice, as those responsible are still free. Kevin Patrick Lavelle was murdered in Banbury in June 2004. I met the family of Mr Lavelle who not only have to live with the agony of losing their son, but face ongoing suffering as a result of nobody having been convicted of his murder. In the Court of Appeal judgement in 2011, Lord Justice Hooper said:

“Mr Lavelle was fatally injured in a fight that took place at ‘The Cricketers Arms’ public house in Middleton road, Banbury, Oxfordshire. He died in the early hours of 25 June 2004. He was 29 years old…It was common ground that the deceased died in the course of a fight involving him, Mr Kirk and some, or all, of the first three respondents.”

The coroner’s inquest had a verdict of unlawful killing. It seems clear to everyone that he was murdered, and murdered by one of the named people by that judge. Yet nobody has been successfully prosecuted for his murder. Unless something changes in the law, or some further evidence comes to light, this will continue, tragically, to be the case.

Andrew Jones was murdered in Liverpool in 2003. I have also met the family of Mr Jones and they are devastated by the lack of a conviction in his case. The Liverpool coroner concluded that only one person was responsible for killing Andrew, based on the evidence that he had heard. The coroner did not name that individual in court but the local paper did publicly name the killer and said that if it was not them, they should sue the paper. It seems that none of the people who were there on the night is prepared to say who threw the fatal punch, although obviously one of them knows it was them. It is likely that it was witnessed by at least one other. It cannot be right that their silence means that a killer is protected.

Donald Banfield was murdered in May 2001. The murder convictions of Mr Banfield’s wife and daughter were overturned in July last year. It was accepted by everyone, including the lawyers acting for the accused, and recorded in the judgment that Mr Banfield was murdered, his death was between 11 and 16 March 2001 and that he was murdered either by both his wife and daughter together, or by one of them. Yet these two women are free to walk around while this poor man is dead. It is outrageous that simply because neither will assist the prosecution with the case and say what really happened, there is nothing that can be done to bring one or both of them to justice.

I hope that an extension to section 5 will help to provide an additional mechanism to ensure that justice is done in cases such as these. I cannot see any good reason why the existing law that covers children and

vulnerable adults should not be extended to adult victims of similar crimes. The legal precedent appears to have been set already by the creation of the offence relating to children and vulnerable adults. Extending it to all could mean that some killers who are getting away with their crimes could be brought to justice. This would mean that fewer families would have to live with the fact that their loved ones are gone and that nobody has been held responsible for their deaths, even when everybody knows who was responsible.

5:30 pm
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Jeremy Wright (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice; Kenilworth and Southam, Conservative)

I do not doubt for a moment the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman’s objectives. He may well have a very good point on the deficiencies in joint enterprise law. But the point I was trying to make to him earlier—perhaps in too Sir Humphrey-ish a way—was that what he would actually achieve with new clause 35 is almost the direct opposite of what he wants. The problem he will face, if this were to become the law, is that people who can be prosecuted now under the Act will not be able to be prosecuted because he is replacing a requirement that someone knew what was going on but did not need to be there with a requirement that they were there at the time. That is the problem.

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Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

If the Minister had listened when I explained the case of Donald Banfield, he would know that it was pretty obvious that the mother and daughter were there. Everybody accepts that, yet those women are still walking free, and it seems that the Minister is not prepared to do anything about it.

Finally, new clause 36 would decriminalise insulting words and behaviour. Courtesy of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 was amended to remove the word “insulting”. As of 1 February this year, it has not been an offence to use insulting words or behaviour contained within a section 5 charge. The law change did not, however, affect sections 4 and 4A of the same Act. I was delighted that the word “insulting” was removed from section 5 of the 1986 Act, but I think it must follow that it should be removed from all sections of it. If we are to be consistent, why not? Section 4A is very similar to section 5, and I would like to see all references to “insulting” removed from the legislation. I have focused on this particular issue for the purpose of today’s debate on the amendments. The word “offensive” would remain; only the word “insulting” would be removed. As the Minister said, section 4 needs to be coupled with the threat of violence, whereas someone can be found guilty of an offence by intentionally insulting someone under section 4A and could be sent to prison for six months.

I am not alone in wanting this change. The Joint Committee on Human Rights said in its report of October 2011:

“We also support the amendment of the Public Order Act to remove all reference to offences based on insulting words and behaviour. This would enhance human rights and remove the possible incompatibility with the right to freedom of expression.”

Peter Tatchell—an unlikely ally of mine, Madam Deputy Speaker—said:

“Section 4A of the Public Order Act is sufficient to convey all the exceptional circumstances requiring prosecution (although its criminalisation of mere insults should also be repealed for the afore-mentioned reasons).”

I believe that it is totally unacceptable in a supposedly free country with alleged free speech that we should have any reference to the term “insulting” in the laws of our land. I think most people are fed up with political correctness, so abolishing any further criminalisation of insults would be great step to restoring faith in this place, showing that Britain is a country where free speech is cherished. A ComRes poll showed that 62% of people did not believe that the state should ever criminalise insults—a viewpoint supported by Liberty and the National Secular Society.

I think these are important matters, but I do not intend to press the new clauses to a vote. I am appalled and depressed, however, that the shadow Minister thinks all of these issues that affect people’s lives are not even worthy of consideration. He should be ashamed of himself; I look forward to his apology at some future point.

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James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis, Conservative)

I rise to support new clauses 6 and 7, tabled by my hon. Friend Nick de Bois. I would like to pay tribute to the great work that he, together with my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes, has done on this issue—one that is not entirely confined to London.

An incident took place in my constituency when Christina Edkins was killed on her way to school on the number 9 bus travelling from Birmingham to Halesowen. Her death was a devastating blow to the community in Halesowen. I had the privilege of meeting her parents and her uncle to console them and to try to understand the devastating consequences of this incident on their lives. That led me to ask the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s Question Time whether the Government would consider mandatory sentences for knife possession. Having discussed these matters with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North and others, I am pleased that appropriate measures to introduce this mandatory sentence, which I think is absolutely necessary to tackle this issue, have been tabled for today’s debate. I owe it to the family and friends of Christina Edkins to support them.

I believe that the new clause also sends a signal that is important for deterrence. It is not a straightforward issue, but I think the community listens to the signals sent from this place. Shortly after this incident in my constituency, I took part in a knife crime debate in Birmingham. I was on a panel with the police and others concerned about the spread of knife crime in and around the Birmingham area. I spoke to various members of the West Midlands police and they were absolutely convinced of the need for a mandatory sentence. From their work with the community in trying to identify individuals and communities at risk from knives, they were clear about the need for legislation to send the very important signal that carrying a knife has consequences and that that those consequences mean that people should not be carrying knives. The police were very clear on that. It is very important to send a clear signal that we do not tolerate the spread of knives under any circumstances.

On the argument that someone carries a knife for self-protection, I would ask whether the same argument would apply to carrying a gun. The distinction between carrying a gun and the intention to use it does not stand

up, and we should take the same attitude towards carrying knives. I agree that this is not the only way to continue the effort to clamp down on knife crime. There is a lot of work to do to educate young people that carrying weapons is simply not acceptable and will have consequences, and that there are other things to do with one’s life instead of ending up getting involved in street violence as if it is some kind of status symbol. I hope the House will vote for the mandatory sentence, but I do not think it is a panacea. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North that they are both sides of the same coin. We must tackle the issue on both levels.

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Robert Buckland (South Swindon, Conservative)

I am listening with great interest to my hon. Friend’s correct analysis of the situation. Of the many young people I represented and dealt with in my time in the criminal courts as a barrister, I heard the same reason for carrying a knife over and over again: “It is for my own protection.” It is that sort of culture that we have to move away from if we are to deal with the scourge of knife crime that can affect children as young 10—or even younger in some cases.

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James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis, Conservative)

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point with which I totally agree.

We have a responsibility in this place to support the amendment. It is the right approach. It sends a tough signal that we do not tolerate the possession of knives. There should not be a distinction between knives and guns. We need to address this scourge, so we can redouble our efforts to ensure we do not have the type of tragedies that occurred on the number 9 bus as it was coming from Birmingham towards my constituency. I support the amendment.

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Edward Garnier (Harborough, Conservative)

The minimum for guns is five years, not six months.

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James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis, Conservative)

It is the principle, really. We can go into fine distinctions, but the principle is that a mandatory sentence sends a powerful signal about our attitude towards knives.

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Bob Russell (Colchester, Liberal Democrat)

At Prime Minister’s questions, I asked:

“Why is he ignoring knife crime?”

In reply, the Prime Minister said:

“As well as tackling gun crime, we are introducing tougher sentences for the possession of knives as illegal weapons.”—[Hansard, 28 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 924.]

That is what Tony Blair told me on 28 February 2007. I mention that because I want to put it on the record that this subject has interested me deeply for more than seven years.

Like other hon. Members, I have a constituent who lost a son to a knife crime. I am not proud of the fact that in Colchester, which is a relatively peaceful town with a relatively low crime rate, we have witnessed three knife murders over a period of eight or nine years. In two cases, the perpetrators were convicted and are in jail. In the third, which is still very much live and which the Essex constabulary are investigating, the victim suffered more than 100 knife wounds. A few weeks ago, someone else was attacked by two people with knives.

Such things can happen even in a relatively peaceful town with a low crime rate. The perception of crime in Colchester is the same as it is everywhere else: the perception is that a lot of crime is taking place. That is not the case in reality, but when something so horrendous happens, something clearly needs to be done.

I do not think that anyone here supports knife crime. The only difference of opinion seems to relate to how sentencing should be dealt with. I want judges to have the maximum discretion and not to have their hands tied by Parliament, but we can disagree on that.

It is regrettable that the Home Affairs Committee was meeting this afternoon while the debate was taking place here. Eight of its 14 members who investigated this matter in considerable depth and detail in 2008-09—it was one of the most thorough inquiries that any Select Committee has ever conducted—are still Members of Parliament, including the then Chairman and Vice-Chairman, who hold the same posts today. I am sure that if those Members had been present, they would have wished to refer to some of that Committee’s unanimous conclusions. Here is one unanimous recommendation:

“While it may be an appropriate punishment for knife-carriers, evidence suggests that the prospect of a custodial sentence may not deter young people from carrying knives. Many young people do not think about the consequences of their actions, and for a small minority who feel at risk of violence, the prospect of jail seems preferable to the dangers of being caught without a weapon for protection. Evidence suggests that the fear of getting caught acts as a stronger deterrent for young people. This strengthens our support for strong police action against knives, including the use of stop and search.”

Another unanimous recommendation that was made six years ago—I am only dipping into the Committee’s reports, because time is against us—was as follows:

“While we consider that magistrates should be allowed a degree of discretion when sentencing those convicted of knife possession, and therefore oppose a mandatory sentence, we favour a more consistent approach to sentencing and custody for the majority of offenders. We are therefore pleased to note that there is now a presumption across England and Wales that knife-carriers will be charged, and that the number of offences resulting in custody rose during 2008.”

So it is fair to say that the last Government introduced measures, and that those measures were unanimously endorsed by the Home Affairs Committee.

One of the witnesses whom the Committee heard—it was the second occasion on which she gave evidence to it, as she had given written evidence during the previous year—was a lady called Anne Oakes-Odger, founder of KnifeCrimes.Org and Westley's Weapons Awareness Programme. Mrs Oakes-Odger’s son Westley was killed in Colchester on 12 September 2005, at the age of 27, during an incident at an ATM. I mention her because she is one of the mothers about whom we have heard today—women who, following their tragedies, have spent the rest of their lives doing what they can to ensure that others do not suffer as they have. Her evidence was extremely compelling.

The mother of a young man who was murdered in my constituency—she lives in Clacton, but the murder took place in Colchester—founded another organisation called Only Cowards Carry Weapons. She is drawing attention to knife crime in a high-profile way, because

she feels that it is the best way in which to make people aware of the awful situation that confronted her family.

I think the House is united in wishing to tackle knife crime. The only point of difference I have found in this entire debate is about whether judges should have more discretionary powers or fewer.

5:45 pm
Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

I am grateful to the whole House. Much of the debate has focused on the new clauses that I have tabled, for which we have heard considerable support on both sides of the House, although, clearly, there is some disagreement from our coalition partners. It is fair to say, therefore, that given the potential voting outcome, we will see a unique—but welcome—situation.

Sadly, I came to the issue of knife crime before the last general election. I made a promise to my constituents that I would not let the matter drop. If the House chooses to support the new clauses, we will see the fulfilment of a Conservative party manifesto commitment. However, today is not the end of something; it is very much about continuing the work of doing our best to eradicate the insidious scourge of knife culture as well as knife crime. I am sure the whole House will support that.

For far too long this problem has blighted the lives of many of our citizens and our constituents. Today we not only fulfil a manifesto commitment, but I hope that, with support from across the House, we also fulfil the wishes of so many people and so many victims who have been touched one way or another by the distressing knife culture in this country.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 404, Noes 53.

Division number 8

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Aye

No

Question accordingly agreed to.

New clause 6 read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, 12 May).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).