Knives

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3 March 1993.

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Photo of David Marshall David Marshall , Glasgow Shettleston 12:00, 3 March 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received regarding Operation Blade carried out by Strathclyde police; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will introduce proposals to amend the law relating to sentences available to sheriffs for those convicted of carrying knives or other such instruments.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

My right hon. Friend has received no representations concerning Operation Blade, but we strongly welcome the steps that have been taken by Strathclyde police to deal with the serious and growing problem of the carrying of knives. Operation Blade is an innovative strategy by the force and the first of its kind in Scotland. More than 4,500 weapons have already been surrendered. The Government will be supporting the Bill introduced yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) to strengthen the law on the carrying of knives in public.

Photo of David Marshall David Marshall , Glasgow Shettleston

Will the Minister confirm that I have been raising with him the issue of crimes of violence For the past five years? Will he further confirm that last year I asked him to declare an amnesty and that he refused, on the basis that to do so, so soon after 1988, would debase its value? Is not it a fact that as Operation Blade has resulted in nearly 5,000 weapons being removed from the streets of Strathclyde, it is the Government who are debased? Why has it taken campaigns by the Glasgow Evening Times and the Scottish Daily Record to get the Government to act?

Is the Minister aware that horrific weapons of war are widely available in shops in our towns and cities? Will he now introduce legislation to ban the importation and sale of weapons such as the one I hold in my hand—[Interruption.]

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. Before we proceed further, I must remind the hon. Gentleman that he is not allowed to bring such an implement into the Chamber, or indeed into the House.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

The hon. Member has been here long enough to be aware of such matters. [Interruption.] I am sure that, at my request, he will remove it from the Chamber. I should be most grateful if he would.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. Before we proceed, I am sure that the hon. Member will agree to do as I say.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Will he do it quickly, so that he can then hear the Minister's reply to his supplementary question?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I welcome the fact that Opposition Members are coming round to the Government's way of thinking on the need for a really strong law and order policy in this country. Only a short time ago they opposed the police having powers of search. The importance of the Bill is that it alters the onus of proof, which will make prosecutions easier. The existing provisions under the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 relate to the carrying of weapons and require the Crown to prove intent to injure. Under the Bill, it will not be necessary to prove that intent and that will take the policy much further forward. If the hon. Gentleman feels passionately about the issue, however, will he please make representations to Strathclyde regional council's Labour group and ask it to strengthen the police force, which is some 200 under strength at present?

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Will my hon. Friend accept my thanks for the time given by Scottish Office officials in preparing the Bill that will make the carrying of knives in public an offence? Will he welcome the support given by Opposition Members and does he agree that this is only one small step to redress an unacceptable position?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

Yes, I can confirm that there is no stronger supporter of law and order in the House than my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr. I have no doubt that, with a general consensus of support for tightening the measures in relation to knives, we will strengthen law and order.

In 1992 there were 201 attempted murders in Strathclyde in which knives were used, compared with 126 the year before. The number of knife assaults has increased considerably. We have to take further measures and my hon. Friend's Bill will assist in that process.

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

In January we had the planted question; now we have the planted Bill. Despite enormous public concern in Scotland at the ever-increasing incidence of violence involving knives, the Minister of State only last week stated that the Government were unwilling to make parliamentary time available to fulfil the Conservative party's election manifesto commitment on knives. Eight days after that statement and one day after I presented my Bill to ban the carrying of knives, the hon. Member for Ayr was furnished by the Government with a Bill to do just that.

We accept, however, that the main issue is the carrying of knives in public places. Given the serious nature of the issue to the Scottish people, will the Minister agree to meet me and a small number of my hon. Friends to discuss aspects of the Bill, thereby ensuring the swiftest progress in its passage through Parliament?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is yes, of course I will meet him. May I add that maximum penalties are now available. For example, if someone were to use a knife, he could be sentenced to life imprisonment on indictment. The Bill ensures that those who carry knives where no intent is proved can be proceeded against. That strengthens the powers of the police and also makes it easier to prosecute. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman supports the measure.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross

Before my hon. Friend jumps on the bandwagon of Mr. Boutros Boutros's Bill, may I remind the House what the law is? It is more than adequate. Under section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, it is an offence punishable by two years' imprisonment—more than is sought in the Bill—to carry any offensive weapon in any public or private place, the proof of the carrier's intention, being neutral, being upon him. Furthermore, the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1961 provides for the prevention of sale of offensive weapons. If the Government do not know what the law is, it is time that they did.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

My hon. and learned Friend is a brilliant man, but he is not always right. The Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr changes the burden of proof by requiring the accused to demonstrate lawful authority or reasonable excuse for carrying the implement. That undoubtedly takes us further forward.