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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:05 pm on 26th March 2013.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 7:05 pm, 26th March 2013

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr Williams, with whom I shared a trip to Nigeria last year, and to participate in the David Amess Adjournment debate. We heard my hon. Friend’s tour de force earlier, but I will concentrate on one subject.

I am always pleased to reassure my constituents that Harrow has one of the lowest crime rates in London. In fact, we are the second-safest borough in London for crime. For the past three years, crime has come down overall. However, I first got involved in dealing with knife crime when two savage incidents occurred in my constituency. To my horror, knife crime in Harrow has increased by 16% in the past two years. The overall crime figures show a reduction, and we see ourselves as a low-level borough for crime, including knife crime, but that increase prompted me to look at the wider figures in the country as well as in London.

Nationally, the knife crime figures are going in the right direction—they show that knife crime fell by 15% in the past three years, with the number of crimes coming down to around 30,000. However, in London in the comparable period, knife crime has increased by 15%. London accounts for nearly half of all knife crime committed in England and Wales, which is a serious concern.

The Government have seen fit to address that trend in the new tougher sentencing regime introduced as part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which created the offence of aggravated knife possession—it is now an offence to threaten or endanger others with a knife or offensive weapon. The offence carries an automatic custodial sentence of six months for over 18s. I was one of a number of MPs who supported my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield

North (Nick de Bois), who tabled an amendment to insist on an automatic custodial sentence of four months for 16 and 17-year-olds.

The offence came into operation only on 3 December 2012, so we are unable fully to judge its effectiveness yet. However, we can say that this is not the end of the fight against knife crime, but only the beginning. We need to look at the recently released figures to know the trend, particularly the figures on knife possession—if people do not carry knives in the first place, they will not commit knife crime. In 2012, nearly a quarter of the offensive weapon possession offences were committed by repeat offenders—I would add that they repeated the same offence. Of 4,000 individuals, 43% escaped a custodial sentence. Forty-four per cent. of those offenders had three or more previous convictions, but also escaped a custodial sentence. Even more gallingly, 5% of repeat offenders escaped with nothing more than a caution. Both the rates of reoffending and the sentences show that something is going wrong.

Across London, 62% of knife crime is accounted for by personal robberies involving a knife. Knives are used primarily as a weapon of threat, and in only a small number of cases is someone injured, but 40% of homicides in England and Wales involve a knife. That leads to the utterly wrong view that possession is the least dangerous aspect of knife crime, and therefore unimportant. We must address that. An attitude needs to be introduced in this country by which knife possession is completely and utterly unacceptable. If we allow repeat offenders to escape with nothing but a caution, that attitude will not come about. If we had such an attitude, we would not allow nearly half of all repeat offenders to escape prison.

I believe that possession of a knife or offensive weapon needs to be taken much more seriously, which is why I call on Ministers to assess whether it would be appropriate to introduce a two-strikes policy, by which anyone found in possession of a knife who has a previous conviction for a knife-related offence should receive an automatic custodial sentence. That would make it clear, in the strongest terms, that the Government stand against knife crime and are prepared to challenge its root causes.

This is holy week, when Christians celebrate Easter, Jews commemorate the Passover and the deliverance from Egypt, and Hindus celebrate Holi. I wish people of all religions a very happy holy week.