HC Deb 20 June 1988 vol 135 cc906-21

`. (1) Any person who sells to a person under the age of sixteen an article to which section 132 of this Act applies shall be guilty of an offence.

(2) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) above shall be liable on summary conviction to a line not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.'.— [Mrs. Ann Taylor.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

8.30 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take the following new clauses:

No. 19ߞ Advertising of knivesߞ '(1) Any person who sells, hires or offers for sale or hire with verbal, written or graphic reference to its potential offensive or defensive use an article to which section 132 of this Act applies shall be guilty of an offence. (2) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) above shall be liable on summary conviction to a tine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.'.

No. 29— Sale of knives to juveniles (No. 2)ߞ `. (1) Any person who sells to a person under the age of eighteen an article to which section 132 of this Act applies shall be guilty of an offence. (2) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) above shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.'.

No. 45— Sale of offensive weapons to childrenߞ `No person shall supply, offer to supply or agree to supply any items referred to in section 134 of this Act to any person apparently under the age of 16 years.'.

No. 46— Advertising of offensive weaponsߞ `(1) No object which is an offensive weapon within the meaning of section 134 of this Act may be sold, hired or offered for sale with verbal, written or graphic reference to its potential offensive use. (2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale.'.

Mrs. Taylor

Following the last interesting debate and very close vote, I hope that the Government will take a great deal of notice of the arguments to be marshalled in later debates, because the more Conservative Members listen to the arguments, the more they are willing to vote against the Government. I hope that the Government will take that on board and perhaps consider the points raised in the last debate and other ways of dealing with the problems that we discussed.

New clause 18 deals with another important issue—the problem of knives and the carrying of knives and, particularly, the sale of knives to juveniles and the way in which knives and other offensive weapons are advertised in this country. New clause 18 would ban the sale of knives to young people under age 16. Some people have suggested that we should ban the sale of knives to people under 18. We shall be happy to discuss what would be an appropriate age, but we have suggested banning the sale of knives to young people under 16 because knives are extremely dangerous weapons and are being used increasingly.

We must act quickly to counteract the serious knife-carrying sub-culture that appears to have developed, particularly among young people and in certain parts of the country. That is primarily, but not exclusively, a problem in London and, like many other problems that started in London, it is now being exported elsewhere. Perhaps the violence that we have seen recently in Essex and other rural parts of the country will make the Government realise that violent crime is not just an urban problem. It has pervaded the whole country and must be taken more seriously.

The carrying and use of knives has become increasingly commonplace. Between 1985 and 1986 the number of street robberies in London involving the use of knives rose by one third. In 1986, knives were used in 650 muggings and 1,100 violent attacks in Lambeth alone. We know that young people are increasingly involved in crime generally and that many of the offenders involved in street crime are young people.

The Minister of State, who is not here at present, told us in Committee that the peak age for offending is now 15, for both boys and girls. Many of us may well be surprised when we first learn at what age young people start to carry knives. In a recent police amnesty on playground weapons, knives were handed in from children as young as 11 or 12. When we discussed that problem in Committee, I quoted the case of a head teacher in my area of West Yorkshire who had confiscated many knives from youngsters in his school and handed them to the police during the amnesty and was quite rightly appalled to see even more offensive weapons, and weapons described as offensive, on sale to anyone.

In new clause 18 we are trying to make it as difficult as possible for youngsters to get hold of weapons. We must try to halt the trend for carrying knives by hitting at the root of the problem. If it is easy for young people to obtain knives, it is all too easy for them to carry and use them. We realise that simply by saying that weapons should not be sold to young people we shall not see the end of the problem. Youngsters will continue to obtain weapons from friends and parents, and some may steal them. But we should still try to put as many obstacles as possible in the way of children who try to obtain and use knives.

We have all heard about the events in Europe last week with the English soccer fans. I do not want to dwell on that now, but one incident involved a young West German who was stabbed by English supporters in one of the several fights that took place. It is clear, not just from events abroad, that carrying knives has become fashionable—strangely fashionable to those of us who are a little older —among young men wanting to promote a macho image. What develops as a fashion then becomes a necessity. Young people need to be convinced that it is silly and dangerous to carry knives.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I apologise for not being here for the start of my hon. Friend's speech. Is she aware of reports that there are certain gangs that will not allow a youth to join unless he has a knife on him and, in some cases, unless he can say that the knife has been used? Such is the knife culture in our sick society.

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is right to describe such a culture as part of a sick society. We have seen too many gangs of youngsters egging each other on and encouraging each other to use violence. That is a dangerous state of affairs.

We believe that the way to prevent the spread of that knife-carrying culture and of the groups to which my hon. Friend referred is to discourage people from as early an age as possible from carrying knives. At present, any young person can get hold of a knife or other dangerous weapon, and the new clause seeks to make that task much more difficult.

It was disturbing to read in newspaper reports last week that children as young as 10 or 11 are now carrying knives in London, out of fear. The problem was identified by a number of community and police consultative groups in a joint letter to the press, which said: The carrying of knives must be curbed before it spreads uncontrollably—for when one set of youths carries knives out of bravado, the next set carries them out of fear, for self-defence (which so easily results, not in security, but in the giving or receiving of injuries). Youths need to be persuaded that it is foolish not glamorous or protective to carry knives. The police officer involved in the south London campaign to reduce the carrying of knives by the young there said that knife carrying was no longer simply for machismo or robbery, but because young people were afraid to walk the streets without protection.

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I am aware of that campaign in south London because my constituency is affected by the knife culture. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that many young people who carry knives for protection end up being injured by those knives. Because they have protection, they get into a conflict, and the knife that they are carrying to protect themselves is used to injure them. That is an immense danger of which young people should be made aware.

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend makes the valid point that knives are dangerous to the carrier as well as to the potential victim. As she says, the knife may be carried not as an offensive weapon but as a defensive weapon. That is a salutary point that should be emphasised to young people. A vicious circle of weapon carrying is being created, and we are trying to break it with our new clause.

Mr. Winnick

Especially if there is drink.

Mrs. Taylor

As my hon. Friend rightly says, this is especially so if drink is involved. That point relates to other amendments to this and other legislation that we shall discuss at a later stage. The combination of knife carrying and the consumption of alcohol is extremely dangerous. It is something that young people who are under the age for drinking, and who should, we argue, be under the age for buying weapons, ought to bear in mind and have emphasised to them as part of their general education.

Young people fear that others may be carrying knives, so they themselves carry weapons for protection. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) said, that does not always have the desired effect. We want to break this dangerous habit of young people carrying offensive weapons for defensive reasons.

In Committee we welcomed and supported clause 132, and we accepted, with some reluctance but out of necessity, clause 133, which extends the powers of the police to stop people who are carrying knives and alters the onus of proof. The Government have argued that a ban on the sale of weapons such as that suggested in new clause 18 would be difficult to implement and would be ineffective. The Home Office has said: Nor does the Home Secretary believe that much would be achieved by banning the sales of knives to people under the age of 16. Many of the knives carried by young people are found in every home and imposing age restrictions on their sale could not prevent young people from getting hold of them. The legislation banning the sale of solvent glues and of fireworks to children has not always prevented young people from getting hold of those commodities, but that does not invalidate the benefits of such legislation. It has reduced the number of children who get hold of such items without parental supervision. Extending such a ban increases parental guidance and authority over what children are doing. In view of some of the Government's comments on other matters, I should have thought that they would be interested in this. It has been argued that it is difficult for shopkeepers to tell the age of young people who are trying to buy knives. This is a problem, but it is one that will always exist. Such problems have not stopped the introduction of bans on the sale to juveniles of solvents, fireworks, cigarettes and alcohol.

We must stop the developing culture of weapons carrying among the young, and one of the best ways to do that is to make it more difficult for young people to obtain these weapons. We do not claim that the new clause will immediately stop the sale of knives to those under 16.Some youngsters look older than their years, but others will be discouraged from trying to buy weapons, or will find that they are refused when they try to do so and the responsible shopkeepers challenge them as to their age.

8.45 pm

We know that the Government are aware of the problems of the use of knives, but they have concentrated their efforts on making the possession of a knife without good reason the offence. We support that move and the ban on the sale of martial arts weapons. The new clause, which would ban the sale of knives to juveniles, would complement the steps being taken by the Government. If the Government were to accept the new clause, it would contribute towards breaking the culture of knife carrying.

New clause 19 seeks to control the advertising of knives and other offensive weapons. The Government see the possession of knives as the main problem, but we believe that this is only part of the problem. The growing sub-culture that encourages possession is one of the main difficulties that we face. Part of this may be due to fear, but a major part of the problem is the easy availability of knives and the way in which they are advertised. Action is needed to counter the sub-culture by reducing the glamour associated with it, which the advertisers of the knives encourage. The advertising of knives as offensive weapons must be stopped if we are to combat the problem of knife-carrying youths. The problem is particularly prevalent in gun and survivalist magazines, which often offer for mail order purchase offensive weapons and knives that can be dangerous.

In a letter to the Lambeth police consultative group the Home Secretary said: It would be difficult to seek to prohibit the advertising of weapons which can be purchased legally, nor do we believe that statutory controls would be a suitable means of attempting to influence such advertisements. The British code of advertising practice, however, exercises a voluntary control, and we have entered into discussion with the Advertising Standards Authority, which administers the code, to see whether there is scope for developing further guidance in relation to the advertising of weapons. Progress on those lines is not adequate, but it seems doubtful that the manufacturers, the wholesalers and the retailers who advertise an object as having a defensive use will wish to be bound by a voluntary code. Given that the criminal law is to be changed to make it an offence to carry a knife or other implement in a public place, it seems only logical to place statutory controls over how such items are advertised. It makes a mockery of the law that, while it is illegal to have knives as offensive weapons in a public place, it is not illegal to have them advertised in a way that suggests that they have a use as a defensive weapon in a public place.

If the Government are serious about wanting to deal with the problem of knife carrying and the use of knives as an offensive weapon, they should accept the new clause to ban the advertising of such knives. The glamour of weaponry should be discouraged. The macho knife-carrying culture is something that advertising encourages, and we would like to see the problem tackled. I hope the Government will acknowledge that this is a real problem and accept our new clauses as constructive suggestions on how to deal with it.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

I shall direct my remarks to new clause 29, which stands in my name. Like the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), I want to prohibit the sale of knives to young people. The difference between us is that I want to prohibit sale to those under 18 years as opposed to those under 16.

Like the hon. Lady, I am seriously worried by the increasing number of young people who carry knives I agree that there is a spiral effect. Young people carry knives to project a macho image. I agree that the next step is for young people to carry them as a form of self-defence. I speak from personal experience. My son is now 19 years of age, and I recall that when he was 15 or 16 he asked me whether I thought that he should carry a knife for his self-defence. Fortunately, he came to me. I would have considered it a serious matter if a shopkeeper had sold him a knife. It would not have been an offence at that time, nor is it an offence now. For that reason, I have tabled new clause 29.

It is unfortunate that figures on the use of knives are so scanty. However, as the hon. Member for Dewsbury said, during the first half of 1987 the number of robberies, or street robberies involving the use of knives, or sharp instruments, increased by almost one third in London. Many of those offences involved young people. It was suggested in another place by Lord Caithness, Minister of State, Department of the Environment, that many youths in some parts of the country carry knives as everyday wear. At Burnage high school in Manchester, which is not far from my constituency, there was a horrendous murder of a young coloured child, resulting from the carrying of knives in the playground.

It has been estimated that 13 or 14 per cent. of all offences of violence are committed by persons under the age of 16 years. The figure increases to 25 per cent. when we include offences committed by those under the age of 18 years.

Like the hon. Member for Dewsbury, I welcome clause 132, which introduces the new offence of carrying a knife without lawful excuse. I have pressed for such a provision ever since I was elected to this place. I should like to see the clause go further, as the new clause suggests. If it were not an offence to sell tobacco to a person under 16 years of age, more would smoke even though it is not an offence to do so. If it were not an offence to sell liquor to someone under 18 years of age, I think that more would drink. If it were not an offence to supply drugs to persons of any age, more people would take drugs. More people will use knives, especially young people, if it is not an offence to sell such items to them.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

I support the provisions in the Bill relating to offensive weapons, including knives. I support also the new clauses that have been tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends, which I prefer to the two new clauses of a similar nature which I tabled. I want to strengthen still further the controls that are set out in the Bill. In saying that, I am representing the views of constituents in all walks of life. As I represent a multiracial constituency, I can say that I represent the views of all races as well.

My constituents, both as individuals and members of organisations within the community, are sickened by the injury, maiming and slaughter resulting from the use of dangerous implements, especially knives. Sometimes a knife is used in temper. That, of course, does not mitigate the results of that action for the victims. If a knife is carried, what might have resulted in a bloody nose can extend to the severing of an artery or the puncturing of a lung. What might have involved a bruise becomes a serious laceration. In other circumstances, knives are used for the cold and calculating creation of terror in the course of robbery or other crimes.

In the past year or so I can think of about six unlawful killings that have taken place in my constituency. It is true that not all of them have resulted in convictions for murder. Sometimes those who have committed the offences have not been apprehended. Alternatively, of those who have appeared before the courts, some have been found not guilty. However, that toll of unlawful killings is extremely high in one constituency over about a year.

We in Lambeth have been very much reinforced in our attitudes by the hard work that has been undertaken by those who have campaigned against knives. I refer especially to Jean Hayley and David Green, who have been associated with a campaign called WHY, which has operated in my constituency and beyond. The campaign has received the full co-operation of Lambeth borough council, including its recent leader. It has used our libraries to mount exhibitions of the sort of weapons that are used. Photographs have been shown of the ghastly results of the use of knives. This has helped to turn public opinion against knives. Of course, those who have supported WHY have not been the only ones to campaign, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) referred to the local police-community consultative committee. The local authority has been active, and that is true also of the local newspapers.

The results of this activity have been interesting. Many parts of the community have got together—tenants' associations, the WHY campaign, the police-community consultative committee and both black and white organisations have worked side by side—and there has been a fundamental change in public opinion. There is widespread disapproval among adults and older people of the carrying of knives, and that has started to cause a reduction in the habit. That is the only way in which crime can be fought effectively. If people in clubs and pubs disapprove of a course of action—in this instance, the carrying of knives—and if that view is taken by people in one's street, block or the house next door, eventually that course of conduct tends to diminish. That is the result if the view is taken generally by those with whom one lives, plays and works. It becomes less fashionable and less of a culture, with the result that the crime tends to diminish. That is the only way in which we can effectively control crime.

There are many examples. Harsh penalties have been introduced for heinous offences, including terrorism. If there is emotional, material and spiritual support within a community for particular types of crime, those crimes will continue to be committed, no matter how harsh the penalties, the punishment, the vigour of the pursuit of detection and the controls that are introduced.

In my constituency, the general expression of public disapproval is having an effect on the carrying of knives and the views that young people have of them. They are now receiving a different message from their parents, pals and what sociologists call their peer groups. If the House accepts my analysis—that the most powerful and cheapest weapon is public opinion and social and peer group pressure—it must back up the community. It is no good our doing all these things and not being backed up by legislation and the Government.

We have to work against encouragements which operate in a different direction such as advertisements, shop displays and pictures in magazines. My objection is not that the displays or advertisements are neutral, but that the context is of illegal use. The atmosphere implies that the weapon should be used as an illegal weapon of offence or defence.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Does my hon. Friend agree that some of these weapons seem to have very little lawful use? Indeed, they are designed and decorated to look offensive and frightening. The advertiser makes them look offensive. That is part of the culture about which we are talking.

Mr. Fraser

I am sure that that is right.

The Bill divides weapons into two classes. One class consists of those with no inherent useful purpose, such as death stars and certain types of flail. I take it that if they are banned outright, their advertisement and display will also become illegal. The second class includes knives. It is true that there is some ambivalence about their use, but the advertising or display about which I am speaking makes it clear that the intention of the advertiser or the person displaying the knives is that they should be used unlawfully.

9 pm

It is no use the community working its guts out to reduce the use of knives when they are glamorised in magazines. People know what instincts they are pandering to when they sell them. Knives are sold by mail order to people, irrespective of age, attitude or mentality who the vendors do not meet. We should assert that the advertisement of weapons and knives in that way should be illegal.

If the House acts, it will not be so difficult for newspapers and the Advertising Standards Authority to follow our lead and to ensure that, by following the honest, decent, legal and truthful code, they can operate administratively to control advertisements for such weapons.

We must also bar advertisements by means of display. Such advertisements would not automatically be illegal. There are shops which sell little other than knives and weapons and which display them in circumstances which make it clear that they are intended for aggressive purposes. There is a shop in Rye lane one half of which is devoted to the display and advertisement of the most lethal-looking sheath knives and clasp knives. They are displayed in a context which makes it clear that their use is likely to be illegal.

Knives, chisels and other sharp instruments are displayed in hardware shops or builders' merchants, but in a context where their use is likely to be useful and lawful. Those who go to the kitchen department of a multiple store will see knives and canteens of cutlery on display, but in an atmosphere where their use is likely to be legal. Perhaps the amendments on armoury shops are a more appropriate vehicle than those which concern advertisement, but I object most strongly to knives being sold in a context which is not associated with a useful purpose. That is bound to inspire the wrong motives in buyers. I think that we ought to apply the test of intention and likely use. The House should prevent the advertisement and display of such weapons in the circumstances that I have described.

A new clause which bans the sale of knives to juveniles will not, of course, prevent some juveniles from being able to get hold of knives. They will still be able to go into the kitchen department of a multiple store and buy knives, but an amendment would add care and prudence to the sale. New clause 29 would prevent juveniles from buying knives in kitchen departments or hardware shops.

We should put a seal of disapproval on the purchase and possession of knives. We should say that people should be prudent and worried when a knife is sold to a young person. If a knife is really needed a parent or responsible adult should buy it; it should not be sold to a juvenile. It would not cost very much to do that. There are many examples in legislation of a ban on the supply of goods or products to young people. It has been conspicuously successful in the sale of solvents and glue, which has caused a monstrous problem in my part of London. That problem is now diminishing because of the lead given by the House, after long hesitation. I am sure that the same will be true of knives. I hope that the House will reinforce the air of disapproval that has developed in my community.

As the new clauses are linked to clause 132, I should like to know whether the Minister will consider how it will operate. It appears to allow two defences. First, it will be a defence if there is a lawful excuse for carrying a knife in a public place. Secondly, and without prejudice to the generality of the clause, there is a particular defence of using a knife for religious or work purposes. The problem is that when someone is charged with the offence of possessing a knife in a public place, he always seems to have a lawful excuse. The Government should reconsider clause 132 so that the new clauses, if they are agreed to, will be effective.

My father-in-law is a farrier, so it would be a lawful use of a knife if he were paring the hoof of a horse in the street. That would be part of his work. However, a frequent excuse for carrying a knife is that the person is a chef or a butcher. Clause 132 should make such a defence much more difficult. A knife should be carried to work in a way that ensures that it cannot instantly be used. For example, a carpenter would have it locked in his tool box. That would help to prove the reasonable excuse that the knife was being carried for the purpose of work.

Clause 132 should include a provision that if a knife or weapon is not in immediate use—for example, paring the hoof of a horse—it should be an offence to carry it unless it is firmly wrapped up or locked away and cannot immediately be used. Without that provision, there will continue to be a long trail of defences. Somehow, people coming out of bars, dance halls, football grounds or discotheques always seem to be on their way to a fishing expedition, to repair a window or to cut some string.

I ask the Government to reinforce the weight and wave of public opinion against the use of knives by accepting the new clauses.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

I support the new clauses and wish to make two short, but fairly important, points. The first relates to the increasing use of knives by young people, to which reference has already been made and with which the new clauses seek to deal as far as is possible.

The use by so many young people of such a shocking number of knives leads to the use of other weapons. As has been demonstrated in many court cases, when young people are outside a pub of discotheque there is an expectation that some of them will have knives, and that undoubtedly leads to others bringing bottles and glasses out of the pub or discotheque and using them. The use of knives has a knock-on effect that leads to the use of what can sometimes be far more dangerous weapons, which can often cause even more disabling injury. In my view, the new clauses can make a valuable contribution to reducing the number of knives in circulation, and therefore reducing the number of other weapons used in an allegedly defensive response to the carrying of knives.

My second point is one that I have made before in the House. It relates to what is euphemistically called "survivalism". It seems to me that young people and, indeed, older people, if they want to enjoy aggressive outdoor pursuits—even pursuits of a somewhat militaristic nature—can do so quite successfully without the use of knives, machetes, bayonets and other vicious weapons that can be bought in shops, and even obtained by mail order. It is shocking that so many such shops have sprung up in this country—there is one on the Euston station concourse, where some pretty vicious weapons can be bought on British Rail premises—and have been able to sell items that can only have an offensive and illegitimate purpose. They are doing so under the guise of survivalism.

It is even more shocking that publications now abound in which similar weapons are advertised for sale. Some of the publications are aimed at adults, but many are aimed specifically at foolish young people whose aggression can be channelled into the lethal weapons that they advertise, possession of which can never really be justified.

I welcome clauses 132 and 134. Like the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), I recognise, albeit reluctantly, the necessity for clause 133, but I feel that in accepting the new clauses—or, perhaps, more elegantly drafted versions of them—we would be tackling further and more meaningfully the two problems that I have put to the House.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I am afraid that I cannot commend any of the new clauses to the House.

The debate has essentially revolved around two issues. The first is whether it should be an offence to sell a sharp bladed or pointed instrument to a young person—the age limit has varied, depending slightly on the speaker. The second is whether we can apply the criminal code to advertisements.

Let me deal first with the question of sale, not only of knives, but of sharp bladed and pointed instruments. It is important to emphasise that the new clause is not confined to the sale of knives, but applies to any article that falls within the scope of clause 132. For understandable reasons, hon. Members who have spoken have tended to focus on knives, although clearly the matter goes much further.

It is right to say that the carrying of knives in a public place is a matter of considerable concern. I stress that it is the carrying of knives in a public place rather than possession qua possession—which may be in a private place—that is the essential cause of concern. It is because the Government recognise that the carrying of knives in a public place is a grave matter that it was they who brought forward clause 132. In essence, the clause provides that a person carrying a bladed or sharp pointed instrument will be deemed to be committing a criminal offence unless he can establish the existence of a good reason.

That, in essence, is the offence. There are two important points. First, we are dealing with the carrying of pointed or bladed instruments in public placesߞthat is the mischief. Secondly, we have to accept that good and lawful reasons exist for the possession of such instruments, and those lawful reasons can exist for young people as well as for adults.

9.15 pm

When one looks at the scope of clause 132, one immediately appreciates the reason. All bladed and pointed instruments fall within the scope of that clause. Scissors, mathematical dividers, any old piece of household cutlery, gardening and agricultural tools, carpentry tools, craft or hobby equipment and sports equipment all inevitably fall within the scope of clause 132.

The question is whether we wish to say that young people can never lawfully purchase for themselves or by themselves the articles to which I have referred. I do not believe that the House would be justified in asserting that proposition. It is true that we should tackle the problem of possession in a public place, but it does not follow from that that we should prohibit the sale to under-aged persons of articles that they properly and legitimately require for their own use in a private place. I believe that that goes much too far.

My final point is essentially a drafting one, but as we are talking, not about principle but about legislation, it is right that I should make it. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and I have served on various Committees in the past and most recently on the Committee considering the Licensing Bill. May I say how much I enjoyed that privilege. We discussed the sale of alcohol to under-aged persons, and I remember that she stressed her opposition to the concept of the absolute offence and asserted the need to provide a trader with a defence in the event of a bona fide mistake. I do not rest my argument on a drafting point. I would merely mention that the hon. Lady has created an absolute offence and has failed to provide a defence for the bona fide trader acting in good faith. I think that that was a slip and is inconsistent with her attitude to the Licensing Bill.

Another matter to be considered is the question of advertisements, and again I wish to stress my opposition. It seems to me that one element of criminal law is that it should be reasonably precise in its meaning and capable of reasonable recognition and certain interpretation. The new clause is very subjective in judgment. I cannot readily call to mind any offence concerning the content of advertisements other than those that contravene race relations legislation. I oppose the new clause on the grounds that it is too subjective, too imprecise and is incapable of certain meaning.

Mr. Winnick

Does the Minister recognise that we are dealing with the continuing use of knives, as illustrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), who said that in his constituency, in the course of a year, there were six deaths following the use of knives? In view of that, do the Government not recognise that we are faced with an emergency? The Minister's remarks do not seem to recognise the deep anxiety of the Opposition about the continuing use of knives and the knife culture that unfortunately exists among many of our young people.

Mr. Hogg

There are at least two answers to the hon. Gentleman's points. First, the existence of a major problem does not justify the House passing bad legislation. If my criticism of the advertising clause is right, the legislation is bad, and, notwithstanding the existence of the problem, we should not do it.

Mr. Fraser

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hogg

I shall finish this point and then give way.

Secondly, the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) would be well advised to remind himself that clause 132 is the Government's response to the problem. It was not anybody else who brought it forward; it was the Government.

Mr. Winnick

After pressure.

Mr. Hogg

No. The hon. Gentleman is wholly wrong on that point. I have a great familiarity with the clause because, before my hon. Friend the Minister took responsibility for the Criminal Justice Bill, I was heavily involved in the formulation of this offence. I can tell the House with absolute certainty that the Government came forward with this proposal to deal with precisely the problem to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Fraser

The Trade Descriptions Act 1972 makes it a criminal offence to publish certain misleading advertisements. The Act is difficult to enforce and there are problems. In practice, there is an arrangement between trading standards officers and the Advertising Standards Authority. The authority is able to translate what we want into a code of practice that it administers—for most of the time without the intervention of the criminal law. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister would do something to give legal support to the Advertising Standards Authority in constructing a code of practice which as a matter of practice, if not as a matter of the operation of the criminal law, will outlaw that type of advertisement.

Mr. Hogg

That subject is not referred to in the new clause, as the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind. Under the Trade Descriptions Act the court is concerned with whether a statement is misleading. In the end, that is a matter of fact. We are now concerned with the subjective interpretation of the content of an advertisement, and that is different in kind.

There is scope for discussions between the Home Office and the Advertising Standards Authority. As the hon. Member for Dewsbury, who read out a letter from my right hon. Friend, has made plain, we are doing that. In the end, the major problem is the carrying of knives in a public place. It is that matter to which the House needs to devote its attention.

Mr. Favell

I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend speaking about the difficulty of forbidding the sale of all items that will be covered by clause 132. I am disappointed that, apparently, the Government will not accept the amendment. Will my hon. Friend monitor whether, when clause 132 becomes part of the Act, it reduces the number of offences involving the use of knives? Unfortunately, at the moment Home Office figures about the use of knives are scanty. They show the number of offences of violence, but not those offences involving the use of knives. It would be helpful if the figures were available in case further legislation is to be brought forward.

Mr. Hogg

If the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis were to conclude that the legislation reflected in what is now clause 132 was inadequate, he would tell us without much delay. That is perhaps the most effective way of responding to the concern that my hon. Friend has voiced. We are concerned specifically with the carrying of sharp bladed instruments in public places. Clause 132 is an effective response to that problem, and I would not commend any of the new clauses to the House.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

The Minister has shown a remarkable degree of complacency about this important and significant problem. Earlier we were all in agreement—certainly some Conservative Members agreed with us—that the increase in violence was extremely worrying. It is not simply a London problem, as the Minister seemed to imply when he said that he would listen to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis; it is a much wider problem. It affects not only all our major cities, but many large towns and, over recent weeks, rural areas, too. I should have thought that that would bring home to the Government how extensive some of these difficulties are.

The Minister is complacent because he is suggesting that the major problem is simply the carrying of knives in public places. It is far more complex and difficult than that. I should have thought that it was obvious that if we restricted the sale of knives there would be fewer knives to carry in public places. The Minister has not taken on board our arguments and anxiety about violent crime.

Mr. Winnick

When the Minister said that the Government acted without any pressure, would it be useful to remind him that in this Parliament my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) introduced an Adjournment debate on the subject, the response to which was along the lines that no action could be taken? It was as a result of renewed public pressure at about this time last year and the way that the Metropolitan police, for example, displayed a number of knives being used that the Government decided to act, and we now have clause 132.

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend has put his finger on a significant point. Before I was in this House, many Opposition Members were pressing for far stricter controls on the sale, use and carriage of knives. Yet it is only in the past year or so that the Government have recognised this problem.

The Minister did not give an answer to the problem of violent crime. He simply concentrated on the carrying of weapons. He did not, for example, deal with the point that the peak age for offenders is now 15 years. In other words, the largest single age group of offenders are of the young age of 15. They would be covered by a ban on the sale of knives such as we are proposing. If they are covered, that would surely help to reduce—it would not completely solve the problem—the number of young people who carry and attempt to use knives.

The Minister gave as reasons for rejecting the new clause several problems. He said that the ban would be difficult to implement and we all know of those difficulties. But they did not extend to glue sniffing and the problems that the Government saw in acting on that.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

The hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) have been chiding the Government for late conversion, but I am sure that they both studied the Conservative manifesto with considerable attention. It made a positive commitment to strengthening the law dealing with the sale and possession of offensive weapons, of which this is a reflection, not a late conversion.

Mrs. Taylor

I am sure that the Minister will be aware that the Labour party's document, "Protecting Our Children", which was published six months before the general election, advocated even tougher controls on the sale of knives. Obviously the Minister learnt from reading our policy documents and I shall send him copies of many others in the hope that he will learn a great deal more.

9.30 pm

The Minister has been extremely complacent about the matter. It must be obvious to any lay person what is more dangerous—solvents, glue, fireworks, or knives and sharp-edged weapons. If the Government can bring themselves to control the sale of glue, solvents, fireworks, cigarettes and alcohol to young people, they should control the sale of dangerous weapons. Until we take strong action, the influence of the knife culture will increase and there will be more crimes of violence on our streets.

We welcome clause 132, but it is not sufficient and I urge the House to vote for the new clause.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:ߞߞ

The House divided: Ayes 132, Noes 218.

Division No. 367] [9.30 pm
Anderson, Donald Gould, Bryan
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Graham, Thomas
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Ashton, Joe Grocott, Bruce
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Battle, John Henderson, Doug
Beckett, Margaret Hinchliffe, David
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Bermingham, Gerald Home Robertson, John
Blunkett, David Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Boateng, Paul Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Boyes, Roland Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Bradley, Keith Janner, Greville
Bray, Dr Jeremy Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Buchan, Norman Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Buckley, George J. Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Caborn, Richard Lambie, David
Callaghan, Jim Lamond, James
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Lewis, Terry
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Litherland, Robert
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Livingstone, Ken
Clay, Bob Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cohen, Harry Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cook, Robin (Livingston) McCartney, Ian
Corbett, Robin McNamara, Kevin
Corbyn, Jeremy Mahon, Mrs Alice
Cousins, Jim Marek, Dr John
Cryer, Bob Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Dalyell, Tam Maxton, John
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Meacher, Michael
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Meale, Alan
Dewar, Donald Michael, Alun
Dixon, Don Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Duffy, A. E. P. Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Morgan, Rhodri
Eadie, Alexander Mullin, Chris
Eastham, Ken Murphy, Paul
Evans, John (St Helens N) O'Brien, William
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) O'Neill, Martin
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Fatchett, Derek Parry, Robert
Faulds, Andrew Patchett, Terry
Fearn, Ronald Pike, Peter L.
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Prescott, John
Flannery, Martin Primarolo, Dawn
Flynn, Paul Reid, Dr John
Foster, Derek Richardson, Jo
Fraser, John Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Fyfe, Maria Rooker, Jeff
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Rowlands, Ted
George, Bruce Ruddock, Joan
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Godman, Dr Norman A. Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Golding, Mrs Llin Skinner, Dennis
Gordon, Mildred Snape, Peter
Spearing, Nigel Wigley, Dafydd
Steinberg, Gerry Winnick, David
Strang, Gavin Wise, Mrs Audrey
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Worthington, Tony
Vaz, Keith Wray, Jimmy
Wall, Pat
Wallace, James Tellers for the Ayes:
Walley, Joan Mr. Frank Haynes and
Wareing, Robert N. Mr. Allen McKay.
Adley, Robert Favell, Tony
Aitken, Jonathan Fenner, Dame Peggy
Alexander, Richard Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Fookes, Miss Janet
Amess, David Forman, Nigel
Amos, Alan Fox, Sir Marcus
Arbuthnot, James Franks, Cecil
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Freeman, Roger
Ashby, David French, Douglas
Atkins, Robert Fry, Peter
Atkinson, David Gale, Roger
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Gardiner, George
Baldry, Tony Garel-Jones, Tristan
Batiste, Spencer Gill, Christopher
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Benyon, W. Gow, Ian
Bevan, David Gilroy Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Gregory, Conal
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Grist, Ian
Boscawen, Hon Robert Ground, Patrick
Boswell, Tim Grylls, Michael
Bottomley, Peter Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Hampson, Dr Keith
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Hanley, Jeremy
Bowis, John Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Harris, David
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Haselhurst, Alan
Brazier, Julian Hayward, Robert
Bright, Graham Heathcoat-Amory, David
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Browne, John (Winchester) Hill, James
Buck, Sir Antony Hind, Kenneth
Budgen, Nicholas Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Burns, Simon Holt, Richard
Burt, Alistair Hordern, Sir Peter
Butcher, John Howard, Michael
Butler, Chris Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Butterfill, John Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Carrington, Matthew Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Carttiss, Michael Hunter, Andrew
Cash, William Irvine, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Irving, Charles
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Jack, Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Jackson, Robert
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Janman, Tim
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jessel, Toby
Cope, Rt Hon John Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Couchman, James Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Cran, James Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina Key, Robert
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Kirkhope, Timothy
Day, Stephen Knapman, Roger
Devlin, Tim Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Dickens, Geoffrey Knowles, Michael
Dicks, Terry Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Lang, Ian
Dover, Den Lawrence, Ivan
Dunn, Bob Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Durant, Tony Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fallon, Michael Lightbown, David
Lilley, Peter Stanbrook, Ivor
Lord, Michael Steen, Anthony
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Stern, Michael
McCrindle, Robert Stevens, Lewis
Maclean, David Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
McLoughlin, Patrick Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Stradling Thomas, Sir John
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Sumberg, David
Madel, David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Malins, Humfrey Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Maples, John Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Temple-Morris, Peter
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Miller, Sir Hal Thornton, Malcolm
Mills, Iain Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Tracey, Richard
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Trippier, David
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Trotter, Neville
Moore, Rt Hon John Twinn, Dr Ian
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Moss, Malcolm Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Moynihan, Hon Colin Waller, Gary
Neubert, Michael Ward, John
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Watts, John
Paice, James Wells, Bowen
Patnick, Irvine Widdecombe, Ann
Patten, John (Oxford W) Wiggin, Jerry
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Wilshire, David
Renton, Tim Winterton, Mrs Ann
Rhodes James, Robert Wolfson, Mark
Riddick, Graham Wood, Timothy
Rowe, Andrew Yeo, Tim
Ryder, Richard Young, Sir George (Acton)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Shersby, Michael Tellers for the Noes:
Skeet, Sir Trevor Mr. Alan Howarth and
Squire, Robin Mr. Stephen Dorrell.

Question accordingly negatived.

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