§ As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered. Order for Third Reading read.12.45 pm
§ Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
It is my privilege to rise for a second time today to address the House, and to present a second, important Bill—one which will be welcomed by many people in Scotland.
The Bill has the support of every party represented in the House, and I hope that that support will continue and that the Bill will clear its final stage today. It was amended in the Second Scottish Standing Committee earlier this week.
The urgent need for the Bill was reflected in amendments tabled in Committee by Opposition Members. One amendment from the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) disposed of the two months waiting time that would normally follow Royal Assent. I had some reservations, because those two months represented the preparation time that is built into virtually all legislation; it allows solicitors, courts and the police to prepare for new legislation. However, the hon. Member for Dumbarton was right about the urgent need for the Bill to be enacted, and I was pleased that the Committee was able to accept such an amendment.
If the Bill receives its Third Reading today, the police prosecution service and all in the Scottish legal criminal procedure chain should take note now, and be prepared to implement its provisions.
§ Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
I apologise to my hon. Friend for the fact that, owing to illness, I was not able to attend the Committee to which he was gracious enough to appoint me. Having read the proceedings of the Committee, I feel that the House should be reminded that under the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, section 1 of which applies to Scotland, there is a penalty of two years' imprisonment—which is greater than any penalty imposed by the Bill. My hon. Friend may not accept the view of the law taken by my hon. Friend the Minister or me, but I have argued frequently that section 1 of the 1953 Act is qualified by subsection (4) and therefore any instrument—be it a knife, axe, tin, mace, or even the Speaker's head—carried for an offensive purpose requires the accused to explain why he is carrying it and to prove that he is not carrying it for an offensive purpose. That is the present law, punishable by two years' imprisonment. The House and the country ought to be reminded of that fact.
§ Mr. Gallie
I thank my hon. and learned Friend. I am aware of his concerns and have looked into the matter long and hard. I recognise that my hon. and learned Friend has far greater experience than I. However, having taken advice, I still believe that the 1953 Act does not cover the carrying of these weapons.
My hon. and learned Friend referred to the fact that if an individual carries an axe, he will inevitably be faced with punishment. In my constituency, however, when an individual, a well-known worthy, was picked up with an axe in his possession his defence was that he intended to use it to scrape the wallpaper off his mother's walls. He got away with that defence. That is unacceptable to the people of Scotland, either in the streets or in their homes. 1389 Therefore, we are trying to correct the deficiencies in the 1953 Act. With the greatest respect to my hon. and learned Friend, I suggest that he ought to look into that incident.
If the Bill is given its Third Reading today, it will lead to important messages being got home. One of those messages is that every thug who carries a blade will risk having a very severe penalty imposed on him. The provisions of the Bill would lead to a two-year term of imprisonment, which I welcome. The onus is not now, as it was in the past, on the courts to prove intent. That onus is now on the thug and, perhaps more significantly, on the carrier of the knife to prove that he had reason for having a blade in his or her possession.
My first speech today was intended to include an element of humour when seeking the approval of the House for the Third Reading of the Licensing (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. I feel no humour and I display no humour as I speak on the Carrying of Knives, etc. (Scotland) Bill. I refer to the fear, anger, and the lack of understanding of every law-abiding Scot. They are all mystified and disillusioned by the evidence of the violence on our streets. All too often, that violence is not just on our streets; it is to be found in the home. Many elderly people, living alone, fear being violently attacked by people who gain illegal entry to their homes.
People parade our streets carrying threatening weapons. At present, however, they cannot be prosecuted. Carving knives, axes and Stanley-type knives can be carried without the fear of automatic prosecution. That is what we are trying, by means of the Bill, to prevent. I have referred to the Scots, but in this United Kingdom of ours it is not just the Scots who live in Scotland; the English, the Welsh and people of many other nationalities reside in Scotland. All those who live in Scotland feel under threat.
Before I deal with the details of the Bill, I ought to provide some statistics. They highlight the problems in my region of Scotland. They also highlight the growing tide of violence elsewhere. I am critical of a tendency that has built up since the 1960s of Governments going soft on crime. Figures for the United Kingdom demonstrate that other countries also have problems. I draw attention to some figures for murder and attempted murder in countries worldwide and compare them to figures that I have obtained for London. For example, the rate of murder in Los Angeles and New York runs at some five or six times the level of that in London. The figures for attempted murder and crimes of violence in Los Angeles and New York far outweigh the figures in London.
It is not simply in the United States. The figures for South America are absolutely horrendous. In Canada and Australia, we also see the trend. There are a few countries in which the same trends are not reflected—one of them is Japan. I cannot offer reasons why that should be so, but it would be worthy of investigation. Other countries that do not reflect the same trends include Saudi Arabia in the middle east. I wonder what effect the seriousness of penalties has on deterring crimes of murder and attempted assault and a whole range of perhaps petty crimes in such countries.
What about Strathclyde and my region of Ayr? I have looked at the figures for the five years between 1988 and 1992. The figures for murder show that the reasonably level playing field has gradually risen over that period. In 1390 1992, the figures had almost doubled. For crimes involving the use of knives and blades, the figure rises by an amazing 135 per cent. There is something deeply wrong which fills me with concern. I express the feelings which came out in Committee.
§ Sir Nicholas Fairbairn
In case my hon. Friend does not know, invading another person's house to assault them is an additional crime in the law of Scotland of hamesucken. The reason why knives started to be used historically in Glasgow and elsewhere is simple: previously, people slashed others with a razor. When Lord Carman started sending people down for 14 years for razor-slashing, they used a lethal weapon rather than one which only wounded.
I appreciate my hon. Friend's spirit, vigour and purpose. I emphasise that the Prevention of Crime Act—I have appeared some 500 or 1,000 times in section 1 cases—covers matters which the Bill covers with a two-year penalty.
§ Mr. Gallie
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his intervention. When he comes to the point at which he is defending these people, the prosecution system has decreed that there is a case to answer. Under the 1953 Act, the Crown must prove that there is an intent to use or that the weapon has been deliberately converted to be used for violent means. At present, it means that the prosecution service does not take the case to the point at which my hon. and learned Friend would be involved. There is a well-recognised requirement. I see that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) is nodding her head in agreement.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
Although clever legal minds such as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) turn their cleverness properly to the assistance of those who are charged, as a layman who knows little about these matters, I should be happy with belt and braces for the prosecution. If the belt is suspect, it is a good thing to add the braces.
§ Mr. Gallie
I agree. We must acknowledge that the people whom we aim to protect are the public—the law-abiding people who want to do nothing other than live in their homes and walk the streets without fear of their life or of assault. That is the aim of the Bill. I hope that the House will go with me.
Other figures show a massive rise in Strathclyde in instances of attempted murder. The use of blades and knives has risen at an astronomical rate in the past year. There has also been an escalation of serious assaults. We must send out a message from the House. If nothing else, the Bill will send out just such a message. That underlines the need for the Bill. Originally, the Bill sought to equate Scottish law with the law in England and Wales under section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. As amended, the Bill creates more appropriate sentences to suit the scene in Scotland as it is seen by Scottish Members of all parties. Scottish Members were unanimous in Committee.
Prison is now seen as a justifiable penalty for carrying a weapon. Opposition Members highlighted anxiety about overcrowding of prisons during the Committee stage of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Bill. I welcome their change of heart on the issue. I recognise that they made justified comments in that Committee, and the fact that Opposition Members pressed for the measures in this Bill underlines the strength of feeling. I welcome that, 1391 just as I welcome the agreement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Home Office to allow the Bill to be amended.
Perhaps further reviews of punishments could take place. I said in Committee that some older punishments could be effective. I might be slightly out of step with other hon. Members. I referred in Committee to the stocks. I accept that perhaps the stocks have had their day. I do not contemplate a return to the stocks of old in which criminals were placed on the street and had eggs and apples thrown at them. I do not see that as the way ahead.
However, we could have modern-day stocks. We live in a high-tech age. We have television. The bully and those who carry knives and blades and use them depend on their macho, hard-man image. Perhaps we should consider punishments that undercut their standing among their contemporaries. Perhaps we could use the television to do that.
In Committee the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) said:The saddest aspect is that it is often the most vulnerable members of society who are threatened with knives and weapons. Frail, elderly pensioners who live alone, particularly ladies, are most at risk. What sort of inhuman being threatens an old lady in her 80s or 90s with a knife?"—[Official Report, Second Scottish Standing Committee, 23 March 1993; c. 11.]I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We should let the public see what kind of person does that. Perhaps we could use television as part of the sentencing process so show society's abhorrence at what they have done, which may reduce their standing with their contemporaries. I believe that it is worth considering.
I know that I will not receive the agreement of hon. Members about other forms of punishment. Last Wednesday, the European Court endorsed the use of the cane in schools. That represented a change of direction and a new, enlightened vision. I emphasise that it is not relevant to the Bill, but it is perhaps a thought for the future.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)
I, too, welcomed the European Court's ruling allowing private schools to use the strap because of the lack of discipline in our schools and in the fabric of our society, which has led to the depths that we now have in many parts of the country. Does my hon. Friend agree that following the court's ruling we should reconsider the reintroduction of corporal punish-ment in the state sector?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. I do not think that we can go into corporal punishment this morning.
§ Mr. Gallie
I would never disagree with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I said that the issues were not relevant to the Bill, but I welcome my hon. Friend's intervention and take his point.
I should like to review the background to the Bill. The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 covers people who carry weapons with intent to use and weapons that have been designed to cause physical harm. In recent times, the courts, the prosecution service and certainly the police have not always been able to use that Act. The Bill, as amended, rectifies that issue.
1392 Some of the Bill's provisions replicate the Criminal Justice Act 1988. For example, the Bill allows certain defences. One can carry a blade in public if it can be shown that the individual is clearly en route from place of work to base—home or another works premises. A blade can be carried for religious reasons. That defence was incorporated for Sikhs, who carry small blades in their turbans, in order to preserve their rights. There may be other instances of which I am not aware.
§ Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham)
One aspect of the Bill causes me some concern. I am a rather enthusiastic amateur cook who cooks a great deal. In common with most cooks, I am determined to use my own knives when I cook. Cooks get very used to their knives, which are especially sharp. When I cook somewhere other than at home, I carry a collection of knives with me. Cooking is not my work, but my entertainment. However, the knives could be pretty vicious things in the wrong hands. I have a 10-in cook's knife and a 12-in boning knife, both of which are razor sharp and could perfectly happily fillet individuals as well as joints of meat. I should hate to think that people like me in Scotland would no longer be able to enjoy the gentle entertainment that I enjoy.
§ Mr. Gallie
On this rare occasion, we in Scotland are lagging behind people in England. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) describes the law in England. I suggest that cooking is not only a leisure pursuit, but a form of leisure work. As the law seems to have caused him little difficulty until now, his mind will be completely at rest when we in Scotland come into line with England. It will cause us little difficulty either.
The exceptions also include an exception for a person who is carrying a blade as part of his national costume. My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and I on occasion wear with pride our national costume and we do not intend to change. The Bill allows us to do so.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
My hon. Friend will be aware that he and I have, interestingly, been accused of not wearing the correct national costume, although I shall not go into detail on that. I am in no doubt about the fact that the skean dhu is part of our national costume. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that I was responsible for ensuring that the Criminal Justice Act 1988 included a provision to allow Scots to wear the skean dhu in England. I am sorry that I have not been successful so far in Dallas, Texas where I was arrested for carrying a knife. One can carry as many guns as one wishes in Dallas, but one is not allowed to carry knives. We still have some way to go, although I thank my hon. Friend for including this exception in the Bill.
§ Mr. Gallie
Once again, we are all indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North for enlightening the House. He put forward his views when the Criminal Justice Act 1988 was going through the House. I was not aware of any questions having been raised about my wearing of the national dress, although I have been aware of some questions about his wearing of it. That is his business and I shall go no further.
Clause 2 provides powers of stop and search. There is no need for concern about that. In Scotland such powers already exist for dealing with an individual who is thought to be committing an offence. When we create a new offence 1393 in a Bill, we must give powers in relation to that new offence, and that is the intention behind clause 2. As a result of an amendment, clause 3 provides that the Bill should come into force immediately after Royal Assent.
The Bill is but a small—I emphasise "small"—step in the fight against thugging. No one conceals the fact that much more needs to be done. There are many reasons for investigating the roots of violence on our streets and the actions of some—a small minority—of our citizens. The Bill is a step in the right direction, and marks another item to be chalked off the list of our manifesto commitments—perhaps ahead of programme, but not before time.
I have a shopping list of activities, as, I am sure, do other hon. Members. We may need a major review of criminal legal procedure in Scotland, but I make no apologies for this first small step. We must keep the battle going. A Scottish phrase is appropriate, as the hon. Member for Maryhill will no doubt agree: "Many a mickle maks a muckle". By jove, we need this mickle now, and a muckle more in the future.
I thank the individuals involved in preparing the Bill—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State in another place and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who has been a tower of strength to me in recent weeks. I thank the supporters who have backed the Bill, and the Opposition Members, particularly the hon. Member for Dumbarton who have given support. Their contributions to the debates in the House have certainly given everyone something to think about. I also thank the Scottish Office officials who helped to prepare the Bill and provided a great source of strength to me.
I hope that the Bill will proceed without opposition. The people of Scotland will be eternally grateful to the House if that happens.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) on his success in introducing the Bill. Lengthy debates and changes took place in Committee, and I believe that the resulting Bill will contribute substantially to overcoming the ever-growing problem of the use of knives in a offensive manner. For a Scot to have two Bills on Third Reading on a Friday in Parliament must be a record. I have no recollection of that happening before and I think that my hon. Friend may have a contribution to make to the "Guinness Book of Records".
Whatever may be said about my hon. Friend's dress and mine, I am sure that we dress alike. The misinformation being spread by odd sources is quite wrong. I wear the Scottish national costume regularly as I am proud of my ancestry, and it is important to ensure that we do not impede people who are properly dressed. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr for including such a provision in the Bill.
It was important to recognise the problems that have occurred in the courts. I have no wish to cross swords with my hon. and learned Friend from Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn)—his constituency is next door to mine—but it has been clear to all of us who have been looking at the 1394 problems in the Scottish courts that something was not quite right. I hope and believe that the Bill, if it becomes law, will help to redress the balance.
§ Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) on introducing the Bill. I have a particular interest, in that I am a patron of a charity called the Why? campaign, whose founder, Bill Dennison, suffered a grievous loss when his son John was stabbed to death. It has become acutely obvious that young people are increasingly carrying knives, careless of the damage they can do.
These knives have become a scourge, associated with the sort of macho image that young men like to foster. They go out in the evenings carrying car keys, wallets and knives as if the latter were part of their masculinity.
This culture of knife-carrying has led to an enormous increase in the number of deaths from sharp implements. In the past four years, the numbers of such deaths have risen by 25 per cent.
In Standing Committee, the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) tried to move an amendment to make the Bill cover 3-inch pocket folding knives. Gruesome evidence was given of victims who had died from wounds less than three inches deep. Such wounds can reach the chest, heart or lungs and can prove to be mortal. There is no evidence, however, that such injuries are caused by penknives or pocket knives. Much larger weapons are needed to cause them.
In any ease, the people who carry small folding pocket knives are not usually the ones likely to be committing an offence. It is the people who carry larger weapons who are more likely to inflict injury.
There is no evidence in the south that pocket knives are giving rise to concern. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) said, knives can be innocently carried for other purposes, such as cooking or whittling wood. Every self-respecting cub and boy scout knows how to handle a pocket knife. They are a part of everyday life.
There is a mythical story that Zsa Zsa Gabor kept a drawer full of pocket knives as presents for her admirers, knowing that the knives would remind them of their childhood.
We are trying to draw attention to the serious knife carrying which can lead to mortal injuries. I welcome the efforts that have gone into the Bill. When educating young people, we must emphasise to them more than ever that knives are highly dangerous and will not be tolerated in public.
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I was somewhat alarmed to hear the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) explain his notion of further steps that he might consider taking to achieve a muckle out of today's mickle. I will be listening carefully to his future proposals for updating the stocks and bringing back caning, but he cannot rely on our support for any such moves.
The Opposition welcome and support the Bill——
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but does she wonder where the Scottish National party is today? Its Members pretend in Parliament to defend Scotland's interests, so why are not they here today to discuss this important Bill?
§ Mr. Gallie
In all fairness—and, as everyone knows, I am very fair—an hon. Member from the Scottish National party voiced support for the Bill and was one of its listed supporters. I should not like the position to be misrepresented.
§ Mrs. Fyfe
I shall leave it to the members of the SNP, all three of them, to work out whether they should have been here for this debate.
We wholeheartedly support the Bill. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), who had the idea originally. Hon. Members will recall that when he raised the issue the Government claimed that they could not find time for it because of the time taken by the Bill on Maastricht. There followed such an uproar in Scotland that the Government were forced to change their mind. Instead of having the generosity to support the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton, I am sorry to say that they chose to bring in a Bill of their own and place it in the hands of the hon. Member for Ayr. (Mr. Gallie). Nevertheless, I welcome the hon. Gentleman's action.
The Bill matters a great deal to people in our communities. It arises from our people's anger and sorrow at the lives that have been thrown away. We are determined to get to grips with this evil in our society. No one should have to walk the streets of our cities in fear and it is appalling that young and otherwise law-abiding men start to think about carrying weapons in case someone, perhaps crazed by drink or drugs, attacks them for no reason. As the hon. Member for Ayr said, women feel especially vulnerable to attack and will greatly welcome this move to increase their safety on the streets and at home. Many people are vulnerable in many ways, especially the elderly and those who, because of racial or other prejudice, feel under particular threat.
An alarming number of the knives that were handed to Strathclyde police during its recent amnesty initiative and the knife produced in the Chamber a few weeks ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) are vicious instruments of death and no one could pretend otherwise. It would be foolish for society to permit the carrying of such weapons and to render our police unable to take appropriate action to secure the safety of the public. I do not think that Maryhill police are entirely likely to believe some Ned walking along the street with a collection of knives who says, "Actually, officer, I am on my way to cook up a cordon bleu meal." Such a story might be more readily believable if it were told by some other member of society.
Conservative Members are aware that although we support the Bill we retain some worries. We all know that a 3-inch blade can kill, as any incident and emergency department in our hospitals will testify. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) is not in his place. He may feel that the law as it stands is entirely satisfactory, but it is quite obvious to those of us who read in our daily newspapers about vicious attacks by knife-wielding thugs that the law is certainly not adequate to deal with such thugs and deter them from carrying blades. When such Neds can laugh at the law, it is time for society to do something about it.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)
I am grateful for the opportunity to respond briefly to the debate. Once again, the Scottish National party is conspicuous by its absence. We should have a great deal more respect for SNP Members if they took the trouble to turn up for important debates, especially those on law and order on which there is strong feeling throughout Scotland.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) that the Bill contains a defence provision. Clause 1(4) states:It shall be a defence for a person charged…to prove that he had good reason or lawful authority for having the article with him in the public place.My hon. Friend's good intentions in this matter, as an able cook with great culinary skills, would be respected by all concerned, both south and north of the border. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) was correct. There have been no problems with the provisions relating to 3-inch blades so far. We shall monitor the effect of the provisions carefully and, if it is necessary to take further action, we shall take it, but so far there is no evidence that that is so.
My hon. Friends the Members for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) are right in their reply to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn). I have told my hon. and learned Friend that he is a brilliant man, but he is not always right. Nowhere is that more clear than in his assertions in relation to the Bill. The weakness in his argument, which he put only an hour ago, is that a knife is not necessarily classed as an offensive weapon under the provisions of section 1(4) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953. For a knife to be classed as an offensive weapon, the prosecution must first prove that the person intended to use it to cause personal injury. If the prosecution cannot prove the intent to cause injury, a knife is not an offensive weapon, so the 1953 Act is not relevant and is insufficient to deal with the problem that is facing the nation. Under the Bill, it would not be necessary to prove intent. Actual possession would be sufficient and that would be a deterrent.
I agree that there is a growing tide of violence and that we need to take strong action to confront and deal with it. Violent crime is all too common today. It disfigures the lives not only of the victims and their families but of the wider community. People change their way of life in response to concern about violent crimes. They fortify their homes, they go out less frequently, they try not to travel alone and they avoid secluded places.
Law-abiding citizens should not have to live in such fear or to consider taking such precautions. They should be able to live their lives in safety and security. That is why we place the maintenance of law and order among our highest and most important objectives. It is why we will continue to ensure that the police and the courts have the powers and the resources to tackle crime, particularly violent crime, and to protect law-abiding citizens.
Since 1979 police numbers have increased by 1,100 officers. Over £500 million a year is spent on policing in Scotland. That represents a massive investment in law and order and reflects our full support for the police.
Despite that, it is sadly true that the number of homicides and the number of attempted murders have been rising. In Strathclyde the number of homicides rose 1397 from 55 in 1991 to 92 in 1992, while the number of attempted murders rose from 126 to 201 over the same period.
Knives figured prominently in these assaults: they were used, for example, in over half of last year's homicide cases in Strathclyde. I commend Strathclyde police for their initiative in launching Operation Blade. I also welcome the support given to the "Bin a knife" campaign by STV and other sections of the Scottish media. That touches on what my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr said about the modern equivalent of the stocks. What television portrays is extremely important in that connection.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I apologise to the House for not having been here for all the debate, but I have been engaged in a series of interviews concerning the circumstances surrounding the death of four very young children in my constituency yesterday. Will the Minister confirm that new guidelines will be issued to both the police forces and the police college concerning the powers given to the police? What kind of publicity exercise will be initiated by this most welcome Bill?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
Guidelines and training of the police will be revised to take account of the new measures that we are introducing and the police will receive the fullest possible training. I hope very much that what we decide today will be taken full note of by the media in Scotland.
For our part, the Government have come to the view that the powers of the police and the courts need to be strengthened in relation to the prevention of indiscriminate knife carrying. We promised in the Conservative party manifesto totackle the scourge of the indiscriminate use of knives to wound and kill on our streets.We gave a commitment tocreate a new offence to make it unlawful for anyone to have in a public place any article with a blade or a sharp point.1398 There will, of course, be an exception for my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North wearing his skean dhu when he puts on highland dress.
The key feature of the Bill is to make it an offence to carry a knife or any other article with a blade or sharp point without good reason or lawful authority. There would be no need for the prosecution to prove, first, that the person involved intended to use the knife. It would simply need to prove that the person had the knife in a public place. It would then be for the person concerned to prove that he had lawful authority. The Bill will enable the police and the courts to deal with an enormous number of people who carry knives before those knives are used to damage or end innocent lives.
I will say a few words about the penalties that are proposed. When the Bill was introduced, the maximum penalty available on summary conviction was specified as a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale—that is £1,000. However, when the Second Scottish Standing Committee scrutinised the Bill, it was clear that the Committee considered that, in the light of great and entirely legitimate public concern, the Bill should specify the same penalties as those contained in the 1953 Act—in other words, to provide for a maximum penalty of imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or both. The Government share the Committee's concern that the new offence and the consequent powers of the police should be available at the earliest opportunity. In all cases, the onus of proof will lie with the knife carrier.
Against the background of rising public concern about violent crime, I believe that the Bill will serve an invaluable purpose. It will prove to be a useful and effective extension to the range of powers that are available to the police and the courts. It meets the terms of the Conservative party's manifesto commitment. I am sure that it will help authorities to act in a preventive manner to reduce the number of assaults taking place on our streets. I welcome the Opposition's support for the Bill and I strongly commend the measure to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.