§ 3. Lady Olga Maitland
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he is taking to deal with the criminal use of knives.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)
The carrying of knives in public is severely restricted by the Criminal Justice Act 1988. Stronger police powers of stop and search in relation to offensive weapons have been introduced in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
I congratulate my hon. Friend on responding to deep public concern about the carrying of weapons, and particularly knives, in public places. Will he confirm that the police welcome this measure 713 and that it will help them in their task of protecting the public? Will he please keep the powers under review and extend them if necessary?
§ Mr. Maclean
I am delighted to give my hon. Friend the assurance that she seeks. Of course the police are keen on the new stop and search power in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, but that is not the only power to deal with those who carry or use knives. Those who carry knives in public can be caught under two provisions—that covering the possession offence or the offensive weapons rules if they show an intent to use a weapon. That offence can carry a sentence of imprisonment.
§ Mr. Cox
I welcome the Minister's reply. Is he aware that I recently tabled a question to his Department about banning the importation of a fountain pen that, within seconds, becomes a most deadly weapon with about a 4in blade? The Department replied that it did not regard the pen, which was found in a prison, as a lethal weapon, but the police, and especially the prison governor, regard it as such.
§ Mr. Maclean
We have power to ban certain weapons and we have used it to ban 14 weapons that can be imported. They range from rare and exotic implements from the far east to flick knives and other weapons. We are perfectly prepared to use that power again to deal with any other knives or offensive weapons if it is possible to come up with a legal definition that is sensible and is restricted to the item in question. In many cases, our ability to ban a knife is irrelevant because we have powers to deal with those who carry and use knives. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is possible to devise a rule to ban a knife that will deal with the people who wish to carry all sorts of knives in society, I am afraid that he is very much mistaken.
§ Mr. Key
Does my hon. Friend find it rather strange that knives are freely available in high street shops behind clear glass for people of all ages to see, yet betting shops are shrouded in secrecy behind smoked glass? Would he kindly consider deregulating betting shops and imposing tighter regulations on shops that sell knives?
§ Mr. Maclean
I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that of course we wish to improve visibility into betting shops; we shall certainly do that. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) asked about the regulation and control of knives. There are hundreds of millions of legitimate knives in society that are used for perfectly legitimate purposes. I am perfectly happy to consider any individual case for banning an offensive weapon if that weapon can be clearly defined, but the most recent reports clearly show that the knives that have been involved in some attacks have been Stanley knives, kitchen knives and vegetable knives. It would not be sensible to draw up a law banning every Sabatier knife in the country.