HC Deb 05 December 1996 vol 286 cc1188-9
4. Sir Michael Shersby

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is his policy towards further extending the powers of the police to stop and search for knives without time or geographical restrictions; and if he will make a statement. [6151]

Mr. Howard

A police officer may stop and search anyone if he has reasonable grounds for suspecting that he will find stolen or prohibited articles, such as a knife. We intend to amend the code of practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to make it clear that reasonable suspicion includes intelligence that shows that members of a group or gang habitually carry knives. We have also proposed that police powers should be extended, so that they can stop and search anyone in a particular area if they reasonably believe that people are carrying knives in that area. Those powers would have to be authorised by an officer of at least inspector rank for a maximum period of 48 hours.

Sir Michael Shersby

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that a change to 48 hours and to authorisation by an officer of the rank of inspector in a area where violence is suspected will be welcome, and will make a substantial contribution towards dealing with the difficult problem of knives in the community?

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am aware that police associations have welcomed the proposals as a significantly useful reinforcement to their powers, which will enable them the more effectively to protect the public.

Mr. Llwyd

That proposal is all very well—I am sure that it will be a useful addition—but what do the Government intend to do about the availability of knives to the public? What is the latest Government thinking on the private Member's Bill to be presented to the House a week on Friday? Will the Home Secretary please tell the House and the general public what is being done about the availability of such knives?

Mr. Howard

We have suggested to the promoter of that private Member's Bill an excellent package to deal with the problem. I hope that he will adopt those proposals and include them in his Bill. If he does so, he will have our full support.

Sir Irvine Patnick

Will my right hon. and learned Friend deal with the problems associated with Stanley knives? It is not only the length and type of knife that matters. Stanley knives can inflict dangerous injuries. How will stop-and-search powers deal with them'? If I were at a dance with a Stanley knife in my pocket, I could be a suspect, but what about people walking in the street?

Mr. Howard

In the circumstances that I identified in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Sir M. Shersby), the police would have extra powers to search. We have substantially increased the penalties for people who carry knives in public without lawful excuse. We recently embarked on an extensive publicity campaign to ensure that everyone knows that those powers exist, and that if they continue to carry knives in public without a lawful excuse, they run the risk of spending a substantial period in prison. We urge people not to carry knives in public without lawful excuse, so as not to run that risk.