HC Deb 13 December 1996 vol 287 cc515-60

Order for Second Reading read.

9.34 am
Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

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

This House has been deeply moved by recent incidents of crime involving knives. The murder of headmaster Philip Lawrence is still in our memoriesߞa mindless act of violence by a young attacker armed with a knife. In October last year, Mr. Lawrence's widow, Frances, wrote in her manifesto for the nation: It is shocking to discover how easy it is to acquire battlefield blades which can have no function other than to be flourished by the inadequate and the cowardly. I share her shock and anger.

There are other incidents that should inspire Parliament to take action. Only this week, the front pages of newspapers have shown the huge machete that was wielded in an attack on small children. The knife used had a 23-in blade, which was wielded as though it was cutting corn, according to an onlooker. It is more shocking to know that such weaponry is easily available and legally sold. With these incidents in mind, I fear that the House could rightly be accused of attempting to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.

For some years, Labour Members have been trying to persuade the House to legislate against dangerous knives. There have been some changes in the law, but it is too common for people to be carrying knives in public. A survey by the schools health education unit of Exeter university found that one in five secondary school children said that they had recently carried offensive weapons, including knives and guns.

In my constituency, where unemployment and poverty are rife, a number of unarmed people have had appalling injuries inflicted upon them. I am sure that my constituents are looking to this Bill to cut down the number of such cowardly attacks. I want young people to be heroes, to give up their knives and stop the senseless murders and stabbings. Carrying a knife is not for protection or a sign of strength; it is a sign of weakness in people without the courage to take knives off the streets.

The figures for knife crime are alarming. The provisional figures for 1995 show that, in England and Wales, 2,559 people were convicted of carrying an article with a blade or a point in a public place; 3,190 people were prosecuted and convicted of carrying an offensive weapon without reasonable excuse in a public place. In Scotland in 1994, 53 per cent. of homicide victims were killed with a sharp instrument; in 1993, knives were used in 13 per cent. of all incidents of violence.

The carrying of an offensive weapon in a public place is already an offence, but surely that is not enough. We must also tackle supply, by banning the sale of weapons whose only purpose is wounding or killing. The Bill would do just that.

It has taken the Minister a long time to realise that the tide of public opinion has turned against the availability of such weapons. The words used in advertisements to describe knives are astonishing. The names alone betray their purpose: "SAS shoulder holster knife" or "Rambo shortsword". Looking at the mail order catalogues, which are freely available for all to see, would curl even the most stubborn of hairs: Terminator Terror Sword … monstrous double handed sword … absolutely awesome, 56" overall". Another example tells of A commando knife made of carbon fibre, complete with blood channels", which is described as "an ideal Christmas present". This Christmas, I do not wish to see stockings filled with such weaponry. Such advertisements do more than simply make clear the purpose of such knives: they promote the violent purpose, in print an inch high.

It is not possible for any rational person to condone these advertisements, but the Advertising Standards Authority has said that it has no power to regulate them, except on a voluntary basis. A voluntary system offers no control over the minority of fringe publications which are targeted at people with an obsessive interest in weapons. Such advertisements do not appear in The Times or The Guardian, which undoubtedly would reject them, even without advice from the ASA or a legal curb on printing them.

The public may not realise that such advertisements are in print, but the fact that they are confined to fringe publications makes the situation worse, not better. Those with a perverted interest in such weapons know where to find such magazines. They are within easy reach, in any high street newsagent.

The people who deal in such weapons are aware that the writing is on the wall. There is little doubt of the purpose of a company called "Battle Orders Ltd."ߞalthough, after this Bill is enacted, it will have to change its name to "Standing Orders". The managing director has written in the company's current circular: buying now will beat any ban. I can assure its magazine subscribers that the police will not ignore their efforts to get "tooled up" before the House passes the Bill. I have not introduced it so that readers of the company's magazine, "The Battle Bugle", will be able to buy their Terminator sword or their Knife with quick draw holster now, and thereby evade the ban.

An example of the shortcomings of the current law was described in last weekend's Sunday Mail. It tells of a drug addict who showed Glasgow sheriff George Crozier how he used his knife to slice open a drinks can to prepare his fix. The sheriff let him go free, because the addict said that he needed the blade for his drug habit. Apparently his solicitor was able to convince the court that he was carrying the knife as a tool of the trade to help him inject drugs". That account may surprise hon. Members. It certainly surprised the defendant, because he said: I thought I was going to jail. The paper's photograph of the knife shows why we need to change the law. After the Bill is enacted, next year, that man will have to use a hacksaw.

In 1988, my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) tabled amendments to the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which would have banned selling knives to under-16s and references to the offensive or defensive use of knives in their marketing or advertising. The Government opposed both amendments. The present Minister of Agriculture, the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) then said: 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".ߞ[Official Report, 20 June 1988; Vol. 135, c. 916.] Although I voted for the amendments tabled by my colleagues and Liberal Members, Conservative Members followed their Minister. Some of them may have been unhappy with the official position, but none felt able to vote with us.

In 1994, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) tabled amendments to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which would have controlled weapon sales by postߞbut the Minister said that powers already existed to deal with such sales. That has been proven to be untrue, because companies have been able to carry on with those sales. Other amendments would have increased penalties for possession of offensive weapons, but they were voted down by Conservative Members, although Ministers eventually responded by providing an increased penalty for carrying knives, which was passed without a vote.

Last year, there was more progress, in the introduction by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) of the Offensive Weapons Act 1996, which makes carrying a weapon in a public place an arrestable offence. At the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), the Bill was amended in Committee to include a ban on sale to under-16s. On that occasion, the measure was passed without a vote. However, when myhon Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth tabled amendments on Report calling for a ban on advertising and selling such knives, Conservative Members voted them down.

Now, at last, there has been some movement towards a consensus. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have supported my Bill, and I am sure that such co-operation will lead to its speedy passage. No hon. Member who has seen the harm caused by such knives can vote against the Bill with a clear conscience. I challenge any hon. Member who votes against it to look into the eyes of Mrs. Lawrence or of the parents of the children involved in the machete attack and explain their reasons for doing so.

The Home Secretary has now agreed to support a ban on advertising or marketing a knife in a manner that "suggests an aggressive use" for itߞa formulation similar to that proposed by the Opposition eight years ago. However, the current situation merits a further step: we must ban the sale of such weapons.

Obviously, if someone can show a lawful purpose for owning a knife, it should not be an offence. I believe that we can get the balance right. Surely everyone must realise that saying that it is a complicated and difficult problem will not wash with the public. Some knife categories are already banned from sale. The Offensive Weapons Act 1959, for example, banned flick knives and gravity knives, and an order was made under section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to ban other bladed and offensive weapons.

My Bill makes it an offence to market a knife in a manner that indicates, or suggests, that it is suitable for combat", or that makes it likely to stimulate or encourage violent behaviour involving the use of the knife as a weapon. The terms are further defined in clause 1(1). "Suitable for combat" means suitable for use as a weapon for inflicting injury on a person or causing a person to fear injury". "Violent behaviour" means any unlawful act inflicting injury, or causing someone to fear injury. Under clause 1, "marketing a knife" includes selling or hiring a knife, offering one for sale or hire, or possessing one for the purpose of sale or hire.

The Bill covers any name or description on a knife or on any packaging or advertising material relating to it in marketing material that indicates, or suggests, that the knife is suitable for combat". Clause 2 makes it an offence to publish any material to market a knife which indicates, or suggests, that the knife is suitable for combat; or … is otherwise likely to stimulate or encourage violent behaviour involving the use of the knife as a weapon. That will deal with injuries such as those that I mentioned earlier.

Clause 3 allows certain exemptions, to avoid catching those who market knives for legitimate purposes, although they are intended for an aggressive use. The exemption includes, for example, knives intended for use by the armed forces, or knives that had an aggressive use when originally made but which are now marketed as collectors' pieces. It will be lawful to market such knives, provided that those marketing them have no reason to suspect that those acquiring them will use them for an unlawful purpose.

It will not be lawful, for example, to market an antique sword in a manner suggesting that it is suitable for combat if there are grounds for believing that the person buying it is likely to use it for such a purpose. The clause provides power for the Secretary of State to exempt other types of marketing.

Clause 4 provides certain defences for people who may be charged with offences under clauses 1 or 2. It would be a defence if a person could prove that he did not know or suspect, and had no reasonable grounds for suspecting, that the way in which a knife was marketed amounted to a suggestion that it was suitable for combat or was likely to stimulate or encourage violent behaviour.

Under clause 4(3), it would be a defence if a person could prove that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid committing the offence. That would provide a possible defence for a shopkeeper, for example, who issued instructions to all his staff not to market knives in an aggressive way, only to discover that one of his staff had flouted those instructions without his knowledge or authority.

Clause 5 provides certain powers for the police. If a police officer has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person has committed an offence under clause 1 or that the person has in his possession knives that have been marketed unlawfully, the police officer may obtain a warrant to enter and search that person's premises and seize the knives.

The clause provides similar powers under warrant to enter and search premises and to seize publications containing offending material. Any knives or publications seized under the clause may be retained until the conclusion of any proceedings against the person involved.

Clause 6 provides a power of forfeiture for the courts. If a person is convicted of an offence under clauses 1 or 2, the court may order the forfeiture of any offending material that the police have seized using their powers under this clause. The courts have the discretion to order forfeiture but are not required to do so. There may be cases in which the court would consider that requiring the offender to forfeit all his offending knives or publications would be a disproportionate punishmentߞif, for example, the offence were only of a very marginal kind but forfeiture of all the property would have a very serious effect on that person's livelihood.

Clause 7 deals with the rights of third parties in relation to property that has been seized. The offending knives or publications might have been stolen from their legitimate owner, who might have had no knowledge of the way in which they were being marketed by the offender. In such a case, the rightful owner would be able to apply to the court to have his property restored, and the court would be able to return his property to him if it were satisfied that he had had no part in the offence.

Clause 8 adds to the circumstances in which the police can make use of the existing stop-and-search powers under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. It allows an officer of superintendent rank or above to authorise officers to stop and search people and vehicles if he has reason to believe that persons in any specific locality in the police area are carrying knives or offensive weapons without good reason. The authorising officer may authorise the use of stop-and-search powers at any specified place within the locality for up to 24 hours.

If the authorising officer has given that permission, police constables will be able to stop and search any pedestrian in the relevant area for knives or offensive weapons and, similarly, to stop and search any vehicle that might be carrying knives or offensive weapons. Authorisations under this clause must be given in writing and specify the locality in which the powers are to be exercised and the period for which they may be exercised. They may be extended for a further 24 hours and may be exercisedߞas nowߞby a chief inspector or inspector if no superintendent is available. Subsection (5) extends section 60 of the 1994 Act to Scotland.

Clause 8 entitles a pedestrian who is searched or a driver who is stopped to obtain a written statement saying that he was searched or stopped. Anyone requiring such a written statement must apply for it within a year of the date of the event in question.

Clause 9 deals with relevant offences by corporate bodies. If any offence is committed with the consent or connivance of an officer of a corporate body, or is attributable to any neglect on the part of an officer of a corporate body, that officer and the corporate body itself are guilty of the offence.

The Bill deals with the concerns about which the public have rightfully voiced a strong opinion. Petitions have been presented to hon. Members, and I am sure that I am not alone in having received a number of letters urging the House to legislate against the knives in question.

Not long ago, a representative of the Police Superintendents Association said: If they can get a man on the moon, I am sure they can come to a definition of a combat knife. I believe that the Bill provides such a definition. It is not beyond the wit of reasonable people to tell the difference between a knife designed to cut through bread and one designed to cut through people. The public were not convinced by the Home Secretary's comment that no such distinction was possible.

Such a measure should be adopted by the Houseߞand not before time. I hope that the Conservative Members will not show the worst excesses of political malice, and that a Bill which commands cross-party support and which the general public are willing on can reach the statute book.

In drafting the Bill, I have had the co-operation and support of hon. Members from all parties, for which I am grateful. My hon. Friends the Members for Blackburn and for Cardiff, South and Penarth have pursued this matter for a long time. I must thank the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) for his willingness to help with the Bill on a cross-party basis. I am especially grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), who has been by my side since the day I came first in the ballot. I am grateful for his help; working with him has been a pleasurable experience for me.

I should also like to thank the right hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) and my hon. Friends the Members for Preston (Mrs. Wise), for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington), for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Cunningham). I must also thank the Minister of State and the Home Secretary for their assistance and guidance.

This has been a great pleasure for me, and I am honoured to be introducing the Bill. Let us pass it into law without delayߞthat will be a victory for Mrs. Lawrence, and for common sense. I commend the Bill to the House.

9.57 am
Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds)

It gives me great pleasure to support the Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) who introduced the Bill, which commands the support of all hon. Members, cogently and sincerely. I applaud the fact that it is an all-party issue and that we can debate the Bill while essentially backing what the hon. Gentleman said.

It is without doubt worth paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), who have also moved the argument forward and brought the matter to the public's attention in a persuasive mannerߞall those of us interested in the issue applaud what they have done.

There is a slight irony in the fact that, at breakfast this morning, I cut my finger while trying to cut an apple. If my notes are a strange pink colour, it is a reflection of that incidentߞI have to say that it is the only pink thing about me.

Judging by the standards of most industrialised nations, ours is not essentially a murderous society. Nevertheless, appalling things happen. There was something cathartic about the tragic death of Philip Lawrence that moved public opinion on. The results of that lie in what we are debating this morning.

Philip Lawrence died when his body was pierced by an horrific, 10-in blade. It was a terrible thing for the whole nation that a man of such distinction died in that way. I join the hon. Member for Provan in his tribute to Mr. Lawrence's widow and the way in which she has brought the issue to the public's attention with such dignity. In the past week or two, there has been considerable publicity about a road rage victim, who was also knifed to death in tragic circumstances.

The use of knives as offensive weapons has evolved considerably since the end of the second world war. In the late 1940s, criminal gangs increasingly indulged in knife warfare. The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 was introduced to address the problem. Some of us might recall, even if we were not there at the time, that public attention was particularly moved to seek to address the dangers of carrying knives as offensive weapons by the rise of the teddy boy. They went around with knuckledusters, bicycle chains and flick knives, which were part of their culture. The problem bedevilled British society in the 1950s.

Section 1(1) of the 1953 Act says: Any person who without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, the proof whereof shall lie on him, has with him in any public place any offensive weapon shall be guilty of an offence". That had an important effect. With the growing popularity of flick knives, the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 was introduced to address the dangers of knives in society.

Those two Acts undoubtedly had an effect, but they have proved inadequate for the culture of the 1980s and the 1990s, despite the subsequent legislative changes.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

My hon. Friend is making some important points about the changes in legislation so long ago. I support the Bill, as I am sure everyone does, but the problem is to make an effective law that will make a difference. Knuckledusters and flick knives, which my hon. Friend mentioned, are offensive weapons per se, because they can have no other use. Is the problem not the fact that there will be doubts about the purpose of certain knives?

Mr. Spring

My hon. Friend makes a fair point about definition, but an element of discretion in the Bill is available on that. We can leave it to the good sense of the courts to make a judgment on what an offensive weapon is when there is a grey area. Undoubtedly, terrible crimes have been committed with knives that are supposedly for domestic use. My hon. Friend has made a good point, but, as the hon. Member for Provan has already mentioned, the knife sub-culture has clearly been enhanced, exaggerated and encouraged by aggressive advertising and packaging. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that we have to clamp down on that.

As in many industrial societies, there is undoubtedly a yob culture in the United Kingdom. We have had waves of disagreeable groups in the past. Teddy boys have been referred to, and we could also mention the violence of the mods and rockers.

This summer, there were scenes of mindless yobbishness in quiet towns in my rural Suffolk constituency. That was largely alcohol-induced, with young people rampaging round the town behaving in what can be described mildly as an anti-social way. Happily, they did not have knives. I am delighted that, with the impending passage of the Crime (Sentences) Bill, many of the problems of that yob culture will be addressed by stiffer penalties and the possibility of publicly naming the young people who offend in that way.

I also welcome the fact that so many local authorities are considering or introducing byelaws to restrict drinking alcohol in public, which so often leads to anti-social activity. I am happy that the knife culture that has caused so much anxiety and distress to many of our fellow citizens in so many parts of the country is not a feature of rural Suffolk, but the underlying yob culture exists not only in urban areas, but has, regrettably, spread into rural areas as well.

The issue is availability. In the past few years, such knives have been marketed aggressively. I am sure that the hon. Member for Provan agrees that the problem is that, in newspapers and on television, we see repeated acts of violence, including murders and knifings. Violence is brought to our screens dramatically. I cannot help but believe that that significantly devalues respect for other people's physical sanctity.

Television presents war, famine and aggression, showing scenes of violence that have a dramatic effect. Who can forget that, during the riots in South Africa some years ago, we saw on television people being knifed to death? Those horrific images have stuck with me. We have to move legislation on to address the culture of our times as best we can. The Bill will do that.

The hon. Member for Provan referred to the names of some of the knives on saleߞnames such as Rambo and Vindicator. Those names give a false sense of glamour to inculcate a sense of derring-do and adventure in weak-willed people. The tragedy is that such a culture causes death and injury. That is why it is appropriate to have a clear restriction on advertisements for those knives and on the packaging, which is also part of the problem.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Is it not true that those advertisements, which the hon. Member for Provan also referred to, appeal most to the weak, particularly to the rather pathetic young man who needs to bolster his ego or to prove himself tough? It is particularly pernicious to appeal to the weak, who then part with their money, increasing the number of those unpleasant weapons in circulation.

Mr. Spring

My hon. Friend is right. An inadequate or weak-willed person may gain some sort of strength from carrying such a weapon. It is particularly dangerous when such people are emboldened by a quantity of alcohol. We see all too often the twin effects of alcohol and offensive weapons.

I very much welcome the fact that the police will be able to search shops and seize weapons that fall into the combat category. I welcome the fact that they will be able to seize magazines containing illegal advertisements for knives, because there is no doubt that aggressive advertising encourages aggression itself.

I also welcome the fact that there is a sensible balance. There are exceptions for trade, domestic, artistic and ceremonial use, and for knives that are part of a national costume. That will certainly apply to some hon. Members from north of the border.

I possess two Omani khunjas; I am happy to say that they are framed and behind glass, but they were designed to be lethal weapons. It is part of the culture of the Arabian peninsula to carry such knives. They have an antique and ceremonial value, and I hope that nothing like them will be used in acts of violence in Britain. It is appropriate that such knives should be recognised as antique items and thus exempted. I have seen examples of such knives in various ministerial offices; they are gifts given by foreign Governments. Having looked into the matter, I am not aware that any of those ancient knives has ever been used in an attack in Britain.

There are civil liberties questions about the stop-and-search powers. Mr. Harry Fletcher, the assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said in The Times on Wednesday 20 November: This draconian measure, if used insensitively, will do nothing but create high levels of conflict between young people and the law. Mr. John Wadham, the director of Liberty, the civil rights organisation, said in The Independent on 20 November: This latest proposal is a massive extension of stop-and-search powers. Any young person, any black person, any person with long hair, in fact any person at all, will be subject to random and arbitrary searches by the police. I very much welcome the increased police powers, and I believe that the community at large will do so. We have gangs who carry knives. At present, areas can be designated only for 24 hours, and then only if that detention has been authorised by a superintendent. The law will now be modified in a way that accords very much with the reality of the situation.

At the heart of our difficulties is the knife culture itself. In that context, I very much welcome the anti-violence campaign which has been launched by the Scottish Office with a budget of £500,000. On 27 November, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced a poster campaign for which the slogan was "Don't carry the risk". That campaign will be carried into schools, youth clubs, police stations and shops.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has talked about the need to sort out the application of the law to schools. It will now be an arrestable offence to carry a knife on school premises, and the police will have search powers in schools. The Department, very appropriately, is preparing guidance for schools, because it is in schools that the fight against the knife culture can be most effectively undertaken. It is excellent to see the co-operation between the Home Office and the Department for Education and Employment, which is intended to ram home the message about knives and to ensure that young people understand the terrible dangers of the knife culture.

It is, however, worth rememberingߞI alluded to legislation in the 1950sߞthat, under the Offensive Weapons Act 1996, anyone carrying a knife in public without good reason can receive up to two years' imprisonment. From 1 January 1997, it will be a criminal offence to sell a knife to anybody under the age of 16, with a maximum six-month custodial sentence or a fine. As I said, the co-operation between my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is crucial in heightening public awareness.

The hon. Member for Provan spoke of the extent of the problem. In 1995, according to the British crime survey, there were 160,000 incidents of wounding and robbery in which a knife was carriedߞnot necessarily used, but carried. Happily, in many parts of Britain, the knife culture has not taken root, but, unhappily, in many others it has. Carrying a knife is dangerous and encourages a false machismo in young people. It is right to attempt to stop the manufacture and sale of knives, because we must destroy the knife culture.

We must address social problems and their expression in criminal activity as they arise. The time has come to stand up and fight the knife culture which has caused such mayhem. Once again, I applaud the efforts of the hon. Member for Provan in introducing the Bill and bringing the matter to public attention. I know that the whole House and the whole nation support him in seeking to stamp out the pernicious knife culture in our society.

10.16 am
Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

On 21 March 1993, Police Sergeant Bill Forth was in his panda car on the Clover Hill estate in Sunniside in my constituency. He was dragged from that car, he was clubbed with fence posts, and he was stabbed to death with a sheath knife. The assailants, Paul Weddle and Philip English, were convicted of murder. Their defence counsel pleaded in mitigation the fact that they were high on a mixture of alcohol, solvents and temazepan. It was not, however, the alcohol, solvents and temazepan that killed Sergeant Forth; it was a knife.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) on introducing the Bill; it is an important and overdue measure. We should have had this legislation a long time ago. I also congratulate my hon. Friend on the measured way in which he moved the Bill's Second Reading, and on the thoughtful way in which he has constructed it; it will be effective.

Sergeant Forth was 35; he left a widow, Gill, and two children: Christopher, who was 10 at the time, and Rebecca, who was seven. Weddle and English beat Sergeant Forth with fence posts, and Weddle then stabbed him while English ran off. The police were doing their duty by protecting a family on the estate who were being attacked by a group of youths simply because Weddle, who was 25 at the time, had lost his 15-year-old girl friend to a member of that family. Such behaviour is totally unacceptable in a civilised society. It is unacceptable in a civilised society that, in some areas, knives are routinely carried. I particularly welcome the clause that enables the police to confiscate knives and to arrest, detain and search people to find out whether they are carrying them. Our children are entitled to grow up in a safe society, and society will be much safer without knives.

Sergeant Forth died in tragic circumstances, having been congratulated in the High Court only a week before on his bravery in tackling an armed siege. Whatever we do, we cannot give Gill back her husband and the children their father, but we can give them hope that other families will not be devastated in the same way. I commend the Bill to the House.

10.20 am
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

It might be helpful for me to inform the House at a reasonably early stage in our proceedings that the Government support the Bill. I sincerely congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) on the way he presented the Bill to the House and his full explanation of it. I also thank him for his kindness and courtesy in thanking us for the small amount of assistance that we gave him.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's decision to introduce a Bill on knives. His speech and the two other excellent speeches this morning show that, whenever we can put in place another piece of the jigsaw in helping to destroy the knife sub-culture that involves too many young people by making it difficult for them to carry or use knives, we are doing our duty to society.

We are all united in our objective of tackling the menace of knife-related crime. We have heard a good historical coverage of the changes to the relevant legislation since the 1940s. Over the years, a great deal of work has been done, but I suspect that in future, as in other areas of crime such as those involving drugs or pornography, whenever we think that we have the problem bolted down, the culture, technology and attitudes change and that we have to return to the problem every two or three years to tighten up the legislation.

More can and should be done, and the hon. Gentleman's Bill gives us such an opportunity. Before I turn to it in detail, let me remind the House of some of the measures that we have already taken that set the Bill in context.

Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 made it an offence for a person to possess a bladed or sharply pointed article in a public place without good reason. The Act places the onus on the person carrying the knife to show that he has a good reason for possessing it in public. There is no need to prove intent to use the knife. That legislation was designed to deal with a weakness in previous legislation, whereby there had to be proof of such an intention. If the prosecution could show such an intention, there were heavy penalties, but the 1988 Act made simple possession without a lawful excuse an offence.

We continually return to the issue. In 1995, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) sponsored her Offensive Weapons Bill, which received strong support on both sides of the House. I congratulate her on introducing that measure and thank hon. Members for supporting it. On 4 July, it became the Offensive Weapons Act 1996 and it contained four important provisions.

First, the Act raised the maximum penalty for carrying a knife in public without good reason from a fine of £1,000 to two years' imprisonment or an unlimited fine or both. The maximum penalty for the more serious offence of carrying a knife with intent to cause injury was raised from two to four years' imprisonment.

Secondly, the Act gave the police the terribly important power to arrest people on the spot for those offences. Thirdly, the law as it stood meant that an offence of carrying a knife or offensive weapon could only take place in public. The Act extended the scope of the offence to carrying a knife on school premises, together with the necessary police powers of search and entry. Many of us had assumed that school premises were public property, but we discovered that they were not, so the Bill sensibly extended provisions to them.

Fourthly, the Act created a new offence of selling knives or other bladed articles to people under 16. The prohibition on selling knives to under-16s will come into force on 1 January 1997.

We have also used powers under section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to prohibit the manufacture, sale, importation, giving, hiring or lending of certain specified weapons. An order was made in 1988 prohibiting 14 different weapons that can be defined by their essential features. They include knuckledusters, sword sticks, butterfly knives, hand claws, belt buckle knives and push daggers. Many of those weapons are marketed in foreign magazines although in Britain it is illegal to sell them, buy them or acquire them. The Bill tackles the mere fact of them being described or published, and will do a lot to tackle the knife-carrying sub-culture.

No one should be in any doubt how seriously the law treats illicit knife carrying, but it is clear that, despite the heavy penalties, too many people do not realise that it is an offence to carry a knife in public without good reason, or if they do they are clearly prepared to take the risk.

In 1995, there were almost 3,500 prosecutions for the offence of illicit knife carrying. On 27 November, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary launched a publicity campaign involving the distribution of posters and other material to schools, colleges, local newspapers and radio stations.

During the passage of the Offensive Weapons Act, concern was expressed on both sides of the House about the way in which some knives are advertised. The Advertising Standards Authority conducted a wide-ranging survey of printed advertisements in February. It found that of 259 adverts for weapons and knives, 15 were questionable when judged against the code of advertising practice, which provides that adverts should not contain anything that condones or is likely to provoke violence or antisocial behaviour. As a result of the concern expressed about advertising and marketing, the UnderߞSecretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, NorthߞEast (Mr. Kirkhope) agreed to keep the position under review and study what was happening in the advertising and marketing world.

On 26 June, my hon. Friend met Mrs. Alderton, the Director General of the Advertising Standards Authority. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary had a further meeting with the ASA on 9 November. Mrs. Alderton told him that the authority had been successful in getting 13 out of the 15 unacceptable adverts withdrawn or changed. The other two advertisers could not be contacted, but their adverts had not been published again. Mrs. Alderton agreed that the authority should conduct further surveys frequently and without notice.

Against the background of promising my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam that we would monitor advertising and marketing, we have continued to consider what further steps we can take to deal with the knife-carrying culture. We have made it clear that, if it were possible to define in a satisfactory way knives that had no legitimate purpose, we would not hesitate to use the powers under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to ban such knives and their marketing in the same way as we have used them to ban 14 other weapons, including knuckledusters, butterfly knives and flick knives.

All the knives that have been banned under the 1988 Act have features that enable them to be defined clearly and easily in the law. So far, we have concluded that we cannot define combat knives satisfactorily and distinguish them from other knives in order to ban them. I understand that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) shares that view. We have therefore considered other approaches. We have given a great deal of thought to how we might produce workable legislation to address the way in which knives are marketed.

That is why we came forward with a proposal that it should be an offence for anyone to market a knife in a way that suggests that it is suitable for combat or otherwise likely to encourage violent behaviour involving the use of a knife. I welcome the fact that th2, hon. Member for Provan has gone down the route of tackling the marketing of knives that in any way suggests that they are suitable for combat. The Bill's proposals will make a significant contribution towards stamping out some of the unpleasant and unacceptable ways in which combat knives are sold and marketed.

I am not 100 per cent. confident that the drafting of clause I is quite right. A couple of technical amendments may be required, but we shall look at that closely. If drafting amendments are required, we shall certainly assist the hon. Gentleman in dealing with them quickly in Committee. Apart from that little technical quibble, I welcome the proposals' substance, which we of course support.

I should like briefly to mention the proposals made last week by the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales. It suggested that it should be an offence to sell or market any knife that is apparently designed or made to injure", and that it would be a defence to prove that the knife had "an accepted usage".

I am grateful to the supers for giving thought to that difficult question and working on it over some considerable time, but I regret that I do not think that their proposal would work. It would require the courts to make very subjective judgments about the apparent design of a knife and it would not be difficult for someone to show that even a vicious combat knife could be used for a legitimate purpose such as chopping food. I think that people would come forward with an awful lot of excuses, claiming that the knife had a legitimate purpose, and a whole new industry would arise out there of people coming up with imaginative, apparently innocent, uses for a Rambo knife, such as for gardening.

The Bill also contains provisions that deal with police powers to stop and search. Here again, the hon. Member for Provan and I share the same objective. For the problem of knife carrying to be tackled effectively, it is essential that the police have adequate powers to stop and search when they have reliable information that people are carrying knives in a particular area. The Bill sensibly contains provisions on stop-and-search powers, which are a fundamental step in the right direction. They extend section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order 1994 Act to Scotland, which the Scottish police associations have supported.

The Bill would also amend section 60 to allow stop-and-search powers to be authorised where a police officer reasonably believes that persons are carrying knives or offensive weapons in any locality in the police area without good reason. Again, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on that; it is all heading in the right direction.

The Bill would limit the exercise of the new stop-and-search powers by requiring authorisation by an officer of superintendent rank or above, and by limiting the period for which that authorisation can be given. I say to some of those organisations, such as Liberty and others, which have said that such a provision would give police constables willy-nilly power to do anything that they liked, that they clearly have not read the Bill. It sensibly extends stop-and-search powers that have three major constraints on them: they cannot be used all over the police area and must be used in a locality; they have to be authorised by a senior officer; and they are limited by time. Those constraints mean that police constables will have their normal stop-and-search powersߞand their common law powers in Scotlandߞbut will not be able of their own volition to use the powers unless they are authorised to do so for a defined period by a senior officer.

Before suggesting to the hon. Member for Provan that he may want to consider putting powers in the Bill, I sought the views of the police associations, all of which supported the proposals. The chairman of the Police Federation wrote to me on 2 December and said: your specific proposal in relation to section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 regarding the authority level reduced to inspector and the extension from 24 hours to 48 hours are good ones. They will enable the powers under section 60 to be effective and more quickly react to local problems". The Association of Chief Police Officers similarly expressed unreserved support for the proposals. The views of professionals command respect; they understand the realities of policing. I want to return to the point about authorisation briefly in Committee because I think that further discussion is necessary, but I do not need to go into it on the Floor of the House today.

I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak. I thank the hon. Member for Provan once again for introducing the measure. I conclude by applauding him for the work that he has done. I am very grateful to him and other Opposition Members for their willingness to work with the Government and the Home Office in producing and speeding through a measure that will have a real impact on the marketing and carrying of knives. It sends a clear signal that society will not tolerate knife-related crime and a sends a message to the yobboes that we will give the police and the courts the powers that they need to bear down heavily on perpetrators. I wish the hon. Gentleman all good luck and speed with his Bill, and if my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I can give him any further assistance, we shall be delighted to do so.

10.35 am
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

I am glad that the Minister has responded so positively to the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray). I am experiencing a very strange feeling in this debate. I feel as if I have been travelling for years only to find myself at the same station. I am thankful that, on this occasion at least, more passengers are willing to join me and others who have argued for years that the advertising and sale of combat knives can and must be controlled by law.

The Opposition are pleased that the Government have finally accepted the need to legislate to curb the menace of combat knives, reluctant though they have been to reach such a conclusion. The debate is indeed a triumph for common sense over obstruction and delay and the unacceptable belief that nothing can be done to tackle the real problems faced by our fellow citizens on the streets of this country.

I am tempted towards the hope that even at the eleventh hour of a dying Government, the Conservative party might accept some of the other policies for which we have campaigned, such as speeding up youth justice and nipping things in the bud with young offenders, and providing statutory regulation for the private security industry. Realistically, let us be thankful for small mercies, and hope that the Bill will be law in a matter of weeks, so that an effective means of tackling the knife culture will be on the statute book.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Provan for using the coveted first place in the ballot for private Member's Bills to introduce a measure that the Government should have put on the statute book long ago. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), the shadow Home Secretary, for his personal commitment and refusal to take no for an answer from the Home Secretary. He responded to the challenge, as did the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), who like my hon. Friend was willing to put aside party differences to find an acceptable form of words. The Minister and his officials have also been most helpful in the endeavours of recent weeks to produce a measure behind which we can all put our support.

I also want to put on record our thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor)—who is in the House todayߞwho pushed the issue from the Labour Front Bench as long ago as 1988. I also thank those who have supported me in debates in Committee and on the Floor of the House in our search for legislation on advertising and the sale of knives during the past four or five years. My hon. Friend the Member for Provan asked me to add to the list of sponsors to whom he gave his thanks the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). The hon. Gentleman was not overlookedߞit was just easier for me to refer to that beautiful part of north Wales than it was for my hon. Friend. I shall leave it to him to pronounce the names of hon. Members' constituencies north of the borderߞeach to his own expertise.

If one had any doubt about the need for statutory control, one needed only to have listened to the comments on Radio 4 this morning of Mr. Graham Barton, whose company bears the revealing name Battle Orders Ltd., to which my hon. Friend the Member for Provan referred. Mr. Barton showed a total inability to grasp the public abhorrence of the way in which knives are promoted by his company and others like it. Its latest publication displays an inability to grasp the difference between a fish knife and the sort of weapons that it advertises, and goes on to point out: Battle Orders is a business … our customers have a right to expect and receive unusual, practical, interesting products and that means knives of all shapes and sizes. As in a number of other instances, that gentleman is confused about the difference between a right and a privilege. It is the unacceptable pursuit of some aspects of trade that leads to the need to regulate businesses such as his. Parliament has the right to restrict such business activities, and the public have a right to expect us to do so.

Parliament will today make its intentions clear, and I hope that Ministers, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service will ensure that the Bill is used effectively to end the promotion and glorification of the knife culture as soon as the Bill becomes law. Let the CPS in particular understand that the public interest will require the law to be enforced through the courts.

I also wish to thank all those who have given positive help during consultations with Front Benchers and my hon. Friend the Member for Provan in recent weeks, especially the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, which has played a positive role without getting involved in the political debate, and Scottish Superintendents Association, which has also taken the trouble to make clear its position on different aspects of the Bill.

Mr. Barton's declared intention to play games with the wording of a company's advertisements and displays will, I believe, be ineffective, because the wording of the Bill allows the courts to use common sense in interpreting the will of Parliament. Let us be clear that it is not a small problem that we are tackling today. I acknowledge that the Bill is not a magic solution to all the problems of violence in modern society, but it is a smallߞthough significant and necessaryߞstep towards tackling a serious problem.

The British crime survey estimates that 350,000 incidents involving knives take place a yearߞalmost 1,000 a day, or a third of a million a year. That statistic is astonishing, and that is why it is so surprising that it has taken so long and needed such explicit and overwhelming public pressure to raise Conservative Members' heads out of the sand and into the light. That fact cannot be ignored in welcoming the Minister's support for the Bill, although I certainly welcome his support.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Provan said, his Bill represents eight years of attempts in the House to tighten controls on the sale and marketing of knives, during which Ministers have twisted and turned to oppose initiatives from the Opposition to legislate against the carrying, marketing and sale of combat knives. Conservative Members have marched behind Ministers into the Division Lobby while the public have looked on in shock and amazement. If a week is a long time in politics, eight years is a lifetime.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury put forward amendments to the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to limit the advertising of knives and to ban their sale to children. One might think that those suggestions were reasonable enough, yet the Minister of State said that the proposals went too far. I still fail to see how that position could be considered extreme by Conservative Members, and the general public certainly do not see it as extreme. My hon. Friend the Member for Provan gave examples earlier of the type of advertising that those amendments targeted, including the charmless language of the knife retailers, yet the proposals were voted down by the Government.

In 1994, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) tabled a reasoned amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, with a demand that the Bill include measures to tackle the provision of dangerous weapons, by mail order especially. That also ran into a wall of ill-conceived opposition from Ministers. This year, I tabled an amendment to the Offensive Weapons Bill that called for a ban on advertisements that promote weapons in a way that appears to incite or condone the possession of such an article or weapon for violent purposes.

When we talk about tackling knife culture, we are talking about the whole cycle of violence, central to which is the glorification of combat weapons. That macho culture thrives on war imagery, and both the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) and myself gave graphic examples to the House. Some Conservative Members agreed with us on that amendment. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Sir M. Shersby) expressed his strong support, and the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam made it clear that she would have liked to accept the amendment, but the Minister would not let her.

During the debate on the amendment, I became engaged in the most astonishing exchange with the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), when he claimed that allowing the advertisement of weapons in a way that incites violence is, somehow, to protect free speech. The mail order traders of instruments of death, who glorify knives openly in magazines a child can buy from a newsagent, were championed by the hon. Gentleman, who wished to defend their right to free speech.

I hope that Ministers do not cave in to such nonsense today as they did by opposing that amendment. The freedom that I wish to championߞas, I hope, do all hon. membersߞis the freedom to walk the streets safely without fear of attack from an assailant carrying a knife. While we cannot guarantee such freedom, we have a duty and a responsibility to use every power available to us to cut knife crime. I suspect that the hon. Member for Hexham no longer holds that view, and, more importantly, would no longer receive a sympathetic response from a Minister if he were to do so.

As the Minister pointed out, the Bill also includes an extension of section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to allow the carrying of knives in an area to be a specific and explicit trigger for the use of powers given to the police in the Act. We believe that those powers are needed to protect the public and to allow speedy intervention when the lives of members of the public are at risk.

We also believe that those powers need to be exercised with care and discretion. Indeed, the powers given in the Act have been used with care to date and senior officers have been explicit in aspiring to avoid the difficulties that arose from the misuse of powers in the past, such the sus laws, which differed completely from these circumscribed powers.

The price of freedomߞand the price of having such powersߞis eternal vigilance, and we are keen to get the balance right. That is why we will ensure that there is close monitoring of the use of those powers to protect civil liberties, at the same time as protecting the right of citizens to walk the streets safely and without fear. We will, of course, listen to the Minister's opinions on the matter, but we must be careful not to disturb the cross-party consensus on the Bill and the balance it achieves, while ensuring that the police have the powers they need to tackle the violence on the streets.

The Bill is the culmination of a process that we began in 1988. By giving it speedy passage, we will recognise a victory for those who have long campaigned for effective action to deal with combat knives. The rising wave of public support for a ban, and the massive sympathy with the campaign of Frances Lawrence, have forced the Government to accept our view that strong action must be taken to remove knives from the hands of those who wish to use them to maim and kill. It has been irritating to find interviewers asking whether we are jumping on a bandwagon, because we have pursued the issue quietly in Committee and on the Floor of the House for many years.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

Quietly? You?

Mr. Michael

That fact should be acknowledged by Conservative Members who seem to wish to cackle from a sedentary position.

The Home Secretary accused the Opposition, in his comments in the Queen's Speech debate, of engaging in an entirely synthetic fuss about knives. I hope that the change of attitude to the Bill means that he has acknowledged that the debate is far from synthetic, and that the fuss is real and should be ended by the passage of the Bill into law. It is a real debate. It is real to Frances Lawrence, to the families involved in Horrett Campbell's crazed machete attack and to the hundreds of people who are threatened, stabbed and killed every year by people brandishing knives that have been bought freely and easily. Hon. members have only to stroll up to Regent street to gaze at an array of knives in a shop window display. Those knives are not simple tools of legitimate trade. There is no attempt to disguise their purpose; they are not dealt with in back streets, but sit bold as brass in the windows of shops.

The Opposition have set the initiative for legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Provan has placed the Bill before the House and sought cross-party approval when he drew up the Bill. Let us now follow his lead, and speed the Bill into law.

10.48 am
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)

I am pleased to join in the welcome that has been given by Members on both sides of the House to the Bill of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray). I agree with the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), that it is important not to damage cross-party consensus on the Bill. I am aware that there is more joy in heaven over one who repenteth, but some of the entirely specious comments of the hon. Gentleman must receive an answer. He has an astonishingly short memory about his party's policy.

As recently as May 1994, his Front-Bench colleague in the other place, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, derided stronger search and stop powers for the police to deal with people carrying knives, which are contained in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, as going: well beyond the powers which the police ought to have and need to have in a democratic and free society."ߞ[Official Report, House of Lords, 24 May 1994; Vol. 555, c. 611.] The Opposition Front-Bench team has made an astonishing conversion as it has realised that its support for single issue lobby groups of the civil liberties movement has become so unpopular.

Mr. Michael

Rather than accept the selective quotations of Conservative central, the hon. Gentleman should read the Hansards for the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill debates, where he will find that nothing in that Bill dealt with violence, knives or weapons until Labour Members moved amendments in Committee. If the hon. Gentleman studies the record he will find that we have every reason to be proud. He uses a minor and selective quotation, which is the one element that Conservative central office has circulated to him and his hon. Friends.

Mr. Hawkins

The hon. Gentleman does not deny that the quote is accurate. He will recall that I served on the Committee, as he did. Time after time, throughout 180 hours of debate in Committee, the Government put forward tougher measures that were opposed by Opposition Members. Time after time, the Government have shown their consistent support for tougher law and order measures throughout my time in the House and throughout 17 years of Conservative Government. Only in the past couple of years has the penny dropped with the Opposition parties that the public want tougher law and order measures. Suddenly we have the astonishing conversion. Suddenly Labour Members claim virtue. As always, the Labour party is following its focus groups and what it belatedly realises the public wants, which is what we have been proposing.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

We seem to be quoting Hansard. Neither my hon. Friend nor I were in the House in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but does he remember the debate about the SUS laws, to which the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) referred, and how the gentleman from Liberty said that it was appalling that the police should be allowed to stop and search people and to deny them liberty? Is that not what the Labour party said time and again throughout the 1970s and the early 1980s?

Mr. Hawkins

My hon. Friend is right.

Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds)

We do not wish to introduce a discordant element in what has been cross-party support for the Bill but may I remind my hon. Friend that, in Labour local authorities, time and again the police have been denied the opportunity to go into schools to talk about the dangers of knives and antisocial activity? So much, in practice, for Labour's attitude on law and order.

Mr. Hawkins

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We must have no more of such specious humbug in an attempt to rewrite history, particularly from the Opposition Front-Bench team.

I should like to return to the important part of this debate. For years before coming into the House I spoke and campaigned for stronger measures to be taken, particularly in relation to knives. During my years in practice at the Bar, both prosecuting and defending, through the late 1970s and early to mid 1980s, there was a continuing increase, which caused massive problems for the police, in the use of knives and other weapons of violence. I welcome the fact that Bill of the hon. Member for Provan now has cross party support so that at long last a much tougher stance will be taken and the police will have greater powers, particularly to clamp down on such knives.

I particularly welcome the fact that restrictions will be introduced on the advertising and marketing of knives. The hon. Member for Provan may be pleased to know that some of the people involved in the sale of periodicals have responded actively to his Bill. In my post this very morning, I received a letter, which many other hon. Members may also find in their post today, from the group chief executive of WH Smith, Mr. Bill Cockburn. He says that there are 77 Buying and Selling titles, such as Loot and Exchange and Mart, that could be affected by provisions making the aggressive marketing of knives an offence". He also refers to recent measures in relation to firearms. He points out that 7.5 million customers visit WH Smith's stores every week and that it wishes to comply with all new laws, including this Bill. He stresses that the companies WH Smith and WH Smith News have written to the publishers and distributors or all such titles asking them what changes they are likely to make in terms of their editorial for guns and/or knives and what their policy is regarding the acceptance of advertising and the advertising content for guns that are illegal and for combat knives. In addition, the publishers of imported publications have been asked whether these titles will be tailored for the UK market or remain identical to the native edition. In the light of the replies that we receive, we will be able to judge whether any further action needs to be taken. We are anxious to ensure that consumers can continue to exercise as much choice as possible, however, we are particular concerned that, following the new legislation, everyone operates within both the spirit and the letter of the law. I am sure that the hon. Member for Provan and all other hon. Members who are interested in this important new Bill will be pleased to find that, even before it becomes law, people are starting to respond to it. That is precisely what will by welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House and it shows the importance of the Bill that it is already influencing not only public attitudes but the behaviour of major commercial concerns in the market.

The way in which these horrendous weapons have been marketed has offended all hon. Members. The hon. Member for Provan rightly referred in detail to the way in which some of the marketing is done, which must horrify all of us, particularly in terms of the protection of children. All of us who heard during the recent trial the graphic account of the details of the playground attack in the West Midlands will be particularly concerned to ensure that such horrendous weapons can no longer be available.

The Government have already moved considerably in the direction of placing controls on martial arts weapons. I particularly welcome the steps that were taken to ban weapons under the Criminal Justice Act 1988. Knuckle-dusters, sword sticks, weapons sometimes known as hand claws, belt-buckle knives, push daggers and hollow kubotans and other repellent weapons were banned.

The Bill is extremely worthwhile. It has received support from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that it will receive speedy passage through all its legislative stages. I am delighted to congratulate the hon. Member for Provan on assisting the Government's consistent record in seeking to take steps to ban dangerous weapons and to support the police's powers. I welcome the conversion of the Opposition parties to that.

10.57 am
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South-East)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) who has put many hours and much effort into the production of the Bill. We should also give him credit for the fact that he has had to negotiate with Ministers, which is never easy. The Government have a battery of advisers but my hon. Friend can rely only on himself and his colleagues. I acknowledge, however, that the Minister has tried to co-operate with my hon. Friend.

My attention was drawn to this issue after some incidents in Coventry. There were a number of incidentsߞsome of which led to deathsߞinvolving not only knives, but guns. We have, of course, already had the debate on guns. I am trying to illustrate the concerns of the people of Coventry about the lack of control over the sale of knives. After a number of incidents resulting in loss of life, there was a demonstration through the streets by people wanting something to be done about knives. There was also a problem in some nightclubs where people apparently were able to get in to the clubs with weapons, resulting in tragedies.

As a result, the police and the local newspaper organised a voluntary campaign to encourage shopkeepers to check on whether an individual buying a knife was below 17. If he or she was, the shopkeeper would not sell him or her a knife. For the purposes of this debate, we are talking about knives as lethal weapons. More than 12 months ago, I wrote to the Home Secretary regarding the concerns expressed to me on the matter. At that time, he said that not a lot could be done.

Since then, the Coventry Evening Telegraph, the police and the public got together to organise a code that illustrates that things can be done if there is the will to do so. The aims of the code were: To introduce a voluntary register of weapons sold by any outlet selling knives or other bladed weapons; to adopt and implement a code of practice relating to the sale of knives and other bladed objects; to prevent anyone under the age of 17 from buying knives or other bladed objects unless accompanied by a responsible adult; to increase offenders' fear of detention; to reduce the fear or crime in particular in Coventry; to convince the people of Coventry that the retailers and organisations taking part in this project have a genuine desire to improve community safety. They outlined the reasons why the campaign was started, and said: In recent years there has been a marked increase in the number of offences where or knives or other bladed weapons have been used. Latest figures show that these types of weapons are involved in about one third of all murders in the United Kingdom. It is a fact that a small section of the community feels it necessary to carry knives as a form of protection. Unfortunately, when alcohol or drugs become part of the equation, terrifying scenarios develop. After the stabbing to death of two teenagers outside a Coventry nightclub, police in the city and the Evening Telegraph spearheaded a campaign to get off the streets as many of these lethal weapons as possible. The amnesty resulted in almost 500 daggers, machetes, swords, flick knives, lock knives, butterfly knives, sheath knives and razors being handed in. This local campaign was followed by a national amnesty after the death in London of head teacher Philip Lawrence, when more than 40,000 knives were surrendered. Senior police officers stress that every knife taken out of circulation represents a potential tragedy averted. And the public expects to see firm action in the courts against offenders who blatantly disregard repeated appeals to hand over their lethal weapons. Knife crime adds to the public's general fear of falling victim to crime, and there is now a groundswell of opinion in Coventry and elsewhere that positive action must be taken to stop people carrying knives, and thereby prevent the disastrous consequences which can result. The code demonstrates the concerns in Coventry and the initiative shown by local people. The code itself states: No person may buy a knife or other bladed object without good reason; identification must be produced by anyone wishing to buy a knife or other bladed object; if a person under 17 years of age wants to buy a knife, he or she must be accompanied by a responsible adult; if a bladed instrument is to be used for sporting, religious or professional activities, a letter of authorisation or support from an organisation or employer should be produced. This as an illustration of why the Government have been forced to act. The people of Coventry wanted knives to be banned and I welcome the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan which the public in Coventry and across the country will welcome. I thought that he had reached a consensus among members of all political parties on the Bill, but some Conservative Members have started to attack the integrity of my colleagues.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) started it.

Mr. Cunningham

It is no good the hon. Gentleman trying to heckle. He cannot take it when someone gives it back to him. I hope that Tory Members will put the people first and their pride second, and that they will recognise that this is a serious attempt by Labour to do something about the problem. I equally hope that Tory Members will not start to play their little games in Committee. I for one support the Bill and commend it to the House.

11.5 am

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I welcome the Bill, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) on producing a sensible measure, limited though it might be. I welcome generally the sense with which he has brought it forward. The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Cunningham) must have been sleeping during the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), as that is where the party politics started. The hon. Gentleman has tried to score points on a measure that is agreed by everyone here. Obviously, Labour is trying to make political capital out of what should be a sensible, agreed and consensual measure.

Mr. Michael

Will the hon. Gentleman bear it in mind that we have been trying to get such a measure in law for some eight years, but that he and his Conservative colleagues have opposed it? It would be surprising if we were not to remind him and his hon. Friends of that fact.

Mr. Robathan

I will accept what he says if he will read Hansard from approximately 1970, because he will find that the position of the Labour party was clear and consistent until recently, when it decided that it should perhaps be more on the side of the police than anti-police.

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend is right to point out that the sordid politics was introduced by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael)this morning, and not by me. The hon. Gentleman boasts about Labour proposals in 1988, but it tabled an amendment on the matter that it failed to vote on, and then voted against the whole Bill.

Mr. Robathan

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's assistance.

I wish to refer to the issue of culture, which has been raised by many hon. Members before. The culture of our society is most important. We shall not be able to prevent young men from carrying knives without introducing the most draconian measures, which no one would wish to see. We must alter our culture, and that is where Mrs. Lawrence's campaign has come from. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Provan nodding, because I think we can agree on this.

A culture of violence has developedߞa culture of Rambo and Schwarzenegger films, and others which, luckily, I have not seen and on which I cannot comment in too much detail. These films come on late at night and, if one is not careful, one can end up watching them on television at midnight. Violence has crept into our culture in the past 20 or 30 years, but knife crime is not new. The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East comes from the middle part of Scotland, and I was always told that the gangs in the Gorbals of the 1930s and 1950s used razors.

Mr. Jim Cunningham

I must put the hon. Gentleman right. I mean no disrespect to the people of Glasgow, but I do not come from that city. I come from a place that also had experience of gangs. I was talking specifically about the problems in Coventry, although this is a national problem. I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not sleeping and has been listening.

Mr. Robathan

I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not think that I was trying to slag him off. On this occasion, I was not. I was suggesting that knives are not new. There have been gangs with knives or razorsߞmods and rockers and teddy boys. Perhaps they were clamped down on more carefully, but more importantly, carrying knives was not the general culture of our young people, but was limited to gangs and certain areas.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth also mentioned war imagery, and he is right. I probably know a little more about that then most, having spent 15 years in the Army and having used knives from time to time. I never cut anyone else with a knife but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring), I have succeeded in cutting myself.

It is extraordinarily difficult to define the sort of knives that we are discussing. The hon. Member for Provan referred to the use of a machete in the recent ghastly attack at an infants' school as "like cutting corn". We must avoid becoming too simplistic, because that is exactly the problem. That is a bizarre case, in which one can envisage ploughshares and wheat scythes being turned into swords.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds said that he had two souvenirs from Oman. When I was a boy scout, I had a sheath knife, which I was told at the time would count as an offensive weapon as it was approximately 5 in long. I think that it is still in a cupboard somewhere. It was not an offensive weapon, but it could easily have become one.

I also have somewhere in a cupboard a Japanese sword that my father brought back from the war. It could certainly be used as an offensive weapon, but it was not designed to be so. The worst weapons, however, are probably the collection of kitchen knives that, my wife bought for our new house. I have some experience of military matters, as I said, and I fear that if people were looking for a sharp, unpleasant and easily concealed weapon, they would choose one of those knives.

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

They do.

Mr. Robathan

Yes, because the knives are lethal and sharp. I raised that matter not to make a petty point but because the fundamental thing is to change our culture so that people will not go out with a kitchen knife, one of these absurd combat knives or whatever.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Provan again as, in the Bill, we are developing a common-sense testߞthat an SAS combat knife, a Terminator or whatever it may be called, cannot be used for ordinary, legitimate reasons and should therefore be banned. That is right and proper.

The culture extends to the police. The past 30-odd years have been significant. Once upon a time, the police had more respect from the general public. There are many reasons why they have lost that respect; sometimes it has been their own fault, I accept, but largely they were undermined by people who fought a civil liberties campaign saying that the police were generally ill disposed towards young people, young people in groups, ethnic minorities and so forth.

Mention was made of the sus lawsߞI remember the campaign against them getting on for 20 years ago, and I believe that the Vagrancy Acts and the other legislation were changed after a royal commissionߞand I was reminded of listening to the man from Liberty. It was said that the police were using the law to discriminate against ethnic minorities and bully young people. My impression of the police is that, although some of them may be bullies, in general they are not ill disposed towards anyone. They are genuinely trying to protect society.

We are turning back the tide by going against the permissive and civil liberties culture that led us to say that the police should be given no powers because everyone is basically decent and honest and does not need to be stopped and searched. The stop-and-search power in the Bill is crucial. One cannot stop someone carrying a knife if they can conceal it. One has to be able to stop and search people, for example, at football grounds, outside schools or if some drunken gang is harassing people in the street at midnight. The police must be able to search such people.

The headlines in several newspapers today concern drugs again and two unfortunate teenagers, who I understand committed suicide. The police could also search for drugs. Surely the connection between drugs and violence, and alcohol and violence, I freely admit, is well established. We must understand that we have to give the police those powers.

I want the culture of permissivenessߞperhaps that is not quite the right word and I should call it the culture of civil libertiesߞthat was so anti-police to be turned back. We need to develop a culture that supports the police. The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), in a moving speech, mentioned one of his constituents who was murdered. We must have a culture in which, if we see a policeman in trouble, we do not turn our backs or cross to the other side of the street, but we help or ensure that the policeman gets help from other policemen if not from ourselves.

As Mrs. Lawrence said so sensibly, we also need to teach the difference between right and wrong in every school, rather than hoping that in some strange way children will absorb that message from watching far too much television.

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman is making a good and thoughtful contribution to the debate. Does he acknowledge that the request by the police, and particularly the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, is to have powers that will enable them to intervene to protect the public as necessary, without excessively infringing civil liberties, and undermining public confidence? Does he agree that that balance has to be achieved?

Mr. Robathan

I am delighted to agree, because we need a balance. Often, particularly in party politics, we go one way or the other too quickly. The hon. Gentleman may agree that, in the 1960s and early 1970s, the pendulum swung too far. Perhaps, if we had managed to contain the swinging, we would be in less trouble now.

In my time in the armed forces, I went to too many funerals. People were killed in Ireland and some were killed in accidents. About five and a half years ago, shortly before I was elected, I attended the funeral of a young man I knew well, who had been knifed in a park on Chadwell heath. Drugs were involved. No one knew exactly what had happened, but it was suggested that the young man who knifed him was carrying drugs and attacked because of some dispute. The young man who was killed was charming and the apple of his parents' eyeߞhis father was a policeman, in fact. I am sure that we all have tales of similar tragedies, which show that we must change this culture.

I do not want to make a party political point on this. The hon. Member for Blaydon made a good and sensible speech. He talked about a civilised society. I hope that we can all agree that a civilised society is not one in which anyone would normally carry a knife unless for some sensible reason.

Let me return to my point about permissiveness. I recall the then Home Secretary in 1966 saying that the permissive society was a civilised society. No Liberal Democrat Members are here and that Home Secretary is now a noble Lord speaking for the Liberal Democrats in the other place. We must turn back that culture and get it right. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Provan has come forward with this Bill and that we can have a sense of balance, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth said.

11.17 am
Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

Every day we read in the newspapers about stabbings. This morning, I read about the stabbing of an elderly lady by someone who tricked his way into her home. Most of the cases never reach the national papers, but in our local papers in our constituencies, hardly a day goes by without an account of a stabbing. That demonstrates what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) said about there being 1,000 such incidents every day.

We are in a serious situation, and it is a tragedy that knives are so commonplace. In one sense, of course, knives will always be commonplace: they are in everyone's kitchen. Those who use that fact to argue that there is little that we can do, because we cannot get rid of knives altogether and that we are therefore fighting a losing battle, are wrong. That is akin to the argument that there is no point in cleaning our homes, because there will always be dust and dirt: we clean today and the dirt is back tomorrow, so why bother?

We need knives, and I am not suggesting that we go back to rending things with our bare hands, but I think that there is a qualitative distinction that can be identified between knives of the kind referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Provan, which are the main problem, and knives in the kitchen. It is a matter not of the sharpness of the knives but of their purpose and marketing.

It is perfectly legitimate to have an extremely sharp vegetable knife in my kitchen, but if I were sitting here with it in my handbag or walking along the street with it, it would be open to people to say that there was something peculiar about that, unless I had just bought it and was carrying it home, in which case I could produce a receipt. It is perfectly sensible to say that kitchen knives do not present a major problem. Of course it is impossible to legislate against somebody in a fit of temper picking up a bread knife and stabbing somebody, but that should not stop us legislating where we can do so sensibly.

Marketing is the major factor. It can be said that there would be no supply if there were no demand, but I believe that the supply stimulates the demand and that people are incited to be interested in such weapons by advertisements such as those described today by hon. Members of all parties.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the knife culture in this country also emanates to a great extent from the violence in the Hollywood movies that are churned out? Many advertisements show film stars holding knives, and that incites youngsters to buy knives.

Mrs. Wise

I agree. It is often said that people are not influenced by films or by television; I do not believe that. A constant diet of violent images must have an impact. Those who advertise consumer goods believe that too, as otherwise they would keep their money in their businesses and not bother spending it on advertising. If television had no influence, why would they use it? Of course it has an influence.

To those who say that everything is justified in the name of art and constantly refer us to Shakespeareߞusually "Hamlet"ߞI would say that children never subsisted on an unadulterated diet of "Hamlet"; besides which, it is a little presumptuous of film-makers to class themselves in Shakespeare's category.

There is a place for drama, even on unpleasant or violent themes, but it is not acceptable that it is beamed into our homes day after day and watched by children from their earliest years.

Mr. Robathan

I agree whole-heartedly with the hon. Lady. She specifically mentioned "Hamlet". When she was a child, did she come home from watching a play or a film and not then enact to a certain extent what she had seen? I remember a character called Hopalong Cassidy, whom I saw at a children's party; as soon as we had watched the film, we rushed out and played cowboys and Indians. Is not that what most children do?

Mrs. Wise

The hon. Gentleman is right. The problem is that what children may enact nowadays after seeing it on television is a lot more dangerous than Hopalong Cassidy.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), I heard with dismay a person who markets knives saying that we are tinkering with the law, so he will tinker with his advertisements. That gentleman on the radio this morning showed that not only a knife culture but a business culture is at faultߞa culture that says that anything that makes a profit is fine. I do not agree with that.

The appeal to greed, justifying anything in the name of money-making, is obnoxious. We are dealing with two equally obnoxious cultures: the knife culture among too many young people, and a creed of business greed among too many of those engaged in commerce. I deplore them both.

The gentleman on the radio said that he had an excellent relationship with the Advertising Standards Authority. I only hope that that was not accurate. If it was, the authority should tighten its attitude and its procedures. He boasted that he would be able to get round the legislation, and I hope that he will be proved wrong.

If marketing cannot be stopped, the knife culture cannot be arrested. If marketing, advertising and glamorising can be stopped, we can prevent knives from ever getting into many people's hands and we can remove the attraction.

My only worries about the Bill concern some of the defences. WeߞI include myself as a sponsor of the Billߞare allowing a defence that the knife is "an antique or curio". I hope that that defence is not pleaded too often, because it would be a poor defence if people started using such objects as street weapons.

A constituent rang me the other day to tell me about an advertisement that he had received in the post for a knife that was described as a decorative object but had exactly the sort of blade and other attributes that make a knife especially dangerous. Although the knife was £145 to buy, it could be obtained by sending a first payment of only £14.50.

Such an advertisement could get into the home of a law-abiding person and a youngster there could pick it up and obtain a very dangerous knife by sending £14.50, which is not a lot of money. I was worried by that, and my constituent was more than worried: he was livid. We must be careful that we do not allow too many loopholes and that they are not taken advantage of too much.

Mr. McWilliam

In 1988, I had the honour to be presented with a kukri by the Brigade of Gurkhas. I have a duty to maintain it, but I keep it safely locked away. I do not hang it on the wall, because it is an exceedingly dangerous knife.

Mrs. Wise

I appreciate my hon. Friend's intervention. I was worried about the knives that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) described hanging on his wall, even though they were behind glass. I did not think that that was a secure way to keep such weapons. I only hope that he is not robbed.

The main purpose of the Bill is to tackle marketing. I do not regard it as a threat to civil liberties. I am not at all averse to a civil liberty culture, but I do not think that the Bill harms that. If the police were to use the Bill unreasonably and without discretion, I would worry. I back the Bill on the assumption that the police are as worried as I am about the carrying of knives, want the estates and streets of my constituency to be safe and will not exceed their proper duties as a result of the Bill. I deplore it being described as in any way rolling back civil liberties, which are very important. Everyone, or at least every Opposition Member, wants to defend them; but all liberty is circumscribed in some way. I therefore have no hesitation in wishing to circumscribe the liberty of those who carry knives or market them for profit. I do not want the Bill to be misrepresented.

The main victims, and the main proponents, of the knife culture, are males, especially young males. The person who marketed knives who spoke on the radio this morning said that we should legislate against selling knives to under-18s. I thought about that, but then I read the Bill again and thought, no, he is absolutely wrong; he is clutching at a straw to contradict our Bill. The implication is that it is all right for an 18-year-old to be sold Terminator, Exterminator or Rambo knives but not for a 17-year-old. I object to them being sold to an 18-year-old just as much as I object to them being sold to someone who is 17 years, 11 months. Young males of 18, 19, or 20 are as liable to fall for macho knife culture as those under 18. The suggestion was an invitation to neglect our duty to consider knives properly and fully. I would hate the House to give the impression that achieving adulthood should rightly be accompanied by the ability to carry combat knives. They should have no place in anyone's life, youngster or adult.

Although the main victims and perpetrators of knife culture are young males, I also worry about girls. I do not want girls to fall into the trap of seeking spurious equality by aping boys by carrying knives; nor I do want them to be terrorised by young males who carry knives. Knives not only stab, they slash. That is why, when I came fifth in the ballot in which my hon. Friend the Member for Provan was fortunate enough to come first, I immediately thought of a Bill against combat knives. I though of it partly from the perspective of a woman. When I mentioned that to someone, he said, "Oh, but that is a male thing." However, girls and women may not only become victims; they have brothers, sons and fathers who may become victims. Women are afraid of violence and resistant to the culture that glamorises knives, but we are carried along willy-nilly. We may suffer as much through the loss of a loved son as through harm to ourselves.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

My hon. Friend may not know that years ago in Glasgow, during the gangland wars, young women carried the gang leaders' weapons in their handbags because police would search their boy friends but not them. It was a real problem. There are examples of women being involved in the culture of violence.

Mrs. Wise

As I was saying, I am afraid that some girls may regard knives as a symbol of equality. If boys have them, they want them. I do not think that equality is properly expressed in that way, but people imitate those who are regarded as displaying strength. That worries me, because I do not want girls to fall into that trap. That is why I want fewer knives around. I do not want their boy friends to carry knives that they may use to threaten people, and I do not want girls to carry knives on behalf of their young men. That is why my first thought when I gained a place in the ballot was to introduce a Bill on knives.

Sir Raymond Powell (Ogmore)

I know that my hon. Friend speaks for women, and especially for shopworkers, because she is the president of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, which has 400,000 members, some 85 to 90 per cent. of whom are women, mostly young women. She knows that staff have recently been assaulted and people in shops have had knives thrust at them. I am glad that she is a sponsor of the Bill and can bring to bear her knowledge and responsibility as president of a union that looks after shopworkers. I hope that she will mention her reputation in that field.

Mrs. Wise

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for suggesting that I mention that because it was very much in my mind. Nowadays, with shops open all hours and all days, staff are often spread thinly through the day and can be lonely and vulnerable. It also means that they leave shops at 10 or 11 pm. After the last customers have gone and they have cashed up and tidied, everything is quiet and they go to lonely car parks. There have been nasty incidents in which staff have been attacked or threatened with knives or in other ways. I would not presume to think that shopworkers are the only people in such danger, but violence at work and soon after people finish work is increasing. He is right to say that that worries us in USDAW.

I keep starting to say how I wanted a Bill on this matter to be introduced. When my hon. Friend the Member for hon. Friend the Member for Provan came first in the ballot, I was more than happy when he suggested that he would like to pick that Bill. I thought that coming first in the ballot made it a near certainty, and so it has proved, that the Bill would make good progress and reach the statute book. I am therefore more than happy to be a co-sponsor of it, and I commend it to the House.

I am pleased that the Bill has won all-party support. It looks as though we shall have a useful measure on the statute book. I hope that it will prove to be as effective as I anticipate, especially those parts relating to the marketing and glamorising of knives.

11.40 am
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

If the newspapers are to be believed, the drafting of the Bill was a rather tortuous process. Although I slightly regret the fact that it has been available for only a couple of days, if that is the price to be paid for achieving consensus on this important issue, it is a price worth paying. I want to be entirely positive about the Bill.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) on introducing the Bill so effectively. In general, it has been well drafted and if I make any criticisms they are intended to be positive and helpful, do not wish to delay the Bill's progress.

The Bill is a response to widespread public concern and a genuine problem in society, which was most dramatically illustrated by the tragic murder of Philip Lawrence, to whom most hon. Members have already referred. The problem runs far deeper than that, however. A couple of days ago, just outside my constituency, there was a serious stabbing at a school. Such events are almost daily occurrences; it is that which makes the problem so severe. We all know about the horrendous machete attack for which Horrett Campbell was responsible. A couple of years ago there was the tragic murder of 12-year-old Nikki Conroy of Middlesbrough---a girl the same age as my daughter. Such incidents bring home the severity of the problem.

If more evidence is needed, it is available from cold statistics. Year after year, indicators suggest that about 35 per cent. of all homicides in England and Wales are caused by a sharp instrument of some form. In Scotland the figure is even higher, at more than 50 per cent. A sharp weapon is used in 23 per cent. of muggings. Those statistics that impel the House to take action and to continue to do so until the problem is properly controlled.

Three directions should be followed. First, efforts should be made to address the availability and marketing of knivesߞthe Bill makes good progress in that direction. Secondly, steps should be taken on the carrying of knivesߞagain, the Bill makes some progress in that direction, although I would like more to be taken. Thirdly, we must address the knife culture. I congratulate the hon. Member for Provan on the way in which the Bill starts to deal with the serious problem posed by the knife culture. Brian Mackenzie, leader of the Police Superintendents Association, has said that many youngsters carry knives almost as a fashion accessory. That culture must be destroyed, because it is based on violence, which is dangerous to society. There is always a temptation among young people to be attracted by such a sub-culture, so firm action needs to be taken against it.

I am, nevertheless, concerned about two dilemmas posed by the Bill. They are similar to those that emerged during our efforts to tackle the problem of firearms. I am in no sense criticising the Bill, but it is important to illustrate some of the difficulties that will arise as we try to tackle the problems it identifies.

The first dilemma is that, unfortunately, the Bill will not succeed in stopping all acts of violence involving knives. I hope, however, that it will help to reduce them; but by controlling the supply, we will not end all such violent incidents. There are two simple reasons for that. First, people will still have access to illegally held weapons and knives. Secondly, people will always have access to perfectly legally held knives, and will no doubt use them. That latter factor is a particular problem, because knives are widely held and freely available. The injury inflicted by a combat knife can also be inflicted by a knife whose sole intentional use is either for gardening or in the kitchen. We will be left with that problem even after the passage of the Bill.

The second dilemma is that knives can be held and used for all sorts of perfectly legitimate purposes. We will not be able to stop that. When we legislated on guns, there was sufficiently strong feeling to restrict their availability even to people who had used them for legitimate purposes and were perfectly law-abiding members of the public. I happen to agree with thatߞin fact, I would have been prepared to go even further, although I know that many of my hon. Friends were not, and were vexed by the Government's action.

It was possible to impose such controls on guns because a minority fall into the category of those which are legitimately held guns. The problem with knives and other sharp instruments is that we are talking not about a minority of the public but of probably every household in the country, all of which have legitimate access to knives and sharp instruments. There is nothing we can do about that.

When I spoke on the Second Reading of the Offensive Weapons Bill last year, I referred to the inventory that I had carried out in my house the morning before. I did not realise that I had an armoury of some 30 weapons that could be classified as offensive weapons. They could all have been used for violent purposes, if someone was so minded. I have garden knives, kitchen knives, hobby knives, and chisels. All those instruments are legally held. People will continue to hold such instruments. I merely mention that to try to quell expectations about the Bill solving the problem of the violent use of knives in crime. That will not happen, because people will always have access to knives.

More needs to be done than just to control the supply of knives, and firmer action must be taken against the carrying of a potentially offensive weapon. As for their supply and availability, I thoroughly applaud the first seven clauses of the Bill, and I recognise that they represent a major stride towards dealing with the problem. There are difficulties concerning definition, but an ingenious way has been found to deal with most of themߞit would be impossible to deal with all of them.

Last year, I was pleased to be a member of the Committee that considered the Offensive Weapons Bill, and I was pleased to see it through all its stages. I had an exchange with the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) about advertising, because, at that time, I felt that restricting advertising alone would not achieve the purpose. It struck me that the problem lay with the availability and supply of offensive weapons rather than with advertisements about them.

I recognise that some advertising has glamorised knives and extended the knife culture, and I strongly regret and condemn it. I felt, however, that tackling advertising alone was not sufficient to deal with the problem. This Bill overcomes that difficulty, which is why I am happy to support it. It extends the attack against advertising and a wide range of marketing activity, including sale. That is crucial, and it is a distinct improvement on the suggestions made last year. It is a welcome development, which I happily accept.

As I hope I have shown, I regard the carrying of knives as crucial. If the Bill did not contain clause 8 and provide the additional stop-and-search powers, I would think it inadequate. The hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) stressed the importance of controlling marketing, but did not seem to be keen on the stop-and-search provision. If anything, I take the opposite view. The stop-and-search powers are essential. Because they are included in the Bill, I am satisfied; if they were not, I would not be satisfied.

I have some reservations about whether the stop-and-search powers go far enough, but I understand the need to balance the fair application of those powers and the need to prevent their being used excessively and so becoming a civil liberties problem. I recognise that that could happen, although I believe that the problems with stop and search that have often been articulated are more to do with police discipline than with the nature of the law itself.

Mr. Wray

The Minister and I spent many hours consulting the Home Office and various other people on the stop-and-search powers. Originally, I did not intendߞand the Government did not requestߞstop-and-search powers to be part of the long title. We needed to amend section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, but found that it would not have applied to Scotland. That is why I left the door open by putting stop-and-search powers in the long title. There was no intention to have a separate clause giving random stop-and-search powers. I merely wanted to amend section 60 of the 1994 Act to provide the necessary powers to deal with knives as, under the 1994 Act at present, the powers deal only with violence. Everybody was happy with that arrangement.

Mr. Merchant

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I congratulate him on being prepared to include in the Bill the necessary amendment to section 60 of the 1994 Act to extend the stop-and-search powers of the police under that Act to cover the carrying of knives. I welcome that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not feel that I am being critical; I am not. I happen to think that there is a case for extending the powers a little further, but that does not mean that I am against what he has put in his Bill. I would like there to be some widening of the powers, either through this Bill or at some future stage.

Labour Members may believe that my constituency is a leafy suburb, but there is a difficult area in Penge, where there is a high level of violence, especially at weekends. The majority of the area's population are very concerned about that and want the police to take firm action to deal with any sign of violence.

Mr. Brian David Jenkins (South-East Staffordshire)

I have sat through all this debate and listened to all the references to violence in cities and large towns. The knife culture has spread to rural areas, including those in my constituency. Only last week, when one of my constituents saw someone trying to pinch his car and went to remonstrate, he was stabbed. That happened beside fields; this is not just an urban and inner-city problem. The knife culture is endemic, and is found in rural areas.

Mr. Merchant

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right; I was merely giving an example from my constituencyߞwhich, for the purposes of this argument, does not have a green field in it. I have therefore to refer to an inner-urban area.

In the area of Penge that I mentioned, there is an undercurrent of violence. It is not part of the culture of the majority of the population, who want it stamped out. It might, at some stage, become necessary for the police to invoke the powers in this Bill. If they judge it to be right to do so, I would support them, but I would like them to be able to invoke them, in the first instance, for longer than the 24 hours provided for in the Bill. I accept that the Bill provides for subsequent periods to be added to the original 24 hours, but I should like the original period to be 60 hours so that it covers a weekend. Often, those who threaten violence, knife carrying or gang activities meet over a weekend, not for only 24 hours.

I should also like to extend the reasons for stop and search beyond the supposition that someone is carrying a knife, to include drugs. We heard a moving speech from the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), who graphically described how often violence is linked with drugs. That, too, is an aspect that should be examined.

Mr. Michael

It is important that we engage with the important issues that the hon. Gentleman is raising, but we must do so with care. The period of 48 hours, which would be allowed under the Bill through the exercise of the initial 24 hours plus an extension of 24 hours, would meet what the experience of the police has shown to be necessary. It is important that we achieve a balance between the police having the right powers to protect the public and there being protections against any excessive use of those powers. Indeed, the police are very sensitive to that matter. The hon. Gentleman should be careful not to try to go too far and so disturb the consensus on making progress on the Bill.

Mr. Merchant

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was here when I said that I accepted that this is an extremely sensitive area and that it is important to get the balance right. I am simply pointing out that I am pulled in the direction of a slightly wider power than the one in the Bill. However, I also said earlier that it was not my intention to oppose or delay the Bill. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Minister that the House will return to the subject of knives and knife crime.

I am sure that this Bill, which I hope has a successful passage, will be an important milestone in the battle against knife crime. I do not believe, however, that this will be the final battle. I suspect that, in future, at least some hon. Members will find themselves in the House again, examining further measures which may emerge as necessary for controlling the scourge of knife crime. If so, I shall certainly welcome such measures if it can be shown that they will reduce further crime associated with knives.

11.58 am
Sir Raymond Powell (Ogmore)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) not only on grasping the nettle by introducing his Bill and on his good fortune in being number one in the ballot for private Members' Bills, but on using that good fortune to promote a controversial but very important Bill. I am sure that, by now, he has persuaded not only most of his colleagues on the Opposition Benches of his case, but, in all probability, many Conservative Members. The Bill is important, and it must be enacted very quickly. My hon. Friend has had the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) throughout his campaign. No doubt with him on his side, his Bill is as good as passed.

Today is Friday the 13th, and people who are superstitious might say that that is unlucky. Today could indeed be very unlucky for some of those who trade or use knives, but lucky for those who have been the victims of people who use such weapons. This morning, when I arrived at 9.30 am, I had to look again at the Bill's title because, after seeing the hon. Members who were in the Chamber, I thought that we were engaged either in a sitting of the Scottish Grand Committee or in a Scottish debate. I thought that perhaps another Bill had been pushed in front of the one proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Provan. Only when I saw my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) did I realise that we must be debating this Bill. All my doubts were definitely dispelled when I saw my right hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow in the Chamber.

I pledge my support for the Bill and for its provisions to ban the sale and advertising of combat knives. I recall the shadow Home Secretary producingߞI would not be able to get away with itߞa large paper that showed, not only to the Home Secretary and a crowded House but to the television cameras and the public, the size of a combat knife. That proved conclusively to everyone who is involved or interested in this debate why it is necessary to ban such weapons and for the Bill to be passed. The Bill will stop the marketing of such lethal weapons and allow the police to stop and search gangs of youths who roam the streets tooled up for violence.

Today, my hon. Friend the Member for Provan has eloquently and clearly explained the Bill's provisions. He deserves the Government's congratulations, and their full support in enacting it as expeditiously as possible. I wonder whether the Minister has any objections to the Bill or whether, in his reply to this debate, he will promise us that it will have the Government's full support, and that it will be dealt with expeditiously in Committee and be on the statute book within weeks, in 1997.

Mr. Maclean

I had not intended to reply to this debate, but I can give the hon. Gentleman those assurances. There are a few small matters to be clarifiedߞwhich will be technical, drafting amendments. I should like to discuss the stop-and-search powers, and the rank of an authorising officer, but those are matters for the Committee. I have no other objections to the Bill. Other hon. Members have not expressed to me other objections to it, or told me that they wish to stop it. I know of no reason why one Committee sitting should not be sufficient to deal with the small matters that I should like to discuss, or why the Bill cannot be on the statute book immediately after the other place has dealt with it.

Sir Raymond Powell

I am very grateful, as I am sure are the House and the nation, for those words of encouragement and support.

Hon. Members receive mail from across the country, from our constituents, and from others. Some letters worry us. In the past few months, hon. Members have received letters about guns and dogs, but especially about knives. All the letters reveal different attitudes. I received one this week from D. R. Stow of West Down, north Devon, who also enclosed a short poem entitled "Remember justice". It is relevant to our debate and I shall read it out so that hon. Members might understand what other people think.

  • "There was a time in days gone by
  • When justice for all was the common cry
  • When men of Honour could stand tall
  • And the law of the land was "Justice for All".
  • Then came a time when crime was rife
  • And politicians cried ban the gun, the dog, the knife!
  • I was guilty of no crime
  • But the politicians said the fault was mine.
  • My dog, a kindly old soul
  • Was no longer allowed his daily stroll
  • The pistol I shot in my leisure time
  • Through no fault of mine became a crime
  • The penknife I used in my daily work
  • In the eyes of the press became a deadly Dirk.
  • As I sit and wonder with a shrug
  • At what time did I become a thug
  • All I ask in this simple plea
  • Is for God's sake punish the criminal … not me!"
I do not agree with everything in the poem, but I do not think that the person who wrote it was directing his attention to our discussions. All of us are worried about guns; I am a dog lover and I am worried about restrictions on dogs; today we are worried about knives. It is essential that the Bill is given adequate consideration before it is put on the statute book to ensure that it does not restrict people unnecessarily.

In October this year, Frances Lawrence, the widow of the murdered head teacher Philip Lawrence, wrote in her manifesto for the nation: Is it not shocking to discover how easy it is to acquire battlefield blades which can have no function other than to be flourished by the inadequate and cowardly? That message explains the necessity for the Bill.

I have listened to most speeches in the debate this morning, and every hon. Member has made telling points. I especially congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) on the message in her speech. I wonder where she gets her energy, as she is standing for re-election as president of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and, according to a report in The Guardian on Monday, is currently suffering interference by Tesco in USDAW's internal elections. That is something which unions have not known before, especially not the union by which I am sponsored and of which my hon. Friend is president.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Preston contributed to the debate and is a sponsor of the Bill. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Provan will appreciate her help. He will especially appreciate the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, who has given so much time, effort and energy to the Bill. I hope that the Government will back it and that, once it is in Committee, the House will not delay it, but ensure that it becomes law.

12.8 pm

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

This has been a good debate, as the hon. Member for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell) said. Friday debates bring out the real personalities of hon. Members, and can produce extraordinary consensus or disagreement across the House.

I cannot think of a previous occasion in nearly 10 years in the House on which I have agreed with nearly everything that the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) has said. I served on a council with her daughter for six years before coming here, and I cannot recall agreeing with anything that she said, either. However, I agree with what the hon. Lady said today. The hon. Member for Ogmore was right to pay tribute to her thoughtful treatment of the subject.

The debate has not been party politicalߞor at least, not until the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) spoke. We all understand that that is how he speaks, and we indulge it. There is no issue on which he cannot act like a pit bull terrier, with blatant disregard for the facts. That is understandable. The House absorbed his contribution, and returned to a non-party political debate on this serious issue.

The Bill has several worthwhile elements. We have to acceptߞthis is not a party political pointߞthat it is based on proposals set out by the Government in November to tighten the rules on the marketing for knives and to strengthen police stop and search powers. Much mention has been made already of the obnoxious gentleman on Radio 4 this morning, who seemed to treat the issue as a game that did not matter. He believesߞwhen pressed even gently, he could not prove thisߞthat all the knives he sells are put in glass cases. There is very little chance of that being correct. An examination of his company by the constabulary would be welcome.

The issue is not a game. As Mrs. Lawrence has shown the nation, it is a serious business. The starting point has to be advertising. It is important to get rid of the style of marketing of knives that suggests an aggressive use for them. If we allow such marketing to continue, not just combat knives but others that resemble them will be carried.

The offence should apply to the name of the knife and to any associated marketing literature. Clauses I and 2 make aggressive marketing of knives illegal.

At the start of my speech, I was carried away with my comments about the hon. Member for Preston, and neglected to pay an enormous tribute to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray). His decision to introduce the Bill is commendable. I hope that hon. Members on both sides and people outside will recognise what he has done. He has also proved himself an able parliamentarian.

This is a short Session. A private Member's B ill is a delicate flower in any Session, and can be struck down by any group that opposes it. The hon. Gentleman has taken a small bite of the issue and brought forward a narrow Bill that does not go beyond what we can prove or what we believe we can do. It is clear that hon. Members on both sides support the Bill. I pay tribute to his wisdom in that. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) is right to say that we shall have to return to the issue because the Bill is narrow, but that is a tribute to the skill of the hon. Member for Provan, not a criticism.

The stronger stop-and-search powers for the police are right. Any attempt to ban the sale of certain types of knife or to restrict the marketing of knives will have only a limited impact on knife-related crime. Criminals can and do use many other objects to commit crime, including a variety of kitchen knives, screwdrivers or the murderous Stanley knives that many of us have at home.

The Government believeߞand the Opposition now believeߞthat the most effective way in which to make our streets safer from knives and offensive weapons is to strengthen the powers of the police to stop and search people. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) mentioned people who were against the Bill. The more he lists those who are against the Bill, the more everyone else in the country will be in favour of it. He did the House a good service in listing those people.

The Bill would amend the code of practice of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 so that the police can stop and search anyone who is thought to be part of a gang. The tragic death of Philip Lawrence brought home to us that important point.

By chance, I drove past the Lawrences' home in Ealing, which is not far from where I live, last Friday. Until then, I had not known where they lived, except that it was in Ealing. The reason I found out where they lived was that there were police and a gaggle of camera crews outside.

I am sure we all abhor the problems that the Lawrence family are having with malicious and sick-minded people. However, the tranquillity and peace of the Lawrence family is not helped by the huge media attention, with camera crews, a links vehicle with its enormously high aerial, and reporters gathered outside their house, over-reporting an incident that was personal to the family. The press should show a little more self-control when they report such matters.

My next remarks may seem to be criticisms of the Bill, although I hope that the hon. Member for Provan will accept that they are not. They are simply observations about the difficulty of this whole area of law. The shadow Home Secretary, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)ߞthis is not a criticism of himߞsaid that he would soon come up with a definition of a knife that should not be carried. He has not done soߞwhich is not surprising, as it is almost certainly impossible. A number of incidents have led me to believe that.

I discussed the matter with staff of the Crown Prosecution Service in Harrow and with some of the national people. My fear is that, if we get rid of combat knives, we are left with the kitchen knives that hon. Members have talked about, the fish-scaling knives that anglers use, and all sorts of other knives that are murderous. Every time that someone is stopped with one of those knives, he will either be a fisherman on the way to buy a fishing rod or a trainee chef on the way to find a job. The defence mounted will be so convincing that a number of people will get away with it, and the law will be brought into disrepute.

My point is not a criticism of the Bill; Parliament has to attempt to legislate on knives, and we are right to do so today. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend the Minister and the police must keep a watching brief on precisely what is happening in the courts. They must consider whether we need to modify the law as we go along to catch the criminals.

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman is making a serious point. He is right to say that we need to keep an eye on the way in which the law is implemented.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill contains elements that deal separately with the definition of what can and cannot be sold? Does he also agree that the Bill allows the courts to make a common-sense judgment, as they do when dealing with the carrying of an offensive weapon? The Bill allows, as it were, the elephant to be recognised even when it cannot be defined. It allows the courts to exercise common sense as Parliament and the public wish them to do.

Mr. Hughes

Absolutely. The Bill covers that issue as well as it can. However, I have a deep suspicion that it will be monkeyed about with by clever lawyers, who will attempt to move the definition and prove that someone has the right to carry a knife.

I understand that certain Rastafarian youths in south London carry a knife with a short blade and a sharp serrated edge. When they are stopped, they tell the police that they are vegetarian and are carrying a fruit peeling knife. Although I am also a vegetarian, I do not possess a fruit peeling knife, and if I did, I certainly would not be carrying it now. That illustrates the problem of people carrying knives, apparently for legitimate use.

In a recent incidentߞwhich I shall not explain in detail, as it has yet to come before the courtsߞa man carrying a meat cleaver was stopped near a school. It is a particularly sensitive issue because of the terrifying incident that came to court so recently. The man's initial defenceߞthat no doubt will be pursuedߞwas that it was a tool of his trade. A number of people will use that defence.

I welcome the Bill. It is important that we do as much as we can to prevent the trade in murderous knives, so that young people who may consider them fashionable know that Parliament will bear down on the problem now and in future. We have to keep an open mind as to further changes in the law. It gives me great pleasure to support the hon. Member for Provan today.

12.21 pm
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

I am absolutely delighted to speak in today's debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) is an incredible character. In many ways, he is one of the largest figures in the House, and he is one of my closest friends.

Let me give some of the background to my support of the Bill. My hon. Friend and I both come from Glasgow. My hon. Friend comes from the Gorbals, and I come from the neighbouring area of Govan. I remember the anger and frustration of my parents and many others in Glasgow when the book called "No Mean City" was written. It gave the impression that there was gang warfare in every street, village and hamlet. That is completely untrue. It portrayed Glasgow in a terribly bad light throughout the world. It was a best seller for the wrong reasons. My hon. Friend will agree that it did not describe Glasgow as it really was.

Glasgow is one of the finest cities in the world. It has some of the warmest, most lovable people. Anyone and everyone should come and visit Glasgow. It is a city of cultureߞa wonderful place with marvellous people, and we have a marvellous time there. People do not walk about with knives, razors and tackety-boots to kick the hell out of folk. That is not our city. However, in common with other cities, Glasgow has its yobbo culture and suffers the same problems. The House is designed to introduce legislation to limit the damage that can be done to our good folk who want to live in peace and harmony and enjoy the full fruits of life.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has introduced the Bill. There is a obviously a tremendous need for it, as the crime statistics show. I shall not go on about the crime statistics, but I should like to raise a number of issues.

In my constituency, a couple of young policemen have been stabbed and seriously injured. I know many young people who have been stabbed and had to go to hospital, and have been maimed for life. I know people who have been killed with knives.

I heard the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) speak about his youth, and about being in the Army for 15 years. I do not want to imply any criticism, but I presume that he was an officer, given that he is a Tory. I presume that he went into the Army for 15 years because he could not get a job because his dad's business was not big enough. The young folk I knew had to go into the Army because they could not get a job, but while they were serving, they were sheltered from some of the things that happened to civilians in the cities; they missed what we call the culture of violence.

I remember my days in Glasgow when I was young. I lived on the streets of Glasgow, in the sense that I went to the dances and the parks. I watched the clownsߞI called them clownsߞwho were the nonentities in a gang or a group of young men. They were probably not the strongest physically, and they were certainly not the cleverest in the group. As I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Provan would agree, some of them would come up and flash their knife or daggerߞthe Nazi daggers that were floating around Glasgow at the timeߞand think that they were tough, hard men. A guy became a hard man because, in Glasgow slang, he was carrying a chiva weapon, a blade. People would talk about these guys, and they became a big man, a hard man. People would say, "Willie's carrying a chiv," and Willie's reputation grew as a result.

I watch movies; I am a movie buff, I buy videos until they come out of my ears, and enjoy watching them for relaxation. Members of Parliament cannot always watch television programmes at the right time, so there is nothing finerߞperhaps folk will find this strangeߞthan watching a video at 2 o'clock in the morning, which I do to wind down.

I like a lot of foreign film stars, but when I watch Rambo shooting 200 or 300 people, I wonder how there was ever a war. If they had brought him in, the rest of them in the war would have been down the road in five minutes. I have seen "Die Hard", "Die Harder" and "Die Hard with a Vengeance", with guys crawling about buildings, lobbing this and that, and blowing everything to smithereens.

I remember the Kung Fu pictures, when they kicked their feet up and there was a wee blade in the shape of a star, which would be thrown all of a sudden, slice someone's headߞand they were dead. I even remember Odd Job in the James Bond films. He looked a bit like me in those days, except he had a hat that he threw at someone's headߞand they were dead.

We should think about the fact that all that violence was designed to kill, maim and look great. Everyone used to say, "Oh, what a movie. That was great killing." I remember going to the matinees when I was a young kid and seeing Tom Mix, shooting and blowing people away with his gun. It was great. I remember Robin Hood with his bow and arrow and William Tell's great victory. All the kids came out of the pictures and ran along the road pretending to be Tom Mix, William Tell and Superman.

We are conditioning our kids to accept violence. We are bringing them up right in the middle of that violent core. We have created a culture of violence through propaganda and by allowing television, radio and video to become rampant. I am not calling for censorship or for a restriction of civil liberties: I am asking for common sense.

Not long ago, in preparation for the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Provan, I visited a knife shop. I could not believe the display of horrific knives. There was a knife like a sword: if it were put into somebody and pulled out, all their guts would spill all over the table. That is different from a kitchen knife. I am not saying that kitchen knives do not kill, because they do. Put them in and pull them out and there is blood. However, when Rambo knives are put in, they rip out and cause mind-boggling damage.

Many young folk think it glamorous to carry a knife and to act the tough nut on the hard man scene. Their pals think, "Wait a minute, look at wee Willie. He is a tough, hard man, and I would like to be tough." Everybody would like to be able to hold their own, but that does not happen in life. I know people who have been stabbed to death or maimed for life because of the culture of knives. Young people can be conned by all the glamour, and we must start doing something to stop that.

I fully and vigorously support my hon. Friend's Bill. It is a small step, but a major step in the right direction. It will send signals to the advertisers and the manufacturers who make money from those horrible weapons. It will send a signal to the young folk that those knives are not glamorous. We want to see the glamour of young men and women competing in sport and aspiring to make Britain great again. We want to see competition in the job market. The Government should listen to my plea, because education is a vital way out. Give education to our young folk, give them hope for a job, and they will not want the glamour of Rambo knives and the Rambo culture.

I am delighted to support my hon. Friend the Member for Provan. His initiative will go some way to bringing back sanity and sense to Britain in a way that has not been successful before.

12.31 pm
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Glasgow, F'rovan (Mr. Wray) on bringing forward his important Bill. He made only one mistake: he should have asked me to become one of his sponsors, because I would have done so with the greatest of pleasure, especially as his Bill follows neatly on the Offensive Weapon Act 1996, which I introduced to the House this year. His Bill will be a further step towards breaking the knife culture. That is an issue that I have been following since 1987, when I came across the Dennison family from Bethnal Green and Stepney, whose 17-year-old son had been tragically stabbed to death.

The number of knife-related incidents in this country is disturbingly high. Despite the Dunblane tragedy, more people are killed by the knife than by the gun. There are reports all over the newspapers today about the widow, Alice Rye, who opened her door to a killer who sexually assaulted her and then stabbed her to deathߞone more tragic case in a long catalogue. In the past week alone, stories of two knife incidents have appeared in the national press. We read of the 15-year-old schoolboy who was slashed with a knife during a history lesson at a Dulwich school. We heard of the trial of the 15-year-old boy who plunged a 4 in knife into the chest of his best friend and killed him. We do not even hear about the rest of the incidents.

The tender years of those assailants is not unusual. The problem is most acute among males in their mid-teens, beginning as young as 13 and through to the early 20s. It has been pointed out to me by the police that the vast majority of those teenagers come from chaotic family backgrounds, largelyߞI regret to sayߞsingle-parent ones.

In the year to April 1995, 2,550 offences of violence against the person in the Metropolitan police area involved knives or other sharp instruments and each year the figure increases. Sutton, a seemingly peaceful, green and leafy suburb, has had its share of tragedies. Earlier this year, my research assistant was the victim of an attempted knife-point robbery.

Above all, we must pay tribute to the police, the men and women who pay such a high price while trying to protect us as we go about our business. I am sorry to sound in a discordant note, but I am disappointed that Labour Members somehow forgot to mention the police, which I am sure they would have done had they reflected.

Mr. Michael

In my speech, I referred to the great co-operation that we have had from the police and from the difference associations, particularly the superintendents. We have had extended discussions in trying to help my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) in designing his Bill. The hon. Lady is wrong to make that comment, which is not only discordant, but inaccurate.

Lady Olga Maitland

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I concede that he had discussions with the police, but I was seeking a tribute to the sacrifice that they have made, which goes one stage further.

In 1994 alone, more than 1,000 police officers in England and Wales were seriously assaulted and injured. In the past 10 years, eight officers have died directly as a result of stabbing. Two years ago, Sergeant Derek Robertson, the father of two children, was stabbed to death when he was called to the scene of robbery at a sub-post office in Croydon.

I have met some brave officers who have been stabbed. Their experiences are humbling and we do not appreciate how much they have gone through. Interestingly, they tell me that, unlike the fights depicted on television, a knife fight is usually over almost as soon as it has begun. For example, in an incident in north London, an attacker was able to stab three officersߞone a woman, Helen Barnett-11 times in the time it took a fourth officer to cross one lane of stationary traffic. The attack that led to the tragic death of Philip Lawrence was over in a matter of seconds. How right Frances Lawrence was when she said: A knife is an inanimate object and it needs a human being to invest it with murderous properties. I have already referred briefly to my private Member's Bill, now the Offensive Weapons Act 1996, which I took through the House. To tackle the overwhelming culture of knives takes a united will by all of us, which is why we are here and so supportive of the hon. Member for Provan. I rushed my contribution forward and pressed the Home Office to allow me to introduce the Bill the very weekend that Philip Lawrence died. I knew that we would have public support for firm and direct action.

My Act, which was spelt out in detail by my right hon. Friend the Minister, made significant steps along the way. It gave the police powers of arrest when they have found someone carrying a knife without a good reason. That was an important measure because, until then, the police could issue that person only with a summons.

The Act also brought in stiffer penalties for possessing knives and a ban on the sale of knives to children aged 16 and under. I hope that we shall keep that age under review and that we might reflect that it would be more effective and more powerful if we raised it to 18. Above all, the Act introduced the important measure of giving police powers to go into schools to make searches and, if necessary, arrests. That measure was warmly received by teachers. My Act, therefore, paved the way for this one.

Some of the provisions in this Bill were discussed during the passage of my Act. I too have been concerned about the way in which knives are advertised in magazines. Some advertisements are disturbingly written. It is done in such a way as to incite the purchaser not only to buy the knife, but to commit a brutal and appalling offence. The language includes such phrases as "razor sharp stainless steel", nearly half a foot long when opened", and belt sheaf knifeߞready for action". I discussed the problem at length with Home Office officials and with the Advertising Standards Authority, but the answers were not satisfactory. I was told that as the ASA had received very few complaintsߞbarely a dozen in recent yearsߞit felt that there was no cause for action. That may be so, but it does not reflect the concerns of a large number of people. In any case, the ASA has few powers of sanction at the best of times. However, I concede that it did undertake a review, and it was important to see the outcome; even ifߞas the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) would agreeߞit was not very helpful. We had to give the ASA a chance.

What worries me is how easy it is to buy hideous and brutal knives anonymously through the post with no questions asked. Police magazine put a Sussex firm to the test by using a credit card to send off for a 7 in stainless steel jungle Yatagan Bowie, priced £27.50. It came back by return of post. The Bowie knife was known to the police because, a few days earlier, a man had killed his employer using such a knife, which not only severed the victim's ribs but brought his lungs out on the serrated edge. West Midlands police drew attention to the great dangers of this type of weapon being advertised. In the sales literature, the makers shamelessly describe the knife as designed to go with the arm to maximise the cutting edge. That knife is still available today.

I share the reservations of the Police Federation, which feels that, although we are trying hard to remove inciting advertising slogans, there is a danger that the retailers will simply describe the knives as hunting or sporting knifes. Therefore, we must keep a careful watch on how effective the measure will be. As in all things, we can come back to the measure to see how we can improve it. I very much hope that, ultimately, we will devise a method of defining such knives so that they too can be banned. I realise that that is difficult. It is a challenge, but I do not believe that it is beyond us.

At present, we must content ourselves with curbing the marketing of such knives, and I welcome the provisions in the Bill to make it a criminal offence to market them and to give the police powers to seize both the publications and the knives themselves. I welcome the fact that the penalty could be a maximum of six months in gaol and a heavy fine. I also welcome the fact that the police will be able to search not only a person, but any premisesߞbe it a home, a shop, an office, a factory or even a tent. The police will be able also thoroughly to search cars, ships and aircraft to tackle smuggling. Most knives are bought over the counter, but such is the pernicious nature of the advertisements that to curb them and the appetites for such knives and weapons must be worth whileߞafter all, one fewer knife sold is certainly likely to be another life saved.

The most significant part of the Bill gives the police powers to stop and search where they fear a serious risk of violence over a period of 24 hours. This is where I see the greatest progress being made in tackling knife crime. The police have been frustrated for a long time about their search and arrest powers, and that was another issue that I looked at carefully in drafting the Offensive Weapons Bill. I, at least, was able to give the police greater powers of arrest when finding someone carrying a knife without good reason, but until my Bill came along, the best the police could do was to send a summons through the post. I felt that more needed to be done.

The law has been too restrictive. For example, if a police officer on patrol comes across a group of youths outside a disco and suspects that there could be trouble, under the rules of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, unless he has reason to believe that a knife is being heldߞnot just a hunch, but because he has been told that it is or has seen a knifeߞhe cannot instigate a search. A police officer cannot stop and search someone on account of the colour of their skin, the shape of the eyes, the haircut, the style of clothing, or even the knowledge that the person has previous convictions for carrying knives. Often, knives come to light too late, when the damage has been done or when the carrier is being searched in connection with another offence.

The laws have also been too restrictive for effective policing, especially if violence is brewing or we know that it is likely to happen. While I agree about the need to protect citizens from unreasonable demands for searches, the balance must also be struck for the right of the public to go about their business safely and with a calm mind. There is no question of returning to the much-hated sus laws. I did not hear the remarks made by the spokesman from Liberty on the radio this morning, but if I had, I would have choked over my coffee. I would have taken grave exception to them, given the way in which Liberty has been portrayed in the House today. Clearly, the civil liberties lobby was getting its sense of proportion wrong. We ought to be protecting the public first.

With that in mind, I entirely support the move to give the police the right to stop and search if they fear that violence may break out in a locality and that offensive weapons, such as knives, might be used. The Bill stipulates only that a superintendent should have the power to authorise searches. I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister that that could be a cumbersome process. The police officer at the scene would have to refer back to his superintendent. It would make more sense to give that authority to the station inspector, who could be required to report regularly to his superintendent on his radio telephone.

I also question whether 24 hours is sufficient. I suggest that 48 hours would be a more realistic and flexible time frame, although I accept that the 24-hour period is renewable. It will be wise for the House to consider carefully how that clause works in practice.

We ought to learn from the experiences and successes of Operation Blade, which was set up by Strathclyde police, who already have much those wider powers. They had to take action to counter the unacceptably high level of violent crime. Random searches were first carried out over a period of three months in 1993. Nearly 30,000 people were stopped and searched, and 548 offensive weapons were seized. Such was the professional manner in which the operation was carried out that only four people complained, each of whom was subsequently found with a knife.

Clearly, there are lessons to be learned. Strathclyde police began with a massive public education programme in the media. They put out a poster, which went everywhere, with a telling photograph of a young man with a knife in his belt being arrested and the headline, "Who's not partying tonight?" Significantly, the other side of the poster carries various newspaper headlines, such as, "Knife thug is jailed" and "Vicious Ned gets 15 years". Those are clear warnings that such behaviour cannot be tolerated.

The Strathclyde police also had a plan for people to surrender their knivesߞnot an amnesty, because that almost sounds like forgivenessߞinto knife bins placed in strategic places, such as pubs, clubs and fast food restaurants, but not police stations, where people with a guilty conscience who are fearful of being identified would not bin their knives. It was effective, and many thousands of weapons were handed in as a result. The retailers played their part, and 87 of them withdrew knives from display because they could have been deemed to inciting bad behaviour.

The programme also included schools. It was interesting in human terms that there was a reduction in the number of people admitted to casualty departments in local hospitals. The Glasgow Royal infirmary reported a 50 per cent. drop in serious stab wounds.

The experiment in Scotland has been extremely successful. The random stops and searches continue over limited periods, so that people know when they are happening, and they are now accepted as a matter of course. Public support is essential for such measures; that has been achieved in Scotland, and knife crime is beginning to decrease.

Every person who carries a knife is saying that he is prepared to use it. The weapons that we are talking about have the potential to inflict serious injury or death, so it is incumbent on us all to support tough action to curb gratuitous violence. In the end, thuggery must be met firmly and properly. My advice to those young thugs as they go out tonightߞFriday nightߞis to leave their knives at home; they should put into their pocket only their cash and their keys, and save another life.

I wish the hon. Member for Provan godspeed with this important Bill, which is a successor to my Offensive Weapons Bill and to a considerable track record of effective Conservative legislation to tackle crime.

12.51 pm
Mr. Wray

I am delighted with the tremendous contributions made by many hon. Members. Everyone who lives in a deprived area will know about the violence that goes on there. Sometimes it saddens my heart when I walk through the city centre to a place called Paddy's market, which is like a social service in Glasgow, and see many men and women with scars on their faces. It makes me wonder what kind of society we are living in. I hope that the Bill can play its part in stamping out the minority of thugs who run around terrorising old women and slashing unarmed men and women in all parts of every city in Britain. That is one of the reasons why I introduced the Bill.

I was very sad when I heard about the death of Mr. Lawrence. He was a compassionate family man, doing a grand job, and a thug with a knife took his life away for no earthly reason and left fragmentation, misery and sorrow for the wife and family. That is the kind of thing that every hon. Member has spoken about today.

We must be extremely careful about civil libertiesߞwe have had discussions with many organisationsߞbut I often wonder about the civil liberties of the 136 people in Scotland who lost their lives last year. I like to be extremely tough but extremely compassionate, and I do not think that the civil liberties lobby can complain about anything in the Bill.

We did not want any special clauses allowing anyone who was black, wearing bovver boots or driving a downtown car from a downtown area to an up-market area to be arrested by the police. I discussed that extremely carefully with the Minister, and that is why we decided to amend section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The police already have powers to stop and search in anticipation of violence; the Bill merely gives them extra powers in respect of knives.

Hon. Members have been concerned about what has happened in their areas over the past two or three years. I do not like to take all the credit for this Bill, because many hon. Members, both men and women, have sown its seeds with other legislation over the past 10 years. I feel like the ploughman throwing the fertiliser to keep the cause growing, so that our streets can be clean of the knives and thugs that annoy the public. Only a tiny minority is involved. I will do anything I can as a Member of Parliament to make life safer.

I thank the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). She can rest assured that it would have been a great honour if she had been a sponsor of my Bill. I offer her membership of the Committee, if she wants it. I hope that it does not last too long and that she will not table many amendments, certainly not wrecking amendments.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hesitate to interrupt, but all Members are hon. Members, not ladies or gentlemen.

Mr. Wray

Thank you for that correction, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I would be delighted if the hon. Lady served on the Committee. We need another eight members, so any hon. Member with a real interest is welcome. I hope that no one will try to wreck this important Bill. I want it to go on the statute book. That is why we spent so many hours working together on it.

I thank my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington). I know that he is not well, but he took the trouble to come today because he thought that there would be a vote. I am glad that he felt that the Bill was so important. I hope that other Opposition Members who would like serve on the Standing Committee will give their names to my right hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon). I thank hon. Members for coming along.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).