HC Deb 16 June 2003 vol 407 cc10-2
6. Hugh Bayley (City of York)

If he will make a statement on what action the Government are taking to deter the use of knives in street crime, with special reference to knife-point robbery. [119016]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint)

It is important to deter the use of knives and other offensive weapons in any type of crime, and the Government do so by providing legislation and police powers to prevent the possession or use of knives and other offensive weapons. For instance, it is an offence for any person to have an offensive weapon in a public place or on school premises, punishable by a prison sentence of up to two years, or for any person to sell knives to people under the age of 16.

The street crime initiative was launched in March 2002 to reduce all street crime, irrespective of whether a weapon is used in committing the crime. I am pleased to report that, in the first six months of that ongoing initiative, street crime fell by 16 per cent. in the areas covered.

Hugh Bayley

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment to the Front Bench. York is one of the safest cities in the country, which is one reason that it attracts so many visitors. Nevertheless, there has been a significant increase in robbery—a threefold increase over the last three years—which, in a few cases, has involved the use of knives, particularly by young children. What are the Government doing to help police forces, such as North Yorkshire police and other law enforcement agencies, to get on top of this problem?

Caroline Flint

I thank my hon. Friend for his good wishes and for raising an important problem, especially when children are using weapons for violent activities. Although North Yorkshire is not in the street crime initiative area, I hope that his local area, and the wider area of North Yorkshire, will benefit from the lessons learned from the initiative through the spread of best practice. At 30 September 2002, there were 131,548 police officers in England and Wales, and 1,404 police officers in North Yorkshire, compared with 1,305 the previous year. Those are record numbers, but we need to look at sharing best practice and initiatives across the whole of England and Wales.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

The Minister said that in the first six months of the street crime initiative street crime had fallen. Given that we have had nine months since the end of that first six-month period, what has happened since then?

Caroline Flint

I am pleased to report to the hon. Gentleman that street crime has continued to fall. The most recent figures on robbery were published on 4 April 2003 as part of the quarterly crime update. Recorded robbery fell by an estimated 23 per cent. in the period from October to December 2002 compared with the same period in 2001.

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

In congratulating my hon. Friend on her recent appointment, may I ask her to welcome initiatives in Croydon in combating offensive weapons, in particular, charging without a caution anyone with a knife and, from today, banning street drinking in the centre of Croydon so that people who carry bottles, which can be used as offensive weapons, face fixed penalty notices from our new band of police community officers? Will she reassure the House that investment in those front-line services will continue? Will she also talk to other Home Office Ministers, including the Secretary of State, about the possibility of hypothecating the income from these fines on drunken yobs for front-line services to keep crime going down? In Croydon, it is down 6 per cent. in the last year.

Caroline Flint

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the initiative in Croydon to my attention. I am pleased to hear of these local initiatives, especially when they seem to be working. The Metropolitan police safer streets initiative has had considerable success and he will be aware that we are looking at extending fixed penalty notices under the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, which is currently proceeding through Parliament. I am sure that my colleagues on the Front Bench will have heard his latter remarks.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley)

Given that beat policemen are the best deterrent against street crime, and given the extreme difficulty of recruiting beat policemen in South Oxfordshire, what does the Minister have to say to Simon Dixon, a constituent of mine who recently applied to join the police, passed all the tests with flying colours, but was turned down on the ground that he had three tattoos on his upper arms: one of a man waving a flag, one of a dog, and one of a mouse sitting on a toadstool smoking a hubble-bubble pipe? None of those tattoos was visible when he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, yet he was told that they might cause offence to hospital staff were he to be involved in an accident. What can she do to rectify that senseless rejection?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Unless the gentleman was carrying a knife, the Minister cannot answer that question.

John Cryer (Hornchurch)

I welcome my hon. Friend to the Front Bench. I appreciate everything that she said about the action that has been taken, but should we not also consider banning such weapons? There are shops in the borough that I represent—the London borough of Havering—in which large and dangerous knives, swords, asps and clubs are openly sold and displayed. They attract younger people in particular, and a series of related crimes have been committed in the borough. Recently, in the constituency of Romford, a man had his right hand removed with a samurai sword. Clearly, and understandably, such crime provokes a great deal of widespread fear. Should not we consider banning the sale of those weapons and certainly banning their display?

Caroline Flint

I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming me to the Front Bench. A number of offensive weapons are already banned, but I would be willing to listen to what he has to say, for him to come to see me about the weapons that he mentioned today and to consider whether further measures need to be taken both on display and on whether such weapons should be sold in the first place.