HC Deb 19 January 2004 vol 416 cc1069-70
11. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab)

What discussions his Department has had about current controls on the sale of knives. [148334]

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears)

We take our responsibility for public safety in this area extremely seriously. My officials are seeking the views of the Association of Chief Police Officers on the adequacy of legislation and its enforcement.

Mr. Marsden

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. She will be aware, because I have written to her about it, of the concerns in Blackpool over the sale and availability of knives, particularly to the 16 to 18-year-old age group. The issue has been commendably taken up by my local newspaper in Blackpool, The Gazette. Does she share my concern that the Department's statistics do not differentiate between offences involving kitchen knives, for example, and those involving combat knives, which could be obtained on the street? Does she agree that it is important that the Government have more precise information about such offences so that they can judge whether the age of purchase should be raised?

Ms Blears

My hon. Friend has been assiduous in taking up the matter on behalf of his constituents. I have read the articles in The Gazette and I am highly aware of the campaign. As he knows, there is a range of legislation on the matter, banning the carrying of offensive weapons, banning blades on school premises especially and banning the sale of knives to under-16s.

My hon. Friend raises the important issue of differentiating between the types of knives used in offences. Clearly, we do not want to overload the police with bureaucracy in an effort to identify every single type of knife, but the reason I have asked ACPO to re-examine the matter is that I share some of his concerns.

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con)

Is the Minister aware that concern is spreading because knives are now being used in areas that are not used to violent crime? On Sidcup high street, a young teenage constituent of mine was stabbed in daylight, at tea time on a Saturday. Even in such areas, the culture of violence is becoming a problem. Do the Government intend to have an amnesty for handing in knives?

Ms Blears

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that, in the past few years, there have been several amnesties in different parts of the country, many of which have been extremely successful, with a huge number of knives handed in. It is an offence under existing legislation to sell knives to under-16s, but violent crime and the carrying of knives are issues of concern, which is precisely why the Government have asked ACPO to consider the matter in detail and see what more we can do. An extensive range of current legislation bans the manufacture and sale of knuckledusters, swordsticks, martial arts equipment of the type that is often used, flick knives and gravity knives, but I am concerned that young people in particular are gaining access to such weapons.

Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab)

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the sale of other offensive weapons? I recently received an advertisement for a pepper spray that was directed very much towards women buying it for self-defence. I can see that it might be tempting to keep such an object in one's handbag, but of course possession is an offence under the Firearms Act 1968. Is there not a need either to take strong steps to stamp out the sale of such weapons, or to consider liberalising the law?

Ms Blears

My hon. and learned Friend raises an important issue. The general ban on the carrying of a range of offensive weapons goes back as far as 1953. I advise the House that there is legislation that bans the marketing of knives in particular where that might encourage combat. That legislation is difficult to enforce because it deals with the way in which products are marketed, but it establishes a precedent for legislation on not encouraging the use of a range of weapons in an aggressive fashion. I shall ask the police to examine that issue as well.