HL Deb 10 February 1992 vol 535 cc23-5WA
Earl Nelson

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in view of the increase of attacks on police officers on duty and the public at large by offenders armed with knives, other than pointed instruments and offensive weapons in general, they will consider: (a) strengthening the power of arrest for such offences; (b) extending the power of search to private premises and making the power of search in general less restrictive; (c) reviewing the penalties for possession of "offensive weapons", particularly as regards Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988; and (d) affording the police better physical protection by allowing them to carry the "American" style baton instead of the traditional truncheon.

Earl Ferrers

We are satisfied that current powers to search and arrest in connection with the possession of offensive weapons are adequate. Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) a constable may search any person or vehicle for stolen or prohibited articles if he has reasonable grounds for suspecting that he will find such an article. The powers extend to any place to which the public have ready access.

PACE provides a constable with powers to arrest a person for any offence if it appears to him that service of a summons is impractical or inappropriate because there are reasonable grounds for doubting that a name or address given by the person is genuine or that arrest is necessary to prevent physical injury to any person.

In addition, the police have common law powers to arrest any person where they apprehend an imminent breach of the peace, where a breach of the peace has occurred or where a breach of the peace is likely to recur.

As regards penalties for the possession of knives, Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 forms part of a range of offences which can be brought to bear on the possession or misuse of knives.

Section 139 makes it an offence to possess in public a bladed or sharply pointed article without good reason or lawful authority. The maximum penalty is a level 3 fine (currently £400 but rising to £1,000 under the Criminal Justice Act 1991).

The Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 bans flick knives and gravity knives. The maximum penalty is six months' imprisonment and/or a level 5 fine (currently £2,000 but rising to £5,000). The maximum penalties for possession of these prohibited knives are rightly set at a higher level than possession of an article which is unprohibited.

The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 makes it an offence to carry an offensive weapon in public without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. The maximum penalty is two years' imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

The Government believe that these measures provide the police and the courts with effective powers to punish and deter the carrying of knives in public places.

The procurement of equipment is a matter for chief officers, but we have offered to arrange for a scientific evaluation of the side-handled baton if chief officers think that it would be helpful.