Julian Huppert MP writes: We need effective action on knife crime

Florence With Knife 1There is a problem with knife crime. Too many of our fellow citizens suffer from knife attacks, and even more live in fear of being attacked with a knife. Even though fewer people are carrying knives, too many still are.

The Tory response to this, backed by Labour, has been to rush into legislation forcing judges to impose a mandatory jail sentence for anyone who is found in possession of a knife twice.

To deal effectively with the problem we should try to understand why people are carrying them.

Most of them are victims of crime themselves. The Home Office did a study and found that the vast majority of people who do carry a knife do so for protection, because they themselves are scared of what will happen if they don’t. They still shouldn’t, but does anyone really think that someone who is scared for their life, who carries a knife to protect them despite the fact that they could get a four year jail sentence already, will change their behaviour as a result of this?

The ones who will change their behaviour are the gang leaders who will simply force other, more vulnerable members – especially those under 16 – to carry knives for them. How does that help? And we know that when people go to prison – especially young people going in to serve short sentences – there is a very high rate of reoffending.

It costs about £40k/year to put someone in jail. The entire expenditure on the government’s ‘Ending Gang and Youth Violence’ programme is less than the cost of putting 13 people in jail for a year. If we have spare money, lets expand that not jail more people.

There are other great but underfunded schemes that do work in this area.  And I know that Norman Baker, the Lib Dem Minister for Crime Prevention, wants to expand the government’s support for these organisations. For example, Redthread are based in A&E to provide targeted advice, support and services for those who come in with wounds and have been hugely successful at re-engaging young people and diverting them away from the criminal justice system. That is surely what we want to be doing – prevention and education.

Yesterday in the Chamber I spoke, on our behalf, in favour of being tough on knife crime, and tough on the causes of knife crime. We should do what works, not what gives the best headline.

The Tories split – ministers abstaining, backbenchers in favour. Labour voted for the more authoritarian option, as ever. And Lib Dems – including ministers – opposed this badly thought through proposal.


* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15

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  • Mick Humphreys 18th Jun '14 - 10:51am

    The law does not define what a knife. I have one which I always carry which has a blade only one inch long. I used it for cleaning my pipe, when I smoked. I now use it for opening parcels for grandchildren. Is this the “bladed weapon” that our equivocal law vaguely ill-defines as a knife. I really think that MPs should pull their socks up when framing laws and their amendments. This is very slack work and endangers nearly every granddad in the country. I suggest all MPs be fined one year’s salary for poor profession standards.

  • John L Jones 18th Jun '14 - 10:53am

    It is obvious hat those who opposed the bill,have not found someone in possession of a knife whilst carrying out a body search.A very chilling experience I can assure you.

  • Why shouldn’t people carry knives? They might need to cut something. Are we going to have prison for anyone who attempts to have a picnic? Please, no more ‘tough’ legislation.

  • David Evershed 18th Jun '14 - 12:37pm

    Did Conservative ministers abstain from voting on this because of the disagreement between the coalition government rather than a ‘split’ of opinion between Conservative backbenchers and ministers?

    If so, the Conservative ministers were acting in an honorable way and should not be blackened by the derogatory ‘split’ epithet but praised.

  • 2 wrongs don’t make a right

    Carry a knife for protection not convincing

    Kid carries gang members knife best if not in the gang

    £40k for jail is obscene in yet Nick says one benefit of EU is we can get our criminals back, I would sooner they stay away and save us some money

    People will have differing views on knifes depending on the areas they live and wether the police have a good crime detection rate

  • Stephen Bolter 19th Jun '14 - 1:11am

    I havI have a friend who was detained by police for about an hour. He is an agricultural worker. He had forgotten to take his knife out of his pocket before going into town. Eventually he was released without charge.
    But this was better than than having forgotten to put it into his pocket before going to work and being unable to free himself if his clothing were to get caught in a machine or to disentangle himself if caught in twine under tension.
    Taking away discretion is dangerous.
    If the 2 knife possessions law had been in force then, and he had he been charged and convicted, he might have decided never to carry a knife again, for fear of imprisonment. There would there would be a real danger of him being unable to free himself in an accident.

  • Richard Dean 19th Jun '14 - 2:09am

    The legislative response, and the arguments against it, both look badly thought through, IMHO. Of course we need effective action, but knife crime has been with us since knives were invented.

    “The Home Office did a study”, so where is this study? Is it one of the reviews mentioned on https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/reducing-knife-gun-and-gang-crime, whose latest information is a June 2014 report on community engagement approaches?

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