Nick Clegg: Conservative knife prison plan is a 'step backwards'

Lib Dem leader says automatic six-month terms would turn young offenders into 'hardened criminals'

The Coalition row over knife crime sentences has deepened as Nick Clegg called the Conservative plans to automatically jail anyone caught twice carrying a knife “a step backwards”.

Leaked letters revealed the proposal by Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, last week in the wake of the killing of Ann Maguire at a school in Leeds.

It sparked a deep rift within the Coalition as the Liberal Democrats accused the Tories of capitalising on the teacher’s death.

Writing in The Guardian yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister warned that “chasing headlines, trying to sound tough” did not address the root cause of crime.

He wrote: “In the aftermath of terrible events such as this we have to be careful that we don't simply reach for headline-grabbing solutions that don't necessarily work in practice.”

The law would see adults convicted of possessing a knife for a second time jailed automatically for at least six months.

Mitigating factors are currently taken into account by judges and sentences can start at 12 weeks.

The Tories called for tougher mandatory sentences for possessing knives. Mr Clegg said six months in prison is “not always the right answer” for offenders.

He wrote: “Imagine a vulnerable young girl hanging round with members of a gang.

“She could be forced into carrying a knife by another gang member; it happens a lot.

“When stopped by the police, she doesn't mention that she was forced to carry the knife, fearing retribution from the gang.

“Putting someone like that into prison could push them into the arms of hardened criminals, and let the gang leaders off the hook.”

The Liberal Democrat leader argued for measures to move people away from gang culture stop young people carrying knives.

He raised concerns that minimum sentences could undermine the role of judges, who he said needed the flexibility to use their expertise.

Mr Clegg wrote: “This is why I believe this proposed law would be a step backwards.

“It would undermine the government's progress in establishing a rehabilitation revolution, and reducing crime. We need to treat knife crime very seriously by letting judges choose the sentence to fit the crime.

“Turning the young offenders of today into the hardened criminals of tomorrow is not the answer.”

Dozens of backbench Conservative MPs have come out in support of introducing the changes through an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which returns to the Commons on Monday.

Labour has not formally supported or opposed the plan.

Read more:
Lib Dems and Tories at war over knife crime
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz