Howard raises hope of action over knives

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Indy Politics
The chance of action being taken to ban combat knives rose last night after the Home Secretary agreed to meet Labour and Liberal Democrat spokesmen - and an MP announced that she would introduce a backbench Bill.

Announcing the meeting between Michael Howard, Jack Straw and Alex Carlile, the Prime Minister told the Commons that following the Labour and Liberal Democrat spokesmen's joint letter to the Home Secretary earlier this week, there would be a meeting in the "near future".

But Mr Major was also keen to emphasise his view that Mr Straw had accepted it was not easy matter to come up with a workable legislative definition of a combat knife. "He has had to change his position, I believe," Mr Major said. "But of course we will look at any constructive suggestion that comes forward."

In a letter to Mr Straw and Mr Carlile, the Home Secretary said the approach taken by them - with a broad ban, backed by exemptions for legitimate knives like those used by gardeners - had "important deficiencies". But he added: "I am certainly prepared to discuss this approach with you. The key tests are these. Will it have the effect of getting rid of the kind of knife to which we all object, while allowing legitimate knives to continue to be sold? And will it be possible to enforce the law effectively, without criminalising innocent people?"

Responding to the proposal to tackle the sale and promotion of the military- style knives, Mr Howard said that while statutory control over advertising "could probably be made to work", he preferred to use the self-regulatory powers of the Advertising Standards Authority.

Mr Howard said he thought the ASA could do more than it was doing. "I am concerned that, because it is their usual practice only to respond to complaints, they may be missing advertisements in mail-order catalogues which are only seen by individuals who are unlikely to complain. I am also concerned that the ASA are not being effective in relation to the names of products which continue to be sold under names which have violent overtones."

Labour MP Audrey Wise, who came fifth in the ballot for private members' Bills, said last night that she would be promoting a Bill on combat knives. It is possible that if Mr Howard, Mr Straw and Mr Carlile can reach agreement on an all-party approach - and definitions - Mrs Wise's Bill could be used as a fast-track vehicle for banning action.