Knife crime crackdown: Tougher penalties for possession will mean two strikes before jail
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Tuesday 17 June 2014
People caught twice with a knife will face prison sentences after a Conservative backbench proposal for tougher sentences was approved tonight with Labour’s backing.
In an unusual Commons vote, Tory ministers abstained because their Liberal Democrat coalition partners would not endorse the crackdown, saying that sentences should be left to the discretion of judges.
But the Labour frontbench and most Labour backbenchers voted for mandatory jail terms and MPs approved the Tory backbench plan by 404 votes to 53.
Under Tory amendments to the Criminal Courts and Justice Bill, adults would receive a minimum six-month jail term on their second conviction for carrying a knife, while 16-year-olds would be given at least a four-month detaining and training order. The measure will also need approval by the House of Lords.
Sadiq Khan, the shadow Justice Secretary, said: “In opposition David Cameron promised that everyone caught carrying a knife would go to jail. After four years as Prime Minister and four years of broken promises, it’s not surprising that David Cameron and his ministers failed to support these measures. They have only been passed because of Labour support.”
Labour warned that the tougher sentences could be delayed due to overcrowding in the prisons.
Nick de Bois, Tory MP for Enfield North, who proposed the move, claimed that many offenders treated the current sentences as "little more than an occupational hazard”. Despite a presumption in favour of prison, about 8,000 people received cautions and fines last year, he said.
“Over 2,500 of those caught in possession of a knife last year were aged from 10 to 17," he added.
Andy Slaughter, the shadow Justice Minister, accused Nick Clegg of trying to "buff his tarnished liberal credentials" with a "cheap political stunt to throw a bone to his increasingly malnourished base".
But Dr Julian Huppert, Lib Dem MP for Cambridge, said there had been a substantial decline in knife possession offences over the last three years. He added: "The question I think this House has to look at is whether we should be trying to take the thing that sounds the toughest or whether we should try to do the things that actually work."
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