Plans to ban more machetes and zombie knives branded ‘too little, too late’

Policing minister Chris Philp defended the Government plans.

Flora Thompson
Tuesday 18 April 2023 16:15 BST
'Too little too late' for plans to ban more machetes and zombie knives, says Labour

The policing minister has insisted efforts to ban more machetes and zombie knives in England and Wales and impose tougher jail sentences will “go even further” than previous attempted crackdowns.

Chris Philp defended the Government plans to MPs in the face of accusations that they were “too little, too late”.

Criminals who buy or sell machetes and zombie knives could face up to two years in jail under the latest proposals.

Knife crime causes misery and fear in our communities which is why, over many years, this Government has taken concerted action to tackle it

Chris Philp

Police would also be given more powers to seize and destroy the weapons while criminals would face tougher sentences for their sale and possession, if the plans come into force.

It follows a string of similar announcements by a succession of home secretaries in recent years.

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Philp said: “Knife crime causes misery and fear in our communities which is why, over many years, this Government has taken concerted action to tackle it.”

Branding knife crime a “menace”, he said every weapon taken off the streets has the “potential to save lives”, adding: “We have today launched a seven-week consultation on new proposals to go even further to tackle the use of certain machetes and other bladed articles in crime.”

Mr Philp described the intended ban as “going further than the weapons ban already introduced in the Offensive Weapons Act 2019.”

Shadow Home Office minister Sarah Jones told MPs Labour supports measures to ban the weapons, but added: “This is too little, too late. A smokescreen to distract from their appalling record.

“Knife crime has risen by 70% since 2015 across the country, and the whole country is affected.”

She accused the Government of failing to “have a plan” to tackle knife crime, adding: “The Offensive Weapons Bill was hailed by the former prime minister as the big answer to what is a national crisis, but it hasn’t worked.

“A year and a half ago I called on the Government to act on getting these knives off the streets entirely, but they have done nothing. Why the delay?”

Ms Jones said “we’ve heard it all before” after pledges from former home secretaries Theresa May in 2016, Amber Rudd in 2017, Sajid Javid in 2018 and Priti Patel in 2021, adding: “And now, deja vu, we’re promised yet another ban.”

She also argued the proposed ban “does not go far enough”, adding: “After his changes in this consultation could I still buy a 49-centimetre sword online? Only swords over 50 centimetres are banned.”

Mr Philp said: “This Government has been progressively tightening the legislation over the years, including the Offensive Weapons Act 2019. We’ve been continuously reviewing that legislation and where we find opportunities to make it stronger … we will take the opportunity to make this legislation more effective, which is what we are now doing.”

Dame Diana Johnson, Labour chairwoman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, highlighted how four previous home secretaries made similar announcements and asked Mr Philp “why he thinks those approaches have not been effective and what’s different about the approach that he’s announced today, and will that be effective?”

Mr Philp replied: “I don’t accept that the previous initiatives have been unsuccessful … What the Government’s done is successively tightened the law, as we’re doing further today.”

Earlier, during a visit to Brixton police station, south London, Mr Philp told the PA news agency the 2019 act only banned zombie knives where there was “threatening wording” appearing on the blade, adding: “We’ve spoken to police, we’ve spoken to victims. They think all of these army knives should be banned. The Government agrees and we’re acting on that today.”

The latest plans will “substantially strengthen” police powers to get the “dangerous weapons” which have “no legitimate use at all” off the streets, he stressed.

Offences covering the importing, manufacturing, selling or supplying of prohibited offensive weapons, and selling blades to children, would carry a maximum penalty of two years in prison if the plans are adopted.

Under current laws, if police find a machete or other legal blade in someone’s home they cannot seize or act on this, even if they believe the items will be used in crime.

Giving police more powers will allow officers to seize certain blades even if the items are not prohibited.

Commander Stephen Clayman, who leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s work on knife crime, hailed the measures as a “huge step forward” so officers can get the weapons off the streets.

Officials stressed any changes will “carefully define” which knives would be banned, to take account of those which have legitimate uses, such as in gardening.

The Government is also considering whether to create a new offence for “carrying a bladed item with the intention to injure or cause fear”.

And the consultation is looking at whether the criminal justice system should treat public possession of knives and other offensive weapons more seriously.

From Wednesday, four police forces will start to test out civil court powers called serious violence reduction orders allowing officers to stop, detain and search offenders who have previously been convicted of knife or offensive weapon offences.

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