Zero tolerance for knife crime
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called for a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to knife crime following a spate of violent incidents across the country.
The MP was speaking on Radio 4's ‘Any Questions' programme on Friday evening (30 May), broadcast from St Andrew's parish church in Rugby, Warwickshire. One of the questions put to the panel was from the Reverend Mark Beach who had led the funeral service of Kevin Wright in the church that afternoon. Mr Wright, 20, died from stab wounds after an incident on 5 May in Rugby. Mr Beach asked what local people could do to create a safer community.
In response, Mr Herbert commented: "I deeply sympathise with the family of Kevin Wright and with the community. It's obviously a shocking incident and a tragic loss of life of a 20 year old young man. And it is of course one of a string of such incidents.
"Knife crime is not got up by the media. There is good evidence that knife crime is on the increase. One of our most senior judges in the country (Sir Igor Judge) has said that it has reached "epidemic proportions".
"We're told that only about 4 per cent of young people (aged 10-25) admit to carrying a knife. But, actually, when you think about it, that's half a million young people in our country who are carrying knives. And yet, less than 8,000 people have been found guilty of that offence.
"The Prime Minister, months ago, talked about ‘zero tolerance' of knife crime. I think we need to ask the question - what does zero tolerance mean? It should mean society coming together and saying - we just don't think it's acceptable for young people to carry knives.
"We have zero tolerance of drink driving, through a combination of tougher penalties, social action and disapproval, and advertising campaigns. We have actually done a huge amount to reduce that particular scourge. But I don't think that, as a society collectively, we've been tough enough about the enforcement in relation to knife crime.
"I do think that when we have about a third of the offenders who are being stopped only given a caution, then frankly that is not enough of a penalty or a deterrent. So I think there should be much tougher penalties, both robust community penalties and, if necessary, a prison sentence for those carrying knives. We have to send this strong signal.
"Of course there needs to be social action too. I fully accept that. There are all the long term things we need to do, in terms of strengthening families, welfare reform and education. We'd agree about all of those things. But they don't preclude tough action. They don't preclude having police officers on the streets, answering to the local community and making people feel safer again.
"If we're going to talk about zero tolerance, then as political leaders let us mean what we say and ensure that there is, in the future, zero tolerance of carrying a knife."
In response to comments by the Government's representative on the panel, Malcolm Wicks, Mr Herbert said: "What I'd like to know is, when the Government has today announced that it has released 26,000 prisoners early in less than a year, because it has inadequate jail capacity, and 5,000 of those were violent offenders, how can he, in the same breath, talk about tougher sentences and imprisonment for knife crime?"
On Sunday (1 June), Mr Herbert published an article on the ConservativeHome website about the problem of knife crime. In the article, he refers to a study by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London which found that there were 64,000 attacks in which a knife was used in a successful mugging last year - and the number has more than doubled in two years.
In July last year, Mr Herbert called for tough action following the stabbing of a 15-year-old boy at a seaside party in Lancing. In the same month, a 22-year-old man was stabbed to death in a street in Brighton and a middle-aged man was knifed in Worthing.
Responding to another question put to the panel, Nick Herbert predicted a u-turn from the Government on its plans to increase vehicle excise duties. He agreed that we need to tackle climate change, but described the proposed rise in duties as "stealth taxes dressed up as green taxes". He said they would reduce carbon emissions by less than one per cent. He argued that green taxes "must be off-set with reductions in taxation in other areas. Otherwise people simply won't support the concept."
Asked whether the panel supported the reduction of school holidays, Mr Herbert said he did not. He felt that family life should be supported and teachers needed time to prepare for intensive term sessions. The MP said that he felt there were much more important priorities for school reform, such as extending choice for parents, improving standards, and ensuring discipline in the classroom.
Mr Herbert also responded to the question: "What would the panel say to a cold caller at 6am?" - a clear reference to reports that the Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been ringing members of the public for their views. Mr Herbert said: "Well I would tell almost anybody who called me at 6am to ‘sod off'. And I would certainly say that to Gordon Brown. I would, of course, make exceptions. If David Cameron were to ring me at 6am I would be politeness personified.
"I used to be rung very early in the morning when I was working for a group of very senior industrialists who thought that it would be good to keep me on my toes and ring me extremely early to see if I was getting on with the job. I found the way to deal with it was to ring them an hour earlier than that. That soon did the trick."
The topical discussion took place in Rugby, Warwickshire. Nick Herbert, who is Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, was joined by Labour MP and Minister for Energy Malcolm Wicks, Liberal Democrat MP and health spokesman Norman Lamb and writer and academic Germaine Greer.
'Any Questions' is broadcast live on Friday evenings and repeated at lunchtime on Saturdays. Panellists are not told in advance what the questions will be.
Notes for Editors
1. For the ‘ConservativeHome' article by Nick Herbert on knife crime, visit http://conservativehome.blogs.com/platform/2008/06/nick-herbert-mp.html#comments.