MPs back automatic jail terms for knife possession

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Conservative and Labour MPs have voted in favour of tougher sentences for anybody convicted of possessing a knife for a second time.

The Enfield North Conservative MP Nick de Bois put forward report-stage amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill for mandatory jail sentences for repeat offences, on 17 June 2014.

Under the plans, anyone aged over 18 caught with a knife twice would receive an automatic six-month jail sentence, with a 4 month detention for 16- and 17-year-olds.

He said Parliament must send a "clear and unequivocal message" that it is unacceptable to carry a knife, claiming that sentences are too lenient and can fuel knife crime.

Labour supported the measures "in the knowledge they are not enough in themselves to tackle the problem and they are a proportionate, not a draconian response".

Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter said it was not true for the Lib Dems - who are at odds with their Tory coalition partners over mandatory sentences for knife possession - to say the changes would remove the discretion of judges when sentencing.

Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said mandatory sentences could lead to innocent people being imprisoned.

But Mr de Bois commented that he had "not quite got this right", while shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said Mr Clegg's "lack of knowledge... is frankly shocking".

Julian Huppert, who sits on the Home Affairs Committee, acknowledged knife crime is a problem, but challenged the view that mandatory sentences are the answer.

"We should remain tough on knife crime, but we should be tough on the causes of knife crime. We shouldn't just do what looks tough," the Lib Dem argued.

Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: "Although both coalition parties are fully committed to protecting the public, with regard to these particular new clauses, policy agreement has not been reached so it will be for the whole House to decide upon them at the conclusion of this debate."

Senior Tory Cabinet members Theresa May and Michael Gove have declared their support for the amendments, but Tory ministers abstained in the vote because it was not agreed as official government policy due to the coalition split.

The House divided on the proposed new clause tabled by Mr de Bois, and agreed by 404 votes to 53 to add it to the bill.

MPs went on to give the bill a third reading, meaning it will now be passed to the House of Lords for further consideration.

Part one of the debate can be viewed here.

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