HL Deb 14 April 1993 vol 544 cc1060-1

2.41 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many police forces have offered an amnesty in the past three years to those who hand in guns and knives, and how many weapons have been recovered as a result.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, firearms amnesties are organised on a national basis. The last amnesty was in 1988. Local operations by seven police forces in Great Britain have resulted in the surrender of 7,494 bladed weapons in the past three years.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply although I had hoped that it would be more specific. Will the Minister undertake to ask his right honourable friend the Home Secretary whether he can instruct the police forces of this country to hold an amnesty? It is widely known that far more criminal offences now, and indeed going back over the past three years, involve the use of guns and knives.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the only amnesty possible is one that relates to firearms. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has to ask his right honourable friend the Attorney-General not to prosecute those people who have broken the law in possessing weapons incorrectly. Clearly, if we have an amnesty too often it undermines the purpose of the law. Knives are in use every day and there is no such thing as an amnesty for them. It is for chief officers periodically to take such initiatives as they wish through which people may voluntarily give up their knives.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, can the noble Earl say whether the figures he gave include the recent amnesty by Strathclyde police force? Does he agree that one of the problems with an amnesty is that almost everyone who surrenders a knife has no intention of using it in the first place? Does he further agree that the problem lies with those who do not surrender knives and the ready availability of knives and weapons from various retail outlets in this country to irresponsible people? Can I encourage the noble Earl to look closely at that aspect and to try —I accept that it is difficult—to come up with some solution to the problem of supply rather than the problem of surrender?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the figures included Strathclyde where the police had an undertaking called Operation Blade and 4,600 knives were handed in. As to the second question, obviously one is always concerned to prevent people using knives. But the majority of knives are in common, every day use and it is therefore very difficult to prohibit them. Certain knives are prohibited under the Criminal Justice Act 1988, such as swordsticks, belt buckle knives, push daggers, butterfly knives, death stars, footclaws and hand claws. These and all sorts of other things are prohibited; as indeed are flick knives under the offensive weapons Act of 1959.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my noble friend referred to the case of Strathclyde. Is it not the case that the law in Scotland regarding carrying knives is less strict than it is in England? Would it not be more to the point if the laws of England and Scotland were harmonised rather than more amnesties encouraged?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, people often suggest that the laws of England and Scotland should be harmonised, but it does not always work out in practice.