Lib Dems fail to derail knives law

Andover Advertiser: Proposed reforms of the judicial system have been criticised by Labour. Proposed reforms of the judicial system have been criticised by Labour.

MPs have voted to back mandatory jail terms for people caught twice with a knife, despite opposition from the Liberal Democrat wing of the coalition.

Nick De Bois, Tory MP for Enfield North, tabled new clauses to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill which would introduce the tough new measures and with Labour support they passed the Commons 404 to 53, majority 351.

The Bill was given an unopposed third reading and will be sent to the Lords for further scrutiny but Justice Minister Jeremy Wright had earlier said the Government would leave the Commons to dictate policy on the issue.

He 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."

During the Bill's report stage in the Commons, Mr De Bois said: "Some have argued that sending a signal may not be enough, that potential offenders do not think of the consequences of pocketing a knife.

"Quite simply, in the vast majority of cases, let's face it, to kill someone with a knife you first have to carry a knife, and I believe our courts are dispensing sentences for possession of a knife in thousands of cases that are quite simply treated by offenders as little more than an occupational hazard.

"With nearly 8,000 last year being fines and cautions, I would suggest that in some cases that fuels knife crime and does nothing to halt knife crime."

Under the proposals, 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.

Among the 53 no votes were 44 Liberal Democrats, including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the party's chief whip Don Foster and Justice Minister Simon Hughes.

One Conservative voted against Mr De Bois, Reigate MP Crispin Blunt - a former justice minister. Tory Geoffrey Cox voted both for and against the amendment, a technical abstention.

As expected, Conservative ministers did not take part in the vote.

Responding during the third reading of the Bill, s hadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan welcomed the proposals aiming to tackle knife crime.

He told the Commons: "Even thought the Government couldn't come to an agreed position, ministers shouldn't give up any pretence that this Government is no longer a coalition. It isn't. It's disintegrating by the day."

Mr Khan went on: " We, on this side of the House, know it's a huge disservice to victims of crime though to pretend this change in law is a panacea. It isn't.

"And (Mr de Bois) recognises... that we need to do much more to educate people that carrying a knife is unnecessary and unacceptable.

"(We need) work in schools, colleges, youth clubs and with families to tackle this - these aren't mutually exclusive.

"Only then will we divert people away from this destructive lifestyle."

Introducing the Bill at third reading, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling welcomed the proposed laws for longer sentences for people who cause death or serious injury by driving while disqualified, more protection to children from grooming, and multi-million pound "secure colleges" - a policy criticised by Labour.

Mr Grayling told MPs: "This is an important Bill that toughens up sentences for serious and repeat offenders and strengthens the justice system itself.

"I've always been clear that those who break the rules should face the consequences and that protecting the public is our top priority."

He added: "We are not a Government that legislates without taking into account the views of Parliament.

"We have listened carefully to the valuable discussion and debate in this House and the Bill has been improved as a result."

On the Bill, Labour's Mr Khan said: "This is a poor bill. We know (Mr Grayling) was sucking up to the Prime Minister when he begged his Cabinet colleagues earlier this year for bills, any bills, to fill the gaping hole in the parliamentary schedules.

"What he brought forward was a mish-mash of leftovers. Ministers have thrown into the Bill their scrag ends and afterthoughts. It makes for an incoherent mess."

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