It’s not the knives, it’s the thugs we need to tackle

Today the PM will have a knife summit.
He is right to be alarmed by the casual violence of young people against each other, often using knives. He is correct in thinking we all want something to be done to try to stop the woundings and the slaughter.
He should beware those who think there is an easy solution, or those who think it is a shortage of legislation which is the problem.
These horrendous crimes are already against the law. It is illegal to draw a knife to threaten or stab someone. The problem is that there are children and young adults in our communities who break this law as part of their sad, bleak, gang-based lives. They have been let down by, or have avoided contact with, the world of opportunities that free education was meant to bring them. All the adults in their lives have collectively let them down or failed to connect. They have not been brought up, as the majority are, to avoid fights with weapons and to find more constructive things to do than hanging around looking for trouble in town centres and on street corners. It is not easy to solve the problem of schools which fail to encourage or spark their talents, parents who fail to provide that love and discipline young people need, and other adults in their local community who avoid contact through disinterest or fear. These are the issues the PM should be tackling.
Instead we learn that the government are examining how, and whether, to make it more of an offence to carry a knife. The knife is not the guilty party – it is a dumb instrument which has many peaceful uses. The user is the guilty party when it is turned against human flesh.
Before legislating further, the PM needs to think about three issues.
Firstly, there are many legitimate reasons why people may need to carry a knife. I may be bringing home new knives for the kitchen from the shops, or old knives from the sharpeners. Many people need a knife as part of the tools of their trade, from carpet-fitter to roofer. You may want to take knives in your picnic hamper to cut the fruit, or have a knife on you to cut your lunchtime roll at the office. On a country walk you might want a knife to fashion a stick or toy for children in your party.
Secondly, banning people carrying knives may well succeed with all of us who try to be law abiding, but will it work with the lawbreakers we are out to hit? If they are prepared to break serious law by wounding others, they may not be deterred by a law which bans the knife.
Thirdly, if they are deterred by it, they could adopt different weapons. All types of solid object used for everyday purposes can be weapons in the wrong hands. Thugs could do a lot of damage with a stone, a metal pen, a bike security chain and much else.
I am afraid, PM, in this broken society there are no easy answers. Usually, this government produces legislation as if it were just another press release to try to grab the headlines for a day or two, leaving the underlying position untouched or worse. Legislation often makes the life of the law-abiding more difficult, but fails to tackle the true criminals. Please Gordon, do it differently this time. Start to work on what has gone wrong in the schools and on some housing estates, which has left us with some feral youths in gangs, with nothing better to do than commit casual violence


  1. Kit
    June 5, 2008

    The sad truth is if I was a kid on one of these housing estates I would carry a knife.

  2. Brian Tomkinson
    June 5, 2008

    I heard that this was a breakfast meeting called at short notice and realised that it was no more than gesture politics from a discredited Prime Minister, desperate to improve his image and keep his job.

  3. James Scott
    June 5, 2008

    Labour has produced more initiatives than I care to think about – all come to nothing as they have neither the political will nor the nouse to make anything work. As a country however and in particular Parliament, we continue to ignore the one deterrent that every person fears and that is physical punishment. The introduction of birching for offences ranging from vandalism to assault would not only drastically reduce the number of incidents taking place but would initially be a viable alternative to prison.

    Of course I realise that being part of an 'integrated' Europe is a major handicap to implement such an approach but I suspect that our politicians use this as an excuse for not even entertaining the idea and pursuing other ineffective policies.

    This society has always had problem families some of which used weapons like knives and razors, but their number and their impact on the public was managed effectively by discipline enforced by schools, police and the courts. Individuals who still transgressed were subjected to corporal punishment or approved schools or both.

    This country will eventually have to 'bite the bullet' and accept that the behaviour of some individuals cannot be curtailed by reason alone. Can we hope that parliament will have a proper debate about crime and punishment and when necessary remind Europe that we can manage our own affairs?

  4. Letters From A Tory
    June 5, 2008

    Classic Labour – deal with the symptoms, get a headline out, leave the root causes untouched.

  5. Rose
    June 5, 2008

    I agree.

    Quite apart from all those knives and guns boys used to carry about in the fifties, let us also bear in mind the Swiss law which requires all Swiss males over 18 to possess a gun – to uphold their armed neutrality; and the origin of Karate, which was imported from the Chinese mainland into that part of Japan where all weapons were banned. It is the way young men are brought up which determines what they think is manly behaviour, not the tools or weapons at their disposal.

  6. Blue Eyes
    June 5, 2008

    Sorry John you are out of date! The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 outlaws the carrying of offensive weapons in a public place. That includes knives made, intended or adapted for use as a weapon. The Criminal Justice Act makes it an offence to carry a blade or pointed article in a public place. People who have lawful authority or "reasonable excuse" are not guilty of this offence – that means that taking a knife home from a shop is allowed, but it is up to the person carrying it to prove that he has a reasonable excuse for carrying it.

    We don't need new legislation because it is already there!!!

    Having said that, you might ask why the CPS doesn't choose to take everyone to court!

    Reply: I was talking about the government's consideration of toughening or changing the law. My piece argues that it is already against the law – that is not the issue. The issue is behaviour.

  7. Neil Craig
    June 5, 2008

    Used to be almost mandatory for Boy Scouts to carry knives.

    The corelation between fatherless ness (not single parenthood) has been thouroughly proven in the US, but for reasons of PCness is little discused.

    It could easily be proven here just by making a survey of a random 500 prisoners in Britain to see what proportion grew up in a fatherless home & compare it to the rest of the population. The same result applies to suicides, inability to read , homelessness & most forms of social failure.

    For purely political reasons these facts go unmentioned in polite company but they almost wholly explain the high crime rate in the Anglo-American world, particularly compared to societies far poorer than us.

    On this point David Cameron & IDS before him are absolutely right about society needing to encourage the family. This will not be a quick fix, it will take at least a generation, but all the more necessary because of that.

  8. adam
    June 5, 2008

    You see this is a very deep issue. It goes to the heart of our society and is a symptom of all the things PC wont talk about.

    But in any case the government has only a small interest in reducing crime, extra votes.

    The lobby for higher crime levels is much stronger.
    High crime helps justify id cards, cctv and other cameras, council surveillance and helps destroy the nasty middle class sole traders who wont vote labour.

  9. adam
    June 5, 2008

    The government has had a decade to tackle crime.
    Every time when asked they said it is the fear of crime that is the problem.

    Jack Straw appears to be doing all he can to help the average criminal.
    There is a reason most do not walk out of open prisons.

    It is that left wing backwardness about who they are supposed to help that is the cause of much of the problem.

    Stop and search will yet again intimidate the innocent.

  10. […] …and John Redwood agrees that more legislation is not the […]

  11. John
    June 5, 2008

    We cannot reintroduce the death penalty without coming out of the EU.
    What an opportunity!
    We could stop paying all that money to be dictated to by foreigners, and get rid of a lot of (undesirables -ed) into the bargain. In my book if somebody is old enough to kill another person, then they are old enough to pay the ultimate price. The chances of executing an innocent is now negligible, and it would stop the hundreds of people that have been killed by released murderers.

  12. Socrates
    June 5, 2008

    It seems to me that young people in inner city areas are making a logical choice about their safety. If they feel that the chances of being wounded or killed by being unamed out weigh the chances of being caught by the police whilst carrying a knife, it's a no brainer.
    It is an indictment of our police state that because it is difficult for them to distiguish between those who carry weapons offensively from those who merely seek to defend themselves both should be equally prosecuted. No doubt Gordon's socialist egalitarianism requires the treatment of victims the same as offenders but it isn't fair or British.

  13. Steven_L
    June 6, 2008

    I used to carry a pen-knife as a teenager. I grew up in a rural area, was a fisherman and a Boy-Scout. Lot's of people I knew carried them too.

    In my view the problem with most of society is a small minority of psychopaths. Amongst the inner-sity lower classes teenage psychos stab other kids.

    Where I grew up they attacked other children with their fists, vandalised peoples property and burgled cars and houses.

    In the grown up middle-class world they run dodgy damp-proofing firms or persuade old ladies to part with their life savings for some other reason. They might try to feed their husbands ground up glass or something.

    I once had an electronics teacher who went on a rant about 'psychopaths' during our first lesson and how they had no place in his classroom. He referred to a pupil he had watched spend all lesson bending a piece fo copper wire so that it would fit into the live and neutral holes of a plug socket. Sure enough, at the end of the lesson he inserted it and was stopped before he could switch on the mains.

    We all thought the teacher to be a bit weird at the time, but now I think I know what he meant. They exist in all walks of life, the teenage knife crime is just a symptom of the fact that some people are inherently bad and need locking away.

  14. mikestallard
    June 6, 2008

    There are underlying things here which no NuLab politician can mention:
    1. The decline of family life. (What about gays and single Mums and the women's movement?)
    2. The decline of education. (Huge impersonal, uncontrolled, violent schools with fudged results, few teachers who can keep order, and tightly controlled governors).
    3. The decline of religion. (What is the point of life? Why not just give up? Why not hurt other people if they deserve it?)
    4. The decline of community life. (No villages, no street life, no knowledge of who other people are, no voluntary societies without a wealth of paperwork and suspicion (CRB?), constant moving about).
    5. Uncontrolled Immigration (sentence left out)
    6. Full up Prisons (Despite constant warnings, they are now full up. Criminals, even foreign ones, are now roaming the streets, having been let out of jail), (free free to commit more crimes -ed).

    I think that accounts for the constant initiatives – why change it if everything is all right really?

  15. Bazman
    June 6, 2008

    Legislation is a waste of time. The reaction to the more widespread carrying of guns was a prison sentence of five years that none of the offenders got. Even if they where to have received five years. The drug dealers or people involved in drugs, who most often carry guns. Would weigh up the fact that they are often have on their possession enough heroin for twenty years and the rival dealer has a gun.
    Until the public and the politicians grasp the drug problem, then for much of crime and petty crime it will be business as usual. The temperance drug movement has utterly and completely failed everyone and society.
    Knife and gun crime can be linked directly to this easy money, respect etc. Telling these teenagers they should have nothing and be happy or study for a good job against all the odds in a tale of noble poverty is pure nonsense and they know it, so against all the odds and nothing to loose they get involved with drugs and then weapons.
    Birching or locked up for the weekend? Pythonesque.

  16. Freeborn John
    June 6, 2008

    I agree with pretty much everything you written here, including that the criminal law should not be used like a press release on current issues of the day. You address the need to tackle the deep-seated social problems that underlie knife-crime, issues such as dysfunctional families and schools. You are correct about that but I would add that kids in the areas where these problems are occurring seem to be taking up knives to protect themselves, which indicates a loss of faith in the state. It seems to me that a greater police presence is needed in these localities until such time as the longer-term measures to repair ‘broken Britain’ bear fruit.

  17. Elgrebo
    June 6, 2008

    This Government will not see sense and will continue to be driven by the tabloid headlines into creating more unworkable and impractical laws. Banning all knives will not help matters, what's next – Screwdrivers, knitting needles… ?

  18. Atlas shrugged
    June 7, 2008

    Completely agree John

    Could you please indicate what percentage of Conservative MPs you would guess agree with you?

    It is nice to read common sense from an opposition MP. But it would be much nicer to know that I will be hearing it from the next British government.

    Reply: A majority

  19. Mark Wadsworth
    June 8, 2008

    I agree with nearly all of that. Nothing more to add.

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  21. screwdriver cordless
    July 3, 2009

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