UK Politics

Lib Dem minister Simon Hughes attacks knife crime plans

Simon Hughes

Automatically jailing people for carrying knives could make young people more likely to commit crime, Lib Dem Justice Minister Simon Hughes has said.

The coalition is split over proposals by Tory Justice Secretary Chris Grayling for mandatory jail sentences for anyone caught with a knife twice.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is attempting to veto the plan.

But it has won support from Labour leader Ed Miliband, ahead of a Commons vote.

MPs will have a chance to debate the proposal on Monday, when an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill tabled by Conservative backbencher Nick de Bois comes before the Commons.

Downing Street said Prime Minister David Cameron will give "very serious consideration" to whether the government will support the amendment.

'Rehabilitation'

Mr Hughes denied the Lib Dems' position was a sign of "weakness", insisting that removing judges' discretion on sentencing was not the most effective way of tackling knife crime.

He said the proposals could lead to younger teenagers ending up in jail after being pressurised by older youngsters to carry knives for them.

Mr Hughes also warned that sending youngsters to jail can direct them into a life of crime.

He said: "If you send somebody to jail, possibly for the first time, the likelihood is and the experience often is that they come out, having met the sort of people they are in prison with, more likely to commit an offence.

"The whole transforming rehabilitation policy of the government is to try to not have people being sent to prison for short periods because we know how often they are the sort of people who, when they come out, go back to prison again.

"We want to be tough on people carrying knives and carrying guns. There's no weakness about this. The question is what is effective.

"We believe that to give the judge the power to give a very tough sentence but, in circumstances where it justifies it, to have the flexibility to say 'I don't think in this circumstance that you going to prison is the right answer' is the most effective remedy and most in the interest of the public."

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and London Mayor Boris Johnson have both backed Chris Grayling's proposed new law.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, the most senior judge in England and Wales, has also called for an urgent review of sentencing for youths carrying knives, saying it was a "major problem" among 12- to 14-year-olds.

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