By Joseph Willits
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Enfield North MP Nick de Bois has won plaudits from the Sun in pursuing his knife amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. The Sun describes "a lowly MP who humbled a Prime Minister"who "refused to give up, and eventually won the support of the PM's own knife advisor, Brooke Kinsella".
The amendment states that under 18s who use a knife in a threatening or endangering fashion will face a mandatory six-month prison sentence. 40 backbench MPs are supporting the amendment.
De Bois's perseverance with the issue stems from ten fatal stabbings happening in Enfield North since 2008 – the most recent being the murder of Stephen Grisales in September 2010, killed by under 18s in a knife attack. It bears no hallmark of political wrangling or getting one over on the Government, but of immense community concern. There is a sense, which the Sun has picked up on, that encouragement from the Government has been minimal up until now.
Yesterday in Parliament, de Bois presented a petition, asking the Government to introduce the amendment. It declares:
"that the creation of a new offence of using a knife to threaten or endanger a person is welcome, as is the proposal to introduce a mandatory six month custodial sentence for those convicted of this offence; further declares that the new offence and sentence is only set to apply to those over 18 years of age, despite serious knife crimes being committed in this borough and elsewhere by people younger than 18. The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Justice to give urgent consideration to amendments to ensure that the new offence also applies to under 18s"
In comments to the Enfield Independent, de Bois said that "this petition leaves the Government in no doubt that my constituents want a law that says if a 15, 16, or 17-year-old uses a knife to threaten or endanger someone they will go to jail".
In July, Nick de Bois and David Burrowes wrote a letter to David Cameron, asking him to "provide assurance from the provisions for mandatory sentences for an offence of making threats with a knife". In the letter, both MPs requested "urgent consideration of an amendment to the new offence so that it will apply to U18s who are increasingly responsible for the prevalence of knife crime."
Until now, and with the Sun's recent coverage, the Labour party had made no mention of the amendment, nor offered any support. At Wednesday's PMQs however, Labour MPs John Spellar and Ian Austin asked Cameron to apologise to Brooke Kinsella, whose comments in the Sun described promises being "broken" on the issue. De Bois' amendment, however, has been on the Public Bill Committee from virtually the outset.
In de Bois' constituency itself, where the knife crime has become a community wide issue, with his amendment being backed by the Enfield Independent, only yesterday a Labour councillor said his amendment was "not the answer to the problems we face". Councillor Ozzie Uzoanya, in a letter to the Evening Standard said if the amendment was passed "it could create a situation where the chances of young people with a criminal record securing a job drop significantly, storing up problems for the future" and further alienating young people. On a national level it appears Labour are responding to populist sentiment, but in Enfield itself seems to be ill judged in grasping community sentiment with regards to knife crime.