Page last updated at 10:02 GMT, Friday, 23 January 2009

Knife summit attack 'ludicrous'

Kenny MacAskill
Mr MacAskill is in Canada to promote the Homecoming campaign

Attacks on Scotland's justice secretary for not attending a knife crime summit have been dismissed as "ludicrous".

Opposition MSPs have criticised Kenny MacAskill, who is visiting Canada to promote the Homecoming campaign at Burns supper events.

Liberal Democrat MSP Robert Brown said it had been an "error of judgement".

However, Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing - whose portfolio includes violence, anti-social behaviour and youth crime - dismissed the claims.

Mr Ewing, who will attend the conference, said: "I think this attack is pretty ludicrous and, if I may say so, pitiful.

"People don't want to hear attacks by politicians on each other; what they want to hear about is how politicians can prevent young men attacking each other."

However, Mr Brown said Mr MacAskill had made "an error of judgement" in giving priority to his trip to Canada.

"It's an important issue and there's been a head of steam building up around the whole issue of knife crime," he told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme.

"I do think it requires the cabinet secretary, in this instance, to be at it."

The event was inspired by campaigner John Muir, whose son was stabbed to death in 2007.

It is hoped the summit will generate fresh thinking on dealing with the problem.

Mr Muir, whose son Damian was murdered in Greenock, brought a petition to Holyrood which has led to calls for automatic jail sentences for anyone caught carrying a knife.

Damian Muir
Damian Muir was stabbed to death in Greenock in 2007

Labour MSP Frank McAveety, convener of the parliament's public petitions committee, recognised the work being done by the Scottish Government on knife crime, but said many questions had been left unanswered, such as the attitude of police towards tackling the problem in local communities and its impact on hospital staff.

The debate, to be held in Holyrood's main chamber, will also hear from members of the legal profession and community groups.

Mr Muir described the event as one of the most comprehensive steps taken to overcome Scotland's "knife culture".

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond this week described knife crime as a serious problem in Scotland.

He also said Scotland currently had a historically high number of police officers and the lowest levels of recorded crime in 25 years.

In the wake of the summit, the petitions committee will make recommendations to ministers, who are bringing forward legislation to reform the criminal justice system.

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