Serious Violence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:16 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray 4:16 pm, 15th May 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Gavin Newlands. It is important that he highlights the success, as others have, of the violence reduction unit in Scotland. As he says, it is a model that has been praised across the country and across the world.

Importantly, we must recognise that it is not the answer to all our problems. I do not think that that is what he was suggesting. When I questioned witnesses at the Home Affairs Committee, it was clear that we can learn from it—there is no doubt about it—but to say that it is the answer to all our problems would be gravely wrong. We look at good practice across the country and across the world, which is important, but we should not just say, “Well, if it works in Glasgow, it can be moved down to London”, because, for example, things that Police Scotland does in Glasgow do not have the same positive impact in my constituency of Moray. We have to remember that there are different solutions for different problems across the country.

It might seem strange for a Scottish Member to be speaking on an issue that is largely devolved, but I am a member of the Home Affairs Committee, and this is an issue that the entire Committee takes very seriously. I look forward to listening to the Chair, Yvette Cooper, and other members later.

I did think that it was important to contribute to a debate on this subject. It is important that this debate is being held on the Floor of the House of Commons. I agree with the shadow Home Secretary that it is welcome that the Home Secretary led this debate for the Government and the shadow Home Secretary led it for the Opposition. Only when we get the top players in this entire Parliament discussing this issue of great importance will we give it the respect it is due. The fact is that we have dedicated so much time to it on the Floor of the House of Commons, and there is clearly interest across Parliament and from various different MPs across the country.

We listened to the Home Secretary, and in multiple interventions he was challenged on what the Government are doing. We also listened to what the Opposition are doing. This is a serious issue—it is a matter of importance for the entire country—but I will be honest: I have been disappointed by the contributions so far from those on the Opposition Benches. [Interruption.] I am sorry if that disappoints the shadow Home Secretary and if my disappointment in her is disappointing, but I have to say that all we have heard today is problems, not solutions. She says there is not enough funding for x, y or z—I intervened on the shadow Home Secretary when she was saying we need more police officers and more funding for the police—yet the Opposition vote against such funding because it is not enough. It might not be enough in the eyes of the Opposition, but surely it is better than what they are currently saying is not enough. Any increase should be supported across Parliament. It seems very hollow outside Parliament for them to try to explain that they believe there should be more funding for the police—more resources going into the police, more officers employed, more youth workers, more x, y and z—yet when there are opportunities to support the Government on a cross-party basis with increased funding for these vital resources, Opposition Members vote against that.

I shall speak briefly about the public health approach and the joined-up approach. When, last week, the Minister appeared before the Committee, I put it to her that it is positive that we can get Departments working together on such a crucial issue, but that there is a risk that when a cross-Government approach is adopted there are too many people in charge and no one takes overall responsibility. Is violent crime the most important issue for the Education Department or the Health Department or the Home Office? At times there is a need for leadership, and I worry that by taking too much of a public health approach—by combining all the Departments to say “this is a priority”—we could lose some emphasis and some leadership.

I nevertheless support the Government’s approach. We have joined-up working so we can also have joined-up understanding and joined-up solutions. On balance I think it is the right way to go, but we must always remember the potential pitfalls. I worry that if an issue becomes a priority for all areas, it can become a priority for none.

The Home Secretary and others mentioned drugs. In some parts of the country there has been significant success in tackling drugs. However, as a constituent mentioned to me recently, when there is a big drugs bust and drug dealers are brought to task by the police, sentenced and removed from the community, we should not suppose that demand for drugs has reduced, because it has not—it is simply that the supply of drugs at that point has reduced. Our local papers, certainly in Moray, understandably write very positively about big drugs busts that succeed in getting drug dealers. Such busts are very rare in Moray—we live in a very safe part of the country—but when they occur the local papers praise how much the police have done to remove those people from our streets. However, we have not removed the problem. More must be done to enable us to understand the underlying reasons people use drugs and why there is a need to tackle those drug dealers. As I say, a drugs bust does not get rid of the demand; it only reduces supply at that point in time.

County lines took up a large part of the speeches by the Home Secretary, the shadow Home Secretary and others. The problem seems to have increased unbelievably over the past few years. As the Home Secretary mentioned, the current estimate is that in 2019 there are 2,000 county lines in operation across the country. Just four years ago, in 2015, the National Crime Agency was saying that only seven police forces were affected by county lines. By 2017, that had increased to every police force in the country, and it is incredible that there has been such a large increase in county lines in such a short time.

I welcome the approach the Government have taken to tackle that issue, because it affects every single constituency. A crime that begins in London can rapidly end up in Aberdeen, and if it is in Aberdeen it can quickly spread to Moray and other parts of the country. Something that we believe is a crime problem in the south of England can, because of county lines, quickly become a crime problem across the country.

Young people are intrinsically involved in the problems we are experiencing with serious violence and, I believe, in the solutions to serious violence. At the Home Affairs Committee about three or four weeks ago, one of our fellow MPs was appearing before us as a member of the panel of witnesses, and she made it very clear that Members of the Youth Parliament had voted knife crime their top campaign issue. Despite that, we, as members of the Committee—I would be interested to hear the remarks of the Chair of the Committee—have not questioned or listened to young people. We take panels of senior police officers or experts in their fields—the Children’s Commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner and others—but we do not hear directly from young people.

Yes, it is important that we, as Members, can stand up in Parliament and express young people’s thoughts, and pass on what they have said in the Youth Parliament, and the fact that they have made knife crime their top priority, but surely we should also be listening to them directly—listening to their concerns, listening to what they have to say, and listening to their solutions. It would be very useful to hear from the Youth Parliament in this inquiry and in other inquiries going forward. When some young people gave us a confidential briefing, that was perhaps one of the most enlightening aspects of our evidence session on serious and violent crime.

That brings me to my final point. I often refer to my interest outside Parliament in sport. The young people we heard from, who were involved in the programme and wanted to speak to the Committee anonymously, felt that sport could have done so much to take them away from a life of crime. When they got into a life of crime and serious violence, it was sport that they were able to focus on to ensure they got out of that habit.