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Public Services

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 1:02 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 1:02 pm, 16th October 2019

I have a long speech to get through; I will see if I can get the hon. Lady in later.

I recently joined the police in my constituency for the Give a Day to Policing initiative. It was incredibly interesting to see how things work on the frontline, including officers booking people into custody. When doing so, they have access to important EU databases that guarantee safety, because if somebody has been booked into custody and the police officer at the desk does not know whether they have outstanding warrants for violence in other countries, they will not be able to make an appropriate judgment about how that prisoner is treated in custody. It is very important that we have continued access to those databases.

The Guardian reported in July that the National Crime Agency was harvesting EU databases, just in case it did not have access to them in the event of Brexit. There is a fundamental issue about how we treat crime agencies in the UK. I noted recently a case in Govanhill in my constituency in which it took five years to bring to justice those involved in people trafficking from Slovakia to Glasgow only because of the co-operation of Police Scotland, UK forces, Europol, Eurojust and the Slovakian police force. I contend that, in the event of Brexit, and certainly a no-deal Brexit, that case would have been far more difficult to resolve. There will be cases going through the criminal process now that might not be concluded. We will be a lot less safe as a result of Brexit if those databases cannot be accessed.

Brexit also puts further pressure on our police services. It has been widely reported that police leave at the end of this month has been cancelled in many cases. That will have a huge impact on staff morale and the ability of forces to respond to everyday issues of crime on our doorsteps. The police need to be able to provide that service and to go about their job. They should not have to defend people who may end up trying to raid their local shop for bread because food supplies cannot get through. The Government have put people in a ludicrous position. In 2019 we should not be discussing the possibility of civil contingencies such as the Army coming to support the police on our streets, but that is the situation that this Government have driven us to.

I welcome the UK Government’s approach to the serious violence Bill. In Scotland and in Glasgow, we have significant experience of the impact of knife crime and what can be done to tackle it. It is welcome that the UK is following Scotland’s lead, but we await further details as to the effectiveness of that policy. The violence reduction unit in Scotland worked because it was organic; it came from grassroots experts who knew what they were doing, such as Medics Against Violence and the police; it was sustained; and it was a long-term plan. The UK Government need to think about the long term and to work across agencies in a truly co-operative fashion to make sure that the policy is successful.

For example, we have people in hospitals who can sit down with victims of knife crime when they come into A&E and make an intervention at that vulnerable time. We do not want people to walk out the door and go on to commit an act of revenge or further violence. Those mentors are very important in violence prevention. The UK Government would do well to look at that model. As a result, the murder rate in Glasgow has dropped by 60%, but we cannot be complacent about knife crime. We need to make sure that that is sustained.

I also ask the UK Government to look to Scotland with regard to the Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill. In Scotland, we have a presumption—not a ban—against short sentences. They are ineffective, because they put people into a cycle of prison. We need to make sure that people do not enter that cycle, because it is incredibly difficult for them to get out once they are in that system. I ask the UK Government to move away from the populism of, “Let’s lock everybody up.” Instead, they should consider the purpose of prison and the criminal justice system and look at models that move towards rehabilitation.