The latest national statistics show that the number of crimes recorded in North Ayrshire fell by 36 per cent between 2009-10 and 2018-19, which represents a reduction of just over 3,300 crimes. Over the same period, recorded crime fell by 27 per cent across Scotland.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has criticised the UK Government’s ability to tackle organised crime, including human and drug trafficking, drug dealing and cybercrime, and has suggested that the UK Government look to Scotland for answers. How is organised crime tackled in North Ayrshire and across Scotland, and to what extent is that reducing crime in our communities?
Kenneth Gibson raises an important point. He will probably know that I chair the serious organised crime task force, which the Lord Advocate attends, and that partners on that continue to take forward a range of activity to reduce the harm that is caused by serious organised crime in North Ayrshire and across Scotland.
That effort is supported by state-of-the-art facilities at the Scottish crime campus at Gartcosh, and by the collaborative approaches that its facilities engender, which law enforcement colleagues elsewhere across the United Kingdom look at with great envy. In fact, in July this year at Westminster, the chief constable of Merseyside Police, in evidence to the Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry into serious and organised crime, said:
“A lot of good things are happening ... in Scotland that we should keep a very close eye on”.
The Scottish Government is, of course, keen to continue the effort against serious organised crime, including human trafficking, which Kenneth Gibson mentioned. We routinely share information where we can, and when we can share good practice with forces and other partners across the United Kingdom, we are always happy to do so.
Not only has violent crime risen for the fourth year in a row, to the highest level in seven years, but clear-up rates for violent crime have dropped to their lowest level in eight years. There are more robberies and serious assaults, and fewer of the perpetrators are being brought to justice. Does the cabinet secretary have any answers to that? It does not seem so.
It is easy for anybody—particularly Liam Kerr—to pick out a statistic from a given year, but what he wants to look at is the longer-term trends, which are that violent crime has reduced drastically, by 43 per cent over the past decade, and recorded crime has fallen by almost half, over the same period.
Let us contrast that with Tory-run England and Wales, where the Conservatives have been in power for the past decade and where adults are more likely to be victims of crime. That is probably because the Conservatives have cut 20,000 officers, when we have increased officer numbers by more than 1,000. I will take no lectures from Liam Kerr and the Conservatives on how to deal with crime and law and order in Scotland.
If Mr Kerr is serious about tackling the issue, he should look at the underlying causes of some of the rise in violent crime. For example, we know that part of it is to do with operational reasons around stop and searches for drug possession. We are serious about reducing crime, which is why we have had such a good track record for just over a decade. Liam Kerr and the Conservative Party could learn from that.
One area of concern in the recent statistics is the rise in crimes of a sexual nature, which have gone up by 8 per cent and are at the highest level since 1971. In Glasgow, where the figure has gone up by 9 per cent, and South Lanarkshire, where it has gone up by 20 per cent, that has caused real anxiety. Does the cabinet secretary recognise the serious issue and the challenge that is presented by the rise in crimes of a sexual nature? What will the Government do to tackle the issue?
I thank James Kelly for asking that serious question on an important subject. I appreciate the tone in which he asked it.
My answer is not too different from the answer that I gave Liam Kerr, in that I will say that it is important to consider long-term trends, and the long-term trend over the past eight years has been a rise in sexual offences. A number of reasons underlie that rise, including the fact that a number of the offences are historical offences. We hope that that means that people now have more confidence about reporting, although I know from having talked to a number of victims’ organisations and so on that there is more we can do to increase confidence.
More worrying is that there has been a rise in use of technology in sexual offences, with cyber-enabled sexual offences occurring more often. Perhaps even more worrying is the number of offences of a sexual nature involving young people. To answer James Kelly’s question directly, I say that Dr Catherine Dyer has done an incredible piece of work on that particular matter. Her final report is due to be with us shortly: I will update James Kelly and Parliament once we have it.