Drug Crime

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:42 pm on 20th April 2022.

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Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Home Office) 4:42 pm, 20th April 2022

I was talking about online drugs and how easy it is for kids to buy them. Fiona Spargo-Mabbs, an inspirational woman in my constituency—the Minister will share a platform with her soon—has brought together a group of mothers whose children died from taking drugs that were bought largely online. I am sure that she will talk to the Minister about the need to educate all our young people on what to do when they are confronted with drugs and on the causes and impacts of taking them. All our children come across or are invited to take drugs in some form or another.

Our police are ill-equipped to deal with the advancement of technology and its use by criminals. Sir Michael Barber spoke of a “Betamax police force” stuck in the analogue era while fighting a digital threat. A Sky News report recently found that officers are not aware of the tools they can use to investigate online crimes or gain online evidence. Crest, the crime and justice think-tank that we all use a lot, notes that there is a technological knowledge gap in police forces.

In the ’80s and ’90s, the Home Office had at its core strong teams that produced top-notch research on the state of the drugs market and its ebbs, flows and patterns, but those teams have been sadly cut under this Government. We have learned from increasing drug use over recent years that we need to understand more about where they are coming from and how to tackle them. In truth, although we welcome the 10-year plan that the Government introduced last year, it was too little and, in many cases, too late. The drug dealers have got so far ahead of us that it will take a long time for us to catch up.

Finally, I have some questions for the Minister on how we can tackle some of those issues. We have talked about the core need for neighbourhood police officers to tackle drugs and some of the impacts of drug crime, be they street begging, drug dealing on our streets or other antisocial behaviour. This week, the Labour party has produced evidence showing that the number of neighbourhood police officers per person has fallen dramatically: there is only one neighbourhood police officer per every 2,400 people in this country, whereas 10 years ago the figure was about one per 1,600. That is a very dramatic drop in neighbourhood policing, and we all think that that needs to be addressed.

I ask the Minister to look at the responses of the sectors to his 10-year drugs plan. The specialist drugs organisations remain concerned about the focus on abstinence, the adequacy of the out-of-court scheme for casual users, and whether the real victims of county lines—the young dealers—will actually be helped. What has he done in response to those responses to his strategy?

Will the Minister consider introducing more police to our neighbourhoods and ensuring that more of the new police officers are on our streets, in our neighbourhoods, as Labour has called for continually? Will he consider police hubs, which we have talked about today and Labour has called for, where we can have police in our neighbourhoods, on our streets, tackling antisocial behaviour and lower-level crime?

Is the Minister considering the number of digital and data analysts in the Home Office and our police forces, so that we can understand some of the newer challenges posed by drugs being sold online? Will the Minister look at the county lines networks? There is lots of evidence that closing a phone line does not stop the drug dealing at all, because most drug dealers will keep their phone numbers elsewhere. If the police take a phone, dealers will just get another one and that will not stop the drug dealing. What conversations is the Minister having with his colleagues in DCMS and beyond about the sale of drugs online? What will he do to tackle that?