Drug Crime

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:12 pm on 20th April 2022.

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Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Conservative, Aberconwy 3:12 pm, 20th April 2022

The hon. Member makes an interesting suggestion, which I will return to later in my speech. It would be remiss of me to give the great reveal now.

I have the very great privilege of representing a beautiful part of the world, Aberconwy in north Wales. Two thirds of the constituency lies within Snowdonia and the rest is on the coast. We have the walled, medieval town of Conwy and we have Llandudno, which many people probably know is the largest resort in Wales, and it is a beautiful place. Unfortunately, in common with many other, often very beautiful, coastal communities, it also has problems with poverty, deprivation and drug abuse. How often do we hear about poverty and drug abuse together, and about the associated crime?

We have heard about the terrible problems that come with that, and I do not want to dwell on them, except to say that the involvement of children and young people, particularly through the phenomenon of county lines gangs that has grown across the UK in the last decade, is quite awful. Things once attributed to the despicable behaviour of adults are now attributed to children. The age of children doing those things, carrying weapons, and being involved in and exposed to that deprivation, is ever lower. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley for bringing this debate forward and allowing us to address these issues.

I pay tribute to the brave police officers in north Wales who are working around the clock to disrupt and break up many county lines operations—in particular, the astonishing work of the intercept team that covers the whole region and was set up to clamp down on organised crime and drug gangs throughout north Wales. The team use innovative technology to ensure they are able to intercept and disrupt criminals, making north Wales a hostile environment for crime groups to operate in. Since their inception in February 2020, they have recovered controlled drugs, tens of thousands of pounds in cash, mobile phones and weapons such as knives, Tasers and worse, and they have made hundreds of proactive arrests.

In March this year alone, the team made 16 arrests for a range of offences and seized more than 100 wraps of class A drugs, 40 bags of class B drugs and £5,000 in cash. The officers have carried out warrants, stopped vehicles and made arrests linked to possession of controlled drugs, drink and drug driving, and other driving offences. It takes courage and dedication to deliver that kind of performance. Th team’s protection of the public is invaluable and they are a credit to the communities they serve in north Wales. I dare say other Members here can say the same of forces operating in their areas.

I turn to the importance of the community and community groups in dealing with this issue. As I and Ronnie Cowan suggested, the first action of the sheriff was to gather a posse; the key point was that the community did not lose ownership of the problem. In western civilisation, we live in an atomised society. We are individualist in our approach and become very transactional in our relationships, and as a result we tend to say, “That is their job.” In debates about litter, I have often heard people say, “I am not picking up that piece of litter because it would cost someone their job—someone is paid to do that.” There is a strange tension in our society that means that we start to have a dissociated view of each other and the different things that happen, and yet in that lesson of the posse, even though the town had hired and paid the sheriff and the deputies, it still had the responsibility.

I will highlight that idea in a couple of comments with respect to poverty. Poverty and drugs exist in almost a death spiral, with the two locked together. Which comes first? It is a case of cause and effect. Very often, they are a cause, but equally those who are locked into poverty are preyed upon by criminal gangs. Some years ago, the Centre for Social Justice produced some thought-provoking work about pathways to poverty, which included drug abuse, educational failure and family breakdown.

The idea of pathways is helpful because, as other hon. Members have mentioned, there are sometimes entry points to these pathways through socially acceptable behaviour. Alcohol is a socially acceptable drug, yet it can become an entry point into harder drug abuse, as can prescription medication. We should not be ignorant of that or imagine that problems with illicit drugs exist in isolation.

At one scheme—I will not mention where it is, except to say it is in north Wales—I spoke to veterans of special forces who in effect used a cocktail of alcohol, across-the-counter and prescription medicines, and illicit drugs, to manage the highs and lows, the uppers and downers, of the post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from some of their experiences in the service of this country. That is just one example of how this kind of problem can develop.