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 point. This debate is perhaps not the one to get into that, but some of the services to veterans exclude some of those who need them the most. Some services in receipt of large amounts of public moneys, for example, will not treat those with a criminal record, who are often the ones who are furthest from help and need it the most; we must be careful about that. The hon. Member makes a worthwhile point that I am sure will be explored on another day in another debate.

On the subject of interrupting pathways, how often have we heard that young people—we have heard of at least one such example this afternoon—are attracted into a lifestyle that offers them easy money and luxury goods because they cannot see another way in their community to achieve that? I am mindful of a report published by the Centre for Social Justice about membership of gangs entitled, “Dying to Belong”. It was a brilliant title, frankly, which highlighted the problem that young people were dying and that their principal motivation for involvement with gangs was that they did not feel that they belonged to their community or their families. Those are real problems and we can interrupt those pathways.

We need to provide better jobs in those areas, better role models and the education that will help people. It is about setting out clear alternative pathways for those young people. We must not flinch from mentioning the love of family and parents. We all know what family means to each of us. I do not refer to some Victorian ideal. We all know that if I asked anyone in this room, “Who is your family?”, we would know who that was. It might look different for each one of us, but we would all know. We would also know that we bear the imprint—for good or bad—of that family for the rest of our lives. We must find a way of grappling with that and saying, “How do we help the family around those young people, to keep them off those pathways?”

Aspiration and hope are essential. I must mention briefly the work of the Government, with their levelling-up fund. The idea is that talent is spread everywhere, but opportunity is not, so if the fund can do one thing, it is to deliver opportunity in such areas. If young people see an opportunity forward to a Mercedes, a flash car, a better phone, nicer trainers or whatever, and are able to build in their mind an aspiration that is positive and constructive, and does not lead them into the embrace of the gangs, that is a good thing.

I urge the Minister to think about supply and demand, and how often our efforts in dealing with drugs are about shutting down supply, on the enforcement end. That is vital, but I remember the inspector in Suffolk who memorably told me when I lived there and we in local government were dealing with county lines: “Robin, we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. This is not a problem just for the police; it is a problem for the posse. It is a problem for the communities.”

In Newmarket in Suffolk, we recognised that communities owning the spaces that gangs would occupy, being aware of the problems, spotting the signs in young people and acting early in the pathway, were as important as CCTV and the PCSOs who were on the beat in the town. We must look at everything together. We must not delegate or just assume that the police can handle these issues, and, in working together, we must make sure that we provide the resources for community groups, which can often reach further into the communities to help those who need the most from our services.