Regional organised crime units are a critical part of the national policing network, and an efficient and effective vehicle for tackling complex and serious organised crime. Since 2013, the Government have invested £140 million in ROCU.
I recognise my hon. and learned Friend’s concern about hare coursing. If there is any suspicion that a crime has been committed, the concern should be referred to the relevant police force. Regional organised crime units lead investigations into complex and serious organised crimes. Decisions on investigations adopted by these units that are based on threat, risk and harm are for the police.
Does the Minister accept, though, that as important as the concept of regional co-operation is, organised crime is core business in our large conurbations, including Greater Manchester, Merseyside, West Yorkshire and down here in London, and that nothing should be done at the regional level to stop local police forces driving down against the organisational criminals, who distort and destroy people’s lives?
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman’s observations. Tackling organised crime regionally is only one part of the line. That line goes from the grassroots of policing using local police forces alongside local authorities all the way up to the National Crime Agency, which can use its international reach to ensure that it stops organised criminals becoming suppliers, or becoming bigger and trafficking people, money and drugs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) wrote an excellent article in The Times last week about county lines for moving drugs around the country, which is an insidious problem in all counties, including Somerset. Will the Minister reassure the House that the regional organised crime units have the connectivity with one another to tackle this inter-regional problem?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to point out what we are doing about county lines. County lines is a growing problem—recently particularly in Merseyside, the south-east and Somerset—whereby some of the worst type of criminals take advantage of mentally ill or vulnerable people, using their properties to supply drugs, hide weapons and so on. The National Crime Agency is taking a part lead, alongside the regional organised crime units, to ensure that we deal with the issue. It is also linking up with local mental health trusts and local authorities to deal with the situation of people who are vulnerable to being exploited.
The Minister says that crimes should be referred to the local police force, but my area of Derbyshire has seen 411 fewer police officers in the last eight years, and three police stations in my constituency have closed, in spite of rising crime including knife attacks on Halloween. How does the Minister feel that local police forces will cope with both regional organised crime and local crime?
This year, the Government and police and crime commissioners are investing a record sum in regional organised crime units across the country. That is why, in the year alone, there have been convictions totalling 2,375 years and confiscation orders of more than £25 million, half of which can go back into police forces to catch the next lot of bad guys. Regional organised crime units have seized 300 kg of cocaine and 39 kg of heroin, and have safeguarded 65 vulnerable children in a year alone.