The Crown Prosecution Service is working closely with the police and other Government Departments to prosecute these increasingly complex crimes. In that great county of Northamptonshire, in which the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) is situated, the Crown Prosecution Service prosecuted no fewer than 337 defendants for drugs offences and secured 305 convictions in the year to 2018. The conviction rate for drugs offences in England is over 90%, and last year alone 39,000 convictions were secured by the Crown Prosecution Service for these offences.
Northamptonshire police have done much good work in recent weeks in raiding local cannabis farms and breaking up county lines drug operations linking London with Kettering and other parts of Northamptonshire. Does the Attorney General agree that, when the police catch people doing these awful things, it would help if the Crown Prosecution Service pressed for exemplary sentences to be awarded?
I strongly agree that it is necessary for us to bear down on drugs gangs, and on county lines drugs gangs. My hon. Friend will know that the Government’s serious violence strategy makes that a priority. In just one week in May, in a targeted effort of co-ordinated law enforcement activity, there were 586 arrests in connection with county lines drugs gangs, and 519 adults and 364 children were entered into safeguarding measures. That is a particularly fine record. I also agree that sentencing must be commensurate with the gravity of the crimes. We will continue to monitor and follow the drugs sentencing guidelines that are connected with these crimes.
The Attorney General is well aware that drug trafficking is an issue not just for urban areas, but for rural areas, villages and towns. How is he assisting more rural agencies, the CPS and, for example, West Mercia police in tackling drug trafficking?
My hon. Friend asks a good question in relation to rural crime. We must not forget that drugs offending extends into rural areas—quite often from the larger cities—and particularly into coastal communities such as those that I have the honour of representing. It is important that we do not lose sight of the rural dimension of drugs offences. I can assure him that we will be vigilant about ensuring that in the strategies of the Government, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, rural drugs offending is not omitted from our considerations.
In Chelmsford, we have found that the increased number of police on the ground, coupled with the firm use of stop and search, has led to a large number of arrests and then prosecutions. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is vital that all law enforcement agencies work together to tackle drugs gangs?
I completely agree with what my hon. Friend has said, and it applies, if I may say so, not only to law enforcement agencies, but to other agencies as well. We cannot forget that, particularly in county lines offending, there is a wide range of other dimensions at play and safeguarding agencies are also very important.