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County Lines Criminal Activity

Volume 671: debated on Thursday 13 February 2020

6. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the CPS in prosecuting perpetrators of criminal activity by county lines networks. (900802)

The county lines model of drug distribution blights communities and fuels serious violence. The CPS provides early advice to law enforcement to build strong cases against county lines and to ensure the robust prosecution of those using county lines to sell drugs. We have recent cases that highlight that model.

We are all victims when it comes to county lines drug gangs, and no more so than my constituents in Hassocks, which lies on the main London to Brighton railway line. On their behalf, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider making involvement in county lines activity an aggravated offence?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. British Transport police is doing good work in this area, and the Home Office is providing £25 million of targeted investment over this year and next year to tackle this particular issue, £5 million of which is already in operational use. Overall, expanding the national county lines co-ordination centre will be very positive in getting results, including work with British Transport police to prevent disruption on the rail network. There is also investment in new technology, including automatic number plate recognition. We are working across the board with law enforcement agencies and partners to deal with these gangs.

As well as addressing county lines networks, what discussions is my right hon. and learned Friend having with the Scottish Government to deal with county lines across the border between Scotland and England?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that point. I am pleased to say there is good co-operation across jurisdictions—between the English and Scottish authorities—and between the different counties in England that co-ordinate on these matters. The NCLCC is working in this area, and I understand it is working very effectively.

The work of these gangs stretches right across the UK, with more than 20 known to be operating county lines in Scotland. Can the Solicitor General assure me that prosecutors in the different criminal jurisdictions are working closely together to ensure that those behind “country lines” are brought to justice as speedily and effectively as possible?

The hon. Lady raises a good point. We know that county lines do not respect internal borders, and Police Scotland is engaged in the national law enforcement response to this issue. I am pleased to say Police Scotland is working as part of the NCLCC, which was established with £3.6 million of Home Office funding in 2018.