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County Lines Drugs Operations

Volume 653: debated on Monday 21 January 2019

2. What steps his Department is taking to prevent young people from becoming involved in county lines drugs operations. (908645)

We have provided £3.6 million for a new national county lines co-ordination centre to enhance the intelligence picture and to support efforts to identify and safeguard victims. The centre launched in September last year and carried out its first week of action in October, leading to more 500 arrests and more than 300 people safeguarded.

I was pleased to see it reported recently that the Government are treating the victims of county lines as victims of modern slavery. That is a helpful approach, but I have two concerns. One is that children who have been excluded from school are particularly at risk. My second concern relates to housing. What conversations are Ministers having with their counterparts in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to make sure that children who are at risk are not housed back in the area where the people who have persecuted them live?

I thank the hon. Lady for her continued focus on modern slavery. She is absolutely right that this is not just about policing, although of course that is a vital part of our treatment of serious violence and county lines. It is about taking a holistic approach, which is why the Home Secretary chairs the serious violence taskforce, which brings together local government, national Government and all the relevant agencies. That can make a real difference in the lives of young people who may be vulnerable to the gangsters.

In November, West Midlands police was granted a cash boost of £1.8 million to help to deal with gangs and violence. Does the Minister endorse the work of the charity Redthread to prevent youngsters from joining gangs and becoming drug dealers?

I am delighted to endorse the work of Redthread, a charity we support not just in the midlands, but in London and Nottingham. I have been delighted to visit accident and emergency departments where Redthread is in operation. Its workers reach out to young people when they are in A&E departments, at what they call the teachable moment. That is exactly the sort of positive voluntary work we need.

Will the Minister update us on the Government’s public health approach to tackle serious violence? I am not asking for an update on the serious violence strategy, the Offensive Weapons Bill or the youth endowment fund. I have been following those very closely, but I cannot find anything about the Government’s public health approach, as announced at the Conservative party conference. Perhaps the Minister can update us now.

I thank the hon. Lady for her assiduous focus on this important topic. I am grateful to her for her work on the Youth Violence Commission. We are due to consult on the public health duty, a legal duty that will apply across the board to help to embed a public health approach in our treatment of serious violence.

16. It is clear, in the light of so many fatalities in the criminal justice system and in the community, that the war on drugs is not working, so will the Minister set out what steps she is taking along the lines of the public health framework to ensure that fatalities are reduced and that public health workers work together with the criminal justice system? (908661)

The hon. Lady will know that we have recently announced an independent review of the 21st-century drugs market. Indeed, only last week I had the pleasure of visiting a drug treatment centre in south London to see the important work of doctors and health professionals to help those who are sadly addicted to these very harmful substances.

For the victims of county lines and youth violence, the trauma from their experiences will be devastating, yet far too often police forces and mental health trusts do not work together to make sure that their needs are automatically assessed, leaving children extremely vulnerable and at risk of being re-exploited. Will the Minister commit to working with her colleagues with responsibility for mental health to ensure that all such victims receive an automatic referral to mental health services? Will she commit to coming back to the House at the earliest opportunity with a full update on progress against the wider serious violence strategy?

The hon. Lady will know that we are very conscious of the impact that mental health issues can have, not only on the immediate victims of serious violence but, of course, in respect of the ramifications further afield for communities affected by serious violence. A great deal of work is going on to help people with mental issues who are being dragged into county lines, in particular. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing met the relevant Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care only last week to discuss this issue.