Questions to the Attorney General

5th July 2019

Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox QC MP, answers questions from MPs.

Drugs Gangs

3. What recent progress the CPS has made in prosecuting drugs gangs in (a) Northamptonshire and (b) England. [911727]

7. What recent assessment he has made of the performance of the CPS in prosecuting drugs gangs operating in the UK. [911734]

8. What recent assessment he has made of the performance of the CPS in prosecuting drugs gangs operating in the UK. [911735]

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.


Leaving the EU

4. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU without a deal on the priorities for his Office. [911730]

5. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the priorities for his Office. [911732]

The priorities of my office are set out in the published business plan for this year. In relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, my priority continues to be to support the successful delivery of the Government’s objectives by giving legal and constitutional advice within the Government. I am of course also engaged in the support of preparations for future international co-operation between the Law Officers’ departments, and with prosecution and other criminal justice operations.

I am pleased to hear that the Attorney General is committed to continuing to provide sound legal advice in the face of fantasy politics, which he has a good track record in. Will he confirm that it is the Government’s position that after a no-deal Brexit, article 24 of the general agreement on tariffs and trade cannot be unilaterally invoked to ensure a standstill in current trading arrangements, and that the EU cannot and will not be compelled to trade on that basis?

If, as appears to be the case, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), of whom the Attorney General is a supporter, does become the next Prime Minister, will the Attorney General support the right hon. Gentleman’s refusal to rule out a Prorogation of Parliament for a no-deal Brexit? Does he agree that that would surely be an act of constitutional vandalism?

That question will be reviewed at the time. The circumstances of any application for Prorogation are a matter not for me but for the Prime Minister and Her Majesty.

Will the Attorney General confirm that, with or without a deal, British citizens will still be able to assert their fundamental rights through the British courts after Britain has left the European Union?

Of course, the United Kingdom, in all its jurisdictions, has one of the strongest records for the rule of law in the world. I have no doubt that that will continue.

Further to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), the Institute for Government has noted that if Parliament was prorogued to facilitate no deal, it would not be possible to pass any Bills or the remaining secondary legislation needed to prepare the UK statute book for such an outcome. Does the Attorney General therefore agree that leaving the EU without a deal and with no functioning Parliament would lead the country into a legislative black hole at a time when people throughout the country would be looking to the Government for emergency actions?

The House has been given the opportunity of leaving the European Union with a deal on three separate occasions. I do not recall the SNP ever voting for one of them. The answer is quite simple: we can still pass a withdrawal agreement and leave the European Union in an orderly way, but it is now quite clear that the imperative to leave the European Union is overriding. We must leave, and in my view we must do so this year—on 31 October.