Dangerous Drugs

Part of Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) (No. 3) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:59 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales) 3:59 pm, 3rd July 2019

The SNP also supports the order before us for many reasons, many of which are contained in the fantastic report from the Health and Social Care Committee, “Drugs policy: medicinal cannabis”, published this morning. We support it not least because we believe that, under the current regime, the potential exists for research and investigation into medicinal cannabinoids to be hindered, and in some cases blocked completely.

All hon. Members will have had constituents contact them about medicinal cannabis and the potential positive impact they feel it would have on them or their families in the face of sometimes horrendous medical conditions. I know that there are no simple answers to many of the questions facing the authorities and the Government, and that opinions in this place and throughout society are varied and sometimes conflicting. However, surely it is a primary duty of Government and the state to ensure the best possible health and welfare of its citizens, and I hope that we can all agree that those with chronic health conditions, sometimes causing unimaginable pain and suffering, should not be denied the potential fruits of research into cannabinoids simply because the legislation has not kept pace with scientific progress. As the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs made clear in its initial letter to the Minister at the end of 2017, when referring to the current statutory position:

“There are potential delays to clinical research as compounds within the scope of the MDR which move into trials in humans need to obtain appropriate licences and put practical arrangements in place for clinical trial sites”.

It is also important to note that the council’s recommendations, which have led to the order we are discussing today, were based on wide consultation with those directly involved in and managing clinical research, including the British Pharmacological Society, the Medical Research Council and the Royal Society of Chemistry. So we welcome the prospect of such trials and research becoming easier and more simplified. It is only through the scientific method of hypothesis, testing and analysis that our pharmacologists—that is easy for me to say, Mr Deputy Speaker—and clinicians can make the discoveries necessary to develop and improve on the treatment and medication available to those in desperate need. That is the story of all modern medicine in recent history, and I am glad that the order will give the scientific community some of the tools and legal protections needed in that regard.

We now know of some of the problems encountered by those attempting to access medicinal cannabis since the relaxation of legislation last year, and hope that those who have been stymied in their attempts to secure medication and treatments for their loved ones will see the changes in policy that we are making today as progress that they themselves have driven. It is disappointing, however, that the Minister, in his reply to the ACMD earlier this year, did not take the opportunity to take on board some of the council’s other recommendations that it feels would help scientific research and, in the long run, potentially help more people in need of improved and transformative medication. I understand the reasons that the Minister gave in his letter, but I would ask that he give the council’s recommendations further consideration, coming as they are from a body not known for proposing such changes in law lightly.

I would be failing if I were not to draw comparisons between the broadly sensible, pragmatic approach taken by the UK Government in this instance, albeit slow, and their head-in-the-sand attitude to the cross-party consensus —which we have just heard from the Labour Front Bench—in Glasgow for progress on drug treatment facilities in that city. As my hon. Friend Pete Wishart highlighted, the west of Scotland has an appalling level of illegal drug abuse and addiction and a high number of deaths, and the Home Office’s refusal to allow the health authorities and third-sector organisations in Glasgow to try to alleviate some of that suffering is in marked contrast to the spirit in which we are discussing the order before us.

Not so long ago, this Government had set their face against even entertaining the idea of medicinal cannabis, yet here we are today. In that spirit, I implore the Minister and his Government to think again on safe drug consumption rooms. We should be in the business of saving lives, which is exactly what that approach could do. We must give our pharmacologists and scientists every advantage as they seek to discover new treatments and medications, but, more importantly, we must alleviate the suffering of those, such as Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, who have waited too long. We must all get our collective finger out in this place and improve the legislation.

We also owe it to the families, many of whom feel forced to smuggle in this life- changing treatment for their children. I pay tribute to Tonia Antoniazzi, who is not in her place, who recently travelled over to the Netherlands with Emma Appleby to secure the medicine required for her epileptic daughter, Teagan. The issues they faced, with Border Force initially confiscating the medicine amid much confusion, highlighted not only the inconsistency in the law, but that the law is not fit for purpose. The families are also forced to spend a lot of money, and often to fundraise, to travel overseas and secure medicine for their children. This is not right. We welcome the SI as a step in the right direction, therefore, but in doing so we urge the Government to do all they can to ensure that this process is robust but as quick as possible.