Dangerous Drugs

Part of Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) (No. 3) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:10 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 4:10 pm, 3rd July 2019

It is a real pleasure to follow Norman Lamb, who is a fellow Select Committee Chair: he chairs the Science and Technology Committee and certainly knows a thing or two about good evidence.

It is actually quite encouraging and unusual, in the case of an issue involving drugs, to see the Government accepting evidence and doing the right thing. This statutory instrument is a really good reform of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Of course synthetic cannabinoids, which could be used in research to try to develop treatments which we know could help countless people in our constituencies, should be taken out of schedule 2.

As I have said, it is unusual to see the Government accepting good evidence. They normally approach drugs issues uninformed by evidence, and are singularly unresponsive to developments and debates relating to such issues and to the environment that is an emerging feature of all our constituencies and communities. They turn their face against the international innovations that are springing up not only in Canada, but in Portugal, Germany and other countries that take a very different approach to dealing with the contagion of drugs-related problems in the community. This Government are immune to the mayhem that their general policy on drugs is currently generating.

The 1971 Act is not just in need of minor tinkering. It is in need of widespread reform, review and updating. We in the Scottish Affairs Committee are conducting an inquiry into problem drug use in Scotland, because in two weeks’ time we expect to find that more than 1,000 people have died as a result of drug use. That means that 1,000 families will have been impacted by deaths that need not have happened. There are things that we could do to try to address and resolve this problem.

Our Committee had a fascinating session yesterday and I want to share it with the Minister. We do not know whether he will come to the Committee, but he will have to answer these questions; the Home Office will have to address the way in which it is currently handling drug issues and policies. I ask him to come to the Committee and tell us what he is going to do, because in one way or another we will get the answers from the Home Office.

As I have said, yesterday’s session was absolutely fascinating. It was attended by senior police officers from across the United Kingdom, and even by a representative of the Government’s own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. There is overwhelming consensus and agreement that the criminal justice approach to drugs issues is failing. It is failing our communities, it is failing our constituencies, and, in particular, it has ultimately failed the bereaved.

We heard not just about this useful statutory instrument, in which a reclassification is liberalising policy, but about the constant ratcheting up—as a senior chief police officer put it—of drugs classification. Let us take the example of cannabis. Cannabis was classified as a B drug. The classification went down to C and then back up to B. We are hearing that there is overwhelming consensus that something different is required: we must start treating drugs as a health issue and not a criminal justice issue. I know that my colleagues in the Health and Social Care Committee are also looking into whether the general policy and its consequences could be changed and I am grateful to them for that.