Misuse of Drugs Act and Health Outcomes

Scotland – in the House of Commons on 8th September 2021.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

What recent assessment his Department has made of the effect of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 on health outcomes in Scotland.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

The recent drug deaths in Scotland are an absolute tragedy. The majority of the levers to tackle drug misuse are devolved to the Scottish Government, including health, education, housing and the criminal justice system. We are keen to work with the Scottish Government to tackle this tragic issue and to share lessons throughout the United Kingdom.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (PPS to the Westminster Leader)

I wonder why the Minister and the Government refuse to base their policy on evidence such as that from Portugal, Canada and Switzerland, where drug consumption rooms save lives. We cannot help people when they are dead; DCRs save lives.

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

There is not a unanimous view on the efficacy of drug consumption rooms. The Minister for Crime and Policing, my hon. Friend Kit Malthouse, recently had discussions with his counterpart in the Scottish Government and it was made clear that we are open to any new evidence about drug consumption rooms, but they are not the single solution to the problem. This requires a holistic approach. We are very happy to work with the Scottish Government to explore all the different options.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

There is plenty of evidence on the efficacy of drug consumption rooms. I am sure that my colleagues who have worked on the issue would be happy to discuss it with the Minister. Portugal faced some of the highest rates of drug deaths in Europe at the turn of the century, but it radically reversed the situation through decriminalisation and a public health approach. The Scottish Government have used their powers to commit to the public health approach. The question for the Minister is whether his Government will use their reserved powers to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act and enable the measures that worked in Portugal, such as drug consumption rooms, to happen. The Scottish Government have done their bit. Will his Government do theirs?

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I have discussed the specific matter of drug consumption rooms at some length with the hon. and learned Lady’s colleague, Alison Thewliss, so I am well aware of the arguments for them, but there are arguments against them. As I said in response to Martin Docherty-Hughes, we are happy to look at new evidence. In England and Wales, we have Project ADDER, which is showing some promising early signs of being effective in combating drug misuse. I strongly urge the hon. and learned Lady’s colleagues in the Scottish Government to take up our offer to extend that to Scotland.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative, Moray

In the last year for which figures are available, 1,339 lives were lost in Scotland as a result of drug misuse, the worst number since records began in 1996, yet we got no solutions from the SNP or from Nicola Sturgeon in her programme for government yesterday. Scottish Conservatives have put forward plans for a right to recovery Bill. Does the Minister agree that the Scottish Government should engage with us to bring forward these proposals?

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend and his colleagues have come up with an excellent policy in this area, and it would be to the great advantage of people in Scotland that the Scottish Government take up the proposals that it contains.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

The Scottish Affairs Committee conducted the most extensive inquiry ever undertaken into drug use in Scotland, taking evidence from practically everybody with an interest and a stake in this issue. We concluded that we need every tool in the kitbag to address the scale of this problem, from an increased resources position to adopting evidence-based solutions with best practice from international examples that have worked, such as drug consumption facilities and decriminalisation. Why did the UK Government reject nearly all of our conclusions and recommendations?

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I understand that the report from that Committee, which I think was done in 2018, was not a unanimous one and the Committee divided on it, which illustrates the fact that there is not the unanimity of view on the proposals to which the hon. Gentleman refers. As I say, we keep an open mind on this as regards fresh evidence that shows that policies work. My colleagues in the Home Office have discussed this with their counterparts in the Scottish Government and those discussions will continue.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

My hon. Friend may be aware of the sterling work done by my friend—albeit not an hon. Friend—the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, on the misuse of drugs and controlling it. To what degree does the Scottish Office liaise with the regions of England to communicate with Scotland about best practice?

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I am happy to say to my hon. Friend that I discuss matters throughout the United Kingdom, and if there are good, innovative practices in a particular area it is of course wise to share that and encourage other parts of the United Kingdom to follow suit.

Photo of Mhairi Black Mhairi Black Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland)

The Minister says that there is no consensus as to drug consumption rooms, but, as has already been said, every country that has trialled safe consumption rooms has a positive story to tell about them. The other thing that he failed to mention is that the legislation that makes drug use a crime often traps vulnerable people in a vicious cycle of poverty and crime. With that in mind, will this Government finally commit to reviewing the 50-year-old legislation that is the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971?

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

As I said to the hon. Lady’s colleagues, we constantly discuss these matters with our counterparts in Scotland. We have made very serious offers, as I say, to extend Project ADDER, which looks at drugs misuse in a holistic way. There is evidence to show that that is working. I strongly urge the Scottish Government to take up that offer. Particularly on drug consumption rooms, as I say, if there is new evidence there, we will consider it.

Photo of Mhairi Black Mhairi Black Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland)

In what world do you get to claim to be taking an issue seriously while in the same breath commit to change absolutely nothing? If the logical arguments will not convince, then maybe the financial ones will. Crimes linked to drugs in Scotland cost £750 million a year to investigate and prosecute. Experts tell us that that money could be better spent. If the experts, the Scottish Government and even the Scottish Conservatives can now agree that health needs to be the main approach, why not the Minister?

Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I think the hon. Lady takes a very partisan view on this. We have put forward some very concrete suggestions. I remind her that the vast majority of powers in this area lie with the Scottish Government, and her Government have been in power for 14 years, so perhaps they should spend a little bit more effort focusing on tackling some of these social issues rather than obsessing about independence, which no one wants.