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Pilot drug consumption room must follow report recommending it, says SNP MP

The UK Government must not ignore a Westminster report calling for safe drug consumption rooms to be piloted in Scotland, an SNP MP has warned.

Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss has been campaigning for safe spaces for users to take substances under medical supervision for a number of years.

But after a report by Westminster’s Home Affairs Committee recommended UK ministers back the set-up of a pilot scheme in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, she said there is now a need for urgent action.

The report recommends the Scottish and UK governments work together to fund the scheme.

Scottish ministers have been pressing for drug law reform, including safe consumption facilities, however Westminster has previously ruled this out.

The committee report also recommends that drug laws are devolved to the Scottish Parliament if the UK Government remains unwilling to support the pilot.

General Election 2017 declaration
Alison Thewliss said drug laws need urgent reform (Andrew Milligan/PA)

It comes as figures published last week revealed drug deaths in Scotland had fallen to their lowest since 2017, to 1,051. However, the country still has the highest death rate in Europe.

Ms Thewliss said the report is “important recognition” that immediate action is needed at a Westminster level, including reforming the Misuse of Drugs Act.

She said: “The Tories can no longer ignore the need for urgent reform of the UK’s drug laws. They must accept the recommendations of the cross-party Home Affairs Committee report and the demands the SNP has made for years for safe consumption rooms.

“Safe consumption rooms are not a silver bullet when it comes to drug deaths in Scotland, but they do have a part to play in a joined up approach from every level of government to combat drug-related deaths, and – as this committee agrees – could save lives.

“The Misuse of Drugs Act is over fifty years old and must now be reviewed as a matter of urgency. Criminalising drug users has done nothing but entrench a problem that sees far too many people die each year.

“We mustn’t see more lives needlessly lost. This report is an important recognition that swift change is needed, but it must be followed with action from the UK Government.”

Elena Whitham
Scottish drug policy minister Elena Whitham welcomed the committee’s report (PA)

Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said: “No-one can seriously look at UK drug laws and the spike in drug deaths that we have seen in recent years and conclude that the present system is serving anybody well.”

She added: “This report must act as a catalyst for a new and more humane approach to drugs policy in the UK.”

Scottish drug policy minister Elena Whitham said: “We are doing everything within our powers to tackle drug deaths in Scotland, including investing an additional £250 million in our national mission to save and improve lives.

“We welcome this report from the Home Affairs Committee which endorses our position on safer drug consumption facilities (SDCFs) and supports the proposal to pilot such a facility in Scotland.

“We have long called for agreement from the UK Government to allow us to do this, whether to support us in establishing a pilot or through devolving the necessary powers to allow us to do so.

“It has always been in the UK Government’s power to accelerate the delivery of an SDCF.

“If it was serious about looking to improve outcomes for people affected by problem substance use it could use powers reserved to it to support what we are already doing within devolved powers, or devolve the appropriate powers to us so we could move to implement a facility as quickly as possible.”