Home office minister 'refused to give evidence' in Scottish drug use inquiry

The chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee has written to Victoria Atkins of the Home Office.
The chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee has written to Victoria Atkins of the Home Office.
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A committee of MPs has criticised the Home Office, accusing it of declining an invitation to give evidence to an ongoing inquiry into the rising number of drug deaths in Scotland.

The Scottish affairs committee is currently hearing evidence on how to tackle the crisis, with more than 1,000 Scots expected to die drug-related deaths this year.

It wrote to Home Office minister Victoria Atkins after collecting a “substantial body of evidence, the vast majority of which contradicts the UK government’s policy position”.

But the committee said the minister had not responded to its invitations to attend.

The cross-party group of MPs has heard from a range of experts in favour of opening a drug consumption room in Glasgow where users could inject in safe surroundings.

Despite support from the local council, health board and Scottish Government, the Home Office has rejected the idea, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid this week raising concerns that it could encourage drug misuse.

Committee chairman Pete Wishart MP said: “When hundreds of people are dying each year from drugs in Scotland, it is reprehensible that the minister will not come to the Scottish affairs committee to answer some important ­questions about the UK’s drug policy.
“If the government is confident that it is taking the right approach to tackling drug misuse, it should be willing to appear before my committee to defend its position.”

Giving evidence to the committee earlier this week, Dr Saket Priyadarshi, medical director for addictions at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said evidence from elsewhere in the world showed consumption rooms do not increase drug-taking.
Her evidence followed comments from Mr Javid, who said he opposed the plan for a consumption room because of concerns it would increase drug use.
Scotland now has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in western Europe, with users here being two-and-a-half times more likely to die than in the rest of the UK.

A Home Office spokesman said: “While the legal framework relating to the misuse of drugs is reserved to the UK government, the Scottish Government has its own approach to tackling drug and alcohol misuse in areas where responsibility is devolved, including healthcare, criminal justice, housing, and education.

“The UK government has been clear that there is no legal framework for the provision of drug consumption rooms and there are no plans to introduce them.”