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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
11 July 2023
Tories urged to reconsider Scottish drug decriminalisation plans

Michael Gove said he has met with Alison Thewliss to discuss some of the challenges she faces in her constituency | Alamy

Tories urged to reconsider Scottish drug decriminalisation plans

Chris Stephens has accused the UK Government of “undermining” Scottish Government proposals to decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use.  

The MP for Glasgow South West told Michael Gove that the UK Government’s outright rejection within an hour of the Scottish Government laying out its plans had no “reasonable, rational, evidenced” reasoning.  

Speaking during Levelling Up questions in the House of Commons, Stephens implored Gove “in his role as intergovernmental relations” to “be the grown-up in his side of the room” and engage with the proposals.  

Last week, Scottish drugs minister Elena Whitham unveiled a new policy paper that outlined the Scottish Government’s vision for a “caring, compassionate and human rights informed drug policy” – including the decriminalisation of the possession of drugs for personal use. 

Stephens asked: "The Secretary of State is on record saying he thinks public health measures, which are backed by strong scientific evidence, which follow the lead of doctors and clinicians, we should look seriously at. 

"Drug consumption rooms and decriminalisation of possession of small quantities of drugs have been proven to work throughout the world and have now been proposed by the Scottish Government. 

"Does the Secretary of State accept that the outright rejection we saw from the UK Government at the weekend, out of hand, undermines the Scottish Government, undermines those campaigners who help drug users and undermines the union?" 

Gove told Stephens: "No, I don't accept that.”  

However, he said that he raised a “very, very serious question” adding that he has discussed with Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss “some of the challenges she faces in her constituency”.  

Gove continued: "We both know that drug deaths in Scotland are running at an unacceptably high level and there is no single answer to dealing with that problem. 

"But I do believe, as was outlined very clearly by politicians from both the government and indeed the principal opposition party, that the Scottish Government's proposals are the wrong proposals at the wrong time." 

Responding to Gove, Stephens asked: "The heads of all 31 UN agencies have called for possession decriminalisation and more than 30 countries have made changes which have cut deaths and incarceration. 

"So, there is no reasonable, rational, evidenced cause for the Government to make, or indeed the Labour Party, for rejecting the proposals out of hand. 

"Can I ask him seriously, in his role as intergovernmental relations, to work with the Scottish Government, to be the grown-up in his side of the room and engage with the Scottish Government and those drug campaigners?" 

Gove replied: "I'm always happy because this is a complex and also challenging and heartbreaking issue. 

"I do believe that it is right that the governments work together with the NHS, with law enforcement and with others in order to deal with this challenge. 

"But I believe that the specific proposals for decriminalisation of possession that are being put forward are not the best way forward." 

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