Sunak: Consumption rooms condone illegal drug use and won't work

Prime Minister says the UK Government is not supportive of Glasgow pilot project but respects Lord Advocate's decision.

A planned drug consumption room in Glasgow won’t work and runs the risk of condoning illegal drug use, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Thursday.

Speaking to STV political editor Colin Mackay, Sunak said the proposals for a £2.3m facility in the city’s east end don’t have the support of the UK Government.

The pilot project planned for Hunter Street, in the same building as a current drug treatment facility, was approved by the Glasgow City Integration Joint Board meeting on Wednesday morning.

It will allow users to take their own illegal drugs in a hygienic environment with medical staff on hand.

Sunak said: “From a UK Government perspective, we’re not supportive of them (consumption rooms) because we think they condone use of drugs and there’s no safe amount of drug usage.

“When it comes to what’s going on in Scotland, we respect the independence of the advocate general (Lord Advocate) in Scotland and obviously that is a policy for them to put in place.

“I think they’ve said a blanket ban would be unlawful but if they decide to not prosecute in particular cases, that is a decision we will respect.

“We disagree with drug consumption rooms elsewhere because we think they condone illegal drug use and that’s not something we think is right.

Questioned whether he thinks drug consumption rooms will work, Sunak responded: “We think they condone illegal drug use and that’s what they (Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership) run the risk of doing.

Scotland’s drug death rate remains the highest in Europe. More than 1,000 people died as a result of drug-related poisonings in the last year.

After first being proposed in 2016, plans for a drug consumption facility could not progress without change to the Crown Office’s prosecution policy.

Glasgow City Council backed the creation of the facility this week after years of legal wrangling was resolved by Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC earlier this month.

Ms Bain said she would not prosecute those found in possession of controlled substances within the pilot facility.

In a statement she said she believed it would “not be in the public interest to prosecute drug users for simple possession offences committed within a pilot safer drugs consumption facility”.

The Scottish Government committed £2.3m from April 2024 for the consumption room’s first year of operation, while Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership will pay building costs and for the necessary redesign of Hunter Street.

Appearing before the Conveners Group at Holyrood on Wednesday, First Minister Humza Yousaf said he “very much welcomes” the decision to approve the facility.

He added: “I’m very grateful to Glasgow for moving at pace, and let me say unequivocally the Scottish Government is ready to stand alongside Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership and colleagues within local government to advance this proposition as quickly as we possibly can, obviously within the confines of the pilot that was proposed.”

Scotland’s drug and alcohol policy minister Elena Whitham also welcomed the board’s decision and said the Government has committed to making up to £2.3m available yearly for it from April 2024/25.

Ken Jack / Contributor via Getty Images

She said: “We know this is not a silver bullet. But we know from evidence from more than 100 facilities worldwide that safer drug consumption facilities work.

“It is time to see this approach piloted in Scotland and while the service would still be limited to some extent, due to the Misuse of Drugs Act reserved to Westminster, we are confident it would save lives.

“It’s vital this pilot has the full confidence of the general public as well as those who use the facility, and the leadership of Glasgow and Police Scotland will help ensure it is introduced as quickly as possible.”

Westminster’s Home Affairs Committee recommended pilots of safe consumption facilities in areas across the UK where local government and others deem there is a need, in a report published last month.

Home Office minister Chris Philp said previously the UK Government does not support such facilities in England and Wales, over concern they “condone or even encourage” drug use, but added his department is “not going to stand in the way” of the pilot in Scotland provided the power is exercised lawfully.

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