Greenock Telegraph 25th September 2020

There are times in life when we put our trust in other people. We do so because they have specialist knowledge, often acquired over years of study and working experience. Nobody is perfect and nobody has all the answers but rejecting their advice because it is inconvenient is not wise. As Covid persists in being a factor in our lives some people are becoming more vocal in their opposition to government guidelines. I understand the frustration, I sympathise with the desire to return life to the pre-covid normal, but I can’t support the clamour to not wear masks, to not socially distance.

The most recent advice is that everyone who can work from home should work from home, there are tighter restrictions on home visits depending on age and relationship, pubs and restaurants must close at 10pm and car sharing with people outside your own household is prohibited. The alternative is herd immunity. How people can consider that is beyond me. At the beginning of March, the Chief Medical Officer of England made it absolutely clear, herd immunity would result in 400,000 deaths in the UK.  The fact that we are not expecting to reach these figures now is because we have observed lockdown, worn, masks, socially distanced. Sweden is cited as herd immunity that worked but did it? They predicted 40% immunity by May 2020, in fact it was 15%. And when you compare Sweden to its closest neighbours, according to the Royal Society of Medicine, “it is clear that not only are the rates of viral infection, hospitalisation and mortality (per million population) much higher in Sweden than those seen in neighbouring Scandinavian countries, but also that the time-course of the epidemic in Sweden is different, with continued persistence of higher infection and mortality well beyond the few critical weeks period seen in Denmark, Finland and Norway. In these countries, rapid lock-down measures brought in from early March seem to have been initially more successful in curtailing the infection surge and thus the malign consequences of Covid-19 on the country as a whole”.

Here in Inverclyde some individuals may be prepared to break the rules, but it is not just themselves they are putting in danger. If you risk catching Covid19 then you risk spreading it. You risk passing it on somewhere down the line to somebody with an underlying health issue. You risk being a factor in that person dying. Because you don’t come into direct contact with that person you will be ignorant of the damage you have done but that is not an excuse.

I have received correspondence recently in which people tell me they don’t believe the evidence, they think I am not standing up for ‘the people who elected me’. I can assure you I am standing up for all the people of Inverclyde, whether they voted for me or not, when I say that following Scottish government guidelines is the safest path out of this crisis and the one that will minimise the deaths and ongoing health issues associated with Covid19. At a time when virus cases are doubling every seven days, we must accept our individual responsibility to the communal good. It’s a classic example where you can either be part of the solution or part of the problem.

Written question – Gambling [25/09/2020]

To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, pursuant to the Answer of 21 September 2020 to Question 91087 on Football: Gambling, if he will make an assessment of (a) the potential merits of bringing forward legislative proposals to place the industry whistle to whistle ban on gambling on a statutory basis and (b) the effect of gambling advertising on children. (93619)

Tabled on: 22 September 2020

Answer:
Nigel Huddleston:

The Government has committed to review the Gambling Act 2005 to make sure it is fit for the digital age, and further details will be announced in due course.

As set out in the answer to Question 91087, in August 2019 the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG) Code for Socially Responsible Advertising was amended to ban betting adverts on TV during live sport before the 9pm watershed. Industry figures indicate that exposure to sports gambling advertising during the times covered by the whistle-to-whistle ban has fallen by 96%. In addition, data published by the Advertising Standards Authority looking at children’s exposure to gambling advertising in 2019 – including the first 6 months of the whistle to whistle ban – shows that children’s exposure to sports betting advertising on TV has fallen to 0.3 per week. The Gambling Commission’s code of practice for operators already requires adherence to the IGRG code, and failure to do so can be used as evidence in any compliance or enforcement activity that the Commission undertakes.

As outlined in the answer to Question 73907, the Government assessed the evidence on advertising in its Review of Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures, the full response to which can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-proposals-for-changes-to-gaming-machines-and-social-responsibility-measures. Since then, in March this year, the charity GambleAware has published the final report of a major piece of research into the effect of gambling marketing and advertising on children, young and vulnerable people. That study found that exposure to advertising was associated with an openness to gamble in the future amongst children and young people aged 11-24 who did not currently gamble. It also found that there were other factors that correlated more closely with current gambling behaviour amongst those groups including peer and parental gambling. It did not suggest a causal link between exposure to gambling advertising and problem gambling in later life.

The answer was submitted on 25 Sep 2020 at 10:34.

Written question – Transport [25/09/2020]

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what assessment his Department has made of the safety of e-scooters; and what discussions he has had with (a) the Scottish Government, (b) road safety campaign and (c) scooter manufactures on the safety of e-scooters. (91776)

Tabled on: 18 September 2020

Answer:
Rachel Maclean:

The Department has set out a series of technical standards for e-scooter models to comply with, in order to participate in trials, and have been working closely with operators of e-scooters to ensure their models demonstrate compliance with these standards.

Officials and Ministers have met with a wide range of stakeholders in developing and implementing e-scooter trial policy, including the Scottish Government, manufacturers and safety groups.

The answer was submitted on 25 Sep 2020 at 13:08.

Written question – Gambling [21/09/2020]

To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what recent assessment he has made of the effect on levels of problem gambling of permitting the advertising of gambling on football shirts; and whether the forthcoming Gambling Review will make an assessment of the potential merits of (a) placing on a statutory basis the industry whistle to whistle ban on gambling and (b) banning gambling advertising from football. (91087)

Tabled on: 16 September 2020

Answer:
Nigel Huddleston:

Problem gambling is a complex issue and there are multiple and varied factors which contribute to its development in individuals. Figures from the British Gambling Prevalence Surveys and Health Surveys suggest that problem gambling rates in Great Britain have remained stable at below 1% since 1999.

Gambling sponsorship must be socially responsible and must never be targeted at children or vulnerable people. The Football Association has strict rules about the size and placement of sponsor logos on all players’ shirts, and prohibits any reference to gambling or gambling operators on shirts for teams where all players are under 18 years old. The gambling industry code for socially responsible advertising also requires that operators’ logos must not appear on any commercial merchandising which is designed for children (for instance in children’s sizes). In August 2019 the code was amended to include a whistle to whistle ban on broadcast advertising around live sport.

The government has committed to review the Gambling Act 2005 to ensure it is fit for the digital age and further details will be announced in due course.

The answer was submitted on 21 Sep 2020 at 15:13.

Written question – Gambling

To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what recent assessment he has made of the effect on levels of problem gambling of permitting the advertising of gambling on football shirts; and whether the forthcoming Gambling Review will make an assessment of the potential merits of (a) placing on a statutory basis the industry whistle to whistle ban on gambling and (b) banning gambling advertising from football. (91087)

Tabled on: 16 September 2020

Answer:
Nigel Huddleston:

Problem gambling is a complex issue and there are multiple and varied factors which contribute to its development in individuals. Figures from the British Gambling Prevalence Surveys and Health Surveys suggest that problem gambling rates in Great Britain have remained stable at below 1% since 1999.

Gambling sponsorship must be socially responsible and must never be targeted at children or vulnerable people. The Football Association has strict rules about the size and placement of sponsor logos on all players’ shirts, and prohibits any reference to gambling or gambling operators on shirts for teams where all players are under 18 years old. The gambling industry code for socially responsible advertising also requires that operators’ logos must not appear on any commercial merchandising which is designed for children (for instance in children’s sizes). In August 2019 the code was amended to include a whistle to whistle ban on broadcast advertising around live sport.

The government has committed to review the Gambling Act 2005 to ensure it is fit for the digital age and further details will be announced in due course.

The answer was submitted on 21 Sep 2020 at 15:13.

Current drugs policy is failing

During the current Covid19 pandemic I have waited with my heart in my mouth for the daily update from the First Minister of Scotland and uppermost in my mind has been the number of deaths recorded in the previous 24 hours. I sighed with relief when that number dropped to zero and rejoiced each day that it stayed there. But during that time, and throughout the year, four people will die each day from an overdose in Scotland and twelve in England and Wales. The saying ‘you keep talking, we keep dying ‘, is often used within the drug reform community and it is as true today as it has been for decades. I hoped that a recent report from the Scottish Affairs Select Committee which consists of MPs from 4 parties, of which 3 are SNP, 5 Conservative, 2 Labour and 1 Liberal Democrat, would get a fair hearing from the UK government but it has been swatted away and treated with utter disdain.

The UK Government, and that is where the failed policy sits, considers illegal drugs as a criminal matter and the consumption of them as a lifestyle choice and therefore people breaking the law should be treated as criminals and tried as such. And a lot of people would agree, and a lot of those people consume alcohol. The difference in the perception of illegal drug use compared to consumption of legal alcohol, allows us to stigmatise illegal drug users and then isolate and persecute them. The often-repeated image is of people injecting in filthy conditions, sharing needles, contracting related illnesses and dying. And yet when a solution to that scenario is brought forward in the shape of a safe consumption room, the UK Government refuse point blank to even consider it. They say such a thing condones drug use and they can’t be part of that. The truth is that safe drug consumption facilities, save lives, encourage people into care, provides support for rough sleepers and helps those with an addiction. The people supporting such ventures treat problematic drug use as a health issue, not a criminal justice one. The irony being that successful drug consumption rooms result in a reduction of crime too. The Home Office is being presented with a ‘win win’ solution but their blinkered ‘hit them hard’ mentality along with an unhealthy sprinkling of arrogance and hubris leaves them incapable of anything resembling self-criticism or analytical thought.       

The recent introduction of a mobile drug consumption room in Glasgow by Peter Krykant was seen by many as a much-needed light at the end of a very long dark tunnel. Unfortunately, it has already been forced off the road once due to a perceived insurance problem but thankfully through Peter’s perseverance that has been rectified. I am of the opinion that the UK Home Office has spent more time and effort trying to prevent such establishments than it has ever spent trying to understand the need for them in the first place.

The UK government have said,” We want to do all that we can to stop people having access to drugs that could ultimately kill them”.  But alcohol is marketed and sold legally and because of that the quality of the product can be guaranteed, people use it in social settings and the UK Government took £10 billion off the top in tax last year. We have issues with alcohol abuse but the mixed messaging from the UK Government is that one is good and the other evil. Which simply isn’t true. Drugs can damage you, alcohol is a drug and the UK parliament decided in 1971 what ones were illegal but not based on their ability to harm otherwise alcohol would never be legal.

And while the Home Office refuse safe drug consumption rooms the licences required to operate in the UK, the Houses of Parliament has its own wide array of consumption rooms, 16 bars and restaurants where alcohol is subsidised and available to MPs during the working day. The hypocrisy is staggering and so are some of the MPs. Your local pub, is a safe drug consumption room, so is any high street coffee shop and all smoking shelters. It just depends on your drug of choice and your attitude towards consumption in the first place.

Prior to 1968 we had, what was known as, the ‘British System’. It was a tolerant, supportive system which grew out of an inquiry into addiction in 1926. The ‘British System’ permitted any doctor to supply heroin, morphine, cocaine and other drugs to those who were dependent upon them. In the 1950s the USA tried to impose global heroin prohibition. Under pressure from the British medical profession the U.K. parliament did not follow the USAs lead. But they were not minded to taking ‘no’ for an answer and just as today when we can see the U.K. being steered towards lower food standards, back in 1971 at the behest of the USA we accepted lower standards of drugs legislation. One outcome has been a lack of medical research into psychedelic drugs. Nearly 50 years later the benefits of Psilocybin (naturally occurring psychedelic compound produced by more than 200 species of mushrooms) are being revisited and understood. But 50 years, when we could have been producing good research, have been wasted and we are just beginning to play catch up. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 years of age in the U.K. and Psilocybin has a role to play in addressing that – and recent research appears to show that psilocybin can be used to help decrease the severity of depression and suicidal thoughts. But this research would be easier if the Home Office would reassign psilocybin as a schedule two drug.

Unfortunately, many people have adopted an attitude that restricts their ability to accept that humans have been taking drugs for thousands of years and we are not about to stop. The job of MPs should be to make it as safe as possible and then facilitate engagement with users to ease the pain and suffering that many are experiencing. While we continue to isolate and stigmatise, the problem will only get worse and no amount of criminal charges or prison time served will reduce the volume and variety of drugs available on our streets today.

It’s time to take a long hard look at the 1971 misuse of drugs act, are we misinterpreting it? Can we use it better or do we need to change it? One thing is for sure it is time to treat all addictions as health matters and safe drug consumption rooms would be a good place to start to reform our drugs policies and our attitude toward them.

Ronnie Cowan MP (Inverclyde)

Vice-chair of APPG on drug policy reform

A version of this article appeared on Politics Home website.