Scotland politics

MSPs voice support for 'fix room' law change

Hands using a lighter to heat a spoon Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Germany has a network of drug consumption rooms, including this one in Berlin

MSPs have backed plans to introduce the UK's first safe injection room for drug users in Glasgow.

The city council hopes the so-called "fix room" will help to tackle an increase in street injecting and HIV.

But the Scottish government's top legal adviser, the Lord Advocate, says the facility would be illegal unless the UK government changes the law.

Ministers used a Holyrood debate to seek cross-party support for the move, and were backed by 79 votes to 27.

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell argued that similar facilities have proved effective in the 70 cities across the world that have already introduced them.

The UK government would need to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act to ensure that the injection room is legal.

The Lord Advocate, James Wollfe, refused to back the Glasgow proposals as it would have allowed possession of street-bought heroin within the facility - which is illegal under the act.

The Home Office has previously said a "range of offences" would be committed in drug consumption rooms, including possession and supply of controlled drugs and knowingly permitting the supply of a controlled drug on a premises.

And it said it would expect local police forces to "enforce the law in such circumstances".

Glasgow has an estimated 13,600 problem drug users and has seen a growing number of addicts diagnosed with HIV - with 90 heroin addicts having been infected in the city in the past couple of years.

The city's Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) had planned to open an injecting facility in a building near the Trongate and Saltmarket this year.

Image copyright Getty Images

The facility would allow addicts to bring their own drugs to inject in 12 separate booths using hygienic equipment, while also providing an inhalation room and a separate area where addicts would be given access to treatment.

Ms Campbell said the UK government's own drug policy advisers had found that safe injection rooms reduced drug-related deaths and the transfer of blood-borne viruses such as HIV.

She said the rooms also improved access to health care and intensive drug treatment for addicts, and did not cause rises in drug use or local crime.

Ms Campbell added: "All of this leaves me wondering just how much more evidence in support of these facilities does the Westminster government require before it will act?

"How many more people will need to die before they agree that these facilities could save lives?

"There are safe consumption rooms in more than 70 cities around the world but not one in the UK. That is a position that is no longer tenable."

The Conservatives spoke against the move, calling instead for a review of existing drug strategies to prevent people using illegal substances in the first place.

However,the final vote saw SNP members backed by Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens.

SNP MSP John Mason, who voiced concerns about crime during the debate, abstained.

More on this story