Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Stooshie over drugs policy

There were angry exchanges in the House of Commons last night during the reading of the Welfare Reform Bill over the lack of co-operation between the Scottish government and the UK Department of Work and Pensions.

A fresh inter-governmental row is brewing over proposals within the bill to withhold social security payments from drug addicts unless they agree to undertake treatment courses. Although the benefits system is reserved to Westminster and the UK government makes policy for the whole of the country the Scottish Government controls drugs treatment in Scotland and it is using this area to block the UK government’s attempts to change the system.

In the Commons last night Stirling MP Anne McGuire, a former Pensions Minister, attacked that stance. "I cannot for the life of me understand why the administration in Scotland cannot see the importance of offering tailored support to drug users on benefits to help them get into work."

John Mason, the new SNP member for Glasgow East, intervened: "The Scottish government is very keen to work along with the UK government on these issues. The people choosing the fight have been the people in the DWP."

Earlier Work and Pensions Minister James Purnell accused the SNP of blocking the UK-wide policy by refusing to help Westminster collate all the relevant information. "The Scottish government’s policy is to oppose this on ethical grounds and our ethical position is that money should not go from the taxpayer to drug dealers it should be going to get people better."

Mr Mason asked the Minister to accept that the Scottish government was at the forefront of treating drugs. "We believe that it should be medical need whether people get treatment not whether they are on benefits."

Mr Purnell said people had to wait a year to get treatment because the SNP government had not invested sufficiently in treatment programmes.

In his speech Mr Mason said that the drug problem in Scotland had been managed in the past, not tackled. "People are now supported to get right off drugs which is the only answer." He added that the Scottish government "spent £29.5 million on drugs (treatment), rising to £32.5 million in the next year which is evidence of a clear commitment."

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