Labour MP urges ministers to ditch hardline stance on festival drug tests
A top Labour MP has launched a bid to force festivals and nightclubs to provide drug testing facilities following a spate of drug-related deaths.
Thangam Debbonaire - who serves as a whip for Jeremy Corbyn - is calling on ministers to shake up the rules to make it compulsory for festivals and nightclubs to offer drug testing when applying for licenses to operate, and warned that the Government’s current hard-line stance on testing is deterring venues from bringing them in.
"Drug testing could save lives, but the Government’s refusal to provide clarity is blocking this from being taken up on a larger scale," she said.
"We need to turn this debate on its head. Every event like a festival should include drug testing as a basic requirement when applying for a licence, it should not be seen as legally or morally questionable.
"Some local authorities are pushing ahead and allowing testing at events. I am proud to say Bristol is a forerunner in this area."
Despite an overall fall in recorded drug offences in recent years, official figures show that there has been a rise in drug-related deaths since 2010. Ecstacy or MDMA were mentioned on 63 death certificates in 2016, up sharply from the eight cases recorded at the start of the decade.
Meanwhile, the number of death certificates mentioning cocaine has more than doubled from 144 in 2010 to 371 in 2016.
The Labour MP said giving festival-goers the chance to test substances could help flag potentially lethal strains and make sure revellers "understand exactly what it is they are considering taking, saving lives".
She added: "After testing, many people hand in substances which they would have otherwise consumed… Testing at festivals and other events is just one pragmatic reaction to this problem. There are many others. We need a complete review of the law and policy around drugs."
The intervention from the Labour whip - who will raise the issue with ministers in a Commons debate later today - comes after a string of high-profile deaths at music festivals. In May this year, Mutiny Festival in Portsmorth was forced to close following the deaths of 20-year-old Tommy Cowan and 18-year-old Georgia Jones.
There were also 15 hospital admissions at the festival after organisers issued a "harm prevention alert" warning of a "dangerous high-strength or bad-batch substance on site".
But the Home Office, which oversees drug policy, has so far resisted calls for compulsory testing, arguing that such a move could encourage the use of banned substances.
Following the Mutiny deaths, a spokesperson for the department said: “Drugs can devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities. This Government’s approach remains clear that we must prevent drug use in our communities and support people through treatment and recovery.
"No illegal drug can be assumed to be safe and there is no safe way to take them. Our Drug Strategy brings together police, health, community and global partners to tackle the illicit drug trade, protect the most vulnerable and help those with a drug dependency to recover and turn their lives around."