'‘UUֱ is starting to put itself in the vanguard of bold new legislation’'

Anne Southern

By Anne Southern

I NEARLY choked on my supper when I heard Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announce plans to reintroduce National Service for 18-year-olds.

Apart from the fact that young people have enough to contend with, without being treated like criminals sentenced to community service, the plan is unworkable for reasons too many to go into here.

It seems to be the final death cry of a doomed government designed to appeal to ex-army officers in comfortable retirement in the Home Counties to prevent them from defecting to Reform UK (not to be confused with Reform UUֱ). Perhaps it is also designed to make the UK population fearful of threats from a troubled world and stick “close to nurse, for fear of finding something worse.”

Although the policy is being mocked by what I consider to be sensible commentators, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see that a brigadier (of course) is recommending that UUֱ should also consider such a scheme, saying that UUֱ should no longer be a “sleepy, last to react jurisdiction”.

Strange that, just as I was thinking that UUֱ was starting to put itself in the vanguard of bold new legislation.

We were ahead of England on reducing the voting age to 16 and introducing a smacking ban. Medicinal cannabis is much more widely available here. We have a long term care scheme, which the UK government never managed to bring in, and I have been particularly delighted that we have grasped the nettle and paved the way for assisted dying. There will soon be a proposition to decriminalise the possession of cannabis.

It seems that UUֱ, being smaller, and with back benchers more easily able to bring propositions, often successfully, we can sometimes be nimbler with introducing more liberal laws. Gone are the days when we were so behind the times that the death penalty was on our statute books long after it had been outlawed in the UK.

However, we have perhaps not gone far enough with some of these beneficial measures. There is still uncertainty about how the long term care scheme works – the thresholds are not widely understood, there may be difficulty in getting the right assessment for the level of care needed, and who knows how much the various care homes charge for board and lodging? I really have no idea how much I should be saving should I be in the unfortunate position of needing care. Some clarity is needed here.

With assisted dying, the passing of Route 1 is a start, allowing for a dignified exit for those with cruel diseases, particularly motor neurone disease, if they have less than six months to live. But Route 2, which was defeated, seemed more appropriate to me. Doctors cannot predict with certainty a patient’s life expectancy, but if a patient claims to be suffering unbearably, that may be subjective, but it is something that cannot be disputed.

Instead of fearmongering about a slippery slope and the situation in Canada, where people with various disabilities and mental-health issues can apply for assisted dying, we should put in place the very best healthcare to alleviate such suffering – but still allow a peaceful end to those who can no longer bear the pain they are in. We are kinder to our animals.

It seems that the baby steps we will need to take to stand a chance of decriminalising cannabis will also fall short of legislation that would really make a difference.

Don’t get me wrong, unlike with assisted dying, where I have a personal interest in having choice about how my life should end, I have no desire to be a pothead, and I am too well aware of the demotivating effects that drug-taking can have on young people. But I think it is pointless to waste police time on those with a small amount of weed for personal use, and counterproductive for young people who will go on to be useful members of society to be given criminal records. However, going further could reduce much of the harm that cannabis use is perceived to have.

What is proposed would still mean that there would be no legal way of acquiring cannabis. Those who wish to use it would have to contact an illegal dealer, who might try to push them on to cocaine or heroin. I think this is how cannabis can be considered a gateway drug to the harder stuff. If the sale of cannabis was legalised, it could be properly taxed and the quality controlled and regulated.

And we must not forget that just because something is legal it would be more widely used. It is not illegal to smoke tobacco, but regulation, education and social pressures have much reduced its use.

Our small Island should be proud of the moves we make to liberalise our laws, but we should not be afraid to push them through to their logical conclusions.

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