Sadiq Khan will not be allowed to turn London into a ‘drug supermarket’

·4 min read
Sadiq Khan - Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire
Sadiq Khan - Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

Sadiq Khan must not be allowed to turn London into a “drug supermarket” by liberalising policing in the capital, Labour’s shadow justice secretary has said.

Steve Reed said his party would not look to decriminalise or legalise any recreational drugs if it wins the next election, and that Mr Khan will not be given powers to do so either.

Several senior Labour figures, including David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, have previously backed drug reform, but Sir Keir Starmer has said his party is not looking to relax any laws.

Mr Khan, the London mayor, has launched a commission to explore legalising cannabis and has privately drawn up plans to stop prosecuting young people who are caught in possession of the drug.

But as mayor, he has no official control over the Metropolitan Police’s day-to-day operations and cannot force police to participate in pilot decriminalisation schemes.

Mr Reed said Labour would not give mayors any further control over drug policing - blocking Mr Khan’s efforts if Labour wins the next election.

“He is entitled to his view, but mayors will not be responsible under this government or under a Labour government for that policy,” he told The Telegraph.

Steve Reed - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Steve Reed - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

“So he can express whatever he likes, but he'll never have the opportunity to do it under a Labour government because we won't be liberalising drugs laws.

“He’s contributing to a debate, but he won't have the power to do anything about it, however that comes about.”

Mr Reed, a former leader of Lambeth Borough Council, said he had previously struggled to tackle a drug problem in Brixton and would not support relaxing laws.

“You couldn't walk 100 yards from the tube station to the bus stop without people stopping you to try and sell you drugs and it deterred people coming there for recreation [and] to use local shops and businesses,” he said.

“It was really driving the area into a downward spiral economically. But in addition to that, because that created the sense that you could come and buy your drugs in Brixton, it became like London’s drug supermarket.”

He added: “You just want that trade off the streets. So I don't think for a second that we should be looking at legalising drugs recreationally.”

In May Mr Khan travelled to Los Angeles to learn about the effects of cannabis legalisation.

“The illegal drugs trade causes huge damage to our society and we need to further the debate around our current drug laws,” he said.

‘Punish, prevent and protect’

Mr Reed’s intervention comes as Labour prepares to launch its new “punish, prevent and protect” justice slogan at this year’s party conference.

The slogan is reminiscent of New Labour’s “tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime” approach of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The party has also pledged to set up 80 specialist courts to deal with the backlog in rape cases and low prosecution levels.

Just 1.3 per cent of reported rape cases make it to trial, since many victims decide not to pursue their claims because of an average 1000-day wait for a hearing.

“If you make a victim of a serious sexual assault wait three years, the case is quite likely to collapse, because many rape victims live in the same neighbourhood as the person who attacked them,” Mr Reed said.

“They don't want to be wandering around bumping into this person, feeling that this case is still hanging over their heads [...] so many victims simply drop the case.

“If there are witnesses, the witnesses over nearly three years forget details that can be critical for securing a conviction.”

Labour’s conference opens on Sunday with a speech from Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, who will promise to end a “Tory procurement racket” with a new plan to reform government contracts.

She will promise to “ensure every penny of public procurement spend will be guided by the national interest” and make sure there is “no hiding place for cronies and no corner for corruption”.