Scotland politics

Week ahead at Holyrood: Tackling Scotland's drug problem

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While the political fallout over Brexit continues to dominate the headlines, it is business-as-usual at Holyrood.

On Wednesday afternoon, MSPs will be tackling the tough subject of substance misuse and drug-related deaths. This will be a debate led by the Scottish Conservatives.

The rate of drug deaths in Scotland is the highest in the EU and about two-and-a-half times that of the UK as a whole.

The Scottish government last year committed to bring forward a new combined alcohol and drugs strategy in autumn 2018, which it said would aim to tackle underlying causes.

The Scottish Tories will propose establishing a target to halve the number of drug deaths over the next five years, while increasing access to treatment for drug users. From elsewhere in the chamber, calls will no doubt be made for the UK government to allow safe consumption rooms to be established.

But what else is happening at parliament this week?

Tuesday - tackling poverty and vulnerable witnesses

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After topical questions on Tuesday, a statement will be made regarding the recent UN rapporteur's report on poverty in the UK.

It suggested ministers were in a "state of denial" about the "staggering" level of poverty - analysis which the UK government rejected, pointing to rising household incomes.

The report was raised at topical questions last week, allowing Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell to reiterate the Scottish government's opposition to the various changes made to welfare by the UK government and highlighting a different approach taken in Scotland.

Following the statement, MSPs will mark the 16 days of activism to end violence against women and girls, as they have done for the last few years.

Then Tory MSP Edward Mountain leads a member's debate welcoming the investigation into bullying claims at NHS Highland.

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Image caption The Vulnerable Witnesses Bill aims to improve the court experience of children and other vulnerable witnesses

In the morning, Holyrood Live will be covering the Justice Committee as it gathers evidence on the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill at stage one.

MSPs will hear from groups representing children and older people, the Mental Welfare Commission and Victim Support Scotland.

The legislation is seeking to alter the way vulnerable people can give evidence to court - instead of having to appear in the court room, children and victims of sexual offences will be given the option to pre-record statements.

Meanwhile:

  • Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham will discuss new emissions targets with the climate change committee - and will likely have to defend the decision not to introduce a firm net-zero;
  • Public Health Minister Joe Fitzpatrick discusses opt-out organ donation with the health committee in its final public session on the Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill.

Wednesday - fuel poverty

Before the debate on drug abuse, portfolio questions will put culture, tourism, external affairs and constitution ministers in the spotlight. The latter half will likely be dominated by Brexit.

SNP MSP Sandra White leads the evening's member's debate, on planned Bank of Scotland bank closures.

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Image caption The Scottish government announced a £54m fund to tackle fuel poverty by improving energy efficiency earlier this year

In the morning, the local government committee will discuss the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill with council officials and energy experts giving evidence.

The legislation will put in place a long-term target of having fewer than 5% of households in Scotland in fuel poverty by 2040.

Thursday - homelessness

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After First Minister's Questions, SNP MSP Tom Arthur will lead a debate celebrating St Andrew's Day.

The theme adopted by the Scottish government this year is "Make Someone's Day" - so expect a quick shift in tone by MSPs.

The rest of the afternoon will be given over to a debate on homelessness as we head into the winter months.

Last year the Scottish government invested £328,000 to provide emergency accommodation throughout winter and there will be questions over whether this level of funding will be maintained.

MSPs are also expected to welcome the Housing First approach which aims to tackle repeat homelessness by providing a secure home.