FORMER Conservative Party leader William Hague has called for the Portugal-style decriminalisation of drugs to tackle the "devastating health issue" of addiction.

Twenty years ago, as leader of the opposition, Hague was forced to shelve a "zero tolerance" approach to drugs as outlined by his shadow home secretary Anne Widdicombe after seven of his shadow cabinet ministers admitted they'd taken controlled substances.

He later called on Prime Minister Theresa May to decriminalise cannabis, calling the UK's drugs policy — which is entirely reserved to Westminster — "inappropriate, ineffective and utterly out of date".

At that time, the life peer — a critic of Dominic Cummings who has objected to recent UK policy decisions on Afghanistan and the international aid budget cut — described orders telling police to stop people smoking cannabis as "about as up to date and relevant as asking the army to recover the empire".

Now he's said the UK should adopt a Portugal-style approach and decriminalise the lot.

That country made the move in 2001 to tackle the problematic heroin consumption that had led to an empidemic of drug-related deaths and an increase in HIV cases.

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The shift to a public health approach has seen those caught with a personal supply of controlled drugs given a warning, a small fine, or told to appear before a panel including doctors and social workers about the help available to them.

It's also seen drug-related death and infection rates fall.

Writing in The Times newspaper, Hague criticised "bureaucratic inertia" in the UK in the face of record drugs deaths in England and Wales and Scotland.

He stated: "Portugal has not legalised drugs and still punishes drug-trafficking. 

"But after decriminalisation, all major indicators in a variety of studies have improved, including an 18% fall in the total costs to society after 11 years. 

"By 2010, the number of drug offenders sent to criminal courts had halved. 

"Less law enforcement work will have helped to pay for better treatments. Might this not be worth a try?"

READ MORE: Vile hypocrisy from Tories on drugs is quite simply coming at cost of lives

He went on: "How refreshing it would be if ministers could say, after a terrible pandemic, that on this other devastating issue they are open to what might work."

Boris Johnson, who has admitted to trying cocaine at university, has refused to budge on drugs laws to allow the opening of controlled consumption rooms in Glasgow, a plan presented in a bid to shift to a public health approach in Scotland's biggest city.

That plan gained cross-party support from local politicians and in London, mayor Sadiq Khan has also sought changes to drugs policy.

Earlier this year, the PM's press secretary Allegra Stratton said: "Policy on controlled drugs is a matter for UK Government and there are no plans to devolve this responsibility.

"The Prime Minister has spoken about this on many occasion — illicit drugs destroy lives and he has absolutely no intention of legalising cannabis, which is a harmful substance."

Data from the Office for National Statistics reveals drug fatalities reached 4561 in England and Wales, the highest level since 1993 after nine successive increases.

Meanwhile, Scotland's toll of 1339, also a new record, has been described as a "national shame". It rose by 5% last year and was the worst fatality rate in Europe.