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BEAT THE BENZOS CAMPAIGN
Beat The Benzos Index Page
Croydon, UK, November 2000
Chairman: Phil Woolas MP
The scale of the problem is so large, (this is the experience overseas as well) that it is beyond the grasp of many politicians and people in power to actually solve it. I think there's a paradox here, because you have this huge problem with a huge number of people involved and yet we seem as a society to be incapable of acting upon it. We can only cope with problems that are so big... we can't cope with this one.
We do, of course face an enormous mountain that we have to climb, I have felt increasingly frustrated over the last two to three years - often being a lone voice in parliament although we have got increasing support and I think the point about an all parliamentary group is perhaps a timely one and perhaps we do need to get more advocates in Parliament because whatever the newspapers say, Parliament ultimately holds Government and organisations to account.
On the class 'A' and class 'C' point, I think there are some very valid arguments for and against the actual decision as to whether or not they should be reclassified. Central to my concern throughout all this procedure has been that as non-political people, as volunteers, as sufferers or members of families of sufferers, it is quite natural, understandable, that people concentrate on the real issue of the substance. In politics you have to campaign on the real issue and the substance and the presentation.
It's a fact of modern life and there is no doubt in my mind that the call for benzodiazepines to be reclassified as class 'A' drugs makes people think. It stops them and makes them think: "Why are they calling for this drug to be put alongside heroin?"
Now, whether they should be reclassified or not, I don't really have an opinion as at the end of the day that's a judgment for the minister in the Cabinet Office I presume, but I do think that it's a very valid campaigning tool. I have a lot of sympathy for the point Candy made, I also think there's a valid point that you would create a new criminal fraternity because dealing in benzodiazepines would become a very lucrative business - these are the dilemmas of politics.
The local enquiries point of view does seem to have some support; we will as a steering group - we are not a formal group. Anybody is perfectly free to make some suggestions and come along if you can. We meet at the House of Commons.
We will be taking this conference forward and where we go from here. In campaigning terms - broadly, there are two fronts on which we must fight. There is the judicial front and the political front.
Ian Caldwell is leading the charge along with Michael in two separate actions and a lot of our hopes and expectations rest with Ian and Michael. I have to say to you (and I don't mean to embarrass them) that the courage and tenacity that they are both showing in the face of... is a pretty dangerous thing to do - to take on a multi-national drug company. I have the protection of Parliament, I have the protection of parliamentary privilege, but Ian and Michael don't. We owe them an enormous gratitude and more power to your elbows gentlemen!
On the political front we have two arenas in which we must operate. We have the local arena and we have the national arena. Locally our focus is the primary care groups who now employ GPs and the Health Authorities who are the funding bodies of the Health Service and decide policy on prescription. If you have a primary care trust and most primary care groups will become primary care trusts in the course of the next twelve months - now that is your focus. Primary care groups and Health Authorities have executive boards of lay members who are accountable to MPs, to the Secretary of State and most importantly to local people. You should identify who they are and you should lobby them in the same way as we talked about lobbying the members of Parliament. Local press is obviously a key factor.
On the national stage - the national arena - there are many objectives and we've tried to put them down. I as a Member of Parliament, as a lone voice need support. I need a groundswell of public support, of local papers which will result in national coverage, we need national coverage, we need more MPs, most of whom are empathetic and sympathetic and prepared to do specific things; if we can educate them, ask them, they are not our enemy whatever party they are in - so we do need to do that.
We will be producing a campaign pack which we'll be sending out to the participants at the conference on the hows and wherefores of these campaign ideas. The point Reg made about the website is extremely valid. The website is a fantastic tool for this campaign which doesn't have formal structures, not like a trade union or charity with local formal branches and operates within a structure. We are a disparate group and the website and compilation of the data is very, very important." Thanks to all etc.
Phil Woolas: Benzodiazepines, House of Commons, Hansard Debates, 7 December 1999.
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