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House of Lords

Tuesday, 17th October 1995.

The House met at half past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.


Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept that the sleeping pill Temazepam can become dangerous when combined with alcohol and other substances; and whether they have any further plans to reclassify the drug.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): My Lords, my right honourable friends the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland announced on 12th September that Temazepam will be reclassified and in future it will be a criminal offence to possess the drug without authority. Pharmacies will be required to store the drug more securely and licences will be required for exports and imports. Today my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health will be announcing that GPs are to be banned from prescribing Temazepam capsules on the NHS.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her welcome reply. Can she confirm that possession of the drug without a prescription will be treated severely? Also, is my noble friend aware, following her last statement, that GPs in the areas where misuse of this drug has been most prevalent are reported to be in favour of a complete ban because of the numbers of deaths connected with it?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the Government take illegal possession of any drug extremely seriously. As this drug has been reclassified, normal sanctions will be taken against those who are in possession of it without a prescription.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in Glasgow, which I recently visited, the melting down and injecting of jellified Temazepam blocks the veins and causes terrible problems which result in amputation and death? Glasgow would like to see the jellified version banned altogether.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, we share the anxieties of the noble Baroness. That is why from today the jellified form—that is, the capsules—will be banned.

Lord Rea: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that although National Health Service practitioners are banned from prescribing the jellified form of Temazepam, private practitioners are not proscribed from prescribing? Perhaps the noble Baroness will give her comments on that point.

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Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, from today it will be illegal to prescribe in any form, privately or on the NHS, the capsule form of Temazepam.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that one doctor said of this dangerous mixture, "It makes you feel fearless; it disinhibits violence and it diminishes anxiety; your brain no longer functions and you do foolish things"? Should there not be in future compulsory testing for this drug of those attending all the party conferences?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I think some of us on the Front Bench could do with a shot of Temazepam occasionally.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, while accepting that the Government are trying to control Temazepam through the supply of the drug, can the Minister assure us that the Government will take equally positive action to try to reduce the demand particularly among teenagers where it is becoming rife?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, Temazepam in its tablet form and in what is described as an "elixir" form—that is, a liquid form—is one of the most commonly prescribed sleeping aids for all age groups. We shall be issuing guidance shortly to the professions, particularly GPs, on general Benzodiazepine prescribing. We are convinced that in some cases it is inappropriate.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, what advice can my noble friend give to those patients who have Temazepam, unused for a number of months, still at the back of the medicine cabinet?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, they should return it to the chemist.

Grant-Maintained Schools

2.42 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their present policy on grant-maintained schools.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Employment (Lord Henley): My Lords, grant-maintained status is the best route for ensuring good management and high standards in schools. We are considering ways of extending the benefits of self-government to all schools and will be consulting shortly on means of smoothing the path to self-government for Church schools.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, does the Minister recall the Prime Minister saying during the Recess that his aim is for all schools to be grant maintained? It may have been a touch of summer madness. As, after four years, only 1,100 schools out of 24,000 have chosen to opt out, following incentives amounting to millions of pounds, will the Government give a firm assurance that they will not dispense with ballots?

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Lord Henley: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister stated quite clearly that it was his ambition to see all schools benefit from the advantages that accrue from having self-governing status. He then said that he hoped that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and the department could look at ways of achieving that policy. For the moment grant-maintained status remains voluntary but we believe, and the Prime Minister believes, that the benefits of GM status are so great that they could and should be extended, where possible, to all schools.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that under the proposed changes the parents of children in Church schools will be able to express their views about any proposals for GM status in exactly the same way as the parents of children in non-Church schools? Does the Minister agree that in many cases the Church authorities, the governors and the parents are of the opinion that the good relationship that exists between local education authorities and Church authorities should be respected and maintained and not smoothed away, to use the Minister's euphemism?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not believe I used a euphemism. We believe that there are terrific advantages in all schools having the benefit of grant-maintained status. The Prime Minister made it clear that he would look first of all at voluntary-aided schools. I mentioned those in my introductory Answer. We are looking at possible ways of fast-tracking that process for Church schools. I shall not give any assurances one way or the other about what process we shall pursue when we have reviewed the matter but we believe that there are considerable advantages for Church schools and for other schools in pursuing this process.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, is it not a fact that the whole grant-maintained initiative is waning seriously already—1,100 out 24,000 after all this time—because, despite all the persuasions, all the inducements and all the threats, schools have looked at this initiative and they do not want it? Since the Government are absolutely determined to refuse to recognise that, is it not time that the Government had the courage either to try to make it compulsory by forcing through legislation or—far more preferable—to abandon this scheme altogether?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the grant-maintained school process has considerable support, as the noble Lord well knows, from those in his own party who have made use of the process. If the noble Lord thinks that the process is on the wane, perhaps I may remind him that at present one-in-five children in England in secondary education are at grant-maintained schools. It is very popular indeed with parents. I believe the process will grow as more schools see the advantages of it. In time we shall see all schools pursuing this process.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, while applauding what my noble friend has said about the Government's grant-maintained schools initiative, would he agree with me that there is another less obvious advantage in that some of even the nastier local

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education authorities may behave better than they would have done were the prospect of grant-maintained status for their schools not available?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I would not want to single out any particular LEA but I can assure my noble friend that the process concentrates minds wonderfully.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in Scotland only one school has opted out and that there has been only one other application to consider opting out? Against that background, will the Minister pay tribute to the comprehensive education system and its great success and give an absolute undertaking that nothing the Government do will undermine the comprehensive education system?

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