That the Open-Ended Investment Companies (Investment Companies with Variable Capital) (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2000 (S.I., 2000, No. 3324), which were laid before this House on 19th December 2000, be approved.--[Mr. Mike Hall
Question agreed to.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE
That the Select Committee on Science and Technology shall have leave to meet concurrently with any committee of the Lords on science and technology or any sub-committee thereof, for the purpose of deliberating or taking evidence, and to communicate to any such committee its evidence or any other documents relating to matters of common interest.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]
SELECT COMMITTEES (JOINT MEETINGS)
That, for the current Session of Parliament, Standing Order No. 152 (Select committees related to government departments) be amended as follows:
Line 37, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 46, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 48, at the end insert the words:--
'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with paragraph (4)(e) above, the quorum of each such committee or sub-committee shall be two.'--[Mr. Mike Hall]
SITTINGS IN WESTMINSTER HALL
That, following the Order [20th November 2000], Mr. Nicholas Winterton, Mr. John McWilliam, Mr. Barry Jones and Frank Cook be appointed to act as additional Deputy Speakers at sittings in Westminster Hall during this Session--[Mr. Mike Hall.]
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NORTHERN IRELAND GRAND COMMITTEE
Motion made, That--
1. The matter of human rights and equality in Northern Ireland, being a matter relating exclusively to Northern Ireland, be referred to the Northern Ireland Grand Committee;
2. The Committee shall meet at Westminster on Thursday 8th February at 2.30 p.m.; and
3. At that meeting--
(a) the Committee shall take questions for oral answer; and shall then consider the matter of human rights and equality in Northern Ireland, referred to it under paragraph (1) above;
(b) the Chairman shall interrupt proceedings at 5 p.m.; and
(c) at the conclusion of those proceedings a Motion for the adjournment of the Committee may be moved by a Minister of the Crown pursuant to Standing Order No. 116(5) (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (sittings).--[Mr. Mike Hall.]
That Mrs. Liz Blackman be discharged from the Treasury Committee and Judy Mallaber be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. John McWilliam, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]
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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]
Mr. Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North):
I begin by explaining to my hon. Friend the Minister that no discourtesy was intended on my part when I failed to get in touch with her. When I arrived this afternoon, I phoned her office and got an answerphone; I left word that I would be present at 7.15 pm but got no word back. I apologise only when I do things wrong so I am not apologising, but I regret that this has happened, because it puts a person at a disadvantage, and I would not seek to do that.
Since coming to this House in 1992, it has been my opinion that the Department of Health is absolutely paranoic in its support for fluoridation of water on the basis that it goes a long way to help reduce dental caries during the formative years of a child's growth. I am pleased to say that, since my party came to power, two significant moves have alleviated that position to some extent, although there is still a long way to go.
The first big step forward was when the Government agreed that, instead of local health authorities having the power to decide whether water should be fluoridated, it would be left to local councils to consult the people living in the area and to make a recommendation to the local health authority, which the health authority would accept.
The importance of that change is that health authorities do their work as they are told to do it by the Department of Health. There is no independence, and anyone who thinks otherwise does not have much knowledge of the Government or of those whom they appoint to do a job for them. Councils are rather different. They are, to some degree, influenced by the fact they can be removed by the people in their area, if they do not provide what the people want. That change was particularly welcome to me.
When this matter was discussed at great length in my constituency four years ago, there was a phone-in to a local newspaper in which more than 2,000 people took part. More than 90 per cent. of those who responded were against the fluoridation of water supplies. I have no fears about this matter. If we can go out and campaign fairly, I have no doubt that the public will democratically decide that they do not want fluoridation.
There was a second important factor. There must have been some doubt on the matter somewhere in the Department of Health, because last year it set up a review procedure under Professor Sheldon at York university. That review would take note of whatever evidence was available on the advantages and disadvantages of the fluoridation of water, and notice would, of course, be taken of the resulting report.
When the report came out in late autumn last year, I was delighted, as someone who is opposed to fluoridation and the secretary of the all-party parliamentary group against fluoridation. Having read the report, my view was that it in no way endorsed the views that we have been given for many years about the tremendous benefits of fluoridation, about there being no danger involved and about there being no evidence that it could be harmful.
I say to the Minister with all sincerity that I am very disappointed that the Department of Health has joined forces with the British Dental Association, the British
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Medical Association and the British Fluoridation Society in a pre-emptive strike to try to undermine the report. I make no apology for reading out a letter that was sent to the Government on 10 September by Professor Sheldon. I shall read it word for word, although I do not like doing that; I like spontaneity rather than chuntering on. Professor Sheldon wrote:
"In my capacity as chair of the Advisory Group for the systematic review on the effects of water fluoridation recently conducted by the NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at the University of York and as its founding director, I am concerned that the results of the review have been widely misrepresented. The review was exceptional in this field in that it was conducted by an independent group to the highest international scientific standards and a summary has been published in the British Medical Journal. It is particularly worrying then that statements which mislead the public about the review's findings have been made in press releases and briefings by the British Dental Association, the National Alliance for Equity in Dental Health and the British Fluoridation Society. I should like to correct some of these errors.
1 Whilst there is evidence that water fluoridation is effective at reducing caries, the quality of the studies was generally moderate and the size of the estimated benefit, only of the order of 15 per cent., is far from 'massive'.
2 The review found water fluoridation to be significantly associated with high levels of dental fluorosis which was not characterised as 'just a cosmetic issue'.
3 The review did not show fluoridation to be safe. The quality of the research was too poor to establish with confidence whether or not there are potentially important adverse effects in addition to the high levels of fluorosis. The report recommended that more research was needed.
4 There was little evidence to show that water fluoridation has reduced social inequalities in dental health.
5 The review could come to no conclusion as to the cost-effectiveness of water fluoridation or whether there are different effects between natural or artificial fluoridation.
6 Probably because of the rigour with which this review was conducted, these findings are more cautious and less conclusive than in most previous reviews.
7 The review team was surprised that in spite of the large number of studies carried out over several decades there is a dearth of reliable evidence with which to inform policy. Until high quality studies are undertaken providing more definite evidence, there will continue to be legitimate scientific controversy over the likely effects and costs of water fluoridation."
I pay tribute to Lord Baldwin, who has been an inspiration to all those who are worried about water fluoridation. I shall now pick out one or two highlights from a piece by Jerome Burne in the Financial Times
on 27 January. The article is headed "Fluoridation findings set teeth gnashing" and says:
"A systematic research review has failed to find reliable evidence that it works, but doctors and dentists are refusing to accept the fact".
I do not have time to read out the whole article, but it also says:
"Anyone who thinks this report a ringing endorsement is either scientifically illiterate or dishonest".
Those are not my words, but I certainly go along with them.
Several statements have been made since the York review. I shall call it that because everyone--not that many are here--will understand it. The BDA said:
"The review . . . confirms that water fluoridation is safe and effective."
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John Hunt, chief executive of the BDA, refers to the
"compelling evidence provided by the review",
but the review says:
"Any future research . . . [should use] . . . appropriate methodology to improve the quality of the existing evidence base."
The BDA says:
"The report confirms that there is clear evidence that fluoridation reduces [decay]."
The York review says:
"To have clear confidence in the ability to answer the question [on caries reduction], the quality of the evidence would need to be higher."
The BDA says:
"The report confirms that fluoridation reduces dental health inequalities . . . [and] significantly narrows the dental health gap".
The York review, in its executive summary conclusions, says:
"The research evidence is of insufficient quality to allow confident statements about other potential harms [than dental fluorosis] or whether there is an impact on social inequalities."
The BDA says:
"There is no evidence that water fluoridation is linked to cancer, bone disease, or any other adverse effect."
The York review says:
"High quality research [into adverse effects] that takes confounding factors into account is needed."
The BDA says:
"Dental fluorosis is recognised by the York review as a cosmetic issue, not a health problem."
The York review says:
"This is nowhere to be found in the report. The lead researcher confirms 'we . . . did not say it was a cosmetic issue.'"
The BDA says:
"projections in the review estimate that fluoridation might . . . increase . . . dental fluorosis of 'aesthetic concern' . . . to around 10 per cent."
The York review says:
"The proportion who have teeth that are affected enough to cause aesthetic concern is approximately 12.5 per cent."
That is pretty good for the BDA: it was only 25 per cent. out on that issue, whereas on all the others it was nearly 100 per cent. out. I could go on indefinitely with those quotations, but I shall not.
According to a BDA parliamentary newsletter, the York review
"confirmed that water fluoridation is safe and effective".
The York review replied:
"Interpreting the results of studies of other possible negative effects is very difficult because of the small numbers of studies . . . and poor study quality . . . other potential adverse effects"--
other than dental fluorosis, that is--
"may take longer to occur, or may occur largely in an adult population . . . High quality research is needed."
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I think I have made my point in that regard, but the Department of Health, which commissioned the report, has made statements on one or two issues. It has said:
"This report clearly shows that fluoridating water helps to reduce tooth decay."
The York review said:
"were of moderate quality . . . and limited quantity . . . Only one study addressed the positive effect of fluoridation in the adult population. Assessment of the long-term benefits of water fluoridation is needed."
According to the Department of Health,
"The findings show that water fluoridation improves dental health".
The York review said:
"it is surprising to find that little high quality research has been undertaken."
Perhaps the most surprising aspect involves a statement by the British Fluoridation Society, which compared dental health in fluoridated Sandwell with that in unfluoridated Bolton, to Bolton's disadvantage. According to the York review:
"Crude league tables cannot be scientific, as they do not control for other variables. Ireland for example, most heavily fluoridated in Europe, ranks below 4 unfluoridated countries for dental health in 12-year-olds."
I have quoted quite enough, and I want to give the Minister a chance to reply--after all, she has already suffered one disadvantage--but I think that the present situation is untenable. I want the Department of Health not to try to rubbish reports that it has commissioned, and to ensure that what goes out to the public uses such reports in their proper context. I consider it scandalous for a Government Department to act in such a way: I cannot put it more strongly than that.
This is nothing short of deception. It is not for me to say whether it constitutes a deliberate attempt to mislead people--I leave others to judge that--but I know that it does mislead people. Despite all its problems, most of the population have a high regard for the Department of Health; I have myself, but not on this issue. It is about time the Department took another look at the matter.
I should like to know why we are about the only European country that tolerates the poison that is put into our water--for that is what we are talking about: it is a poison, nothing else. The Government themselves have said that fluorosis is a sign of toxicity, although people are saying that it is only cosmetic.
Let me say to the Minister again, in all honesty and sincerity, that if we do not get this matter right there will be a public backlash that will make many other recent events seem fairly small. There has been a bad misjudgment for many years, and it is time that it was corrected.