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Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): On the York review's recommendation for further research and the Medical Research Council's 15 recommendations for such research, the hon. Gentleman points out that we have yet to receive the results. But even if this House were willing to legislate without knowing the results, would he think it odd that we consulted the public without their knowing the results?

8.15 pm

Mr. Wiggin: As I said earlier, it is important that the public be properly informed and consulted.

Mr. Butterfill: Does my hon. Friend accept that although the Government may be indemnifying the water companies, they will not get an indemnity themselves? There is no doubt that they will face legal action if they proceed with the Bill.

Mr. Wiggin: I share my hon. Friend's concern. I, too, have heard that the provision will be tested in law and I am very worried about that, because ultimately the consumers will pick up the bill, whether they wish to or not. For that reason, this part of the measure makes me extremely nervous.

Have the Government received the advice of the chief medical officer and the chief dental officer, commissioned in September 2002? We were promised in Committee that a great deal more information would be available on Report. We all look forward to knowing what that information is. If these amendments were accepted, they would provide assurances for all water undertakers that liabilities are covered by the indemnity arrangements, which would be most helpful.

Amendments Nos. 49 and 50 would enable water companies, as well as health authorities, to initiate changes to pre-1985 fluoridation arrangements, which would be fairer to water companies. Water undertakers should be included in statutory provisions that will affect their industry.

I look forward to hearing the rest of this debate. This is an extremely important issue, and I regret very much the sneaking of this clause into the Bill. It is clear that this issue needed a great deal more time in which to debate it.

Andy Burnham: In fact, the clause has not been snuck into the Bill; 150 Members of this House signed an early-day motion, which I tabled, on this issue. That shows the strength of feeling in this place—on both sides of the House—which the Government recognised by introducing the clause.

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Today, we have an opportunity to correct a loophole in the law that has thwarted the will of the House for 20 years, and left health inequalities between rich and poor communities that are wider than they need be or should be. Tooth decay is almost entirely preventable, and water fluoridation has been shown to be a safe and effective way of preventing it. Yet we rarely get the chance—

Mr. Kevin Hughes: Can my hon. Friend justify his statement by saying by whom it has been so shown?

Andy Burnham: The justification is the figures, provided for every constituency, from the British Dental Association. In respect of five-year-olds, the constituencies with the best dental health in the country all have a fluoridated water supply. Those with the worst dental health are the poorest communities, which do not have a fluoridated water supply.

Mr. Lansley rose—

Mr. Kevin Hughes rose—

Andy Burnham: I shall make progress as others want to speak.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pass legislation that will have a rapid effect on the nation's health, particularly in our most deprived communities, and we must seize it. In fact, it was a Bill passed in 1985 by the previous Conservative Government that made water fluoridation legal, although pointing that out will not help me on this side of the House. The Government's proposed change simply gives effect to the spirit of that legislation.

Mr. Drew: I was under the impression that, when the clause was added, it was an all-party move that the Government did not instigate, but which they may have been sympathetic to. If the Government are in favour of fluoridation, let them say so, but they are not saying that. They are sitting on the fence and hoping that this place will vote in favour of fluoridation. Can my hon. Friend clarify that point?

Andy Burnham: I referred to early-day motion 247, which I tabled. It was signed by Members on both sides, including the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who introduced the original legislation—a powerful voice—and the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton) among many others. The Government are right because they are giving communities the chance to decide for themselves. I do not believe that a single Member of the House has the right to deny my constituents the ability to make their own decision on this issue.

Mr. Alan Williams: Does my hon. Friend not understand that he is not doing what he says? He is not giving his constituents the right to do what they want. He is taking one minority—a local government minority—and getting that to force-feed fluoride, as opposed to having a regional health authority do that. He is still force-feeding fluoride and compulsory medication.

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Andy Burnham: I am not force-feeding anything to anyone. I support the amendment that gives effect to the original water fluoridation legislation that was passed by the Conservative party and incorporated in its privatisation legislation. It said that, on the back of consultation with local communities, health bodies should make a request to fluoridate. That was the spirit of the legislation that the House passed, and on what basis should we deny our communities the chance to choose for themselves in accordance with the spirit of that legislation?

Mr. Wray: When my hon. Friend reads the paper from the British Dental Association, does he not notice that inner London has the best dental care? The water in that area has never been fluoridated.

Andy Burnham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I am looking at the league table for the worst dental health in the country. If he does not mind me saying, Glasgow has the worst children's dental health in the whole country. When we know a safe and effective means of doing something for the children in Glasgow, we should do it.

On my hon. Friend's specific point, I see that Cities of London and Westminster is No. 10 on the list of the worst constituencies for children's dental health. Under-fives there have, on average, almost three missing, filled or decayed teeth. Right below that constituency are Kensington and Chelsea, which is at No. 11 on the list, and Regent's Park and Kensington, North, which is at No. 12. Inner London is right at the top of the league for the worst dental health in the country.

Mr. Wray: Glasgow also has the four most deprived areas in the whole of the United Kingdom.

Andy Burnham: My point is that, as a supporter of a socialist Government and member of the Labour party, I ask my colleagues in my party to vote for water fluoridation. We know that it is the most effective way of improving the dental health and quality of life of children in our poorest communities. We should all take that opportunity as members of the Labour party.

Mr. Kevin Hughes: Will my hon. Friend look at the British Dental Association report? Does he not see that in 19 of the best 20 constituencies for dental health the water is not fluoridated?

Andy Burnham: I have looked in detail at the figures and I point my hon. Friend to the constituency with the best dental health in the country. The best is Tamworth, where the water is fluoridated. Tamworth does not have the social profile of the wealthiest parts of the country, but it has the best children's dental health. I put it to him that that has something to do with water fluoridation.

I shall now attempt to make progress. This is a controversial issue and the Government deserve credit for taking it on and seeking to resolve it. However, I take the view that the issue has been allowed to become controversial not because most people oppose fluoridation—surveys of the public show that they do not—but because a noisy minority send long letters to Members of Parliament. The chief medical officer unequivocally endorses water fluoridation as the most

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effective means of improving the health of the nation. What Member of the House has more evidence than he does to make such a recommendation?

Mr. Etherington: My hon. Friend suggests that a majority are in favour of fluoridation, and he has already made the point that he is trying to do what he thinks is right for his constituents. A poll carried out by a local newspaper showed that more than 90 per cent. of my constituents were against fluoridation. I hope that he will bear that in mind when he talks about MPs being influenced by noisy minorities. That is not always the case.

Andy Burnham: The latest poll carried out by NOP found that 67 per cent. of people support fluoridation if it can be shown to reduce tooth decay—and it can.

Mr. Hughes: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to apologise to the House and to my hon. Friend. Another hon. Friend has just pointed out that there is another page in the report and that I was looking at the wrong one.

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