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Mr. Alan Williams : I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) that when the subject was first debated on the Floor of the House I was on the Opposition Front Bench, which I left to join the Back Benches so that I could oppose the then Government's proposal. I did so for the same reasons that make me oppose it today. It is a matter not of whether fluoride is good or bad, but of whether compulsory medication is right or wrong. It is a fundamental right of every individual in this country, other than in a major national emergency, to say, "I do not want medication." It does not matter what part of the electorate is chosen to make the decision, whether it is the local authority or people voting in a national referendum, a minority will be forced to accept compulsory medication.

My hon. Friend said that 67 per cent. of people in a poll were in favour of fluoridation. That means that one in three people who replied did not want to be force fed fluoride, but in arrogance people who have just come into this House and do not understand the prime responsibility—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order.

Mr. Williams: Those people do not understand that the prime responsibility of the House of Commons cuts across parties to protect the rights and privileges of the people of this country. People have the right to say no to medication. We cannot say no to a water supply, because we must have water. No one can pretend that fluoride is a matter of life or death. Professor Sheldon said that at best it gives an estimated benefit in the order of 15 per cent. Are hon. Members seriously saying that to get a 15 per cent. benefit we will force feed one in three people? It is as simple as that. If hon. Members miss that point, they do not understand what the House of Commons is about.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley): I obviously have a declared interest and, as such, will take a slightly different approach. I will not go through the facts and figures. Other hon. Members have the opportunity to do so. I want to touch on the caries aspect of the problem and my experience of fluoride in this country and elsewhere.

The proposal is a little start—a tiny step forward—but it is decades behind the United States, Australia and New Zealand. I was a child in New Zealand and graduated from dentistry there. We have three dental generations in New Zealand: my parents' generation, which has plastic teeth; my generation, which has our own teeth but heavily filled; and the next generation—my children's generation—most of whom have little or no sign of decay and no fluorosis. I speak as someone who has looked through a microscope at the teeth of living patients. The first place in New Zealand where fluoridation was introduced many decades ago was a little town called Hastings. There was a huge scream, and there were allegations of the type that we have heard tonight about cancer and brittle bones. There were even allegations about the process being used by the Nazis for torture, but it all proved to be absolute rubbish.

Research on the subject in the past few decades has been enormous. Fluoride occurs naturally in many water supplies throughout the world, so there has been

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a great the opportunity to look into its effects. In Hastings, the mayor made a brave decision to add fluoride to the water and there was, as I said, a scream. However, his biggest problem came from a local lady who said that a cup of tea would taste different. On day one, he pulled a lever, and the fluoride went in. There was an enormous number of complaints, but about six weeks later there was a small item in the paper saying that when the mayor had pulled the lever it was not connected to anything. A piece of machinery that was supposed to come from England had not arrived on the boat. However, New Zealand has had fluoride ever since, and it has been of tremendous benefit.

Much has been made of the fact that decay can be prevented by other means, which is true. Much, too, has been made of the fact that there should be expenditure by the Government to teach prevention. The Ministry of Health in New Zealand tried that years ago, and put a huge amount into prevention. There was an advertising campaign, and three special colleges for school dental nurses were set up—the population, I remind hon. Members, was only about 2 million. Those girls did drilling and filling sessions at every single primary school—as kids, we called them "the murder house" because we had an enormous amount of decay.

Once fluoride arrived, decay gradually disappeared and the need for those dental nurses was reduced. The population has more than doubled, as has the school population, but the number of schools for dental nurses has gone down from three to one. The girls are spending two thirds of their time teaching prevention, because they do not need to drill and fill.

When I arrived in Britain about 30 years ago and went to work in east London, I could not believe what I saw. The points made by the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) are quite right, as are the points made on the postcards, which, I hope, Members have received. What I saw was disgusting and appalling. I spent a large proportion of my time extracting teeth or refilling teeth when dental decay had eaten around what I had done heroically the previous year to save teeth, not just in children but in adults. Last night, I spoke to an elderly dentist in New Zealand, who told me that before fluoridation, filling teeth heroically was like trying to fill a bath with the plug out—it was hopeless. When fluoride arrived, that changed.

I remember children and adults coming into my clinic with swollen faces and broken-off teeth. They had pus pouring out and were in considerable pain. They had sleepless nights and had to take days and hours off work or school. It was appalling. We used to run a general anaesthetic session every Thursday afternoon. That is not permitted now, because it is done in the hospitals, which have picked up the load that we had to deal with. We would put 18 to 20 patients through a huge series of extractions because there was no clinical alternative. That does not occur in New Zealand, Australia or the United States, where there is fluoride.

I was staggered by the working hours that were lost. On Monday morning, dentists would have queues of patients lining up to see them. That does not happen in areas with fluoride.

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Mr. Kevin Hughes: Is the hon. Gentleman trying to say that that is all down to fluoridated water? I do not think that he can make that claim, because not even the York review and the General Medical Council are saying that. He is stretching the point a little.

Sir Paul Beresford: What I am saying to the hon. Gentleman is that, having looked at mouths in one country where there is fluoride in water and in another country where there is none, I believe that, in addition to the benefit of fluoride toothpaste and where decent tuition has been given, we can beat caries with fluoride in the water supply, topped up by other methods. We must recognise, however, that in trying to teach adults and children in a country where there is less than one toothbrush per person, we need fluoride to take the initial step.

8.45 pm

In the past, children who came out of a dental surgery—this often still applies today—would be petrified of dental care thereafter, which contributed to the difficulty. I now run a very specialist and extremely part-time dental practice doing advanced restoration. The only pain is in the white envelope at the end of the day. We are doing high-class work, but it is still vulnerable to decay, and people would be protected from such decay to a considerable degree if fluoride were included in the water supply.

Mr. Butterfill: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Sir Paul Beresford: No; my hon. Friend has been bouncing up and down like a yo-yo, and I shall leave things like that for a moment, as I wish to move on.

I have spent most of my life battling dental caries. I have been to conference after conference and read journal after journal, and I am absolutely convinced of the benefits and safety of a fluoridated water supply. Perhaps the best answer to those with health concerns, especially the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), who tabled the new clause, is to remember that almost all the All Blacks will have had fluoridated water all their lives, and they beat Wales.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Miss Melanie Johnson): I do not think I shall join that particular controversy.

Hon. Members have made my job of speaking to the Government amendments and winding up the debate difficult. I shall endeavour to address the arguments and not deal with individual amendments, as time will not permit me to do so. First, it is ironic that the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), who is in pursuit of liberties, is pursuing them through a whipped vote of his party, whereas many hon. Members are on a genuinely free vote. That is an extreme irony.

Clause 58 is an enabling clause. No one is forcing anyone to do anything here or anywhere else. The point is that the provision is not for the whole country and it is democratic, as we are going to local communities and the Bill enables those communities to decide for themselves. That is very important. While we might want to reduce demand for dentistry, as the hon. Member for Ceredigion said, we also want to improve

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dental health, as the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) pointed out, which is why dentists throughout the country support the measure as well. It is not in dentists' interests in terms of their business—let us admit it—to support the measure, but they have done so because of their interest in dental health. And yes, brushing teeth is essential too.

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