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9.39 pm

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): It was a pleasure to serve on the Bill, and I congratulate the main spokespersons on both sides of the House on demonstrating the necessary technical knowledge, particularly in the early stages, when we were talking about abstraction; it was such knowledge that saw the Bill through. I have not followed the water industry with particular zeal, but I have learned a lot by serving on the Standing Committee, which sat for 11 two-and-a-half-hour sittings. If not exactly a marathon, that was certainly a long time.

The memories that remain with me from the debate on abstraction include the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) waxing lyrical on the watercress beds that I never realised I was looking at in that lovely view of Salisbury cathedral. To him, I therefore say, "Thank you for the memory." I was not so convinced by the golf course lobby. Given that I do not play golf myself, I did not shed too many tears about the sustainability of golf courses during our consideration of the sustainability argument.

Another lasting memory was my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Diana Organ) telling us about the dry junior urinals that she had come across in a recently built school in her constituency. She asked us to spread the message, and I am doing so right now. But the funniest moment in Committee proceedings occurred when, as people were thinking about nothing in particular, the Clerk suddenly stood up and shouted, "Rats in the sewers!" I thought, "When? Now? Is a bubonic plague epidemic about to spread in London?" The shout was reminiscent of how the doormen shout the Divisions, and it surprised us all. It was a funny moment in the middle of such serious business. I congratulate those Members who promoted the adoption of private sewers. I never realised that there were so many private sewers throughout Britain. I can tell the Government that I have a lot of private street works, as well, which I shall be flagging up before too long.

To be serious for a moment, I asked the Whips if I could participate in this Bill because of the children in my constituency who suffer from bad dental health—an issue that the Minister mentioned today that was also mentioned in Committee. I said that I was ashamed to hear Bolton being mentioned so frequently in connection with bad dental health. I shall not spell out the statistics, but they are terrible. I wanted to participate in the Committee and to see the Bill through, as we shall shortly do, because the children in my constituency are suffering badly. They have no vote, and no knowledge of the health promotions that their households should be aware of.

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I am delighted that the Lords supported the Bill by a ratio of 3:1, that the Committee supported it by a ratio of 14:6, and that there has been such a substantial majority across the political divide. It was nice to see people voting on the issue, rather than on its politics. I offer my thanks on behalf of the young children in my constituency, particularly those aged five and under. Depending on what the strategic health authorities and local authorities now decide, they could benefit from this important step forward.

I repeat that it has been a pleasure to serve on the Bill, and I congratulate all those who made such an important contribution to it.

9.43 pm

Norman Baker: I, too, thank those who were involved in the Bill. In particular, I thank the Minister for his generous response to the amendments—a response that was generous in the tone that he adopted rather than in the outcome. Still, that was a bitter pill with a sweetener attached. I also thank the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin), who approached the Bill very constructively. I congratulate him on his promotion to the post of shadow Secretary of State for Wales. It is good to know that, sometimes, the good guys get a lift up in this place, as well as the bad guys.

Having said nice things, I shall be slightly critical of the Bill for a moment. As we know, it was essentially a re-hash of what was dropped from the Utilities Bill, which shows that it had 2000 stamped all over it, rather than 2003. In the three years since then, the opportunity to move on has not been taken. The Bill totally failed to incorporate the water framework directive. In Committee, that was the directive that dared not speak its name. The Minister said that the Government had other ways of dealing with that matter but Scotland has a much better Bill as a consequence of the way in which matters are approached north of the border.

The Bill does not deal with the serious issue of water pricing, although Liberal Democrats did their best to raise it by referring to metering and to ironing out the differences in prices across the country. The Bill does not deal with water debt and only in passing with water efficiency. It does not deal with least-cost planning but it deals with fluoride, which is a health issue. It is interesting that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson) insisted that fluoride was not a medicine, but went on to set out the medicinal benefits that would result from adding fluoride to water—some mistake, surely.

The Bill is good as far as it goes. It does not go that far, but it goes some distance and should be welcomed on that basis. I hope that the Under-Secretary is listening, because I am now being nice about the Bill. It advances the cause of the environment through its abstraction proposals and it introduces a duty on public authorities to conserve water. It deals with private sewers, an issue that Members on both sides have been keen to raise, and with strengthening the consumer voice. There are definite plusses with the Bill and that is why we voted for it on Second Reading. We shall do so again tonight in the unlikely event that there is a Division.

As with the Waste Emissions Trading Bill, my regret is not about what is in the Bill but what is not in it. It is a missed opportunity; we could have gone much further.

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When the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs gets slots for legislation—that does not happen often because the Home Office corrals most of them—let us hope that it will take the opportunity to introduce comprehensive Bills rather than Bills that go only some part of the way, even if it is in the right direction.

9.46 pm

Stephen Hesford: I have sat for eight hours on Second Reading and Report in an attempt to make a few points about fluoridation, so I hope that I can ask the House's indulgence to make one or two more points on that issue.

I congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill. It is long overdue. The unfortunate consequence of inadequate legislation in 1985 caused severe distress to many inner-city areas that will benefit from this measure if a strategic health authority feels it right to go to consultation and ask its local population whether they want their water fluoridated.

I draw attention to the York review that took place in 2000 and the Medical Research Council report of 2001–02. The Government set them up to look at the issue, which had become stalled when every water fluoridation application through the health authorities from about 1990 onwards was rejected by water companies for reasons that have been outlined in the House. The all-party group on primary care and public health, of which I have the honour to be secretary, thought that it was about time that the issue was revisited to consider what had happened between 2000 and the end of last year when we began to consider the issue. We organised consultation and we received written and oral statements from 17 witnesses on both sides of the argument.

The all-party group is the only group that I know to have examined the issue in the House and to have considered it from a neutral stance. We held three oral sessions and took evidence from the 17 witnesses. We reported, in effect, to the House, and although I do not want to overstate the role of the group, it is a valuable Back-Bench body that discusses issues that sometimes do not receive the limelight that they deserve.

When we reported in April, we came to the firm conclusion that fluoridation, as a public dental health measure, was a good thing. We said that it would be effective for the reasons that have been rehearsed today and that there was no evidence that it caused ill health. Of course, as hon. Members have said, more than 5 million people in this country currently benefit from natural and artificial fluoridation.

Members of the group reached the firm conclusion that the civil liberties argument could be rejected if, as we believed, the yardstick of public dental health was firm. A similar consideration applies to such measures as the compulsory wearing of seat belts and crash helmets. There is a civil liberty aspect to those measures but public health or road safety considerations outweigh that disbenefit.

Interestingly, when the group examined the MRC report and heard from the scientists who conducted the review, Dr. Harrison, who led the review, said that he believed that fluoride was safe. It was suggested earlier that there were 15 items that the review found

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outstanding but our questioning found only one—[Interruption.] It might be suggested that this has nothing to do with the Bill, but we have just voted on fluoridation.

The early-day motion in favour of fluoridation that was signed by 150 hon. Members has been mentioned, and the all-party group reported at about the same time that that motion was tabled. The report was sent to the then relevant Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Ms Blears), who said that it was an important contribution to the debate on fluoridation. The group made the following recommendations and I am pleased that the House has confirmed its view tonight. It said that fluoridation was a public dental health measure, that the legislation needed amending and that health bodies should carry out open, effective and transparent consultation when recommending fluoridation to their populations. It also said that the Department of Health should amend the protocol to allow water utilities to be properly indemnified. Those measures have come to pass tonight, so I am delighted to have played a part in that and that the House has accepted the all-party group's recommendations.

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