Water Bill [Lords]

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Miss Johnson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He makes a good point. I mentioned the Treasury in my opening remarks. The Treasury is normally involved in these financial discussions for all Departments. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that, whatever the measure says, it is unlikely that the Treasury would be not strongly involved in any such situations that occurred. It is unlikely that it will ever be an issue in the way that has been envisaged.

I ask hon. Members to support the Government amendments. I hope that Opposition Members will reflect on the opportunity for a fuller debate on the details of the exact liabilities. The appropriate time for that detail to be worked out is when the regulations are considered.

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Mr. Wiggin: I am grateful to the Minister for her closing comments. The Opposition's position is that this is a free vote, and will be the position throughout the debates today and with regard to the latter parts of the Bill. This is an important part of the Bill. It is difficult for me, having teased out quite a lot of information from the Minister, to oppose amendments that are almost identical to mine.

The wide-ranging debate is important because this is a crucial consideration in protecting people. I should have liked more detail about how the Government would handle a disaster, but my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton put that question very nicely, and the Government's response will be on the record. I am grateful to the Minister for what she said.

Amendment agreed to.

10.15 am

Mr. Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 213, in

    clause 61, page 76, line 30, at end insert—

    '(2A) Neither shall a water undertaker be required by subsection (1) above to enter into any such arrangements unless and until it has been ascertained (pursuant to the provisions of section 89 below) that at least 90 per cent. of the population residing within the area proposed to be fluoridated are in favour of the fluoridation of their water supply.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 351, in

    clause 61, page 76, line 30, at end insert—

    '(2) With regards to Wales, neither shall a water undertaker be authorised by subsection (1) above to enter into any such arrangements unless and until a referendum on increasing levels of fluoridation has been held in accordance with the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 seeking approval of the arrangements from the population residing in the area proposed to be affected.'.

Amendment No. 156, in

    clause 61, page 79, line 19, after 'below', insert

    'the Secretary of State must ensure funding is available for the consultation to take place as set out below, and'.

Amendment No. 110, in

    clause 61, page 79, line 21, after 'consult', insert 'all households'.

Government amendment No. 338.

Amendment No. 158, in

    clause 61, page 79, line 22, at end insert

    'then if public opinion is clearly in favour of such an addition'.

Government amendments Nos. 339 to 342.

Mr. Wiggin: Amendment No. 213 covers the two important aspects of consultation. The Government have put the strategic health authorities in charge of the consultation, and they are neither accountable nor democratically elected. The Government have also failed to answer the question of what would happen if one strategic health authority wants fluoridation, but another does not—which would take precedence? There will be overlaps in water supply areas, and it is impossible to separate those who want fluoridation from those who do not.

Mr. Thomas: Will the hon. Gentleman consider the fact that there are overlaps not only in water supply, but in strategic health authorities? In Wales, different

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trusts overlap; for example, mental health trusts and so on. There may be disagreements among bordering health authorities over an area that has more than one water supply. His amendment goes to the heart of the matter of how to address public consultation.

Mr. Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman is right, and his amendment No. 351, which is included in this group, touches on the sensitive issue of Wales, which is greatly relevant to my constituency.

A third question is how the consultation will be funded, because it is not cheap. We all know that the Government have done all that they can to invest more money in the health service, but will the funding come from the health service budget or another budget? How much will it cost? What will a strategic health authority be expected to spend on consultation, if indeed the authority is to pay? I would prefer an element of democratic decision making with local authorities having that power.

Mr. Osborne: My hon. Friend has touched on an important point. Even those of us who are neutral on whether to put fluoride in water feel that strategic health authorities are the wrong vehicles for the measure. In my constituency, we are governed by the Cheshire and Merseyside strategic health authority, which covers a vast area and is not locally accountable. The Minister talks about the decision being given to local communities, but nobody can call the strategic health authority representative of the local community. A local authority would be a better guide to local opinion.

The Chairman: Order. I draw Members' attention to the fact that the involvement of local authorities is covered by amendment No. 301. I hope that they will reserve remarks on local government for discussions on that amendment.

Mr. Wiggin: How lucky we are to have you in the Chair, Mr. O'Brien.

In amendment No. 213, I have suggested that at least 90 per cent. of the local population should be in favour of fluoridation.

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth): I find the amendment fascinating, especially as the hon. Member for Tatton said that he is being open-minded and not sceptical about it. Does the figure of 90 per cent. refer to the proportion of those who vote or, as I interpret it, the proportion of the whole population? Has he ever known a vote in which 90 per cent. of the population even turned out to vote? The amendment is absurd.

Mr. Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman is right; it is a wrecking amendment, and I have no problem with saying that. We want to find out from the Government what democratic result they would consider right. I have taken this to the nth degree purely for that purpose. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making half of my speech for me.

Dr. Palmer: We all appreciate the hon. Gentleman's openness and honesty about his wrecking intentions. Could I draw his attention to the fact that the Leader

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of the Opposition, before he became distracted by other matters, spoke scornfully about the idea of referendums on fluoridation? Is he concerned that his recommendation will lead to career discussions?

Mr. Wiggin: There is an important point that both hon. Members have made: what democratic accountability will we accept for this important procedure? I am more than happy to accept that 90 per cent. may not be the right figure, but I am keen to find out what the right figure is and how much democracy we will be exposed to. If strategic health authorities conduct the accountability element of the decision to fluoridate, we may have ridiculous results. That might make my amendment absolutely credible.

Mr. Swire: Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, as with the Government's intention to introduce regional assemblies, if some areas do and some do not, the Government will go on applying pressure until all areas comply with what is essentially Government policy?

Mr. Wiggin: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The sinister aspect to what he suggests is that there is so much pressure on one side of the argument, so how can we ensure that we have a proper and fair debate with good information that is well understood by all?

Mr. Osborne: My hon. Friend is making a good point. No one seriously believes that strategic health authorities such as Merseyside or Manchester will not, after carrying out some cursory consultation, introduce fluoride into the water. They know what happens. When people are asked about fluoride they almost always reject it in large numbers. As the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East will remember, in 1968 when the people of Bolton were asked in a referendum, 73 per cent. said no to fluoride. I imagine that the result would be replicated today.

Mr. Wiggin: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One must bear it in mind that, according to the statistics that the Minister quoted, if one held a referendum in Birmingham, only one person would vote against fluoridation.

Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman is dealing with an important point—how do we gauge public acceptance? In the context of Birmingham, he may be interested to know that the Islamic Medical Association has announced that it is launching a campaign to stop artificial fluoridation in Birmingham. [Interruption.] What he has just predicted is about to come to fruition. Would not such a campaign affect the result of the referendum?

Mr. Wiggin: I, too, have had a letter from that organisation. I notice that the Minister for the Environment said from a sedentary position, ''All two of them.'' There are 2 million of them. I am surprised that the Minister is so relaxed about it. Let us have no fatwas on water.

The important point is that the Committee has to decide what sort of democratic result we would be prepared to accept. Perhaps I was a little harsh on myself when I described this as a wrecking amendment. It is intended not to wreck but to

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probe, and it has been extremely successful in that respect. I should like the Minister to deal with the key points. What democratic accountability are we prepared to accept? Who will pay for the consultation? If we have a split result where one strategic health authority wants one thing and one wants another, who will win? How much accountability will people really get from the process?

 
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