Water Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Key: Did the hon. Gentleman, like me, chuckle at the fact that photographs of disfigured teeth were sent to us from both sides of the argument?

Mr. Drew: I have had few cards on this and they were all from dentists or people who work for dentists. It seems that the profession has made up its mind and it will influence the strategic health authority. It will certainly influence other health bodies. I am saddened that we are dealing with the effect rather than the cause. We have to look at how we can rebuild NHS dentistry. It is sad that the organisation that represents dentists see this as a way in which we can deal with tooth decay. To me it is a sop. It would be much better if it encouraged its members to go back and treat NHS patients again.

Mr. Thomas: I very much share the hon. Gentleman's view. I come from an area where 71 per cent of the population do not have an NHS dentist. Does he also share my concern that in a letter the Minister wrote to us arguing for fluoridation she says that it is cheaper than changing people's habits, costs around 50p per person per year, and that a year's supply of toothbrushes and toothpaste costs around £10? She suggests that we will go for fluoridation at 50p a year and give up a campaign to get people to brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste. That spurious argument emphasises the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Drew: The hon. Gentleman has made his point, although I do not concur completely with it. There is no effective substitute for good dental health care. I worry about whether the measure will deal with a growing problem—many young people will not see a dentist and will be given no encouragement to go to a dentist. Fluoridation is not the answer to that.

Norman Baker: I should like to emphasise what the hon. Gentleman said. Do not many dental health problems arise from gum disease, which would not be helped by the measure? If people felt that they did not need to go to the dentist because their teeth were looked after, they might, as a consequence, end up with gum disease.

Mr. Drew: I am sure that that is so.

My philosophical objection to the provision is that it looks at the wrong issue and causes unnecessary controversy. The Government know that it is controversial, and they are effectively saying that it is up to somebody else to implement it, but they are providing the means whereby to do so. They know that the consultation process is meaningless. There is no way that consultation can be carried out through strategic health authorities. As if by magic, we will end up with fluoridation in many more areas. That is not honest politics and it is not the way to do it. Let us have a proper debate so that we can see whether there

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is merit in fluoridation—but not as is suggested. I shall vote for amendment No. 301 and against the clause.

Mr. Key: We have had a good debate this morning. I have been sipping the excellent mineral water provided by the House, which contains 0.2 mg of fluoride per litre at 8 to 12ºC.

The amendment says that if a health authority wishes the water supply in its area to be fluoridated, there should be the widest possible consultation before a decision is made. That is the nub of the argument today.

I am impressed, and always have been in my political life, by arguments of individual liberty, freedom of choice and human rights, which are important in any mature western democracy. I also care about child health. This is one of the many times in the 20 years I have been in the House when a balance has to be struck. We had endless debates about water fluoridation some 20 years ago—when the House was similarly vexed about the issue—but it seems no more than five minutes ago.

Like other hon. Members, I have done my homework on fluoridation in recent weeks and months. I received a written answer from the Minister on 25 September. I asked

    ''by what methods other than fluoridation of public water supplies safe levels of fluoride can be delivered to the population.''

The Minister replied:

    ''Trials are underway offering fluoridated milk in schools and, in some parts of Europe, fluoridated salt is on sale'',

as we have discovered. She said that her Department

    ''introduced the brushing for life scheme whereby free fluoridated toothpaste is given to families with young children in areas of high tooth decay'',

but

    ''Findings to date suggest that none of these measures yields benefits equivalent to those derived from water fluoridation.''—[Official Report, 6 October 2003; Vol. 410, c. 1288–1289W.]

I have talked to dentists in Salisbury, including my own—but without my mouth full of cotton wool and steel. I have had a proper conversation about the issue. My dentist thinks that this is a very difficult matter because, speaking professionally, there is no doubt that fluoridation is a success. However, he feels strongly about individual liberty and freedom of choice. Only this morning, he said that he is glad that I am making the decision, not him. It is right that Parliament should make the decision, rather than the dentists, scientists, or anybody else. We have a difficult job to do.

I have also been approached by a consultant clinician at Salisbury district hospital, who had no doubt that as long as he and his colleagues in the hospital had to extract the teeth of children aged four under general anaesthetic, and there was an alternative to fluoridation, I should very strongly support the clause today. Let us be in no doubt that medical and dental opinion is divided. As I—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

Column Number: 439

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Brien, Mr. Bill (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Atherton, Ms
Baker, Norman
Burden, Richard
Cunningham, Tony
Doughty, Sue
Drew, Mr.
Iddon, Mr.
Johnson, Miss Melanie
Key, Mr.
King, Andy

Column Number: 440


Knight, Jim
Lansley, Mr.
Morley, Mr.
Organ, Diana
Osborne, Mr. George
Palmer, Dr.
Simon, Mr.
Swire, Mr.
Thomas, Mr. Simon
Tipping, Paddy
Wiggin, Mr.

 
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