HC Deb 11 July 1978 vol 953 cc1232-4
7. Mr. David Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he remains satisfied with the consultation procedures of area health authorities in the light of the approval by the Hampshire area health authority, including the appointed members, of fluoridation of drinking water, though consultation indicated that the county council and 10 out of 12 district councils were opposed to the proposal.

Mr. Moyle

Yes, Sir. The decision to seek the introduction of fluoridation of water supplies rests with the area health authorities as part of their statutory responsibility for preventive health in their areas. I am satisfied that Hampshire area health authority—teaching—took its decision after adequate consultation and after consideration of the evidence on the safety and efficacy of fluoridation in preventing dental decay in the community.

Mr. David Mitchell

What is the point of providing for a democratic consultation process if when it produces a clear and decisive result, the area health authority immediately goes totally in the opposite direction?

Mr. Moyle

Not only the views but also the reasons given for them have to be assessed, and also weight has to be given to those reasons. The Hampshire area health authority did this before taking its decision.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Is it not clear that there is no pressure at all from the people of Hampshire to have fluoride added to their drinking water? Who has the final decision in this matter? Is it the Secretary of State for Social Services, the Secretary of State for the Environment or the health authority? Who has the final decision?

Mr. Moyle

The area health authority has the final decision in these matters, although, of course, it has to operate through the local water authority. It is not true, as my hon. Friend says, that there is no desire for fluoridation in Hampshire. For example, the Winchester community health council carried out a survey of public opinion which showed a large body of support in favour of fluoridation. That was the only community health council in the area which carried out such a survey.

Mr. Adley

Whatever one's views on fluoridation—one recognises that children are perhaps less articulate at the age of 3 than are adults at the age of 60—is the Minister aware that the information given by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell) is factually correct and that the confidence of the general public in any remaining democracy within the Health Service is shattered when there is apparently a total dereliction of duty in the consultation process by the area health authority?

Mr. Moyle

No, Sir. What the hon. Gentleman has to explain is that, although local councillors on local councils might be opposed to it, local councillors on area health authorities are in favour of it.

Mr. Madden

Is the Minister concerned that the procedure which we are discussing was set up in the National Health Service Reorganisation Act 1973, put through the House by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), and does he agree that these decisions would have been better taken by elected representatives in the House of Commons than by appointed members of area health authorities?

Mr. Moyle

That would have been a very useful suggestion if my hon. Friend had been a Member of the House in 1973 and been able to put it forward. Incidentally, it was not only the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) who put through that Act; it was the entire Conservative Government at the time.