HC Deb 24 October 1985 vol 84 cc547-53

Lords amendment: No. 5, after clause 2, insert the following new clause— . (1) Where, in pursuance of arrangements entered into by a statutory water undertaker before 20th December 1984—

  1. (a) a scheme for increasing the fluoride content of water supplied by the undertaker in any part of England and Wales was in operation immediately before that date; or
  2. (b) work had been begun by the undertaker, before that date, for the purpose of enabling such a scheme to be brought into operation;
the undertaker may, while the conditions mentioned in subsection (2) below are satisfied, operate the scheme. (2) The conditions are that the arrangements under which the scheme operates require—
  1. (a) fluoridation to be effected only by the addition of one or more of the compounds of fluorine mentioned ',in section 1(4) of this Act; and
  2. (b) the concentration of fluoride in the water supplied to consumers to be maintained, so far as is reasonably practicable, at one milligram per litre.
(3) Where a statutory water undertaker is operating a fluoridation scheme by virtue of this section—
  1. (a) subsection (6) of section 1 of this Act shall apply in relation to the scheme as it applies in relation to arty scheme operated in exercise of the power conferred by that section;
  2. (b) the scheme shall cease to have effect upon the appropriate authority giving to the undertaker reasonable notice of the authority's desire to terminate it; and
  3. (c) the arrangements under which the scheme is operated may be varied to take account of any amendment of section 1(4) of this Act made under section 2."

Read a Second time.

1.45 am
Mr. Lawrence

I beg to move amendment (a) to the proposed Lords amendment, in line 3, leave out '20th December 1984' and insert '29th June 1983'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take the following amendments to the proposed Lords amendment: (b), in line 3, leave out '20th December 1984' and insert '6th December 1983'.

(c), in line 6, leave out from 'date' to end of line 9.

(d), in line 26, leave out `cease to have effect upon the appropriate authority giving to the undertaker reasonable notice' and insert 'cease operation immediately upon the undertaker receiving in writing notice from the appropriate authority'.

Mr. Lawrence

The new clause was introduced by the Government to buy off—once again—the anxieties of the water authorities, which were worried that if they were to give people an opportunity to decide whether they should have fluoridation processes foisted upon them that would cost money. They asked the Government to exempt schemes that had already begun. The Government, who are in enough trouble with water authorities, and under pressure from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir J. Page), have expanded the evil of the Bill—once again—against the interests of the consumers and the wishes of the House.

The new clause provides that if a scheme is in existence before the Bill becomes law, the people will have no right to express their view. Many will think that that is disgraceful. Why should those who are opposed to fluoridation, but have already had to suffer it, although it was unlawful, as the judge in the Court of Session in Scotland found—as he was interpreting precisely the same law as that which applied in the rest of the United Kingdom fluoridation must have been unlawful in the rest of the United Kingdom — be further deprived of the concession that is claimed to have been given in the Bill? Why will they not have the right to have the fact that fluoridation is to be foisted on them publicised and not have the right to make their views known? Where is the justice in making those who are already at a disadvantage suffer even further disadvantage?

I ask the House to vote against the Lords amendment, and, if we are not successful, at least to vote for my amendments, the purposes of which, I will now enlighten the House, are as follows.

The date of 20 December 1984, which is laid down as the magic date, after which there shall be publicity and consultation if the fluoridation process has begun, but before which there need not be, is the date on which this Bill was introduced. After all, we are not making some wonderful concession to the British people. We are giving them the right to decide whether to have this substance, this corrosive poison—drip, drip, drip—flushed down their throats for the rest of their lives.

I ask the House to say that the right to have the issue publicised and the right to be consulted should not begin long after everyone knew that it was against the law. That is unfair to all the consumers, it puts a premium on wrong doing and it makes a further mockery of consultation. There is no reason, and never was, for thinking that it was lawful to fluoridate the water. The making of water wholesome obviously had nothing to do with mass medication. The only reason why it was allowed to continue was that the anti-fluoridation people simply did not have the money to test the matter in court. When it was eventually tested, it was found to be what everyone knew it to be—unlawful.

This may be considered too harsh a judgment, but everybody must have known that it was unlawful after Lord Jauncey's judgment on 29 June, so in the amendment I recommend that the House accepts that the right to have the matter publicised, and the right to consult, should extend to any situation where the fluoridation process began before, not after Lord Jauncey made his judgment. I suppose that if one wants to be kind to the water authorities one could say that they did not know positively until this ruling.

People may well have been labouring under the misapprehension that if it was unlawful in Scotland it was not unlawful in England, but they could no longer take this view after my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made his announcement on 6 December 1983. I have therefore taken 6 December 1983 as the second alternative date, the third alternative stage at which this House, depending on whether it is in a benign mood, shall give the people of this country a greater right to have publicity and to be consulted before they have this substance flushed down their throats, merely because the poor water authorities have already begun spending money on the process. If they have spent money on it, knowing or suspecting that it was unlawful, why should the public suffer?

The fourth amendment is intended to firm up a particularly flabby piece of deception—for that is what it is—in this whole pretence that the public are deriving some benefit from publicity and consultation.

The flabby paragraph states: the scheme shall cease to have effect upon the appropriate authority giving to the undertaker reasonable notice of the authority's desire to terminate it". That is no restriction. Notice can be given at some time, and some time thereafter the fluoridators might have to stop fluoridating. The provision is vague and wide. Fluoridating could continue for a few more months, or even for a few more years. A few more people could die or develop ailments which scientists of international repute have said are the result of fluoridation.

That is not on. It should not be acceptable to a responsible House of Commons. That is why I suggest that the House firms up that provision and states that the operation should cease immediately the water undertaker receives notice in writing from the appropriate authority. As soon as the authority receives the letter saying that fluoridation must stop, it must stop. In this way, we could not only achieve freedom, but could stop the pain and suffering which comes long after the teeth are all gone.

I do not want to detain the House a moment longer than is necessary, but it is clear that the water authorities should not deprive the people of the right to be consulted just because they have begun to operate their plans, knowing them to be unlawful. The right not to have water fluoridated should begin from the moment that the undertaker serves notice.

Mr. Whitney

I urge the House to reject the amendments to the Lords amendment. The purpose of the Bill is to provide specific powers for fluoridation. It would make no sense to approve the two amendments relating to the dates which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) proposes. It would not make sense to impose a burden on health and water authorities to renegotiate existing schemes which are not currently illegal and whose legality can be in no doubt under the terms of the Bill. It will remain open both to health and water authorities to reconsider existing schemes in accordance with contractural arrangements.

One of my hon. and learned Friend's amendments would restrict the definition of an existing scheme to one which was in operation in December 1984 rather than to one which is in operation or on which work has been done with a view to operating a scheme. The amendment is against the spirit of the Bill and should be rejected.

Amendment (d) would impose on water authorities a requirement to cease fluoridating water immediately on receipt of written notice from a health authority. The boundaries of water authorities and health authorities are by no means coterminous. Under the amendment the fluoridation of several health authority areas might have to cease because one authority wished to terminate its scheme, at least until such time as other arrangements could be made.

2 am

I recognise the concern of some hon. Members that the urgent termination of all schemes might at some stage be required, but subsection (6) of the new clause introduced by Lords amendment No. 6 provides the most effective means of dealing with that highly unlikely event as it provides power for the Secretary of State to waive consultation requirements for terminating schemes. The amendment now under consideration would therefore not be required in that event and would apply only if one health authority wished to terminate fluoridation on policy grounds. I do not believe that the wishes of other health authorities should be overridden buy such a change, and I urge the House to resist the amendment.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

I do not wish to detain the House long, but my name appears as a supporter of the amendments introduced by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). I wish to draw attention to amendment (d). It gives me no pleasure to keep Ministers out of their beds, but my colleagues and I realise that in doing so we are salving the consciences of those who feel duty bound to support the Government today, having told their constituents in the past that they opposed mass medication. Now they will at least be able to tell their constituents that some of their colleagues were able to hold the banner aloft.

The most important point in relation to amendment (d) is that it is the duty of Parliament to be specific in the way in which it draws up legislation. Increasingly, legislation enacted by Parliament has needed to be tested in the courts to such an extent that in many respects the courts have become the legislators. That is absolutely wrong. We should ensure that we draft the laws of the land in such a way that ordinary men and women can understand them or, if that is not possible, so that the courts understand them clearly and do not have to act as substitutes for us as legislators.

In my view, the Lords amendment is unsatisfactory because there is no definition of "reasonable notice". At the very least, those who would impose this mass medication on our people should make it possible for a health authority which decides that it is undesirable to have this substance artificially introduced into the water supply and that it should be removed to have that change of heart carried out at the earliest possible moment. I therefore strongly commend the amendment so ably introduced by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton because it does not require the courts to interpret the matter but provides clear wording. It uses the word "immediately", and there can be no doubt about what that means.

I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Minister about boundaries not being coterminous. That is a very fair point, but I hope that he will agree that it is also fair to point out that if a regional authority currently providing mass medication decides that it has seen the light it will be because compelling evidence has been presented to it that the substance constitutes a danger to the population. It is surely right and proper that the benefit of that should be given to all the health authorities covered by the statutory undertaker and that it should be the prerogative of the one who would decide, "Nay, we shall not have this substance added to the water" to have the constitution of the water supply immediately decided. Thereafter, of course, it will be open to other health authorities to argue the case if they wish to have the poison reintroduced into the water supply.

These are fundamental matters of principle. It would be wholly wrong to give an easy passage to a measure which I know many of my hon. Friends oppose utterly. I look forward to them all buying me a drink afterwards for my having held the banner high on their behalf.

Mr. Michael Brown

This is the most important of the Lords amendments. That fact is reflected by the increased attendance in the House. It is a credit to many hon. Members that they have come into the Chamber so late.

Lords amendment No. 5 gives soft passage to what Lord Jauncey ruled illegal. The health authority was in breach of the law, so the Government introduced legislation in response to Lord Jauncey's judgment. The Lords amendment breaches constitutional practice by which we take notice of legal judgments. The parliamentary process of law-making is acknowledged to be entirely separate from the judicial process. It is a dangerous procedent for the Government to promote legislation simply because they do not like a judgment.

I regret that the Bill has been introduced as it is designed to bail out health authorities that made decisions that were ruled illegal. We are saying that every time the Government or one of their agencies is on the wrong side of the law, the Government will rush to the House, give us a free vote—of which we are taking advantage—but try to persuade us to bail them out. That is not right. If we are to give the Government the benefit of the doubt when it comes to our attitude about their proposals for consultation for possible future schemes, why should we not give the same opportunity for a rethink on consultation with people who have had the misfortune to have fluoride added to their water before it was rendered illegal? Why should they not have the opportunity of some form of consultation? They had the misfortune to live in an area where the local health authority introduced fluoride into the public water supply in the absence of public consultation and it is being sought to give them carte blanche to continue that activity without consulting the local people, who have had to suffer the misfortune of an act of illegality. It is only right that an amendment should be introduced to rectify the deficiencies of the Lords amendment.

It is unfortunate that when the Question is put many of my hon. Friends will forget that they put their signature to various early-day motions and will support the Government. That applies to some of my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench. I have copies of the letters that they wrote to their constituents on this matter. I exclude my hon. Friend the Minister for Health, who has always taken an honourable and strict view of the issue, but I cannot exclude his predecessor.

I know that many of my hon. Friends will support the Government with a heavy heart when the Division takes place. I understand why that is so, but they have not changed their minds overnight. It has not suddenly dawned on them that fluoridation is right. Surely they have a duty to think back to their attitude before the judgment of Lord Jauncey. The view that some of my hon. Friends and I are expressing is the view that many others were expressing. The House will be setting a dangerous precedent by legalising an illegality.

Mr. Lawrence

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment to the Lords amendment.

Amendment (a) to the Lords amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment (d) proposed to the Lords amendment, in line 26, leave out 'cease to have effect upon the appropriate authority giving to the undertaker reasonable notice' and insert 'cease operation immediately upon the undertaker receiving in writing notice from the appropriate authority'. — [Mr. Lawrence.]

Question put, That the amendment to the proposed Lords amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 12, Noes 116.

Division No. 303] [2.13 pm
Beith, A. J. Lawrence, Ivan
Best, Keith Skinner, Dennis
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Stern, Michael
Golding, John Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Ground, Patrick
Hickmet, Richard Tellers for the Ayes:
Holt, Richard Mr. Gwilym Jones and Mr. Michael Brown.
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Ancram, Michael Major, John
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Malone, Gerald
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Mather, Carol
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Maude, Hon Francis
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Biffen, Rt Hon John Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Boscawen, Hon Robert Mellor, David
Bottomley, Peter Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Moore, John
Brooke, Hon Peter Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Moynihan, Hon C.
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Neubert, Michael
Burt, Alistair Newton, Tony
Butcher, John Nicholls, Patrick
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Normanton, Tom
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Norris, Steven
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Ottaway, Richard
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Colvin, Michael Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Cope, John Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn)
Couchman, James Pattie, Geoffrey
Currie, Mrs Edwina Pawsey, James
Dobson, Frank Pollock, Alexander
Dorrell, Stephen Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Renton, Tim
Dunn, Robert Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Rifkind, Malcolm
Eggar, Tim Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Emery, Sir Peter Roe, Mrs Marion
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Ryder, Richard
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Sackville, Hon Thomas
Goodlad, Alastair Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Gow, Ian Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Gregory, Conal Soames, Hon Nicholas
Gummer, Rt Hon John S Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Squire, Robin
Hanley, Jeremy Stanley, John
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney Stern, Michael
Henderson, Barry Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Howard, Michael Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Hunt, David (Wirral) Tracey, Richard
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Trippier, David
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Waddington, David
Jessel, Toby Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Waldegrave, Hon William
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Walden, George
King, Rt Hon Tom Wallace, James
Lamond, James Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Lang, Ian Watts, John
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Whitney, Raymond
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Wood, Timothy
Lilley, Peter Young, Sir George (Acton)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Lord, Michael Tellers for the Noes:
Lyell, Nicholas Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and Mr. Tony Durant.
MacGregor, Rt Hon John

Question accordingly negatived.

Lords amendment No. 4 agreed to.

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