HC Deb 23 July 1987 vol 120 cc533-4 6.16 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham)

I beg to move, That the draft Water (Fluoridation) (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 27th April, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved. The purpose of this order is to bring Northern Ireland into line with the provisions of the Water Fluoridation Act 1985. In Northern Ireland the Department of the Environment is the sole water authority, but this order, like the Great Britain Act, leaves the question of fluoridation as a local issue to be decided at local level, in our case through health and social services boards.

Dental decay in Northern Ireland remains, even after a welcome reduction, a significant and costly form of disease. The child dental health survey, carried out in 1983, showed that among 13-year-olds 64 per cent. of children in the Province had active decay in permanent teeth. This compares with 31 per cent. in England, 40 per cent. in Wales and 51 per cent. in Scotland. These are dreadful statistics.

Some people in Northern Ireland have taken a far-sighted and determined stand on fluoridation. There are two fluoridation schemes currently in operation, one at Tandragee and the other at Holywood. These schemes were introduced by their respective district councils prior to local government reorganisation in 1973. I pay tribute to their farsightedness. The House will want to know that the two areas which have the lowest incidence of tooth decay are, indeed, North Down and Tandragee.

There is overwhelming evidence that the presence of floride in drinking water avoids a great mass of dental caries in young persons. It is also overwhelmingly and crushingly demonstrated that the presence of fluoride in water has no morbid consequences whatsoever. I can find no moral or libertarian reason why the advantages to be obtained from a water supply with one part per million element of fluoride should not be made available to the people of this counry at the discretion of the local health authorities.

I am sorry that the former right hon. Member for South Down is not here today to hear the succinctness of his views quoted back at him. I hope that his successor will agree with Mr. Powell's views, as I hope will his other Ulster colleagues. It would be the Department of Health and Social Services in Northern Ireland that would be required to fund any scheme that came into operation following the recommendation of a health board. The board would have to have consulted the DHSS on the cost-effectiveness of its proposal and the availability of funding before formally submitting proposals to the Department of the Environment.

The board will also have to publish details of its proposals at least three months before implementation, and it will have to give notice to and consult any district council affected, and will have to take into account any representations from the public.

The arguments for and against fluoridation have been advanced at some length on the Floor of the House and the House would not thank me if I were to rehearse them again. In Northern Ireland there are some forms of decay which are extremely difficult to handle, but tooth decay is one that we can and must do something about.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

The Minister ought not to be sensitive about repeating the arguments. The problem for us all is that even if he were successful in convincing the House or if any of us were successful in convincing the House that there was some serious error in the order, there is nothing on God's earth that the Minister, the Government or anyone else could do about it. That is why it is a charade.

Mr. Needham

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's views on that matter. We have such discussions in the House and in Committee upstairs. As I said last week, I hope that the talks currently taking place can lead, via the usual channels, to some way of redressing that problem to the satisfaction of all concerned.

We are making strides towards reducing dental decay, but we are not doing it fast enough or broadly enough. I am convinced that fluoridation of public water supplies at the level proposed in the order would significantly reduce the unacceptably high incidence of tooth decay in the Province.

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