HL Deb 09 July 2003 vol 651 cc385-9

9.54 p.m.

Report received in respect of fluoridation.

Clause 102 [Interpretation, commencement, short title, and extent]:

The Countess of Mar moved the Amendment:

Page 123, line 4, at end insert "save that section 58A shall not come into force until the results of the research into the effects of water fluoridation, as recommended by the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Dental Officer, have been published"

The noble Countess said: My Lords, in moving this amendment in the absence of my noble friend Lord Baldwin, I believe that noble Lords who were here for the Committee (on recommitment) will have heard my noble friend's very full speech on the subject of the York committee review. I understand from that review that the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Dental Officer have stated that they will announce in the autumn several research projects into the effects of water fluoridation.

Our amendment is very simple. It asks that the implementation of the amendment that we debated earlier be delayed until the results of the research are published. There is not much more that I can say. Noble Lords know of my concerns about these products. It is clear that the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Dental Officer are aware that there are problems. In fact, there has already been one advertisement for a research specification on a question that we have discussed thoroughly: whether natural fluoride is the same as that which is added to our tap-water supplies, whether they are both bio-available in the same way and whether the effects are the same.

I am very pleased that my noble friend has returned, because he knows much more about the subject than I do. I beg to move.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, this amendment is tabled in my name. I understood that we were to resume at half-past ten, so I am not quite sure what has happened on this. But that is why I am late. I apologise for having missed my noble friend's remarks, but I will say very briefly what I was going to say.

The reason for this is a worry about the state of the science before anything is even put to the local authorities or whoever they are going to be. The Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Dental Officer are currently considering what advice on research to give to government. That probably will not be until the autumn. I do hope those who favour fluoridation can accept the need for more research which the two major reports have shown, in which case I should be grateful if they would consider the contradiction there seems to be in conceding that we do not know enough about fluoride and yet allowing further schemes to go ahead.

Basically, I do not feel that things should be even put in front of local communities until we know a great deal more about safety and efficacy. I go back to what I said earlier in the evening: do you want your policy to be based on good science or do you not?

I have three final points just to illustrate this. Both the major reports that we have had—York and the MRC—have recommended significant research into the effects of fluoridation. That may be a surprise to some of your Lordships from the briefings, because they do not tend to appear in it, but it is the case, and it is those that the chief officers are looking at.

The present evidence, as I think I said before, would not be good enough for even a medical drug. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, who is almost in her place, it was not a question of looking for endless research. The York reviewers, who are very experienced in this game, as this is what they do—they carry out systematic reviews—found that in the case of fluoridation, it was unusually bad, both in quality and in quantity. So that is the basis on which they think there should be more research. At present, it would not underpin a normal drug.

My third and final point, just to remind your Lordships what I said earlier, is that the present evidence of fluoride—I have this on the authority of the senior researcher at York—is actually less good than for HRT's cardio-protective effects, which turned out to be wrong.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, I am sorry that I was not present at the beginning of the debate. Have the noble Earl and the noble Countess any idea of how long it would take for the results of research into the effects of water fluoridation to be published?

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

No, my Lords, I have not, and I do not believe that we should be influenced by that if we are serious about science and being sure of what effects it has. I do not know.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I am not sure how long the processes and so forth that we spoke about earlier would take, but there will be plenty of time for all that happen. In no way should we accept the amendment.

10 p.m.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, I wish to make a couple of comments on the hot copy—as I think it was described—of the amendments that have been put down by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, and the noble Countess, Lady Mar.

I seek clarification from the Government. We had a good debate in our earlier discussions about whether the research that has been carried out to date was adequate. Several people made the point that the amount of research was not adequate, so I have some sympathy with this amendment.

In his contribution earlier, the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, said that a lack of evidence was not an excuse. I accept that and think that research should be undertaken. Noble Lords know that, although I spoke to the amendment moved by the Minister earlier, my question is still whether we should push ahead or not. I hope that he agrees that getting up-to-date and accurate scientific research is in everybody's interests. I hope that, even if he cannot accept this amendment, the Minister will view it in a constructive way. There are outstanding questions relating to fluoridation and I would be grateful for some explanation.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords. we on these Benches certainly have sympathy with this amendment, especially with the fact that it will be difficult to conduct a proper public consultation and debate on whether people want their water to be fluoridated without receiving the evidence. I hope that the Government will seriously consider the spirit of this amendment and be as positive as they can.

Lord Turnberg

My Lords, I agree entirely that the research would be very helpful and we should ensure that it goes ahead. However, I am not sure that we should delay any longer, because I suspect that such research would take rather a long time to complete. Furthermore, we will never have enough research to convince everybody. That is one of the problems. The question is whether we have enough research evidence to go ahead now, and I believe that we do.

Lord Warner

My Lords, we are certainly not anti-science, as I hoped I indicated in earlier stages of our debate. However, we believe that the amendment is unnecessary. As I thought I had made clear earlier, we have asked the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Dental Officer to consider the implications for government policy on fluoridation of the MRC report mentioned in the scientific briefing paper. In fact, on their recommendation, we have already commissioned a research study on the absorption of fluoride and expect the CMO and the CDO to recommend further research. However, there is a lot in what my noble friend Lord Turnberg has just said.

I repeat the assurances that I have already given to the House. We will not enable strategic health authorities to engage in any consultation before we have the reports from the CMO and the CDO and the results of the research on absorption that I mentioned.

I remind noble Lords that we cannot lay any regulations on the consultation process before the Water Bill has completed its passage in November at the earliest—and at the rate at which we are proceeding today, who knows? As I said, we expect the CMO's report and the research report on absorption by then. I hope that noble Lords will accept the assurances that I have given. We do not believe that this amendment is necessary.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Noble Lords will know that I have every reason to be sceptical about the results of scientific reports. I have had enough experience over the past 10 years with organophosphates not to believe everything that I am told. On organophosphates, I was proved right. I sincerely hope that that is not the case with fluoride.

In view of the assurances that the noble Lord gave me about the length of time—I hope that my noble friend will agree with me—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.5 p.m.

Lord Grocott

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Water Bill [HL], have consented to place their prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer moved Amendment No. 1:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—

"Water conservation