Dr. Julian Lewis: I do not know which of the following two slogans resonates more with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I know which resonates more with me. There is “The people will decide” on the one hand, and there is “The people do not know what is good for them” on the other. “The people will decide” is the slogan that the Prime Minister used when he visited Southampton and was asked whether fluoridation would be imposed on the City of Southampton – and, by extension because of various configurations of the pipe-work, on 8,000 of my constituents in the town of Totton as well. It was a banner headline:
“The people will decide”.
Well, the people tried to decide. They responded to the consultation on fluoridation in very large numbers, and, as I said earlier in an intervention, 72 per cent. of respondents decided that they did not wish their water supply to be fluoridated. The Strategic Health Authority, however, decided differently. Its members do not live in the area affected by the proposed fluoridation, apart from, I think, one member of the board. This was supposed to be a decision for local people, but those non-local people decided that although 72 per cent. of respondents did not want the water supply to be fluoridated, fluoridated it would be. One thing that the leader of my party keeps saying – there is a resonant effect on society whenever he says it – is that people do not like being taken for fools. It does not matter whether politicians are attempting to fool them over dodgy weapons dossiers, dodgy expenses systems or dodgy consultations, but they do not like it.
If the case for fluoridation of the water supply is as scientifically strong as its advocates make out, its advocates have been singularly unsuccessful in persuading people to agree with them. It may be that my Hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) thinks that I am blinkered because I do not believe in mass medication via the water supply, and it may be that he thinks that my constituents are foolish and believe all sorts of old wives’ tales because they reject it; but, in a democracy, it is up to him and people who think like him, and people who think like the Minister of State (Mike O’Brien), to persuade the people to do what they think is right. I am sure that the Minister believes passionately that it will help people to have their water medicated with fluoride. For all I know, he may be right – for all I know, he may be hopelessly wrong – but I am sure that he believes passionately that it is in the interests of people to re-elect a Labour Government at the next General Election.
Eric Martlew: Will the Hon. Gentleman give way?
Dr. Lewis: No, I will not. I am sorry, but the Hon. Gentleman has had his go, and I have very little time.
I am sure that the Minister believes that passionately, just as my Hon. Friends believe passionately, that it is in the interests of the people to kick out this failing Government and elect the Conservatives. The one thing that we agree on in those contexts is that if we want those things to happen, we must persuade the people. We must give them the choice and the final say. What is more, if we are telling them that we are giving them the final say, we should give them the final say and not cheat them.
After the Prime Minister came to Southampton, and after the decision was nevertheless taken that fluoridation was going to occur in our water supply, I tabled a parliamentary question, which was answered by the Minister (Ann Keen) who will wind up this debate. I asked what the Prime Minister meant when he said that local people will decide this question. The response was as follows:
“The Prime Minister’s statement serves to highlight the legislative requirements contained in section 89 of the Water Industry Act 1991 whereby a Strategic Health Authority must ‘consult and ascertain opinion’ before requesting a water undertaker to increase the fluoride content of a water supply.” – [Official Report, 22 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 722W.]
When one looks more closely at the regulations concerned, one is made aware of the Water Fluoridation (Consultation) (England) Regulations 2005, and in particular regulation 5, which reads like something straight out of Orwell’s 1984:
“A Strategic Health Authority shall not proceed with any step regarding fluoridation arrangements that falls within section 89(2) of the Act unless, having regard to the extent of support for the proposal and the cogency of the arguments advanced, the Authority are satisfied that the health arguments in favour of proceeding with the proposal outweigh all arguments against proceeding.” [Italics added]
Sir Paul Beresford: Hear, hear.
Dr Lewis: My Hon. Friend says “hear, hear”, which is fine; but in that case why bother to consult at all, because what that really means is that the Health Authority knows best? If 72 per cent. of people say No but the Health Authority says Yes, the Health Authority gets its way. If 82 per cent., 92 per cent., 99 per cent. or 100 per cent. of the people say No, my Hon. Friend, the Minister and the people who think like them say:
“Tough luck, chaps”
– and chapesses in these equalitarian times –
“you’re going to get it anyway.”
That is utterly unacceptable, and it is undemocratic.
We, on my side of the argument, are denounced as reactionaries. Well, it is interesting to see the company we are in when we are denounced as such. I am a Conservative – I am, indeed, a right-of-centre Conservative – but Mr John Spottiswoode, one of the most articulate and outspoken opponents of this locally, is a candidate for the Green Party. Councillor David Harrison, the Totton County Councillor, and the Hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), who is not in her place at present, are also not usually regarded as reactionaries; they are, in fact, rather prominent and articulate Liberal Democrats. The Hampshire County Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee is made up of a highly qualified collection of people, and it is seriously worried about the way in which this consultation has been carried out.
Most interestingly of all, however, the Right Hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (John Denham), a member of the Cabinet of course, and the Hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Alan Whitehead) have both said that although they are personally in favour of fluoridation, they believe that a stop should be put to the process because of the lack of public support. I am not cynical enough to think that those two Labour politicians are saying such a thing just because there is a General Election coming next year. I reject that view – I am sure that they are saying that out of principle. They are saying it out of principle, and so are we.
I shall conclude by referring to the letter I was delighted to receive recently from my Hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who will wind up for the Conservatives. He wrote that he was “happy to clarify” our position on this issue. He stated:
“there are serious questions to be raised about the methodologies employed”
in the consultation, and that
“public consent is vital to the implementation of any compulsory fluoridation scheme. Communities should have to give their approval for any proposal before it is permitted to go ahead”.
That is the position of the Conservatives, whether or not every individual dentist on my own party Benches chooses to endorse it.