Dr Julian Lewis: The Minister has nailed his colours to the mast in favour of fluoridation. Does he accept the principle that no community should have its water fluoridated if a majority of the members of the community do not wish its water to be fluoridated?
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. Mike O'Brien): We need to make judgments on fluoridation based on the evidence. Stories always go round that can frighten people, and we have seen in this country a whole series of scare stories about vaccinations that resulted in a significant number of people being frightened out of giving those vaccinations to their children. We need to ensure that we consider the evidence, that we base our judgments on the clinical evidence and that we ensure, too –
Mr Andrew Lansley: Will the Minister give way on that point?
Mr O'Brien: Let me answer the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), and then I will give way. As far as vaccination was concerned, there were some stories and as a result we are paying the price. We need to ensure that we consider the evidence on fluoridation and make judgments based on that evidence. We have already seen that there have been some moves towards fluoridation in the water supply, particularly in Southampton, although that is the subject of a judicial examination.
Dr Lewis: Will the Minister give way again?
Mr O'Brien: I will, but this really is the last time.
Dr Lewis: The Minister is very kind to give way again, but 72 per cent. of respondents to the consultation said no to fluoridation, even though the local PCT had sent out a great many postcards, first-class postage paid, to get people to say yes when they replied. Presumably, if 72 per cent. of people saying no can be ignored, the same would be true of 82, 92 or even 100 per cent. What is the meaning of a consultation when an SHA can tell the overwhelming proportion of people saying no that the answer is nevertheless yes?
Mr O'Brien: People who have to make a decision have to give due weight to the views of local people. They must ensure that all the arguments are taken into account, and that the views of local people are reflected but, in the end, they still have to make the decision.
I should have known, when I mentioned fluoridation, that we would get the reaction that we did from the reactionary side of the House. Fluoridation is an issue that, like Europe, produces an immediate reaction.
[NOTE: For Julian's speech in this Debate, click here.]