`Before any health authority makes an application in accordance with section 1(1) it shall consult the county council, borough or district council, community or parish council and community health council in whose area any part of the area the subject of the proposed application falls.'.—[Mr. Best.]Brought up, and read the First time.
With this we may take the following: New Clause 2 — Resolutions of borough or district councils
`If at any stage a resolution is passed in the borough or district council in whose area any part of the area the subject of an application made under section 1(1) falls which requires the cessation of any increase in the fluoride content of the water supplied by the statutory water undertaker then the statutory water undertaker shall cease to increase the fluoride content of the water.'.
Amendment No. 15, in clause 1, page 1, line 5, after `authority', insert
'after a vote taken at a meeting at which not less than 50 per cent. of the members of the authority entitled to vote are present'.
Amendment No. 13, in page 1, line 8, after 'may', insert
'subject to subsection (2) below.'.
Amendment No. 14, in page 1, line 9, at end insert —
`(2) There shall be no increase in the fluoride content of the water supplied by a water undertaker unless approval is given for such action by the vote of a majority in favour of it in each county council in the area to be affected'.
Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 13, at end insert —
`(2) There shall be no increase in the fluoride content of the water supplied by a water undertaker in England and Wales unless approval is given for such action by a majority in favour of it in a county council or councils, or in each district council, in the area to be affected.'.
Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 36, at end insert —
'"consumer" means each legal person, individual or otherwise, to whom a demand for water charges is sent by the statutory water undertaker.'.
Amendment No. 5, in page 2, line 39, at end insert —
'(9) Any statutory water undertaker wishing to increase the fluoride content of water in accordance with subsection (1) above must first obtain the consent of a simple majority of its consumers.
(10) No fluoride increase is permitted unless and until consent is obtained.'.
I may even share that interest with some Opposition Members. The difference between freedom of choice on some issues and the freedom of choice about which we are debating—the amendments talk about a manifestation of popular will—is that I have no choice but to drink water. Water is the one element that is essential to sustain life, and no one has any choice but to drink it. Sometimes a seemingly analogous picture is painted between the choice of drinking water and, for example, the choice of wearing seat belts or crash helmets. That is not an analogy, because ultimately a person can choose not to drive a car, or not to ride a motor cycle, but he cannot choose not to drink water.
Science can make water potable so that it does not harm those who drink it. We welcome that, because it is right that the water supply should not cause active harm to those who drink it. However we can take a more positive role. The amendments deal with whether people should have the right to decide through their democratically elected representatives whether something positive should be done to the water supplies, not to make them potable, but to introduce mass medication. It is mass medication, because it is done to inhibit the onset of dental caries.
I am a Conservative, not least because I believe in individual freedom. I see that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) does not agree with that. That is not surprising. I wish to be charitable. I do not want to make this a party political issue, because I hope that many Opposition Members will support those of us who believe in individual freedom when we go through the Lobby tonight. I hope the hon. Lady agrees that people should have the right to make decisions about their health.
I do not wish to digress. That issue has been well debated. It has always struck me as extraordinary that because something which may or may not be harmful is naturally present in water supplies, that is a good reason for saying that we should artificially add it to water supplies.
I have never been persuaded by that proposition, and on closer analysis no one would be. I repeat my rhetorical question: should individual members of our society have the right to make a decision about their health?
The Government have been in the forefront of giving people individual choice on matters of transport and education. I welcome that, and I believe that all Conservative Members welcome those decisions. Why should we not give individual choice to people on health matters? That choice is being denied them because this substance is being added to the water supply and no one has any choice but to drink water.
Society has a duty to safeguard the health of its citizens, but does it have a right to force its citizens to be medicated against their will? Many citizens will want to receive fluoride through the water supplies because they will have been persuaded that it is beneficial to children's teeth. I do not derogate from the broad proposition that in certain circumstances fluoride can inhibit the onset of dental caries, but this matter goes way beyond that.
The gravamen of the issue is whether those who do not wish to be mass medicated through the water supplies should have the right not to be. It is not right for society, through the House, to force on people something relating to their health which they do not want and over which they have no choice.
The amendments try to introduce a measure of democracy into the decision whether health authorities should recommend water authorities to add fluoride to the water. At present there is no democracy because those decisions are taken by a health authority, which is not directly elected. I acknowledge, of course, that there are persons serving on those health authorities who were orginally directly elected to other bodies, but that does not make a health authority a directly elected body.
I shall give an example from Anglesey, which is part of Gwynedd. It is interesting to note that when the Gwynedd health authority last debated this matter on 26 November last year it voted by eight to six, with one abstension, to continue to support the fluoridation of the water supplies. That is not an especially large majority, even for a non-elected body, but the directly elected bodies representing people in Anglesey and Gwynedd tell us a different story.
On 15 June 1967, after debating this issue, the Anglesey community health council — we should not forget that that body was set up by Parliament to be a watchdog for the Health Service and the people of Anglesey—opposed the artificial addition of fluoride to the water supplies and voted, not by eight to six but by eight to four for that decision. The number who did not want fluoride added to the water supplies was twice the number who did.
Has my hon. Friend noted a glaring defect in the Bill? If the health authority changes its mind and votes eight to six in favour of discontinuing adding fluoride to the water supplies, that vote does not instruct the water authority to cease supplying fluoride.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, because another amendment addresses the duration of an application made by a health authority under the Bill's provisions.
The consumer watchdog for Anglesey said that it did not want fluoride added to the water supplies. Anglesey borough council is also opposed to the artificial fluoridation of water supplies. If we delve even further into every survey and opinion poll conducted in my constituency—whether by me or anyone else—we find that the majority of people are against the artificial addition of fluoride to the water supplies. Those of us who believe in democracy and the expression of individual choice, especially on a matter that is as fundamental to the individual as health have a right to ask: what price democracy? Where is democracy in the Bill? It is entirely absent. That is one of the gravest defects of the Bill and the reason why we are debating these amendments.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be prepared to say that these matters should be subject to democratic control. I hope also that he will agree with some of these amendments, which say that an application should not be made by a health authority without prior consultation with those bodies which have been democratically elected in the area which would be affected by the application. That is a modest enough proposal, and that is the affect of new clause 1. The new clause does not even go so far as to require the health authority to abide by the decision of the directly elected body. It merely requires the health authority to "consult" with the directly elected body.
I hope the House will agree that it is not uncharitable of me to say to my hon. Friend that he would be extremely churlish if he did not even pay lip-service to democracy and consultation by at least recommending acceptance of new clause 1. It merely requires consultation. There are those of my hon. Friends—and I would prefer to go along with them — who would require a further manifestation of the democratic will in the Bill than merely a duty to consult. That would be that a health authority should not only consult directly-elected bodies, but that if those directly-elected bodies are against the artificial fluoridation of water supplies, the health authority should abide by that decision.
Even if that is not incuded in the Bill there is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) so helpfully pointed out, a fundamental defect in it. If, at some subsequent stage, the health authority decides against the artificial fluoridation of water supplies in its area, an application having been made, there is no machinery for that change of mind to be put into effect.
On this rare occasion my hon. Friend has been led into error by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). Clause 1 says that the water authority may put fluoride in the water, when the health authority has applied in writing to it,
while the application remains in force".
Clause 1(2) says:
an application shall remain in force until the health authority, after giving reasonable notice to the statutory water undertaker in writing, withdraw it.
If a health authority changes its mind, it has to give notice of this, the application is cancelled, and the fluoride is withdrawn.
My hon. and learned Friend will, I hope, catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and will be able to advance that point. I shall not follow that path now, as I do not wish to detain the House for too long.
The problem of the Bill is that there is no vehicle by which popular consent or dissent to artificial flouridation of water supplies can be made manifest. That is a grave defect. There should be a clause or clauses which mean that that manifestation of popular will, however it is done, will be carried into effect, for the reasons that I have advanced. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister will say something about wide consultation, not just with local, elected bodies, but with the general public, so that there is an opportunity for members of the public to make their views known fully in advance, before an application is made by a health authority.
I hope that, by nodding his head, my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister is not signifying his boredom with my speech so far, but is signifying his assent to that proposition. If that is so, I welcome it, but I ask another question. If he is to make sure that the widest possible consultation can take place and that people can make known their views about whether they wish flouride in the water, what will he do in the Bill to ensure that if the overwhelming majority view is that people do not want flouride in the water supplies, due regard will be paid to that?
It is one thing to invite the views of the general public—even that does not appear in the Bill, although I hope that in due course it will—but quite another to say that action will be taken as a result of the expression of those views. If something is not done as a result of the expression of those views, it all becomes rather nugatory, because one is then paying merely lip-service to consultation, without carrying it through to its natural conclusion.
Since there was an intervention from my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health, may I reiterate to my hon. Friend that the Bill does not say that the water authority may not continue with fluoridation after the application ceases to be in force? As we were told on Second Reading that the Bill merely states what is already the law—that was the contention of my right hon. and learned Friend—and as the law does not say that one may not fluoridate without an application from the health authority, is it not the case that the Bill as drafted does not require the water authority to cease introducing fluoride when the application from the heatlh authority is no longer in force? That is the point that I made in my intervention and, so far as I know, it is correct.
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not debate this matter with him. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will have heard what he said, and I am sure that he will deal with it when he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Finally, if we believe in individual choice, particularly over health matters, it is incumbent upon the House to ensure that the legislation does not ride roughshod over the expression of individual choice. It is incumbent upon the House not just to pay lip-service to the will of the people about something over which they have no control, because we must drink water, but to go beyond mere consultation and ensure that in legislation we give expression to the result of that consultation. For those reasons, I hope that the House will ensure that the new clauses and amendments become part of the Bill.
I am a little surprised that the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) asked the Front Bench a question in which he suggested that large numbers of people in a particular area would be against the fluoridation of the water supply. The hon. Member should know that down yonder they have already made up their minds. They are in favour of the fluoridation of the water supply. In Committee one Minister said that he had been against fluoridation but that he had then changed his mind.
I must defend my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government. The hon. Gentleman ought to know that many of them believe in what we are trying to do my moving these new clauses and amendments. many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have considerable sympathy for what we are trying to do and in their hearts feel that it is right to give expression to local democratic views. It is very unfair of the hon. Gentleman to classify all my right hon. and hon. Friends as not being lovers of democracy and individual freedom.
Once again I am surprised at the remarks of the hon. Gentleman. He cannot get away with it like that. I repeat that the Government have made up their minds and are taking no notice of these amendments, but I am going to have my say.
The hon. Gentleman talked about democracy. That is a bit rich coming from the Government Benches. This Administration is in line with that of Adolf Hitler in 1933. It is a dictatorship. [Laughter.] It is all right for hon. Members to laugh. The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) made it clear during the election what would happen. He will be proved right. People will realise what is going on.
The new clause refers to health authorities. [Interruption.] This is a serious debate. Half the Tory Members are never here. They are sailing the high seas. Look at the tans. Yet they come in now to criticise hon. Members who almost live here doing the job that hon. Members should do on behalf of the people they represent. Hon. Members may laugh.
My district health authority is no different from any other. Health authorities are mentioned in the new clause. The hon. Gentleman talked about democracy. I wish he would come and see my district health authority. It is answerable to nobody but the Government Front Bench. It is full of freemasons. One cannot move for them. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis made a point in regard to freemasons. There are plenty of them on the Government Benches. The hon. Member for Ynys MÔn may talk about democracy, but the Government have already made their decision without any consultation with outside bodies.
I am pleased to see the Minister listening carefully. What democracy was exercised by not giving the people of London the opportunity to say yes or no to the abolition of the GLC? The hon. Member for Ynys MÔn said that the people should decide. There was serious criticism on the Government Benches about the closure of post offices. There was no consultation on that. I am talking about consultation on the part of the Government in relation to this Bill. I am giving one or two examples of how the Government let the people down by not having consultation.
I never break the rules, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I respect the Chair. What the right hon. and learned Gentleman said is not respecting the Chair. He ought to know that much better than many of us because of the office he has held. I have criticised him for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Minister is laughing. I will take the smile off his face. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] We are in debate on the Bill and I am talking to the amendments. I resent hon. Members telling me to get on with it. We have got all night. We have waited for the opportunity to find out what will happen in regard to prescriptions. We are talking about consultation and democracy under the Government. What right have the Government to do what they propose without consulting the people who will be affected?
Consultation is the point at issue. By consultation, the people will say whether fluoride, if it is in the water naturally, should be removed. If they say that it should, they will have my support because I am anti-fluoride, and in taking that view I am with some Conservative Members. If we agree that water should be natural, without containing fluoride, we should find a means of removing what flouride it contains.
We must nail firmly the accusation that, because fluoride occurs naturally in water, we should add it to water where it is not present naturally. We argued in Committee—our argument has not been rebutted so far—that in addition to fluoride, other constituent parts make up the water content, and many of those parts, including calcium, are beneficial. It is probably not necessary to remove such constituent parts because the water has qualities which aid natural consumption. It is not—
I apologise for the length of my intervention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I wish that I had the ability to speak more succinctly. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) is wondering whether fluoride, where it occurs naturally in water, should be taken out. He should accept that the water contains other qualities which we would not want to take out. Those qualities do not do any damage, I urge him to concentrate on adding fluoride artificially, rather than taking it out. He will then be on a good wicket.
We are talking about the need for consultation about the fluoridation of water. Unfortunately, the Government have established a sort of secret society in that one cannot learn what water authorities are saying when they discuss these issues. The press are not allowed into their meetings, so the general public cannot be told the facts. How can the Government talk about consultation and democracy when what is happening is a denial of democracy? That is why I support the new clause. This is all about democracy and consultation, in both of which I sincerely believe, but it seems that a number of hon. Gentlemen believe in neither.
I wish to speak to the amendments in the hope that hon. Gentlemen who are my friends on both sides of the House will stick around long enough to be able to vote.
May I at once address my mind to the amendments under consideration. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) will not mind my saying that new clause 1 does not meet with my approval, since it is far too wet and feeble. New clause 2, which calls for the ability to cease fluoridation after it has begun, seems to me too much like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Amendment No. 15, which I tabled, is meant to be a fallback position if all else fails. In my view, it would then be reasonable to expect the health authority to make the decision to fluoridate with at least half the people on the health authority present. Amendment No. 13 is purely procedural.
That brings me to the much stronger amendment No. 14, which I tabled. I limited this to getting a majority in favour in each County Council because in Committee I had argued the case for getting a majority in favour in district councils, and I thought that Mr. Speaker would find it easier to select the amendment for discussion if I changed it slightly.
To my great pleasure, I note that the perfect amendment in this respect has been tabled by the Liberals, that is, amendment No. 2. That does what I attempted to do in Committee and what I am trying to do now on Report. It says:
… approval is given for such action by a majority in favour of it in a county council or councils, or in each district council, in the area to be affected.
I think that that is the right and sensible approach, and the strong approach, and I hope that it will meet with support from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am pleased on this occasion—and I hope that it will not happen too often — to accept and support something advanced by members of the Liberal party.
I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will appreciate that, while he may be foolish enough to accept something which is given in the Trojan horse with Liberal colours this could not of course apply to Scotland because we do not have such authorities. The Liberal Members allegedly are in favour of a separate Scottish government.
Is the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) aware that the water authorities in Scotland are themselves elected authorities? This is a function of the regional councils. The amendment, therefore, is perfectly correctly worded; it need not apply to Scotland because the Scottish authorities are already elected. It is only in England and Wales that the water authorities are not elected bodies.
If I may join in the discussion between my hon. and learned Friend and the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft), I want merely to make the point that we now have an opportunity to do something which it is important for the House to do.
We have already sold the pass on the freedom of choice. We have sold the pass in allowing for the first time in the history of this country mass medication of the public water supply, which is an infringement of the fundamental liberty of the individual so grave that whenever it has been introduced in any country, it is not very long before advantage is taken of the precedent therein. I am very worried that at some stage there might be in this country a Government who would build upon the precedent of adding fluoride to the water, which at its best, if the claims for it have anything like approaching any value, would only delay the onset of caries in children's teeth for several years—
My hon. and learned Friend puts his finger on it— [Interruption.] I do not think that that is the first time that he has put his finger on a matter of importance. Although AIDS is a serious matter, several other illnesses can also be rife in society, such as AIDS, for which cures are not necessarily known, and where concerns run very deep. There might be a tendency in a future Government to take the advice of doctors, dentists and scientists, and treat the water so that that illness may be cured.
One can conceive situations in which, for example, if any country became overpopulated, the temptation to put into the water something that might have a contraceptive capacity would be very great—
The expert on bromide and other forms of treatment of water and mere water sits behind me, and I do not think that I need go down that avenue very far tonight.
It is a monstrous infringement of the liberty of the individual. The amendment is hauling back some measure of control over it.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health, who resisted an amendment in Committee to make it compulsory for a water authority to fluoridate in any situation where the health authority required it to do so. We all know that health authorities will require water authorities to do so because health authorities are full of those great public-spirited gentlemen, the doctors, scientists and dentists of this world who, while they are public-spirited, do not seem to care a damn for the liberty of the individual.
I think that I have already told the story of the dentist who came into my surgery and asked whether I would fight for his freedom to choose which school he should send his child to. I said I would do so if he would fight for my freedom to choose whether fluoride goes into my water. I asked how he would equate the two. He said that he would have to think about that. The sad thing was that he had not thought about it until I raised it. Freedom is not a matter that centres in the thoughts of doctors, dentists and scientists in our society. It should centre in the thoughts of we who represent the people who want to be free in this country.
The only way in which we can control health authorities and water authorities — but mostly it is the health authorities—is if we introduce an element of democratic choice to the process of fluoridating water. If one was to say my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, "Do you believe in fluoridation?" she would say, "Yes, provided that there is local choice." If one were to say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister, "Do you think that we should have fluoride in the water?" he would say, "Yes," as he has done, "provided that we have local choice." The people who have written to the Department of Health and Social Security and said that they oppose fluoridation are always told that if it is introduced as a discretionary matter, there will be local choice.
However, we have been misled because ordinary people believe local choice to be what the local authority—the locally elected authority, the representative of the people—decides. But we find in the Bill that it is only the local health authority or the local water authority.
That would not satisfy anybody in the area in which I live who was looking for local democracy because the Severn Trent water authority does not represent the wishes of the people of Burton upon Trent, Uttoxeter, Tutbury or Tocester; it represents an enormous area, a region of the United Kingdom and simply has no interest in finding out what the wishes of the people are.
It is not that we simply want to be able to express through our democratically elected representatives their wishes in the matter; it is that we have before us examples of exactly how dismissive of democratically-held views on the subject the water authorities can be. In this matter we see no party boundaries, therefore I hope I shall be forgiven for addressing all hon. Members as hon. Friends when I say that the health authorities in the West Midlands and the water authorities decided that they wanted to fluoridate the water. They did not decide just cool, without having any idea of the wishes of the people, therefore they cannot be excused for saying that they really believed the people are in favour and that was why they did it. Thay had many expressions of view on fluoridation. Their view was directly contrary to the view which had already been expressed by Staffordshire, Shropshire, Gloucestershire, Hereford and Worcestershire county councils. So here we have a water authority that in complete disregard of and contempt for the democratically expressed view of county councils in its area has decided to go ahead and mass-medicate the water supply.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about the regional health authority but I see that according to the definition "health authority" means, in relation to England and Wales, any district health authority. Would the hon. Gentleman advise me whether he is referring to regions or districts?
The present situation is that the area health authority makes its representations, the regional health authority advises the water authority and the water authority fluoridates the water. It is on the request of the regional health authority, with the advice and support of the area health authority—[Interruption.] I am so sorry, I mean district health authority. We have abolished the area health authority. That was one of the achievements of the Conservative Government in the days when it was trying to liberate people and also to save money—both factors which arise in this matter. The hon. Gentleman will have to ask the Minister what his intentions are. The fact of the matter is that there is no intention in this Bill democratically to give right to anybody to have his views expressed or understood.
Whenever in the West Midlands region, in the Severn-Trent water authority area, there has been an opportunity to test the will of the people in the only way which is really effective—that is the way of the democratically elected councils—they have acted in the face of the results of those elections.
I have spoken about county councils, but it is far worse than that. As far as the district councils are concerned, Newcastle-under-Lyme — the hon. Gentleman's own district council — Stafford district council, south Staffordshire, east Staffordshire, Lichfield, Cannock Chase, Tamworth and Stoke-on-Trent have all said no to fluoridation, yet the water authority is about to fluoridate if it has not already started. Oswestry, north Shropshire, south Shropshire, Shrewsbury and Atchan, the Wrekin and Bridgnorth in Shropshire have all said no to fluoridation, and, with contempt for their views, the water authority is fluoridating. Malvern Hills, Wychaven, Worcester in Hereford and Worcester have all said no. The district councils of Cheltentham, Gloucester, Tewkesbury—
I was making a very good point. If my hon. Friends can control themselves until I have finished the good points, and interrupt only during the bad points, I should be grateful. The district councils of Cheltenham, Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Stroud and the Forest of Dean have all said no. The Wolverhampton, Stratford-on-Avon, south Derbyshire, Broxbourne and Nottingham councils have all said no. They are the local democratically-elected representatives of the people saying, "We do not want that medication forced down our throats." Yet the water authority and the health authority contemptuously say, "You will have it."
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has asked me that question. Of a total of 148 parish councils—[HON. MEMBERS: "Read them out."] I have two lists, but out of concern for hon. Members I shall not read them out. I shall simply state the general conclusion. Of 148 parish councils that were circularised by the Staffordshire Parish Councils Association, of the 72 replies 12 said that they were in favour of fluoridation—none of those had conducted a local survey—of the 58 that said they were against fluoridation, 22 had conducted a local survey. Two said that they did not know. Of those responding, 86 per cent. of the parish councils in Staffordshire are against fluoridation of the water supply, 14 per cent. are in favour, and 40 per cent. of those against fluoridation bothered to conduct surveys.
It is plain that this measure takes away the freedom of the individual to choose whether he will have poison put into his water, whether it affects him or not, whether it benefits him or not—and there are at least 17 million people who have no teeth and therefore cannot benefit by fluoride in the water; they can only be harmed by the continuous ingestion of a poison that is accumulative in the system and which, by old age, can develop harmful effects. There have been many surveys on that point, but this is not the time to detail them. It is absolutely clear that those people should be given some opportunity of having their views on the matter properly reflected in the only way we know how.
I ask my right hon. and learned Friend if he will take seriously the wishes of the people. They want to have a local decision; they mean a local democratic decision. I always thought that my party would never introduce compulsory mass medication. It is compulsory because any health authority that so desires will inevitably get a water authority fluoridating the water and so the people will be compulsorily medicated.
For the moment I shall control my anger at my party for selling me the pass on freedom if it does not follow it by selling me the pass on democracy. I believe that my party is a democratic party and that it believes in the freedom of the individual to make his choices if not individually, then through his democratically-elected representative. I therefore support the amendment.
The Second Reading debate has already taken place and it is a shame that we must rehearse the principles again. I support the principle, but it is interesting that some of these amendments unite Liberal Members, even though some might oppose the principle. It is important to consider locally and democratically elected authorities as a means of providing local opinion on whether water should be fluoridated. It would be dangerous if local councils were unable to have a voice in and to influence the decision whether to fluoridate water.
The Minister for Health is able to appoint members of health authorities and the Secretary of State for the Environment can appoint members of water authorities. Through those appointed members, the Government are able to ensure that water is fluoridated throughout the country. It is wrong that all the power should rest with the Government. Since the Government came to office, members of health authorities who have disagreed with the Government have, on occasion, not been reappointed and others have been appointed because they have political affiliations with the Government. Whatever one's view about that, I am anxious that members of authorities should not be removed simply because they disagree with the Government. To be consistent, I should add that some Left-wing local authorities have also endeavoured to take people off health authorities because of disagreement.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Government might remove members from health authorities because they vote against fluoride and that they now need the backing of local authorities in the interests of their own protection?
There is a suspicion that those who are appointed to water or health authorities might be removed if they do not carry out the wishes of the Government who appointed them. The danger is that the bodies that carry out Government policy appear to be local and democratic but are far from it.
The processes of politics and of decision making are as important as the decisions themselves. It would be wrong if the Government could tell the public, "We do not want to argue our case with you locally. We do not want to try to convince you of the rightness of our arguments. We do not want to persuade you that a given course of action, which we believe to be important, must be passed through your local authority. You must just accept it." Our democratic processes are not best served by opting out of that decision-making process.
Powers have been removed from local authorities for decades. I was a member of Leeds city council for six years before the present appointed water authorities came into being. For six years the water supply in Leeds was the responsibility of the waterworks committee of Leeds city council, and a member of the council had to answer for that service in the city council chamber. One could get a response to questions from officials, and a debate on the efficacy of the water supply. The day that the water authorities became appointed bodies, the style of administration changed. The openess no longer existed, it was more difficult to get inside the decision-making processes of the water authorities, and the way in which we could influence the financing and efficiency of the authorities disappeared overnight.
That is a further point. One of the Welsh water authorities, to its credit, allows people in, but that is its decision, as it does not have to do so.
If we are to make this change in our water supply, it is important that each hon. Member and our local authority colleagues can persuade people that it is right and proper. If we do not make the decision through those elected authorities and are prepared to say that the Chamber and Government offices are right to force the decision on the public, public cynicism will accumulate. Just as it has been said that fluorine is a cumulative addition to the water supply, so the erosion of the democratic process is also cumulative.
If one cannot persuade people in a local authority area to support this principle, national Government should not force it on them. As we have regional water suppliers, fluorine can be added regionally, and the matter does not have to be decided nationally.
New clause 1, which provides for the right of consultation in local authority areas, is unobjectionable. It is a start. New clause 2 is too strong. It states that one local authority has the right to opt out and therefore to ensure that every other authority in the water authority's area is also opted out. That seems wrong.
Amendment No. 15 seeks to provide that 50 per cent. of the membership of the authority should be present and vote. If we had to enforce the same principle in the House, a great deal of legislation would not pass through the Chamber. It is a strange principle that in one chamber 50 per cent. of the membership should be present and vote, but not in others. That is a flippant amendment because it is not feasible in a democratic set-up.
Amendment No. 14 makes it necessary for county councils to give their support. I support that. However, as the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said, amendment No. 2 gives the choice either to the county council or to the district authority. There may be more or fewer enlightened people in county or district authorities; I do not know. But at least it gives those who have a public representational role to play at either level the chance to argue the case, help local people to understand it and make the decision.
I do not understand the following wording and would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would explain it. The amendment states that there must be a majority in favour of it
in a county council or councils, or in each district council.
What will happen if the district councils vote in favour and the county councils against fluoridation? How does he reconcile that?
In some water authority areas and regional health authority areas there is more than one county council, so both must be involved. If either set of authorities can persuade its membership that it is in favour of fluoridating water supplies, it should fluoridate the supplies, rather than have the action vetoed by the other. It is an affirmative vote by counties or districts.
The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) said that the position in Scotland is far better than that in England or Wales. He said that we were in favour of devolution, indeed, with devolution England and Wales may also have benefits. One might be that in a constitutional settlement we would regain the democratic control of our health and water authorities. The regional authorities in Scotland are the water authorities. When I first drafted the amendment — in ignorance of the position in Scotland — I wrote in that the regional, county or district councils should decide the matter. I was then informed that the regional councils were the water authorities. The hon. and learned Member's intervention was unnecessary because the amendment was correctly drafted.
On amendments Nos. 3 and 5, I do not favour the principle of a referendum. Strangely enough, it detracts from the democratic process that I am trying to forward because people who are charged with the elected responsibility of a district or a county council can have that responsibility set aside by a referendum. If in any decision-making process we introduce the right of decision by referendum on any issue that we oppose, what else will be taken away from that local authority? What other decisions will we say must be made by referendum rather than by the democratically elected authority?
The hon. Gentleman said that county and district councils are charged with the responsibility to decide. They may be charged with some responsibilities, but they have no responsibility for water. That responsibility is the water authority's. I do not see the difference between individuals or an elected council, which does not have responsibility for water deciding. How does he explain that?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to explain the point again. Amendment No. 2 gives the principal local authorities the right to say affirmatively that they wish to have their water fluoridated. I wish to enhance the local government process and the role of district or county councillors. I am therefore opposed to amendments Nos. 3 and 5 because they do not seek to enhance the role of the local authorities. They seek to take the decision away from elected councils and give it to a referendum. I am fearful that that will open the door to take away other powers from local authorities. The hon. Gentleman's point would be right if we did not pass amendment No. 2, because the position would then be different. I am arguing for the adoption of amendment No. 2 and for support for new clause 1.
Like the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft), I am persuaded that the addition of fluoride to the water supplies is beneficial. I would vote for it in any referendum or test of opinion. I am prepared to defer to expert medical opinion and to the advice of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health. I hold, in an increasingly despairing way, to the quaint belief that because something is wise it is not necessarily right to impose it upon people without asking them, and that because something is unwise it is not necessarily right to prohibit it without asking them.
My amendments, which are related, seek to introduce a way of asking those who take water from a water authority whether they wish that water to be fluoridated.
My hon. Friend will recall that many years ago, when there was a smallpox epidemic, the Government deemed it right and proper to introduce compulsory vaccination.
The Government of the day deemed that the danger of the disease was so great that in the circumstances it was right and proper to introduce compulsory vaccination. There was no choice for the people. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) talks about mass medication. Surely that vaccination was a form of mass medication.
Let us assume for the purpose of argument—this may or may not be so—that what my hon. Friend has claimed took place did take place. That would have happened because there was an emergency. The Government are entitled in an emergency to take action which they are sure will have the overwhelming support of the people. In those circumstances the Government of the day will act before asking the people for their approval. They will take the action in the confident belief that restrospectively it will receive the endorsement of the people. There is no emergency about the—
—whether there was compulsory medication for smallpox or there was not. If that action was taken, it was because there was an emergency. There is no emergency behind the fluoridation of water, and that being so I do not see why we should not ask the public before we fluoridate, rather than afterwards.
The proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower) is wrong. No Government have ever ordered vaccination or made it compulsory. If a Government had done so, and none has, it would have been in the interests of those who were vaccinated, and not in the interests of those who were not likely to suffer from anything.
I shall resist it, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that the fluoridation of water is beneficial, but we should, if possible, find a way of asking the public for their opinion on whether that is what they would like to be done to their water.
Various options are rehearsed in the new clauses and amendments. I am sure that my amendment is technically defective, so we shall not have to argue about the merits of the wording. The water authority is the undertaking which sells water to the consumer and it regularly bills consumers for the water which it supplies to them. It might take the opportunity of sending along with its bills a simple question to consumers: do you or do you not wish your water to be fluoridated?
We place a tick in a box in the account to tell the gas or electricity boards whether we would like a receipt when we pay our bills. When paying our water bills we could add our views about fluoridation. If the water authority wanted to advise consumers on what it wanted to do, and wanted to enclose with the bill the advice of the health authority, the district council, the county council or that of the Government, it could so. It would then be left to the consumer, on paying his bill, to tick a box, for example. I suggest that if a simple majority of customers of the authority placed a tick in a box to say that they would like their water to be fluoridated, we should give the water authority the authority to fluoridate its water supplies.
Perhaps the network of one water authority is not the right block, as it were, in which to fluoridate. Perhaps we should consider smaller blocks, such as district councils, local authorities or parliamentary constituencies. That does not matter, because I imagine that a water authority would have sufficiently detailed information about where its customers reside to enable it to conduct referendums in smaller areas than the extent of its supply area.
Yes. That is a problem. It is a defect which detracts from the completely democratic nature of what I am proposing, but it might be said that the theory of local government representation is somewhat flawed because those who pay for local government are a minority of those who vote for it. These defects are inherent in any system in which we ask people what they want when they are not necessarily those who are paying for the service.
I would not go to the last ditch in proposing my own way of consulting. I agree with many hon. Members from both sides that, given the will, there is a practical way of consulting people about whether they want their water to be fluoridated.
This debate is producing some unholy alliances, one of which is that between myself and the hon. Member for Ynys MÔn (Mr. Best). On this matter we are at one.
Having followed the argument, I tend to support the hon. Member for Derbyshire. West (Mr. Parris), who wants an opinion expressed by the maximum number of people possible. I have already expressed my preference for a local referendum. That is feasible within the 1972 legislation which allows community or parish councils to conduct such referenda.
The hon. Member for Ynys MÔn was right to say that people have misgivings about fluoride—30 years after it was added to their water. It is an unkown quantity and yet one in two people in his area are against fluoridation. That reflects the right of people to take decisions themselves instead of accepting a process which is imposed upon them.
Agreement amongst those who are subject to this medication, or process, unites parties and those who are for or against fluoride. The Government should note that in all parties there is some sympathy and support for those who are subject to this legislation having some say.
The situation is worse than it might have been 10 or 12 years ago because the Conservative Government set up a non-elected, nominated, water authority and a non-elected and nominated health authority. Two non-elected bodies are charged with dealing with this matter. That is in contrast with the Government claims that they want local decisions. Members of those two authorities cannot be said to represent local people.
In my county, many people believe that the local authority and water authority do not reflect the wishes of local people. Recently the local authority has been at loggerheads with local opinion on a series of matters. Local authority members are appointed by the Government and therefore beholden to them. The Government's policy is to encourage fluoridation, so it is little surprise that they have a majority on those bodies.
There is a longstanding resentment in Wales about the fact that a large part of its water supply comes from England. Even if the amendments were accepted, how would the local authorities be able to prevent the fluoridation of water from a source over which it has no control?
I can imagine circumstances in which the hon. and learned Member's point would be absolutely right. There may be boundaries between the natural flows of water so that fluoride would have to added at every interface. Complications would arise. Presumably the fluoride would not be in the rivers. If so, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) would have something to say about the effect on fish in the rivers.
My main concern is about the rights of people who sincerely and strongly oppose the imposition of fluoride. None of the amendments is a perfect means of solving the problem. Do we say that if 51 per cent. of the population favours and 49 per cent. of the population opposes fluoridation, it is right for the 51 per cent. to impose their solution on the 49 per cent? I have reservations on that point. I believe that the community should take positive action when taking important decisions, such as whether to add fluoride to their water.
I hesitate about leaving the matter to local authorities. So far, local authorities have not been charged with powers with respect to health or water. If there was legislation to make health and water authorities answerable to locally elected authorities or regionally elected authorities, those local bodies might be the appropriate bodies to handle this matter. I believe that there is a strong case for holding a referendum, as proposed in amendment No. 5. That amendment may not be technically correct as the hon. Member for Ynys MÔn acknowledged. I hope that the Minister is willing to examine this approach and that, the Government will concede possibly in another place that an amendment along those lines should be accepted. An opportunity would thereby be provided for all the local community to take part in a referendum to decide whether fluoride will be added to the water supplies.
Whatever our feelings about fluoride—I have grave reservations, although I acknowledge the medical arguments in favour of its addition — we must acknowledge that many thousands of people feel strongly about this matter. They will pass sleepless nights if fluoridation takes place. The very least that we can give those people is the right to express their opposition. I hope that the Government will recognise the strength of feeling about this matter.
I have the greatest sympathy for the amendments' intentions, but I do not believe that those who support the amendments comprehend the principle behind them. We all have to pay rates. Every service for which we pay is comprehended in one tax — except water. Education, sewerage or health—all the services provided by local authorities—can be taken or excepted, but water alone is accepted for a separate charge. Water is excepted, not because water authorities in England differ from those in Scotland but because water is the fundament of life. Water is necessary to everything. It is essential. Its purity and guarantee are enshrined by its separate treatment in the services provided.
Therefore, I do not accept what my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister said about mass medication. I do not accept the amendments, which suggest that there should be a democracy about water. Fifty-one people, by failing to vote, should not be able to submit 49 others to the compulsion of swallowing something that may and, I believe is, harmful to them, and which is certainly of no good to them. That is not a matter for democracy. If 99 people said to me that they wished to swallow fluoride, I would not believe that to be a good reason to force it down the throat of the 100th. It is wrong that the one substance that each one of us requires, without which nothing can exist, should be contaminated for the spurious, however vindicated, reason that it may do some good to somebody who swallows it.
Before my hon. and learned Friend gets carried away, against his predisposition, into voting against the amendments, I point out that, while everybody who is opposed to fluoridation agrees with every word that he has said, we are faced with the fact that a Second Reading was given to the Bill, at which the individual liberty aspect was taken away. We are left, therefore, grasping at the straw of a democratic reflection of people's wishes. Therefore, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will come down at the end, even against his logical disposition, in favour of one or other of these amendments so that he can join us in the Lobby.
My hon. and learned Friend will know the phrase in law vir flocci, which means a man of straw. I am not one. I do not grasp at them. I am not looking for straws; I am looking for principles. It is offensive to me that we should even be considering amendments that say that the majority shall say, either by default or by vote, that the minority should be poisoned by that vote. This is not a matter for voting, either through district or any other councils.
I notice that the amendments are, as ever, significantly inappropriate to Scotland. After all, England and Wales are the only places that matter. It only happens that the legislation that we are unfortunately considering tonight arose out of a case in Scotland. If it were not for Scotland—I wish that we had never done it—the beastly Bill would never have been before us. Alas, it is, and alas, by the judgment of one of the senators of the college of justice.
The principle is one from which the House cannot escape. We cannot say that we should give any council, any authority or any majority, the right to dictate to the minority or to the non-voting minority, or to anybody else on whether the one thing on which life depends—pure water—shall be adulterated, for any reason, whether it is for the health of others or ourselves. It is one thing to say that everybody must be vaccinated—no Government ever did—because that is in everybody's interest but it is a very different thing to say that everybody must be vaccinated because some people might benefit from it, although most people are not under threat.
Could the hon. Gentleman say clearly to the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) that we do not need to "sell" the principle because there is to be a Third Reading debate when the principle will again be raised? Will he please tell the hon. and learned Member that he is absolutely right to stick to his guns on the grounds of principle and that he should not try to reach shoddy compromises with a Government that are so much out of touch.
I could not understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a word that the hon. Gentleman said, but I assume that he intervened in support of my case. If it was not support, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should go away and take some fluoride. We are considering the concept that elected or unelected bodies should be able to dictate to every single citizen—not just a majority or minority of citizens—that they are to be subjected to something to which they do not wish to be subjected, which is of no help to them and which may do them harm.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) raised an important matter. Large amounts of water from Wales are sent to England. How can one possibly control the fluoridation of that water?
No, we do not have to drink Scottish oil. We can drink whisky instead. But even the right hon. Gentleman has to drink water with his whisky. Will his district council tell the right hon. Gentleman whether the water he drinks with his whisky contains fluoride? If the majority fail to vote, that is what will happen. Some of us may drink whisky and some of us may choose not to do so, but all of us have got to drink water. So it is not a voting matter. While I sympathise with the purpose of the amendments, I regret that, because the principle is so strong, they are not sufficient.
I believe that all hon. Members enjoyed the contribution of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). He speaks with great eloquence, clarity and force. He believes in what he says. We very much missed him on our Committee, even though we had the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). However, the hon. and learned Member did not have sufficient time in which to raise all the points that he wished to raise.
This is a debating Chamber, and it is sometimes forgotten that we are expected to respond to important points that have been made. I could not agree more with the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross about the principle that he enunicated with such force. We must have some democracy. I take the hon. and learned Gentleman's point about water. This is not the appropriate time to rehearse why I am against fluoridation. It is mass medication, and there is no escape from it. If we do not try to get some democracy into it, all those about whom the hon. and learned Gentleman is worried will suffer. Surely it is better that 51 per cent. should vote not to put the fluoride in. I shall support the amendments, and I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to do so too.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) said that he was willing to take advice from experts; in this case medical experts, because I doubt whether philosophers will support the Bill. What happened in the coal mining industry is relevant. Until nationalisation, it was held by experts of the kind on whom the hon. Gentleman intends to rely for guidance that when a miner worked on a coal face the only disease for which he could be compensated was silicosis—silica being the Latin for stone. A miner who worked on a coal face and breathed in coal dust could not get compensation because it was thought that it did not do him any harm. That was the barmy proposition that was enshrined in law.
Hon. Members can examine the compensation cases. Lawyers have addressed us in this debate. They will know that the old workmen's compensation legislation gave more work to lawyers than any other legislation that has been placed on the statute book. Much of the work arose from the words "arising out of and "in the course of' one's employment. I used to deal with this in my timid layman's fashion.
Experts similar to those who are guiding us on this Bill said that coal dust did not harm a man. They supported that contention by saying that when people had heartburn they sucked coal. I am talking about people in Lancashire, but no doubt this happened in other coal mining areas. People felt that there was some correlation between sucking coal and disappearance of the heartburn, and therefore the experts said that coal dust would not do a man harm. They said that it was not like silicosis or getting the dust from stone. The legislation laid down that for a man to receive compensation for a dust reticulation disease—that is, silicosis—he had to have worked for a certain number of years in a heading or a place with so much silica content.
If a man had pains in his chest, suffered from breathlessness and had all the symptoms that we now regard as proof positive that a man has pneumoconiosis —the terms that has been used since nationalisation— and if he had worked in a heading with stone, he could get compensation for silicosis. Another person who had the disease which we now call pneumoconiosis did not get compensation. People with pneumoconiosis died quickly. If it was allied with tuberculosis, it was called galloping consumption. We proved that the ruling in regard to compensation was utter and damaging nonsense for many hard-working men.
We have been told that experts are guiding us on this matter. I am trying to prove that they have not always been right. There is a long history of their advising people that something was not harmful, and then being proved wrong. I do not believe that adding a poison to water does anybody good.
I am not in favour of referendums to test public opinion. Indeed, I urge the Government not to touch them with a barge pole. I accept that hon. Members are often under pressure from constituents to put matters to the test by that means, but I regard the referendum as a soft option which does not produce the right answer, because it all depends on who frames the question. For example, if those who have spoken on the new clause framed the question, fluoride would not be added to the water.
However, there are occasions when referendums have a use. For example, they are useful to test local opinion on whether an area should be wet or dry. In that type of case there is no difficulty in framing the question. In that context, I am probably addressing Opposition Members of a party other than mine.
The Government are in a difficult position. Following a case in Scotland, they have introduced the Bill to make clear what was previously thought to have been clear but which the Scottish judgment said was rather dicey. The Bill will enable authorities which were adding fluoride to continue doing so, and those which were not doing so to be able to do so.
Let us be clear that the payroll vote won the day on this issue. One needs only to check through the way in which hon. Members voted to see that, and I have no doubt that those hon. Members will file in to vote later. I am appealing, therefore, to the infantry on the Back Benches; those who occasionally must march and go over the top.
I say that because the Government do not have the courage of their convictions. They are saying, "If you want to add fluoride, continue doing so." Presumably those authorities which have already added it by underhanded means, so to speak, will be able to remove it, if they wish, on a democratic basis. It seems strange that the Government should be prepared to leave to unelected, undemocratic bodies a decision which they will not take themselves. The reason for that is simple—not even the payroll vote would support them on any other basis. In other words, although the Government have an overall majority of 143 in the House they will not force their view on any body.
That is a sound principle if the Government are saying, "We are leaving the decision to the democratic view of the people." Unfortunately, the people who will make the decision will not be subject to public accountability. They will be appointed and, presumably, will do what the Minister tells them. That is why I urge hon. Members to think deeply about this issue, for we may be taking a step which goes against everything in which this democratically elected Chamber believes.
In that case, my hon. Friend was speaking of the use of the referendum—he probably had in mind certain areas of Wales — in deciding whether areas should be wet or dry. That would result in those areas which wished to be wet on Sundays to be wet, and those which wished to remain dry to remain dry. If one decides to add fluoride to water in an area, the people there have no choice; they all have fluoride. I am not sure that I followed my hon. Friend's argument completely, and perhaps he would develop his case.
I regret that my hon. Friend misunderstood me. I have been gently rebuked this evening by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but what I must aspire to in the few years remaining to me in the House, subject to the will of other hon. Members, is to be as succinct as my hon. Friend.
I did not say that a referendum should be used. I said that we should not touch a referendum with a barge pole. I said that, if we entertained the idea, we then had to consider who frames the question. I referred to an example of west and dry in a local area of the country where a referendum may be the best way to test public opinion. However, I am bound to tell my hon. Friend that, if as imperfect an instrument as a referendum is used to test the public wish, those who do not want to be wet and those who do not want to be dry can maintain their opposing positions without infringing anybody's liberty.
The hon. Gentleman seems to agree that it is simple enough to draft a question for a referendum on whether a particular area wishes to be wet or dry on a Sunday. Will he explain why he thinks that it is more difficult to draft a simple question on whether in a particular area people wish to have fluoride in their water, because I would have thought that the two issues were similarly capable of simple questions?
I do not. First, I want to emphasise that a referendum to judge the will of a nation is a bad instrument. If the Liberal party now says that it believes in the principle of referendum to test the will of a nation, not only in regard to fluoridation but in all matters, it can so decide.
On the matter of framing the question, I believe that if I were allowed to frame the question, assuming that a referendum had been decided upon as the instrument to test the public will, the vote would probably be 93 per cent. against. However, if my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) framed the question, while he may not hope for 99 per cent. in favour, he would be able to frame it in such a way that the public would fall for it, and the vote would be 93 per cent. in favour.
Would not the best advice to my hon. Friend be to stick to Lancashire and to stay out of Wales? Would my hon. Friend agree that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) has illustrated the dilemma? Is it not different to ask, "Do you want fluoride in the water?" from, "Do you want extra fluoride in the water?" There are at least two questions that can be put. The result depends on which question is asked.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) suggested that the two issues were similar, and asked why in my view a referendum in north Wales would be appropriate but a referendum on the issue of fluoride would not be appropriate. Has the hon. and learned Member considered that, if a referendum were held in north Wales in a local area on whether people wished to have drink freely available on the one day that hitherto had been designated as dry, namely, Sunday, and subsequently people desired to change their minds, at the end of the day nobody's liberty would be infringed as, indeed, would be the case if one decided by referendum to have fluoride in the water because people would have to have it whether they liked it or not? The man who votes to remain dry, even if the rest go wet, will remain dry. There is, therefore, a fundamental difference.
The Government are convinced that it is a good thing to allow authorities to put fluoride into water. They will not take the decision themselves. I have illustrated why. Not even the payroll vote would be able to vote that way and sustain the argument.
Therefore, it follows that if this is to be done democratically, it must be done through precisely this new clause in its limited and imperfect way. We are saying, "Let democratically elected bodies test the temperature." People will have been appointed—some of the so-called experts. I have said that we should take some of their expertness with a pinch of salt. They will be able to override the democratic wishes of the elected people representing constituencies. I ask all Back Benchers, democratically elected, to give the measure the boot in the Lobby.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is indeed great danger in allowing appointed members to decide this vital question? It is possible that those appointed members will be connected with industries from which fluoride is generated as an industrial waste as well as an industrial poison. Does not the hon. Gentleman therefore feel that there could be much vested interest in the decisions taken by appointed people? Whether there are flaws in some of the amendments that have been proposed, they give the people a say as to whether they are to be compulsorily medicated through the water supply.
Truly this one, as the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) said, is making strange bedfellows of us all. In this important area of freedom of choice, I should like to refer in particular to amendment No. 2, in the name of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft). I feel that I like his amendment and want to support it, but I am worried about a certain wooliness to which my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower) referred.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) gave us the stricture that this is not the time or the occasion to rehearse the arguments that we went through on Second Reading, but I feel that we must not lose sight of the important fundamenal principles that are involved and that we must continue to bear in mind as we consider—
I must have been as incomprehensible to the hon. Gentleman as to the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). I said that we must stick to the principle. We must remember the principle. On Third Reading we can vote against it. I was rebuking the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) who will accept fluoride in beer because of the vote on Second Reading. I agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones).
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he is always as comprehensible in all his contributions.
I feel that the great principles involved are, first, that the measure represents a dubious health addition. For all the evidence from experts that I have found, one can find an equal expert with an opposite view. Clearly, the subject is not proven. The best evidence that I have ever seen suggests that the only proven medical advantage from fluoride is for unborn children and children below the age of six months. However, beyond the age of six months, the evidence suggests that the addition of fluoride moves to being a disadvantage. In turn, this is the grossest interference with the liberties of the individual, a complete removal of freedom of choice.
Who then decides on whether fluoride should be added to our water supply? In the Bill before us it is to be the health authorities.
As many of my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen have already said this evening, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to suggest that there is a form of local responsibility emanating from the concept that a health authority should decide this supremely important question. Who is it accountable to? There is a plethora of bodies coming under or believed to be the health authorities, but not actually the health authorities. There are community health councils, family practitioner committees, joint consultative committees — the list is almost endless. I trust that all the worthy and well-intentioned people who are involved in those committees fully understand the responsibilities they already have before this addition. But I am fully convinced that the public do not, and certainly do not feel that they are in any way the accountable or responsible bodies that should take these decisions. There must be some form of veto that elected authorities can exercise in this area as the representatives of the local population.
Amendment No. 2, put forward in the name of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) confuses me when it talks about the "county council or councils" or the "district council" for the areas involved. There does not seem to be any clarity as to which authority is pre-eminent. Rather, it seems to be an invitation to conflict between the two levels of local government.
To clarify the matter, I would suggest—and it would certainly be my own preference — that the decision ought to be at district council level. A local decision such as this ought to be at a really local level.
I cannot help being aware of my own situation in Cardiff. Cardiff city council is the district council and one of two district authorities in south Glamorgan. South Glamorgan has a population of 400,000. The city council, as one component, has a population of 300,000. I know full well that the Cardiff city council, which has on many occasions indicated its opinion that there is widespread opposition to the addition of fluoride, would find it intolerable, as the council of the capital city of Wales—with no disrespect to the neighbouring Vale of Glamorgan district authority—if in any way the Vale were able to impose fluoridation on the people of Cardiff regardless of the decision of the city council.
I fully subscribe to the point that has already been made. I do not like this Bill. I do not want to see it go through. But if we have to have it we must have the very best form of local control that can be devised.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has made that point, leaving me with no necessity to go any further down that road. I hope that this Bill will not yet find its way on to the statute book but that, if it does, we must bring in proper local control.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best), in moving the first amendment before the House this evening, touched briefly and quite properly on the underlying concerns which most hon. Members who have spoken so far have about the purpose of the Bill. It would be quite wrong, with the Second Reading debate behind us, for me to set out the public health and other arguments in favour of fluoridation which many people in the medical and dental profession share. What we are talking about this evening is the worries of many of my hon. Friends and many hon. Gentleman about the threat that a Bill giving these powers to local authorities, water authorities and health authorities poses to the freedom of choice of individuals. We have heard the expression "mass medication" used more than once in the course of the debate.
Most of these amendments seek to give the general public and the individuals who might be affected by the exercise of these powers a greater influence, if not a decisive voice, in the eventual decision.
I wish to be helpful, so I shall not devote a great deal of time to a direct challenge to the main underlying argument, although I fail to see that this great issue of freedom of choice is posed in quite the way that it has been presented so far by the exercise of proposed powers by health and water authorities.
If my hon. and learned Friend will allow me to explain why I do not share his view, he might then rise to challenge it.
We are talking about the public water supply. It is an inescapable practical fact that we all have to have, in any given location, the same public water supply with the same additives or lack of additives in the water coming out of the tap. It is not yet possible to distribute water so that neighbouring houses can have water coming out of the taps to the particular mix chosen by the owner of the household. From time immemorial, for one health reason or another — my hon. friend may think that some are stronger reasons than others—there have been additions to what otherwise would have been natural water for the benefit of the mass of the nation.
I know that I tried and did not succeed in Committee to persuade my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) to put forward the man who might take the ultimate view on individual choice and say that he has heard all the arguments about chlorine and listened to all the clever scientific people — who have been heavily derided throughout the debate—saying that it is essential to put it in water to cure typhoid, but that he does not agree with that. He does no want doctors putting in mass medication when he is not sure that they might not ultimately be proved to be wrong—as the doctors have been proved to be wrong in the past. He might wish to assert his individual freedom to have no chlorine in the water coming out of his taps, and would prefer to have pure water.
I know that that is an extreme example, but we all know that the answer to that man would be that while we respect the courage of the man's convictions, common sense and practice are against him and he cannot have water without chlorine without putting at risk the health of everyone else.
I give way to my hon. and learned Friend, whose interest in water I find especially moving, as I had not previously appreciated that pure water ever passed his lips.
What my right hon. and learned Friend does not understand is that, whatever does pass my lips, it must have whatever water this beastly Government will put in it. Whether I drink it in the form of whisky, gin or anything else, if they add fluoride I have to drink it. Let us get away from that argument.
My right hon. and learned Friend should understand—and this is an argument of the greatest importance—that if we add chlorine to the water it is to ensure that everybody has potable water. If we add fluoride to the water, it is in the hope that some people—not all people —may be protected from a disease that nobody else has. That is a wholly different principle.
As I come from south of the border, I am a beer drinker. I might introduce my hon. and learned Friend to the prospect that some beer at least is brewed by breweries that take their water from springs, not from the public water supply. If every health and water authority in the country was seized with the idea of putting fluoride in the public water supply, my hon. and learned Friend might still find some fluoride-free liquid.
On my hon. and learned Friend's serious point, of course he is saying that in one case the argument for overriding individual choice is more compelling than in the second case. I am pointing out that if he is saying that the absolute nature of individual choice is what matters, there are undoubtedly some health grounds upon which long ago that principle has been completely overridden with the public water supply.
My point is that, although we are all sensitive about individual choice, we are talking about the public water supply which every members of the public must have. There will be differing opinions. A number of doctors and dentists receiving the public water supply want fluoride in the water. The public will have different opinions, and somebody must come to a collective decision because a block of the country has to have the same water coming out of the taps.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the collective decision that we all want, and which the majority of the people in the country want, is that no decision should be taken to fluoridate the water? Is he further aware that when he keeps interchanging chlorine and fluoride, he is missing the essential point in regard to democracy? If people were asked whether they wanted water that carried typhoid and malaria or preferred to have water that was chlorinated and might save their lives, it is a reasonable assumption that nearly every sane person in the country would rather have chlorinated water. If people are asked whether they want fluoride, which will not save their lives but delay the onset of dental caries in children's teeth for a limited period of their life, the overwhelming majority will say that they do not want it. That is the important difference.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for explaining what he believes to be the important difference. He has confirmed the point that was made first by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn). We are not discussing individual choice. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton did not refer to individual choice in his intervention, but based his argument on his belief that the majority of people do not want fluoride. He believes that that should over-ride the individual choice of the minority of people who he believes want fluoride in water. He is being led off into his opinions about the virtues of fluoride and its impact on public health as compared with other additives to water. I am merely saying, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn, who said that somehow there is some great principle of individual choice here, that I still fail to see how that stalwart body of people who wish to have a substance that exists naturally in water in some parts of the country not to be in their water can assume that their individual liberty can be taken so far that everybody's water must be changed to accommodate them.
We do not intend to sweep away the right of the individual to have a chance to influence decisions on these matters. Although, by giving the Bill a Second Reading, the House has not accepted that the absolute individual choice should be installed in the law, nobody is saying that there should be no decision making process or, least of all, as the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) argued, that the Government, by some edict, will now make all decisions. I remind the House that the whole purpose of the Bill was to restore the law to that which had been followed in practice by water and health authorities and successive Governments. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton said, that is local decision making. We are proposing that decisions should be taken by the correct and responsible local authority. The Government have no wish to impose choices on those authorities.
People have campaigned for and against fluoride for many years. Different parts of the country have come to different conclusions. If it was not for a Scottish case, we should not be here debating the issue in the middle of the night. The Government are merely putting back in the hands of the correct local authorities discretion to make a decision about whether fluoride should be added to local water.
No, and for a number of their mistakes they are held accountable to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We know that if we do not hold them to account, we shall have to account to the House for their mistakes. We have made it clear that we are leaving it to health authorities to reach a judgment whether to apply for fluoride to be added. The Bill is not intended to pave the way for a great new national campaign, such as we certainly have not conducted during our first five years in office.
Is not my right hon. and learned Friend being unusually disingenuous and naive? Is not the position that because of uncertainty about the law, few water authorities were fluoridating water supplies? Now that he has removed that state of uncertainty which may have put them at financial risk, they will almost inevitably, double, treble or quadruple the volume of water that is being fluoridated. At present 10 per cent. is fluoridated. In a year or two between 30 per cent. and 50 per cent. may be fluoridated. Does my right hon. and learned Friend not appreciate that reality?
It is my unworldly nature which keeps me in this post, so I do not entirely appreciate my hon. and learned Friend's point. There has been doubt about the law, which is why the Government offered an indemnity to authorities against the threat of legal proceedings if they decided to go ahead with fluoridation. They have not faced the financial penalties that my hon. and learned Friend described.
We are talking about local decision making, and I agreed with some of my hon. and learned Friend's speech. All the amendments and the debate are addressed to the question of which local authorities should take the decision, and how they should conduct themselves when they do so, so that they do not ride roughshod over individual opinion.
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman, because he leads me precisely to my point. The question at issue relates to the choice of authorities. Why does the Bill, as drafted by the Government, give the decision to the authorities which have been taking that decision for the past 20 years? There are two good reasons.
That is rubbish. As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, until local government reorganisation, water authorities were under the control of local authorities, which were democratically elected.
I am not sure that all the private water companies which were succeeded by the present water authorities, were. The two authorities to which we have chosen to give the decision-making power, are those which the House has made responsible first for the public water supply and, secondly for public health. It is only on that, which I would have thought was a fairly rational basis, that the choice of those two bodies was made.
The water authorities are obviously charged with all the practical, technical and other problems that arise from the distribution of water. The district health authorities are charged with all responsibilities for public health, especially preventative medicine, health education and so on, which is an important part of their task. That is not the conclusive part of my argument, but at least in deciding which local bodies should be responsible for local decision-making, its beginning has the rationality of choosing the only bodies which have any direct responsibility for either the water supply or public health.
Does the Minister accept that one of the problems for hon. Members who have tabled amendments is that we recall vividly that he instructed health authorities on, for example, privatisation, that they must carry out his instructions? He did not do that only through a circular, but he wrote to the chairmen of the regional health authorities—I admit that they are not the tiers about which we are debating— saying that they must carry out his instructions sent by circular and also what he said, even if it was not sent by circular. The worry is that if there is only one chain of command and no local democratic element, the Minister may well do the same again. Although I am in favour of what the Minister wants to do, I want the decision to be taken locally.
As other hon. Members have been drawing distinctions between different arguments, I draw a distinction between the activities of health authorities when it comes to making the best use of public money—we have taken action to ensure that health authorities do not of their own volition forgo savings that they could make, by testing the cost of their support services by going to tender—and a decision on fluoride.
I can repeat the undertaking that I have given—the Government will not give any directions to those local bodies about whether they should add fluoride. I shall leave this to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), but I suspect that the Opposition will not commit themselves to some great national campaign to add fluoride to the water by putting pressure on those local bodies, and if ever the great coalition arises it is clear that the alliance will not chip in directions to them so we have a timeless prospect before us whereby the matter will be left to local discretion. We then move to how best that local discretion can be exercised.
All the amendments try to introduce into the decision making of health and water authorities an element which will reassure us all that they are more responsible to the public by bringing in elected local government on the argument that that means that an element of democracy is injected into the process.
The Minister and his colleagues have appointed the health authority and the water authority members in south Yorkshire. Let us suppose that the south Yorkshire county council, all the metropolitan district councils and all the parish councils in south Yorkshire which are largely dominated by my party, decided that they were flatly opposed to the fluoridation of water, and that a health authority and water authority, appointed by a Conservative Government, were to ignore the views of the elected local authorities. Does he deny that he would sustain the water and health authorities in their complete disregard of local, democratic views?
It is clear from all the debates that we have had on fluoride that the idea that local democracy will be ridden roughshod over on any party political basis is mistaken. We are on yet another of those subjects, which I seem to be hitting with unerring regularity week by week, where the party divisions are being shattered as we go along.
The Government are reserving to those authorities which are responsible for decision making, the decision-making power in their own sphere. At the moment, if any metropolitan county or any district within a metropolitan county passed any resolution about the contents of the public water supply, it would have no practical effect because the house, in its wisdom, has not yet given local authorities responsibility for public water. Similarly, if all the district councils—
Exactly. The House, in its wisdom, has taken it away. If every local authority in south Yorkshire were to pass a resolution about the hospital service that would be an expression of opinion, but it would not be decisive, because the House has not given local authorities any responsibility for that kind of public health.
For that reason, ther is, to say the least, a distinct illogicality in saying—at this hour of the morning it would appear that the most vital part of the Health Service is the public water system — as various of these amendments suggest, that the decision-making power should be transferred to bodies which have no direct responsibility for any other aspect of the subject.
It is more than that. I am not just standing on what seems to me to be the basic constitutional principle that we cannot give one public body decision-making powers for a matter for which it has no other responsibility.
I suggest also that we must have a decision-making process that makes some sense, whether for or against fluoride. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton will forgive me for saying that in Committee I expressed the view that one or two of his amendments were plainly of a wrecking nature. The aim was to cloud the issue by saying that a number of bodies' opinions should coincide before fluoride could be added to the water supply, thereby making it impossible ever to arrive at a positive conclusion.
I shall give way again, but I wish to make this argument plain so that I do not have to keep chopping into it. I remind the House that the boundaries of the various bodies do not coincide. Water authorities cover a large area and the pattern of distribution of water means that they can alter the water supply in ways determined by purely practical considerations. The areas of water authorities do not match those of health authorities; in their turn, the health authorities' areas do not match boundaries of the district councils or the county councils. If we give all these bodies decision-making power — I am conceding to the skill of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton as on of the authors of the proposition that is before us—it would be necessary to achieve a consensus within a jigsaw of water authorities, health authorities and local authorities of different tiers before fluoride could be added to the water supply. I hope that it is an unworthy suspicion on my part that one of the reasons for the new clauses is an attempt to ensure that fluoride is not added to the water suuply anywhere. I accept also that it is part of local democracy and a concern for the individual.
Is the Minister worried that he is dependent upon an unholy alliance between do-gooders on the one hand and the payroll vote on the other? Is he not worried also that apparently he cannot persuade the House, or those hon. Members who are present, to take an interest in his arguments? When he talks about the will of the House he is really talking about members of the Government who have been dragooned to stay up tonight to vote with him in what is supposed to be a free vote.
It is not an unholy alliance. The payroll vote is always doing good in the House and I have no doubt that it will do so on many future occasions. Yet again, I find myself involved in a passionate debate. I have been involved in others fairly recently in which I have felt fairly strongly. I am interested in the number of hon. Members who are in their places at 12.42 am to express a view about fluoride but I am not sure that the general public share their great concern. I said in Committee that I had not received a letter from one of my constituents on the issue but I have now received about six.
The Minister's last argument is an illustration of how ludicrous it is to debate such an important issue at this time of the morning. Does he accept that there is no problem in getting authorities in a conterminous as the parish councils in England and the community councils in Wales are conterminous with the water authorities or health authorities? Even more important, if a volume of opinion is expressed through democratically elected bodies within an area that is represented by a health authority that opposes the introduction of fluoride, does he accept that the health authority should give due weight to that opinion although it is not a sanction on it?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's conclusion, but everything depends on what we mean by "due weight". I am saying that the decision-making process cannot be divided among a myriad of authorities. That is impossible. For all the reasons that I have given, that would lead to confusion and foolish decision making. If we are to preserve the present position and say that health authorities and water authorities are logically the right choice as decision makers, we cannot bring elected local authorities into the decision-making processes. The question arises, and starkly in new clause 1, which has been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn, how can we pay due regard to the expressions of opinion that come from local authorities? Due regard should be given to the opinions of the general public as well as those of local authorities and community health councils.
The House should resist all those amendments which appear to give a decision-making power to authorities which are not charged with any responsibility. After all, this House has no day-to-day decision-making responsibilities for local government and local government has no decision-making power over central Government. We should consider how best to consult the public, including elected bodies.
It is difficult to accept my right hon. and learned Friend's assurances about the influence of guidelines, letters and pressure when his Department is financing the Fluoridation Society — which promotes fluoridation — to the tune of £14,000. How can my right hon. and learned Friend say that he and his Department are unbiased in this matter?
I did not know that we financed the Fluoridation Society. The idea that the £14,000 involved guides our decision is misguided.
The Government introduced the Bill for one reason only. In law there was some doubt and that doubt was turned into confusion when a lady, in Glasgow, with no teeth brought a case to the Scottish court. A Scottish lawyer heard all the evidence for and against fluoride, and decided that fluoride was beneficial and posed no danger to the public but that the health authority had no grounds upon which to put it in the water. This is a serious and non-biased attempt to restore to the law the commonsense position which we had always believed to exist.
My right hon. and learned Friend should not mock so important a principle so stupidly, so late at night, when many people regard the fundamental of life—water—as important. His right hon. and hon. Friends might be waiting to vote for him, but he will not impress the people of the country if he makes a mockery of an important principle.
The case to which he referred was brought on principle —whether the woman had teeth or not. If my right hon. and learned Friend does not deal with it on principle he will insult the House, the people of the country and the Government of which he is a member.
Will the Minister understand? Water is the only substance that all of us have to drink. It is not a matter of democracy, of pay-roll votes or majorities. It is a matter of purity for all of us.
We do not wish to lower the tone of debate late at night. I do not deride my hon. and learned Friend's principles. I tried to explain that I do not agree that the great cause of individual liberty is raised by fluoride. My hon. and learned Friend says that we are talking about the quality of water. Because of the constituents of our diet we need all sorts of nourishments and individual liberty might be involved in all sorts of respects. I was deliberately not trying to become involved in that when we are talking about consultations.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for giving way, especially because the hon. Gentleman said that I have not been here very long. That is true, and I apologise. I have been attending a Committee. How precisely will this consultation go ahead? Obviously, before we vote on this issue, we want to know precisely what the Government have in mind.
The opportunity for me to say so is getting nearer. I have reached the stage in my argument where I can say no more about why we should not share the decision-making process throughout the various tiers of local government together with the health and water authorities. We are talking about how to pay proper regard to individual opinions and how to consult.
At an earlier stage, the Government reiterated their determination to ensure that health authorities should consult before taking this decision. We could ensure by administrative guidance that that is done, but it is plain from the mood of the House that hon. Members—I trust that they accept my assurances on the Government's behalf — are not sure that the Government's successors will adhere to our assurances. They need something more positive than just an undertaking that we would require health authorities to consult administratively in the usual way.
I am prepared to say that we accept that the Bill should be amended so as to place a statutory duty on the health authorities to undertake proper public consultation before deciding whether to apply to the water authority.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn may justifiably say that new clause 1 lays such a statutory duty on the health authority. I believe that that new clause is too narrow. I suggest that my hon. Friend should stipulate only the local authorities—my hon. Friend takes every tier
county council, borough or district council, community or parish council"ô
and then take in one consumer organisation, which is the community health council. We would certainly expect the health authority to consult that council all the time on this or any other important local matter.
I am most sympathetic to my hon. Friend's new clause, but I would prefer the Bill not to include it. I would prefer to be allowed to give an undertaking that in another place the Government will move an amendment laying upon the health authorities a statutory duty to undertake more general public consultation, with the obvious implication —as with matters of this kind—that public consultation would begin by taking in elected local authorities which are accustomed to participating in this process. That process would, therefore, be able to take in a wider range of bodies and opinions in the way in which most public bodies are accustomed to doing when they consult.
What reassurance is that really? I have already given the example of how, in a sense, the SevernTrent water authority was able to take the pulse of popular opinion in the area it covered when every single county council, practically every district council and an overwhelming majority of parish councils said no. Nevertheless the Severn-Trent water authority, seized of that knowledge, decided to fluoridate. What reassurance is there in the amendment suggested by my right hon. and learned Friend?
I am not altogether sure whether consultation was lacking in that case. The Severn Trent water authority does not fluoridate the water in a large part of its area. It successfully and popularly fluoridates the water in Birmingham in particular. That fluoridation has been occurring for years.
If my hon. and learned Friend is saying that by consultation he means that the authorities should be bound by the reactions of particular people to the consultation process—he lays heavy emphasis on the local authority — I have to say that that is not consultation. It is an argument that always creeps into every consultation process in Government. I believe that, when agreeing that one is going through a process of consultation, one does not say that one is binding oneself to accept the majority reaction to that consultation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh.") The amazement is only at the ordinary meaning of the word in the English language. Consultation that is binding in its results is not consultation, but is handing over the decision-making power to those whom one consults.
I cannot be accused of shrinking from making clear what I have described. I shall not rehearse all the arguments about not dividing the decision making among countless different bodies. We must stick to the logical decision-making authorities. They should consult and hold their meetings in public, and should be accountable to the public in that way. The best way to achieve this without attempting some radical rewriting of the statutory powers and responsibilities of the various local authorities charged with these duties is to lay a statutory duty to consult on the health authority, and that is what I shall propose. As that cannot be dealt with by any of the amendments or new clauses, I undertake that the Government will do that in another place.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend not saying, when he talks about the free will of the House choosing to flouridate the water and local people deciding to put flouride in their water locally, that here, the payroll vote, told by him, will decide to put flouride in the water, and that locally, the health authority, appointed by him, will tell us to put flouride in the water?
I have made jokes about this before, but as a member of the payroll vote, I like to remind hon. Members occasionally that I am here as a Member of Parliament, accountable to my constituents, just like any other hon. Member. If it turns out that more of the payroll vote is here tonight than any other group of hon. Members, the House should abide by the consequences.
I have already made it clear that we are leaving this choice to the discretion of local authorities. The history of the last decade has made it clear that they will not rush into these decisons, as my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins) suggests. The idea that we shall remove from the health authorities those who do not vote for flouride, as the hon. Member for Ashfield suggested, is another matter far from our minds. We have a number of other considerations to take into account when appointing those members than their view on flouride, which has never entered into our considerations.
I am not dealing with this matter frivolously. On Second Reading, hon. Members were concerned about individual liberties, choice and all the rest of it. I ask those hon. Members who have spoken in the debate to address themselves to the need for legislation in a sensible form to give two bodies only responsibility for deciding those matters where they have the total responsibility in every other way. They should acknowledge our desire to take account of public feelings and opinion by putting in the statutory duty to consult at a later stage. I hope that I have made it clear why I think that that is the right way to proceed, and why it is sensitive and responsive to the minority of people who feel strongly on this subject. There is a better way to go about it than putting into the Bill an unworkable proposition.
I shall try to be brief. I am not terribly excited either way about fluoridation, but the Minister for Health has made me more determined to stay a little later because I do not like his definition of the word "accountable". The two authorities to whom he will give power are accountable to the Government and not to those whom they may serve with dedication. I am anxious about the matter from a different point of view, and one that has not been mentioned so far.
If the country has any resources available and wishes to do something about water, it would be healthier to devote those resources to improving the cleanliness of Britain's rivers and streams than to adding chemicals to drinking water when a large proportion of the population does not want them added. Quite a large proportion of the population want to see the rivers and streams brought to a healthy standard.
In south Yorkshire, there is a foully polluted river, with a road by it named Salmon Pastures. I would prefer that money to be spent upon making sure that Salmon Pastures ran by the side of a river that is wholesome rather than that the people who live in that road should have water which the Minister believes to be healthy but which does not please them.
Another important aspect is that many people do not yet have a decent water supply in their homes. Only this weekend I encountered a constituent who lives in Hellaby in the parish of Bramley who cannot have a decent supply of water in his home because he does not have the money to pay for it. The water authority will not give him a grant to improve his water supply, but it can afford to put this stuff into people's water, whether they like it or not.
As 60 per cent. of the river water in London is treated effluent, surely it would be far better if my hon. Friend turned his attention to cleaning up the river rather than worrying about what the level of residual fluoride in the river water might be.
I think my hon. Friend is right. We could be establishing the potability of the water in the rivers and streams of Britain, but this Government are holding back progress. When I first became a Member of this House in 1970 I was advised that by the early 1980s the rivers in Yorkshire would reach at least class 2. I did not expect that by the 1980s the rivers and streams of Yorkshire would reach potability standard, or class 1, but I did expect the rivers in south Yorkshire—the Rother, the Dearne and the Don—to be at least two grades higher and capable of sustaining fish for the recreation of my constituents. However, this Government do not allow the water authority to spend the amount of money that it would like to spend in order to create a decent environment.
If local people were allowed to determine their priorities, I am sure that their first priority would be the enhancement of the environment, not the addition of a chemical to the water. But what about the poor souls who do not have an adequate water supply? This constituent of mine in Hellaby is a war pensioner, a poor man. He does not have sufficient money with which to improve the water supply to his home. What is the use of adding fluoride to his water supply if all that he gets out of his tap is an attentuated trickle? The Government's priorities are all wrong.
The Minister referred to the medical advice that he sought. May I ask him what vetinary advice he has sought? Many of the people of Rawmarsh, which is in my constituency, know that six years ago one of my dairy farmers had a very good herd of shorthorn cows, 40 of which died. We established after a great deal of work that they died because this farmer had put on to his land sewage sludge that had been provided by the water authority. As the Minister stated, the water authority is not accountable to anybody. That sewage sludge contained fluoride salts. The beasts died of fluorosis.
If the Brampton Bierlow parish council or those who represent the district of Rawmarsh on the metropolitan borough council were to express the concern felt by the people who live in those areas, their views would not even be considered. They would not even be consulted. If they decided to inform the health authority of their view, the health authority's view would be sustained by the Minister, even if it flew in the face of the views of every local authority in my area. This Government are not particularly worried about the Labour-controlled authorities in south Yorkshire.
I am not suggesting that the addition of fluoride to the water would cause fluorosis in human beings or in a large number of cows, but the fact is that people in that area know that those cows and a very expensive pedigree bull suffered the skeletal destruction that is the consequence of this disease. I am advised by people who are more skilled in cattle farming than I am that cows are highly susceptible to fluorine salts. They can develop fluorosis easily. After a considerable battle and an Adjournment debate in the House, we forced the water authority to pay compensation for those 40 animals.
The Minister may think that the fluoride that will be added to the water will do our teeth good, but cattle at many farms drink from the public water supply. If there is within the natural vegetation of the farms a high level of indigenous fluoride we must ask the Minister whether adding fluoride to the drinking water which the cows will consume will increase the risk of fluorosis in those herds.
I hope that when my hon. Friend next fishes in south Yorkshire he will catch fish. His ability to catch fish there would be improved if the Government withdrew this proposal and devoted the same resources to improving the water supply.
The Government are apparently not interested in whether we have cows, judging by their policy on dairy fanning. The Minister should ensure that the veterinary point is considered properly. The remaining dairy farmers in many parts of England will want an assurance that they can continue to provide drinking water from the public reservoir for their cattle without increasing the risk of fluorosis, which quite a few farmers have experienced. If a dairy farm is to windward of a brick works, or if it is in the vicinity of an aluminium smelter or an open hearth steel furnace, there is an additional risk of fluorosis. If the cattle in such areas drink from the public water supply, the risk may be greater.
The Minister may feel that the payment of compensation would be sufficient to allow fluoridation to take place. I am not sure that that is the case. If a man has spent 40 or 50 years building up a good herd of pedigree cows, he needs to know that if he can survive the Community's dairy policy, he will also be able to survive the fluoridation of the water supply. That point has not yet been answered to the satisfaction of dairy farmers.
Nor has the point been answered to the satisfaction of the elected local authorities. The Minister used the words "local authorities" in a sense which is not generally accepted in the House. We believe that local authorities mean those elected by the people and not appointed by a Government who are not supported in many parts of the north of England. They are not supported in my area. There will be even less support for them if they use the payroll vote high-handedly to compel us to accept medication which we view with reservation and suspicion.
Several questions remain to be answered. First, why is it that we can afford to add a chemical to the water while rivers are foul and open sewers? Secondly, why is it that we can afford to add a chemical to the water when a disabled war pensioner has not got the money to provide an adequate water supply in his own home and the water authority refuses to make any payment towards it? Thirdly, why is it that we can afford to act with contumely and contempt and give further cause for anxiety to dairy farmers who are suffering greatly already? Those points must be answered in another place if not here.
The Minister made a serious mistake in the way that he approached the debate on this issue and did a disservice to hon. Members who have stayed in the Chamber until this hour to discuss a matter about which they feel strongly.
In the right hon. and learned Gentleman's intellectual convolutions to try to justify an indefensible case, he finally argued the sanctity of the quango. He thought that his local committees would be superior to any elected institution and superior to the choice of the individual. It was not for the Government to make the decision, he said —although the payroll vote in the House will indirectly impose it — and it was not for local government or for the individual to make the decision. The specially created quangos, established by the Government, would make the decisions. He is either calculatedly confusing the issue, or he is himself confused about it.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman tried to draw a parallel between chlorine and fluoride. He seems not to understand that there is all the difference in the world between adding a substance to water to remove potential illness that is carried in and spread by that water, and fluoride, which is added to deal with ailments which are not related to the water supply. He deliberately refused to face that point.
It is no good the right hon. and learned Gentleman trying to buy off hon. Members with statutory consultation. We know what that can mean in organisations and groups of people who, for the best motives, are convinced that they know what is best for their fellow citizens. Despite any requirement for statutory consultation, there is no protection against the arbitrariness of the bigoted, of those who are driven by prejudices and preferences. In no way is consultation to be accepted as a diversion from the basic issue of the choice and freedom of the individual.
The merits of the fluoride case are not the central point. We are dealing essentially with freedom of choice. We are dealing not with a relative but with an absolute monopoly. With energy supplies, people have a choice—they can use electricity, gas or coal. With water, there is no choice. With fluoride, people have a choice. They can take it other than through the water supply, if they wish or need to take it. But those who do not want fluoride will have no choice if the Government achieve their objective.
We have got ourselves into a series of unnecessary arguments over the need to find conterminous boundaries for the appropriate local authorities because we will not trust the individual to make up his own mind. That is the essence of the case. The Government have not dealt with it, and that is why they should be defeated on this issue.
I am impelled to intervene by some of the Minister's remarks. He has the capacity to enrage hon. Members who have assembled to hear his case. For example, he described all the amendments in this group as wrecking amendments. That was an extraordinary charge for him to level at my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft), who is in favour of adding fluoride to the public water supply.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) has tabled what are deliberately wrecking amendments. I fear that with typical Liberal finesse, the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) has tabled what are accidentally wrecking amendments.
If the Minister thinks that it would wreck his campaign to get fluoride into the public water supply were people given the opportunity to vote on it, then he has exposed how threadbare his case is. If he really believes that it would wreck his case to allow people the opportunity through their elected representatives on local authorities to take a democratic decision on the matter rather than have the decision taken for them by nominated bodies who are not answerable to them, he has shown how threadbare his argument is.
I stand by my defence of my hon. Friend. He and I from different sides of the argument agree on the principle that, if fluoride is to be put in the water supply, the decision to do this cannot be taken by nominated bodies. It must be taken by elected bodies.
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that the decision in Scotland which gave rise to all this was taken by an elected body? Strathclyde agreed, in a vote with a democratic majority to put fluoride in the water. Unlike his hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed is an opponent of fluoride. The idea that his sole concern is that a democratic body should take the decision is somewhat belied by the fact that the whole campaign and the attempt to change the previous practice began with an attempt to set aside a decision of an elected body in Scotland that took a democratic decision to put in fluoride.
The Minister anticipates all the points that I am going to make. I shall come to the relationship between England and Scotland, of which I am peculiarly aware, representing the constituency that I do.
My hon. Friend and I meet on common ground from different points. My hon. Friend comes from the point of believing that fluoride should be put in the water to believing that it should be put in, if it is to be put in, by a body which is democratically accountable. I move from the position of thinking that it were best if it were not done at all to one of thinking that, if it is going to be done, at least let us have it done by some body which is accountable to the public.
I remind the Minister that it is not my name that heads the amendment; the name that heads the amendment is that of my hon. Friend, who is verbally committed to the policy that he is advocating. In no sense is it a wrecking amendment. If the Minister believes that the amendment would be wrecking in effect, he has no confidence in his often repeated claim that the public is behind his proposal, and that it is something which consultation would demonstrate was widely supported. If consultation would demonstrate that, let the ballot demonstrate precisely that.
The Minister dwelt at some length on the differences and the mismatch of areas and the problem that, if local authorities were given the opportunity to make this decision, they are not identical in area to the water authorities, but that is precisely the situation now. The water and health authority areas are themselves not identical, for precisely the reasons that he advanced. They are configured for different reasons. The water authority areas were designed to fit river flows and so on. The two areas are not now the same.
Indeed, in my constituency there is one health authority but three water suppliers — the Northumbrian water authority, the Newcastle and Gateshead water company and the Coquet water board. Two out of those three authorities have fluoridated and unfluoridated areas, and only the Coquet water board is in a wholly unfluoridated area. There are three different authorities and different practices prevailing within the areas of two out of those three authorities. The mismatch therefore exists now. The supposedly overwhelming technical objection that the Minister produces is no less an objection to the situation that he is defending than to the situation that he is attacking, so he cannot rest his case on that argument.
When the Minister says that the arrangement that he is proposing must be some logically defensible one, how can he defend this situation to my constituent? Were he to go to the the village of Cornhill on Tweed in Northumberland, there he would find one or two doughty opponents of fluoridation. How can he explain to my constituents there the situation that, if flouride is put in their water supply, there is nobody whom they can call to account who is dependent upon their vote for his subsequent election? There is nobody to whom they can go and say, "I will not vote for you if you continue to support the policy of putting fluoride in the public water supply". This is the essential democratic test.
In the context of the Northumbria water authority, would the hon. Gentleman care to reflect on whether the Gibraltarians, who are receiving their water from that authority at present, will have a vote on the matter?
The Northumbrian water authority is so keen on its contract with Gibraltar that, if the Gibraltarians say that they do not want any fluoride in the water, there will not be any fluoride in it. The hon. Gentleman points to the wide issue of the vast supplies of water and the huge capital debt in the water authority area we share, thanks to the profligacy of the water authority and its predecessor river authority in building the Kielder reservoir, but that is another story. We carry a heavy capital burden for that.
The case that I was arguing was that a man in my constituency in Cornwall on Tweed can merely look down the road to a point two miles away, to the village of Coldstream, the inhabitants of which can go to someone whom they have elected and say, "I shall not vote for you if you put fluoride in the public water supply." There is a difference of only two miles. On one side of the border people have the right to go to an elected body and demand the redress of grievances and on the other side there is no such right. The Minister drew attention to the existence of that right when he quoted the origins of the Strathclyde case. I take the view that I have always taken about that case, that I do not want fluoride in the water supply at all. However, the fact remains that the inhabitants of Scotland, under the proposals, are in a better position from a democratic point of view than those of England.
Therefore, the Minister, in his incredible determination to resist at all costs having any elected body involved in that process, is demonstrating a fundamental weakness in his position. It is Scargillism from the Conservative Front Bench. The Minister is saying, "No ballot at any price; for heaven's sake, don't let's have a vote on it." That is the fundamental weakness of the Bill, and the Minister should get off that position at the same time as he is telling the National Union of Mineworkers to get off.
I do not know whether you saw the Minister at the Dispatch Box, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it was a third, a third and a third performance. A third of the time he was speaking very loudly trying to sell himself the brief. A third of the time he spent giving way to his hon. Friends who do not want the Bill at any price. A third of the time we observed him struggling manfully to keep his trousers up. There were moments when I wished that the Parliamentary Private Secretary had accepted responsibility and gone and got for the Minister both belt and braces, because he needs them tonight.
The debate has been marked by one characteristic. From the Chair you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, see hon. Members weary, tired, fed up, and with their pay packets hanging out of their top pockets. That has been the background of the debate — the payroll vote. The Minister says, "I am also here as a Member of Parliament." On how many nights at 1.22 am in debates of this character — I appeal to an authority, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—as an ordinary Member of Parliament, has the Minister been seen expressing the point of view of his constituents?
It is not when the right hon. and learned Gentleman is here being paid that I am asking about; it is not in his capacity as a Minister that I am talking about—I ask him on how many occasions over the past few years as a constituency Member of Parliament has he abandoned his bed to put, on a matter of principle, the point of view of his constituents? It will not take him long to add it up.
The debate has been marked by the presence of the payroll vote. I have been part of the payroll vote, as you have, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
My hon. Friend says that the debate has been marked by the attendance of the payroll vote. I have got news for him. The payroll vote is not all that anxious. Some members of the payroll vote are trying to wrestle with what is freedom of choice on fluoride, especially now that the lady has gone to Washington. The Whip in charge of this Bill is more than a little anxious. He came rushing up the corridor to me and said, "Are you with us?" I said, "When that happens we can all fold up. You can't get 100 to close the debate, can you?" So I do not know what my hon. Friend is going to do, whether he is going to speak for a long time. It may be necessary.
It is my misfortune, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that just as I am approaching the point, I am led away by interventions. That could be prevented if the Government Whip, with whom I have had experience in the past—he is what is called in the business accident prone — were to stop roaming the corridors, kerb crawling, molesting, soliciting. If the Government Whip were to take his position on the Treasury Bench, interventions could be avoided.
I was saying that we have had experience of the payroll vote. Tonight has been a case of the dog that did not bark in the night. I have had experience as a Whip. A Whip does two things: he keeps on ringing Ministers, keeping them from their beds, and he goes round finding people to speak for the Government.
Order. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I can see no reference to Whips or, indeed, to the payroll vote in the clauses and amendments we are discussing.
That is precisely the point that I was going to make. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is unusual in his profession: he forgets that he gets paid by the day. He hurries to the point too quickly. The point I am replying to in the debate—you are at a disadvantage, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in that you have not heard all the contributions tonight — is this. The case of the Minister was that the House supports this measure. Is it not permissible for me to say that the Government Whips have not been able to buy one Member hoping to get on to the payroll vote, which is the fodder of all Whips on such occasions? They have not been able to find one to get up and say, "I am a creep, I am a crawler, but I support the Government."
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the difficulty of the Government is compounded by the fact that, whereas on the principle of the Bill they commanded somewhat wider support then they now enjoy, when it came to this new clause and the related amandments, they found that the people who had hitherto supported them abandoned them and they had no friends at all, because they would not agree to any democratic element?
I have to admit that I have just been for an orange squash or something in the Smoking Room. I saw the hon. Gentleman's name come on the screen and that was the reason I came in here. There was a great groan from the payroll vote that was seated in the Smoking Room at the time.
I know how important it is to get to the democratic principle. As I said earlier, the danger is that we are facing an alliance of the dogooders and the payroll vote. The do-gooders are trying to put pressure on us. I very much regret that, having voted against the Bill on Second Reading, I received a letter from a Socialist health authority that rebuked me for having voted against party policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover knows that I could not decide whether that was an argument for or against the way in which I voted. My only defence is that I followed my hon. Friend into the Lobby, so I knew that I was on the side of purity.
At last Thursday's Parliamentary Labour party meeting, I raised the question of a free vote on party policy. Having received a similar letter, I was astute enough to do some checking. In 1978 there was an omnibus resolution on the Pavitt report, which was contrary to the advice that we had received. In 1982, when the Labour party drew up its programme, there was such a great deal of controversy about mass fluoridation that it decided not to include it in the programme. That was passed by conference, which means that party policy is that every Labour party member can choose for himself. That is why the Shadow Cabinet decided on a free vote. Therefore, my hon. Friend is free to carry on, at length.
My hon. Friend says that we are in the clear. The letter from the Socialist health authority was as nothing compared with the grilling from my wife who is a member of one of the health authorities. I hope that my speech tonight will not be recorded, because everybody who is associated with a health authority appears to be biased and prejudiced in favour of the Bill.
The conference motion that was passed in 1978 was moved by myself. It contained the recommendation that the Pavitt committee's proposals be carried out by a future Labour Government. Those recommendations included the fluoridation of water. That item, therefore, became party policy within a larger resolution, which included an omnibus matter on dental care as a whole.
In this dispute, the person for whom I feel sorry is my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey). He would have joined in this debate on party policy if it were not for the fact that he put on his electric blanket at 9 o'clock this morning and was desperate to get home to bed. The difficulty for those who argue for democratic decisions is that it is the Government who are imposing this on us. If some of the amendments were accepted, we should not have Ministers sending us substantial packets of paper which say at the top, "Implementation of the Control of Pollution Act" setting out stringent regulations to control water authorities.
I declare an interest as a member the Anglers Co-operative Association, which is concerned with the fight against pollution. I listen to its meetings and to its reports on who is responsible for pollution. When I first joined its committee, I was surprised by the number of times that the water authority was the polluter. It has constantly been argued that it is wrong for a polluter to have responsibility for avoiding pollution. The new regulations apply equally to water authorities which, as they are constituted, should not be given such responsibilities. They have no expertise in health matters.
Some members of water authorities are appointed because of their expertise in fishing, and excellent people they are. Knowledge of the roach, the dace or the bream is no qualification to judge whether people should be given fluoride — or is it? Others are appointed to water authorities because they have an industrial interest in the use of water. One would expect brewers from Burton to be on the Severn-Trent water authority and I would hope that they would not want fluoride to be added to their beer. Water authority members are not appointed to consider health matters.
"The Municipal Year Book 1985" makes the point very well. Under the heading, "A survey of the year 1983–84 by the Water Authorities Association", it says:
With the boards appointed direct by Ministers, local authority representation reduced and on a new basis and board meetings no longer held in public, a new system of representing consumer interests was thought to be necessary.
Local control has been taken from the boards. They have become the supreme quangos. They are statutory bodies over which the Government have decided that they will have full control. In many cases, local authority representatives have been kicked off the boards.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has already attacked the Government for being beastly and now he attacks them for being asinine. I am more courteous, and will merely say that they are out of touch.
It is not clear in the Bill to which water it applies. It does not refer only to water in reservoirs, water taken from rivers and rainwater treated in reservoirs, but talks of "water supplies." If a water authority has control over spring water, that is spring water. Ministers never seem to know what their Bills mean or contain. I came across that during the passage of the British Telecommunications Act, 1981. In his answer, the Minister seemed to think that the Bill covered only water dropped from heaven into a reservoir and piped through a domestic tap. Does the Bill state that? Of course it does not. I am sure that the Minister has not a clue. Any minute now—he did it then—the Under-Secretary will look anxiously to the Dispatch Box. They do not know what the Bill contains.
I think that my hon. Friend was referring to amendment No. 15, which is being taken with new clause 1. The words of the amendment are relevant to his point about the Minister controlling the authority. The Minister controls health authorities, as my hon. Friend knows. Amendment No. 15 inserts the words
after a vote taken at a meeting at which not less than 50 per cent. of the members of the authority entitled to vote are present.
As the Minister controls the membership of the authority, surely he can ensure a better attendance at its meetings than there is on the Government Benches this evening?
From time to time I should perhaps spell out my argument at greater length so that its logic can be followed. I am saying that we cannot trust the water authority to take these decisions. We must look at the Bill to see the logic of the argument. Section 1(1) gives the health authority the right to apply in writing to the statutory water authority for the water supplied within an area. The amendment says, "Hold on. The health authority and the water undertaker cannot do that on their own." Those who tabled the amendment are correct to restrict the power of the water and health authorities, because—here my hon. Friends are right—they are controlled by the Government.
As I was trying to show a moment ago, those authorities would then be subject to a Minister who does not know the Bill. How can we allow that? If the water and health authorities had to consult the county, borough or district councils, the Minister, the water and the health authorities would have to know what they were doing. They do not.
It is clear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have been speaking about new clause 1. There are substantial arguments in support of the new clause and substantial objections to it. Have you examined the new clause, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to see the inconsistencies in it? The democratic principle was not the Minister's most powerful argument against the clause. His most powerful argument was his own cynicism—the cynicism of a Minister who says, "All consultation means is that you do not have to take any notice at the end." That is what he said. That destroys the assurance that he has given the House that he will introduce a measure to allow full public participation. That will be brought in on the same cynical basis.
Two letters will be delivered to the health authority. One will say, "You must go for public participation." That is the one that it will open at 9 o'clock. At 10 o'clock a separate letter will be delivered by hand to the chairman's office. That letter will say, "Oh, PS, when you go for public participation, do not take any notice of it." That is how the Government operate.
The second letter will be reinforced by another payroll vote principle. If the chairmen take notice, they will be reappointed; if they take no notice they will not be reappointed. It is the nod and the wink, the stick and the carrot, with more stick than carrot. That is the principle that the Government operate.
The hon. Gentleman says that the carrot is pretty big as well. I still think that the stick is bigger than the carrot. By his cynicism the Minister helps to destroy new clause 1. I do not know why the Government have not said to the hon. Member for Ynys MÔn (Mr. Best), "Look, we will take advantage of your inexperience. We shall accept your new clause." In another place the Government will suddenly find that it is defective. The Minister's cynicism almost reached the Mace but he decided to leave the new clause on one side, as it were.
Of course, the new clause is nonsense. If my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover and I were on the Treasury Bench, we could be more brutal than the Minister. I am sure that we would have treated the new clause with greater brutality. It provides that
the county council, borough or district council
shall be consulted by the health authority.
Fancy providing a choice in that way! What will happen? Telephone calls will be made—for example, "Chairman, what is the vote on your council?"; "Chairman, do you think that you can do any better than this?"; "Chairman, if you get a majority, and the other two councils have let me down, we shall put you in the honours list." I can imagine it happening. Yet the hon. Member for Ynys Môn submits the new clause for our consideration. Perhaps he wants the chairman of his district council to get in the honours list. Fancy providing such a choice; it does not make sense. It is necessary to choose one council or the other. The new clause refers to district councils, community or parish councils and to community health councils.
I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to abuse me any more. If he takes care to read the new clause he will find that the requirement is consultation with the county council and then either the borough or district council. The last two are alternatives. The new clause goes on to specify the community or parish council, as those are alternatives as well, there being community councils in Wales and parish councils in England. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not abuse me any further. The new clause was carefully drawn and it could easily be accepted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health. It would make a perfectly good addition to the statute book.
I have never been a parliamentary draftsman, but I have been a victim of the draftsmen, as has the hon. Gentleman. However, I must tell him that a comma should not be placed after "county council". The new clause should spell out its intention in the way in which the hon. Gentleman has done. If he thinks that his intervention will stop me abusing him, he must be appealing for my sympathy. The new clause is nonsense because of defective drafting. If it is not defective drafting, we are faced with blind stupidity. The new clause cannot be read in the way that the hon. Gentleman would have us read it.
I am advised by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who sits on the non-Treasury Front Bench below the Gangway, that the hon. Member for Ynys MÔn is a lawyer. That proves my point. I once wrote to the Library asking for a brief on the defects of lawyers and the Library replied by parcel post. I am amazed by the new clause. I thought that things were going wrong in the Conservative party, but not this wrong.
The new clause is defective on two counts. First, the clause would be destroyed by the cynicism of the Minister. Secondly, it is unworkable.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves on to the next new clause, he might well find that new clause 1 is defective but that there is a principle behind it. If the House voted in favour of new clause 1, does the hon. Gentleman think that it would be possible for the Government in another place so to amend it that it would satisfy his requirements?
I do not like the principle. It is the soft option, or the cop-out. We are talking about the soft option— the cop-out for the Government. Anyone can beat the Government uphill and down dale and show that they are wrong, but they say, "We've thought about that. We'll consult." We have heard tonight what the Minister means by consultation. He says, "Wheel them in, give them a cup of coffee, listen to them, say nice words, then wheel them out." He then tells the civil servants, "Don't write to them for a fortnight. Let them think we're making up our minds."
The Minister says, "We can't have this because it is defective." We are talking about a statutory right of consultation. I thought that Government Members were gullible, but surely they are not as gullible as that. The Government are offering something more perfect than that which is proposed. The Minister has already conceded the principle. He has offered something better than that which is in the new clause.
I regard with respect those who avoid my speeches. I cannot, in all honesty, say that it is a criticism of SDP members that they are not here at this time of night. None of us should be here at this time of night.
On this issue the Government could not be defeated, except at this time of night. It is a strategem. You, Mr. Speaker, would tell me off if I described the tactics that you would have used as a Whip, seeking to get Government business through. None of us should be here at this time of night. We are here only because the Government are determined to bulldoze the business through with the payroll vote.
I do not wish to be led astray. But I wish to discuss amendment No. 15, which I reject. The amendment is naive, and I do not know why the hon. and learned Member for Burton tabled it. I should have thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McGuire) was too experienced to put his name to that amendment. This measure makes respectable a vote on the issue of fluoridation. It is as though someone had said that if Crippen had been democratically elected and had convened a meeting of himself and his mistress at which one person voted for poisoning, he could not be taken to court. That is the principle [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but this matter is laughable.
I appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover because he understands the way of the world. Conservative Members do not. I do not know whether life in the courts is rough or sheltered, but fancy saying to an authority, "You shall have the authority to poison so long as buses are sent around the towns and villages to bundle 50 per cent of authority members on them."
: My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover and I would go by bus.
The meeting is held and a vote is taken. The authority would say, "We have had the 50 per cent. attendance as required by Parliament. We have satisfied the condition. We have satisfied the opposition to the Bill." How daft.
I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman does so. The meeting's chairman would only have to send out two notices, one saying, "Meeting at two o'clock on fluoridation," and the other, a nice white card with gold edging, saying, "Sherry party at 2.30 pm." The chairman would ring around saying, "We have a notable personality and sherry and beer will be available."
There would be claret for the SDP and a notable personality, resulting in 50 per cent. attendance at the meeting.
I hope that the innocent, gullible and unworldly hon. and learned Member for Burton will withdraw the amendment. I once appeared in the stocks with the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I would have refused if I had known that I would be appearing with such an innocent. The hon. and learned Gentleman must withdraw the amendment.
There is another aspect to this 50 per cent. I agree with my hon. Friend about the way in which one could arrange to get that 50 per cent. attendance. It is clear that the Government have not been using that invitation card system tonight to get 50 per cent. of their Back Benchers here to vote for the measure. Will my hon. Friend consider whether it is more democratic to get 50 per cent. of authority members to the meeting as opposed to getting fewer than 50 per cent. of Conservative Members here to pass the measure?
That is not the point. The point is that the Minister and the chairman of the authority would use the same sort of language. Tonight, the payroll vote will be whipped in and out. I think of the scene in the courtyard, with all those Rovers bumping into each other, five minutes after the Vote. Five minutes later, the Minister will come to the Dispatch Box and say that this is the will of Parliament. That will be after a whipped payroll vote, with nobody wanting to vote and everybody hating it, but voting because a Department has decided to go one way, and the Whips are supporting it, and the directive has gone out. That is what the Minister will describe as the will of Parliament, as will the water boards and the health authorities. They will get 51 per cent. Of members—26 per cent. will vote yes, 24 per cent. will vote no, and they will say that it was the will of Parliament.
My hon. Friend is right because the Minister used that argument when he talked about the democratic powers of water authorities. He said that Parliament in its wisdom had taken those powers away. It is clear that Ministers would do this again, given the chance, as my hon. Friend has said.
I agree with my hon. Friend. In the interests of time, however, I shall not develop his point unduly.
Amendment No. 14 has been tabled by the same hon. Members who tabled amendment No. 13. It says:
'There shall be no increase in the fluoride content of the water supplied by a water undertaker unless approval is given for such action by the vote of a majority in favour of it in each county council in the area to be affected'.
There is a problem here. The hon. and learned Member for Burton should listen at this point. He was kind enough to give me a list of all the different—
|Division No. 114]||[2.09 am|
|Alexander, Richard||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Ancram, Michael||Eggar, Tim|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Farr, Sir John|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Batiste, Spencer||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Gow, Ian|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Gregory, Conal|
|Bottomley, Peter||Gummer, John Selwyn|
|Bright, Graham||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Henderson, Barry|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Burt, Alistair||Howard, Michael|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Howells, Geraint|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Colvin, Michael||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Coombs, Simon||Jessel, Toby|
|Cope, John||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Couchman, James||Lamont, Norman|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Lang, Ian|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Dobson, Frank||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Lilley, Peter|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Dunn, Robert||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Durant, Tony||Lord, Michael|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Robinson Mark (N'port W)|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|MacGregor, John||Shaw, Giles(Pudsey)|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Major, John||Snape, Peter|
|Marland, Paul||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Mather, Carol||Squire, Robin|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Stanley, John|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Meacher, Michael||Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)|
|Meadowcroft, Michael||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Mitchell, David (NW Hants)||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Moore, John||Tracey, Richard|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Waddington, David|
|Needham, Richard||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Nelson, Anthony||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Newton, Tony||Watts, John|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Whitney, Raymond|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Wood, Timothy|
|Patten, John (Oxford)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Pawsey, James||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Renton, Tim||Mr. Tim Sainsbury and|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Mr. Michael Neubert.|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Beith, A. J.||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Best, Keith||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Budgen, Nick||McGuire, Michael|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Cash, William||McKelvey, William|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Marek, Dr John|
|Conway, Derek||Marlow, Antony|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Flannery, Martin||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Norris, Steven|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Parry, Robert|
|Galley, Roy||Pike, Peter|
|Grist, Ian||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Ground, Patrick||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Hardy, Peter||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Hayward, Robert||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Holt, Richard||Mr. John Golding and|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Mr. Dennis Skinner.|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Division No. 115]||[2.20 am|
|Best, Keith||Grist, Ian|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Ground, Patrick|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Hardy, Peter|
|Cash, William||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Chope, Christopher||Hawkins, C. (High Peak)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Haynes, Frank|
|Conway, Derek||Hayward, Robert|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Dobson, Frank||Holt, Richard|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Farr, Sir John||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Flannery, Martin||Howells, Geraint|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Galley, Roy||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Golding, John||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|McGuire, Michael||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|McKelvey, William||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Marek, Dr John||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Marlow, Antony||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Meacher, Michael||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Michie, William||Mr. A. J. Beith and|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Mr. Michael Meadowcroft.|
|Alexander, Richard||Major, John|
|Ancram, Michael||Marland, Paul|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Mather, Carol|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Batiste, Spencer||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Moore, John|
|Bottomley, Peter||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Bright, Graham||Needham, Richard|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Nelson, Anthony|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Neubert, Michael|
|Burt, Alistair||Newton, Tony|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Colvin, Michael||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|Coombs, Simon||Pawsey, James|
|Cope, John||Pollock, Alexander|
|Couchman, James||Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Renton, Tim|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Dunn, Robert||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Durant, Tony||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Eggar, Tim||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Snape, Peter|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Gow, Ian||Squire, Robin|
|Gregory, Conal||Stanley, John|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Henderson, Barry||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Howard, Michael||Tracey, Richard|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Waddington, David|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Jessel, Toby||Watts, John|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Whitney, Raymond|
|Lamont, Norman||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Wood, Timothy|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Lilley, Peter||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Mr. Ian Lang and|
|MacGregor, John||Mr.Peter Lloyd.|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
I am somewhat surprised that at this stage the Government should propose the adjournment of further consideration of the Bill. I was waiting patiently in the long line of speakers on the previous new clause, and I expected that I would be able to have my say, for what it is worth, and impart my opinion to the House. However, that was not to be because, by the smallest of majorities, the Government managed to carry the Closure. However, we have now disposed of new clause 1, and it would be out of order to refer to it.
Important new clauses are now before us. There are new clauses 6 and 11. New clause 6 refers to
monitoring of the levels of fluoride within all parts of the United Kingdom.
I am worried about whether that monitoring is goind on now. If it is not, how can we be sure that an adequate and accurate record of the effects of fluoridation will be kept? Only if we have such a record can we be absolutely sure in 10, 20, 30 or 50 years that we are doing the right thing by placing fluoride in our water supply. That is a very important clause. I should like to oppose the motion that further consideration be adjourned. I hope that we shall continue with our debate.
It was wrong of the Government to seek to put the debate on after 10 o'clock. It is a debate of crucial importance. I am in basic sympathy with the Bill. I was not allowed to speak, because of the Government. I have one or two caveats about the Bill, but I am in basic sympathy with it. New clause 6, tabled by the hon. Member for Ynys MÔn (Mr. Best), is very important. We should get on to it as quickly as possible.
That is not the only matter that we should consider. For example, there is new clause 11, which states:
The Secretary of State shall establish machinery for monitoring the effects of the operation of this Act with particular reference to—
It is the same with new clause 6. New clause 11 is about obtaining information. Is that information being obtained now? If it is not, we should obtain it as quickly as possible. For that reason, it is important that we debate new clause 11 as soon as possible.
There are also amendments Nos. 6 and 17, which have been selected, as well as amendment No. 4, which I am not too worried about. However, it needs to be debated fairly because it is crucial to the Bill. I would support the principle of it. It is that fluoridation should go ahead only if the fluoridating authority can guarantee that the quantities that will be put into the water will be one part per million or close to that.
Finally, we have amendments Nos. 11 and 10, which are very important to the Bill. We have to know exactly what compounds can be put into the list and what compounds cannot be put in. It is not altogether clear to me, and I should certainly like to know precisely what the Government think about this. We have two compounds here — hexafluorosilicic acid and disodium hexafluorosilicate. I should like to know whether the Government would be able to put any other compounds into this list and whether any others are suitable.
I know that water is fluoridated in certain areas of the United Kingdom now and it would certainly be my intention to question the Government fairly closely on exactly what compounds are put into the water. For that reason, I hope that the motion will be defeated and that we shall be able to continue the debate on this very important matter, if only because we have half the Cabinet, almost all the payroll vote and all the talent, such as it is, present on the Government Benches. We do not have that very often. Those Benches are usually empty, except for one or two people on the Treasury Bench and a Whip at the far end. We do not usually have the benefit of the Government's concentration and obvious expertise, but we have it tonight, and I suggest that we try to use it. I should certainly be very interested to hear what some of the Government Members have to say.
As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and as the whole House knows, the Treasury Bench has many qualities. One of its supreme qualities is that of listening very carefully to the debate. The Government put measures together and put proposals before the House, then there is a debate and the Government— particularly this Government— listen very carefully to what is said.
This evening we have heard a series of brilliant speeches. The last, which was interrupted by the closure — was a brilliant speech by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding). It was persuasive, cogent and well argued.
The motion before the House is that further consideration of the Bill be now adjourned. Perhaps the Minister will open his heart to us and tell us what his intentions are. It may well be that it is his intention to withdraw the Bill altogether, and it would help the House if he were to tell us that before we consider the motion.
I rise to oppose the motion. Hon. Members who were in the Chamber when I took part in the debate on new clause 1 will remember that I had the misfortune to speak after the Minister. The Minister, perhaps understandably in view of the late hour, was very impatient. He rose when quite a few hon. Members were still hoping to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
As the Minister will recall, I put a number of questions to him, and I was hoping that during the course of the debate— and it will be very relevant during the debate on new clause 6— I could remind the Minister of the matters which I had raised I asked him, for example, about the implications of the experience in my constituency when a herd of Shorthorn cattle died of fluorosis as a result of the ground being contaminated by fluoride salts. He had talked about medical advice but had not mentioned veterinary advice. I was hoping that in the meantime he would have secured the veterinary advice which would be necessary in order to respond to the points that I had put to him. The Minister might wish to assure me that he will provide me with the relevant information. Unfortunately, he was so impatient to speak in the debate that he could not wait for some of us who had quite serious observations to make.
The second point that I made, to which I was also hoping to be favoured with a reply from the Minister, concerned those of my constituents—and the Secretary of State for the Environment should definitely listen to this —who, like quite a number of constituents in the areas represented by hon. Gentlemen opposite, do not at present enjoy an adequate domestic water supply.
I have real reservations about whether we should be spending money on or giving priority to adding things to water when some of our constituents do not have an adequate flow of water from their domestic taps—and, in many cases, perhaps because of the cuts in the Government's housing investment, do not have an adequate water supply in their homes at all. It is absurd that we are talking about adding chemicals to water when some people in our country do not have an adequate—
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not go into the merits and demerits of the Bill but should confine himself to the question whether further consideration of the Bill should be adjourned.
I am suggesting that we should not adjourn when I have constituents who do not have an adequate water supply. However, I shall not trespass on that point further.
I would have liked the Minister to have replied to another point. It could have been covered in the debate on new clause 6. While we are concerned about the monitoring of fluoride, if the Government accepted that new clause we should be monitoring the progress that should be made in Britain to promote decent, clean and healthy streams and rivers.
I marvel that the Government are prepared to devote resources to adding chemicals to our water supply when half the water courses in the industrial areas of England are nothing but open sores. It is right that the Government's priorities should be challenged. It is sad that the Minister has not responded to the very serious points made in the debate following his speech. The result is that we shall reach a temporary stop in the progress of the Bill without having had adequate replies to some of the points raised.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the tactics that the Government have needed to use to get through the Bill on a supposedly free vote are quite shabby? Will he address himself to the thought that the payroll vote happens to be here, not having heard the debate. Not one Conservative Member has spoken for the Bill, other than the Minister. I suggest that the pay roll voters ponder on that and ask themselves whether it would not be a favour to the British people if they went home and left this matter to a true free vote. Alternatively—
It behoves all of us, on both sides of the House, to follow my hon. Friend's advice on every possible occasion, which is why I shall not continue for much longer.
I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hawkins). I hope that I shall always have the courtesy to do so, especially when he makes such valid and pertinent observations. It is sad that what is supposed to be a free vote clearly is not one. I am glad that Conservative Members point to the sheer mockery of the House pretending that it is having a free vote when a substantial proportion of hon. Members would not dream of being here in any circumstances unless there was a very real element of compulsion.
Whether we should adjourn is an important point. We should not be here at this time of the morning. The Government should put on this business immediately after Question Time as it is an important matter that deserves the attention of hon. Members. It is wrong that we should be here at quarter to three in the morning.
I could not agree more. We all have constituents who are seriously interested in this matter. The newspapers will not be reporting our debate at 2.45 am. As they have more sense than to do that, and as our constituents believe that the matter is important, it is reasonable for us to suggest that we continue the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) should not resist temptation, but hold forth at great length until the journalists have got out of their beds and can report the debate to our constituents.
My hon. Friend is right that this debate should be broadcast to the nation through the newspapers. Although Monday's debate, which was broadcast on "Radio 4", was important, does my hon. Friend agree that, in terms of personal freedom, this debate is of far greater importance?
We should debate this matter long enough to examine the payroll vote so that, when the Prime Minister returns from Washington, she can discover which members of the Government are loyal, devoted and here and which have taken the opportunity of her absence to depart at a reasonable hour.
I am not sure whether the Prime Minister is on holiday or a state visit. If she is on a state visit, I assume that she will have been telephoned by now but that, if she is on holiday, she might not find out until she returns. I hope that, when she returns, the right hon. Lady will not be as cross as legend sometimes suggests she is. If the Prime Minister were here, she would want Ministers to reply to the serious issues that have been raised. The frivolous attitude that has developed on the Treasury Bench suggests that the House should take this matter rather more seriously than to allow Ministers to escape far too early.
If we have a Division, the Government are bound to win, but I trust that, when we next consider the Bill, the Government will enable us to do so at a reasonable hour. If the Government Whips assure us that the Bill will be discussed after Question Time, we should discuss it no more, let the Government have their way and, perhaps, go home rejoicing. Unless we are assured that we will not discuss the Bill at 3 am another morning, the Government must accept that we will be compelled to press this matter for rather a long time.
It is important that, when we are discussing a Bill of such major principle, no concept of flippancy, filibustering, twisting the rules of the House or the arms of Ministers should interfere with the seriousness of the principle that we are discussing.
I hope that the Government, who are here as a press gang, roped one to another—such as are here, 105 of them; well, perhaps not 105 of them: there are a few renegade cannibals in the rope—
I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that you are more entitled to hold the Chair than my hon. Friend.
When we debate a matter of considerable principle, in which hon. Members on all sides of the House have expressed their views on what is called a free vote, it is disturbing that the free vote is not a free vote, that the free minds of the free hon. Members of this free House are not allowed to be exercised according to their consciences, and that those of us with a free conscience are bludgeoned by those who are not allowed to have one. Perhaps we should not continue this important debate tonight. I trust that it is not lost on a Government, who were happily elected on the concept of freedom, that where freedom of conscience on such an important matter is so conscientiously challenged by Back-Bench Members of all parties, that that freedom in a democratic House of Commons should be steamrollered and made to look absurd. I trust, therefore, that the Government will announce that the issue will continue to be debated and voted on freely by free people in a free Government.
I wish to speak briefly about why we should not adjourn, as I do not intend to abuse the House. I hope that I can persuade the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) that we should not adjourn. The Government chose the day and time because they thought that they could pass the measure comfortably. They did not think that a sufficient number of free men and women would stay behind. Tonight it has become clear that the payroll vote are trying to get into the Whips' good books, as are Parliamentary Private Secretaries who hope to become Ministers.
The business will not be carried tonight. The two votes of 105 and 95 in favour show that some of the payroll vote are heading for the hills. The deputy Chief Whip could not rise with certainty to move the next clause because it would be defeated. I say to those free men who have stayed behind, "Keep here." I hope that enough of them get up—
I want to finish the sentence. When the hon. Member intervened earlier, he was told that he had taken too long. I hope that he speaks and inspires all his comrades to say why we should not go home and give the Government a convenient victory. They cannot carry this measure tonight. They will probably make an anodyne announcement at a later stage about the vote being free. The vote has never been free. It has always been carried by the payroll vote, even on Second Reading.
The hon. Gentleman has anticipated me. He is slightly awry with his figures. The Opposition have chastised — those who were within hearing will agree with the technical meaning of the word, and I was part of it —those of my hon. Friends who agreed in principle to make an artificially fluoridated water supply available to more than the 5 million people who have it. I said, "I disagree with you, but you are not asked to vote on that when you vote for the closure. You can reserve that for when we debate the amendments." I told them that they should not have gone into the Lobby and made the Government's vote 105. The Government would have carried it with a bare majority, because I believe that only five of my right hon. and hon. Friends were so wooden-headed as to go into the Lobby to help the Government get their business when their own Members could not get it.
I am talking about why we should not give the Government an easy ride tonight. I chastised my hon. Friends and told them that they should not have thought of helping the Government, because if the vote had gone to 101 or 102 they would have been in trouble. The Government can only get their measure if we allow them to adjourn. I ask Conservative Members—some have spoken and some have intervened—to follow me and say why we should not adjourn. It is an abuse to call the vote free. It manifestly is not.
I am not sure whether I am an odd, a sod, or a woodentop, having heard what my hon. Friend has said. Will he give some evidence to show that I should not have voted for fluoride, because I believe that he thinks that there is something inherently dangerous about the substance? I should be grateful if he could prove that.
I should be out of order if I did that. If my hon. Friend had listened, and if he reads the debates, why I disagree would be apparent. My hon. Friend need not have forgone his principle of being in favour of fluoride. The reason for my chastisement of him and my other hon. Friends who went through the Lobby is that it is not the function of Labour Members of Parliament to assist Tory Governments to get their business on the closure vote. That is what I said. That is the answer to one of my hon. Friend's questions. The answer to his second question is that if we reach Third Reading we shall discuss the contents of the Bill, amended as it is. I hope then to illuminate for my hon. Friend why I am opposed to fluoridation.
My hon. Friend is trying to be too clever by half. He should attend our debates for longer periods and inform his mind. If he did so, he would be able more properly to make his cracks.
I can think of a much better place to be at this hour of the night than in this place, and my wife can similarly think the same. I believe that it is wholly inappropriate for Ministers, who have to run great Departments of State, to be kept up at this hour of the night on a measure such as the Bill. However, the Bill was not mentioned in the Conservative party's manifesto and nor was it mentioned in the Queen's Speech. I have never been a member of the Conservative party compulsorily to medicate the water supply—
I am addressing myself to the motion that further consideration of the Bill be adjourned and explaining why I believe that we should not adjourn the debate for the moment. I believe that I have advanced good reasons so far. The Bill was not mentioned in the Conservative party's manifesto and we should not be party to such a measure. However, if those on the Government Front Bench can assure us that we shall debate the Bill at a civilised hour and not in the hole-in-the-corner way in which it has been brought before us tonight, I shall be happy to support the motion that the debate should be adjourned.
I must confess that I entered the Chamber at 20 past ten o'clock looking for a lift home. I think that my last bus has run by now.
I do not criticise my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) for voting to curtail one of my speeches. He will have the support of many hon. Members who have more sense than us and who are now in their beds. I was a party on the Opposition Front Bench who made certain that the Conservative Government of the day secured the Tote Bill. It is valid on a free vote for Front Bench Opposition Members to vote with the Government to secure legislation. That is acceptable when it is a free vote, at least for the Opposition. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McGuire) should attack this poor, miserable sinner, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East, for voting as he did.
As my hon. Friend has missed his last bus, is he in favour of the debate being curtailed on an issue which, as he said earlier, is of prime importance? I want him to reconcile his support for my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and his wish that the debate shall not be curtailed.
There are reasons for the curtailment of the debate. I think that I am the only Member to have spoken for the Government so far. Indeed, that has been a feature of the debate. No one, except me, has spoken for the Government. I suppose that that is one of the advantages of having a substantial voting majority. However, the Government do not need the payroll vote on the motion to adjourn the debate because many of their supporters will vote with them, and for very good reasons.
After I wandered into the Chamber and discovered the subject for debate tonight I decided to brief myself with the 1985 "Municipal Year Book". I have read the book, but I have yet to read the preface by the Secretary of State for the Environment. Our debates will be better reported when I have done so.
I put a point to the hon. Member who has spoken for whisky so often tonight—I say "for" whisky, not "with" whisky." He said that many amendments are not efficient. That might be so, but if we adjourn now we shall be able to table more amendments. Of course we can speak until Christmas and until the buses run again, but we should do a service to all if we had a wider range of amendments which appealed to different sections of the community.
The Minister has had a bad night. There has been bear-baiting. My hon. Friends have said that they do not want to go home, for various reasons. The bear has been savaged and the crowd has not wanted the dogs to be pulled back. The Minister is at bay. When the Minister says "Enough, enough, take the dogs away, shoot the fox", hon. Members say, "Let us continue to enjoy the blood."
My hon. Friends should allow the Minister to go away, because he has given them an assurance tonight. He has said that he will introduce a statutory right.
The Minister thought that after One o'clock we should be long gone. If we draw stumps we can ask the Minister to go back to his Department, draft his amendment, put it on the Order Paper and bring it back for us to look at.
That should satisfy the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) who takes this business more seriously than some. He wants the Minister's promised amendment. So do I.
I say to my hon. Friends "Enough is enough." Government Members will be in enough trouble when the Prime Minister comes back. This is no laughing matter. I shall be in trouble with my wife after tonight. Government Members are in trouble. We must not kick them when they are down, particularly since we shall have another chance of kicking them down when they are up.
The Government are in ribbons—in chaos. They are being battered from all sides. Why do we want to get this debate over and done with quickly? Let us draw it out. I have been charitable to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East but I think that he would do best to slump in his seat because some of my hon. Friends are very upset with him. If he and the Labour Front Bench had not voted with the Government, I would still be speaking. I would not be speaking in support of the Government, as I am doing now. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is grimacing and glowering at me.
It is not that at all. My hon. Friend is making a fairly good point. I would not try to save the Government after their spectacular defeat tonight. I am concerned not just because I have a cold which might have disappeard by the time this legislation is brought back. We might be able to do a bit more propping and cropping in the debate. I am concerned because my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) wishes to raise in the Adjournment debate the important subject of the need for battery-powered wheelchairs for the disabled. Now that we have got the Government on the run, and not because we want to be merciful, I want to give my hon. Friend the opportunity as soon as possible to get stuck into the Government to provide battery-powered wheelchairs. That is why I have been inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), not, as he said, to grimace.
It just shows that I cannot tell when my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover is agreeing or grimacing. My hon. Friend has persuaded me that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) has such an important subject to raise that there can be no excuse for delaying the proceedings any longer. I say to the Government: "We have made a real bash of it tonight. Go away. Try to do better. There is no chance that you will be able to do so, because you are in a hopeless position. We shall let you off the hook because our mate has the Adjournment and wishes to raise a most important subject."
I do not wish to delay the Adjournment debate; I wish only to make a brief point, because I am worried about the reasons why the Government have moved this motion. I appreciate that there is a free vote on this matter, and I am sure that the few observers present find that puzzling. On this rare occasion, there are conflicts on the Labour and Conservative Benches, alliances across the Floor and hon. Members using their minds and addressing themselves to the argument. This is a stimulating experience, and I wish that it would happen more often.
That could well be. They might be well occupied in doing that at this late hour.
A lady in my constituency frequently telephones me. That could be a nice experience, except that the lady is the secretary of the local Conservative association. She telephones me saying, "I know that I do not vote for you and do not campaign for you. But I hope that you will do everything you can to oppose the fluoridation of water." I have to represent that good lady tonight because the Government say that they want to adjourn this debate rather than accept that there is a need to discuss the matter further.
People feel strongly about this issue. It is perhaps unfortunate that many other issues are regarded as political when they should be free, so that people can freely campaign, as no doubt they will at the next general election, for the election of a Government that are going to force through fluoridation and yet can say that they are opposed to this move.
The Government should recognise that feelings are very strong on this issue. We should not force the issue through. People should take fluoride of their own free will, and not because the Government say so. That is my point, and the reason why I believe that the debate should be brought back to the House at a time when all hon. Members can participate at a civilised hour, and sensible amendments can be tabled.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill, as amended in the Standing Committee, to be further considered this day.