There are nearly 16,000 dentists on health authority lists in England—an increase of 500 since 1992 alone. The reforms that I announced in the House last week should provide a further boost to NHS dentistry by removing uncertainty for the dental profession and creating a firm foundation for future development.
That answer will be cold comfort for my constituents in Barnoldswick. The Minister will recall that, last Wednesday, I told him that there was one NHS dentist in Barnoldswick—a town of 10,000 people. Today, there is not one NHS dentist in that town. Are not the Government's proposals to revitalise NHS dentistry a complete sham? Is it not the case that they are, as I described them last Wednesday, fraudulent?
The hon. Gentleman's point is as absurd today as it was last week because, by implication, he is saying that dentists, who are self-employed practitioners, had been nationalised under a Labour Government and directed to work in certain places where he wished them to work. I have examined the situation in his constituency, and in Barnoldswick. Dental treatment is available in Colne, some five miles away, or in Burnley or Nelson.
He and his right hon. and hon. Friends say that the service has been destroyed. I must say that they have some argument. We have allegedly killed off NHS dentistry since 1979—by spending 57 per cent. more on it in real terms than was being spent then. We have also increased the number of dentists who provide general dental service by 3,500. If the hon. Gentleman could get such a pledge from his Front Bench about funding the service, he might have a point to make.