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House of Lords

Tuesday, 12th December 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

Alan David, Lord Bishop of Blackburn--Was (in the usual manner) introduced between the Lord Bishop of Durham and the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.

Earl Fortescue--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

Arbitration Bill

2.45 p.m.

Lord Hacking asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to introduce an arbitration Bill in the current Session.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, it is our intention to introduce this Bill in this place before the Christmas Recess.

Lord Hacking: My Lords, I am delighted by my noble friend's Answer, a delight which will be shared by the arbitration community in London. It is a long time since those heady days of 1978 and 1979 when the Labour Government of the day brought so quickly to the statute book the first stage in arbitration reform. Will my noble friend kindly join me in tribute and praise; tribute to all those who participated in the creation of this Bill, the initiative of Mr. Arthur Marriott and his group who actually drafted the original copy for the Bill, and all those who have participated since? As for praise, I ask my noble friend to agree that the Bill is a marvellous example of clarity and simplicity. Perhaps there is benefit--

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Hacking: My Lords, will my noble friend agree that there is benefit in involving the private sector more in the drafting of our parliamentary legislation?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I am delighted to join my noble friend in the praise he has given.

Lord Peston: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I too approve of the fact that the Bill will be presented to your Lordships in the near future? However, can he explain something which has troubled me ever since I heard about this matter? How is it that the Department of Trade and Industry has been given the pleasure of dealing with this matter? As I understand it, this is big business for lawyers and not for anybody else. I shall be

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stuck with the Bill. Is there some explanation why the noble Lord's department will be dealing with the matter?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, the answer is simple. We felt that the House and the Bill would benefit from the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Peston.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I planted the question only in order to receive that answer. Can we assume that, when the Bill comes before us and we debate it we shall be able to discuss the economic and industry aspects of it, and that it will not be dealt with as a narrowly contained legal matter? There are broader issues that would interest other Peers, and I hope the Government will respond to those interests.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, my answer would have to be yes.

Tooth Whiteners: Cosmetics Directive

2.48 p.m.

Lord Colwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What advice they have taken to justify the use of the Cosmetics Directive to impose a restriction on dentists' clinical freedom to prescribe and treat patients by means of tooth whiteners.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, the Government have no wish to interfere with the clinical freedom of dentists in treating and improving the dental health of their patients. However, legal advice from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Health and the European Commission indicates that they consider tooth whiteners to be cosmetic products and therefore their supply falls within the scope of the Cosmetics Directive.

Lord Colwyn: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. However, I regret that I cannot show the same delight as was shown for the previous Answer. I declare an interest as a practising dental surgeon and register an interest as to why the Question is being answered by the DTI rather than the Department of Health.

Is it not a massive bureaucratic mix-up when a Cosmetics Directive issued by the DTI, quite rightly, to prevent sales of this product to the public, prevents professionally qualified dental surgeons from using procedures which they have used safely and effectively for many years?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I do not believe that it is a bureaucratic mix-up. Tooth whiteners are clearly cosmetics and not medical devices. That is a view shared by the European Commission and member states. It is also the opinion of lawyers in the UK Medical Devices Agency, the Department of Health and the DTI.

Lord Peston: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, has ruined my best question! Is the Minister aware how puzzled many of us are about this matter? I gather that we are talking about hydrogen peroxide, which is freely available and is by no means the most

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dangerous substance that anyone can buy within the general medical field. I merely refer to aspirin, paracetamol or hundreds of other things, so the whole matter is a puzzle. However, the particular puzzle is that the Government must have agreed to this. Why did they agree to something which undermines the position of one of our more serious professions--the dental profession--in a way that makes us look absurd? That is apart from the fact that those of us who are pro-European feel that this kind of thing undermines the European Community in a most extraordinary way. It is poking its nose into things which so far as I am concerned cannot possibly be any of its business.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, there is a fairly simple answer with regard to hydrogen peroxide. I do not know whether the noble Lord has actually tried to drink some. It is fairly caustic and fairly dangerous. The Department of Health's toxicologists are not convinced that the kind of concentrations involved in tooth whiteners are safe. A 3.7 per cent. concentration of hydrogen peroxide taken orally can have some very nasty effects on people. At the moment the directive restricts the concentration of hydrogen peroxide present or released to 0.1 per cent.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I do not want to prolong this but in my younger days I thought that hydrogen peroxide was used by a certain class of lady for certain purposes. My question is about the position of a profession. If the noble Lord recalls the answer he has just given, he is saying that the alleged experts of his department--I emphasise the word "alleged"--are sufficient to override the views of professional people. That is what I am querying. To say the least, I am uneasy about it. I doubt very much--I ask this as a question--whether I am alone in querying this kind of interference in the way professionals behave.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, for dentists to be granted a change to the legislation, a case may be put to the European Commission in the form of a submission. That would be most appropriate from the dental profession and industry and would have assistance from the departments involved. Further, I should like to stress that there are outstanding anxieties about the long-term safety of these tooth whiteners, and any submission presented should address those.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the European Commission has a long and undistinguished history of overkill regarding preventive medicines and regularly in the past has exceeded the World Health Organisation recommendations? Has it done so on this occasion?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I do not believe so. When it is a case of toxic substances being taken orally, it is totally appropriate to take every care.

Lord Richard: My Lords, can the Minister help me? As I understand it, this is a directive, and it therefore follows that the Government must have agreed with the

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directive. If he is being so critical of the directive today and is telling us that it should be amended, why on earth did the Government agree to it in the first place?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I do not believe I have been that critical of the directive. I have suggested a way by which the dental profession, if it wishes to get a change to the directive, might do so. While there was a risk of toxic or dangerous substances being taken orally, I believe that we were right to agree to the directive.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, would not this directive have been discussed under the single market provisions and therefore would it not have been decided by qualified majority? If I am right, how did the Government vote?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord.

Lord Colwyn: My Lords, my noble friend the Minister was extremely helpful to me when the Question was first put down. Can he suggest a way forward for the dental profession on this matter? It is something which is of great concern to us. It is a treatment that has been available for many years but suddenly we are now told it is unsafe.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I thought that I had already addressed that point. If the dental profession and industry were to make a submission to the European Commission, assistance would be granted by the departments involved. But I would again have to stress the safety angle with regard to the long-term safety of tooth whiteners.

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