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--
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
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, 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
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 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 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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