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The Deputy Chairman of Committees: As I explained at the beginning, these are amendments to Amendment No. 1. Only when they have been dealt with will we return to Amendment No. 1, either amended or unamended.
Lord Dixon-Smith: That explanation is perfectly clear, but if one supports these amendments, it might be taken to mean that one supports Amendment No. 1 as amended. I would not want that implication to be made either. These amendments have real merit if the original proposition is accepted. Therefore, they should be supported. I am assuming that we will debate Amendment No. 1 as amended at the end, so I shall confine myself simply to the two issues in Amendments Nos. 6 and 7, which are the ones that I want to support.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Can the Deputy Chairman of Committees say whether it is therefore in order for us to debate Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 together? It seems to be getting very confused and messy.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees: I must say that I am not confused. We are debating Amendment No. 2, which is an amendment to Amendment No. 1. That is a perfectly normal procedure in your Lordships' House. When that and the other amendments to Amendment No. 1 have been disposed of, we will have the opportunity to debate Amendment No. 1 as amended or
Lord Dixon-Smith: I apologise if I have sown the seeds of confusion, as that was not my intention. I merely wanted to make plain precisely the ground on which I want to stand. I do not particularly want to refer to Amendment No. 2, but I want to refer to Amendments Nos. 6 and 7, which are grouped with Amendment No. 2.
The question of technical guidance is absolutely fundamental. In moving her amendments, my noble friend said that the present technical guidance, such as it is, is now 15 years old. We know a good deal more than we did 15 years ago, and the technical guidance may anyway need to be different from that originally devised if we are in the business of supplying fluoridated water to specific areas that may be much smaller than the water undertakers' area. Therefore, there will need to be detailed guidance on that issue.
The matter is not at all straightforward. We ought to appreciate that if fluoride is added to water for the benefit of a particular population, 99.5 per cent of that fluoride will return to the general water system. Fluoridated water will go into the system; consumers will use it in baths, lavatories and to clean their teeth and to drink. I assume that almost all that fluoride will go through the sewage works and straight into the water systemunless the Minister can give me an assurance that it can be precipitated out during the cleaning process. It will go on down the waterways.
Let us take an example. If the towns of Oxford and Reading were to decide that they wanted to have fluoridated water and the town of London did not, the town of London would get fluoride in its waterperhaps not at the full concentration, but some anyway. That is one problem that we face. It may be that the downstream towns will receive a very low concentration, but the fluoride will be present unless it can be cleaned out. Perhaps the Minister could refer to that in his response. Because of those problems, the matter of technical guidance is absolutely essential and will need very careful consideration. My noble friend has done the House, and the passage of the Bill, a favour in tabling her amendment.
Amendment No. 7 is simply a matter of what I would call good water management. In an emergency, water undertakers assist each other. If one happened to be supplying fluoridated water and another did not and there was an emergency breakdown that meant that one had to supply water to the other, it would be an impossible situation if one was not allowed to transfer to the other without having to worry about the possibility of law suits, indemnity and so on.
I particularly support Amendments Nos. 6 and 7, which do a great deal to help the matter forward. However, I make that plain without saying which way I wish to vote on the main principle, as we shall deal with that later.
Lord Warner: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I indicate from the outset that we have a lot of sympathy with the broad objectives of the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. We have some reservations, but our attitude is overwhelmingly sympathetic. It may be convenient for the House if I indicate our likely reaction.
Baroness Byford: I am most grateful to the Minister for making that statement. Before we leave the issue, we record our thanks for that. However, I want to ask about the position of licensed water suppliers. In the government amendment, they are deliberately left out of the loop. Will that be considered, or will the Government return to the more general practical negotiations?
Lord Warner: We are in sympathy with the broad objectives of Amendments Nos. 2 to 7 and Amendments Nos. 11 to 13. The water industry has for some years been pressing for a change in the law, as the noble Baroness said. We want to ensure that, within any constraints imposed by overall government policies, we meet the industry's concerns. We will aim to do that through the regulations enabled by the amendment and, if necessary, further amendments to the Bill, which could be made during the Bill's consideration in another place. We will consult the industry about the drafting of the regulations.
Amendment No. 2 would provide for relevant authoritiesthe strategic health authoritiesand the National Assembly for Wales to make arrangements to fluoridate with licensed water suppliers as well as water undertakers. We consider that it would be appropriate for the relevant authority to make arrangements with a water undertaker. Where licensed suppliers are required to fluoridate any water supplies as a result of the water undertaker's arrangements, such provisions could be specified within the access agreement between the water undertaker and the licensee to fluoridate its water. We shall review that assumption in conjunction with the water industry's representatives and, if any amendments are necessary, we shall introduce them in another place. I hope that, in the light of that reassurance, the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
With respect to Amendment No. 3, we recognise that water undertakers would find a standard contract reassuring, but there might be benefits in the flexibility that "may" offers over "shall". Although payment will naturally be one of the first things all arrangements will cover, there may be differences in the handling of such matters as the variations required to the arrangements. If the noble Baroness wishes, we shall consider that matter further with the water industry's representatives and, if any amendments are necessary, we shall introduce them in another place.
With respect to Amendment No. 4, we envisage that those details would be included in the terms of the individual arrangements made between relevant health authorities and water undertakers. However, we recognise again that the water industry would find
With respect to Amendment No. 5, we agree that it is essential that the relevant authorities are clear about the boundaries of the water supply system before they embark on a public consultation. They need to know who to consult within the area for which they are responsible and, if the water system overlaps their boundaries, whether they need to involve neighbouring authorities in the consultation. We intend that that requirement will be specified in the regulations on consultation. However, we are prepared to look at this further in conjunction with the water industry's representatives and if any amendments are necessary we will introduce them in another place.
With respect to Amendment No. 6, we recognise the importance that the industry attaches to observance of the technical code of practice. We are already working on a new, updated version of the code. However, the code contains guidance which may need to be updated in the light of technical developments. Prescribing that guidance in regulations could create delays in updating the code in future. However, we are happy to look again at this in discussion with the industry's representatives. Again, if any amendments are necessary we will introduce them in another place.
With respect to Amendment No. 7, we accept the need to give water undertakers discretion to cope with unforeseen circumstances such as droughts, floods or plant breakdowns and these have been provided for in Section 87B. We have also extended the provisions in the existing Act, in Section 87(7)(b) and (c), which allow the circumstances in which the requirement for fluoridation may be temporarily suspended to be specified within the terms of the arrangements. Section 87(6) provides for local agreement of arrangements. I think that we would need a bit of persuading to go any further than that. I hope that in the light of the assurances that I have given so far the noble Baroness will be prepared to withdraw Amendment No. 7.
With regard to Amendment No. 11, we recognise the importance of the indemnities to the water industry. We do not want a water company that makes an arrangement to fluoridate its water to incur any more liabilities than one that does not. However, I think it is agreed that we cannot indemnify the companies against liabilities incurred through negligence. That may mean that we may not be able to go as far as the amendment in indemnifying "any" liabilities. Again, that is something that we would like to discuss further with the industry's representatives and if any amendments are necessary we will introduce them in another place.
On Amendment No. 13, as I indicated, there is no question of our expecting water companies to fluoridate without indemnities or before we have made the regulations on consultation. However, I appreciate the cause of the water industry's concern. We will look at this further in conjunction with the industry's representatives. Again, if any amendments are necessary, we will introduce them. I hope that, in the light of those firm assurances, the noble Baroness will be prepared to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness O'Cathain: What is the date today? It is 9th July. One would think that it is my birthday, but it is not. I want to say thank you very much indeed to the Government and particularly to the Minister for listening to the arguments. From reading his brief, my guess is that he already knew the sort of arguments that I was going to put forward. He matched them ball for ball. I love the new expression that he used and hope that it gains further credence in the House"We shall look at this further with the representatives of X or Y industry, or of the schools, or of the health service, and then present further amendments". It is very gracious of the Government to do that. However, I should like to make a couple of points. I have also been told not to seek leave to withdraw my amendment until my noble friends have had an opportunity to express their views on it.
I noticed that the Minister needs a bit of persuading on Amendment No. 7. I think that I will need a bit of persuading to withdraw it. I shall see whether I have been persuaded in the course of the next debate. At this point, I believe that other noble Lords wish to speak to the amendments.
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