My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, who talked about his parents. My parents never owned their own home, but they had exactly the same emotional reaction to the creation of the NHS and the security it would give them in later life. I extend a Green Party welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham. I am probably going to disagree with him today, I am afraid, and possibly many times in the future, but I welcome him anyway. I enjoyed the humour in his speech; there is never enough humour in this House, so that was fantastic.
I have no expertise in health and no role of any sort in the care system, but I do have a small expertise in government failings. It would be hard to be an expert in them, because there are so many, but I can spot when the Government are making a big mistake and this Bill is one of them. I will talk about three issues; I am going to gallop through them because I am well aware that we have been given a tiny amount of time. The first is fluoridation; the second, carrying on from that, is dentistry; and the third is drugs.
About a quarter of the population does not trust tap water and refuses to drink it. This has obvious consequences for the environment, as most of those people will be drinking water out of plastic bottles instead. Mass fluoridation is not going to help people to trust tap water. The Government are making a decision to mass-medicate populations by modifying their drinking water without any explicit informed consent. The pandemic has revealed an atmosphere in which scepticism of expert advice and anti-science sentiment runs high. Forced fluoridation risks entrenching anti-science views in a significant segment of the population, making future public health interventions that much harder. Other options have been found in other countries, for example fluoride pills or fluoridised milk.
It is obvious that the dental care crisis has been brewing in this country for a very long time. It seems harder and harder to get an appointment with a dentist or even to register with one. People are being turned away and told that the practices are full, so the Government need to get a grip on dental care and change the contracts that pay dentists. These currently operate on a quota system; those quotas are nowhere near sufficient to provide for the level of population in need. Dentistry should be provided on the basis of need, not an arbitrary quota set by the Government. On a related note, the Government need to get a handle on the severe health inequalities experienced by people facing social exclusion, such as people who are homeless, those with substance misuse issues and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
On the topic of drugs, the Government are failing completely on addiction treatment. By talking constantly about the war on drugs, they are trying to avoid the fact that that war is lost. We have to do drugs differently: we need a drugs policy which prevents criminals profiting
from the supply of drugs. That is why the Greens support a legalised, regulated system of drug control, focused on minimising harm to individuals, society and the environment. The war on drugs has been a catastrophic failure. As ex-undercover police officer Neil Woods says in his book Drug Wars, we have lost that war. I suggest that your Lordships read it; he was an undercover officer working among drug gangs and experienced that at first hand.
It is time to take a health and care approach to the whole drug problem—and we obviously have a drug problem at the other end of this building. I am curious as to what the Government are going to do about that. If 10 out of 12 lavatories tested had cocaine in them, there are clearly quite a lot of MPs, or staff, using cocaine. I would have thought that one of the first stops on the Minister’s reconnoitring today would be to make sure that people stop using those drugs here in Parliament.
There is so much wrong with the Bill, like so many other pieces of legislation that we get in this House, that I will give the Minister two bits of advice. First, it should go back. He should take it away and say to whoever wrote it, “Make it better”, and bring it back to us in the sort of condition where we can amend it and do a bit of redrafting, not the wholesale redrafting that it needs. Secondly, he made some very uplifting comments about the NHS at the start of his speech. Why not give NHS staff the pay rise they deserve? That is what we would like to happen.
*Original translation online at 5:15 pm at https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2021-12-07/debates/B05FC5DC-E095-444F-83E3-BD40BF226078/HealthAndCareBill