THE SHADOW health secretary has backed calls for a referendum over plans to fluoridate Hampshire tap water.

Andrew Lansley described the public consultation carried out by South Central Strategic Health Authority (SCSHA) into the controversial proposal as “not real”.

And Mr Lansley, who could be in charge of the country’s health service if the Conservatives win the next election, said that a referendum would allow the public their say.

“A referendum is a simple way of giving the public a real opportunity to make a decision about this,” said Mr Lansley.

“I think in Southampton and South Hampshire the consultation was not real because effectively what happened was that they (SCSHA) said, ‘We have looked at the evidence and we think we should fluoridate the water.’ “They (SCSHA) then had a consultation with the public.

About 75 per cent of the public said, ‘Actually we are against this.’ And they (SCSHA) said, ‘We know you said you are against it but we have looked at the evidence and we think it’s the right thing to do.’ So what was the point of the consultation?”

Mr Lansley said that even though he was personally in favour of fluoridation, the public had to be convinced of any benefits before a decision was made.

“If the public cannot be persuaded that it is the right thing to do, I think you have to step back and ask, ‘Well, what are we getting wrong?’”

Plans to add fluoride to tap water in two thirds of Southampton, plus parts of Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams, are the subject of a judicial review.

Later this year the High Court is due to consider a complaint that the health authority should not have approved the scheme last February because of public opposition.

A health authority spokesman said: “SCSHA remains confident that the decision made by the SHA Board was carried out in the best interests of the health of people living in the Southampton area.”