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Lib dem pressure knocks fluouride off Labour agenda

By Angus Macleod, Scottish Political Editor

LABOUR ministers in the Scottish Executive have retreated over plans to allow fluoride to be added to the water supply in Scotland in the face of strong opposition from their Liberal Democrat coalition partners.
It emerged yesterday that Jack McConnell, the First Minister, had confirmed to a Lib Dem backbench MSP that the Executive had dropped plans to change the law on fluoridation.

It means that the issue has now been effectively shelved until after the next Scottish election in 2007, although it is possible that Labour will include the idea in its manifesto for that election.

Labour ministers had planned to move on the fluoride issue as part of a Public Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which would have included the anti-smoking ban announced last week as well as measures on organ retention. These other two measures will now be dealt with in separate stand-alone bills, meaning that the smoking ban will be on the statute book in March next year for implementation a year later.

In reply to a question from Nora Radcliffe, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Gordon, Mr McConnell said that while ministers were still considering a response to a consultation on improving the oral health of Scottish children, they had decided not to change existing legislation.

Mrs Radcliffe said last night that she welcomed the decision to leave the law as it is. “There is no doubt that Scotland faces major challenges to improve the oral health of younger generations but adding fluoride to the water supply is not the answer.”

She called for the country’s poor oral health record to be tackled by promoting increased action in schools and through the health visitor network.

Scottish Water was criticised yesterday by the industry’s regulator, who said that its service to customers fell far below the worst of England’s private water companies. In 2002, its first year of operations, Scotland’s publicly-owned water authority achieved only 38 per cent of the score of the worst-performing company south of the border, said Alan Sutherland.

Alex Johnstone, Tory environment spokesman, said: “This is an absolutely atrocious indictment of the way Scottish Water is being handled.

But Rob Gibson, SNP environment spokesman, accused the commissioner of failing to compare like with like.