I understand from the hon. Gentleman that it is £10 million. If the Minister speaks further on this matter perhaps he would inform us whether that figure is still intended. Secondly, on a matter of very great importance, when may we expect the regulations to be laid? The Parliamentary Secretary said that discussions were taking place, but the Prime Minister made the introduction of these reforms a matter of urgency and suggested that they would all need to come into operation at a very early date. Parliament is now about to prorogue. Will the regulations be laid during the Prorogation of Parliament? That is to say, will the regulations be current before Parliament meets again? It is a matter of great importance, because these regulations have the force of law as soon as they are laid and Parliament will need to take the earliest possible opportunity of debating them thereafter.
Furthermore, will the sums which it is intended to raise by this procedure obviate any suggestion or necessity of a Supplementary Estimate for the Ministry? It will be remembered that last year Supplementary Estimates for a considerable sum were laid. [Laughter.] Indeed, it is a very germane question, because the Prime Minister laid much emphasis upon the great undesirability of increasing expenditure and, indeed, upon the necessity for reducing expenditure. It is very important to know whether these sums which are to be raised are actually to reduce expenditure, or merely to diminish an increasing expenditure which has already been determined
It is true, as the Parliamentary Secretary has said, that these matters are still being worked out, but we are all—I am sure, the Minister more than anyone—under a bombardment of questions as to what the line is likely to be. I wonder whether, for the convenience of the country, the Minister could give us any further information upon that this morning. Certain hard cases can be met; the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned old age pensioners and ex-Service men who are war pensioners. Is there any intention to extend further the category of hard cases, of which every one of us has had many examples brought to our notice?
A very important point, which the Minister, I think, must by now have determined, is whether the charge is to be based on each prescription or on each prescription form. As the Minister knows, often on a prescription form there may be a number of prescriptions. As far as I have been able to ascertain the average number of prescriptions on each prescription form is 1.5, that is to say, three prescriptions on two forms. It is very desirable to know whether the prescription form, or the prescription is to be charged.
When the Minister says that a sum not exceeding one shilling is to be charged is it intended that it shall be on a flat rate, or a graded rate? The Parliamentary Secretary will realise the importance of that. Obviously, some prescriptions are very expensive, but a great number are inexpensive and it is on those inexpensive prescriptions that the pricing machinery is just now in great difficulty. I agree with the Minister when he says that he shudders to think of the flood of medicines the British public are pouring down their throats and I am delighted to think that he does not accept an increase in prescriptions as indicating an improvement in the health of the country, but it is the large number of small prescriptions which is causing the difficulty with the chemists. If they are to be priced on a graded figure that difficulty will be increased, but, if the increase is to be on the small prescriptions, it may well be that a proportionately large charge is to be exacted. I should have thought that the Minister would be able to give a general lead by this time on these matters because, although the regulations will state them in detail, the ordinary public are, of course, extremely interested and anxious to gain what information they can from our discussions this morning.
If the Minister could give us information on those matters it would be of very great use and importance, particularly on the point of when he expects the regulations to be made and when they are to be available in draft, as I suppose they will be sent out in draft first for our consideration. I trust the Minister will agree that we are approaching the matter this morning, as it should be approached, on a businesslike basis and, as those concerned with the practical working of the scheme, anxious to see that it works economically and as efficiently as such a great scheme would be expected to work.