Clause 7. — (Removal of Hardships.)

Part of Orders of the Day — National Health Service (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th December 1949.

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Photo of Mr Charles Byers Mr Charles Byers , Dorset Northern 12:00 am, 9th December 1949

I think the House will agree that, on the whole, I have been extremely friendly to the National Health Service, but, this morning, I want to ask the Minister very seriously indeed if he will give further consideration to the suggestion that there should be a charge for prescriptions. I would go further and say that the more I have looked at this, the more I have come to the conclusion that the Lords Amendment should be rejected, for two reasons. One, I do not think it is going to work; and, two, I do not believe it is right to deal with a matter of this sort entirely by regulations.

I know the very great difficulties in putting too much into an Act of Parliament, but I think this House should have clearly in mind the categories and classes of people to whom this is going to apply and that ought to be in the Act, because regulations cannot be amended and this House has a responsibility to discharge to its fellow citizens. We ought to know, in some form which we can consider and amend, exactly to whom and to which classes this particular type of charge is to relate. As the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) said, this is the first time for 36 years that the insured workers have been called upon to pay something for their prescriptions. It was never part of the Liberal health insurance scheme. We ought to be extremely careful about giving to any Government, or to any Minister, powers to make regulations which can only be challenged in toto and which cannot be examined in detail, because it is the details which will matter to the people of the country.

It has been mentioned that categories we must consider very carefully are the unemployed and those on sickness benefit. This House should not give the Minister any powers to deal with those categories without knowing the actual way in which he proposes to deal with them. What about the actual difficulties of this scheme when rural practitioners dispense their own medicines? Are we not creating more administrative difficulties, more bureaucracy and more administration? We ought to know that before we give the Minister such powers. What about those who require continuous treatment, like diabetics? Is this to be a continuous charge of 50s., or 60s., a year to some people? If it is, I am not standing for it and I want the proposals laid before the House in a form in which they can be amended in detail.

I say quite frankly that I do not think the scheme will work. If the charge is too high it will cause serious injustice and will be too high for some people, but if the charge is too low it will not remove the abuses, or so-called abuses, of the system. I believe this Lords Amendment should be withdrawn and a serious attempt made to deal with the heavy burden laid on the medical system of the country at present. We should not give the Minister the powers he is seeking now, because the House would be irresponsible to do so.