I am opposed to this new Clause, because it discriminates in favour of the well-to-do against the poor. The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead) said that he did not know what the scheme was, and he therefore found difficulty in joining issue with the Government. The scheme is very simple. It consists of an order from the Treasury to the Minister to save £10 million. I venture to suggest that the excuse why this cut has been rendered necessary—the unnecessary resort to doctors and chemists—does not hold water, and, indeed, cannot bear investigation.
When the Prime Minister, on 24th October, announced this cut and gave the excuse which I have just repeated, he spoke before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the way in which the Chancellor put it on 26th October was quite different. When one looks at the speech of the Chancellor, it must become quite clear to the most innocent Member of the House that the reason for this cut—and the sole reason for it, whatever the ostensible excuse may be—is that, in the view of the Government, a contribution of some £10 million had to be made to the general scheme of cuts. Let me quote one or two short sentences from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to establish this point. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said:
We have … decided that short of slashing some major social service, which we do not propose to do, our economies must consist of a large number of relatively small items.
He then itemised these various things, referred to a group of measures which he defined as "further measures," and went on to say:
The further measures required to bring the total savings to the figure we think necessary were given and explained by the Prime Minister but for convenience I will repeat them now without further explanation: the charge for prescriptions under the National Health Service yielding £10 million economies.
Later on he said:
In the nature of things it is not possible to be precise about the date by which these savings will be in full operation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1949; Vol. 468, c. 1343–6.]
Therefore, whatever may have been in the mind of the Prime Minister, certainly in the mind of the right hon. and
learned Gentleman who is primarily responsible for the national finances there was only one issue, and that was: "How can I save money at the expense of the ordinary person? By proposing a charge of 1s. on prescriptions."
One can take this argument and examine the excuses put forward by the Chancellor for the other cuts which were discussed on 26th October, because they bring into better and clearer perspective the reason for the cut involving this proposed charge for prescriptions. For example, I submit that the excuse put forward for imposing a charge on prescriptions was a type of excuse not available to the Government in relation to the other cuts. Had it been available they would gladly have seized upon it. For instance, in cutting the housing programme from 200,000 this year to 175,000 next year, they could not very well say that local authorities were abusing the housing programme and that too many people were unnecessarily demanding houses. There could be no excuse of that sort. Then, again, on the education cuts they could not say that there was abuse—