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 Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 9th December 1949

It may perhaps be for the convenience of the House if I speak at this stage, because the speeches—and I make no complaint about it—have tended to repeat themselves. Hon. Members are, of course, speaking under difficulties. They are. difficulties that are inherent in the proposal to take powers to do something, when what is intended to be done is not in fact before the House. This is always the case in every Statute where it is found necessary to take power to make regulations of a detailed character. Everybody. I think, who has experience of this matter will agree that we have found it almost impossible to escape that necessity.

I know that the hon. Member for Northern Dorset (Mr. Byers) has expressed, as I have done on many occasions when sitting on the back benches, deep distrust of conferring on a Minister the power to make regulations which would not be subject to amendment. In the course of this Parliament, we have altered that procedure in one or two instances in order that there might be an instrument of discussion rather less restrictive than merely a discussion on a Prayer to annul a regulation. Therefore, I sympathise wholeheartedly. with those who say: "Here we are giving this power blindly, and we do not know how it is going to be used."

I have been asked a number of questions as to how I propose to use this power. I say frankly that if I could give the answer there is no excuse for my not having had the regulation ready. I do not myself yet know all the answers. Before this can be made into a practical scheme, it will have to be discussed with representatives of chemists and doctors to see how it is to be worked out.

The proposal to have a charge up to 1s. creates no administrative difficulty at all. The administrative difficulties arise out of the necessity of exemption. I am not myself displeased that we have had this discussion this morning. I am not displeased that hon. Members have been brought up against the administrative" difficulties of carrying out principles which many people have so gliby proposed.

We have had, in the course of the last year, a large number of allegedly erudite letters written by professional men and journalists in the daily newspapers advocating charges of various kinds on the National Health Service and pointing out how large sums of money could be saved if these charges were made. All the time they have assumed that there is an economy in transferring, a charge from the State to the individual. That in itself is not an economy at all. I am not suggesting that it is. It is not an economy merely to transfer a charge; a proper economy is a more efficient way of giving the service. I have read some of these letters and communications with a good deal of quiet pleasure because I knew that the time would come when the legislature would be faced with the working out of some of these principles.

The same problem arises on the next Amendment, although in that case it will be rather easier when we are asked to distinguish between foreigners and our own nationals. We have had that argument raised, and the newspapers supporting the Opposition have been carrying headlines for almost 15 months on this particular matter. When we come to make a distinction and go from the easy realm of abstract principle' to that of practical discriminations, all kinds of administrative problems arise. I can quite see that, in some instances, the cost of administration would exceed the economy, so I am not at variance with a good deal of what has been said this morning.

I want to answer the charge that this proposal was only made in consequence of a demand for economy. If that were the case, how do hon. Members whp have made that charge explain that these are powers only to deal with the pharmaceutical services? If indeed the Government wanted to take power to make a charge to the citizens for use of the Health Service, then we would have general power for making a charge. We have not done that. What we have done is to say that we want to take power to make a charge in respect of the pharmaceutical service alone. Why have we done that? This is a complete answer to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Solley). It is because our experience has gone to show that it was this very vital part of the service in which the general practitioner was most involved and where the greatest load had fallen, and that the service was inclined in some respect not to give the standard of service we wanted from it. It is quite incorrect to say that it was the purely financial aspect of this matter that weighed most with me when I accepted this tentative proposal. In fact the exaggeration we have had pis morning—