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 Henry Strauss Mr Henry Strauss , Combined English Universities 12:00 am, 9th December 1949

I quite agree, but I do not think that that is in favour of the Minister: I think that is in favour of the criticisms which are being offered this morning. A very definite decision was announced by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and we now know that exemptions were already contemplated at that time. I suggest to the House—and this cannot be very controversial—that a good deal must have been known about what was contemplated, by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time they put this proposal forward and named a figure, and. if that is the case. I cannot imagine why the right hon. Gentleman cannot give us more particulars this morning.

I quite agree that an opportunity for debate may arise when the regulations are made, but I should have thought that that very detailed statement of policy by two of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues did entitle this House to expect that, when we were asked to deal with this Amendment, some particulars of how it was going to work would be put before us. The fact that there is difficulty in any possible scheme has been stated in various quarters of the House, and not least by the two medical gentlemen who have given to the House this morning the benefit of their experience.

12.45 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman said it was false to say that insured persons were placed in a worse position than before, but surely that is wrong. Some people may, indeed, be placed in a better position as a result of the Act, but some may be placed in a worse position; for a great number of years insured persons have been enabled to obtain their medicine without paying for it. I sometimes think that when hon. Members and right hon. Members opposite say, about various things, "It must never happen again," they should think of their own reforms in the law now suggested and consider that, for many years at any rate, "It did not happen before."

The workability of these proposals depends a great deal on the answer to the numerous questions which have been put from both sides of the House and to which we have had no answer whatever from the right hon. Gentleman. I do not know why the House should not be treated to rather more information. I agree entirely with what was said by one hon. Member, and indeed with what was implicit in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman himself, that it is far better that economy should be exercised than that the Health Service itself should be endangered and, in so far as this Amendment is intended to check abuses, I cannot think that in any part of the House there would be an objection to it. We are, however, entitled to know how it is proposed to carry out the proposals.

I cannot think that the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues can have been so irresponsible as to give an estimate of the saving that this would involve—and the Minister now tells us that they had in mind the fact that exemptions would be made—unless there were some particulars known and decided by the Cabinet, even in October, of what would be contained in these regulations. If there is any such decision, it has been kept entirely dark. The House has no idea whatsoever what these regulations will contain and I do not believe that that is the way in which this House should have been treated. Some detailed questions were put by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). Some of those questions have been repeated, I think, by the hon. Member for Barking and some, I think, by the hon. Member for South-East St. Pancras (Dr. Jeger). I cannot think why we should not have an answer to them. It is very difficult to judge the proposals in complete ignorance of what the regulations are to be. I think the Government are in this dilemma: either they have some idea, in which case they ought to have told us, or they have no idea, in which case the speeches of the colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman were irresponsible.