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 Denis Pritt Mr Denis Pritt , Hammersmith North 12:00 am, 9th December 1949

Perhaps I may say a few words on the subject for, as I listened to the Minister, at the time he almost seemed to say that he was actually giving the people £10 million instead of taking it away from them. I recall what people so often say if a lawyer makes a speech like that. They say, "He is only a clever lawyer." If a layman makes a speech like that they say, "What a success he would have made at the Bar." I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman would like me to say that he would have made a success at the Bar, and, having listened to his speech, quite frankly I do not think he would. I think he would have been a failure, because it was altogether too un-plausible for anything. He went into an elaborate argument with the Libera] Party, which has now left the Chamber, and one or two other Members about whether the position was better than before. Really if a solicitor's clerk had to face that question on a summons he would know better. Of course, it is far better than it was before July, 1948. It is far better than it was when the Liberals first introduced it, although we must be historically fair and say that in 1911 the Liberals did a magnificent job within the limits of that time. The point is—and no lawyer, not even an unscrupulous one, could get away from it—that it is worse by approximately £10 million, which is to come out of the pockets of people who need doctoring, than it was before the cut was imposed.

The next thing in which I thought the right hon. Gentleman was really too ingenious for anything was in dissociating the whole of this Amendment almost entirely from any notion that there has been a financial crisis or a devaluation or a cut. I cannot understand, on that footing, how it was that the Prime Minister announced this. I should have thought that it ought to have been the Minister of Health, because, as far as I can gather, it has got nothing to do with saving money. It is only a coincidence that these medical abuses were, according to the right hon. Gentleman, discovered about the same time that we had one of the crises of the capitalist system. I do not think anybody will believe the right hon. Gentleman on that point. I do not believe that anybody will agree that the whole or main motive for this serious inroad on medical treatment in the country—on which I am not going to dilate be-cause others who know far more about it than I do, have spoken and have spoken very well—was a question of abuses. I do not think anybody would have heard of these cuts of the right hon. Gentleman, if it had not been for the financial motive.

Of course, having now to defend it, the right hon. Gentleman discovers that there are quite substantial abuses. I do not agree. It would have been astonishing if somewhere, here and there, somebody, having for years never got anything for nothing, had not tried to get some- thing for nothing. It is my own limited experience—and I gather that medical experience is much the same—that any abuse has been absolutely negligible and that the real benefit of people having the possibility of getting early treatment, saving many times £10 million in the long run, apart from human health and happiness, immensely outweighs any sort or kind of abuse. If there had been any serious abuse, surely anyone so vigilant as the right hon. Gentleman would have introduced this Amendment long before there was a crisis.

I want to say a word in defence of the right hon. Gentleman, if he does not mind, and even if he does mind, on the question of the power to pass regulations. I think I go perhaps further than most Members on this side of the House not merely in accepting the necessity for legislation by regulation, but in not believing that there is any real abuse or danger in it. I also do not mind the fact that we are asked to give the regulating power here, although what the Minister really wants to do with that power is not at present more than half-baked. I understand the difficulties, and I make no complaint whatever, but I do assert that this particular Amendment should be resisted on the question of principle. However much or however little use the Minister wants to make of this regulating power, it is a blunt question of principle of whether we should go back on this very important item in the great reforms in medical treatment for the working classes, by imposing a very serious barrier on their proper treatment. It is of that principle I propose to speak. The difficulties of regulating powers and so on have not much to do with that.

I was a little amused to discover that the Minister objected to the phrase "making a charge." He said "Oh, no, it is not making a charge at all. We are practically giving the people something. We are letting them off everything on the cost of prescriptions except for one shilling" In those circumstances, I hope the Minister will vote against the Amendment, because I have discovered in the Amendment the sinister words: Regulations may provide for the making and recovery …, of … charges.