I hardly think that the speech which we have just heard calls for any reply. To my mind, by far the most important part of the Minister's statement was his hint that this proposed charge may be only temporary. He also stated that the announcement of the charge has already had some effect in reducing the number of prescriptions. If this tendency has, in fact, already begun to show itself, why not defer the charge for a while longer? If the suggested charge can have the effect of steadily inducing a reduction in the number of prescriptions, not only will it save the whole of its administrative costs, but after a period of a few months it may actually save an even larger amount than the £10 million which is envisaged. If the present number of 187 million prescriptions per year could be reduced, allowing for all seasonal variations, by a matter of, say, 15 per cent. within the next six months—and, if this process is continuous, possibly a reduction of 30 per cent. may show itself at the end of 12 months—surely all the need for the imposition of this charge will have vanished.
I ask the Minister especially to bear in mind that what we are up against is not so much an abuse of the facilities granted under the Bill. What it sets out to do in many cases is to change the habits of hundreds of thousands of people who depend to some extent, either psychologically or medicinally, upon the benefit of having a bottle of medicine. I ask him, therefore, if it is not at all possible to delay in the inception of this charge a little while longer.
It may be quite conceivable that my right hon. Friend's successor—the devil whom as yet we do not know—should be given a full chance to reconsider the whole matter. I feel that after a lapse of time we shall find a drop in the prescription rate from the present figure of 187 million to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 150 million, or even 120 million, so that the whole need for this charge of 1s. a bottle, or whatever else the final decision may be, may be totally unnecessary. I ask the Minister to defer the inception of the charge until he has full time to consider its implications; and perhaps within the very near future the time may come when he may be able to justify to the country that it is no longer necessary.