National Health Service Bill (Time-Table)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd April 1952.

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Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale 12:00 am, 23rd April 1952

No pennies have been thrown as was done by the party opposite. The fact is that, looking back over the history of Parliament, Parliamentary Government has risen in the estimation of people to the extent that Labour people have come to the House of Commons and have disciplined the misbehaviour of Conservative opposition.

I do not want to press this point too far, but as the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire has raised it I should say that it was only to the extent that the products of the board schools came in to mitigate the misbehaviour of public schools that the level of Parliamentary debate has been raised. As an old board school man myself, I take pleasure in that fact; but to suggest for a single moment that Parliamentary government is now held less in esteem by the people of this country and therefore we should have a Guillotine implies that the esteem in which Parliament is held by the population is in direct ratio to their failure to hear their grievances articulated on the Floor of the House.

I should have thought that the first duty of a public man was advocacy and, that it is just to the extent that the people of the country can hear their grievances expressed on the Floor of the House of Commons, just to the extent that they can read in the newspapers and hear on the radio, amongst the many millions of inarticulate people in the country, that the sufferings that they feel can be expressed here, that Parliament unites itself with the affections of the population.

What would certainly undermine Parliament would be the fact that these sufferings were going unredressed. I do not know what other hon. Members have been getting in the last two months, but I have been receiving more letters from cripples and from others who have to use the National Health Service than I have done for years past. That is because they are all apprehensive lest what is now intended to be carried out should increase their difficulties. I do hope we shall not have that hoary old argument that Parliament ought to be silent for fear that it will lose the respect of the population and that the more silent we are the more we grow in their esteem. On the contrary, I believe it is our duty all the time to preserve Parliamentary institutions by making them express the people's will.

Reasons for the introduction of this Bill have been given by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire and by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House and Minister of Health. May I say that these offices are a most unfortunate conjunction? I understood some months ago that the right hon. Gentleman was going to be relieved of his office as Minister of Health. There were strong rumours to that effect, and we all hoped they were going to be correct, not because we have any lack of respect for the qualities of the right hon. Gentleman, but because everybody has realised, since the discussion on the National Health Service Bill in Committee, that he is singularly ill-fitted to be Minister of Health.

It is rather a grim prospect when the departmental Minister is the Leader of the House of Commons itself and moves a Guillotine Motion on his own Measure. This is an extraordinary precedent. I suppose that now, whenever a Minister finds himself with an embarrassing Bill, the Prime Minister will make him Leader of the House in order that he may be able to constrict discussion on his own Measure and save himself embarrassment. I should have thought that anybody ought to have moved this Motion except the Minister of Health.

Why have we got this Motion? We have got it—and I challenge hon. Members in all parts of the House to deny it—because the discussion on the Amendments of the National Health Service Bill in Committee have been highly embarrassing to Members of the Government. I have taken part in the discussion on most of them and it has been apparent that the Government have found it extremely repugnant to oppose many of the Amendments we have moved. I think that does them credit. They would rather do cruelty in ignorance than have it brought to their notice. It does an injury to their feelings. They would rather wound people and not have the wounds brought to their attention.

When the discussions in the Committee stage revealed—as was apparent the other day—that even old people in the new institutions are to be harried and bullied and plagued without any relief at all from Parliament, many hon. Members opposite got up and told the right hon. Gentleman that he was beginning to be known as "hard-hearted Harry." What has the right hon. Gentleman done? He has said, "I cannot stand that." He could stand being hard-hearted, but not being called hard-hearted; so he said "For Heaven's sake let us have a Guillotine as quickly as possible, otherwise I might either myself be moved from office"—not moved emotionally—"or my hon. Friends may be too much moved and I shall have trouble." So he moves the Guillotine Motion.

The extraordinary thing about this proposal is the estimate the Government have formed of legislative priorities. That has been pointed out by the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), and it has just been emphasised by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire. This Guillotine is introduced because the Government require the National Health Service Bill in order to make a contribution towards solving the country's economic and financial crisis. That was the explanation which was given. I must say that we really are in a parlous state when the first people to make a contribution towards solving the crisis are the cripples. What a reputation the Conservative Party are giving Great Britain abroad when they say that the solution of our financial crisis can be achieved only by putting burdens on the cripples first, and that England can only be held together by making charges on abdominal belts. This is where the Conservative Party have got us.

What is the contribution that will be made? Let us have a look at it. One of the advantages of having a Guillotine in prospect is that we no longer need to read the Bills. All we need to do is walk through the Division Lobbies. I ask the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire and the right hon. Gentleman to look at their own Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the National Health Service Bill. Our Budget runs now at about £4,700 million and our overseas deficit is from £300 million to £400 million, and the cripples and the wearers of trusses and abdominal belts, and those who have to repair to dentists, must make a contribution of the order of between £6.75 million and £10.75 million to get Great Britain out of its dreadful financial difficulties.

That is the reason for the Bill. What they have done is to take hold of a small section of the population—the weakest, the most helpless, those who either have been born with physical deformity or infirmity or have suffered it in some of our industries, such as mining and steel and agriculture—and inflicted upon them charges amounting to a little over £10 million a year, in order to force them to make their contribution to the solution of the financial crisis. May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether that is his conception of legislative priorities?