Orders of the Day — National Health Service Contributions Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th June 1957.

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Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North 12:00 am, 6th June 1957

That answer is most inadequate. On an important Bill last night, the Joint Under-Secretary gave excuses why the Secretary of State had not played his full part in it, and on this Measure today he tries to fob us off with the same excuse. The Scottish Office has two extra Ministers under a Tory Government, and yet we find that the Secretary of State and other Ministers are leaving important work affecting Scotland to be done, not by Scottish Ministers at all, but by Ministers for England and Wales. However, that is all I have to say about it.

Today, we see no reason at all for the provisions in the Bill. We gave our reasons for opposing it on Second Reading, when we tried to amend what was a very bad Bill to make it less bad, but the Government refused to accept those Amendments. The Joint Under-Secretary on at least two occasions today has stressed the cost to the taxpayer of the National Health Service. He told us today at the beginning of his short brief that the cost had been rising steeply year after year, and that it was an ever increasing cost to the taxpayer. Near the end of his speech, he told us that without this Bill we could not have the expansion and improvement of the Service without adding an extra burden to the most heavily-taxed people in the world.

I know that in some nations people would rather have a National Health Service through taxation than the manner in which they get it at the present time. When one considers taxation in a country, one has also to consider at the same time what that taxation covers for individual members in each community. To turn only to the United States of America, how much better placed the majority of people there would be if the Health Service cost were met by taxation rather than by family after family finding, as they do now, that they are ruined if serious illness comes to their homes.

When we are talking about the burden of taxation, we ought to look to see what this taxation provides. I say again to the Joint Under-Secretary that if the main reason for these extra charges—and that was the whole tenor of his speech—was to be able to make cuts in taxation, it is important that we should turn to the Budget. I said on Second Reading that this was a matter for the Budget and not for a special Bill. The people who might have been relieved by cuts in taxation did not get them. This extra burden is placed on the very people who received no relief of taxation at all under the last Budget whereas the Surtax payers, who did not need the relief, received it. One cannot examine the Bill on Third Reading without putting side by side with its provisions those Budget provisions.

The Joint Under-Secretary quoted figures showing what part of the national gross product was going to the National Health Service. He told us that in 1950—this is for the whole of the United Kingdom—it was 3·85 per cent., that by 1954 it was down to 3·17 per cent. and that last year it was 3·33 per cent., still ·5 per cent. below what it was in 1950. An hon. Member opposite whispers to one of his hon. Friends that it is coming up. But it still has not come up to the figure at which it stood in 1950 when no consideration at all was given to raising the contribution.

Another point made by the Minister in his opening speech today was that there had been wage rises. We have had that from the Minister of Health himself. But, again, one must put against those wage rises the increase in the cost of living and the increased contributions that have had to be paid for other purposes, to meet increased benefits, much of them due to the rise in the cost of living and all wholly due to the policy of this Government. By their failure to do anything about inflation the Government have created difficulty after difficulty for the lowest wage earner in the country who is going to be the person most penalised by the Bill.

It is because we feel so strongly on these matters that we are going to vote against the Third Reading of the Bill. Neither the Minister of Health nor the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has attempted to argue that the extra contribution is going to be used this year to provide greater benefits. The Joint Under-Secretary gave us some figures. He told us about the increase in the number of new out-patients. He did not tell us about increased facilities for out-patients. I really do not know what the hon. Gentleman was trying to prove by those figures. Was he trying to prove that there were increased facilities, or was it just that more of our people were ill and that therefore these services were used to a greater extent?

When the hon. Gentleman makes a statement of that kind he ought to tell us what he is trying to prove by it. Nothing has been said at any stage of the Bill to the effect that the extra contribution to be paid will provide extra benefits and extra facilities under the National Health Service. It is a mean poll tax placed particularly on the shoulders of those least able to bear it. We know that it has been done simply to better the position of the Surtax payers, and we say quite clearly to the Government that there are many people—some of my own friends are among them—who would far rather be taxed in order to ensure that all our people, particularly those who are less able to care for them- selves, are properly cared for. The Bill is part and parcel of the Tory philosophy, and we object to it most strongly.