It is more than that. It is an act in direct defiance of the mandate they asked for and obtained. The Minister ought not to smile. When he faces his constituents at the General Election, if he ever does, he will not find that they are much amused by it.
This is part of the Government's general campaign to reduce the purchasing power of ordinary people in any way they can. They do it by raising the charges for babies' milk. They do it by raising the charges for school children's dinners. They do it by raising contributory charges under a whole series of social security Measures. They do it by the Rent Act, and they do it by withdrawing subsidies on food supplies. In every way they do what is their direct intention, as borne out by the Cohen Report. The objective of the Government in this matter is to make it less and less possible for people to have money with which to buy things. That is their remedy for inflation, the only remedy they know. It is exactly what their policy has always been.
It is not as if these extra charges were to supply a special fund out of which the financial burden of the medical services was to be discharged. Nothing of the kind. There is no special fund and there never has been. It is simply and solely what one of my hon. Friends described earlier as a poll tax designed to take money out of the pockets of the poorest so as to relieve the pressure on goods, which is the Government's only remedy for the economic crises in which they find themselves.
How can it be right, in those circumstances, for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to have the opportunity of fixing an appointed day to begin to collect these charges before the people who gave him his power on the pretence that he would not exercise it for these purposes have had the opportunity of considering the new situation? It may well be that the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that these charges are right in themselves. It may well be that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Government and hon. Members opposite believe that their policy of dealing with our economic crisis is the right one. Certainly, they have always believed it all the time I have known them. They have never had any other from the days of 1931 onwards—and even before that.
It may well be that they would even try to make a case for saying, "We were right to pledge ourselves not to do it in 1955 and we are also right to do it in 1957 and 1958 in spite of these pledges because of the circumstances obtaining". But if the circumstances have changed, then the trustees must go back to the beneficiaries and ask for new authorities. They must not do it in advance. They must not use a power given them for one purpose in order to achieve the exact opposite of that purpose. This is the act of a fraudulent trustee and will continue to be that unless the Government are prepared to accept the Amendment.
I say to the Government, "Go to the people you have deceived and ask them whether they will condone the deceit. Go to the people to whom you lied and ask them whether they will give you power now to change the situation and to do what you promised not to do. But do not use your last few moments of precarious power to exact a further charge from the pockets of people you promised not to rob."