National Health Service (Prescription Charges)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th February 1966.

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Photo of Sir Charles Taylor Sir Charles Taylor , Eastbourne 12:00 am, 11th February 1966

I have not even started on my arguments yet. I have only a short time and, if the hon. Gentleman would allow me to pursue my argument, he will perhaps have two or three minutes before the Minister replies.

In the first place, the effect of abolishing prescription charges was that medicine chests throughout the land have become overstocked with half-empty bottles of pills and potions causing a waste of medicine and drugs. I wish to use only two quotations to reinforce my argument. One was used in last Wednesday's debate by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) in quoting Lord Attlee, who said that we had: …to reduce excessive and, in some cases, unnecessary resort to doctors and chemists, of which there is evidence…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th October 1949; Vol. 468, c. 1019.] The other quotation is the well-known one of the late Nye Bevan who referred to a "ceaseless cascade of medicine pouring down British throats". Half the medicine chests in the country are now overstocked with half-empty bottles of pills and potions. This is a complete and utter waste.

Secondly, the cost of abolition to the country will probably amount to £50 million a year. Perhaps the Minister will tell me if my figure is wrong, but it is estimated by fairly reliable sources that this year £50 million of borrowed money will be given away when we are supposed to be in the middle of a financial crisis.

What do you imagine, Mr. Speaker, the international bankers think about this? Make no mistake, the effect of giving away this £50 million has not gone unnoticed by those in Zurich. They certainly have taken note of this distribution of largesse. They must think we have gone crazy. With one hand the Government tighten our belts and put on a squeeze, and with the other they give away money which is not really theirs and which they have had to borrow or arrange credits for.

It takes a big man to admit a mistake. I hope that even now the Minister, for whom I have a very healthy respect, will admit his error of judgment, in spite of the fact that I know that during the last election he canvassed support for the abolition of prescription charges. In order to prevent a further waste of money and materials, and to show the world that we really mean to overcome this financial crisis, real, as I think, or unreal, and to set an example, I hope that he will reimpose the prescription charges, which I think were wrongly abolished.