Will the hon. Gentleman pass on to his right hon. Friend the message that I am sorry that the Secretary of State was not chosen to answer this question, as, the day after the Treasury Minister made that comment, the right hon. Gentleman was quoted, presumably accurately, as saying that prescription charges for the elderly are "politically unacceptable" and will be brought in only over his "dead body"?
As, a few days later, on 18 June, the Prime Minister used three columns of Hansard, columns 303-05, to say that prescription charges were being considered, what exactly is the policy of the Department of Health, and how does it square with what is in the Labour manifesto?
The policy of the Health Department is that we are conducting a review, and the review will report in due course. I would take the hon. Gentleman's concerns more seriously and they would be more convincing if the Conservatives, when they were in power, had not increased prescription charges fourfold in real terms. The outcome of the comprehensive spending review will be judged by one yardstick: the Government's commitment to the historic principle of the NHS that services should be available according to need and need alone.
Only one party in the House is addicted to charges in the national health service. It is the party that introduced prescription charges, dental check charges and eye test charges into the national health service: the Conservative party.
While the prospect of any future charges for prescriptions is immensely important to pensioners and to all elderly people in this country, has the Minister given any thought to another related matter: the ability of people to fund their retirement, and particularly their need for residential or nursing care? The previous Government advanced proposals in that area: are the new Government considering the matter as part of the review?
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes this issue, and health issues in general, very seriously. I assure him that, before too long, we shall announce details of a royal commission that will examine those issues properly. We shall ensure that, in future, older people receive the sort of treatment and services that they deserve.