HC Deb 07 May 1951 vol 487 cc1619-37

(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, the following provisions of this Act, that is to say sections one and two, section four (except so far as it relates to expenditure under section three) and the Schedule, shall continue in force until the first day of April, nineteen hundred and fifty-four and shall then expire.

(2) If at any time while the said provisions are in force, an Address is presented to His Majesty by each House of Parliament praying that the said provisions be continued in force for a further period of one year from the time at which they would otherwise expire, His Majesty may by Order in Council direct that the said provisions shall continue in force for that further period.

(3) Subsection (2) of section thirty-eight of the Interpretation Act, 1889, shall apply upon the expiry of the said provisions as if they had then been repealed.—[Mr. Marquand.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

5.0 p.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Marquand)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

In my speech in moving the Second Reading of the Bill I said that the charges which the Bill proposes need not be regarded as a permanent part of the National Health Service. Further representations were later made, in Committee. Quite naturally and understandably anxieties were expressed by various hon. Members. I undertook to meet those representations by moving a Clause of the kind which is now before the House.

The effect of the Clause is quite simple—that unless this House so determines by expressly so resolving, the Act will expire on 1st April, 1954. In other words, if the Government at that time decide that they need for a longer period than that the savings which are being made by the instrumentality of this Bill, they must come to the House and ask for another year's currency of the proposal. I have already explained to the House that in the year in which we now are, the year between the coming into force of this Bill and the end of March, 1952, we cannot make the full savings which we shall need to keep the hospitals going, and that we have, therefore, very reluctantly had to make for this year—ending March, 1952—a very substantial reduction in the hospital estimates. That was done only reluctantly and with great difficulty.

In the following year, however, from March, 1952, to April, 1953, we have deliberately planned to have available for the use of the most essential parts of the Health Service, of which the hospital service is by far the principal, the full year's saving of £25 million. If towards the end of the second year, the first full year of the operation of these charges, people thought that the Measure would be coming to an end in 1953, I doubt whether we would get the full savings that we require. In any event, long before April, 1954, the Government will have to review the position, will, as I said in Committee, have to consider all the effects of this Measure and how far the general financial situation enables us to produce some amelioration in these charges. Therefore, it is reasonable and sensible to say that the Act should come to an end in April, 1954, and that thereafter if any Government thinks it is necessary to continue the charges they should come to the House with an affirmative resolution and ask for express renewal for another year.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

This indeed might be called scorpions' day. The Minister, having chastised the rebels with whips and they having squealed, comes down to the House and chastises them with scorpions. This Clause prolongs the Bill until 1954. Again, the rebels have not won anything at all of any kind.

Mr. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman should speak for himself.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The rebels desire the Bill to be weakened or, as they have said, withdrawn. The Minister has said that by 1954 whatever Government is then in office will have to review the situation; another Government will have to review the situation.

Mr. Manuel

This is the organised hypocrisy that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was talking about.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

According to the description of the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), this Government is an organised hypocrisy.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman attributed to me remarks made by one of my hon. Friends. His quotation about organised hypocrisy was one originally used during a Conservative Government by the present Leader of the Opposition.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I apologise to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire. It was the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) who referred to organised hypocrisy.

Mr. McGovern

I do not mind the right hon. and gallant Gentleman quoting anything I say. I will never run away from it, but I do not remember having said that. If he can quote my remark and if it is in HANSARD, I am prepared to accept it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

Now that he has made these few preliminary observations, I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will confine himself to the question of the new Clause.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Certainly, Sir. I am not unwilling to take up any challenge from whatever part it comes, but I will leave that question. This Clause which has been put forward as a concession represents no concession of any kind whatever. I think that the hon. Member for Shettleston will agree with me. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are getting nothing whatever out of the Government.

Anybody knows that the position would have to be reviewed before 1954. The Act does not come to an end then, because this matter is not left to come before King, Lords and Commons, but merely to be subject to an affirmative Resolution. It may be continued indefinitely by affirmative Resolution. Obviously, that is not a concession of any great moment. Furthermore, the Minister said that he required this Bill in order to keep the hospitals solvent. Is he bringing forward the suggestion that a great reduction in the cost of the hospitals or of the other parts of the Service will take place before 1954? Is that the proposal which he puts to the House? If not, what is the advantage of the review he offers?

Mr. Marquand indicated dissent.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The Minister says, "I need £25 million in order that hospital treatment may be continued, and I will review this matter in 1954." But he has just said that he has no reason to suppose that in 1954 he will be able to dispense with the £25 million asked for. Again, it seems that the so-called concession is entirely nugatory.

This Clause is simply a piece of crystal gazing. I am always willing to quote the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). Of some of the remarks he makes, one was most pertinent. He asked, "Why trouble to look in the crystal when you can read the book?" When one sees the Estimates today and considers the course of events, one appreciates that it is possible that the Government in 1954 may take some step which the Minister is not able to divulge at present. The fact is that this Clause does not mean anything one way or the other, and might just as well be added to the Bill as left out.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. McGovern

I entirely agree that this Clause gives no concession of any kind. It is more hard and fast than was anticipated when the Bill first came before us. I do not intend to take part in any of the further discussions on this Measure. I said all I had to say on Clause 1. I said that I regarded this as an evil Bill which would have disastrous effects on the common people of this country. I say to the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) that his antics in opposing a Clause of this kind are not shared by all the Members of the Opposition. I believe in dividing the House when I am sincere. Other hon. Members do not believe in the same policy, but they are as sincere as I am, though their tactics are different.

If I had my way, I would divide the House on every Clause and on the Third Reading of the Bill. I can only say that I regard not only this Clause but the whole Measure as being evil. If this is a sample of democracy when the overwhelming mass of the Members of my party are against this Bill and the executive insist on putting it through the House, I maintain that it is nearer to totalitarianism than to any form of democracy.

Mr. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I dissent most violently from the view expressed by my hon. Friend. We can have the same interests of the people at heart and yet take a different view, as he readily agrees.

But to say that it is a negation of democracy or something totalitarian, that we should have different views upon a controversial matter does not make complete sense to me. When my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) put down an Amendment during the Committee stage he had another date in mind. He was thinking of March, 1952. The Minister was unable to accept the Amendment, but he promised to introduce a new Clause, and this is it.

While it is not acceptable to many of my hon. Friends we think that it has the advantage that it sets a limit in time and to the intentions of this Government, or any other, to dismantle the Health Service. The great apprehension which my hon. Friend has in mind was that this was a first stage upon what they thought might be a slippery slope. Here, they thought, we are beginning with teeth and spectacles and later we might hear that the whole Health Service was being tackled by a reactionary Tory Government.

My hon. Friends had in mind that a limit should be set to this process, and 1952 was suggested. When the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) charges us with welcoming something which has no value, he merely misunderstands our position. He seeks to bait us and divide us, and my hon. Friends who are astute politicians recognise that he seeks to make trouble. We can have our several views about this matter. However, I welcome the assurance that while it is in the view of the Government impossible to give us a nearer date when than 1953, there is a date and an intention to put an end to this practice of charging for spectacles, teeth or some other service.

Reference has been made to an opportunity to consider the position later to see how the system is working. I do not want to go into the larger context of the national situation, but I would point out that there may be developments in relation to defence and our general budgetary position which might make it possible for this or any other Government to reconsider the whole position. In that event, I take it that it would be the intention not to prolong this scheme any later than 1954—not for one day longer than was considered necessary.

I hope that in 1952 and 1953, if it continues so long, we shall have opportunities to review the position and improve the scheme. This is a matter of compromise and, for myself, I am thankful that the Government have appreciated what we had in mind. Although it does not meet the case completely, I have no difficulty in supporting this Clause and considering that it is a real step in democratic procedure.

Mr. Iain MacLeod

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) has justly said that hon. Members on his side of the House can have differing views on this matter. An Amendment was tabled during the Committee stage saying that 1952 would be a good date; a further Amendment said that 1953 would be a good year, but the Front Bench have now decided that 1954 should be the year. This Clause gives the benches behind the Front Bench nothing whatever. The Government have once more merely danced in the face of their supporters, and their supporters are now lying down.

Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)

I have not spoken in any of the discussions leading to this stage of the Bill, but I cast my mind back to the General Election of 1931. I remember that various cuts were being made in the social services and in the salaries of people who were dependent upon the Government. I remember well that the salaries of teachers and the police, for instance, were cut by 15 per cent. and then, under pressure, the Government of the day decided that those cuts should be made in two bites. I remember also that Mr. Frank Owen, then a young Liberal Member for Hereford, asked Ramsay MacDonald, the Prime Minister, a question. He asked whether, in view of the fact that the cuts in the salaries of teachers and police had been eased by making the cuts in two bites, the Prime Minister would not also ease the cuts on unemployment insurance benefit. Mr. MacDonald said that the cuts in unemployment insurance benefit were a condition of borrowing from America, and they must remain.

That was very important. There we were accepting dictation from America as a condition of a loan to keep us on the gold standard. Anyone who reads American newspapers will know that the American medical profession are very much against having a free health service there. I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer went over there in 1950, and when he returned he said, "We have to continue with rearmament and we are expecting some aid from the United States of America."

I think a precedent took place in this House some 20 years ago. I should like to understand whether the millions which have been subscribed by the American Medical Association—which I noticed, incidentally, was referred to in passing by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) as the A.M.A. and I think that several hon. Members did not spot the point—for the purpose of lobbying American Congressmen, have been put to use in some way to bring pressure to bear upon our Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government here in order to bring about this cut in a free service which is abhorred so much on the other side of the Atlantic? I feel that we are entitled to an answer. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland, if he knows, will give an assurance that the history of 20 years ago is not being repeated now.

When we were worried about the situation in 1931, when it was a question of wholesale unemployment and so on, the Government of the day thought that the best thing to do was to reduce the salaries of people; and they started doing that among many of those people dependent upon them. Now we have another crisis, a re-armament crisis, and I should like to know whether they are really going willingly away from their Socialist principles—because clearly they are going away from them—in imposing this charge upon the free Health Service of which we are all so proud and whether that is being done as a condition of American help towards our re-armament. We have a precedent, and I am entitled to ask that question. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will give us an assurance on this most important matter.

Mr. Fort (Clitheroe)

Do I understand the hon. Member aright? Is he implying that the Americans—the American Medical Association—have given a direct inducement to the British Chancellor of the Exchequer? Is that what he is implying?

Mr. Bowles

I would beg the hon. Gentleman not to misinterpret me like that. What I said was that I know perfectly well, and he probably does too, because he is a big business man—[Laughter.]—I think he has something to do with I.C.I. which sounds international. He may have some knowledge—especially of he reads the American newspapers, because it is clear to anyone who does—that the medical profession in the United States have subscribed masses of millions of dollars for the purpose of lobbying Congressmen against the starting there of a free national Health Service, such as we have here. In 1931 we were told by the Prime Minister of the day that cuts in the Unemployment Insurance benefit were conditions of the borrowing from America, and that they must remain. I am asking my right hon. Friend to tell us whether or not, or to reassure us, that kind of thing did not happen last September or since.

Mr. Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Throughout the years we have become so accustomed to hearing the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) making a minute matter appear like the giant Colossus, that we are not surprised that today he has so easily reversed the position, and is trying to make what is a valuable concession appear to mean, to use his own words, nothing at all. I agree that 1954 is not the date that many of us would like to see in this Bill. I confess that I hoped that at the latest we might have a review of the position in 1953. At any rate, it is a recognition of a point which many of us were putting forward, that this Bill should not be put upon the Statute Book with power to operate indefinitely, and that at some future date we should have the right to review the position.

What the right hon. Gentleman did not mention, and no other hon. Member has mentioned, is that not only is 1954 the date of the first review, but any extension of this Bill after 1954 is for 12-monthly periods only; that in every year after 1954, the Government of the day, whatever its political complexion, has to justify the continuance of these charges. To me that is the most valuable concession in this new Clause, and if the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove does not recognise that, then someone ought to tell him what it is all about. The position which he is setting up is that there is no value at all in the divorce laws of this country, because they give power to terminate the contract of marriage. Because of that they are quite valueless. But no one would suggest that that is so.

Here we are being given the right to divorce ourselves in 1954, and at yearly intervals after 1954, from the provisions of this Bill. I admit that I would prefer to divorce myself from them at this very moment, but I shall now continue in an honourable matrimonial state with the Government, and with this Bill, until 1954. True, I shall do so with much anguish of spirit, but it will be in the sure and certain knowledge that, by 1954, if I do not like the partnership any more than I do now, I shall be free to break the association. And if there is any attempt made to continue it, I shall, every year, have the right to break my association with this Measure. I regard that as a very valuable concession and I am pleased that the Government have been wise enough to meet, if not in full at least to some extent, the points which some of us made.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I presume the purpose of this Clause is to enable the Bill to be reviewed in 1954, and I can quite imagine what hon. Members of this House will be saying then. I am quite convinced that from these benches will come the very definite statement that this Clause was one of the most stupid and badly thought out Clauses ever put into a piece of legislation by a Labour Government. I believe that the more we go into the nature of this Bill, the more we examine it in detail, the more we are fortified in that assumption. I am glad to see the Secretary of State for Scotland in his place, because I wish to ask him if he still believes in the argument which he advanced on the Committee stage, that this Bill was justified on the grounds that in the first three months of this year there had been a somewhat unusual increase in the cost of dental services in Scotland.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNeil)

I am delighted that my hon. Friend continues the argument, but let us get it correct. I did not argue; I submitted facts to show that the cost of supplying dentures in Scotland in the first quarter of this year was higher than in any quarter since the scheme was introduced.

Mr. Hughes

I am very glad that the Secretary of State for Scotland has now limited it to this definite point. I will now proceed to examine his contention, because if he fails in regard to my county of Ayr, then surely I am not justified in supporting this Bill, and all my previous arguments are valid. The Secretary of State referred to denture costs. I should like him to explain this mystery. The figure for denture costs——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The only point in this new Clause is whether a limit in point of time should be applied to certain provisions of the Bill. The question of the cost of dentures and details of that kind cannot arise.

Mr. Manuel

As I understand it, the fact of fixing a date of 1954 was simply because the saving in this year is only £13 million. The saving on a full year is £25 million and in order to get the full saving it is necessary to take 1954. If the point which my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is trying to make is that there is not going to be the on-cost for dentures in that period, then the implications of the first quarter of this year have a bearing on that actual point; but I will take the Ruling from the Chair.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I shall not waste the time of the Committee, but I do submit that this argument is relevant to the argument put up by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I have taken the trouble to get out some figures for the county of Ayr, which is a typical Scottish county, and they show that in the first quarter of 1950, the cost of dentures was £58,932, and, in the first quarter of this year, £40,334, a decrease of £18,618. If that picture is right and these figures are correct—and I could give further figures in support of my argument—I submit that the Secretary of State for Scotland has been misleading the House and that his argument falls.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

The only point which really arises on this Clause is that of the duration of the Bill. I do not think the Minister was at all happy in the reasons which he gave for his argument that the Bill ought to continue at least until April, 1954. A great many of us think that that date is too far advanced, and that the Bill ought to come to an end much earlier.

What did the Minister say in giving reasons why he could not bring this Bill to an end before April, 1954? He suggested that if the Bill were to end in 1953 or even in 1952, then, of course, if it were only to be in operation for a short period, a whole lot of people who wanted either teeth or spectacles during that period would wait until the end of that period hoping that the Bill would come to an end, and that they would be able to get these appliances free instead of having to pay half the cost if the Bill was still in operation. By inference, the Minister has said that if they have to wait until 1954, they will have to put up with some inconvenience and hardship, or, alternatively, they will have to pay half the cost. It seems to me that when he said that he did two things.

First, he admitted that there will be a certain amount of hardship, because if this Bill continues in force a certain number of people will be forced into the unhappy position either of having to go without spectacles or dentures they ought to have, or being obliged to pay half the cost. That is the sort of inconvenience that people might well be expected to put up with for a few months or even a year or so, but it is not the sort of inconvenience which they would put up with for two and a half or three years. I can understand that, but the Minister, having made that argument, also denied that there will be real hardship caused by the Bill.

The other fallacy in the Minister's argument is that precisely the same position will arise in a year or a year and a half from now. When we come to the beginning of 1953, the position will then be that there will be equally a lot of people who ought to have teeth and spectacles but cannot afford to pay half the cost, who will be placed in the embarrassing position either of having to make sacrifices they cannot afford to get them, or postponing their acquisition of teeth and spectacles until April, 1954. They will be in precisely the same position as other people would be in if this Bill were now limited to one year or a year and a half.

Therefore, the position will be that in 1952 or 1953 there will be a large number of people who will have to gamble on the Bill coming to an end in 1954 and putting off the spectacles and dentures which they ought to have in the hope that the Bill does come to an end, and that they will not, therefore, have to pay half the cost. Whatever date is chosen, it seems to me, from the Minister's own argument, that it will mean that the Government will have to make a decision—and, I should hope, long before April, 1954—about bringing this Bill to an end.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNeil)

There are one or two points with which I should like to try to deal, and I will follow the very excellent example of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), and be brief indeed. I do not know the figures for Ayrshire, but I would be reluctant to accept the argument that Ayrshire is a typical county in Scotland. After all, there is only one county that could claim my hon. Friend.

The figures which I give are unambiguous and unmistakable, and they are a complete refutation of the argument that there has been a downward trend in the demand for dentures. The figures for Scotland of the number of approvals for dentures show that, in the first quarter of 1948, they were 92,000; in the first quarter of 1949, 110,000; in the first quarter of 1950, 109,000; and, in the first quarter of 1951, 126,000. I repeat, for the benefit of my hon. Friend, that 126,000 is the highest approvals figure given in any one quarter, and these are the figures of approvals for dentures.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

In what parts of Scotland are these figures drawn up, because in Ayrshire the figures have gone down.

Mr. McNeil

I would be reluctant to accept the conclusion that these figures differ from those of Ayrshire. I do not know the reputation of Ayrshire, but, at any rate, I cannot see how my hon. Friend can escape here. I have been trying to recall who was the distinguished Member for Bristol who once argued the difference between a delegate and a Member of Parliament. My hon. Friend must not think that, by regarding himself as a delegate from his constituency, he may be able thereby to escape from support of this proposal. I hope that my hon. Friend and the House will see quite clearly that I never have at any time attempted to mislead hon. Members on this point. There are the figures, and they are a complete refutation of the claim, that, nationally, the figures are showing a downward movement.

Mr. Manuel

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I would like some reasonable explanation for the divergence in these figures, because, in the county of Ayr there are five constituencies, which represent a good cross-section of Scotland from right to left of its population and its interests, both from the completely rural to the highly industrial belt stretching right along the coast from Ardrossan. These figures are culled from the Ayrshire Executive Council and they are completely accurate, and they show a steep drop in the first quarter of this year as against last year. I wonder if there is some different method of collecting these figures in the areas of other executive councils, because it does seem to me that there is something wrong. We do not differ from the rest of Scotland in this matter—we may be better in some other respects—but we surely make up our figures in the same way.

Mr. McNeil

These figures come from the Scottish Dental Estimates Board, and there is only one Scottish Dental Estimates Board. The figures are strictly comparable and highly reliable. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), if I may say so bluntly, talks so much nonsense when he tries to persuade himself that Ayrshire is not different from the rest of Scotland. We are not asked to accept the conclusion that Ayrshire is, for all purposes, a typical cross-section of Scotland, because, if the incidence of tuberculosis in Scotland was reflected by Ayrshire, we should have no tuberculosis problem on our hands.

Mr. Manuel


Mr. McNeil

Because there is in Ayrshire air, sunshine, light, milk, a much better history and not the dreadful background of the appalling concentration of slumdom such as we find in Glasgow and in Dundee. I would therefore expect to find a higher incidence of tuberculosis in the over-populated, overcrowded and less well-fed districts than in Ayrshire.

At any rate, I have not attempted to prove that the Ayrshire figures are typical. I have attempted to prove nothing more than the assertion that there has been a downward tendency in the demand for dentures in the first quarter of this year.

Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)

Is the simple inference to be derived from my right hon. Friend's figures that more and more people are requiring dentures and that we are now going to make it more difficult for the people who need them to get them?

Mr. McNeil

No. I should have thought that if my hon. Friend had any care for statistics at all, he would not rush to such a complex and rash conclusion. I have merely offered the figures for the number of approvals this quarter.

Mr. Poole

Would my right hon. Friend clear up something that has created dismay in my mind? I presume that during my absence for tea or dinner one evening, this House did not concede Home Rule to Ayrshire, and that therefore this will apply to England as well as Ayrshire?

Mr. McNeil

It is, of course, a United Kingdom Bill, but I must defend my hon. Friend and say that he has exactly the same rights in this House as the most distinguished hon. Member for any English constituency.

Mr. Manuel

May I assure my right hon. Friend that I am grateful to him, and will not follow his bad example by being offensive? Will he oblige me by getting the figures from the Executive Councils throughout Scotland, in the same way as he got them from the Ayrshire Council, and give us an opportunity to examine them?

Mr. McNeil

I hope my hon. Friend did not find me offensive. If I may say so, I have had a little longer experience in this House than he has, although it is a relatively short experience. If people throw their weight about, they must expect to be tripped, even by the kindest persons. I shall be delighted to ask the Scottish Estimates Board for such a break-down of the figures in relation to the different counties of Scotland, and to furnish my hon. Friend with that information as quickly as possible.

A much more important question was addressed to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). I hope he will forgive me if I say quite frankly that I was absolutely astounded that such a question had to be put, because, whatever precedents there may have been, they were not drawn from our party. I want to say quite flatly that neither the Government nor my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer were ever either offered advice or, much less, subjected to pressure from the Government of the United States, or from anywhere else.

Mr. Bowles

What does my right hon. Friend mean by saying that I was not drawing a precedent from our party? I certainly was. Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden borrowed money in order to keep us on the gold standard. A condition of that was, as Frank Owen was told, that those cuts had to remain in the Unemployment Insurance benefits. That is precisely what happened. When the majority of the Labour Government could not stand the cuts any longer, Ramsay MacDonald resigned and formed the National Government overnight. Then, of course, we went off the gold standard, but the cuts remained. Ramsay MacDonald himself answered Frank Owen's question.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. McNeil

The operation was effected and justified by a Government which was called "National."

Mr. Bowles

May I ask the Minister this question? When were the last millions borrowed from the Americans? Was it when the Labour Government were in office, or not?

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I do not want to become involved in this, but I happen to know a bit about it. The split came about as a result of the stand taken by Arthur Henderson.

Mr. McNeil

I affirm flatly, and without qualification of any kind, that there was no pressure from the United States or elsewhere, and neither was there advice. They did not seek to impose any conditions regarding any military arrangement in which we are partners.

Mr. Bowles

I am much obliged.

Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)

The right hon. Gentleman said that these proposals were entirely the responsibility of His Majesty's Ministers.

Mr. McNeil

Who else would be responsible? Who defends them, and who operates them? His Majesty's Government, of course. We have neither sought to shelter behind any one else nor to deny that these are our decisions. We have given reasons for them, and we will defend them.

I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) that it is really a little arrogant of him to claim all this righteousness for himself, and to assert without the slightest evidence, that he has an overwhelming majority to support him.

Mr. McGovern

I did not say that. I said there was evidence that an overwhelming majority of hon. Members on this side would have voted against it had they been given a free vote. Therefore, I say it is undemocratic and should not be pursued.

Mr. McNeil

A Government does not function by a free vote. However, that is quite apart from the assertion which my hon. Friend makes, that there is a majority of hon. Members who support him in this. I plead with him not to pull a cloak of righteousness around his shoulders and to decide that everybody else is a miserable sinner for no other reason than that they do not share his point of view.

Mr. McGovern

I did not say that. I said that my means of approach was not that employed by the majority of hon. Members of this party. We have different methods, and I conceived the method of voting against it. Others did not do so. I only claim that, in my estimation, I more nearly represent the working classes on this matter.

Mr. McNeil

That is a very different thing. That is a matter of judgment, and I would not deny my hon. Friend the right to make such a claim, although I would not necessarily agree with him. What I disagreed with him about, was when he said that this was an authoritarian Government—I believe he called it a totalitarian Government—because we disagreed with his point of view. That is the kind of view which in another office I used to hear frequently from some gentleman whom I know my hon. Friend dislikes very much. [An HON. MEMBER: "Mr. Gromyko."]

The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) has every right to try to make a political occasion of this and try to foment such division as he may discern or think he discerns on the benches behind me, but it is nonsense to contend that this is not a concession. After the debate developed in Committee many of my hon. Friends indicated that while they did not approve of the principle they would be less unhappy if a term could be put to the procedure. A term has been put to the procedure. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) thinks it is too long and so do some others, but there is a fair reason for carrying it to this length.

It is the same term as that identified with our abnormal defence commitments. It is also, as my hon. Friends will agree on reflection, the shortest period which could give us an opportunity of reviewing and debating a full financial year's working, because we would have to debate it, if we were going to do so, before the Budget in April, 1953. This fits in with our general budgetary policy. This will give us an opportunity to review it when we have had a reasonable experience of its working. It is offered as a concession to my hon. Friends and I am fairly confident it is a concession most of them will accept and many welcome.

Mr. Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

Like some of my hon. Friends, I disagree with this Clause. It has been argued by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, that this is a concession and that the date might have been much earlier than 1954 had that been possible. I understood that the strong point for 1954 was to give an opportunity to examine the working of this new scheme. That is a reasonable deduction to make.

I say, however, as I said in Committee, that if the opinion is that there is justification for examination of the scheme, then surely the proper course would have been to make a complete examination of the National Health Service. It is bad organisation and bad administration to establish a free National Health Service and suddenly to discover that there is one section of that Service which requires special examination while the rest is left completely out of account. On that basis it is quite possible to introduce a Bill later on restricting the rights under some other part of the Service and to argue again, "We shall only continue this until 1956 because we desire to make an examination of this new branch of the Service." I think a completely wrong approach was made to this matter and that there should have been an examination of the entire National Health Service.

We are told that this is a concession, but does anybody suggest that subsection (2) of the Clause encourages us to believe we have a concession? That subsection takes all the necessary precautions to give the Government power to continue these provisions permanently. All they require to do is to pray each year that the Act continues. I say that if the Government put that in, it is obviously because they have in mind the idea that in future there may be justification for continuing these charges. [Interruption.] I do like speaking when people who have already spoken are quiet. Surely there is nothing unreasonable in that.

There is evidence in subsection (2) of this Clause that these provisions will be continued permanently. Therefore, it confirms the point we made at the beginning that the Government are making an encroachment on the National Health Service which, two years ago, they would have rigidly denied. They then would have opposed anybody who suggested such a thing. I have no doubt the figures submitted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland are quite accurate, but we know from long experience that all figures of that kind can be extremely misleading. The figures may be for a single tooth or denture repair. We are entitled to have more detailed information about those figures.

One of the strong arguments put forward in favour of these charges is that they are justified because the figures are going up. That is the finest evidence of a means test I can think of. Because there is likely to be a greater demand from people for these services, the Government are going to make a charge. I heard that argument in the old days when it was argued that National Assistance Board scales must be cut down because more people were making demands upon the funds. That is exactly the case made out here—that the Government must be cautious and impose charges because more people are making demands upon the service.

I dislike the Bill and the date has not helped me in the slightest degree. I have already made my protest on the appropriate stage in Committee; and when the Bill is passing through the House, I cannot be as happy as some of my hon. Friends—in fact I deeply regret that it is being passed.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.