§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 42, to leave out "vary," and to insert "lessen."
It will be for the convenience of the Committee if we may also take the two following Amendments, in page 3, line 3, to leave out Subsection (3), and in line 9, to leave out from "section," to "shall," in line 10. The purpose of the Amendments is very similar to that of an Amendment moved to the Bill last year by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer). I am pleased on this occasion to find myself in agreement with the hon. Member, whose contributions to these debates are always listened to with such respect on both sides of the House.
The purpose is a very simple one. We suggest that, when certain charges are written into a Bill, if a future Government wish to increase them they should do so by bringing fresh legislation before the House instead of simply increasing them by means of a Statutory Instrument. The reason for that is again very simple, that a Statutory Instrument cannot be amended, not even a Statutory Instrument which requires an affirmative Resolution of the House.
That is why we suggest in the Amendment that my right hon. Friend might be ready to leave out "vary" and to insert "lessen" in order to ensure that if it were ever desired to increase the charges in either this Bill or last year's Act, the Government of the day would have to bring a fresh Measure before the House.
It may facilitate business if I say that I and my right hon. Friends are very anxious to support the Amendment.
I am not at all being hostile to the Chair, although I know I am verging on the indelicate, but I should be interested—I imagine that the Committee would be, too—to learn why the verb "lessen" is preferable to the verb "reduce" in an Amendment standing in my name and the names of right hon. Friends of mine which 840 has not been selected. That is the only point I have to raise, and if I am embarrassing the Chair, I hope that I shall be immediately pardoned. All of us who are not machinery-minded people are from time to time tremendously interested in the little nuances which have to be borne in mind by the Chair.
We are anxious that the Minister of Health should accept the Amendment. If he is now to give us something, it will be the first occasion in these Committee proceedings.
§ Mr. Iain MacLeod
I should like to utter a sentence or two which, incidentally, might help to clear up the point which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) has in mind. As the right hon. Gentleman and the ex-Minister of Health know, this point is practically identical with one that I urged on the Socialist Government upon the Second Reading of the Measure a year ago. I was the only person who raised the point and I was the first hon. Member to put down an Amendment. [Interruption.] Certainly I was.
Now that the applause for my activities has died down, perhaps I might add a word on the form of the Amendments and perhaps suggest that the reason the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment was not accepted was that it was not accompanied by the consequential Amendments which alone make sense of the Amendment now before the Committee.
If I might add one more thing to solace the right hon. Gentleman, it would be that when I originally put the Amendment on the Order Paper, I also used the word "reduce," but when I knew that he and some of his right hon. Friends had used the same word I could not face the embarrassment of being made to appear to support their own choice, and so I selected another word. That explains the difference between "reduce" and "lessen" which, I agree, is rather dancing on a pin-point, but it is fair to add that the consequential Amendments alone enable this Amendment to be reasonably debated.
§ Mr. Grimond
I am quite unable to compete in this contest of virtue, but I also support this Amendment for the reasons advanced by the hon. Member for Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle). I should only like to add that the objection some of us feel to the Bill in general is that it lacks the sort of precision which this Amendment will give to it, and although the Minister in charge has assured us that he only intends to levy charges on certain articles, there are powers given under this Bill which go far beyond anything we beleive is the Government's intention. I hope in this case the Minister will accept this Amendment which has been moved from his own side of the Committee, and limit himself and his successors to this extent, at any rate. I wish that in other respects he had written into the Bill the precise charges he intended to apply.
§ Mr. Crookshank
This has been an interesting little debate. I have discovered that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod) claims to have invented the word, "lessen." Very few of us can claim to have invented any words in the English language. He then went on to give a little bit of instruction to the Opposition on how they should draft Amendments. I do not know why he should give that away, but I think it was his generous nature. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) asked me to accept this Amendment by making a short speech which, he said, might facilitate business. That is such a remarkable attitude compared with anything we have had up to now during the passage of the Bill that I can only do likewise, and accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendments made: In page 3, line 3, leave out subsection (3).
§ In line 9, leave out from "section," to "shall," in line 10.—[Sir E. Boyle.]
I beg to move, in page 3, line 14, to leave out from the first "Act)," to "shall," in line 15.
If the right hon. Gentleman would indicate by a nod of his head that he was prepared to accept this Amendment, he could depend on my talking no further. There is a well-known gentleman who passed by on the other side of the road, 842 and the right hon. Gentleman has a great habit of looking on the other side of the road.
The object of this Amendment is quite plain to the Committee. We are anxious to give the Government an opportunity of explaining their intentions as to the duration of this proposed enactment. As the Bill stands at present, they could draw the necessary subsection from Section 5 of the 1951 Act, which puts a period to the Measure which we previously offered to the House and which the Houst accepted. It will have been plain to the Committee throughout these proceedings—and I am not complaining about it—that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends have opposed various Amendments not because they were bad or unhelpful in their intentions, but because the Government did not believe we could afford the improvements which my hon. and right hon. Friends were anxious should be included in the Bill.
There is a very simple question to put to the right hon. Gentleman here. Does he anticipate that economic conditions will not improve in any period? Does he anticipate that there will be no termination to our re-armament obligations. If he does not, it is, of course, quite reasonable that he should oppose the acceptance of the Amendment which we offer. We have heard a great many optimistic and boastful statements about the ability of right hon. Gentlemen opposite to cope with our economic difficulties. If they really believe the loud shouts with which they occasionally comfort themselves, they must be prepared to put a term to the Bill. If they were to adopt our proposal and amend Clause 3 as we suggest, they would become consistent in their arguments.
It has been said from time to time, rather jeeringly, that in 1951 we reluctantly accepted the proposals which limited the operation of our enactment to 1954, plus the possibility, by Resolution of the House, of extending its operation for one year. I have never accepted the criticism that we did so reluctantly. My hon. Friends at that time made out a good, strong case, and we were glad to accept that good, strong case. The case tonight is equally strong.
The Government cannot escape from the Amendment unless they are prepared to say that they have no confidence in 843 their power and find no comfort in their boasting, that they are not really masters of the present economic situation and do not expect to be masters of it in the next three years. That is a simple, straightforward piece of reasoning which most people in the country are able to understand. I hope very much that the Minister will continue in the conciliatory and laudable frame of mind which he has so recently found during the proceedings of the Committee, and will accept the Amendment forthwith.
§ Mr. Crookshank
I listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman, but this time I am afraid I cannot oblige him in the way I did on the previous occasion. Section 5 of the Act limits the power to charge for dentures after 1954. As we see the situation now, we consider that it would be a precaution, perhaps no more, that that should be deleted and that there should not be a stop to these powers in 1954.
The right hon. Gentleman asks: Does that mean that we have no confidence in our future, and that we are not masters of the economic situation and so on? It does not mean any more than that the future is rather uncertain, to put it mildly, as it was in the time of the right hon. Gentleman. After all, we have to remember that there were three major financial crises during the occupancy of the Government by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is the dreadful situation which they left us to tackle—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes—which is the cause of the Bill at all. We cannot make any forecast of what will for certain happen. There have been certain recoveries and improvements since we took office, and we hope that they may continue, in spite of the sacrifices which they are putting on our people, of which this Bill is one of the examples. I am sorry that it should be so, but this is one of the sacrifices in which the situation has involved us all.
While we certainly hope that things will be much improved long before 1954, we do not think it would be wise to overlook the possibility that, after an improvement, there might be another recession. After all, things improved twice in the lifetime of the previous Government but ended in the worst recession 844 of all. So it might be that in the fluctuations of international affairs, in spite of every desire and effort on our part to improve things, we might not be, or whoever might be in authority in 1954 might not be, entirely successful.
So, on the whole, we have thought the right thing to do is to remove the date in the previous Act and make this a permanent Measure. We recognise that the Act of 1951 could have been continued annually after 1954 by a special Resolution, but we doubt whether this Bill is one which ought to come within that procedure. For these reasons, I ask the Committee not to accept this Amendment, and I am sorry that I cannot oblige the right hon. Gentleman, who was so kind and so lucid in introducing it.
I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman will understand me if I do not indulge in any legitimate criticism of his, to me, rather fallacious assumptions about the ability of his Government to improve the economic conditions? Let us forget that. Even if we accept the fears of the right hon. Gentleman that these conditions will not be ended by 1954, that we might have another recession even if there has been another recovery, what is unreasonable in adopting our device and so carrying on the operation of this Measure in that respect from year to year?
Is a Committee like this so stupid that it would be unimpressed by any figures which the right hon. Gentleman would offer at any time? Is the House of Commons so obtuse, so irresponsible? Is the right hon. Gentleman telling us that, if he came to make a case for continuing these charges for a year, we would not listen to him? That is a little too much to ask. If the only intention of the right hon. Gentleman is to limit the operation of the National Health Service in this fashion during these times of economic repair, then surely he must meet the wish of my hon. Friends, which I have no doubt is the wish of the entire Committee.
Our wish is that we should take this to 1954 with power to renew annually. I plead with the right hon. Gentleman to say to us that he will have another look at this and will talk to us on the Report stage. It would be a tremendous comfort to the people in the country who 845 are affected by this. It would be one of the rare signs of confidence which the Government could exihibit to the people who at this stage do not believe that the Government have any ability to tackle these economic stresses. I am anxious to be quiet, tractable and non-provocative. I am anxious to improve the Bill. I am anxious to help these people. Do let the right hon. Gentleman promise the Committee that he will strain himself and come back on the Report stage having had another look at it.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I want to reinforce the appeal made by my right hon. Friend. I cannot see why the right hon. Gentleman cannot accept this Amendment. He made it perfectly clear that it is a comparatively moderate one, although it emphasises a point of real importance and a difference of attitude between the two sides of the Committee which matters, and matters very greatly, to the country, as my right hon. Friend has said. It is the difference between the conception of both these charges which are referred to here and the other charges which are referred to in the Bill, as being either permanent charges or temporary charges. In our view, the charges that were introduced last year were temporary charges to meet only a temporary need, and that was made perfectly clear; whereas these charges—and, indeed now, the charges of last year—are being enforced upon the country permanently.
It would, as my right hon. Friend said, always be competent for the Government to come to the House in 1954 and make this proposal, when it would be necessary for the House to discuss the matter again. That really was the issue which was of paramount importance. We felt that if by any mischance there was any necessity for them to be carried on longer, at least the House should have a full opportunity of discussing the matter afresh and of trying to evaluate the priorities that were involved; whereas the right hon. Gentleman is now throwing that completely overboard, not only for the new charges which he is imposing, but for the charges of last year, and is saying, "No, you shall not have the opportunity of raising this matter again in the House. It shall be entirely in the Government's hands to discuss the matter." That is quite wrong.
846 The right hon. Gentleman would not be weakening his position in any way if he were at least to say, as my right hon. Friend suggested, that he would take this matter back again. He will recognise that a great deal of the difficulty we have had in earlier stages of the Bill has been because of his unwillingness to show any desire even to consider matters that were put forward from this side; and as he has accepted one Amendment put forward by both sides of the Committee, it would at least be a gracious act to start a new period for the right hon. Gentleman if he were to say that he would consider the Amendment which has been moved from this side.
§ Mr. Linstead
I should like to put another consideration to the Committee. Whatever else we do with these charges, I urge that we do not put them on an annual basis. For the sake of the patients, put them on some basis of permanency. At any rate, do not have a known date when it is possible that a scale of charges may be abolished.
When one thinks of appliances or dental treatment, the last thing we want to do is to give the impression to patients that if only they wait until a certain month of the year, they may be able to get those appliances or treatment for a lower fee or for no fee at all. That would lead only to chaos and is, perhaps, the strongest reason for not accepting the Amendment.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
It is important that we should look not only at what the Minister proposes to do at the end of the period, but what he is doing now. In the action that he has, I take it, authorised certain hospital boards to take, he is anticipating the date on which the Bill will become law.
I should like to inform the Committee that the Minister has authorised certain hospital boards to inform old age pensioners—I have in mind one in my constituency who is 76 years of age, and who has been ordered elastic stockings because he suffers from thrombosis—that they must sign an undertaking to the effect that if the Bill becomes law before their appliances are delivered, they will pay to the Minister £1. That is a disgusting thing to ask of a pensioner aged 76. Indeed, Mr. Hopkin Morris, I should like your guidance as to whether it is proper for the Minister so to anticipate legislation.
The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
We have passed that Amendment already, and the hon. Gentleman cannot discuss it now.
This is not a date which will operate at all; the hon. Gentleman has misconceived the Amendment.
§ Mr. Lee
The effect of this Amendment would be appreciable, whether it be permanent or temporary, and I am submitting, on a point of order, that I believe that the Minister has exceeded his powers, because, in cases where a doctor has ordered these things, he has told them to hold them back long enough to force people to pay for them.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
I intervene briefly to reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead), who suggested it was a great mistake to give the impression to many people who would be affected that there would be some period towards
§ which they might look forward for an improvement in their situation if we gave a definite period of time during which this treatment would be given. I should think that, if that were in his mind, it would not very much affect the position, because in any case old people and others will be looking forward very anxiously to the time when this Government will have been ended, and that time cannot be very long. In any case, they will continue to look to the period when that devoutly-to-be-hoped-for event will bring a new service into their lives.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 290; Noes, 278.851
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.