HC Deb 20 April 1964 vol 693 cc872-4
50. Mr. Spriggs

asked the Minister of Health what representations he has received, up to the latest convenient date, about the need to abolish prescription charges; and what action he proposes to take to do this.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Anthony Barber))

During 1963, such representations were received from five organisations and 48 individuals. I remain of the view that the net sum yielded after hardship cases have been met is better devoted to the development of the Service than to the abolitions of the charges.

Mr. Spriggs

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there are many thousands of people who do not qualify for National Assistance and who, therefore, cannot get relief for the prescription charge under National Assistance, and that this is causing real hardship? Will the Minister do something about it, or make way for a Government who will?

Mr. Barber

As the hon. Gentleman knows very well, where payment of prescription charges causes financial hardship help can be obtained through the National Assistance Board. I am always ready to look into any individual case. As the hon. Gentleman refers to the possibility of another Government, he will bear in mind that the abolition of all health charges would cost about £50 million a year? This would mean one of three things, that expenditure on the Health Service would be cut by that amount, that there would be £50 million less for some other public service, or that taxation would be increased by that amount. I should have thought that the Opposition might at least do the electorate the courtesy of letting them know which course they would adopt.

Mr. K. Robinson

Does the Minister realise that the smallness of the number of representations is almost certainly due to the fact that people are fed up with protesting to this Government about prescription charges and are now content to await a change of Government in October? In response to his implied question to me, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that the next Labour Government will abolish prescription charges without making cuts anywhere else in the National Health Service to make up for the costs of their abolition?

Mr. Barber

At the beginning of the last Labour Government, we heard a great deal about what was going to happen to the National Health Service. What did happen was that, in the last Budget of the Labour Government, there was a cut in the social services, which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said in his resignation speech was quite unnecessary.

Mr. Dudley Williams

If the figures are available, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what charge would fall on the Exchequer if the charges for spectacles and teeth introduced by the Labour Government were also abolished?

Mr. Barber

I do not have the individual figures with me.

Mr. G. Thomas

Is the Minister aware that a large number of people on small fixed incomes do not come within the category of those who can be helped by the National Assistance Board, which is ruled very strictly by regulations? People in t its category are very seriously hit by heavy prescription charges in their old age. Will the right hon. Gentleman look into that matter?

Mr. Barber

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will let me have details of particular cases. If he does, I will be very happy, to look into them. As he knows, or as I assume he knows, the National Assistance Board can help people other than those who are in regular receipt of National Assistance.