HC Deb 22 February 1968 vol 759 cc640-1
Q1. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Prime Minister if he will arrange for the postponement of the rate support grant for 1968–69 for one year as an alternative to the introduction of prescription charges.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

No, Sir.

Mrs. Short

Does not my right hon. Friend appreciate that, if he accepted this suggestion, he would save about three times the amount he is likely to save on prescription charges and he would save also the amount he is likely to save by denying secondary school children their milk? Above all, does he appreciate that it would be much fairer? Will he look at this again?

The Prime Minister

I think that my hon. Friend is referring not to the rate support grant itself, which involves a total of £1,395 million, but to the domestic element of rate support. I am sure that she realises that, if we were to withdraw that element, which is being very helpful in enabling councils to keep their rates level and, in some cases, to cut them, the effect would be very serious on the lower-paid wage earners, who are, of course, ratepayers.

Mr. Tapsell

Does not the proposed reintroduction of prescription charges make it all the more urgent for the Prime Minister to fulfil the pledge which he gave to the nation on television on 19th November that he would safeguard the hardest hit sections of the community from the effects of devaluation? When does he intend to announce measures to achieve this?

The Prime Minister

Certain announcements on this have been made. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are hard at work on the exemption scheme for prescription charges, details of which will be announced to the House as soon as possible.

Dr. Summerskill

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it is still not too late to reverse the injudicious decision to re impose prescription charges, especially in view of the huge administrative problems involved and the fact that there are alternative ways of raising the money?

The Prime Minister

It is certainly true that there is time to reverse this policy, but the Government have announced what the policy is and there is no question of reversing it. The exemption procedures are being worked out now.

Mr. Thorpe

Is it still the Government's view that the net saving will be £25 million? When are we likely to know the extent of the exemptions? In view of the widespread administrative difficulties, does not the Prime Minister think that this is at least one aspect of Tory policy which he could drop?

The Prime Minister

We hope to be able to announce the details of the exemption scheme in two or three weeks' time. There is no reason to suppose, on all the figures I have seen and the details which are being discussed with the doctors and others concerned, that the estimate I made on 16th January of the net saving from it will be departed from very seriously. I think that it will be about that figure. As to the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, he must realise that we have had to decide our priorities between this, on the one hand, and other aspects of the social services, on the other. We think it was the right view to put forward to the House.