HL Deb 01 February 1961 vol 228 cc202-6

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that I shall be forgiven if I interrupt the debate at this stage, since it may be for the convenience of the House, and I hope it will be, if I read the material portions of a statement made this afternoon by my right honourable friend the Minister of Health. After referring to the net Estimates of the National Health Service and the Health Departments, which he estimated were likely to show a net increase of 11 per cent, during the coming financial year following increases of 8 per cent. in the current and 6 per cent. in the past year, my right honourable friend went on as follows:

" The Government are determined to continue their policy of developing the Health Service and in particular to carry through a long-term programme of modernising our hospitals. These objects would be in danger if the cost of the Service to the Exchequer were allowed to go on increasing at so high a rate. The Government have therefore decided that certain steps to reduce the net Estimates are necessary.

" The cost of a number of items for which charges are made has increased substantially since the charges were last fixed, and it is proposed to adjust them.

" The charges for dentures will be increased by amounts ranging from 5s. to 15s. On the other hand, in order to put more emphasis on conservation, the charges for dental treatment will not be raised; and children and expectant and nursing mothers will be relieved in future of the present charges for dentures.

" The charges for spectacles will be increased by 5s. a pair, with a higher charge for bifocal and multifocal lenses. However, it is proposed that children aged 10 or over shall no longer be charged for spectacle lenses in any type of National Health Service frame.

" The maximum charge for amenity beds in hospitals in England and Wales will be doubled from 1st March. The cost of the Pharmaceutical Services this year will be about £92 million gross, £80 million net. Since the charge for prescriptions was fixed at 1s. an item in 1956, the average cost of an item has increased from 5s. 1½d. to 7s. 4d. The Government are proposing to raise the prescription charge to 2s. per item from 1st March. We believe that this measure is necessary, along with others already taken or in hand, to restrain the increase in the cost of the Pharmaceutical Services.

" The Government have decided that from 1st June, orange juice, cod liver oil and vitamin tablets under the Welfare Foods Scheme will be sold at prices which cover the cost. The existing arrangements for refund of prescription and other charges will remain in force, and arrangements will be made through the National Assistance Board for the free issue of vitamin supplements.

" The Government also propose to increase the National Health Service contribution with effect from the beginning of July next by 1s. a week for the employed man (10d. from the employee and 2d. from the employer), and by the appropriate amounts for other insurance groups. This will increase the yield from the contribution by about £49 million in a full year."

After a reference to the necessary Resolution in another place, my right honourable friend continued:

" A Bill relating to the dental and optical charges will be presented tomorrow. Regulations altering the charges for prescriptions and amenity beds will be laid on Friday, and a new Welfare Foods Order will be made shortly.

" All these changes apply to Scotland, except that relating to amenity beds, for which in Scotland the charges are adjusted automatically.

" The effect of all the measures which I have announced will be to reduce the net Health Estimates by about £50 million in 1961–62 and about £65 million in a full year."

My Lords, that is the statement.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, we are obliged to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for giving us this statement. Obviously, as we are to have two subsequent developments in the other place, by the introduction of a Bill and also some draft Regulations, it would be inappropriate to start a debate upon this statement. Nevertheless, I cannot help but comment that the total of the increases indicated, allowing for some slight adjustments downwards in other respects, seems to be a sort of combined attack upon the general policy of supplying the Welfare State. We shall have to examine this statement very carefully, and also look at the Bill, the financial legislation and the like, when they come in; but I think there is little doubt that your Lordships will require to have a fairly early debate upon this quite deliberate changing of the financial basis of the Scheme.


My Lords, it is a very useful and interesting tradition that when a statement of this nature is made in another place we are given it in this House. But, my Lords, it also has its dangers. It might lead to some sort of quick debate, which I think your Lordships will agree would be quite out of place to-day, on such a long and important statement. I do not propose to make any snap judgment about this statement except to say that I am not sure I can agree with the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition that this is an attack on the welfare services. Whether it is robbing Peter to pay Paul or borrowing from Paul to lend to Peter I think we must look into later; and I agree with the noble Viscount that the sooner we have an opportunity to go into this matter further, the more pleased we shall be.


My Lords, could I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House whether my memory is correct that, after this increase in the contribution of the stamp is made, the stamp contribution will amount to little more than one-fifth of the total cost of the Service?


My Lords, I first of all thank both the noble Viscount and the noble Lord opposite for emphasising the undesirability of introducing to-day a debate on this subject, which is an important one, and on which arrangements for a debate will have to be made in due course through the usual channels. I would accept what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, has said: that this is certainly not an attack, or a combined attack, upon the Welfare State although, of course, these financial arrangements do effect important changes. I think it will be seen, as my noble friend put to me, that the burden borne by the stamps is probably less, proportionately, than would be supposed—and, indeed, that the actual burden is probably less than in 1948, having regard to the differences in levels of wages and other sources of income since then. But these are all matters we can go into. I realise they are controversial and I should not like, without precise information, to give a positive answer to my noble friend—he is much more likely to be right than I am —in the present circumstances.


My Lords, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House gave certain net figures at the end of his statement, saying the Estimates were reduced by certain sums of money. To what Estimates is he referring—the new Estimates or previous years' Estimates?


The new Estimates, which are not yet presented. That was the intention.