HC Deb 30 July 1875 vol 226 cc267-70

called attention to the Letter from the Lord President of the Council, requesting the opinion of the Medical Council on the subject of the exclusion of women from registration as practitioners of medicine, and wished to ask, Whether Her Majesty's Government contemplated the introduction of any measure on the subject in the next Session of Parliament? He felt that it would be indiscreet to occupy the time of the House by discussing at length this grievance; but he must remark that there were many young women of cultivated minds who had been looking out for a mode of supporting themselves independently, and who had directed their attention to the profession of medicine, while a large number of female patients found comfort in the attendance of doctors of their own sex. At that moment, there was in London a hospital and school of medicine, in which the patients, doctors, and teachers were women. Some of the lady practitioners had passed good examinations, and had degrees from Universities in France and Switzerland, but in the eye of the law they were outlaws. That did not arise from any direct provision in the law itself, but from the action of the Universities, who had, by their regulations about taking degrees, practically excluded women from the register. Under the Medical Act women could be registered; their practical exclusion was due to the Examining Bodies. One lady succeeded in passing the examination of the Society of Apothecaries; but when it was found that there was one licentiate in petticoats, the Society altered its rules so that no woman could henceforth receive its licence. Women being thus practically excluded from the register, though not excluded by the law, the Lord President of the Council had exercised a wise discretion in asking the General Medical Council, who represented the higher states of the medical profession, what should be done?—and he was glad to say that the Council made a suggestion which seemed very practical. They proposed not to interfere in any way with the existing examinations, or the existing studies, but that a new and special examination should be provided for female students who might wish to prove their competence for admission to the register. While the examination and the teaching would be distinct, both would be equal in quality to that which existed for men. This would give a legal power of practising to women who had passed the proper examinations, and the medical profession would then be no longer open to the charge of opposing a legitimate demand on the part of women for the purpose of preserving a monopoly to their own sex. He trusted that the Government, now that a new phase of the subject had been entered upon, would pursue the course which they had so judiciously taken up, and that in the next Session of Parliament they would propose some legislation, and relieve him of the duty of introducing another Bill to open the doors of the medical profession to such women as might undoubtedly be competent.


said, that any observations which fall from his right hon. Friend the Member for South Hampshire in reference to medical examinations of women in this country must have great weight, as it was his action that led to the formation of the General Medical Council, which everybody agreed was now a most important body of medical practitioners in this country. He agreed with his right hon. Friend that it would be undesirable to raise on the present occasion a general discussion respecting the admission of women into the medical profession. For the first time, since the present Government came into office, this subject was brought under the notice of the House at the beginning of this Session. They felt it desirable, before forming any opinion upon it, to refer it to the consideration of the General Medical Council, which was one of the most distinguished Bodies of the United Kingdom, being composed of eminent medical men in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and also representing the Universities. When, therefore, the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Hampshire and Halifax brought the subject forward, Her Majesty's Government thought to would be better to get the impartial opinion of the General Medical Council with regard to it. That body, however, assembled only once a-year, but the matter was referred to it at the annual meeting in the month of June. They went into it with great care. Some of the most distinguished members of the Council took part in the debates, which lasted two or three days, and after a full and careful consideration of the question they addressed a letter to the Lord President of the Council. At this late period of the Session they did not feel themselves to he in a position to consider this important subject, but they would give it their best attention, and next Session they would be prepared to state whether, in their judgment, legislation was desirable or not. The Government felt the country had a right to know next Session what course they intended to pursue, and whether they would move in the matter themselves or leave the subject to be dealt with by an independent Member.


thought the Government had adopted the best course in consulting the General Medical Council, and was glad to find that body, after long and anxious consideration, had expressed a decided opinion that women ought no longer to be excluded from the profession. After such a declaration one would hardly imagine that the existing state of things could remain unaltered.


asked, whether the Government would lay upon the Table of the House the correspondence which had passed between them and the General Medical Council on the subject?


said, he should be most happy to do so, because he thought it very desirable that the House should have full information upon it.