HC Deb 22 June 1943 vol 390 cc1090-6
Mr. Johnston

I beg to move, in page 9, line 36, to leave out from the beginning to the second "the," in line 38, and to insert: In order that persons enrolled as assistant nurses, who have at any time before their admission to the roll undergone training with a view to qualifying for admission to the register, but have not so quailfied, may be encouraged so to qualify. This Amendment on the Order Paper in the Government's name is designed to fulfil a promise that I made on Second Reading. We quite recognise that here again there are strong differences of opinion in the nursing profession, and I quite recognise that there are apprehensions in certain sections of the nursing profession that the Clause as originally drafted was too wide in its terms. I promised on the Second Reading of the Bill to limit this application to nurses who had already undergone some part of their State training. May I try to explain? I take one case that comes within my knowledge. There is a lady who had some part of her State training. She married an Air Force officer, who has died. She joined the Civil Nursing Reserve, and is now in it earning somewhere about £70 per annum plus, of course, keep, clothing and other emoluments. Now we want to urge this lady and hundreds of others to qualify themselves for the full State registered nurse grade. It is highly desirable in the national interest that we get the maximum number of these girls on to the full State register, but if I say to this girl, "Please continue your training," she says, first of all to me, "Under the existing rules I have got to begin at the beginning again, and the training I have had goes for nothing." That is bad enough, but then it appears to be the case that this girl, if she wants to qualify for the full State registered nurse grade, has to come down from her present £70 salary to £45. That is no encouragement to secure the maximum volume of new recruits to the complete certificate grade, and we are very anxious Indeed to encourage as many of these girls as possible to continue their training. We have limited this Clause to girls who have already had some training. As the Clause was drafted originally it did not only apply to girls who have had some part of their training, but to girls who had undergone training for enrolment to the assistant nurses grade. That was felt in some quarters to be unduly wide. We have accepted that, though there is a strong body of opinion that feels otherwise. We had the choice again between two bodies of opinion. I think it is necessary that we should do everything possible to augment the roll of State registered nurses. I beg the Committee to let us have this Clause. What is it? We only say that the General Nursing Council "shall," not "may," make a rule or regulation permitting girls who have already undergone part of their training in previous hospital experience or something else to allow that previous experience to count towards their final training and certificate.

Mr. Francis Beattie (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Does that apply to the V.A.D.s who have done training?

Mr. Johnston

No, I think it does not, but certainly it applies to every girl who is now on the Assistant Nurses Roll.

Mr. Beattie

If a V.A.D. has had two years' training in nursing, surely she is qualified if she can pass the necessary examination and transfer herself to become an assistant nurse with a view to becoming a State registered nurse?

Mr. Johnston

That raises another question. I will try to find out for my hon. Friend before the Debate is over whether V.A.D.s are included.

Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)

It is surely a question of whether the training she has justifies her in sitting for the examination. She cannot become an assistant nurse unless she passes an examination. She cannot pass the examination unless she has had a period of training provided in the Bill.

Mr. Johnston

So far as my information goes, this Clause is only available to benefit girls who have at some time or other undertaken part of the training for the grade of State registered nurse.

Mr. Messer

The prescribed training?

Mr. Johnston

I think so, but I will find out accurately before the Debate is over and let my hon. Friend know. Let us see where we are going from here. The Royal College of Nursing took a sample test—at least I think it was a sample test —of over 1,000 cases of nurses who would be eligible to get on to the assistant nurses' roll to see what their experience had been. What did they find? They found over 800, I think 860 of them, out of 1,031 had actually undertaken part of their training as State qualified nurses at some time or other. Here, surely, is the finest body of recruits we can get for the roll of fully qualified nurses—girls who have undergone part of the training, and for one reason or other, perhaps because of getting married or some other reason have dropped it, or perhaps failed in the initial examination. Surely there is the finest recruiting ground we can have to relieve what is the great shortage in the nursing profession at present. We are more short of nurses than in England, very much, and I would only say this: Since this proposed Amendment has been put down I have reason to believe that the Scottish section of the Royal College of Nursing are prepared to accept it, and there is no Amendment to it down on the Order Paper. I have received no representation whatever from any quarter against this proposed Amendment as it. now stands, and I cordially commend it to the Committee.

Sir Samuel Chapman (Edinburgh, South)

In the concluding words which my right hon. Friend uttered he said, I think, that he assumed that the nurses of the Royal College of Nursing were perfectly satisfied with the Clause. He need doubt it no longer, because I had the pleasure of a large deputation to see me a fortnight ago. We went into the whole question after the discussion in this House. My right hon. Friend has carried out his promise. I have a letter in my hand from the Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Edinburgh Branch. I will read an extract from it that will satisfy my right hon. Friend that he is doing the right thing. It reads: We have had an opportunity of seeing the redraft of Clause 14 and now feel that the dangerous implications which were causing us so much anxiety have been removed in the Secretary's new draft, and we are indeed grateful to him for his consideration in this matter. So far as I am concerned, that finishes any criticism I had, and I heartily support the Clause and thank the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Storey

I want to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the Amendment. It meets the main criticism which led to the later Amendment in my name and that of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Lin-stead), to leave out the Clause. This I do not now propose to move. We welcome the Amendment, and the Clause now is acceptable.

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

I am glad that the Secretary of State has been able to find words which meet with the approval of those who previously had doubts about this Clause, A letter which I have received from the Royal College of Nursing says: We feel that our objection to the Clause can be withdrawn and are prepared to accept the new wording proposed by Mr. Johnston. It is clear that we shall accept the Amendment, and that the Clause will be passed in its new form. Only one doubt remains in the minds of certain people. That is whether the step we are taking will enable us properly to march with the nursing profession in England. The question of equal qualification still troubles a number of people. The point is whether nurses can cross the Border and be accepted in the profession on similar terms. The Secretary of State did not touch that point, and I wonder whether he could give the Committee some assurance on it. That would be welcomed not only by those of us who have been trying to find our way about in connection with this Bill, but by those outside who are interested in the matter.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and I are very concerned about the tributes which are being paid to the Minister. We consider it necessary to draw attention to one feature which I know will be the last thing to concern Members opposite, but which will concern Members on this side. A deputation of nurses came here to see an hon. Member, and as he was not here the policeman handed them over to my care. I introduced them to the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil), and in no time there was nearly a public riot over the subject referred to in this Clause.

Sir S. Chapman

One of the nurses who came down has written this letter to me.

Mr. Gallacher

Seven were here, and probably one of them has written a letter, after seeing the Amendment. I can assure the Committee that there was a very tense and difficult situation between the hon. Member for Greenock and these nurses over this question. The Secretary of State said that one of the difficulties was that these assistant nurses, if they had to start from the beginning would go back from £70 to £45. How the Secretary of State can say that without a shudder, passes my comprehension. Is it not clear that one of the measures for ensuring elimination of the difficulties must be to make the minimum £70? How can we discuss such a reward for services of the kind that are given? It may seem a lot of money to the poor fellows on the other side—and so they make no reference to it—but I think that the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs and I speak for most Members on this side when we say, "Get away from the £45 as soon as possible, and you will solve most of the difficulties between the State nurses and the assistant nurses."

Mr. Johnston

With permission, I should like to answer the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). He is completely mistaken. What we are trying to do is to cut clown the period which the nurse will have to wait before she gets £100 a year. We are not cutting down her money at all; we are going in an entirely opposite direction.

Mr. Gallacher

But the right hon. Gentleman said it would be reduced.

Mr. Johnston

No, the hon. Member does not understand. A student nurse begins at £45, plus, of course, her board, uniform, clothing, and all the rest. Whether that is adequate or not does not arise on this Clause. This Clause compels the General Nursing Council, not to send a nurse back from £70 to £45, but to shorten the period before this nurse, who is at present getting £70, will get £100. Therefore, the hon. Member's remarks fall flat.

Mr. Gallacher

But the Minister's argument was that the amount would be reduced.

Mr. Johnston

No, I was endeavouring to show that under existing conditions the nurse who wanted to complete her training would have to drop from £70 to £45. I am trying to stop it. The hon. Gentleman completely misunderstands what we are doing here. He is so anxious to score a political debating point that he has not taken the trouble to understand the Bill or the Clause. He cannot get away with stories like that. As for the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers), who asks about reciprocity between Scotland and England, that is provided for in the Bill. That is one of the reasons why we fixed a five-year period to allow Parliament to consider the matter further. It is true that a girl who joined in England can go to serve in Scotland, and that a girl who started in Scotland may go to serve in England. There is not complete uniformity in salary—in some grades Scotland is better, in some Scotland is worse—but we are not trying to iron out all these inequalities in this Bill. I am trying to get a greatly augmented roll of fully-qualified nurses in Scotland. That is all that is in this Bill, and I submit that we are giving effect to that policy.

Mr. Messer


The Chairman (Major Milner)

I hope the hon. Gentleman is not going to continue the Debate on the rather wide lines adopted by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher).

Mr. Messer

I was going to remove a wrong impression. There are two categories of nurses. When the Bill becomes law, there will be the assistant nurse, who does not at present exist. The assistant nurse is to start at £70 a year. The student nurse starts at the lower figure of £45. The Bill provides that an assistant nurse, after her period of training, may count that period without reduction in her salary.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 15 to 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.