HC Deb 01 July 1949 vol 466 cc1743-7
Mr. Bing

I beg to move, in page 2, line 27, at the beginning, to insert: In order to remove doubts it is hereby declared that. Perhaps it would be convenient if, at the same time, we were to discuss the Amendment in page 2, line 30, to leave out "shall be," and to insert "is."

In the first place, I think I ought to make this apology to the House. I think, from the way in which the last Amendment was dealt with, Members felt, and very justifiably felt, perhaps, that they did not have an adequate opportunity of hearing the reasons for the points of view put forward. I blame myself, in part, for that in that I did not put down these Amendments earlier, and I think we also owe an apology to you, Mr. Speaker.

The Bill itself came out only on the Wednesday afternoon and some of us, with other activities, were rather tired by that time. There was no possibility whatever of having those various consultations which were necessary before we framed these Amendments. Therefore, the Amendments which stand on the Order Paper are just a day old and hon. Members were first presented with them when they came in this morning. My hon. Friends and I owe an apology to the House for that, but it is one of those things which cannot be helped and perhaps one of those things which resulted from the rather unfortunate and undue hurrying forward of this Measure. It might have been better had the matter been left with the possibility of further discussion. There are all sorts of questions involved and it is rather unfortunate to have to deal with them at this very late stage.

Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)

Is this the explanation of the Clause which the hon. Member is making?

Mr. Bing

I am sorry; perhaps I ought to apologise to the hon. Lady. I do not want to detain the House unnecessarily, but in view of what has been said I thought it would shorten the time if I made an apology and explanation first instead of waiting for hon. Members to ask for it one after the other. I am very sorry, indeed, and now I see I am caught between two fires because I have to attempt to make an apology to the hon. Lady while I am on my feet. If any other hon. Member wants to interrupt, perhaps he will do so at this point.

The principal objects and matters involved in the Clause are of some considerable importance, because, although I do not think that the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) or my hon. Friend realises it, what they have done is to put in peril every single midwife in the country. What they are inviting us to do is to say now that it is legal for midwives to administer analgesia. Up to now there has never been any suggestion that it was illegal.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I am sure that the hon. Member wants to expedite our proceedings. If it would help him to do so, I should like to say that I am prepared to accept all his Amendments which appear on the Order Paper.

Mr. Bing

I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say so, but in view of what has been said we ought not to let the House part with the Bill simply like that. This is by no means the last day for the consideration of Private Members' Bills. Other Private Members and I have for a long time seen the titles of our Bills appear on the Paper day after day, which gives one great encouragement to know that the matter is still alive.

The difficulty which we are in really ought to be canvassed, because a quite unfair attack has been made on my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. It has been suggested from time to time that he has allowed proposals for the analgesia service to go forward without ever doing anything about it; that whilst the whole of this Bill has been urgently needed the Minister of Health has sat still and done nothing at all. The most instructive thing one can do is to look at the Reports of the discussions in Committee of the Clauses dealing with analgesia in the National Health Service (Scotland) Bill. On that Committee sat the noble Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Tweedsmuir). At that time it was actually said—

Mr. Speaker

If that Committee is still upstairs, we have no knowledge of it and it cannot be quoted here.

Mr. Bing

You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, of my difficulties in referring to Committees upstairs, but that one, fortunately, has reported. On that Committee the hon. Gentleman—I am in some difficulty about exactly how to describe him, for the Scottish Universities have so well chosen their Members that if I refer to one by the title of hon. and gallant I refer automatically to another; by referring to a Member by a title of chivalry I include also another; and if I refer to somebody as a Privy Councillor, yet another is involved. I cannot refer to the "Senior" or "Junior" Member because in this case there are three. If the House will excuse me, therefore, I will refer to the hon. Gentleman as the intermediate Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Graham Kerr.)

During the Debate in Committee on these very Clauses dealing with midwives, and when the noble Lady the Member for South Aberdeen was present, the hon. Gentleman said that this was a matter in which the Minister had complete power to do whatever he liked; and nobody interfered. My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) dealt later with the whole question of analgesia. We have now reached the position on the Clause where we are taking a point of view that up to now everything the midwives have done to help suffering mothers has been a matter of legal doubt, and we are graciously saying that new midwives, who have received instruction, are from the passing of this Measure entitled to administer analgesia. Obviously, that must be wrong and is a grave slur on midwives as a whole and might have serious consequences. An action of some sort might arise because of the administration of analgesia on some occasion in the past, and this Bill, when it becomes an Act, could be quoted by saying that until it was passed the midwife had no authority to administer it.

Nobody more than myself pays tribute to the motives of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth, the noble Lady the Member for South Aberdeen, and my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning), who have put forward the Bill. But I honestly think that this House ought to be careful in the legislation that it passes to ensure that in its desire to provide for midwives it does not do something to put them in a worse position. We cannot now discuss Clause 2, and I refer to it only by way of illustration. Clause 2 provides, in effect, that every home for clergymen shall be fitted with analgesic apparatus. Now that is not the best method of securing its distribution throughout the country. Clause 3, which I am sure is put forward with equally good motives and with an equal desire to help, seems to be as misconceived as Clause 2, which would provide that homes for the aged and childrens' hospitals should be equipped with analgesic apparatus of a type approved by the Minister, which should also always be ready for use.

I do not want to detain the House unduly, but I must explain very shortly the object of this Amendment. We propose, if the House agrees, to insert the words: In order to remove doubts it is hereby declared that. I should be in difficulty if I tried to refer to anything now going on in a Standing Committee, and all I can say is that our proposed wording is in line with impending legislation. I leave it at that. With the addition of these words the Clause would read: In order to remove doubts it is hereby declared that any certified midwife who has received instruction"— in the manner approved by the board— in the administration of analgesia … shall be entitled to administer analgesia. in accordance therewith. Our object is to ensure that we give, as it were, a clean bill of health to the midwife, who has done a very good job in administering analgesia. In my own county of Essex, in the six months following the National Health Act, midwives administered more analgesia than was administered in the whole country in 1939. We do not want to put those people in peril; we do not want to have to tell them that, although in Essex alone the midwives in the six months I referred to did more than was done in the whole country in 1939 they have all the time been doing something illegal, and that we are thoughtful people who are coming to their rescue by passing this Bill. I hope the House will accept this Amendment and say that midwives may be assured that they have always been entitled to do what they have been doing in administering analgesia.

Mrs. Mann

I beg to second the Amendment.

It is clear from our experience in Committee that we must try to remove any ambiguity from the Bill, and this Amendment is an attempt to make everything clear. I recall that in Committee we spent a considerable time on quotations from counsel's opinion, which was that the Minister had no power to order local authorities to provide analgesia. Well, as we have learned after listening to the Debate this afternoon on the Hairdressers (Registration) Bill, counsel, like doctors, differ in their opinions. I cannot follow my hon. Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) in his experiences—

It being Four o'Clock, further consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned.

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered upon Friday next.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Bowden.]