HC Deb 04 November 1949 vol 469 cc795-800

Amendments made: In page 15, line 16, leave out "A standing," and insert "The area."

In line 36, leave out "a standing," and insert "the area."

In page 16, line 15, leave out from "area," to "to," in line 16.

In line 17, leave out "committee," and insert "area nurse-training committee for that area."

In line 20, leave out from "area," to "on," in line 21, and insert: to provide the area nurse-training committee for that area.

In line 25, leave out "a standing," and insert "an area."

In line 32, leave out "a standing," and insert "an area."

In line 34, leave out "a standing," and insert "an area."—[Mr. Blenkinsop.]

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my thanks to all Members on all sides of the House who have taken such a practical interest in this Measure. I think that we can fairly say that we have had completely dispassionate, non-party discussions and we have had the value of many constructive proposals from both sides of the House. I feel that the Bill leaves the House much better fitted to carry out its important functions.

I am sure I am speaking on behalf of the whole House in saying that we are most anxious to give every possible encouragement to the General Nursing Council in the new tasks that it undertakes, because we all recognise the importance of the work they have to do and the value to the whole of the Health Service that can come from the further improvements in nurse training which this Bill is designed to carry out. It is with that in mind that I move the Third Reading.

12.31 p.m.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

On behalf of myself and my hon. Friends I want to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for the way in which he has dealt with the points we have raised. As he has said, this Bill has been completely non-contentious in any party sense, and hon. Members in all parts of the House have done their best to improve it. We welcome the general proposal embodied in the Bill that the training of nurses shall be separated from the administration of hospitals. We regard that as a right principle, and there is no difference of opinion anywhere about it.

Before we leave the Bill, however, I must say that we on this side of the House have apprehensions, some of which I believe are shared in other parts of the House, that difficulties may arise in its working. I do not wish to say anything harsh about the Government in this connection, but I fear that they have over-simplified the position. Perhaps they have in mind what has been done in the training of doctors. I think they are disposed to think that it will be possible to set up some kindred organisation which will work as easily and as quickly.

But the medical schools and the whole organisation connected with them have grown up only over a very long period of time. That organisation is highly complex, and it would be extremely difficult to introduce a similar organisation at all quickly for the training of nurses. The circumstances are different, and I do not believe that one can be copied from the other. Indeed, I do not think the Government intend that anything of that sort should happen. It will be necessary to work out some new system by trial and error, and I fear that there will be a number of trials and a number of errors before we get a satisfactory system.

I do not wish to go over any of the ground which has been discussed fairly fully, both in Committee and on the Report stage, but I must tell the Government that we have apprehensions that there will be difficulties, and that we believe it may well be necessary for them to come back to the House and ask it to pass an amending Bill at no very distant date. In the meantime, we wish all those responsible for the administration of this Bill the best of luck. We want to see it succeed as well as is possible. If it should be necessary for the Government to come back to the House with an amending Bill, we shall recognise that this is a non-party Measure, and we hope that, whichever side of the House we may be sitting on at that time, we shall be equally united in improving the Bill.

12.34 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)

This Bill makes one more useful and desirable contribution towards improving the status of nurses and the conditions under which they carry out their very responsible and arduous duties. As has been stressed, the crux of the Bill is the separation of training from staffing, which will perhaps make it less likely that student nurses will have to devote so much of their time, as they used to in days gone by, to polishing hospital floors to such an extent that walking across the ward became a danger to life and limb.

The arrangements set out in the Bill will be to the mutual advantage of both broad classifications of hospitals; namely, the teaching hospitals and the municipal hospitals, as they used to be called. Both kinds of hospital will eventually gain from the co-ordination that is likely to be brought about as a result of this Bill. In my constituency there are both kinds of hospital, and for that reason I welcome the assurance given at an earlier stage by the Parliamentary Secretary that the General Nursing Council was not likely to make such demands upon the teaching hospitals as would diminish the very high standards they have already attained.

Personally, I attach considerable importance to the enlarged functions and responsibilities of the General Nursing Council, and I hope that the nursing profession will take advantage of the opportunity provided by the Bill to alter and modify the previous set-up on the General Nursing Council. In Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond) reminded us that of the 16 elected members on the General Nursing Council, no fewer than nine were matrons. Now that represents a very formidable panoply of matrons. I think "panoply" is probably the best collective noun to use in connection with our hospital matrons. Although in recent weeks it has become the fashion in this House to make election speeches, I hope the House will forgive me if I suggest that the nurses themselves—and no one can dictate to them on the subject—now have an opportunity of remedying the unbalance—to use another fashionable word—which has hitherto existed on the General Nursing Council.

The Parliamentary Secretary, realising the situation, made it clear that he was both anxious and willing to see that the point of view of, for example, the ward sister was represented on the General Nursing Council. Knowing that that was unlikely in the formative stages during which the provisions of this Bill will be implemented, he has introduced at least that small element of rigidity into the set-up which will guarantee that at least one ward sister will sit on the General Nursing Council. In this connection, I hope that neither the regional boards nor the hospital governors will deter any ward sister, or any other member of what I might describe as the lower ranks of the nursing hierarchy, from endeavouring to get elected to the General Nursing Council.

The fact that in the Bill the Minister specifies that at least one place shall be allotted to a ward sister does not mean that a larger number cannot be elected by the free vote of their fellow members. If the nursing profession itself takes advantage of the opportunities now available to it under this Bill it will help to make the General Nursing Council more truly representative of the nursing profession as a whole than it has perhaps been in the past. The fact that the election of one ward sister has been prescribed does not of course mean that a stronger dose may not be desirable if the voters in the various regions choose to have a stronger representation of what I have described as the lower ranks of the nursing hierarchy.

This Bill will make a useful and valuable contribution towards the objects which hon. Members in all parts of the House have in mind and will, I am sure, work out to the satisfaction of all concerned. I do not think that the apprehensions which have been expressed by hon. Members who have already spoken today will prove justified. I am quite certain that this Bill will achieve the purposes it sets out to achieve and that the Government are to be congratulated upon having secured the passage of this useful Measure.

12.41 p.m.

Mr. Diamond

I should like to say how grateful I am to the Parliamentary Secretary, and I hope I shall not be out of Order in saying how grateful I am not only to him but to his officials for the assistance which they have given and which has resulted in what we regard, with one minor exception, as a very useful Measure appearing on the Statute Book. This has indeed been a most helpful discussion and one which I snail always remember as being the most non-party discussion I have listened to in this House.

I think it will interest hon. Members opposite if I tell them that all their speeches on Second Reading and on the Committee stage have been read with the greatest interest and the greatest appreciation, and that the only doubt which has been expressed to me was expressed by one matron who, having read all the speeches, said, "There is only one thing you cannot tell and that is, from which side of the House they were speaking." That is a very pleasant compliment to those who have been concerned, as we are all concerned, with improving the training of nurses.

I should like to answer my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) who referred not to a covey or a brace but to a "panoply" of matrons. I thought he was going to use another noun of multitude and start talking about a "murmuration" of matrons. I am glad he did not permit himself to go that far. I want to ask him to bear in mind that every matron who sits upon the General Nursing Council has been a sister herself, and I am sure he will not ask that when a sister is appointed to the Nursing Council she should debar herself from being appointed at any later stage as a matron in her own or any other hospital.

I hope we realise that there is no likelihood of there being any unbalanced view in the General Nursing Council. I agree with hon. Members who suggest that we are embarking on a new experiment and I am sure we shall need every help from all sides in carrying it out in the most useful way. I hope that if ever we have to discuss this matter again it will be discussed in the same helpful and nonparty spirit which has characterised these debates.

Finally, I say that although the main purpose of this Bill was to provide machinery and not primarily to increase the numbers who enter this profession, I am sure that the appreciation for the nursing profession which has been shown on all sides of the House and the regard in which we all hold nurses cannot do other than encourage young women who have this great possibility within them of healing and helping the sick, to come forward and join in this most useful work.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.