HC Deb 28 October 1949 vol 468 cc1668-75
Mr. Blenkinsop

I beg to move, in page 2, line 27, to leave out from "Minister," to "constitute," in line 28, and to insert "shall by order."

In moving this Amendment, to which there is a consequential Amendment, I appreciate that there was already on the Order Paper an Amendment with this purpose. We felt it desirable to put down our Amendment in slightly different words to achieve the same object: namely, to ensure that it is understood that it is the intention that the Minister shall set up a standing nurse training committee in each region and that it will not be left to his discretion whether or not he shall do so. That doubt was expressed during Second Reading.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

I am glad that the Government have seen fit to put down their two Amendments. They cover, of course, precisely the point which is covered by the Amendment which stands in the names of hon. Members on this side. I do not know why the Government have chosen a more complicated method, but, in view of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, we need not pursue the matter further, except to express our gratitude for the change which has taken place.

Amendment agreed to.

The following Amendment stood upon the Order Paper in the names of Lieut.-Colonel ELLIOT and other hon. Members:

In page 2, line 30, leave out "standing nurse-training committee," and insert "nurse-training authority."

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Bowles)

I have had to consider whether this Amendment, on which hang a large number of consequential Amendments, is within the Money Resolution. Paragraph (a) allows expenditure incurred by standing nurse training committees constituted under the said Act. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes to change the name of these committees to "nurse-training authority." This seems literally to alter the destination of the grant, but in view of the fact that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not proposing to alter the functions of the committees, but only their name, I do not think the Amendment can be said to extend the object or purpose or relax the conditions and qualifications expressed in the Money Resolution.

Before, therefore, calling the Amendment, I should like to be assured that there is no more in it than a mere change of name, otherwise I shall have to rule the Amendment out of Order. I must also point out that the Amendment is far from complete in that many of the necessary consequential Amendments are not on the Paper, and particularly the most irrinortant—namely, those to Clause 19 and the Second Schedule. That objection I am prepared also to disregard, as some of the consequential Amendments have been put down.

Mr. Assheton (City of London)

I am much obliged to you, Mr. Bowles, for what you have said and I can certainly give you the assurance for which you ask.

Mr. Linstead

I beg to move, in page 2, line 30, to leave out "standing nurse-training committee," and to insert "nurse-training authority."

May I express my gratitude to you, Mr. Bowles, for giving that favourable Ruling? I seem to be a sort of godfather this morning, for this question also is one of nomenclature and christening, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary may be more well disposed towards this Amendment. The difficulty with which it deals is one to which I drew attention during Second Reading: namely, the best name to call the new nurse-training bodies. They cannot be called boards, because we already have the regional boards; neither can we call them councils because of the existence of the General Nursing Council, who propose to refer to these new bodies as "committees."

The real difficulty, particularly if these bodies operate territorially within regions, is that they may be regarded as subordinate bodies of the regional boards. Clearly, that is not so, although they operate within the same areas. It is desirable, therefore, to find an alternative name to "committee" which indicates that they are autonomous bodies within their regions and operating on their own authority. Within the very limited range of nouns available, the name "authority" commends itself to the Royal College of Nursing, who suggest that that description puts the new bodies in their best perspective. I do not need to say anything further as the point is, I am sure, quite clear to the Parliamentary Secretary.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Again, as the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead) has said, we are discussing a question of nomenclature, but that does not mean that it is not important. It is important to get as effective and useful a name as we can. I am not sure that we have a name here that meets our difficulties. It may clarify the point raised by the hon. Member for Putney that the use of the word "committee" may suggest that it is a committee of the regional hospital board, but the word "authority" raises new problems. The body that really is the training authority is presumably the hospital, and not this body which links, together the hospital where the training is being done with the General Nursing Council.

After thinking this over carefully, I have come to the conclusion that, while I appreciate the objective and welcome any discussion and consideration of this matter, I fear that it raises problems equal in difficulty to those we are trying to overcome. While not wishing to deter anyone from considering between now, and the Report stage any other noun that might be suitable, I feel we are not making any real advance by this suggestion, and for that reason I am not able to accept the Amendment.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I appreciate what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, and I do not imagine that my hon. Friend will wish to press this matter further, in view of the hon. Gentleman's sympathetic tone. There is one point which has not yet been fully brought to the attention of the Committee, and that is the unfortunate use of the word "standing" in this connection. I may be regarded as facetious in saying that the juxta- position of the word "standing" and "nurse" may lead to comments, but such comments should be avoided if possible in this connection. I do not see any particular use for the word "standing" here, and I suggest to the Government that if they cannot see their way to substitute some other word for "committee," they should consider the omission of the word "standing."

Mr. Skinnard (Harrow, East)

I reinforce the argument used by the hon. Member for South Hendon (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) because the way out is either to use some such alternative as "permanent" in place of "standing" or to put the latter word where it naturally belongs, before the word "committee," so that it would be a "nurse-training standing committee," if only for the sake of the usual way of putting these things, and if we must have that objectionable term. It has caused a lot of hilarity in other connections for a number of years, and when we are trying to use as dignified a nomenclature as we can, why should we retain anything which might lead to further hilarity?

Mr. Howard (Westminster, St. George's)

May I remind the Parliamentary Secretary that when this matter was raised in another place, the representative of the Government said: I do not like the term 'standing nurse-training committee.' I do not think there will be objection to a change in name, if a suitable one can be found which will show the difference between the Council on the one hand, and the regional hospital boards on the other. I do not press the point because I appreciate the difficulty in finding the right name, but it would be helpful if the Parliamentary Secretary would make perfectly clear the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead) that these regional committees will not be subordinate to the regional hospital board but will be separate and distinct bodies with a separate and distinct function. If the hon. Gentleman will make that clear from the Treasury Bench, it will do as much as anything else to get over these difficulties.

Mr. Assheton

I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be good enough to meet the point made so well by the hon. Member for Westminster, St. George's (Mr. Howard). In addition, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is sympathetic to the object of the Amendment and I believe that between now and the Report stage some solution may be found of this little problem. I hope, therefore, that when the hon. Gentleman replies he will say that between now and then he will do his best to find a solution.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I am only too willing to reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Westminster, St. George's (Mr. Howard). It is perfectly clear that these standing committees are entirely independent of the regional hospital boards. They will have upon them representatives of the regional hospital boards, as they will have representatives of the boards of governors of the teaching hospitals and others. It is quite clear, however, that they are quite independent and that there is no intention that they should be in any way committees of the regional hospital boards. On the use of the word "standing," I should have thought that "standing committee" was a dignified connotation because we have Standing Committees of this House—

Mr. Skinnard

Not Standing Members' Committees of this House.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I should not have thought that would have caused much difficulty. However, if we can think of any better phraseology to use, I shall be only too ready to consider it.

Mr. Linstead

In view of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, and before the standing committees begin to sit, I hope we shall find another word to put before the hon. Gentleman and, in the light of that possibility, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I beg to move, in page 2, line 31, to leave out "that area," and to insert: each hospital area; and before making an order under this subsection with respect to any such area the Minister shall consult with the Council. This Amendment is consequential upon making these regional committees obligatory upon the Minister.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Diamond

I beg to move, in page 3, line 15, at the beginning, to insert: The Council may subject to such conditions as they may think fit delegate authority to. This Amendment deals with that part of the Clause under which the Council may authorise standing nurse-training committees to conduct examinations on behalf of the Council. The delegation of that authority is a matter upon which the Council must use the greatest possible circumspection and may desire to make the most precise and carefully-thought-out conditions. It is on the assumption that the present subsection does not necessarily give the Council power to make those conditions at the time of making the authority, that this Amendment is moved.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I do not think there is anything between us on this issue and it is really a matter of drafting. I am advised that there would be no restriction upon the General Nursing Council imposing any reasonable conditions in the use of this power, and it is obviously right that they should do so. Here, to some extent, we are departing from past practice and ensuring the right of regional committees to hold examinations. It is only proper that that should be done under such reasonable conditions as the General Nursing Council should decide and specify.

I am assured that there is no difficulty within the existing words of the Bill in providing for that, and that the General Nursing Council could in fact impose limitations of time, or such other conditions as they might wish. I am, however, quite prepared to look at the matter to make sure, but, from the information I have before me, it seems quite clear that the power is already there. For that reason, I do not think it necessary to accept the additional wording proposed by my hon. Friend.

Mrs. Manning

Would this allow the General Nursing Council to impose conditions of standardisation over the country?

Mr. Howard

I wish to support the view put forward by the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond). It is most important that we should have clearly set out in the Bill that the question of what type of examination is to be carried out and the conditions under which it is to be carried out must be the responsibility of the supervising body of the General Nursing Council. It may be that the words in the Bill at present if requested by the Council so to do are adequate, but there are fears about it, not merely in the General Nursing Council, but throughout the whole nursing profession. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will look at this again very carefully, because I am not entirely satisfied that the wording is right. In view of his undertaking that if the wording is found not to be right, better words will be introduced on Report stage, I do not wish to pursue the matter further.

Mrs. Manning

This makes me a little anxious, because I think that here, as in examinations for other professions, there must be some method of standardising, although that is not quite the word to describe what I mean. In the United States of America different examinations take place in different States and are not acceptable as between one State and another. We do not want a similar system here, as it might put one regional committee in a bad position compared with the rest. There must be the overall authority of the General Nursing Council on the question of standardisation, as well as on other conditions.

Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)

I hope the Minister will look very carefully at this matter again. As we all know, there is a great shortage of nurses and we also know it might be possible for the regional hospital board in an area to speak with considerable authority on the standing nurse-training committee and use a good deal of influence. If in one region the standard of examination were to be reduced, it would perhaps be much easier for that authority to secure nurses. I agree that the nursing examination is much too theoretical at present and needs to be made much more practical, but I feel that the same standard should be maintained by all the standing nurse-training committees.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. Diamond

I am most grateful for the comments made on both sides of the Committee and those made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, because I think they have proved to the hilt the necessity of making clear beyond any doubt that the Nursing Council should have power to delegate authority to conduct examinations with the most precise conditions as to standardisation and standard of examination, and anything else which from experience they deem neces- sary. The Parliamentary Secretary has said that he is assured that the words give the General Nursing Council the powers they seek by this Amendment, and he has also been good enough to make assurance doubly sure. I do not wish to detract one tittle from the assurance he gave us that he will be good enough to look into the matter yet again, and presumably if he finds his first assurance was not fully justified, he will be prepared at a later stage to bring in words which would serve the purpose on which, obviously, we are all agreed.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I wish to add a word. We have been satisfied that within the wording of the Bill as it stands, the General Nursing Council remains entirely responsible for examinations to be carried out and can standardise them throughout the country. The Clause refers to any examination prescribed by rules made by the Council, which reinforces my view that it is entirely within the power of the General Nursing Council in authorising the regional committee to carry out examinations to impose whatever conditions they consider desirable and necessary. I am quite willing between now and the Report stage to look at this again to make doubly sure that there is no difficulty in the matter.

Mr. Diamond

In view of that double assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.