HC Deb 15 May 1950 vol 475 cc895-906
Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 41, to leave out from "midwives," to the end of line 42.

This is a very simple Amendment which, I hope, will give more flexibility to the Clause. The purpose of the subsection is to give extended powers to the Central Midwives Board, but I feel that the inclusion of the words which I suggest should be deleted would actually limit the authority of the Board and give the right to the midwife to accept or reject the rules of the Board. It would be far better to leave it to the Board to draw up the rules and provide the amount of flexibility it thinks fit.

There is a second point. In conferring this absolute right upon a midwife to wear the national uniform, we are giving that right irrespective of rules framed by the Board, and there is more than a chance that this may create difficulties and confusion, for instance, with midwives in municipal service. The custom has been for each local authority to supply a uniform of its own design and colour to all outdoor nurses, including midwives. When the municipal midwifery service was set up in Glasgow, the uniform was the usual green uniform which was already very well known and very much liked there. "The Green Lady" is a well known term in Glasgow, the work done by the nurses was appreciated and they stood very high in public esteem. The municipal midwives inherited that fine tradition when they took over the uniform. If the Bill goes through in its present form, it would appear that municipal midwives, particularly in Glasgow, could, if they so desired, insist on being supplied with the national uniform, and we should then find confusion as a result of two uniforms being worn in the same service. I hope that the Minister will agree to the deletion of these words, which will make the matter clearer, and leave it to the Central Midwives Board to come to whatever arrangements they like with the local authorities.

Dr. Hill (Luton)

I hope that the Committee will not accept the Amendment. The arguments used by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) were two-fold. He argued, first, that the Clause interferes with the power of the Central Midwives Board. I fail to understand that. The main purpose of the Clause is to give the Board power to frame rules covering the uniform, and the Board having utilised that power and designed a uniform—this is neither the place nor the time to contemplate the possibilities of what the uniform might be—surely it is a reasonable addition, which was made in another place, that the midwives should have the right to wear the uniform should they so desire. I do not appreciate the point that for the work of the Board in designing the uniform, to find expression in the wearing of the uniform by mid-wives, would in any way limit the power of the Board. It would seem to give it expression, artistic or otherwise, in the form of uniforms being worn.

One can appreciate the second part of the argument which the hon. Member put forward, that for the right to be given to the midwife to wear the nationally approved uniform would mean some conflict between local uniforms—if I may without impertinence use the word "local" in relation to the city of Glasgow—and the national uniform. On balance, I think it right that at a time when everybody desires that the status of the midwife should be recognised there should be a national uniform which midwives anywhere can wear. On balance, I think that such a nationally adopted and worn uniform is to be preferred to the competition, the conflict and the efforts of local health authorities.

The words which were added in another place seem to be a sensible and reasonable addition to the Clause. If the Clause empowers the Board to create a national uniform it is reasonable and sensible that, the uniform having been designed, mid-wives should be permitted as of right to wear it, which in practice would mean, I admit, that where local health authorities desired their midwives to wear a uniform, it would be the national uniform because I believe that midwives generally would adopt the uniform.

I hope that the Minister will resist the Amendment. I notice a number of Amendments on the Order Paper in the name of the Minister and, bearing in mind that this was raised on Second Reading, I feel sure—I hope I am right in feeling sure—that the Minister would not have dodged the issue by refraining from putting an Amendment on the Order Paper in his own name and accepting an Amendment put down in this way to deal with it. I sincerely hope that the Minister will resist this attempt to remove the added words and that the Committee will regard those words as reasonable and sensible and, indeed, as the logical conclusion to the Clause.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

The Amendment is sponsored by the City of Glasgow. Those of us whose names are put to it were asked to express the point of view of the Glasgow Corporation, which has definite views and a definite tradition in these matters. The words to which they object are the words which make this permissive— and which they shall have the right to wear should they so desire. If there is to be any uniform, does this Clause give the right to people to contract out? What would we say if other branches of the Services had that right? Would this same principle, for example, affect the Services and would some be allowed to contract out of the wearing of the uniform while others would not have that right?

The view of the City of Glasgow is that this is now a recognised public service and that we are far removed from the ideas of private enterprise symbolised by Mrs. Gamp. We believe that this uniform recognises a definite service, and that this recognised uniform should be as respected as the uniform of the Police Force or of the Fire Service or of any of the other necessary and honoured public services.

Again, there arises the question of how this would affect the expense. If some people decide not to wear the uniform the expense might have to be borne by others. Those of us who have put down this Amendment have been guided by the experience of the members of the Glasgow Corporation, and we hope it will commend itself to the Minister.

Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)

I hope the Minister will not accept this Amendment, which seems to me quite wrong. It is reasonable that midwives should be able to wear the national uniform when they so desire. Surely it will be less expensive if there is a national uniform because, when midwives move from one district to another, they do not have to get a fresh uniform or be provided with one. This profession is gradually arising from a Sairey Gamp type to that of an honourable profession, and in most of the professions a uniform can be worn if so desired. It is a great advantage that not only people in Glasgow but people all over the country should recognise the importance and value of "The Green Lady." We are able, wherever we may be, to recognise the postmen and the firemen by their national uniforms, and it is equally desirable that midwives should have a special uniform so that they can be recognised wherever they go in the course of carrying out their important and merciful duties.

5.15 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Miss Herbison)

From the Debate which has taken place it would seem that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the words which this Amendment seeks to leave out. They were added to this Clause in another place. We feel that they are open to objection. They purport to give to mid-wives, including those in the service of the Crown and of hospital boards, as well as those in the service of local authorities, a right to wear the midwives uniform irrespective of any conditions of service entailing the wearing of some other uniform.

On the one side there is the argument that these words interfere with the power of the Central Midwives Board and, on the other side, that they do not interfere with that power. Neither the Department of Health for Scotland nor the Ministry of Health for England and Wales feel strongly on this point, but we feel that it is an undesirable interference in a matter which is better left to arrangement or negotiation between employer and employees. If the words proposed to be left out were left out, the matter would be left either to arrangement or negotiation between employers and employees.

However, as I said at the beginning, there seems to be doubt in the minds of hon. Members whether the words that were added in another place really secure to the midwives the right claimed for them. That is one reason why we are glad that this Amendment has been put down because, before this Bill actually reaches the Statute Book, we should like it to be clear that the words added in another place secure the right to mid-wives which was suggested in another place.

Even if it were true that they did secure that right, the words now proposed to be left out would be objectionable as leaving the precise extent of the rights of the midwives in considerable doubt. On all counts, therefore, we are willing to accept this Amendment. There is only one further point. It has been suggested that nurses in other nursing professions have this right, but the words originally in the Bill, without the addition of these new words, gave the same right to mid-wives as the Nursing Act gave to all the other nurses in Great Britain.

Miss Horsbrugh (Manchester, Moss Side)

I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Lady who said that the Department of Health for Scotland and the Ministry of Health for England and Wales have no strong feelings on this subject. I can assure her that we all gathered that because of the fact that this addition was made on 30th March, the official Amendments were on the Paper last week, and it was not until this morning that an Amendment to leave out those words appeared.

Secondly, the hon. Lady has said that she is not quite sure if these words will really give the right to the midwives intended by those in another place and by my hon. Friends on both sides of the Committee who have spoken this afternoon. If that is the case, I suggest that before Report stage the hon. Lady should consult her advisers and that words should be put down in an Amendment to give midwives the right of being able to wear their national uniform. We have heard that the Ministry have no strong feeling about the matter, and, also, that they are in some doubt as to whether these words really give, as we want to give, this right to the midwives. Those are the first two points.

Now we come to the main point: Do we want the midwives to have this right? The hon. Lady said that her Department and the Ministry of Health were not minded one way or the other, but many people have thought quite seriously about this. It is a small detail, I agree, but during the Second Reading of the Bill hon. Member after hon. Member said, "We want to build up this service. We want to say to midwives, 'You are now a national service. Certain changes are being made, and we wish this to be a gesture to show that we now regard the midwives' profession as a national service'". Because of that, it was thought that the Central Midwives Board could design a uniform.

Having said that we want to give the midwives this national outlook. We want people to look upon them as a national service and having written into the Bill that the Central Midwives Board can design a uniform, it seems a little strange that we should then leave the position in this vague way, after being told this afternoon that the City of Glasgow do not wish this uniform to be worn.

I wish that the hon. Lady would take this matter back for further consideration. I have consulted nurses' associations and a good many people, and until I heard today from hon. Members opposite that one local authority—although a very big one, I agree—does not want the national uniform, I had not heard a single objection to it. We have learned that the Ministry have no great feelings either way, and if it is merely a question of the words not being correct, it should not be beyond the power of the two Departments, if they wish to allow the midwives to have what they are asking for, to devise words, before the Report stage, which would achieve for the mid-wives all that we have promised for them and show them to be a national service.

Mr. Messer (Tottenham)

I want to reinforce the appeal that this matter be reconsidered, whatever happens to the Amendment this afternoon. If the Amendment is accepted, I can see no purpose whatever in the Clause.

Mr. Blenkinsop


Mr. Messer

It is a matter of what one can see. Those in the Ministry and behind the drafting can see all sorts of things which those who are not permitted to enter the holy of holies cannot see.

We are giving to the Central Midwives Board the power to make rules and to design uniforms, but if these words are omitted we are, in effect, saying that although they can do this no midwife can claim the right of wearing the uniform. The weakness is contained in that giving of the right. I can understand that there may be something to be said for qualifying that right; that Glasgow, for instance, might say that conflict may arise, but I am not sure that that would not happen if the Amendment were accepted. If midwives are to be given a national uniform, what will happen unless we tell them that they can exercise their right to wear it?

Mr. Blenkinsop

The nurses——

Mr. Messer

I am speaking about mid-wives; nurses are very different. Let anyone ask a midwife if she is prepared to be on the same grade as a nurse, and hear her reply. She considers that she is a member of a profession, and that nurses have not yet attained that dignity. We are dealing with a body of women who, very gradually and very slowly, have been able to attain a position where they are now recognised as a specialist branch of the Health Service. Incidentally, midwives do, not merely the field work or the domiciliary work, but hospital work as well. If there is to be a national uniform, of what use will that uniform be if we say, by the Bill, that those who ought to be entitled to wear it, have no right to claim that entitlement?

I hope that the Minister can settle this apparent conflict. The Amendment ought to be taken back so that the words can be reconsidered with a view to reconciling the existing difficulty of saying, in effect, that the midwives are entitled to wear the national uniform but not giving them, by the Bill, the right to do so.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

I began by being mildly in favour of the Amendment, but when I heard the speech of the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State I was really astonished. This is a matter which has been canvassed over a fairly considerable time, and one on which those concerned have expressed quite strong views. The midwives and their organisations certainly hold strong views about this matter, whatever may be the views of the Ministry of Health and the Department of Health for Scotland. If the Government were to hold a view which is clearly quite different from that of the midwives, both organised and individually, they should have expressed that view rather earlier in the day and not when discussing a starred Amendment on the Floor of the Chamber. I do not know whether the Bill is to complete its passage today or whether the Report Stage is to be held at a later date——

Mr. Blenkinsop indicated assent.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I see that the Parliamentary Secretary agrees. There will, therefore, be some further opportunity to consider this matter. Even so, the hon. Lady who spoke from the Government Bench said, "We feel that these words are open to objection." If that is the considered view of the Government, it is a most extraordinary way to make it known. They have put down no Amendment of their own, taken no action, and given no warning to the Opposition or to anyone concerned. They have merely expressed this view on the Floor at a very late hour.

We on this side are twitted with forcing "snap" decisions on the House. If ever there was a "snap" decision, this is it. If the Government do not give any idea of what is in their minds until a few minutes before the decision has to be taken, they cannot really complain if we on this side occasionally do the same thing the other way round. I do not know what is the Government's attitude. At the moment, this would appear to be a back-bench Amendment which has the benevolent support of the Government. Is it intended that it should now be regarded as an official Amendment in the name of the Government; or if a Division is to follow, will it be a free vote or are the Government Whips to be on? This is a matter of some importance. I do not suppose that the Government would resign if they were defeated on this, but there are quite a lot of ladies who regard this issue as being very important indeed.

I ask the Government not to treat any decision which is arrived at this afternoon as one which will affect the matter one way or the other. Quite clearly, we must consult our constituents and those who are interested, and it may be that we shall come to a very different decision in the light of what they have to tell us following today's Debate.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Messer

In my speech I said "the Clause," I meant the reference to uniform in the Clause.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I only rise to utter three sentences, but I think they should be uttered. I am glad that the hon. baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) is about to add his name to the Motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield (Mr. Blackburn) who, I am sure, will welcome his agreement. The Amendment has been put forward on one ground and we are asked by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to accept it on a completely different ground. It was said that the Amendment was put forward because the City of Glasgow wanted to keep its green uniform. That means that other authorities may want separate uniforms and we shall have green for Glasgow, blue for Horsham, violet for the Orkneys, buff for Orpington, primrose for Beaconsfield, and so on. That goes completely to the root of the matter, that there should be a national uniform. That is point number one.

My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary suggested that the Government would not be disappointed if the House were to accept the Amendment because when there words were put in in another place, no one found out what they meant and we are not quite sure now what they mean. I do not regard that as unusual in regard to proceedings in another place, but it does not seem good enough for us.

Another point which should be made before this discussion ends—and I welcome the suggestion by the right hon. Lady the Member for Moss Side (Miss Horsbrugh) that we might have an opportunity of looking at this again—is that whether we leave the words out, or amend them, the Clause means precisely the same thing, because the operative word is "may." The Committee are arguing whether we should define that "may" means may. I am sorry to intrude on the discussion, but I think that might help to clarify it.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I can assure both sides of the Committee that we were very anxious to get some expression of opinion about this. On the Second Reading I mentioned that this appeared to be about the only matter on which there were differences of opinion and we were anxious to get the views of hon. Members on it, and we shall be perfectly willing to consider the matter further. We were also anxious that it should be understood by the Committee that there were difficulties with the wording that has been inserted in another place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. L. Hale) has mentioned, it is very doubtful—I cannot put it higher than that—whether the words suggested in another place really add anything to the wording which was already in the Clause.

We were in this difficulty, that if we had allowed this wording automatically to stand we would have been doing an injustice to the House. We would have been allowing the House to pass an amended Clause on the understanding that it meant something other than what we feel it probably does mean. For example, it is probably true that those midwives who are already serving with a local authority are not affected by this Amendment and if they have a contract with the authority which specifies the wearing of a particular uniform would still be required to do so. It is probable—I cannot say more—that they would not be affected. As far as new midwives taking on duties with local authorities are concerned, the local authority can clearly specify in their agreement that it is part of the agreement that they should wear the local authority's uniform and therefore they would not be affected by the Amendment made in another place.

I suggest that there is this difficulty of trying to meet a desire that there should be a national uniform. Is it really intended that that should apply to those in the Armed Forces? There are some cases which will be affected in that way. Is it really intended that it should apply to those serving in hospitals, as well as to those serving in local authorities' domiciliary services? If we are to meet what I think is the wish of most hon. Members, the Clause would have to be amended and there would have to be some restrictions on the right. Because of that, I suggest that the best thing we can do is to take this back and have a further look at it before the Report stage. The Report stage is not being taken today and there will be an opportunity for this to be done.

Miss Horsbrugh

The hon. Gentleman says he is going to look at the wording to get it clear but what wording does he mean? Is he going to put down an Amendment for the purpose of ensuring that the midwife will be entitled to wear a national uniform, or to prevent her wearing a national uniform? That is not clear to us. He said that the wording is not clear, but the Committee wants to know what wording he means. Although it would be interesting to discuss uniforms of firemen, police and others in public service, we have one task at present, to discuss whether midwives are to be permitted to have a national uniform; and we want to know whether in looking for clearer wording he is looking for clearer wording to give them that right, or to take it away.

Mr. Blenkinsop

All I say is that we shall look at the whole problem again so that there shall be an opportunity of discussing this question again at a later stage. There are two points; first, the perfectly proper question whether we want to impose a national costume on local authorities whether they want it or not and, second, whether we want to apply that not only to the local authorities' service, but also to midwives serving in hospitals, which I do not think is the real desire of hon., Members. I am not sure, but I do not imagine that it is the desire to apply it to those in the Services. It is clear there must be some restriction, but I will make sure that there is opportunity for discussion on the Report stage.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Will the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that there will be plenty of time to consider any Amendment the Government bring forward? I understand that, having heard this Debate, the Government are themselves to be responsible for a further Amendment. It will be important to have some opportunity of discussing the proposed new Government Amendment with those of our constituents who are concerned This is not a matter of great principle on which we hold individual views, but a matter of importance to those concerned, and I hope the Government will ensure plenty of time before this matter is finally disposed of

Mr. Blenkinsop

Yes, we are anxious that there shall be agreement about this. This is not a matter on which we want to divide but we want it to be something which local authorities as well as the mid-wives will be able to accept.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, in view of the Rules of the House on Amendments on Report stage, to put the Amendment down in good time, because on Report stage a manuscript Amendment could not be accepted, and I hope it will not be necessary to table an Amendment to the Amendment.

Mr. Ross

In view of the promise of the Minister to reconsider the matter, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 7 to 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.