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Clause 6—(Rules As To Midwives Uniforms)

Volume 476: debated on Wednesday 28 June 1950

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

5.36 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 5, line 5, to leave out from "midwives" to the end of line 6.

The House will remember that when we last considered this Bill in Committee I explained that the issue which arose on the question of the uniforms midwives should be entitled to wear was not one about which the Government felt very deeply one way or the other. Although we did then feel that the balance of advantage might be in allowing the local authority to decide this matter for themselves, in view of the strong feelings that were, I think, fairly unanimously expressed in Committee, that there should clearly be a full opportunity for the midwife to wear the new national uniform that was being approved, I gave a pledge that I would put down a suitable Amendment at this stage of the Bill which would clarify the clear intention of another place, where an Amendment had been carried the effect of which was not very clear.

We have put down such an Amendment which would leave out the words that were included in another place and challenged as being, to some extent, doubtful in their construction, and there is a further Amendment in line 14, at the end, to insert:
"(3) Any agreement made whether before or after the passing of this Act) between a local health authority or other body or association and a midwife employed by them for the purpose of attending on women in their homes as a midwife or maternity nurse shall be void in so far as it precludes the midwife from wearing a uniform prescribed by virtue of subsection (1) of this section.
This makes it quite clear that the midwife will have the full right to wear the new national uniform if she so desires, even though there may be an agreement with the local authority about some locally-designed uniform.

This is a very small matter. It is limited in the terms of our Amendment to domiciliary midwives, which we gathered was the desire of the House. I must say that there has been criticism of this from some local authorities. If, in certain localities, there is in use a local, distinctive uniform I am sure that the midwives in the area will be content and happy to continue to wear it; but should a midwife desire to wear the new nationally-designed uniform she will now have full power to do so.

The Parliamentary Secretary has explained that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has put down these Amendments so that we may not only discuss the question of midwives having a national uniform, but also decide that they shall have the right to wear that uniform if they so desire. I should like to say just a few words in support of the Amendments. I have had the opportunity and privilege of working in close co-operation with midwives for a good many years, and that experience has shown me quite clearly the value of their work. Theirs is a profession which I hold in high respect.

In discussing this Bill, I think we must keep in the forefront of our minds that we are dealing with matters affecting women who, at all hours of the day or night, attend the mothers of our country when they are in labour. If we can grant them any favour or if they can be given any reasonable privilege, then I think that we should be happy to do so. I support these Amendments because I think that there should be a national uniform for midwives and that they should have the right to wear it if they so desire. I hope that the Amendments will be accepted and that care will be taken to design a uniform fully in keeping with the dignity of an honourable profession.

I listened with great interest to one sentence which came from the lips of the Parliamentary Secretary. He spoke of the new uniform and then said that if there was a uniform prescribed by local authorities, he had no doubt that the local midwives would wish to wear it. To make the matter clear, may I ask him two or three questions which have been put to me by the local authority of Stoke-on-Trent.

First, will these Amendments and the Clause as it will stand if amended, confer on midwives the statutory right to wear the prescribed uniform, irrespective of the wishes of the local authority? Secondly, will this mean that there is a departure from the principle that all matters concerning conditions of service should pass through, as they have done in the past the machinery of the appropriate Whitley Council? I think it is reasonable to suggest that questions such as the type of uniform which should be worn, the frequency of its use, etc., have universally been considered in the past to pertain to conditions of service between employer and employee and have been handled by the Nurses and Mid-wives Whitley Council. On this council all interests have been represented.

Thirdly, if this becomes law, has the Parliamentary Secretary considered whether there will be a new anomaly created with respect to other members of the local health authorities, such as those who are in the domiciliary nursing service? They will be wearing a uniform prescribed for them by the local health authority, whereas there will now be a uniform for midwives prescribed by the National Authority. Does he not think that that will create some dissatisfaction? I have no great feelings about this, except that I would personally prefer to see a national uniform, but I have to put these questions and I should be obliged if I could have an answer to them.

We should like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for the consideration which he has given since the Committee stage to this point of a national uniform. We knew that a national uniform had already been designed, and the only point which we were considering and what we discussed fairly fully was whether the midwife had the right to wear that uniform if she wished to wear it. We see from the Amendment that she will have the right to wear it. At the same time, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, if she prefers to wear the uniform which the local authority has prescribed, she will be able to do so. In other words, the choice is now left to the midwife as to the uniform she will wear, and I am glad that the choice has been left to her because I think that in our discussion it was considered in all parts of the House that this was what the midwife wanted.

5.45 p.m.

When the Parliamentary Secretary put forward this Amendment he stated that when this matter was last discussed in the House the point of view contained in it was more or less unanimous. It really was not so, because I remember speaking to an Amendment stating the exactly opposite position, and I pointed out the confusion which it would cause in Glasgow where we have already a uniform which is traditional and fairly well liked.

While I appreciate the laudable desire to raise the status of the profession by introducing a uniform where there has not been one before, I think that we are falling into an error through this modern curse of uniformity in pressing for a national uniform instead of taking into account regional considerations. I can well imagine what some in my regi- ment, the H.L.I., would say if they were told that there was to be one uniform for the whole of the Army and that the H.L.I, had to do away with its "trews" tomorrow.

We are not saying anything of the sort. We are allowing a wide freedom and I hope that in a case like Glasgow, where a uniform is universally respected and is specifically worn, midwives will naturally desire to continue to wear it.

It is all very well to have these sweet words from the Parliamentary Secretary, but if he reads the Amendment he will see that

"Any agreement made (whether before or after the passing of this Act) between a local health authority or other body or association and a midwife employed by them…"
relative to dress
"shall be void."
In other words, it may as well not be there. It may be that we shall get confusion of uniform in places where there is a traditional uniform, and I feel that the Parliamentary Secretary has fallen into that error which I sincerely regret.

Am I correct in reading into this Clause that it would be possible for two midwives employed by the same authority to wear two different uniforms—one to opt for the national uniform and the other to go on wearing the local uniform? If the answer to that question is "Yes," does the Parliamentary Secretary consider that that would be a desirable outcome from the point of view of the service?

We rather gathered that there was difficulty because it was thought that we were trying to impose uniformity in uniform, but it has now become clear to the House that we are not doing anything of the sort. I do not think that any great principle would be affected by one midwife wearing a different uniform from another. They do not parade together in large numbers as a rule, and I should have thought that on the whole this proposal of ours was reasonable. I think that we ought not to make more of it than really exists. I am quite sure that local authorities, on consideration, will be able to secure a satis- factory working of this arrangèment, and that where there is a satisfactory local uniform already in use the midwife will desire to continue to wear it.

I should like to say a few words in support of the hon. Member for Stoke on Trent, Central (Dr. Stross). It is felt in our area that there will be some confusion if midwives are permitted to draw their uniforms from two sources. I do not know if the national dress is coming from some common pool as distinct from the old arrangement. This, as has been said, is an attempt to satisfy everybody, and particularly the midwife herself. That is very laudable. In these matters, however, local authorities have given great consideration to the correct view of the servants, midwives and nurses in their areas, and I should have thought that after all the trouble they have gone to in making the Whitley machinery work there was something in their point of view.

However, as the Parliamentary Secretary said it is not a very weighty matter, but I must say that this does not seem to me to be a particularly sound administrative way of dealing with it. On the other hand, I am not fearful as is the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) that everyone will be regimented. That is, as the Parliamentary Secretary and the right hon. Lady the Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Miss Horsbrugh) made clear, just what is not intended by this. I should have thought we would have listened to the experience of local authorities and midwives on this matter. I do not think that has been done sufficiently.

I rise to support a purely local interest. My own area, Nottingham, like Stoke-on-Trent, is somewhat concerned about the matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies). A uniform is, after all, a sign of service, and the service the midwives are rendering is not to the midwives board, but to the people of Nottingham in our case. For that reason, if there is a clash of taste or wishes, the uniform of the community should have precedence over the uniform designed by a central board. The genius of our country is not expressed at its best in the design of uniform. I hope that in this case great care will be taken to ensure that a really attractive uniform is designed for this profession.

Question put, and agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In line 14, at end, insert:

"(3) Any agreement made (whether before or after the passing of this Act) between a local health authority or other body or association and a midwife employed by them for the purpose of attending on women in their homes as a midwife or maternity nurse shall be void in so far as it precludes the midwife from wearing a uniform prescribed by virtue of subsection (1) of this section."—[Mr. Blenkinsop.]

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed with Amendements.