Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, under both Governments, we have had that corny answer year in and year out, that the Whitley Council of which he speaks is practically useless and that we continue to take advantage of young women who enter this honourable profession—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] and, I would add, in a most disgraceful way? A young woman who passes her S.R.N. examination and then goes on to take a course in midwifery has to revert to a student's pay. No other profession would stand for such a thing. Instead of giving us excuses about the Whitley Council, will the right hon. Gentleman act as a Minister and stop this abominable practice?
I am not quite sure to what abominable practice the hon. Gentleman is referring. He ought to give me notice of the relatively technical point he has put in his supplementary question. If he wishes I will study that case and write to him, but I am not aware of any abominable practice.
Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that we will not have to press as we have had to press for so long in the past before we move forward and improve nurses' conditions? Is he further aware that we do not want to hear this answer about the Whitley Council because the management side of it is under the Minister's control? I wish to goodness he would remember that.
My hon. Friend will be aware that Ministers both personally and ex officio very much want to have a contented nursing profession. It is some satisfaction that over the last year the number of nurses in post has risen by no less than 12,000.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a case came to my notice only yesterday of a fully qualified State registered nurse who is also a qualified midwife and whose last monthly payment amounted to £56 net? Is he further aware that a previous Conservative Minister of Health has said that the Whitley Council machinery is completely unsatisfactory for nurses? Will he make a statement about his intentions to reform a system which is grossly exploiting our nurses?
The Whitley Council machinery cannot be blamed for the reality, which is that the country has a limited amount of resources with which to meet a multiplicity of demand. If the hon. Gentleman would send me details of this case I will look into it, but we have to take account of the whole range of factors involved.
While I appreciate the difficulty of ascertaining the precise figures, will my hon. Friend consider the possibility of letting any vacant places to students with a view both to improving hostel finances and to easing the student housing problem?