As the hon. Lady knows, because I have responded to these points on numerous occasions, the number of midwives is increasing. What is more important, the proportion of qualified staff has risen sharply. Therefore, I am content that the National Health Service and the professional side are devoting the appropriate level of resources to this subject. We must ensure that the health professionals realise how important and valuable it is to assist women.
However, the evidence suggests that much of the help, support and encouragement for breast feeding comes best from other women in the same neighbourhood and with the same accents who have been doing it and who are therefore conscious of the pleasure that it gives and of some of the difficulties—and how to overcome them. In that sense, I hope that the new campaign will be directed at both the professionals and, through the voluntary movement, at the women concerned.
We think that we can make considerable progress. Then we shall be able truly to say that we will be promoting breast feeding as best for both the baby and the mother. I cannot conceal my delight that we are making progress in this way on an entirely voluntary basis. It puts us well ahead of the rest of the European Community and most of the developed world.
We are most emphatically not complacent. There are still far too few women who never book their confinement and who first appear in an advanced stage of labour, often too late to save their baby. There are still too many women who die in childbirth. There are far too many women who have never had a cervical smear test, and I fear that there will be always some who refuse. There are too many doctors who dismiss women's menopausal symptoms. and too few of them advise their women patients on how to avoid thinning bones—osteoporosis—in the first place.
There are too many women, particularly among the young, who dismiss our warnings about smoking. Most of all, there are still far too many women who suffer in silence when they should be seeking help. Often they wait until it is too late. The House should firmly reject the notion that a responsible women cares for her family's health but neglects her own. Today's wife and mother knows that her family need her to be fit and well, as does her employer, if she is to meet the increasing demands that are now placed upon women in this country. Our health is in our hands. I hope that all generations of women will in future take a positive and informed interest in their own health.
The programmes that I have outlined make me feel very proud. I think that we in Britain are lucky to have these opportunities, and I commend the programmes to the House.