EDUCATION (MILK) BILL
Order for Second Reading read.
3.59 p.m. The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I had not expected to introduce the Bill against the background of the statement that we have heard to-day. It shows in one way that all Governments are faced with similar problems, especially problems relating to the level of public expenditure, which includes central and local government expenditure; the level of taxation, the awareness of which is shown by people who always quote their net take-home pay rather than their gross incomes, but a situation in which nevertheless inadequate provision is found in some sectors for which the Government are responsible. We all of us, wish to find more moneys for certain sectors in the education and other spheres.
The purpose of the Bill is partly, therefore, to enable us to switch our priorities to fill some of the gaps in educational provision, particularly to improve and replace old primary schools, but at the same time to ensure that those who have a medical need for milk at school should continue to receive their milk free. More generally, the purpose is to implement the proposals relating to school milk announced in the White Paper “New Policies for Public Spending” .
At present local education authorities have a duty to provide milk to pupils in primary schools including nursery schools, pupils who are junior pupils up to the age of 12 in middle schools, and also pupils in special schools. Under the Bill the duty towards children in special schools remains unchanged. In primary schools, including nursery schools, children will continue to receive free milk until the end of the summer term in which they reach the age of seven. Other children in primary schools and junior pupils in middle schools will continue to receive milk free if the school medical officer so recommends. [column 43]
It might be helpful if I say why the end of term after the age of seven was chosen as the date upon which the supply of free milk to a pupil should cease. It is different in Scotland because the legislative arrangements and the practice are different. There the date 1st August has been chosen, which, I understand, is a date which always occurs in the school holidays. For England and Wales we chose this time so that it would be unnecessary for the schools to monitor the date upon which the children reach the age of seven during the school term and also so that supplies of milk to a school should be virtually constant during the term itself. It means that many children will receive free milk until they are aged 7½ or more.
I should like to say a few words about the medical grounds upon which the supply of free milk will continue to those in primary schools and some children in middle schools. The responsibility for authorising free milk will be that of the school medical officer. At school a number of medical records are kept, and when this provision comes in I would expect those records to be gone through to see if children who perhaps were at risk need to have a further examination to see if the continued supply of free milk is advisable. Otherwise, the family doctor, welfare officers or teachers can always refer pupils to the school medical officer for his opinion on whether further free school milk is necessary.
There is a difference between the Bill and the White Paper. The White Paper said this in paragraph 19:
“Pupils up to 12 who have a medical requirement will not be affected. The practical arrangements will be discussed with the local education authorities.”
During discussions with the authorities they had pointed out the difficulties which would arise if medical milk were given up to 12 years in every case, as this would mean reintroducing title to free milk into secondary schools where there is no present administration to cope with it.
Therefore, for medical milk the Bill follows the arrangements for free milk made by the last Government when they restricted title to free milk to primary school children: that is, medical milk will be available at primary schools even [column 44]though the child is over 12 and it will be available at middle schools up to the twelfth birthday but will not be available at secondary schools.
The previous Government when withdrawing supplies of free milk from secondary schools asked the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food Policy for its views. The Committee was unable to say whether the withdrawal of milk would be prejudicial to the health of any particular group of children. Free milk in secondary schools was withdrawn nearly three years ago and no adverse effect has been observed on the nutrition of that age group. This time, because there was provision for milk on health grounds, there was no formal prior consultation, but the Chief Medical Officer was consulted informally and subsequently his Committee endorsed his advice that it was not possible to predict whether or not harm would result from the withdrawal of further free milk but that careful monitoring would detect the effects, if any, at a stage when they were mild and reversible.
Our proposals for milk on health grounds themselves are designed to protect children who might otherwise be at risk, but as an additional safeguard the Chief Medical Officer's Sub-Committee on Nutritional Surveillance is making plans to monitor the position generally to ensure that any effects would be detected early.
Further, the Department of Health and Social Security, with the approval of C.O.M.A., is initiating a dietary and clinical survey of children in each of the areas Croydon, Bristol and Sheffield, and initial data has already been collected in schools in those areas. Mr. James Hamilton (Bothwell)
Will any of the schools to be monitored be in Scotland? Scotland is referred to in the Introduction to the Bill. Mrs. Thatcher
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office tells me that the answer is “Yes” . I am responsible for schools in England and Wales. I understand that schools in Scotland will be monitored. Indeed, I believe that this point was raised in an Adjournment debate, as the hon. Gentleman will be very aware. [column 45]Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
The right hon. Lady says that she has responsibility for England and Wales. I took it for granted that the Secretary of State for Wales would be making a separate announcement, but this is obviously not to be the case. Why has she not included at least one school in Wales in the list of schools to be surveyed? Mrs. Thatcher
The general monitoring under C.O.M.A. is one aspect of the safeguard. The special dietary survey under D.H.S.S. is a further additional safeguard. The general monitoring will apply to schools in Wales. I am sorry that the three of us cannot speak from the Front Bench in this debate, but the general monitoring applies more widely than the special survey relating to the three areas. Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
If schools are to be monitored, would it not be much more sensible to monitor schools in places like Tyneside and Merseyside, in the developing areas, where the full impacts of this policy will be felt? Mrs. Thatcher
The general monitoring will take place widely. There is a special survey in selected schools in the three areas I have mentioned, one of which—Sheffield—was chosen fairly far north. The special survey could not be held everywhere. I hope that hon. Members will be satisfied that reasonable safeguards will be taken, both in the general monitoring and in the special survey.
I expect reference will be made during the debate to the survey carried out last year by a team headed by Dr. Lynch —not a medical doctor—of Queen Elizabeth College, London University. This was a questionnaire survey sponsored by the National Dairy Council. Over 4,300 school children, more than half from primary schools, were asked by the team to recall everything they had eaten in the 24 hours preceding the interview. The nutritional intake thus gauged was then related to modified versions of the recommended intakes of nutrients for the United Kingdom published in 1969 by the Department of Health and Social Security. On this basis a number of preliminary findings were announced at a conference last September. So far no further report has been issued. [column 46]
The Department of Health and Social Security was asked about the survey by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers ) on 19th May, and my hon. Friend gave the following reply:
“The survey was said to suggest that the dietary pattern of numbers of children could give rise to much concern. To the best of my knowledge, Dr. Lynch has not yet published his full report. However, I understand that his survey was made without any clinical or physical examinations and, if this is so, its finding could not be considered adequate evidence of undernourishment.” —[Official Report, 19th May, 1971; Vol. 817, c.
No further information has been forthcoming on that particular survey, but it is clear that the Department of Health and Social Security would require clinical evidence of undernourishment before it could accept the findings in the report.
It is right that I should be asked about the effect on the poorest children of the withdrawal of free milk in schools. Again, I stress at the outset that if there is a medical need in the primary schools children will receive free milk whatever their parents' income. We believe that this was the right way to tackle special needs which may arise concerning individual children.
For those parents on social security payments the withdrawal of free milk occurs within a short time of increases in social security benefits. [An Hon. Member: “Disgraceful.” ] It would be more disgraceful if there were no increases in social security when this withdrawal took place. The withdrawal will occur at a time when increases in social security will have a number of effects.
For a married couple with three children of school age on social security there will be an increase of £2. Increases in social security benefit automatically raise the income scales for free school meals yet further. The net income for remission of charges for school meals will also go up by £2 for a family of this size, and there will be corresponding increases in the net income scale for families of other sizes. This means that many families who applied for free school meals earlier this year and were disappointed because their net income was £1 or £2 over the scale [column 47]will qualify from next September. In the case of families with more than three children, the net income scale qualifying for some entitlement to free school meals will rise by more than £2 a week—in some cases by considerably more. So there will be those arrangements for children whose parents are on social security benefit.
For those who unfortunately are on unemployment, sickness or widows' benefits, increases will also come into effect on 20th September. For a married couple with three children of school age on unemployment and sickness benefit there will be an increase of £2.50 and an increase of the same amount for a widow with three children of school age. These increases will take effect on 20th September, within a short time of the withdrawal of free milk from certain of the age groups.
For those families on low wages or salary who have young children there will be the family income supplement of up to £4 a week starting on 5th August. The increases in social security, unemployment, sickness and widows' benefits and the family income supplement are concentrated on those who need them most and will enable families to purchase milk, or other food should they prefer it. Indeed, I believe that it is probably the most comprehensive protection to help the most needy groups concerning any withdrawal that there has ever been.
For those above the tax threshold with children, the child tax allowances have recently been increased and will shortly take effect. The withdrawal of universal free milk between the ages of seven and 11 has been accompanied by a concentration of provision on those who need it most.
The Bill also provides for the sale of milk in schools. At present local educational authorities have no power to sell milk, although they can sell other drinks. This is an anomaly arising from the 1968 legislation. Even if there had been no change in duties regarding free milk, we would have taken the first possible opportunity to amend the law to enable local education authorities to sell milk in schools. The power in the Bill applies to pupils of all ages. Milk can [column 48]therefore be sold in secondary as well as in primary schools. This is an increase in the powers of local education authorities. Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
May we assume that local authorities which wish to supply milk free of charge out of their own resources will not be prevented from doing so? Will the right hon. Lady also tell us what is the anticipated net saving to public funds from this nasty little Bill? In giving her answer, will she take into account that the anticipated saving of £4 million from cancelling school milk in secondary schools has in the end boiled down to a derisory £1.2 million? Mrs. Thatcher
I hope to deal with the local authority point later in reasonable detail. The saving in a full year would be £9 million, leaving £5 million still on free school milk. That should also be set alongside the £75 million per year subsidies on school meals. Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)
Will my right hon. Friend allow one question on behalf of milk producers, such as those in South Worcestershire? What will be the effect of the Bill, measured in terms of diminution of demand for liquid milk, over the whole of the milk producing industry in this country? If she has not got that figure readily available, will she arrange for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to give it before the end of the debate? Mrs. Thatcher
The reduction in demand is expected to be about 1 per cent. It is not possible to give a more accurate figure because, by giving power to local education authorities to sell milk in schools, particularly in secondary schools where there is no power to sell milk at present, it is hoped that in those schools consumption may go up. Sir G. Nabarro
That is a splendid reply. Mrs. Thatcher
May I again point out—— Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
Has the right hon. Lady had any preliminary consultations as to what administrative machinery will be set up for receiving the milk, arranging for the collection of money for milk supplies, and has any [column 49]calculation been made, if teachers and head teachers are not to do this, as to how much ancillary help will be needed and what it will cost? Mrs. Thatcher
This power is being given to local education authorities. How they use it is a matter for them. They will have latitude in deciding how they shall use the power. We do not expect any extra duties to be put upon teachers, although there will be consultations with the teachers before any regulations are made. Mr. Fred Evans
Not yet? Mrs. Thatcher
Under the Bill local education authorities are given fresh powers and latitude as to how they shall use those powers and, indeed, whether they should use them. I am not certain whether the hon. Gentleman is pleased or not about that increase of powers and discretion to the local education authorities. Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)
What administrative arrangements have been made concerning the medical officers who are in charge of these schools? The right hon. Lady has talked about medical milk, which is a new term to me. I should have thought that milk was physiological rather than medical if one is going to concentrate on preventive medicine rather than giving milk after a disease has occurred. What diseases or conditions have been authorised as requiring “medical milk” ? Mrs. Thatcher
They have not been authorised. This is a matter left to the school medical officer to certify whether, in his opinion, a child needs a future supply of free milk after the ordinary title to free milk has ceased. We shall leave it to the school medical officer to decide how and when that certification shall be made. Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)
While the right hon. Lady can still remember the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris ) on costs, since she claimed that £9 million would be saved from public funds, would she say whether she believes that six, seven or eight times as much milk is now drunk in primary schools as was drunk in secondary schools before that [column 50]milk was stopped, since the total saving when secondary milk ceased was less than £ 1½ million? Mrs. Thatcher
I have given the best estimate which we can make at present. No doubt our estimate will be tested in due course.
The Bill specifically provides that regulations with regard to the sale of milk require the expense of providing milk in the exercise of the power to be defrayed by pupils or their parents. A nominal charge is not within the terms of the Clause. Indeed, if it were, the Bill would be reintroducing cheap or virtually free milk into secondary schools, and its purpose of containing public expenditure would be not merely defeated but reversed.
This is because the power to sell is introduced into secondary schools as well as into primary schools. The regulations will not impose any new responsibility on the teachers, but, as I said in answer to an interruption, as they have a special interest in all arrangements in schools, their associations will be consulted over the revised regulations.
In non-maintained schools free milk up to the end of the summer term after the age of seven will be provided, but there will be no milk on medical grounds. In answer to the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Shirley Summerskill ), I would point out that I used the term “medical milk” as a kind of shorthand for that longer phrase. The difficulty of administering any such charge would be out of proportion to the number who are likely to become affected. Non-maintained schools can already sell milk to their pupils.
The point of the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris ) has been raised in a number of papers and by the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central (Mr. Edward Short )—about a possible discretion for local authorities. There has been a suggestion that the Bill should include a provision to give authorities discretion to continue to supply milk free to those primary school pupils who will no longer receive it, provided that all the expenditure is rate-borne.
I want to put a number of arguments to counter that suggestion. First, money spent from the rates is just as much public expenditure as money spent from [column 51]taxes or a combination of both. Part of the purpose of the Bill is to contain the increase in public expenditure and to switch the destination of some public monies in accordance with new priorities. It would entirely defeat the larger purpose of the White Paper if, having cut down on milk to give more for primary school buildings, family income supplement and so on, and to reduce taxes, one were to put the milk burden back on the rates, thereby increasing total expenditure once again. It is the total public expenditure for which central Government have responsibility.
The second point is that when rates go up in any area, from whatever cause, local authorities tend to ask for more rate support grant and to blame the Government if more is not forthcoming. The Government, therefore, would indirectly have to provide more central moneys to counter the rise in rates, from whatever cause—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman intervenes from a sitting position, but he knows full well that this is true. When we come to the rate support grant negotiations, local authorities are always anxious not only to increase the grant but to increase the proportion of local expenditure which is met by the rate support grant.
Third, although the expenditure could be excluded from relevant expenditure for rate support grant purposes, this by itself would not guarantee that the cost would fall on the rates of the individual authority concerned. This is because each authority's actual expenditure is taken into account in the distribution of the resources element which, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is the equalisation factor in the rate support grant.
Thus any authority which qualified for a resource element grant and chose to give free milk to the 7–11 age group would be eligible for a larger share of that grant at the expense of other authorities. Therefore, it is not possible, as the law stands, for the expenditure to be totally rate-borne. Even if it were, we still have to counter the problem that one of the aims of the Bill is to reduce total public expenditure and to switch resources from expenditure on one item to expenditure on another. [column 52]Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)
Would the right hon. Lady tell the House of any other heading of expenditure where the Government have decided to withdraw or to cut down their contribution to local government spending, where, following on such withdrawal or reduction in Government contribution, a Bill has been introduced telling local authorities that they may not spend any of their local rate money in substitution for the Government's spending?
Second, how does she reconcile this petty little Bill with all the talk about greater freedom for local government to embark on their policies to benefit their people according to the judgment of the locally elected authorities? Mrs. Thatcher
On the first part of the question, an example is the hon. Gentleman's own Government's Bill abolishing the supply of milk to secondary schools—— Mr. Freeson
The right hon. Lady has misunderstood the question. Mrs. Thatcher
I have not misunderstood the answer. There was no power in that Bill either to substitute milk for sale or to give milk to the children who had a need for it on medical grounds. Instead, the answer was that it was either free milk or no milk at all. And that was a Bill of a kind in which the powers of local authorities were reduced. Certainly, no power was given, or no residual power, under which—— Mr. Freeson
The right hon. Lady is deliberately misleading the House. Mrs. Thatcher
I am not deliberately misleading the House. Will the hon. Member listen?
There was a Bill, which was not called the Abolition of Milk in Secondary Schools Bill, but I hope that he is not denying that his Government abolished free milk in secondary schools and gave no corresponding power to sell milk, and that there was no residual power for the local authorities to supply milk on the rates? If there were, the hon. Member would not have needed to ask his question because that residual power would exist now—— [column 53]Mr. Freeson
Now answer the second part. Mrs. Thatcher
Would the hon. Gentleman remind me of it? Mr. Freeson
I do not accept the misleading answer which the right hon. Lady gave to my first point—[Interruption.] It is a twisted answer. The second point was, how do she and her colleagues reconcile this petty little Bill with all the talk about giving local government greater freedom to exercise their powers, to pursue policies on behalf of their local people, by whom they have been elected? Mrs. Thatcher
I have just said that the Bill gives an increased power, which does not exist at the moment—a power to sell milk in secondary schools as well as primary schools. Immediately I announced that that power was contained in the Bill an hon. Member asked precisely what discussions I had had about it, as if he wished certain conditions to be attached to the power.
The hon. Member knows, as do others on his Front Bench, that total public expenditure is a matter for the Government. Also, if he had listened or had worked it out, he would have discovered that at the moment there is no such thing in some authorities as expenditure which is totally rate-borne. If an authority receives the equalisation factor of the rate support grant, it receives money from the Exchequer as a contribution towards the actual expenditure of that local authority, regardless of the destination of that expenditure. Mr. Dick Leonard (Romford)
Is the right hon. Lady aware of the logic of what she has just said? Surely it is that no local council shall ever have the option to introduce any policy which has not previously been authorised by the Government Front Bench. Mrs. Thatcher
I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would ask my right hon. Friend Peter Walker the Secretary of State for the Environment about this matter because I am not wholly responsible for it.
There is a section in one of the local government Bills which gives the power to spend up to the product of an old penny rate, but that power cannot be used, I believe, to extend powers already given by virtue of legislation. So there is a discretion under that, but it is a [column 54]discretion within very carefully controlled limits. For obvious reasons, Governments wish to have control over the total of Government expenditure and the amount of rare support grant, which, in the areas of some authorities, amounts to as much as 90 per cent. of local expenditure, although the average is about 57½ per cent. Mr. Fred Evans
rose—— Mrs. Thatcher
I think I should continue. I am generous in giving way but the result is that sometimes I make a longer speech than I would wish because I do not occupy anything like all of it. Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask my right hon. Friend, as she has said that she would finish—— Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant Ferris )
I cannot accept a point of order asking something of a right hon. Friend. A point of order must be addressed to me. Mrs. Thatcher
I give way to my hon. Friend. Dame Irene Ward
I beg your pardon Mr. Deputy Speaker. If I may say this to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it was the hon. Gentleman opposite who got the pledge from my right hon. Friend, but his Front Bench colleague intervened—— Mr. Deputy Speaker
There seems to be a misunderstanding as to how we ought to proceed. I think that the right hon. Lady would gladly have given way to the hon. Lady if the hon. Lady had asked for that. That might be, perhaps, the best way to deal with this. Mrs. Thatcher
I will gladly give way to my hon. Friend.
On the question of extra discretion on this particular point, on the understanding that the expenditure was rate-borne, I wanted to give the arguments against that and some indication that for some authorities, as the law stands at present there could be no such thing as totally rate-borne expenditure which did not rank in some way or other for rate support grant. Dame Irene Ward
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I was trying to indicate to her that it was the hon. Gentleman opposite to whom she gave [column 55]the pledge and his priority seemed to be interfered with by his Front Bench. I thought that my right hon. Friend would like to know that she had given a pledge to the hon. Gentleman. I was only trying to be fair to the hon. Gentleman for once. Mrs. Thatcher
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
To return to the Bill, there are four Clauses. Clause 1 retains the free milk for special schools, primary school pupils aged 5, 6 and 7, those with a medical need above that age and generally up to 12 years, except in secondary schools. It also contains the power to sell milk. Together with similar powers for Scotland in Clause 2, but modified according to Scottish practice, altogether some £9 million in a full year will be saved on free school milk. The third Clause is in common form and makes the necessary adjustments to rate support grant.
We are not arguing about the nutritional value of milk—that is accepted—nor about whether it should be available in the schools—that is accepted; indeed, the Bill gives powers to make it more available in secondary schools than it is now. The argument is about how much should be paid by the parent and how much by the taxpayer, who, of course, in part, is all other parents.
At present free school milk to primary schools costs £14 million a year. Concerning primary school children, we are spending twice as much on milk as on school books. This seems to indicate another area in which we need more expenditure.
This short Bill is designed to implement the proposals relating to school milk announced in the White Paper “New Policies for Public Spending” . The proposals form part of the Government's plans for establishing more sensible policies for public expenditure and for ensuring that users of social services who can afford to pay more for them should be asked to do so, while those who need more help should be given it. The savings to be effected by the changes in the arrangements for school milk amount to £5.9 million this year but about £9 million in a full year. They are small by comparison with those being achieved in other ways but they nevertheless will help [column 56]to find the extra resources for improving or replacing our old primary schools.
On that basis and in that context I commend the Bill to the House.
4.36 p.m. Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
I have been a Member of the House 20 years this year, 14 of them, unfortunately, with a Tory Government in office. This is the meanest, most unworthy Bill that I have seen in the whole of that time—taking the milk away from the nation's young children. It is mean, squalid and unworthy of a great country. But it is typical of the philosophy of this astounding, pre-Disraeli Government. However, I shall talk about the Government and the Bill later in my speech.
First, I should like to say a word about the historical background of school milk. It started 49 years ago with an experiment in Birmingham. A pint of milk a day was given to 50 under-nourished children for two months. At the end of that time they had all increased in both height and weight a great deal more than the children without milk. This created very great interest in the early 'twenties and led to larger-scale experiments, especially those of Boyd-Orr and Cory Mann, and their results confirmed the earlier results.
In 1927 the National Milk Publicity Council for England and Wales started to provide one-third of a pint a day at a penny per one-third pint, including the straw. By 1933 1 million children were having milk. In 1934 the Milk Act transferred the scheme to the newly-formed Milk Marketing Board, which was subsidised by the Government. That was 37 years ago. One-third of a pint a day was provided at one half-penny for all the children in elementary schools in this country, and it was given free to those from poor homes. So the legislators in this House of 37 years ago were more forward-looking than the present Tory Government. Dame Irene Ward
I was here then. Mr. Short
By 1939 half the children in State-aided schools were getting milk, and during the Second World War the scheme was extended to private schools.
The 1944 Act, which is still the bulk of our education law, in Section 49 gave [column 57]the Minister power to make regulations imposing on local authorities the duty to provide milk. It is this section which this miserable little Bill seeks to amend.
It is true, as the right hon. Lady has said, that my predecessor in 1968 withdrew milk from the secondary schools. As she has quite rightly said, he consulted the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food Policy, and it was not able to advise that the withdrawing of milk from secondary schoolchildren would result in any nutritional detriment. But what the right hon. Lady did not say was that the Committee advised that to withdraw it from children below the age of 11 certainly would.
The right hon. Lady talked about monitoring to the outcome of her Bill. We wonder why the inquiry or monitoring was not done before the decision to withdraw milk was taken. I make two points about this. First, child deprivation in this country is largely concentrated in the old industrial areas of the North. Why has no area north of Sheffield been chosen? Sheffield is in South Yorkshire, in the Midlands. Why have no schools in Tyneside or Merseyside or elsewhere in the North been chosen? We shall not regard it as valid monitoring if no schools from the Northern development areas are included.
Second—perhaps the Minister who is to reply will give direct attention to this—will the Government give an undertaking to reinstate free milk if the monitoring shows that general standards of nutrition are affected by the withdrawal of milk? Will the Government report to Parliament after a reasonable period of monitoring, and will they undertake that, if the monitoring shows that nutritional standards among children between the ages of 7 and 11 have suffered, free milk will be reinstated? We want a direct answer to that question.
The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro ) asked about the quantities of milk consumed. At present, 36 million gallons are consumed in a school year. If the Bill is passed, that figure will be reduced to 15 million gallons. The right hon. Lady said that the cost to the farmer was 1 per cent. The Milk Marketing Board has estimated that the cost to the farmer will be £5 million a year. The Tory proposals will reduce the number of children receiving [column 58] free milk from the present 5 million to 2.1 million, a reduction of 2.9 million among 7 to 11-year-olds, in order to save £9 million.
I repeat what I said in the last debate on this subject this amount, together with the increased charge for school meals, saves exactly the £38 million which is needed for tax relief on higher earned incomes. The source of that is col. 1391 of Hansard of 30th March, 1971, the Chancellor's Budget Statement, in which he gave that figure. The higher earned incomes, be it remembered, are incomes in excess of £4,005 a year. I shall quote several passages from the Tory document, “A Better Tomorrow” —I am a constant reader of it—but at this point I take these words:
“We will reduce taxation. … These reductions will be possible because we will cut out unnecessary Government spending.”Sir G. Nabarro
Hear, hear. Mr. Short
Here is a reduction of £38 million in taxation on earned incomes of £4,000-plus a year, paid for entirely by withdrawing milk from primary schools, and increasing the price of school dinners.
There is another reason why the Government have withdrawn milk from primary schools which may have escaped a great many people, and I shall come to that later. What it amounts to is that in Tory philosophy, the philosophy of this astounding Government, the provision of milk to 7 to 11-year-old is unnecessary public expenditure.
How unnecessary is it? The right hon. Lady said that this debate was not about the nutritional value of milk. On the contrary. It is precisely about the nutritional value of milk. I shall quote the comments of a number of people, and the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South need not scoff at that because I shall include a quotation from his weekend speech.
Professor John Yudkin , of the University of London, said:
“The simplest and most economic way of ensuring that children contain the diet necessary to promote health is to make sure that they get a good supply of milk each day” .
In July, 1960, in the House of Lords, Lord Hailsham —in his previous incarnation—said:
“One of the main reasons perhaps, for the remarkable improvement in children's health in recent years has been the access of children [column 59]to reasonable supplies of fresh liquid milk.” —[Official Report, House of Lords, 14th July, 1960; Vol. 225, c. 327.]
Lord Boothby , discussing the Budget proposals in November last year, said:
“What is beyond dispute is that, as a result of these proposals” ——
that is, the Chancellor's Budget—
“a great deal less milk is going to be drunk by a great many more children in this country. Nobody can tell me that that will be a good thing for the rising generation.” —[Official Report, House of Lords, 17th November, 1970; Vol. 312, c. 1005.]
Winston Churchill said:
“There is no finer investment for any community than pushing milk into babies” .
This weekend, the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South said:
“Spend less on booze and more on the kids” .Sir G. Nabarro
No, not this weekend, and the right hon. Gentleman has the terminology wrong, too. I said:
“Spend less in the boozer and more on the kids” .
I said it in the House of Commons, and then I went and broadcast in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency, and repeated it for good measure. Mr. Short
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I have repeated it again for good measure in the House of Commons. Sir G. Nabarro
A splendid maxim. Mr. Short
Milk is the most nearly perfect food because it has a better balance of all the essential nutrients than has any other single food. The right hon. Lady referred to the published recommendations of the Department of Health and Social Security regarding nutrients for various age groups. That report said that foods supplying one-sixth of one's daily requirements of a nutrient were a reasonable source of nutrients, and it went on to say that a pint of milk a day supplied to 7 to 9-year-old boys or girls provided 18 per cent. of the calories, 34 per cent. of the protein, 136 per cent. of the calcium, 4 per cent. of the iron, 55 per cent. of the vitamin A, 25 per cent. of the thiamine, 47.5 per cent. of the niacin, 85 per cent. of the riboflavine, and 42 per cent. of the vitamin C, of the recommended daily intake, according to the Government's own figures. Milk, therefore, is a major source of the daily intake [column 60]of nutrients which the Government themselves say are necessary.
The right hon. Lady referred to the inquiry being carried out at Queen Elizabeth College in the University of London. It is true that this is an inquiry being carried out on behalf of the National Dairy Council into the feeding habits of children, but I do not think that the right hon. Lady or the members of the Department who commented on it would wish to impugn the integrity of researchers of the competence and experience of Dr. Lynch and Dr. de la Paz . They interviewed 4,382 children in 21 local education authority areas, and their interim report, as the right hon. Lady said, was published in September last year.
That report revealed many gravely disturbing facts about the dietary pattern and health of our children. It said, for example—the right hon. Lady did not cite this or any of these figures—that 18 per cent. of 10 and 11-year-old children have diets deficient in calcium. This Bill, when it becomes law, will, it is estimated, increase the extent of that deficiency to 34 per cent. Further, 28 per cent. of children aged 10 and 11 have deficiencies in riboflavine. If the Bill becomes law, it will, it is estimated, increase the extent of that deficiency to 39 per cent. of all our children.
Out of the 4,300 children, only 32 per cent. had satisfactory diets; 57 per cent. had unsatisfactory diets; and 11 per cent. had extremely poor diets. This interim report should cause great concern to all of us, but not the kind of concern which was expressed in the arrogant comments last Thursday at Question Time by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost ), who has left the Chamber. I see that the hon. Gentleman got into the “Sayings of the Week” in the Observer newspaper on Sunday. Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
Is not my right hon. Friend surprised that the Government are allowing even children up to the age of seven free school milk in view of that astounding statement by the hon. Gentleman, with which the Secretary of State had the audacity to agree; namely, that if people could not feed their own children they should not have them? Mr. Short
That is what the hon. Gentleman said. It does not surprise me. [column 61]Nothing surprises me about this Government. I think that the present schemes for both milk and dinners are on their way out.
I have talked about the results revealed in the interim report, but what should be appreciated by the right hon. Lady is that the pattern of malnutrition is changing in this country and in western countries generally. Increased affluence over the years may—indeed does—make more nutritional foods available, but we live in the age of the ad-man, so popular with the Conservative Party, the man who can sell the inferior product by persuading people that it is a superior product. That is how the Tory Government got elected. It is the ad-man who dominates our society, using modern media, highly sophisticated advertising techniques and modern psychological discoveries. People are persuaded by the ad-man to buy nutritionally less desirable foods. Professor Yudkin has pointed out that part of the problem of child nutrition today is “the malnutrition of affluence” —not of poverty—and it reveals itself in obesity among children, in Billy Bunters, rather than in the rickets in which it revealed itself when I was a young teacher in the 1930s.
With 800,000 unemployed, and probably 2 million of the nation's children just above the bare subsistence level under this Government, there is the 1930-type of malnutrition as well. We have the malnutrition of poverty, the inability to buy the highly nutritional foods available. The Bill leaves them completely untouched. Poverty is not one of the entitlements to free milk under the Bill, as in the case of dinners. Mrs. Thatcher
Entitlement goes wider, to any child who has a medical need for a supply of free school milk whom the school medical officer certifies as being in need. So it goes wider than poverty. Mr. Short
Is the right hon. Lady saying that the medical officer can use poverty as one of the criteria for deciding? That is not what the Bill says. All I am saying is that poverty in the home is not one of the two criteria for free milk under the Bill.
Let me return again to that very revealing document, “A Better Tomorrow” . It says: [column 62]
“A better tomorrow for all; for the families that are homeless … for the unemployed, for the children still in poverty.”
Then the Minister takes away their milk. A better tomorrow for our children who are still in poverty indeed! How cynical, how unprincipled can the Government get—putting that kind of stuff out in an election manifesto and then taking away the milk for children of seven? The right hon. Lady says that she is doing something new and grand that the Labour Government never did, enabling children to buy milk in schools. Mr. Raphael Tuck
Those who can afford it. Mr. Short
I will tell the right hon. Lady the true position. The average family is rather more than two, but let us assume that it is two. I remind the right hon. Lady that there are 800,000 unemployed, and after what we have heard today there will be many more in the near future. If the unemployed family with two children at primary school wishes to have the milk, it will have to pay 20p, 4s., a week. That is taking the Milk Marketing Board figure of 2p. Today, in Tory Britain, hundreds of thousands of families cannot afford another 4s. a week. There is no margin at all. Four shillings a week is a fortune; it would upset the weekly budget completely. Mr. Raphael Tuck
The Tories do not understand. Mr. Short
No, but the Government must save this money to provide incentives for the man with more than £4,005 a year. There has never been a better example of Robin Hood in reverse, of taking money from the poor and giving it to the affluent.
The only answer to both kinds of malnutrition among children—the malnutrition of affluence and the malnutrition of poverty—is to ensure that our children get more nutritious food, and in a free society, about the only way public action can do this is by encouraging them to take more milk and nutritious, well-balanced school dinners, and it is wrong to encourage sugar-rich drinks which I understand the right hon. Lady wants to encourage, and stodgy, unsuitable, make-shift mid-day meals. We know all about those in the House. What a pity that [column 63]the right hon. Lady, or the Prime Minister, did not tell the electorate last June that pop and chips were to be the staple diet for millions of our children in the “better tomorrow” !
I want to talk about another aspect of this matter—an extremely disquieting one—before I say a word about the Bill. “A Better Tomorrow” says:
“We will create a climate for free enterprise to expand.”
You're telling us! We have heard a great deal about hiving off, the sale of Thomas Cook , and so on, and the shameful payoff to the brewers for their donation to the Tory Party funds, by handling over to them the pubs in Carlisle. Has it occurred to hon. Members that what is being done in school meals and milk is a part of the same pattern, the same plan?
Clearly, the Secretary of State has set out deliberately to end the school meals service run by the local education authorities. There can be no other conclusion. The right hon. Lady shakes her head, but she confirmed to me last Thursday that it is her intention eventually to charge the economic cost for school dinners. A few weeks ago she told me that the cost was 17p., 3s. 4d. Eventually the school dinner is to cost 4s. or 5s. Does she think that anybody except the most affluent members of society will buy the school dinner at that price? She confirmed that, and told me that she had told me before that she would do it. She repeated it last Thursday. She has said that she will charge the full economic cost for school dinners. In my view, with a fair bit of experience of school dinners, that will end the service as we know it.
Now we have the ending of free milk for all, except the under-sevens. Does not this open up vast opportunities for private enterprise to step in? Of course it does. This is not very fanciful. I have in my possession a report prepared by Maynard Potts Associates, which says:
“That gradual withdrawal of State support for milk and meals in school could have grave consequences for the nation's children if the business world fails to recognise the opportunities being offered for participation in the services.”It goes on to quote the right hon. Lady:
“… recently in a speech by the Secretary of State there was an invitation to education committees to combine with commercial caterers [column 64]in supplying a much wider variety of meals and snacks.”
I missed that one. Do I understand that the right hon. Lady has invited local authorities to combine with commercial caterers?
The report goes on to make elaborate proposals about the cost of the meals, about the variety of meals, from snacks to super meals, at a variety of prices to suit a variety of pockets. That is the “better Britain” , the “better tomorrow” .
It then says:
“From the publicity point of view these proposals could be presented as an attempt to save the children of the country from the effects of the gradual disintegration of the school milk service.”
Goodness gracious me! The standards of morality of some sections of private enterprise leave one staggered.
It goes on to say:
“Financially there is a total market of some hundreds of millions of pounds … if local authorities accept a commercial solution to milk and meals in schools, they might be equally willing to consider using the same suppliers for milk and meals in the hospital service.”
How nice! Is that what the right hon. Lady was talking about last Thursday when she said that the whole meals service was under review—to see what other pickings there were in the schools for the friends of the Tory Party? Is that what she was talking about?
This mean, nasty little Bill is being introduced, first, to give more money to the £4,000-a-year-plus taxpayer, and second, to create more commercial opportunities for the people who finance the Tory Party. Let me deal with this Measure for a moment. I shall not discuss its details, because we shall have some weeks and months in Committee to do that.
The Bill will make the supplying of free milk by a local education authority unlawful for children over seven unless they are in a special school, or unless a medical officer of the authority signs a certificate to say that “their health requires it” . There are two things that I should point out. First, only a local authority which is a local education authority is forbidden to supply free milk. Therefore, there is nothing to prevent a local authority which it not a local education authority from doing so. It follows from that that all the Inner London [column 65]boroughs, the county districts, and the G.L.C., on behalf of the Outer London boroughs, may use their free penny powers under the 1963 Act—which is what the right hon. Lady was referring to—to supply free milk. That being so, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House I invite all those local authorities to continue to supply free milk after 1st September, to pay for it in that way if the Bill becomes law, and to explain to their ratepayers why they are being forced to finance it in that way.
In view of the mass of evidence about the nutritional needs and feeding habits of children, it could now surely be held that all children between the ages of 7 and 11 need this milk. I hope, therefore, that there will be found medical officers who are prepared to certify all children between the ages of 7 and 11 in their areas as being in need of milk. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office (Mr. Edward Taylor )
Shocking. Mr. Short
It is shocking to stop the supply of free milk to children. I remember the speeches of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor ). This is the most shocking Bill brought in by a shocking Government in their first year of office. Mr. Taylor
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why, when the Labour Party abolished the supply of milk for all children in secondary schools, no provision of any kind was made for children who might need it on medical grounds? Mr. Short
If the hon. Gentleman had been listening to my speech, he would have known the answer to that. We consulted the committee which exists to advise the Government on this issue. The Tory Government did not do that. It is no good the right hon. Lady saying that she had consultations. She did not have consultations with the committee before announcing this Measure. Mrs. Thatcher
We took into account the advice received informally from the Chief Medical Officer, which was confirmed by his committee on 3rd November, 1970. Mr. Short
The right hon. Lady seems to forget that I was in her chair a year [column 66]ago. I know that she invites all kinds of people into her room in Curzon Street and gets her advice from them. I am talking about the independent committee which is there to advise the Government, not about one of her paid officers.
Local authorities have been pressing the Government—if they intend to persist in this legislation—to amend it to allow them to continue to supply milk and pay for it from the rates. The right hon. Lady has refused to allow that. I wrote to ask her whether she would allow that to be done, and she replied that she would not. The Association of Education Committees has joined in. Sir William Alexander , its secretary, who is not unknown to the right hon. Lady, said:
“The fact that the Government has decided that it is not prepared to finance the provision of milk for children of 7 surely does not mean that it must forbid a local education authority to do so at its own expense.”
But that is precisely what the Government are doing. So much for a “better tomorrow” .
In “A Better Tomorrow” the Government said:
“The Government in Whitehall is overloaded, and as a result people in the regions grow increasingly impatient about the decisions being made in London which they know could be better made locally. Under our new style of government, we will devolve government power so that more decisions are made locally.”
Local authorities want to decide whether to supply free milk, or not. Why does Whitehall know better than the town hall? If local authorities are prepared to go to their electors and levy a penny rate, or whatever it is, to pay for this milk, why should they not be allowed to do so?
“A Better Tomorrow” goes on to say:
“The independence of local authorities has been seriously eroded by Labour Ministers. On many issues, particularly in education and housing, they have deliberately overridden the views of elected councillors. We think it wrong that the balance of power between central and local government should have been distorted, and we will redress the balance and increase the independence of local authorities.”
I shall not embarrass the right hon. Lady by quoting all the things that she said in the same vein during the debate on Circular 10/65 and during the debate on school dinners, but, clearly, this promise to local authorities was another [column 67]promise that was never meant to be taken seriously. Just how cynical can the Conservative Party get in the pursuit of power?
I end as I began. This is a thoroughly mean Bill, brought in by a thoroughly mean and discredited Government who in one short year have lost the support of the nation and are detested by fair-minded people throughout the country. They have no mandate for the Bill. There is not a word in their manifesto about withdrawing the supply of milk to young children. The Bill is a denial of the Government's electoral protestations about protecting the poor and the under-privileged. The Government's stubborn refusal to give local authorities freedom in this manner turns into yet another squalid confidence trick all their talk about freedom for local government. It is just another promise that was never meant to be taken seriously. I ask the House to reject this mean and squalid Bill.