EDUCATION (MILK) BILL
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
Existing Development Areas—England and Wales
Notwithstanding anything contained in section 1 of this Act and notwithstanding anything which may be done between the passing of this Act and the commencement of the said section 1, regulations in force when this Act is passed shall continue to apply to any local education authority in England or Wales any part of whose area forms part of a development area.—[Mr. Edward Short.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Edward Short(Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris
With this new Clause the House can discuss new Clause 5—Future development areas—England and Wales; new Clause 6—Existing special development areas—England and Wales; new Clause 7—Future special development areas—England and Wales; new Clause 8—Exception related to male unemployed; new Clause 9—Exception related to future male unemployed; new Clause 10—Exception related to Urban Aid Programme; new Clause 11—Exception related to future Urban Aid Programme; Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 5, at beginning insert:
‘Subject to subsection (3A) below’.
Amendment No. 24, in page 2, line 4, at beginning insert:
‘Subject to subsection (3A) below’.
Amendment No. 25, in line 9, at end insert:
(3A) In relation to any local education authority whose area is wholly or partly situated in a part of England and Wales which is for the time being a development area within [column 520]the meaning of the Local Employment Act 1960, sections 49 and 78(2)(a) of the Education Act 1944 shall continue to have effect as amended by section 3 of the Public Expenditure and Receipts Act 1968 and the Education (School Milk) Act 1970, and subsections (2) and (3) above shall not apply.
Amendment No. 26, in line 10, at beginning insert:
‘Subject to subsection (3A) above’.
Amendment No. 32, line 20, at beginning insert:
‘Subject to subsection (6) below’.
Amendment No. 54, in page 3, line 5, at beginning insert:
‘Subject to subsection (6) below’.
Amendment No. 55, in line 13, leave out ‘on 1st August 1971’ and insert:
‘when Scotland ceases to be a development area within the meaning of the Local Employment Act 1960; but thereafter in relation to any education authority whose area is wholly or partly situated in a part of Scotland which is for the time being a development area with the meaning of that Act, sections 53 and 55 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1962 shall continue to have effect as amended by section 3 of the Public Expenditure and Receipts Act 1968, and subsections (1) and (4) above shall not apply’.
Amendment No. 62, in line 13, at end insert:
(7) The restriction imposed by this section on the duty of local education authorities to provide milk at educational establishments under their management shall not apply to any such authority in whose area the average earnings are below the national average; but section 3 of the Public Expenditure and Receipts Act 1968 (in so far as it applies to Scotland) shall continue to apply.
And Amendment No. 63, in line 13, at end insert:
(7) The restriction imposed by this section on the duty of local authorities to provide milk at educational establishments under their management shall not apply to any such authority in whose area the number of males unemployed exceeds a figure of five per cent. of the number of males in employment at the time of the coming into force of this section or at any time thereafter; but section 3 of the Public Expenditure and Receipts Act 1968 (in so far as it applies to Scotland) shall continue to apply.
This miserable, rather shameful, Bill does two things. It enables schools to sell milk to their pupils and it withdraws free milk from primary school pupils between the ages of 7 and 11, except in two categories—first, if they have a medical certificate from the medical officer of the authority stating that the child's health requires that he should [column 521]be provided with milk at school, and, second, if he is in a special school.
This group of new Clauses and Amendments—17 in all—seeks to add a third category of children to retain their free milk. All of them are based upon a regional differentiation of one kind or another. There are some which would retain free milk for children in development areas, some in special development areas, some in areas in receipt of urban aid, some in areas where unemployment is 5 per cent. or over, and some where the level of earnings is below the national level.
These 17 Clauses and Amendments are based upon this kind of regional differentiation. All these regions—whether they are development areas, special development areas, urban aid areas, high unemployment areas, or whatever they are—are characterised by high unemployment and, therefore, by the poverty which is consequent upon high unemployment. They all suffer in varying degrees from poverty, deprivation and need.
Poverty is bad enough in the case of able-bodied adults, but when poverty afflicts children and old people it is writ large. I often think that the morality of men and of Government can be gauged pretty accurately by how they treat their children and their old people. This Government in this miserable Bill are taking free milk away from children between the ages of 7 and 11.
Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
The hon. Gentleman need not shake his head because that is what the Bill is about. This Government, but not this Bill, are also taking milk away from the pre-school child, unless he is fortunate enough to have a place in a nursery school. This is nothing to do with taking milk away from almost adult teenagers many of whom do not like milk. This concerns taking milk away from very young children aged 7 and over.
In Committee we heard a number of reasons why the Government are doing this. The most frequently stated reason is that the Conservatives believe that social benefits should not be given across the board irrespective of need but should be given only to those in need. Indeed, the [column 522]Minister for Housing and Construction repeated this yesterday when he was talking about his housing plans. The Conservative philosophy is that there should be selectivity in social benefits. I can bring forward, if the House would wish them, 50 quotations from right hon. and hon. Members opposite about selectivity in social benefits. Here in the Bill they deny that principle. The Bill denies the principle of selectivity. Selectivity is the ark of the covenant. Indeed, it is the covenant inside the Tory ark.
All we do here in this group of Amendments and Clauses is to ask the Government to apply the principle of selectivity. We on this side of the House hate it, but we have tabled these Amendments and Clauses because, if only one of them were accepted, it would mean that a large number of children in need would retain their free milk.
“A Better Tomorrow” , which I quote pretty frequently, as the Under-Secretary of State knows, has a great deal to say about selectivity and about regional policy. For example, in this publication the Conservatives say that they want to create a country which uses prosperity wisely and which helps the elderly and those in need. On page 7, dealing with regional policy, they say this:
“We will introduce effective regional development policies to bring prosperity to every part of the country.”
On page 8 they say that they want to create a better tomorrow—
“A better tomorrow with living standards rising again …” .
This really ought to be sung; it sounds much better—
“A better tomorrow with living standards rising again at a reasonable rate so that every family can enjoy a fuller life.
That is in their own election manifesto.A better tomorrow for all: for the families that are homeless today, for the unemployed; for the children still in poverty …”
Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)
I am not clear whether the right hon. Gentleman is trying to make a joke or is being serious. [Hon. Members: “It is no joke.” ] Is he suggesting that it should be part of regional development policy to provide milk for children between 7 and 11 years of age? He is not seriously proposing that as part of regional policy, is he?[column 523]
If the hon. Gentleman does not realise that it is part of regional policy, there is something wrong with him. He has no compassion. If that represents Tory thinking and Tory policy about the regions and the development areas, then God help those areas. If the correcting of regional imbalance does not have a social content, there is nothing much to be said for it.
Again, on the page referring to regional policy, the Tories said this in their manifesto:
“We regard an effective regional development policy as a vital element in our economy” —
and so on—
“socially, because we are not prepared to tolerate the human waste and suffering that accompany persistent unemployment, dereliction and decline.”
So much for “A Better Tomorrow” . The Government have an opportunity here to apply what their party said in its manifesto about selectivity and about regional policy and regional imbalance.
We had a number of bets in the Standing Committee, and I had one with the Under-Secretary of State that when the Bill came into operation, if ever it did, there would be seen to be a close correlation between the medical milk category and unemployment, that where unemployment was high the number of children in the medical milk category would be high also. I do not know whether hon. Members have noticed, but there is a close correlation emerging already, as is seen from the right hon. Lady's Written Answer about school meals, between, on the one hand, the number of children dropping out of paid school meals and the number of free meals and, on the other hand, unemployment.
In the Northern Region there is 7.1 per cent. male unemployment, in Scotland 7.5 per cent., and in Wales 5.3 per cent. I draw attention to the column in the right hon. Lady's Written Answer which gives the proportion of free dinners as a percentage of the dinners taken. There are 26 areas showing over 30 per cent. free dinners, and 22 of those are in either the North or Wales. There are no figures in this connection for Scotland. There are 37 areas with over 25 per cent. free dinners—again, excluding Scotland—and 31 of those are in the North or Wales. [column 524]My own city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne records nearly 50 per cent. of its meals taken as free meals. Imagine that—almost 50 per cent.
The right hon. Lady tried to make out on a number of occasions that the recent increase in the parental income scales has to some extent at least compensated for the increase in price. But that is quite wrong. I had some figures sent to me this week by the Tyneside Child Poverty Action Group, figures well prepared after the Group had carried out its own survey. This is how the matter looks. In Newcastle there has been a drop of 23 per cent. in the take-up of paid meals and an increase of only 8 per cent. in free meals. In Gateshead there has been a drop of 25 per cent. in paid meals and an increase of only 14 per cent. in free meals. In South Shields there has been a fall of 31 per cent. in paid meals and an increase of only 5 per cent. in free meals, and, I should add, South Shields has the highest percentage of free meals in the country. So one could go on.
The right hon. Lady said that the number of meals taken falls off in the summer. How does she explain net falls in the North-East of up to 20 per cent. in the number of children taking meals? I can give the explanation. It is simple. It is due to sheer, stark poverty. The net drop in the number of meals taken revealed by that survey is due to sheer, stark poverty in Britain in 1971, after 13 months of Tory misrule.
The Government know nothing about what is happening in the North, in Wales and in Scotland, and I do not believe that they care, either. To withdraw free milk from 7-year-olds in a city like mine, where nearly 50 per cent. of the meals taken are free and where there is 7.5 per cent. male unemployment, is shameful and disgusting. How can the Government defend it?
The shame of it is made all the greater by the right hon. Lady's thoroughly misleading assertion that it is all a matter of priorities. I have her speech here. It was deliberately misleading. This year, on the Government's own figures in “New Policies for Public Spending” , education expenditure has been reduced by £21 million. It is a matter of priorities all right, but it is not a matter of priorities within the education budget. [column 525]
I see that the right hon. Lady was called an alchemist the other day by one of her Tory councillors in Barnet. She was called a lot of other names as well, but I should probably be out of order if I used them here. Indeed, the right hon. Lady is an alchemist, trying to turn a base metal into gold, and trying without very much success, according to the public opinion polls, to justify snatching away the children's milk in order to make surtax payers even richer. That is what she is doing. It is a matter of priorities all right, but not priorities in the education budget.
It is extremist rubbish to protest about milk being taken away from 7-years-olds, is it? If that is what the hon. Gentleman thinks, I invite him to come to my constituency and say it.
The right hon. Lady—in passing, may I say how pleased we are to see that she got safely out of her glasshouses this morning; she does escape from some of them, apparently—is the Minister charged under Section 1 of the 1944 Act with the duty
“to promote the education of the people of England and Wales.”
Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
God help them.
Ever since State education started 100 years ago, it has been recognised by nutrition experts and educationists that there is a close connection between quality and standards of education and nutrition. I discovered that in a Report ordered to be printed by the House in 1885 Sir James Crichton Brown said:
“… the question of milk supply claims priority over that of education.”
At the turn of the century, progressive people throughout the country were advocating the supply of free school milk. I came across an old pamphlet issued by the Independent Labour Party in 1905. It was written by a gentleman named Councillor A. W. Short, who was, I am pleased to see, the first Labour Councillor in Bootle. He said:
“It is useless to spend money on educating children who have not the physical capacity to assimilate it. Nay, it is inflicting on them untold injury.”
[column 526]That was written 65 years ago. Now, in 1971, this new style Tory Government are way behind those progressive gentlemen at the turn of the century.
The Government could retrieve the situation to some extent by accepting one of these Amendments or new Clauses. We have offered them a wide variety, and they can take their pick. I do not mind much which they choose. I do not greatly mind what the criterion is so long as there is a poverty criterion, as there is in the case of school meals, added to the two other criteria.
If the reason for the Bill is the one given, for example, by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) in Committee, that our children are too fat and ought to be thinned down a bit and, therefore, we ought to stop their free milk—that is what he said—I hope that the Government will say so. Whatever their reason for this mean Bill, their own philosophy, stated over and over again, demands that there should be a poverty criterion if they are withdrawing milk from young children. Their economic policy also makes a poverty criterion urgent and essential.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Perhaps I should remind hon. Members that a large number of new Clauses and Amendments are being taken for discussion with the Clause.
The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William van Straubenzee)
Because the set of new Clauses and Amendments which we are debating cover Scotland as well as England and Wales, I hope that it may be for the general convenience of the House if I intervene briefly now and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office, intervenes later. Between us, we shall hope to cover the whole board. We shall try to follow that procedure throughout at least the major debates which lie ahead.
I wish to direct my attention strictly to the new Clauses and Amendments, but I must stray a little after the opening statement of the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short). As I watched him in his white surplice, preaching his sermon, with a halo around his head as though he [column 527]had never taken part in a similar exercise, my mind went back to 4th November, 1968, when he removed free school meals from the fourth and subsequent children. By chance, I have the Hansard extract by me. In defending his action, mostly against his own side, he said:
“This is not a cut. It is simply using resources much more wisely. All the children who need free meals can get free meals. There is no need to give the money to quite wealthy people with large incomes.” —[Official Report, 4th November, 1968; Vol. 772, c. 486.]I think he was absolutely right. What I find surprising is that he cannot carry the logic into opposition but can permit himself to say, “We hate selectivity” . Indeed not. He rightly attempted to get more people to take up their entitlement to free school meals, which was a total commitment to selectivity. The process of which the Bill forms a part is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman said it was—using resources much more wisely.
The Bill must be looked at as part of a whole. We heard something about the distinguished Councillor Short of 66 years ago. But Councillor Short, who I am sure was a paragon of virtue—I understand that he was not related to the right hon. Gentleman—would never have known anything about the modern social benefits and the advance in social provision, such as the family income supplement which comes into effect on 5th August. These matters must be looked at as a whole. He would not have known of the social benefits which we as a people rightly regard as important in this part of the 20th century, all of which are being improved as a result of the reallocation of resources, in which the Bill plays a part.
Now I will direct my attention to the three strands in the new Clause and the Amendments. We are invited to be selective in terms of development areas. It is true that in Committee we are all accustomed merely to seeing an argument got on to its feet by an Amendment, but on the Floor of the House we naturally expect the proposals to be in a workable form, and the new Clauses and Amendments are drawn with a greater degree of sophistication than is the case in Committee.
Supposing the House agreed that there should be a duty upon local authorities [column 528]to provide milk free for the 7-to-11-year-olds in those areas any part of which were affected by the urban programme. One of the areas to benefit would be Buckinghamshire. The House would have decided that the children in all of Buckinghamshire should receive free school milk, and as a result the poverty-ridden stockbrokers of Chalfont St. Giles would benefit. That is an astonishing suggestion to put before the House.
I am talking now about the urban programme, which is covered by one set of Amendments, and I shall deal with the development areas later. Let me take a city. The urban programme also benefited the city of Leicester—rightly so, because it has pockets of poverty. But I am told that per capita it is one of the richest cities in Europe. It is solemnly proposed that as a selective measure we should benefit the children of Leicester.
Let us take an outer London borough now, the borough of Barnet, which is an admirable borough. One of its best features is that part of it returned my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to this House. I doubt whether there will be hon. Members opposite who, on reflection, would feel it right that they should vote for a measure of selectivity which provided that for the whole of Buckinghamshire and Barnet, not just those areas affected by the urban programme, there should be free school milk. I rest my case there on the urban programme proposals. They do not stand up to examination for one moment.
What would be the effect if we were to take as our criteria for selectivity the special development areas, the intermediate areas or the development areas? It is true that for the situation with which they seek to deal those areas are a useful weapon in the Government's armoury for regional assistance. But the new Clauses are so drawn that any part of the area affected comes under the free school milk provision. I have lists of the areas here, including Cornwall and Devonshire but not, for example, Dorset or Somerset. Yet we have just heard from one of my hon. Friends about the unemployment figure in a limited part of South Dorset. Will Labour hon. Members troop through the Lobby in favour of a selective system which provides free school milk for children of 7 to 11 years of age in every school in Cornwall and [column 529]Devon but not in Dorset and Somerset? I believe that they are susceptible to rational argument. I have fought this matter through Committee with a number of them.
Mr. Ernest Armstrong(Durham, North-West)
It is much more reasonable to do this than to take free milk from 7-year-olds when the figures of the Secretary of State have proved that families are living in poverty and unable to buy the milk. The hon. Gentleman should address himself to that.
Mr. van Straubenzee
My right hon. Friend has shown no such thing. I am coming to the question of unemployment. In view of the large number of new Clauses and Amendments, I hoped that I was being courteous in taking the three central threads. I would have been attacked by the Opposition if I had not done so. I am now dealing with the suggestion that the selectivity should be by way of development areas. Now that I have shown the ridiculous results which would come from that, I do not suppose the matter will be persisted in, so I move to the third thread.
Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)
If the hon. Gentleman does not believe that selectivity should be operated in this way, why do the Government themselves from time to time use these criteria—for example, in giving extra assistance for the improvement of housing, irrespective of whether the housing needs are greatest, in the development areas or other areas?
Mr. van Straubenzee
For the reason that assistance within a development area should be used selectively. But that is not what is being argued now. I am being asked to provide compulsorily for free school milk in all schools in any part of an area which is in a development area. I invite the hon. Gentleman to read the Opposition's own new Clauses. He will then appreciate what I am saying. They do not stand up to scrutiny. There is, in fact, a certain element of selectivity in the Bill already. If one wants to make an intelligent selectivity as between schools or as between children, one does not do it by way of development areas, because this would produce the ridiculous results which I have just outlined.[column 530]
Mr. William Hamilton(Fife, West)
The hon. Gentleman has presumed to do a job demolishing the argument about selectivity for development areas. But his point is not valid. Does he not recognise that the Government are operating such selectivity already? For example, we passed the Housing Bill yesterday, which specifically gives special subsidies to house improvements in development areas. The Bill was specifically designed for them. That is the principle we are seeking to implement here.
Mr. van Straubenzee
The hon. Gentleman is not correct. It is unlike him, but he is not. I give an example. Only certain small parts of the development area in Devonshire would be affected—namely, the exchange areas of Barnstaple, Bideford and Ilfracombe. The result of the Opposition's new Clauses and Amendments would be that the entire county of Devonshire, development area or not, would be given free school milk. I think I have made my point. I am simply saying that hon. Members have not fully appreciated the effects of these new Clauses and Amendments.
The third criterion would be unemployment. I wonder whether it has been considered for a moment how this would work. Obviously, it is outside my responsibility but I take the example of the great city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in deference to the right hon. Gentleman. I understand that within the city area there are two entire employment exchange districts and part of a third. The same applies to a number of our other great cities and areas. As I understand the new Clauses and Amendments, it is suggested that the city council of Newcastle should pass a resolution saying that, to the best of its belief, unemployment within the city area has reached a certain minimum percentage. But how, since there is no correlation between unemployment areas and local education authority areas, is a reputable city council to arrive at a statement of that kind if, for example, the rate of unemployment should fluctuate downwards in any particular area? Are we to have, in those circumstances, the immediate removal of free school milk within them?
I must therefore tell the Opposition that selectivity on these three grounds does not begin to stand up to examination. I am asserting roundly, first, that [column 531]there are provisions in the Bill for certain types of school; secondly, that there are certain medical provisions, which we shall be debating later; thirdly, that this is part of the reallocation of resources which must be looked at as a whole. I believe that when these criteria are examined objectively no hon. Member will want to pursue them.
Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop(South Shields)
The hon. Gentleman has given a pettifogging kind of reply. He raised an extraordinary kind of argument in his detailed objections to our attempt, for example, to include development areas for the continuation of existing regulations. I pay him the credit of believing that his heart was not in the job.
I speak on behalf of my constituency, where we have, by temporary mischance, soon to be corrected, a Conservative council. It has made clear its objections to these proposals by the Government and its wish to see the existing provision for milk continue. I am, therefore, speaking not purely on party political grounds in arguing my case in support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) but, indeed, for the whole generality of people in my area.
The right hon. Gentleman rather contemptuously referred to our proposals for the development areas. I am speaking for a constituency where the male unemployment has risen steadily until now it is 15 per cent. I am talking about a constituency in which the cost to many families of sending their children to school has mounted steadily. Many are now being asked to pay as much as £3 a week merely to get their children to school. I have had precious little comfort from the Department when I have appealed for help in this regard. The problem has to be seen as a whole. The question of school milk is only one part of the whole problem of areas like mine—a problem for which hon. Members opposite must accept total responsibility. Conservatives and Labour supporters, and Liberal supporters where there are any, regard the Conservative Government as wholly responsible.
I strongly support my right hon. Friend on this series of Amendments. I do not suggest that we are tied to any individual [column 532]Amendments, but we are trying to see whether we can get some glimmer of encouragement. I am concerned especially with the development area and with constituencies such as mine where the hardship being suffered is clear and where some of the emergency programmes which the Government are now introducing will do little to help in the period immediately ahead. I want a much more forthcoming answer from the Government, or it will take a very long time to get the remaining stages of the Bill through the House.
Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
The speech of the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) seemed to have one or two unusual features. One was that he forgot to make his usual attack on his former civil servants. Secondly, he seemed to be placing the provision of milk above schooling as the primary function of education. To paraphrase Housman, he was saying,
“Milk does more than Milton can,
To justify God's ways to man” .
It is a pity that the Department of Education is responsible for these policy decisions, because the provision of milk is essentially a matter of health and social security. While the actual administration of the milk scheme is bound to be through the education system, I hope that in future it will be possible to transfer the policy decisions to the Department where they rightly belong, and I do not say that in any sense of criticism of the way in which the Department now responsible conducts its affairs.
I have felt some unease about one aspect of the Bill, and it is that which underlies this group of Amendments. It is the risk that in some parts of the country there are some children who are not sufficiently nourished when they arrive at school and are now benefiting from the provision of milk. There seems some reason to believe that in certain areas in particular—and they will tend to be the kind of areas which the Amendments discuss—this possibility exists.
In principle, I should have been happier if it had been possible to enable local authorities to decide whether to go on providing milk for these categories. However, I accept that in a Bill of this nature it is probably wrong to tackle the fundamental question of the powers of [column 533]local authorities, although I believe that that is something to which we shall return.
The question is what can be done about the problem, and I should like to point to what I believe may be a solution which is offered by existing legislation and will continue to exist after the Bill has become law. As hon. Members will recall, Section 6(1) of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act, 1963, says:
“A local authority may, subject to the provisions of this section, incur expenditure for any purpose which in their opinion is in the interests of their area or its inhabitants, but shall not, by virtue of this subsection, incur any expenditure for a purpose for which they are, either unconditionally or subject to any limitation or to the satisfaction of any condition, authorised or required by or by virtue of any enactment other than this section to make any payment.”
That is the so-called penny rate Clause. It allows a local authority to spend the product of a penny rate at its discretion, so long as it does not spend it on something either specifically provided for or specifically forbidden under other legislation.
Would it be possible under that provision for local authorities to provide breakfast or refreshment, whatever it might be called, to children who, it had reason to believe, might be arriving at school without adequate nourishment? The problem is that a sizeable number of children in certain areas arrive at school without an adequate breakfast and often without any breakfast. In some parts of the country it is a serious problem, but under that Act it might be possible to meet it.
Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
I may be able to assist the hon. Gentleman. I am a vice-president of the Association of Municipal Corporations. The Association has written a remarkable letter, dated 13th June, saying that if the Bill goes through in its present form, it would seem that individual local authorities which are not themselves education authorities might be able to resort to the use of the so-called free penny under the provisions of Section 6 of the Local Government (Financial Provision) Act, 1963. That would mean that we had one set of local authorities, not education authorities, which would be able to [column 534]operate it, and another set, local authorities which were themselves education authorities, not able to do so. What does the hon. Gentleman think about that?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I do not believe that that power would allow them to provide milk as such, for that would be covered by these provisions; but, equally—and I seek confirmation on this score—I think that it might be possible for them to provide breakfast, refreshment of some kind, which was clearly nourishing, but not milk itself. [Laughter.] The problem we are discussing—Labour Members might be serious about it—is that of under-nourished children, and I am seeking to know whether there is any way in which to tackle it.
Mr. van Straubenzee
The Bill would affect the provision to which my hon. Friend has referred, but he will be assisted if he studies the Provision of Milk and Meals Regulations, 1969. He will there see the powers vested in education authorities. I gladly confirm that those powers would not be affected by the Bill.
I am grateful, because my hon. Friend seems to have made an essential point; namely, that, in spite of what the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) said, perfectly honestly, local authorities will have the power to provide refreshment, or whatever it may be, to the children about whom the House is concerned. I am not sure whether I understood my hon. Friend correctly. I am not sure whether the penny rate comes into it. If it does, it is relevant to note that very few local authorities spend it; certainly Newcastle does not, and Manchester does not, and Merthyr Tydvil spends only a very small part of it. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's assurance, and it seems that the position will be satisfactory.
Mr. Edward Short
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down——
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Has the hon. Gentleman sat down?
I had sat down, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
That ends the matter.[column 535]
Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
I do not want to deal in detail with the lack of consistency in the Labour Party's attitude to milk and school meals. This must be the nth time that I have opposed an increase in the price of school meals, or an attempt to abolish school milk, and on one occasion I divided the House, but that was when the Labour Party was in office.
I support the Amendments, but the Labour Party has no one but itself to blame for the Measure which the Conservative Government are now able to introduce, because if the Labour Government had done what I asked, milk and meals would have been taken out of education and put into welfare, where they belong, and we should have been arguing about the matter in terms of entirely different priorities.
After all, why should we be concerned with education in this case in general or in particular in the development areas? It is far more a matter of welfare, more a matter of family provision. The right hon. Lady wants us to assess the priority of the cost of school milk in terms of the priority within the education budget. This is the wrong budget in which to discuss it. We ought to be discussing this in terms of the priorities for the total of family provision. If this had been done in the past it would have been much easier to make an argument this afternoon for selecting development areas.
The hon. Gentleman has sought to ridicule an attempt to be selective in terms of development areas. In a sense, of course, if he confines his argument to education he is on fairly strong ground. There is no great argument for selecting development areas and giving them an added slice of the education budget because there is no argument for saying that Cornwall, which I represent, is educationally deprived. I often argue for more primary and secondary schools, but when I travel around the country looking at education elsewhere I have to admit that education in the urban educational priority areas is in a far worse shape than it is in rural Cornwall.
Where the hon. Gentleman is on very weak ground in arguing that we should not be selective in development areas when it comes to total family provision. [column 536]Cornwall is certainly deprived in terms of family provision. He spoke of Devon and Cornwall and said that it would be ridiculous if we selected those areas in preference to Dorset. But he is missing the point here, because the central thing about Cornwall is that it has a very low income level indeed, the lowest of any county in England and almost as low as any county in England and Scotland. It is almost on a level with Northern Ireland in this respect. There was a point when I thought he was going to glorify the advantages of living in Devon and Cornwall to the extent that he would say “Let them eat cream as the alternative to milk.” It is not the comparison between Cornwall and Devon and Dorset that is ridiculous, but the income levels and particularly family income levels in Cornwall.
In the autumn term we shall see a substantial increase in the cost of transporting children to school. This will be borne not so much by the county councils but because of the rules introduced in the early 1950s, which have not been brought up to date, it will mean that the cost of transporting children to school in rural areas such as Cornwall—where virtually all rural transport will cease on the last day of this month—will be very much greater than in urban areas. There is no doubt that in areas such as the South-West development area family poverty is real. It is true that it may not always go hand in hand with a high level of unemployment, although I would say that was as good a guide as we can find.
The hon. Gentleman quibbled about whether it was an extraordinary situation when whole counties have part of their area in development areas. If he wants to accept the principle of this Amendment it is open to the Government to bring forward their own Amendments at a suitable time. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that can be done. The point I want to emphasise, as I have done before, is that school milk, which is not part of the education of this country—although children may be better educated because they are healthier—is part of the family allowances which the Beveridge scheme recommended. It was recommended in two parts—one in cash and the other in kind. Successive Governments have continually [column 537]diminished the part of the family allowances paid in kind.
This is a crazy thing to do because we all know that if we have to make a political case for increasing family allowances the argument that goes up against us from all sections of the community is “Do not pay it there because it is only dad who will drink the beer.” That argument can be far better countered, however wrong it may be, if we provide a large part of the family allowance in school meals and milk, which cannot be gambled away, or whatever the popular myth may be.
I beg the Government to consider this argument in terms of development areas. This is where family poverty is at its height. They should also consider this in terms of the total welfare provision. It is not a question of whether we spend money on school milk or primary schools. That is a totally “phoney” and hypocritical distinction, because it will not happen; we know we will not get more money. It is a question of deciding whether it is better to provide school milk or to increase tax allowances for children, which have been increased in the last Budget. That is part of the total provision for family welfare, and I would far rather have forgone a part of the increase in the tax allowances for children than have this cut or the increase in school meal charges. I begged the Labour Government to do this and I beg the Conservative Government to do it.
Dealing with family allowances, if the Government say it is a question of priorities and there is a total level of family provision which they cannot exceed, then, while I do not want to see family allowances cut—and they have not gone up by anthing like sufficient to keep pace with the standards set in the Beveridge Report—I would nevertheless rather have family allowances cut in cash and school milk paid for than the way we have it now. I beg the Government to accept this Amendment or the principle behind it, even if they wish to quibble over individual words. This will be a substantial help towards total provision of family living standards in parts of the country where they are very low indeed.
Mr. Fred Evans
I was disappointed to see the Under-Secretary try to obscure a fundamental principle in a cloud of [column 538]legalistic evasion. I would like to know how many representations he has received from local authorities throughout the country. Many large bodies have strongly condemned this mean and despicable Bill, including the Association of Education Committees, which has condemned it in strong terms. In Scotland 12 local authorities recently met to plan opposition to the Bill, while individual authorities like Merthyr Tydvil have been expressing their concern for a very long time.
Condemnation has also been forthcoming from nutritional experts like Dr. Lynch and Professor Yudkin, and nutritional research units throughout the country. In addition, associations such as the British Association of Social Workers have come down very heavily against the Bill. Despite this, in Committee we failed to wring one single concession from the Government. They are determined that for the sake of this £9 million the widow must contribute her mite and the children their milk. Most other people in low income groups must also make their contribution.
The right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) has been very severely criticised by her council in Barnet. This was reported in The Times yesterday, when some of the language used was extremely severe. The right hon. Lady was referred to as a “chemist” , an “alchemist” and a “part-time lawyer” . If the right hon. Lady has any knowledge of alchemy her knowledge is not that of the medieval alchemist who wanted to turn base metals into gold but of the modern Tory alchemist who seeks to transmute children's milk into silver to line the pockets of the Tory surtax payer.
The suggestion about the penny rate was made at the annual meeting of the Association of Education Committees. No doubt the Secretary of State has had representations made to her about this matter, and I should like to know what answers she has sent to the organisations concerned.
It has been suggested that development areas are not significant as units. I do not wish to bore the House by giving masses of statistics, but I ask hon. Members to look at Hansard for 5th July and correlate the detailed figures given by the right hon. Lady in an answer [column 539]about the provision of school meals and the drop in take-up which has occurred with the detailed figures of male unemployment for Wales as a development area.
In one area in the County of Glamorgan the male unemployment rate is 10.1 per cent. Subsequent to the increase in the price of school meals, the take-up of school meals in Glamorgan dropped by 25 per cent. In the County of Monmouth it dropped by over 31 per cent. The male unemployment figure in that county is 7 or 8 per cent. In the county borough which has attracted a lot of attention because it began its resistance to this Bill at a very early stage—Merthyr Tydvil—the male unemployment rate is 8 per cent. When the borough's estimates committee decided last February to keep the figure of £5,000 in its estimates to supply 3,000 children with free milk, it was worked out that in this area of low rateable value it could be done for less than a halfpenny rate.
The point has been made that if the penny rate is acceptable, education authorities cannot carry on with supplying free milk but other authorities can. In other words, the district councils could operate this scheme while the county education authorities could not. I do not doubt that areas like mine could come to an amicable arrangement about the sharing of costs, but it is possible that great tension will arise in certain areas if use of the penny rate is acceptable.
The serious point about the Bill is that no criterion is established for poverty. The criterion of poverty is accepted for the school meals system, which is a means-tested system. But in this case there is a blanket withdrawal of free milk except for children in State schools and for children with medical certificates. The fundamental, almost imbecile point is that children in State schools who are not healthy may not qualify medically for free milk, but it is possible for an unfortunate mentally handicapped child who is absolutely bursting with health to claim free milk because he is in a special school for the mentally handicapped.
The Bill bristles with inadequacies and near ridiculous points. To use the deprived areas which, by any criterion—unemployment, their social fabric, and so [column 540] on—are suffering very heavily to try to defeat in principle the argument that they merit special treatment is pettifogging. Study of these areas reveals the downward trend. Those who usually suffer first are the children. We have been led into this maze of argument and very sorry situation for the sake of £9 million by a doctrinaire decision that everyone across the board will have to pay so that the Conservative Party can effect its so-called economies and direct resources away from areas of great need to areas where the need is not so great.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) has left the Chamber because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), he made a very good speech. I agree with very much of what he said. The question of school milk should not come within the education budget; it is a matter of welfare. The hon. Member was absolutely right to criticise the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short)—who made, as usual, a most extraordinary speech—for not dealing with the issue in a more fundamental way. After all, he had responsibility and was in the Cabinet for many years.
I agree with the hon. Member for Cornwall, North, although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may not agree with me, that the distinction, as a priority, between primary school rebuilding and school milk is not valid. The two things have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and that is ample reason why the two should not be considered within the budget of the same Department.
It is the custom in Committee and on Report to be reasonably generous to people who table new Clauses and Amendments, but the new Clause we are discussing is one of the stupidest that I have seen on the Notice Paper. The right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central made, as usual, a thoroughly extremist speech. Why does he do it? The question of school milk and meals is serious and, although he may not appreciate it, many of us on this side of the House, including myself—and I represent a development area—consider this matter to be very serious and are disturbed about it. But it is absolutely absurd for the right hon. [column 541]Gentleman to make the kind of extremist remarks he made or for his colleagues to talk about the Tories benefiting the surtax payer. One really has to raise the level of debate on such an important subject about that of slinging that kind of putrid remark across the Floor.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)
I do not think the hon. Gentleman served on the Committee. If he did, he did not speak. Will he accept from this side of the House that the main argument given in Committee for the £9 million reduction in expenditure was that, on the basis of the Government's priorities, this expenditure was unnecessary, and that they intended to use it to decrease the burden on taxpayers, especially on surtax payers?
That has nothing to do with what I was saying. If the hon. Gentleman wants another debate on the Finance Bill with me, he can have it when we have another economic debate. The hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer set aside a vastly greater sum on family allowances in this budget than he did on anything else. There is no point in drawing in my right hon. Friend's measures, when a very large proportion of the main taxation reductions, leaving aside S.E.T., went on improving family allowances. However, that is a different subject.
I was making the point that I am worried about school milk and meals. But how can I honestly feel sympathy or support for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite when they make the type of extremist speech that we heard from the right hon. Gentleman? He and his hon. Friends do not have a monopoly of conscience. It is no use their pretending that they do.
I represent a development area and, as the hon. Member for Cornwall, North said, in Cornwall we have considerably lower family incomes than those in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency.
Mr. Edward Short
The right hon. Gentleman does not agreed. If he has better figures than mine, it will be interesting to hear them. However, he has not. The only figures of comparative incomes which exist are those of employment incomes published by the Inland Revenue, and [column 542]they show conclusively that incomes in my constituency are lower than the general average in Scotland, in Wales, and in every other county.
Some hon. Members opposite have suggested that I am a banker. I am not. I take the insult with a smile. This is part of the absurd throwing of charges across the Floor about surtax payers and bankers. It has nothing to do with the subject that we are discussing.
Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)
What is the hon. Gentleman, then?
I represent a constituency in Cornwall.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury about local authority discretion in this case. However, we shall come to that later when we discuss another Amendment. But the reason why I say that this is one of the stupidest Amendments that I have seen on any Notice Paper is that we have a system of regional development, of which, naturaly, I am in faour. The basis of regional development and the whole purpose behind it, which was agreed by both parties, is to build up the infrastructure of the areas and improve the industry, the roads and the housing of those areas. It is nonsensical to extend that and say that we want to create a class of development area children, special development area children and intermediate area children, and intermediate area milk, special development area milk and development area milk.
Mr. Fred Evans
The hon. Gentleman misses the point. We believe that, on an entirely nutritional basis, all children should have school milk. Having failed to wring anything out of the Government, we are driven to being selective. Among the top priorities, we have put children who live in development areas, because, obviously, they will be the first to suffer.
I quite understand what right hon. and hon. Gentleman opposite are trying to do. They are seeking a debate on the main issue. I take the point. But I hope that they will not [column 543]force a vote on such a foolish Amendment.
I can speak for children in my constituency. There is no doubt that families in my constituency have extremely low wages. Often they are out of work. Figures of 10 and 12 per cent. unemployment have been mentioned. In winter months in my constituency it goes up to 15 and even 25 per cent. But schoolchildren in my constituency live in a beautiful part of the United Kingdom. The system of education in Cornwall is good. It is probable that schoolchildren in my constituency and in the rest of Cornwall are fitter and healthier than their contemporaries in many towns in the United Kingdom which would be left entirely outside the concession that right hon and hon. Gentlemen opposite seek. It would not be right for schoolchildren to look across the valley of the Tamar to the villages on the other side of the river and say, “Yah, we get free milk between the ages of 7 and 11, but you in Devon do not.”
I apologise for not being present to hear the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but does he realise that many children in all constituencies now have to look across their classrooms and say, “Yah, we get free school meals, and you do not” ?
I am always willing to give way to the hon. Gentleman. But he has only just come into the Chamber and probably is not aware that I spent the first few minutes of my speech saying what an admirable speech he had made. Again, while I am prepared to take up the time of the House and argue with the hon. Gentleman, there is no need to do so, because he will be able to read Hansard in the morning.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) spoke about selectivity. The hon. Gentleman will know that, although we are forced by economic necessity to have a system of selectivity, none of us likes it. I can speak only for myself, of course, but I should prefer not to have a system of selectivity. I should prefer a negative income tax. The only reason why we have selectivity is that it is an economic necessity if the country is to afford to help the families in need. That is what the Labour Party did for six [column 544]years. The only reason why the country was near bankruptcy when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power was that they did not know where to stop. That is why we had to devalue the £.
Hon. Members may remember that I spoke against the principle underlying the family income supplement when it came before the House. It was one of the first debates in this Parliament. I do not like the idea of subsidising families who are in work. I do not like the Speenhamland basis of the F.I.S. On the other hand, it must be admitted that, perhaps more than any other, my constituency will benefit greatly from F.I.S. and, to that extent, I have to welcome it.
Mr. James Hamilton (Bothwell)
It is not a matter of subsidising workers in this case. It is one of subsidising employers who are not paying their workers a living wage.
That, again, is an entirely different issue. The reason why we have a regional development policy is clearly both to raise the level of employment in the regions and to raise incomes. The only way of raising incomes in development areas is by bringing in more employment and creating more competition for labour among employers. In a free society that is the only way to get wages up. We do not disagree on that point.
I am concerned about the whole issue of school milk and meals. But this matter cannot conceivably be carried out—I hope that the Opposition will not vote for the new Clause—on the basis of an arbitrary distinction between development and non-development areas. That is entirely wrong. The whole matter should be part of the general system of welfare. I believe that it is devaluing the admirable objectives of regional development policy to try to bring school milk within that context.
Mr. James Hamilton
I have taken a very keen interest in this subject. Indeed, I initiated an Adjournment debate on it on 17th February this year. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office, replied to that debate. On that occasion I revealed what has been revealed today; namely, that a survey carried out by Dr. George Lynch showed that only 32 per cent. of[column 545]the samples taken were at the desired nutritional standard. Therefore, in in essence, 68 per cent. were under the required nutritional standard.
We hear talk about development areas. I come from not only a development area but a development country. The part of the country in which I live and which I have the honour to represent is a special development area. In Scotland 49,000 male workers over the age of 21 earn less than £15 gross per week. These figures were given to me by the Minister in reply to a Question in the House. I also ascertained that 41 per cent. of the male population in Scotland over the age of 21 earn less than £24 gross per week. When we talk about wages of that nature, we obviously quickly and correctly come to the conclusion that many children in Scotland will have to go without school milk. Because of increased bus fares, and children having to pay fares for travelling to school, families are having to pay out more each week. Consequently, this falls heaviest on the large families.
Last week I visited a maternity hospital in my constituency—one of the finest maternity hospitals in the country—and spoke of the consultant gynaecologist and the matron. Both readily agreed that this was one of the most retrograde steps to be taken by any Government.
I agree with hon. Gentleman opposite who criticised my right hon. Friend about the withdrawal of milk from secondary schools. I did not vote with the Labour Government on that occasion. Therefore, I can claim to have certain principles about this matter. Nevertheless, in fairness to the then Government, they at least sought medical advice to ascertain whether this would be detrimental to the health of secondary schoolchildren. The answer was in the negative. It was only after they received that reply that the Government took their decision.
A sample taken in Renfrewshire—my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) will speak on this matter from the Front Bench—showed that 11 per cent. of the children attending not only secondary but primary schools had neither liquid nor solid food before going to school. Therefore, if this situation continues, it is obvious that [column 546]many of the diseases which we thought things of the past could easily recur.
According to Scottish newspapers, only yesterday there were 55 men chasing two jobs, and the police had to be brought out to control the crowd. It is obvious, therefore, as we have often said, that the poor families will suffer because they will not have the financial resources to purchase milk for their children.
I am not a great supporter of selectivity. Nevertheless, in this situation—the Government did not bend one iota in Committee—we are justifiably entitled to put down the necessary new Clauses and Amendments to try to get them to see the light concerning our children. Any Government, irrespective of colour, who use schoolchildren in the interests of economy have their priorities completely out of order.
I ask the Government, even at this late stage, to depart from the idea that all the new Clauses and Amendments which we have put down on this issue are frivolous. Most of us have put down Amendments on the basis of our experience in our constituencies. The Under-Secretary, who represents the Cathcart Division of Glasgow, will readily concede, I am sure, that representations were made to him by his local authority because it was determined to give free milk to schoolchildren. It is also interesting to note that the local education committee in Edinburgh, which is not Labour-controlled, has taken a decision to give free milk to its schoolchildren. So we have local authorities wanting to use their valid rights to look after the children in the various localities.
The Government have always subscribed to the view that local authorities should be given power to administer in their own areas. They freely stated, when we discussed fee-paying schools in Scotland, that they wanted to give more freedom to local authorities. I challenge the Under-Secretary to be consistent and to fight now to ensure that local authorities are given the freedom which he cherishes. If he shows consistency on that basis on this issue, he will be doing something for the citizens of tomorrow. It will also mean that this will not be one of the many misrepresentations and misplaced policies which have come under fire not only from the Opposition but from the [column 547]capitalist Press and Lord Clydesmuir in his representations to the Government. Otherwise, this Government will be remembered for having deprived children in primary schools of the free milk to which they are entitled.
I ask the Minister to treat these new Clauses and Amendments seriously, to listen to our views, and to accept them.
Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)
It was typical of the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) to quote from 1905. In this Chamber he has repeatedly shown that his thinking has not moved on from that era. In fact, he always vitiates his arguments and loses sympathy by painting a caricature of right hon. and hon. Members on these benches which is almost unrecognisable even by hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is a pity that he should lose sympathy in this way, because an important principle is involved. Many of us on this side of the House think very seriously about this problem and are aware of the issues which have been raised.
If one examines the so-called Amendments to provide selectivity, one finds that they are not selective at all. They are all blanket Amendments covering every child in a development area, and every child in a town which receives urban aid. There are poor children in Chelsea, and well-off children in Bootle. If one wants to tackle the problem of poverty, one has to deal with all areas, and not be selective. I suggest that the Amendments amount to a nonsense.
I believe that poverty can be dealt with only on an individual basis. That is why I agree with those who consider that this is basically a welfare matter. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans), who believes that all children in schools should have free milk. With respect, perhaps he and I are examples of why all children in schools should not have free milk. The problem today among many young people is that of having too much of the good things of life, and the hon. Gentleman and I are good examples of that.
Mr. Fred Evans
We had this classic argument in Committee. An hon. [column 548]Member had the cheek to talk about over-nourishment among children. Under-nourishment maybe, and perhaps too many people eat the wrong things and suffer from obesity, but the overwhelming evidence of research people is that the cheapest form of preventive medicine in supplying calcium and riboflavin, which are essential to children, is milk. If we want to provide protection for our children, the easiest and most economical way of doing it is by supplying free milk.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about differentiating between areas. To set up an administrative scheme to deal with the areas of poverty in each constituency would cost far more than the miserable sum which the Government are saving by taking milk away from children.
I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I meant that the problem was a welfare one, rather than one of trying to deal with pockets within larger areas. It is not just a question of providing school milk or school meals. I have heard many arguments to the effect that the best way of dealing with poverty is not to dole things out in kind but to provide money, to give a family the wherewithal to purchase what it needs in the way of nourishment and other things. I think that the old argument that we should provide so much in kind and so much in cash is losing its relevance today. Beveridge was rather a long time ago, and some of the conclusions of Beveridge do not have any relevance to 1971.
We have heard a lot of nonsense about school meals. In those areas where local authorities provide varied menus there has been no drop-off in the numbers taking school meals. While the price of school meals is relatively low, many families are willing to pay for them in order to salve their conscience. They think that it does not matter whether their children eat the meal or not. But when the price is put up to a more realistic level they ask whether their children are eating the meals, and whether they are getting value for money. That is one reason why, when the price was increased, many parents stopped their children from having the school meals. In those areas where local authorities provide variety in their menus the number of children taking school meals has risen.
Mr. Fred Evans
I hate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but the level of [column 549]his argument is on the level of the argument advanced by his right hon. Friend when she said that she was saving £9 million to build better primary schools. That is what she said at Eastbourne, although afterwards she said that it was only an intellectual exercise which was not meant. The logic of the right hon. Lady's argument is that we should build palaces in order to let people starve. The logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument is that we put up the price of meals more and more in order to make parents more critical of their children's eating habits.
Not at all. If parents believe that their children are eating a full school meal and getting value for money, they are prepared to pay a reasonable price for it, and that is proved. Where the menu provides a choice, children enjoy school meals. They eat more. The amount of wastage is reduced. A better service is provided, and the cost can remain the same.
There has been a lot of talk about the nutritional value of milk. Why cannot milk be incorporated more into the main meal of the day, which is the school meal, which far more children take than they do milk? Despite the efforts of schoolmasters, in many schools one sees crates of milk that has not been taken up. If one compares the number of bottles of milk ordered with the number in the school, one sees that there is a difference in the two figures.
The hon. Gentleman must not mislead the House. The evidence from the Minister, and from successive Ministers, is that in primary schools the take-up of milk has never been less than 92–95 per cent.
Nevertheless, it is not 100 per cent., and the hon. Gentleman's comment does not vitiate the argument that milk should be part of the basic school meal.
I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) and St. Ives (Mr. Nott) when they say that if the question were one of welfare, and if it were taken outside the scope of education, we would see it in its proper context. The problem should be considered in the wider context of what the Government are trying to do for the poor and the deprived in our community. [column 550]They have introduced a whole range of measures during the last 12 months to help the needy. There is the family income supplement. That was not introduced by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The income of the physically disabled has been increased. That was not done by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Child allowances have been increased, and again that was not done to the same extent when hon. Gentlemen opposite were the Government.
If an unbiassed observer considers the full picture, he has to admit that the Government are doing far more to help the needy than was done by those who are criticising them today. We are supposed to take these Amendments seriously. New Clause 17 says that where free milk is requested as a result of a referendum it should be supplied. I wonder what is coming next. Free football matches? Free bingo? It is sheer nonsense.
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
I am wondering what is coming next. Is it paid-for books, paid-for exercise books, paid-for pencils? That is the other side of the argument used by the hon. Gentleman.
I had concluded my speech.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
I thought that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) was giving way to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock).
Dr. M. S. Miller (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I want briefly to appeal to the Government's sense of commitment to the future. Our main concern here is not with statistics such as those with which the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) has been playing in his speech. If one considers statistics of the take-up of school meals and milk, one can make out any case that one likes. We are dealing with children, their health and their lives.
I remember listening to a debate on television a couple of weeks ago when an hon. Gentleman opposite was trying to justify this drastic Measure which the Government are putting through the House. He said that if children went to school without food or without milk it was the parents who were to blame, and that they should do something about it. [column 551]No one on this side would disagree with that. We are not saying that the parents are not to blame: what we are concerned with, however, is the health of the children.
High unemployment in the development areas is a very serious matter. I want to impress upon the Government that it is not just a question of unemployment or even of parents who either can or cannot afford to give their children this milk at home. What we are trying to impress upon them is that the children should have the milk.
Most countries in the northern hemisphere are being bombarded more and more with radiation—natural radiation and radiation from fall-out—and there is also much greater use of diagnostic X-rays. The best way of preventing disease in future adults is milk in childhood. I am surprised that the Government have not taken expert advice. We are laying up trouble for ourselves for the sake of a few pence a week.
As a doctor, I know that, when cod liver oil was withdrawn, if one case of rickets resulted, it cost more to cure than a year's supply of cod liver oil for the child. This is what the Government are doing in this instance.
I am sure right hon. Gentleman opposite know that a child does not stop growing at the tender age of 7. Milk is the most valuable source of everything required for his development—calcium for his bones and teeth, as well as vitamins and protein—but milk is also a powerful protection against the development of blood disease and also perhaps in respect of some other forms of cancer, the cause of which we do not know very much about at present.
Before they take this step, the Government should set up a high-powered medical commission to look into the possible future injurious effects on the blood and perhaps the organs of our children when they grow into adults.
Mr. Simon Mahon
I am looking for clarification of a matter raised by the A.M.C., but first I would compliment my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) on using the name of the first Labour councillor in Bootle—in 1905. I am sure that the House will [column 552]think it fitting that that councillor should have raised such an important issue and that 66 years later the wisdom of his words should be expounded by my right hon. Friend. I am grateful to him, as I am sure are my constituents.
It is a pity that we have to talk about 1905, because my experience is that only a Conservative Government could have introduced such a parsimonious and miserable Bill. One would think that we were back in 1905. I never thought that even a Tory Party could get down to this level in dealing with the welfare of schoolchildren. This is being said by most responsible people. I am used to dealing with professional Tories outside the House. I have not heard one Conservative with any social conscience defending this proposal. The Government should listen not only to us but to their own people, who are not with them on this.
The Association of Municipal Corporations could not be regarded as a very Left-wing organisation. They wrote to me only yesterday to say that they were perturbed at the situation and would like clarification. They said that they were still worried. After having studied the Committee proceedings, they feel that the position is still unresolved. The Under-Secretary gave the House to understand that the matter was resolved, but this very responsible Association says that it is not.
The Association says that if the Bill goes through it appears that local authorities which are not local education authorities may be able to use a penny rate under the provisions of Section 6 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act of 1963. They want to know whether this power can be used for the continued supply of milk without cost to parents and pupils and whether the matter will be contested in the courts. If the power can be used only for this purpose, it is most unsatisfactory if an authority which is an education authority will not be able to make this provision but one which is not will be able to do so. Then, people in one place might be getting this legally, while people in another could be getting it illegally.
There is a duty upon any Government when dealing with people like the A.M.C. [column 553]and education authorities to consult before they do things like this. Government means not only national government. It is in every village, town and city: we depend one upon the other. Westminster is not isolated. How often did the Tory Party say in opposition that Whitehall did not know best? Many of us in local government in those days agreed with them on that issue. But what a turnaround there has been because they are now the Government, and we are asking them to do what they said they would do.
Local government is being given instructions rather in the way that the London boroughs were instructed during the depression years, when attempting to assist the unemployed, and when George Lansbury was surcharged or told to go to gaol. They are now being told that if a local authority exercises its social conscience in this matter, and provides free milk itself at own expense it is likely to find itself in trouble.
All shades of political opinion in education want to know where they stand on this issue. I have been asked to speak on their behalf and to remind the Government that they said in their recent White Paper on local government:
“Vigorous local democracy means that authority must be given real functions with powers of decision and the ability to take action without being subjected to excessive regulation by central government through financial or other controls”
Where do the Government stand on that now? I have been known to give Governments good advice in the past. I advise the Secretary of State to remember that when the subject of the Common Market has been forgotten, the people of our nation will remember the mean and parsimonious attitude they are adopting today.
Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
If proof were needed of the dire straits in which the Government find themselves tonight in defending this deplorable Bill, it would be found in the attempts that have been made to put up a rearguard action. Two such attempts have been made since I came into the Chamber, notably by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) and the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry). Anybody familiar with the ways of this House [column 554]will know that when a Government are trying to push through an unpopular measure, they sometimes rely on faithful camp followers to put a gloss or veneer on the issue in an attempt to save face. That is what those two hon. Gentlemen have done on this occasion.
The hon. Member for St. Ives always addresses the House in a pleasant manner and with a smile on his face. He never looks angry, but he has too logical a brain to try to defend this proposal in logical terms. He could only attempt to put himself right with his constituents and praise the remarks of one of his Cornish colleagues. I suppose that he felt it necessary to refer to certain remarks made on this side as extremist.
This is common form. It is good knockabout stuff, but it has nothing to do with the merits of the case. I have often had the pleasure of debating more serious issues with the hon. Member for St. Ives, particularly in Committee upstairs, and I know that he is worthy of adducing better arguments.
As for the speech of the hon. Member for Wellingborough, I suggest that he goes instantly into the Press Lobby and does his best to persuade the publishers of his local newspapers in the Midlands not to reproduce the incoherent attempt which he made to fight a rearguard action on behalf of the Secretary of State.
I do not think any hon. Gentleman opposite will charge me with making extremist speeches. I never speak in extreme terms because I try to be rational and reasonable. I believe in sugar rather than vinegar. However, if anything could tempt me to lose restraint and make an extremist speech it is the document we are discussing today. The Bill is designed to deprive schoolchildren of free milk. It is, by definition, one of the most reactionary proposals that I can remember any Government introducing in the 20 years that I have been in this place.
The Secretary of State is an equally pleasant right hon. Lady. I have always found her most courteous and helpful whenever I have met her. She knows that she cannot defend the Bill in rational terms. The Amendment is an attempt to mitigate its effects, at any rate in the development areas. For my part, it does not go far enough. I do not want to see it on the Statute Book at all.[column 555]
Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. I have no doubt that, being a milk merchant, he has some good advice to offer me.
I remind hon. Members that the preamble to the Bill is vital in considering the Amendment. It says, in the crudest terms imaginable, that it is a Measure to
“Restrict the duty of education authorities to provide milk for pupils at educational establishments” —Why cannot they be called “schools” ?
“maintained by them or under their management and make further provision with respect to their power to do so; to restrict their power to secure provision of milk for pupils at other educational establishments; and for purposes connected therewith. Be it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty.”
I wonder if Her Majesty knows anything about this? Would it not be a derogation of her position to endorse this sort of legislation?
I have no interest whatever to declare in the industry, though I was once connected with it.
Mr. William Hamilton
The hon. Gentleman has run dry.
Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten the similar measures affecting secondary schools which his party introduced when they were in office?
I have not, and the hon. Gentleman will agree that I did not always agree with my Government when we were in office. They were vulnerable to be conned on occasions by the Civil Service—on, for example, economic matters; sometimes they went too far, beyond the realms of economic matters, and delved into ethics and morality—and then I sometimes found it necessary to disagree with my right hon. Friends. I never ducked an issue and I never had to apologise for arguing with them.
The Bill has been condemned by every responsible nutritional expert and by a great many educational authorities, including that of my native county of Lancashire. Will the Lancashire Education Authority be charged with extremism, for it has sent me a resolution in terms far more extremist than any I have used in this debate? I therefore echo what [column 556]has been said all along, and particularly in Committee upstairs, about the implications of the Bill.
The Secretary of State has been courteous in being here for most of the debate. She has a heavy responsibility in this matter. We are faced with a Bill which will deprive thousands of schoolchildren of a basic food which has been confirmed to be of the greatest value during the years from seven to the age of puberty. I therefore condemn it as a bad Measure.
What is to happen to all the surplus milk that will be released as a result of this Bill? If, as we are told, £9 million is being saved in this way, what will happen to that £9 million worth of milk? This country has the most efficiently organised system of milk production in the world. If anyone goes to Europe, to any of our prospective partners under the new marriage licence which is being sought for consummating a union with six others—[Interruption.] The right hon. Lady knows quite well what I mean, and I do not need to spell out a simple joke—they will not find there, or even in North America, the clean, wholesome, tuberculin-free milk which we enjoy.
That state of things is a credit to those who organised the Milk Marketing Board, with the encouragement of previous Labour Governments—[Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] That is certainly the case: I think of our late lamented friend, Tom Williams, one of the greatest Ministers of Agriculture the country ever had. All this has been put at risk by the Government at a stroke—the only stroke they have succeeded in striking since they came to power—for the sake of £9 million worth of milk for school children.
What will happen to that surplus milk? Has the whole British farming community to reorganise itself? Have the milk distribution agencies to sack a lot of men? Is that milk which is being set free by the Government's mean and parsimonious action to be sent to the factories at one-sixth of the price of liquid milk in order to be turned into umbrella handles, and all kinds of other manufactures?
Order. I am not quite certain whether the hon. Member is in order to speak on these lines. The debate [column 557]appears to me to be about development areas.
I am not sure myself, Mr. Speaker. I remember that when a former colleague of ours, Leslie Hale, was expounding from these benches and letting rip with his eloquence, the then Mr. Speaker said: “The hon. Member will forgive my interrupting him, but he is going rather wide.” Leslie Hale, who was rather broad in the physical sense, replied: “Yes, Mr. Speaker, I am afraid I am—that is what my doctor says.”
In many respects our social services, in spite of some deficiencies in recent years, are more advanced than those in neighbouring countries, but we have been criticised by those who say that many of the benefits the Welfare State provides for children have never been passed on to the children. We have been criticised because family allowances may not have been passed on by improvident or feckless parents to their children.
In our great cities and urbanised areas particularly, there are hundreds of thousands of homes where both parents are out earning a living, in spite of unemployment, and innumerable cases where their children either have to take the school dinner or, if the parent cannot afford that, take sandwiches. Many children go home in the evening before either parent has returned from work. The safety factor for many such children of tender age has been the provision of that small daily ration of milk.
The right hon. Lady must not therefore regard this as a purely economic equation, but should tell the House frankly what nutritional expert of any standing in this country is prepared to endorse her present action. I have never heard of any. I have had letters from constituents, and not only those who support me politically but quite often from intelligent Tories, quite often——
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if both husband and wife are at work they cannot afford to buy their children milk at the rate of one-third of a pint a day?
The hon. Gentleman must draw his own conclusions from what I say. I am responsible for my own words. I merely say that the provision of milk [column 558]during the day at least gives children such as those I have in mind something in the nature of a stop-gap meal.
I sincerely hope that we have not been talking in vain to the Government this afternoon, although judging by past performances I am afraid that that may turn out to be the case.
Mr. William Hamilton
The Bill must be seen in the context of the White Paper on Public Expenditure which was produced last October. I remember that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, either in the course of the debate on the White Paper or his statement on producing it, saying, “We were elected at the last election pledged to cut public expenditure and to reduce taxation, and this is a series of measures, a package deal, which will give us room for manoeuvre.” He said that the White Paper was an exercise in the redistribution of national wealth. It was a whole package dealing with school meals, school milk, National Health Service charges, taxation measures, housing subsidies and the rest—a package going right across the whole field of social expenditure.
I do not know whether this present legislation was inevitable or whether it became imperative because certain education authorities, Labour-controlled, were prepared to defy the determination of the Government and the intention expressed in that White Paper. Perhaps the right hon. Lady can enlighten me on that point now.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
I think that it would have been possible by regulations to impose a charge for the milk, but the Bill does a great deal more than this. Imposing a charge for the milk would have meant imposing a condition that it would continue to be supplied to all children who had been previously supplied with it. We could have done that by regulation, but we could not have done as much as the Bill does. Also, we could not by regulation have given a power of sale.
In other words, the right hon. Lady is contradicting what she said almost as soon as she took office. She then proclaimed that local authorities, particularly local education authorities, would be given the maximum freedom to decide in their own area how [column 559]they would organise their educational services. This Measure limits their freedom.
I hazard the guess that every Labour-controlled local education authority and many enlightened Tory ones, if given the right by Parliament, would still opt to provide children with free school milk and pay for it completely out of the rates. The vast majority of the ratepayers in those areas would support that; because all enlightened opinion agrees that this is one of the soundest investments that we can make in our future.
However, the Government introduce the Bill and say that it will save £9 million. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) objects because we say that this is part of the exercise of redistributing the national wealth to enable the Government to take 6d. off the standard rate of income tax which benefits most those earning £4,000 a year and upwards. The man who cleared himself had to be earning more than £3,500, taking the package as a whole. However, this is what the Government were elected to do. They said that they would reduce taxation and public expenditure. They are doing it. The people have only themselves to blame. By these Clauses we seek to lessen the harshness of the consequences of what the people themselves decided last June. Not in Scotland, nor in Wales, but in certain parts of England—let us say over the United Kingdom as a whole—the decision was taken to give the Government power to do what is being done in the Bill.
Our Clauses seek to be a little selective, because this was one of the key words that the Conservative Party used at the last election. The Conservatives said that the Labour Government were the Government that supported the scroungers, that gave carte blanche social services to everybody, regardless of means. All Governments have given tax concessions in the form of tax concessions on mortgage interest, not only irrespective of income but in inverse proportion to income—the higher the income the bigger the tax concession. The Labour Government introduced the mortgage option scheme because those who do not pay tax at the higher rates cannot qualify for the concession on mortgage interest.
I agree that my Government engaged in selectivity. During the 21 years I [column 560]have been in Parliament I have never under any Government supported anything of the kind, whether it has been prescription charges or whatever. Perhaps it is just because I have not been a member of a Government. If I had been a member of a Government I might have been as corrupted as hon. Members seem to get when they become members of a Government.
Mr. Fred Evans
My hon. Friend would not become corrupted.
I might well do so. I have seen good men and women go astray once they get on the Treasury Bench. I see some of them there now. The right hon. Lady is a perfectly honourable lady, but she has been corrupted by people who have given her misleading advice.
Mr. Fred Evans
The right hon. Lady was told that she had to cut something in the education service to give herself and the Chancellor some room for manoeuvre. This is one of the things she has done. She has sought to justify this—very dishonestly—by saying that the money saved will go to providing new primary schools. The right hon. Lady knows that it is dishonest and that the argument is invalid. I received an Answer from the Treasury only last week telling me so. The right hon. Lady knows full well that money saved in this fashion is not hypothecated for a particular purpose. It is like the myth of the road fund.
The Minister sought to dismiss all our Clauses and Amendments with contempt. He went through them all—the development areas, urban aid areas, unemployment areas, and so on. I was here until four o'clock this morning, not debating the Housing Bill, but listening to the debate; I had an Adjournment debate on another matter. The sufferer is sitting on the Treasury Bench—I mean the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office. He suffered with me. He probably suffered more than I did, because I took 25 minutes of the half hour.[column 561]
The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office (Mr. Edward Taylor)
Twenty-seven minutes of the half hour, in fact.
The hon. Gentleman is, as usual, exact in his figures. We were debating the Housing Bill which does precisely what some of these Clauses would do for development areas. The Housing Bill provides £46 million
“spread over the three financial years ending 31st March 1974” .
The Housing Bill gives specially high improvement grants for all houses in local government areas that come
“wholly or partly within a development area or an intermediate area”
as specified in Section 1 of the Local Employment Act, 1970.
Glasgow is in a development area. The whole of Scotland, except Edinburgh, is in a development area. There are suburbs of Glasgow which contain extremely wealthy people. They will get these higher improvement grants by right. The Under-Secretary may say that the Housing Bill is for improving the infrastructure. The hon. Member for St. Ives asked how the improvement of the infrastructure can be compared with giving milk to children. I should have thought that the one was as important as, if not more important than, the other. To put milk into children is as sound as putting bricks on mortar.
Surely the difference is that the housing measures are providing jobs for human beings. Cows may need to provide a certain amount of milk, but there is a radical difference between the two propositions.
The hon. Gentleman is trying to rationalise a nonsense. He knows full well that once we get involved with selectivity we get riddled with all kinds of anomalies. However we had done it—whether we had taken unemployment percentage rates, development areas, urban aid programmes, or blue-eyed boys or girls, or whether it had been said that blue-eyed boys and green-eyed girls could have free milk and selectivity had been operated in that way, there would have been criticism.
However, that has never stopped either the Government from attempting selec[column 562]tivity throughout the whole range of social services. The more anomalies that are created the more one is forced back to the position where the only satisfactory means of selectivity is a progressive tax system. These services should be given free at the time of receipt. Then the adult population should be taxed in accordance with their ability to pay.
All these Measures flow from the fact that no Government have produced a taxation system which is progressive and fair and under which everybody pays his fair share. We have two systems of taxation, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has often said—people who pay as they earn and people who pay as they like.
The Minister should not look surprised at that. He is not as green as all that. He may be a pompous Minister, but he knows the facts of life. We all know what goes on. My point is that the hon. Member was being unfair in attempting to shoot down these Amendments, because we are trying to enlarge a principle on which the Conservatives fought the election—the principle of selectivity.
As the Scottish Under-Secretary knows, in Glasgow there are areas of intense poverty and unemployment, but there are also suburbs of high prosperity. The Housing Bill will give wealthy house-owners flat-rate improvement grants simply because they live in development areas. It does not exclude wealthy people; it covers the whole lot. The constant factor in respect of the areas that we have selected—urban aid areas, areas with high rates of unemployment, and development areas—is under-privilege, which means restricted job opportunities, slum schools, slum houses and a slum environment, which, in turn, means that the education of the children is jeopardised. Those factors are yardsticks that have been accepted by most Governments for one or other exercise in social security.
When my right hon. Friend moved the new Clause he referred to the decline in the uptake of meals that had taken place since the price increase. That is relevant to the relationship between the percentage rate of unemployment and hardship on the one hand, and the uptake of meals, on the other. I received some figures in respect of Scotland in a Written Answer on 30th June. The Secretary of State [column 563]gave figures showing that between January, 1971, to May, 1971, as a consequence of the increase in charges, the total number of children taking meals fell by 57,525, or 16 per cent., and the number paying the prescribed charge fell by more than 30 per cent.
If, in that situation, we take away school milk, there will be even greater deprivation of innocent people. We can squabble and fight in the House about party politics, but it is wrong to bring in children. It is wrong to talk, as the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) did, at great length, about parents drinking too much booze and engaging in too much bingo. He said that he had no sympathy for them when they could not provide milk for their kids. But it is not the kids who are responsible for their parents drinking or gambling, and they should not be made to suffer for it by the Government. It is the duty of the Government to protect innocent people, whether they be adults or youngsters. The most squalid aspect of the Bill is that it is seeking to save £9 million at the expense of innocent citizens.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Dr. Miller) has returned to the Chamber, because he made a point of some relevance. It has been said by all the world's nutritional experts that milk is probably the most nearly perfect food known. I want to quote from a report that appeared in the Scottish Educational Journal on 18th December 1970. It is a report of a council meeting of the equivalent of the N.U.T.—the E.I.S.—in Edinburgh the previous week. At that meeting a Mr. Ronald Page moved a motion condemning the proposal to abolish free school milk. He said that there was no doubt that there was a very close link between education and health, and that we could not educate children on empty bellies.
We can talk about being one of the most prosperous countries—and so we are—but whether we like it or not there are still some children going to school without breakfasts. We can blame the parents, and say that they should stand on their own feet, but we cannot change the situation overnight. Meanwhile we must give some protection to the children either [column 564]by way of free school meals or free milk, or both.
Mr. Page went on to say that
a good example of how the withdrawal of free vitamins affected health was the way in which the incidence of rickets had increased after the reduction of the Vitamin D content of welfare foods and the increased cost of National Dried Milk between 1956 and 1960. The average incidence of rickets among children attending the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow from 1953 to 1958 was less than 2 per annum. During 1959–62 it averaged 6 per annum, and the number of comparable cases during 1964 was 24.
Rickets was a disease that had disappeared, but it is now reappearing. It can be said that 24 is not a large number, in all conscience; but it is 12 times the average between 1953 and 1958. It is 12 times what it need be. That is some indication of the long-term effects of the sort of policies that are crystallised in the Bill. That is why we have put down these new Clauses and Amendments. They are not frivolous, and I hope that we shall press them to a vote, because we have most of the enlightened support in all parties.
Mr. Edward Taylor
As the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) has said, for the second time today it is my privilege and pleasure to follow him in debate. He was speaking in the Adjournment debate at half-past three this morning, as he spoke just now, with his usual courtesy and charm.
I want to reply to some of the points that have been made and to say something about the position in Scotland. The general argument put forward is that it is wise, proper and right to have selectivity. It has been said that we should apply selectivity to the proposal to remove free school milk for the 7–12s. The selectivity proposed by the Opposition, however, would not achieve a just situation, or one that could possibly be justified.
Let us suppose that we agreed to the provision of free meals, not on the present basis of income but according to whether parents lived in a development area or an area where the percentage of unemployment had reached a certain figure. That would clearly create a ridiculous situation. It would mean that all Glasgow children, irrespective of their circumstances, would receive free meals, and all the children in Birmingham would [column 565]not. The situation could not be justified.
I know that many hon. Members have tried sincerely to find what they regard as the right answer. We had constructive speeches from the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans), from my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) and from others, all directed to an effort to determine what is the right way of going about it. But I suggest that, irrespective of the views which we have had from hon. Members opposite on that subject, the right way cannot be the way which they have proposed in their Amendments.
Let us assume that we apply to Scotland, where I have responsibility for health and education, the proposition in new Clauses 10 and 11, relating to urban aid. It would mean that all the children in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Ayrshire, Clackmannan, Dunbarton, Fife, Lanark, Renfrew, Roxburgh and West Lothian would have free milk, and the rest of Scottish children would not.
Next, I take the proposal based on a 5 per cent. level of unemployment. This is Amendment No. 63, on which the hon. Members for Caerphilly and South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) spoke so eloquently. This would probably mean that Aberdeen City, Kincardine, Perth, Kinross and the Border counties would be the only places in Scotland where primary pupils would cease to have free milk automatically.
Now, I take the proposal based on wage levels below the national average, that is new Clauses 4, 5, 6 and 7. This would mean that all the children throughout Scotland would have free milk, but the same would not apply to the rest of the country. I realise that the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton) feels that this is something which we should do. I put it to him that, the principle having been established on Second Reading, if we were to pick out among the children of Britain those who were to have free milk, assuming abolition, that would not be a sensible or rational thing to do.
The hon. Member for Bothwell spoke about the health of the children concerned, as did his hon. Friend the Mem[column 566]ber for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Dr. Miller). I can give the assurance that, following the decision which was taken, we consulted the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy, on which we have our chief medical officer from the Scottish Home and Health Department. Having been consulted, C.O.M.A. indicated to us, as it had done before, that it had no evidence for believing that the decision would have an adverse effect on the health of children, but it would wish us to continue careful monitoring on this point.
Will the hon. Gentleman make available to the House the exact terms in which the medical officer made his report?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not twisting any words or giving a misleading impression. I have told the House what was said to us by C.O.M.A. on this matter, that it had no evidence that the decision would cause a deterioration of health but that, on the other hand, it wished careful monitoring to take place. This will take place. As has been said, if there were a deterioration of health linked to this decision which emerged clearly, the whole question would, of course, be completely reconsidered.
What sort of evidence has been put to us in the debate? The hon. Member for Bothwell talked about the Renfrewshire survey. It is only fair to point out that this so-called survey was related to two secondary schools. They were visited in 1968, and the children were asked to hold up their hands if they had had breakfast. The survey was commissioned by Scottish dairy interests when the previous Government abolished the provision of milk in secondary schools, and it was based on that evidence alone. I do not for a moment say that we can therefore take it as wrong, but I am pointing out that it was not a massive scientific or medical survey. It was done in 1968, and based on the results in two schools when the children were asked to put up their hands.
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon), who knows a great deal about local authority matters, and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) raised the question of the penny rate. I assure the House—I hope that [column 567]this will explain the matter—that the powers of local authorities under Section 6 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act, 1963, and Section 339 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, will remain. Those are the penny rate provisions. Obviously, it is not for me to interpret those Acts to local authorities, which have available to them highly competent advice.
I can confirm, also, what was said earlier, namely, that nothing in the Bill diminishes the power of local authorities under the provisions of the milk and meals Regulations, 1969, that is, the power to provide refreshment, a point specifically raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury.
I hope that that clarifies the matter to some extent. I cannot put myself forward as a lawyer, and, as I say, the local authorities have highly competent advice available to them. But nothing in the Bill has changed the situation as regards the penny rate provisions.
Mr. Simon Mahon
But the quality of professional advice available is the same today as it was yesterday and the day before, and that advice will be available to local authorities after they have read what the hon. Gentleman has said. The opinion which the lawyers gave to the A.M.C. two days ago was that this must be challenged in the courts. Do the Government really think that a decision of this kind must be challenged in the courts before we can have a final decision?
No, I am saying nothing of the sort. I am simply pointing out that the position as regards the penny rate provisions is exactly as it was before. Nothing in the Bill has changed that, and neither has there been any change in respect of the powers of local authorities under the milk and meals Regulations, 1969. Nothing in the Bill has changed that in any way.
Mr. Doris Fisher (Birmingham, Ladywood)
The hon. Gentleman is talking about a penny rate. Under the decimal currency, there is no such thing. Does he mean one new penny?
I apologise. When I talked about a penny, I meant an old penny. I am afraid I am a bit of a reactionary at heart. I was referring to [column 568]the so-called penny rate provision. It is related to one of the old pennies—and splendid they were at the time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) hit the nail on the head when he said that, if we have to choose, it is surely right that Amendments which propose that we should discriminate between areas must be regarded as wrong and we should think in terms of the children themselves. Families in poor circumstances are not confined to particular areas of the kind specified. If we accepted what is proposed, we should create a situation in which all the children in a certain area had free milk. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) is quite right when he says that in Glasgow we have many parts where children are very poor, but in other areas, I am sure, the children are just about as prosperous as they are in the constituency of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell).
Children themselves vary, and circumstances vary. The Government's case is that the needs of families in poor circumstances are being met in other ways, through generous provisions which the Government have introduced in other respects. These ensure help for needy families, whatever the area in which they live.
Although I appreciate that hon. Members opposite have been honestly endeavouring to find the right way to discriminate, I can only say again that what they have proposed is the wrong method. It would create more problems than it would solve. I understand that some hon. Members opposite feel strongly on the principle of the Bill and the question whether free milk should be abolished at all. None the less, I hope that the Opposition will not press this matter to a Division, recognising that their proposals, if put into effect, would create a ridiculous and anomalous situation. I hope that that is not what they would wish to recommend the House to do.
I can settle that straight away. If the Government are not prepared to accept one or other of our new Clauses and Amendments, we shall press the matter to a Division. We want to be on record as being concerned for the children of this country, so we shall certainly be voting. [column 569]
It is almost incredible that no right hon. or hon. Member opposite seems to have taken on board that there is no hardship exemption in the Bill. On the question of school meals, there are hardship exemptions. On the question of free milk, there is no hardship exemption whatever. This is quite disgraceful from a Government who nailed their colours to the mast of selectivity in social welfare. Yet not one hon. Member opposite, neither on the Front Bench nor on the back benches, from which we had some curious arguments, seems to have taken that on board.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am anxious to get on. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman gave way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short), but I shall give way later if we have time. We have been a good while on this debate, and I want to press ahead.
The comment has been made that, in trying to introduce selectivity in one way or another, by reference to development areas, unemployment levels and so on, we are somehow going against our own principles. We oppose the Bill in toto, and the purpose of the Amendments is to lessen what we regard as a monstrous evil.
Hon. Members talk about apparent anomalies created by the Amendments, and show how there would be an overlap and so on, but they can choose between Amendments. Let them take whichever of them would most satisfactorily deal with the question of poverty. If they will accept those, we shall willingly withdraw the rest. Let them not talk about one Amendment contradicting another. They cannot escape the fact that they are apparently not giving one iota on the question of hardship.
I am not very often involved in debates with the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science. I am usually dealing with Scottish education, and am much more used to government by wardance than Government by smokescreen. The hon. Gentleman was not so much puffing out smoke as pouring out rich, unctuous cream, without a consideration for the problems with which he was dealing. He said first that the Government [column 570]could not accept our Amendments relating to the urban areas and development areas because they would cover wealthy places like Buckinghamshire and Barnet. His argument on the development areas was exploded by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and others in a number of ways. The Government make proposals for development areas despite the fact that there are some very wealthy necks of the wood in them all. I know. That is why I am in a marginal seat. There is plenty of poverty in my constituency, but it has a number of wealthy necks of the wood as well.
The hon. Gentleman said that the Government could not accept the concept of high unemployment in an area as a qualification for free school milk. He had to find another argument here, and so he said that the rate might fluctuate. It will not fluctuate under the present Government, except upwards, and we are happy with the figure of 5 per cent. unemployment as a base-line for looking after poverty. The hon. Gentleman said that in any case the Government could not accept our proposal, because the local employment areas were not the same as the local education authority areas. I have never heard a weaker argument on a case that should have been based on principle, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is thoroughly ashamed of it.
There is another set of Amendments in which we deal with individual types of hardship. If we are told that to deal with the problem by areas is wrong, we hope to have a concession on that set of Amendments, because the Government's only arguments for rejecting the Amendments we are now considering have been the area points. But there are good reasons for using area hardship. When an area becomes a development area or has high unemployment the whole area is affected. The small shopkeepers are one example. My hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton) spoke of the problem of low wages that goes with the other development area and unemployment problems. If we had a decent tax system from the Government that would deal with the wealthier people within the development area.
Our proposals deal with one major problem that the hon. Gentleman raised in Committee. To my astonishment, he [column 571]did not repeat it today, although he may do so on the next set of Amendments. I hope that he does not, for the sake of his reputation. He said then that by our attempts to introduce selectivity to exclude some people from the evil we would single out pupils who would be seen to be receiving free milk while others were not. That will not happen with the area policy, because the children of rich and poor, unemployed and employed parents within the area would be able to receive free milk.
The hon. Gentleman's last point was on consultation. Is it not the case that the consultation took place after the decision was made? What kind of consultation was that, when the Government's mind was already made up? We were told in Committee, although we could not quite understand the formula used, that the teachers of Scotland were consulted. I checked on that. A month after the documents were published, the teachers had to write to the hon. Gentleman's Department asking him to explain what was happening. Far from being consulted, they had not even been fully informed after the first preliminary circular.
There is no argument for the Bill in toto, and there is no argument for rejecting Amendments which would protect areas of need.
A Scottish Minister cannot represent only his party in the House. That is something that I had a remember. He is seen both as a spokesman for the Government within Scotland and as a spokesman for Scotland within the Government. We saw little sign of that today from the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office. In Scotland this month there are over 120,000 unemployed, a figure of 7.5 per cent. male unemployment. On Clydeside, after the sordid conspiracy which has ended in the near-demise of U.C.S., we have 9.5 per cent. male unemployment and 20 men chasing each vacancy. That is one of the areas in which the hon. Gentleman wants to prevent children having free school milk. We can see the area's problems working down the line towards the children.
We heard an extraordinary argument from the hon. Member for Welling[column 572]borough (Mr. Fry), who seemed to suggest that if the cost of school meals is increased parents will pay more attention to them and therefore the figures of those taking them will go up. But the figures have come down. That is an indication of poverty. The other indication is the number of free school meals provided. In Glasgow, with one man in 10 unemployed and facing further redundancies, there was a drop of 5 per cent. between January and May this year in the total of free and paid meals taken. But within that drop there was an increase of 16 per cent. in the number of free meals, which has now reached the astonishing proportion of 64 per cent. That is a function of poverty, not of the extension of the exemption limits, and so on. There is a direct correlation.
This is a sorry, miserable, mean, cruel and callous Bill. If the Government will not accept this set of Amendments to exclude whole areas from the hardship which the Bill will help to create, we want to see some evidence of understanding when we discuss the next set of Amendments, so that even the Government's principle of selectivity, much as I abhor it, can at least be put into practice for compassionate purposes for a change.
Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland did his best to justify the indefensible. This debate is a continuation of those which we had last week. The Government are determined to reduce public expenditure. A week ago, we discussed the saving of a miserable few millions of £s which the Government are achieving by stopping the first three days of benefit for the sick, the injured and the unemployed. Today, they are trying to save a miserable few millions of £s by taking away milk from the children.
Hon. Members argue that they are justified in doing so and that they have a mandate to do so because they told the country that they would reduce public expenditure. Not one hon. Member opposite said in his election address last year that he would stop the first three days of unemployment benefit, sickness benefit and industrial injuries benefit and do away with the supply of free school milk. They all merely made the general statement that the Conservative Party [column 573]would reduce public expenditure. They did not specify where the cuts would be made because they knew that they could not go on to a public platform and defend such cuts. These cuts are mean and contemptible. If the Government want to save money of this magnitude—£9 million—I can tell them where they can start. The military bands cost that much.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is getting a little wide of the new Clause, which deals with development areas.
I beg you to understand, Mr. Speaker, that I am talking about the saving of £9 million and how the Government could save it in ways other than this. I believe that I am entitled to say to them that they could have saved it in other ways instead of hitting at the children. We have been told that the medical officers will watch the situation, and presumably if the health of any child deteriorates supplies will be resumed. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) said, it will then be too late. The lasting damage will have been done to the poorer children by this mean and contemptible saving.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) revealed the records about rickets. It was the proud boast of this country in the middle 1950s that, because of our welfare and [column 574]health services, British doctors had to go abroad to study rickets because none of our children were suffering from it. Yet now the Government are beginning to pursue policies which could lead to that disease once more becoming commonplace in the poorer districts.
I have promised my hon. Friends to be very brief. I ask the Government even now whether there is no other way, if they are so anxious to save the tax payers' money in order to give relief to surtax and income tax payers and to reduce corporation tax, that they can do it than by taking it out of the children by withholding the milk from them.
As a consequence of our welfare and health services, our children have grown more in physique, height and strength than any comparable generation. Our children are our proudest asset. They are magnificent. Anyone who is sensible wants them to remain so. This Bill is a step back to the days of the old Jarrow, to the days when there was hunger, to the days when there were many victims of rickets in this country. Today is not a day of which the Government can be proud. They still have time to reconsider and I hope that they will accept the new Clause.
Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—
The House divided: Ayes 228, Noes 249.