New Clause 14
Annual Report to Parliament
There shall, as soon as may be after the end of each school year after the passing of this Act, be presented to Parliament, separately in respect of England, Wales and Scotland, reports generally upon the operation of this Act and in particular containing detailed information upon the following matters pertaining to such school year—
(a) the financial savings achieved by this Act, their equivalent in terms of the average cost of construction (including land costs and compensation) of primary schools and the number of primary schools the building of which has been commenced in such school year and which, but for such savings, would not have been commenced;
(b) the number of pupils who, but for this Act, would have been entitled to the provision of school milk free of charge and the number of pupils so entitled under this Act, in each case by ages and classes of school;
(c) the number of pupils for whom by virtue of this Act milk may be provided on payment and the number of pupils for whom milk was so provided, in each case by ages and classes of school; and
Brought up, and read the First time.(d) the opinions of the medical officers of local education authorities as to the [column 606]effect of the operation of this Act upon the health of pupils attending each class of school within the areas of those authorities.—[Mr. Buchan.]
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. I think it would be for the convenience of the House to discuss with it new Clause 1—Annual Reports.
On Second Reading, repeatedly in Committee, and earlier this afternoon, on grounds of the dangers of malnutrition, on grounds of poverty, on the grounds that certain areas are likely to encounter poverty more than others, on the grounds that general practitioners are better qualified to certify medical officers of health, on the grounds that all children receiving free school meals should receive milk, by the definition already laid down in the Statutes pertaining to free school meals, we have [column 607]asked for exceptions to the Bill. On every occasion, often without a great deal of force of logic, the Government have, in various ways, turned down our suggestions.
We had the abrasive and robust manner of the Minister of State for Wales, the rather sweet refusal from the Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office, and the jaunty attitude of the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science. All of them have employed the peculiar, disingenuous piety that Conservatives reserve for occasions when they are saying from the heart-strings that they desperately desire to see universal benefits, and to see that everyone is all right, but suggest that the sums do not add up, that we must have selectivity, and that therefore there is a reason for taking away £9 million-worth of free school milk from schoolchildren, in order, so we are told, that we may have some addition to the stock of primary school buildings.
New Clause 14 is specific and reasonable. In my usual manner, being a still, small, calm voice, I ask the Government to consider seriously the four sub-paragraphs. They are asked to give an undertaking to report annually to Parliament. There is good reason for that. There are two Early Day Motions on the Order Paper. The first calls attention to the mean act of the Government in depriving children of free school milk and has 170 signatures attached to it—a substantial proportion of hon. Members by any reckoning. The second asks the Government to establish a national advisory council on child nutrition. The 130 signatures attached to that are headed by the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans). Both Motions are a reflection of the widespread concern among hon. Members about the results of this Bill.
There is a widespread desire that those prosecuting the Bill should be accountable annually for its effects. In as much as the Government are prepared to examine children, to put sick children, for instance, through the tortuous hoop of identifying their sickness, what is good for the children must obviously be good for the Government as well, and the Government should therefore at least be made [column 608]to show the effects, good, bad or indifferent, of introducing this mean and petty Bill which has caused so much resentment among all classes of society and in all areas of the country, including among people who traditionally support the Conservative cause. So we have a great deal of support for our point of view in asking the Government to make themselves accountable annually to Parliament for the results of the Bill.
Sub-paragraph (a) of new Clause 14 reads: “the financial savings achieved by this Act, their equivalent in terms of the average cost of construction (including land costs and compensation) of primary schools and the number of primary schools the building of which has been commenced in such school year and which, but for such savings, would not have been commenced” .The reason is obvious. The Government first gave notice of their intention to introduce the Bill last October, and since Second Reading the right hon. Lady has spoken at the conference of the Association of Education Committees—probably the most authoritative collective body of educational interests gathered at any one time and any one place. She told the conference that the improvements programme was the other side of the milk equation. There had been no pretence up to then that the £9 million saving was a direct contribution to the improvement of schools, even though, both in questions and debates, had been told that it was impossible for us to attribute the Government's desire to have £9 million to their simultaneous desire to give a handout to the higher taxpayers.
The Government were saying they could not accept a hypothecation when it was attributed to them by the Opposition, but the Secretary of State said in Eastbourne on 25th June that hypothecation was entirely possible as long as she was saying where the money was going. Of course, what she said at the conference has since been withdrawn. We have been told that it was an intellectual exercise, just as the Minister of Agriculture has told us that right hon. Members opposite did not really mean it when they told housewives last year that they would cut prices.
We are getting used to withdrawals from the present Government, but withdrawals as retrospective actions are not much use in terms of political credibility, [column 609]and the time will come when nobody will believe anything that the Conservative Government say. We shall then have reached a level of political understanding which is desirable, but in the meantime, as long as the Government can get away with the half-lie and the indication and the implication that their actions will save money for the taxpayer, or the ratepayer, or somebody else, they ought to be open to challenge so that they cannot get away with saying that it was only a figment of the imagination, or an intellectual exercise, or that they did not mean it, or that housewives were too intelligent to believe what the man who is now Prime Minister said last June.
It is important to keep a constant watch on their activities, not just in general terms in the sense of examining the policies of the Executive, but in the sense of examining these repeated instances of members of the Cabinet making statements which later turn out to be somewhat less meaningful than was originally supposed. It is important for hon. Members to conduct that exercise regardless of party. The credibility of the Government is in question and there should be a recurrent opportunity to examine their policies closely.
It is false to argue that there is a choice between free school milk and adequate primary schools, quite apart from the technicalities of financing. No one in his right mind would seriously believe that the alternatives were between free milk in the stomachs of school children and the massive expenditure required to transform the school building programme, but it is a handy propaganda weapon.
It has the same kind of logic as is employed by the Government when they say that unemployment is high because wages are high and, simultaneously, that if it were not for high wages, there would be more unemployment. When they say that we can have school meals or primary schools, and not as many primary schools if we have free school milk, they are showing the kind of logic which is employed in the argument that if we had more constipation, we could have more public lavatories, because they would not be used so much and more resources would be made available for the building of those assets. [column 610]
Paragraph (d) of the new Clause asks the Government to tell Parliament the total number of children between 7 and 11 and those in special schools with medical requirements; in other words, those children who, but for the Bill, would have had free school milk and those who, because of the Bill, will continue to receive it. This is the gap between the children generally deemed to be fit by an inefficient and inaccurate system of medical screening—and even Ministers will acknowledge the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the occasional screening in schools—and those deemed to be sufficiently sickly to have a medical need for milk.
Evidence has been adduced by those outside Parliament who are brilliantly qualified to give evidence about malnutrition, and we fear that there will be a closing of this gap. In many ways, the Government have us over a barrel. We want more and more children to have free school milk, but if, because of that, more and more school children are identified as having a medical need, it will be a terrible price to pay.
I fear that there will be a terrible inevitability about the closing of the gap between those children who will be currently entitled to free school milk because of the medical need provision and those who will not receive free school milk because they do not qualify. In those circumstances it is only fair to ask the Government to tell us how many children in Britain between 7 and 11 are in school and how many are deemed to be sick. Year by year we should be able to see whether this gap widens or narrows, so that the arguments adduced from both sides can be tested. If the Government are confident that this Measure will not have an adverse effect on the health of the 7 to 11 age group they should have the courage of their convictions, accept the Amendment and be prepared to publish the figures.
The same reasoning applies to sub-paragraph (c) in which we ask for the Government to give us the total school population and the total take-up of purchased milk. This is a method of identifying the importance of a parent's place in the purchase of milk. It may be that the children of poor parents will [column 611]not purchase the milk because they cannot afford it, and will take up the dubious benefits offered in the Bill. It may be that the more affluent parents, knowing that they can provide milk in the home—and no one on this side has said that this will not happen—will say that as they now have to pay for milk at school they will ensure that their child has more milk at home. That is an acceptable, reasonable exercise of parental responsibility.
The trouble is that few children will have the opportunity, on a cold winter's morning, or a warm summer morning for that matter, of visiting their home at 11 o'clock and drinking a third of a pint of milk. We are talking not in terms of general malnutrition but in terms of the discomfort that comes from rumbling tummies. That is what it boils down to. While it may be easy for me, at my age, to remember what it felt like at 11 o'clock to have a very welcome third of a pint of milk—
Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)
Will my hon. Friend also bear in mind that in some cases where it can be argued that parents could afford to pay for the milk, these children do not have much of a taste for milk and do not really need it, whereas we are told that in the environment of the school children are likely to get into the habit of taking it?
That is true. We have discussed at length another aspect of this point, the development of the milk-drinking habit. The deprivation of free school milk, the breaking of the milk habit at this early age, might have a long-term effect in that we shall have a generation which has not got used to regularly partaking of milk.
We can judge whether there is a takeup of the legislative rights in the Bill to purchase milk. We can use that to gauge whether the cost of providing purchasable milk has risen. We know that this has happened with school meals. A consequence of the drop in those taking school meals has been that the cost of providing them has risen by one penny in the last 12 months. That is a result of the fall in take-up, and that comes from a reply to a Parliamentary Question answered by the right hon. [column 612]Lady. The same thing will happen to milk, it is just a matter of economy of scale and demand. These are things which hon. Gentlemen opposite consider they know more about than we do. I ask them to accept that consequence of their alleged expertise.
We would also like an annual report from medical officers of health to be brought before Parliament so that we can make some assessment of the medical and physical effects of the withdrawal of free school milk. The Government say that there will be no detrimental effect. It would be a minor exercise, therefore, to accept this part of the Clause and to say that they are prepared to bring this information before Parliament. We used to hear a great deal about honest Government a year ago. Let them provide this information and say that they can prove on the basis of the evidence provided by medical officers that there has been no decline in the health of British schoolchildren.
The medical officers of health have been very critical. Their favourite word in discussing the Government's proposal has been “retrograde” . It has appeared in the headlines of the educational and general Press time and again. A whole section of moderate opinion people who have no political axe to grind have expressed their disapproval. [An Hon. Member: “Like Sir William Alexander.” ] There is a “Red” for you! Some terrible, divisive, Kremlin-like organisations like the Association of Education Committees and the Association of Municipal Corporations—[Hon. Members: “Tory controlled” .] Tories work in mysterious ways. We never know how their logic works. I am sorry that I am inviting heckling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is a matter——
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman will perhaps invite something else if he attempts to make a Second Reading speech on a relatively narrow Clause.
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was under the distinct impression that I had kept strictly to the terms of the new Clause.
I ask the Government to give favourable consideration to our reasonable request that they should annually prove [column 613]or fail to prove to the House that the effects of the Bill have been as black as we forecast or as shiny white as they forecast. This is a fair challenge which is made on the basis of logic, common sense and accountability to Parliament, which is a very important consideration. I ask the Government to accept the new Clause.
Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). Earlier the Minister said that he rested his case on the belief that a great deal of harm would be caused to children as a result of embarrassment if there was a further extension of selectivity. He seemed to believe that far more children would be embarrassed if any extension were allowed than would be harmed by the deprivation on which the Government seem to be determined to embark.
If the Government accept our proposal and in a year or two we find that there is no evidence that the deprivation has resulted in deterioration in children's physical condition, the Government could with some complacency and perhaps satisfaction say “We told you so.”
Mr. Denis Skinner (Bolsover)
They will not be in office then.
My hon. Friend may be right, but I am not as optimistic as he is. It is reasonable to suggest that the Government should accept our proposal and be prepared to accept the challenge and prove that the step that they are taking has not been injurious to children's health. If they refuse to accept the challenge, they are in effect saying that the assumption of the Under-Secretary of State must stand, regardless of fact and experience. I suggest that the Government should think very carefully before they reject the new clause. It is a perfectly reasonable one, and it is one which the teaching profession, educationists and all men of good will will support.
There is no reason for the Government to refuse to accept invigilation on this matter, and I strongly urge the Under-Secretary of State to reconsider the position. If the Government are not prepared to think again and to put their decision to examination in a year or two's time, they are adopting a divisive and arrogant approach, whether they are proved right [column 614]or not. They are saying that they are prepared to return to the kind of society which in the nineteenth century produced the workhouse rather than a society which is interested in the health and vigour of our children.
Mr. William Hamilton
Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will notice the care with which we have drafted new Clause 1, compared with the legal jargon in new Clause 14, the one obviously drafted by a lawyer and the other by lay Scots Members. It is none the worse for that. I believe in brevity and in bluntness. We make the simple proposition to the Government in new Clause 1: be honest. That is the basis upon which the Government were elected. They promised honest, open government.
The Government have taken a decision which may have very serious consequences. Earlier I referred to the significantly increased incidence of rickets in Scotland in the last decade. I should like the Under-Secretary to confirm or deny the figures that I quoted from the E.I.S. journal, which is a responsible publication. It shows clearly the effect of the withdrawal of welfare foods and the rest of it over the past decade.
Long term, the Government's proposal could have adverse nutritional effects. I put it no higher than that. On Second Reading, it was interesting that in no speech from the benches opposite was the point made; that is, until the Under-Secretary of State was goaded into it by speeches from this side of the House. When the Secretary of State opened the debate, at no time did she suggest that there would be adverse nutritional effects on children. She did not suggest that pilot surveys would be conducted. It was only in the winding-up speech of the Under-Secretary that that undertaking was given.
The hon. Gentleman was replying to a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown). He said:
“The Sub-Committee on Nutritional Surveillance is to form views on the withdrawal of milk by conducting a survey in five areas. One will be in Scotland, one in Wales, and three in England.”
I should like the hon. Gentleman to tell us where in Scotland it will be conducted. I thought that we were to get some honest, open government. The hon. Gentleman is [column 615]shaking his head like a Freemason. He must tell us where the one in Scotland is to take place. He might come fiddling about in my constituency. I want to know what he is up to. He had better get my permission before he comes. It is not sufficient to say that there will be one in Scotland. In any event, why only one in Scotland? Why not have three, one in the central belt, one in the Highlands and one in the Lowlands, providing a cross-section of the community?
There is no sense in figures of this sort. They are purely arbitrary. The hon. Gentleman went on:
“…we shall have the general study of children's health, which will be conducted in Scotland on the basis of three ad hoc special studies being carried on in England.”
What are these special studies? It may be that I missed something on Second Reading or in Committee. It may be that hon. Members who served on the Committee will tell me what they are and how ad hoc they are.
“One, which is being carried out in Kent, is a fairly large-scale study of children's health.”
How large-scale? When will it report? To whom will it report—to Parliament or to the Kent Country Council? For what purpose will it be used? Will it have an effect on Government policy in respect of child health matters?
“One to be conducted in Newcastle-upon-Tyne will be a study of the health of poverty children.”
How is a “poverty” child defined? How are the Government seeking out the poverty children in Newcastle-upon-Tyne? I do not know. My mind boggles at how one defines a “poverty” child. I reckon that the Minister was a poverty child at one time. He is one of these working-class Tories—one of the worst species of the human race. There are poverty children in what are called high social class areas. They might be mentally poverty stricken. This is what I am getting at. “Poverty children” does not necessarily mean physical poverty: it could mean mental poverty.
Mr. Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)
And meanness of mental spirit in you.
The hon. Gentleman has just declared his interest. The Minister went on: [column 616]
“One to be conducted in Birmingham will be a study of the general nutritional level of children aged 14 and 15.”
They will be marvellous research studies in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Birmingham, Kent, and one in Scotland somewhere. Why one in Kent in England and only one in Scotland, as if it were a county council? There is no indication about the one in Wales.
The hon. Gentleman continued:
“We believe that on the basis of the Scottish survey we can come to a quicker decision or a quicker opinion on information which comes forward, and this general up-dating of data will enable a better picture to be arrived at sooner. … if the surveys produced an adverse result, we would reconsider the whole situation, first, to identify whether any such deterioration had occurred and, second, to ascertain whether this deterioration was attributable to the withdrawal of free milk. If we found that out, the whole policy would have to be considered.” —[Official Report, 14th June, 1971; Vol. 819, c. 155–6.]
We want to know what time scale is involved. These studies are going on. I do not know when they started or when they are likely to be concluded. I do not know—I do not know whether any of my hon. Friends know—whether the reports will be presented to this House or whether they are just for the Department's interest and concern. If so, how are we to debate the policy implications of the results of those surveys? Does the Minister think that this time next year, or a year from the Bill coming into effect, he will have any meaningful figures which can go into an annual report which we are suggesting? The nutritional side of this matter is the most serious aspect.
The other is rubbing the right hon. Lady's nose in her own dishonesty. I always quote from these Left-wing journals. In The Teacher of 2nd July there is an article headed,
“There's a hole in my racket.”
It is a big enough racket. It is a £9 million racket which we are discussing, but there is a hole in it. The article states:
“Mrs. Thatcher served a sizzler straight into the net at the Association of Education Committees' Conference at Eastbourne last weekend because she insisted upon using once again that tired old argument about the savings on school milk being used to rebuild primary schools.
It went over the heads of most delegates” —[column 617]
I am not surprised at that—
“but in the press conference afterwards, Tudor David, editor of Education, was right up to the net. ‘Does this mean the Treasury now admits the principle of hypothecation?’ he asked.
Mrs. Thatcher, as a former pensions Minister could hardly plead ignorance. Indeed she knows well that the Treasury has always strongly resisted the idea that ministers could trade in a saving under one heading to obtain extra expenditure under another; as she had to admit.
‘It's just an intellectual argument to run when you haven't anything else to say’ she added with a fairly shimmering smile.”
The right hon. Lady can smile shimmeringly, especially when she is taking milk out of the mouths of children. She does it with a brilliant smile on her face. “£9 million from the kids. This is how I like it. This is what I am a Tory Minister for. I am doing what I like—taking milk away from the kids.” That is exactly what the right hon. Lady is doing.
Mr. A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
If the hon. Gentleman would get back to the bar the debate would proceed at a more leisurely pace than it is doing now. He must not try to lecture me from a sitting position, showing his belly full of beer, I think, rather than milk.
We are discussing a very important social measure for working class children, and we are not beating about the bush. We want to know the facts about the effects of the policy, and we want them annually if they can possibly be produced. We know that they cannot be produced on the school building programme side, but we want to show the deceit practised by the right hon. Lady when she made that remark at East-bourne. She ought to get up and say that it was a deceit, that she did not mean it.
Dare I repeat the words used at the time the strategy was announced on 27th October, 1970, by A. Barberthe Chancellor of the Exchequer? He said:
“I come now to the other half of our policy for the social services. As I said earlier, having achieved savings by transferring more of the cost to those users of the services who can afford it, we intend to switch part of these savings, first, to giving more help to those who [column 618]need it, for example through higher remission limits, and, second, to improving the services themselves.” —[Official Report, 27th October 1970; Vol. 805, c. 45.]
We made the savings. We switched some of the savings to higher remission scales for school meals. Some of the others have been switched to a very much better primary school building programme than hon. Gentlemen opposite ever contemplated.
The right hon. Lady chants like a female computer. Did she, or did she not, use the words quoted:
“It's just an intellectual argument to run when you haven't anything else to say.”
Did she, or did she not, use that phrase?
A questioner asked me whether it was true that the Treasury admitted the argument of hypothecation. I said, “No, of course it is not” . That does not mean that it does not take the argument in the Chancellor's own speech, when he said that there had to be a certain amount of switching of resources. That is what we have done, and we have done it very successfully.
The right hon. Lady can look at the by-election results and at the local election results to see what people think about what she and her hon. Friends are doing. Ask the housewives. Ask the women whose kids at school are having the milk taken away from them, and who have to pay increased school meal charges at a time when their husbands are probably out of work. Ask them what has happened during the last 12 months. Ask them whether they are proud of what the Government have been doing, of which this Measure is the crystallisation. An intellectual exercise—my word! The right hon. Lady comes here dressed up like a pirate of Penzance. We are talking about £9 million. The right hon. Lady is taking advice from the brewer behind her. He has had his whack. The brewers have had their whack. Now it is the schoolchildren who are to pay for that. It makes me almost speechless with despair that the Government—[Interruption.] Yes, we Scottish Members are never short of words.
We are asking the Government a very simple question. They do not know what the effects of their policy will be either on the school building programme or, more important, on the nutritional side. [column 619]We are asking for regular supplies of information. This is not too much to ask. It will not cost them any of the money that they got from the brewers to publish this report. This is not an extravagant request, and I hope the Government will accept it.
Mr. Edward Taylor
Once again, for the third time, the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) has introduced a disagreeable note into an interesting and helpful discussion. When I listened to his comments and accusations about promises allegedly broken by this Government, I thought back to my first years in the House when the only promise which that Government kept was the one made by the former Member for Belper who, speaking at Grantham in October, 1964, said, “Vote for the Labour Party and I promise you will be mightily surprised by Christmas” .
Let us come to the meat of what has been said—[Interruption.] I can assure the right hon. Member that if he will look in a mirror he will learn a great deal.
The hon. Member for Fife, West deplored the substantial increase in rickets in Scotland. I have been fortunate enough, at very short notice, to get the figures for children under 15 discharged from hospital after in-patient treatment. In 1964, the figure for Scotland was 60 cases of rickets; in 1965, it was 46; in 1966, it was 44; in 1967, it was 28; in 1968, it was 22; and in 1969, it was 19. That was the last year for which figures are available. Over these six years, then, we see not an astonishing increase but a reduction every year. But if the hon. Member has any figures showing a massive increase, a substantial increase or any increase at all over these years, I hope that he will make them available to me and my Department, in his usual delightful way, and we will be only too glad to look into them.
The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) drew our attention to the Early Day Motion calling for the establishment of a national advisory council on child nutrition. There already exists national advisory machinery on child nutrition, since the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy, which advises the Government through the Chief Medical Officer, has a special panel on child [column 620]nutrition. A section of the C.M.O.'s Annual Report on the state of public health is devoted to the work of C.O.M.A. and contains a section on the work of the panel.
Mr. Fred Evans
As it is an Early Day Motion in my name, may I point out that the object of that Motion is to set up a much wider organisation than C.O.M.A., which is merely a Government Department in its attitudes, and to unite organisations like the Child Poverty Action Group, the people researching into nutrition all over the country and local authorities into a very broadly based body. The hon. Member probably knows from the Committee Reports that the most affluent country in the world—America—has a national advisory council on child nutrition, which has already found evidence of wrong feeding, caused by the problems of the affluent society. As a result, they have expanded their provision of free milk to the tune of £120 million. America is now providing 25 million dollars' worth of school breakfasts and there has been a vast expansion of the American school meals system.
When I referred to this matter in Committee I had the relevant Senate Committee records with me. All this is happening in the United States at the very time when Britain, under a Tory Government, is going back to the pre-Welfare State era in the treatment of its children.
Hon. Members will have listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's remarks and will wish to study his Early Day Motion. I was merely saying that while some people thought that there was a total absence of a body looking into this matter, the issue is, in fact, being thoroughly examined.
Hon. Members questioned the surveys that have been undertaken. Under the auspices of C.O.M.A., we have general surveys in Kent, begun in 1968; in Newcastle, begun in 1968; and in the Birmingham area, begun in 1969. These deal with specific aspects of the problem, aspects which were in turn dealt with by C.O.M.A. From the point of view of general monitoring, no area has yet been selected for this purpose and to ensure that monitoring takes place as objectively as possible, any area selected [column 621]will not be revealed until after the monitoring has been completed.
The hon. Member for Fife, West usually succeeds best when he is attacking people who are not in a position to protect themselves or to reply to the case made against them. Tonight he tried to attack my right hon. Friend, and we had the pleasure of seeing his words being demolished most effectively. I suggest that if the hon. Gentleman hopes to get anywhere, he should stick to attacking people who are not in a position to speak for themselves in reply.
So much for new Clause 1. New Clause 14 would require the Secretaries of State to publish special annual reports. My case is that such separate reports are unnecessary, since the information which is sought will be available in other reports, notably in the documents produced by the D.E.S., not to mention the reports produced by chief medical officers on the health of the school child and the Scottish equivalents. The Scottish Education Department publishes an annual report, and there are statistics on the health services in Scotland from this point of view.
I suppose that one can always rely on the old adage, “If in doubt, form a committee” . Is the hon. Gentleman aware that hon. Members will need to have access to a whole library of scattered facts? We are asking for this information to be made available in a readily digestible fashion.
It seems that the hon. Gentleman wants one document to cover the whole subject and all aspects of it. There are three such documents for England and Wales and three for Scotland. In all, they give the information and it will be necessary to look at the facts contained in those documents to have a complete picture of the position. In addition, all local authority medical officers publish reports relating to their areas.
We are asked to provide details by class and age of those who buy milk. How could this be done without a great deal of administrative inconvenience? A local authority might instal a milk vending machine. How would it be possible to provide full details of the number of pupils who purchase milk, with the classes they are in and the days on [column 622]which they purchase it? This would place an impossible burden on the authorities.
In so far as the new milk arrangements create new categories for which it would be right and proper to collect statistics, the Department will ask local education authorities to furnish details of the number of pupils receiving milk on health grounds under the Bill.
Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)
If, as it seems from what the Minister is saying, the Bill could result in harm being done to the health of children, should not the relevant facts be published so that we may have a chance of debating them?
I am saying nothing of the sort. We are providing a great deal of information. We have the annual reports of the medical officers and we have three departmental reports. We have three special surveys. We are having monitoring. If the hon. Gentleman suggests that we cannot come to a conclusion unless we have full details of the numbers and classes of children who buy from vending machines at every school throughout the country—[Interruption.] That is what the new Clause suggests.
I say that we will get additional information which will give full details of the numbers of children who get milk under the special arrangements provided by the Bill. We will have full details from the local authorities. We think that this, in addition to all the information which is available, supplemented by the monitoring and the surveys that are being undertaken, will be adequate, and that the House and the nation will be fully aware of what is happening and the reasons for it.
We have had three speeches from this side and the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office, has summed up, but I hope to demonstrate that he has not passed the test. We have said to the Government, “You make a proposal based on a number of claims that certain things are being done for certain reasons. You say that the proposal will not be harmful, that monitoring will take place, advice taken, and so on. We disagree with the Measure but, if you wish to pursue it, be responsible to Parliament [column 623]as an Executive, and present a report of your stewardship.”
The hon. Gentleman has not said that the Government will do as they propose in a comprehensive way. He has mentioned a number of separate reports. No doubt we could get them from the Library if we dug them up. They are no doubt to be found in many different places. But it would be difficult for the Opposition to get the figures and have a proper comprehensive debate on the effect of the Bill in, say, two years.
The hon. Member criticised some of the paragraphs in new Clause 14, but he could have told us that the provision about vending machines made the Clause difficult to accept but that the Government would guarantee to bring in a Command Paper covering all the other points in it. He has not said that, and I am not surprised.
Then there is choice in expenditure—the argument about hypothecation. The right hon. Lady tries to put the blame—or use as a reason or justification—for what she said at Eastbourne on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I have no doubt that she does so for reasons known to all Ministers. Obviously the Cabinet has a choice in the matter, and that is that. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not increase expenditure on education, or even hold it where it was. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) said at the beginning of the debate—and it has not been challenged—the White Paper “New Policies for Public Spending” showed a reduction of £22 million in expenditure on education. The £9 million about which we are now talking amounts to nearly half that sum, so the Government are meeting half of the educational expenditure by taking away free milk from children between the ages of 7 and 11.
The point about primary school building is “all my eye and Betty Martin” —
It is bricks and mortar.
I agree, as a publicity exercise, and that is what the right hon. Lady is engaged in, as is her very efficient Press relations department. Until this evening, quite a lot of hon. Members opposite thought that that was the object [column 624]of the exercise. We know that it has been but a smokescreen and a publicity front, at which the present Government are very skillful.
The hon. Gentleman is talking absolute nonsense. If his party had not left 6,000 pre-1903 primary schools I would not have had such a difficult job of trying to get the extra money for replacing them as I have.
The right hon. Lady is making a party point which I understand she has to make. However, speaking as a teacher, and as a teacher with three children in a primary school built in 1870, I know something about it. If the right hon. Lady is so keen on this, why not have the extra £11 million which we are down on doing a little more?
We have heard about the right hon. Lady's famous speech at Eastbourne to the Association of Education Committees and of the even more famous Press conference before or after it. We read in the Press that there was to be an extra £4 million for primary schools. This disclosure occurred right in the middle of Committee proceedings. On the next available occasion in Committee I asked the Under-Secretary whether this meant that this was an additional £4 million for primary school building per year. It was not denied. I asked for a comment on it in Committee. I asked whether it was an extra allocation to the total school building grant or whether it meant that there would be £4 million less for other projects, possibly improvements to secondary schools, of which many are in need.
Although there is a welcome drive for primary schools, people forget that the increase in primary school population is 4 per cent. between 1970 and 1975 and the increase in secondary schools 24 per cent., six times as much. There has been no reply from the Government on this point. At least the newspapers made out after the right hon. Lady's Eastbourne speech that another £4 million was to be spent.
I go on to the matter of the effects on nutrition. The Scottish Under-Secretary quoted some figures for the increase of rickets in Scotland.
Mr. Edward Taylor
Decrease. [column 625]
The hon. Gentleman will understand later why the slip of the tongue occurred. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman could have been here earlier when my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Dr. Miller) gave some other figures for Glasgow, where there was an increase over a 10-year period from two cases to 24 cases.
I have got the Glasgow figures, too. Over the period I mentioned—1964 to 1969—the figures go down from 45 to 15.
I will not argue these figures tonight, because I am speaking only from the memory of my hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove. The very fact that we are having this disagreement or that in this place we are arguing about the figures shows that there is cause for doubt, particularly in Scotland.
These are official figures. The figures are readily available. They are for children under 15 discharged from hospital after in-patient treatment recorded as having rickets—not recorded by us. These are the official figures. For Scotland generally the number fell from 60 to 19. In Glasgow the figure fell from 45 to 15. This is for the years 1964 to 1969. The latest information we have shows no upsurge in the figures since then.
I do not for a moment deny that the figures which the hon. Gentleman has may be perfectly accurate, because he has said that these are figures of people discharged from hospital. We all know that figures can be quoted and they must be the exact criteria. I cannot pursue this point. My hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove is a medical man from Glasgow. I just leave it there by saying that there is this disagreement. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will be giving the figures later.
Whatever the figures be, the matter of monitoring and the matter of testing is clouded in obscurity. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William [column 626]Hamilton) showed that the question of the actual tests, what they were, and where they would be held was not clear. The hon. Gentleman in the speech he made on Second Reading did not make the matter clear, nor did he make it clear today. The right hon. Lady, in her speech on Second Reading, made the matter more obscure, because she said this:
“The general monitoring will take place widely. There is a special survey in selected schools … one of which—Sheffield—was chosen, fairly far north.” —[Official Report. 14th June, 1971; Vol. 819, c. 45.]
I wonder what somebody in the North of England thinks about Sheffield, or what people think in Inverness or West Fife. I suggest that if that is the best that the Government can do—in respect of the intention of these tests—before the Bill is introduced, we are right to ask for the sort of reports that we have asked for.
The Government were challenged earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy). The Government having made claims to submit themselves to the test, it is clear that the Minister is not willing to do so. It is also clear from the exchanges that we have had in the Second Reading debate, in Committee and now on Report that there is some confusion of thought. Perhaps it can be cleared up in another place, where this question can be brought up again.
Despite the Government's saying that they would take advice on matters concerning legislation, they have not done so, and they are now saying that they refuse to be accountable to the House for the claims they are making for putting this legislation through. I therefore advise my hon. Friends to press the Clause. There must be a statutory responsibility and accountability of the Executive to this House.
Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—
The House divided: Ayes 227, Noes 252.