HC Deb 28 March 1946 vol 421 cc587-90
The Minister of Education (Miss Ellen Wilkinson)

The Government have decided to make school milk free of charge in all grant-aided primary and secondary schools from the date of the introduction of cash family allowances in August next. The whole cost of this benefit will be borne by the Exchequer in accordance with the existing provision for the payment of 100 per cent, grant on the school milk service.

The Government have also decided to make school dinners free of charge at the earliest possible date for day pupils in all grant-aided primary and secondary schools, but this cannot be done until school canteen facilities are sufficient to meet the expected demand. For the present, therefore, parents' payments will continue. These payments may not, however, under the Regulations be more than the cost of the food supplied and may be remitted wholly or in part in any case of hardship.

In order that there may be no avoidable delay in bringing the provision of school canteen facilities to the point at which school dinners can be made free, the Government ask education authorities to press forward with the utmost possible speed with the formulation and carrying out of their proposals. The Government recognise that the development of school canteen facilities to the point required for freeing school dinners will form a substantial contribution to the national policy for assistance to families. It is therefore proposed, as from 1st April, 1947, to raise the Exchequer subvention in aid of the cost of school dinners to a level which will meet in full the reasonable net cost of school dinners to authorities; but this Exchequer subvention will be limited to the reasonable net cost per meal as fixed annually by the Minister for the area after consultation with the authority. The expenditure of authorities on establishing and equipping school canteens will continue to attract grant at 100 per cent., as at present. It is not intended to make school meals and refreshments other than school dinners free of charge to parents, and as from 1st April, 1947, the expenditure of 'authorities on such meals and refreshments will rank for grant at the normal formula rate.

The Ministry will initiate discussions with the authorities with a view to settling the detailed arrangements for the administration of the new system of grant-aid on the above basis. This new system will replace as from 1st April, 1947, the existing special meals grant provisions of the Ministry's Regulations governing grants to local education authorities. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland asks me to say that similar arrangements will apply to Scotland.

Mr. Churchill

Can we be told at the same time the cost of these desirable benefits?

Miss Wilkinson

I am afraid I should require to have notice of that question. Nor could the answer be given immediately.

Mr. Churchill

Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer not in a position to tell us, considering how near he is to the date of the Budget?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Dalton)

We should be in a position to give an answer to the question the right hon. Gentleman is asking if it were put down on the Paper. Or it might be desired to wait until the Budget statement. Perhaps, to put it on the Paper would be more convenient.

Mr. R. A. Butler

May I ask, first, whether the day on which these meals will be made free will coincide with the introduction of family allowances and, secondly, are there any provisions in the Government's policy for dealing with pupils of independent schools?

Miss Wilkinson

If I may deal with the second question first, the answer is that consultations are still going on with regard to that. All I have said here applies to pupils in grant-aided schools. With regard to the first question, I think my statement pointed out it would not be possible to free the dinners at the exact date on which cash family allowances are introduced, because canteen facilities will not be available. The exact date cannot now be given. It will depend on how soon the local education authorities can make these canteen facilities available.

Mr. Tolley

Can the right hon. Lady say what arrangements she is making for those meals to be available for children attending rural schools?

Miss Wilkinson

Exactly the same provision as is made for any other grant-aided school.

Mr. Clement Davies

May I thank the right hon. Lady for her statement which, I am sure, will be received with great joy everywhere? But may I ask her to tell us now, roughly, the percentage of schoolchildren who are receiving today midday meals?

Miss Wilkinson

Thirty-seven per cent.

Mr. Erroll

Will the right hon. Lady allow local authorities to instal their own canteens, as they are now so urgent, and as the Ministry of Works which, I think, is in charge of the work, is proving very slow?

Miss Wilkinson

That is a matter to be addressed to the Ministry of Works.

Mr. Walkden

Will the right hon. Lady say whether she contemplates setting up a committee of experts or a group of persons to guide and advise local authorities on the most modern methods of preparing, cooking, and distributing these meals? Secondly, does she contemplate any proposal to supply meals during school holidays? Have any suggestions been sent to her about that from local authorities?

Miss Wilkinson

A committee of experts is unnecessary. We have all the experts that are necessary in the Ministry of Education. After all, what is a Government Department for? With regard to the second part of the question, school milk is provided during holidays in school where there is a sufficient demand for it.

Mr. Robens

In the provision of school milk, will the right hon. Lady ensure that only T.T. milk, or pasteurized bottled milk, is supplied and so prevent what is taking place at the present time, the supplying of loose, raw milk, a good deal of which is quite impure and would cause the health of schoolchildren to deteriorate, rather than improve?

Miss Wilkinson

I am sorry the hon. Gentleman should make that statement, because it may cause unnecessary anxiety. At the present we have to give some loose milk rather than milk in bottles owing to the extreme difficulty in getting bottles and bottling facilities. But the question of the cleanliness of the milk is constantly under our supervision.

Colonel Wheatley

Will the right hon. Lady give instructions to local authorities to see that the great waste of milk that goes on in the schools is stopped? Is she aware that the amount of milk wasted. is very great indeed?

Miss Wilkinson

Indeed I do not know it. There may be waste in isolated cases, but it is certainly not general.

Mr. Wilkins

In view of the right hon. Lady's statement, it is probable there will be very rapid development of the use of these facilities, and, consequently, the retention of school teachers to supervise the provision of school meals. Does she not think, as some of us do, that it is rather an imposition on the teachers to have to supervise meals during their own lunch hour?

Miss Wilkinson

We are so concerned about that matter that I set up a small working party representative of local authorities, the National Union of Teachers, and the Ministry, and they have put proposals before me on which I hope to come to a decision shortly.

Mr. Driberģ

Can the right hon. Lady say whether it is still the case, as was, I think, announced by her predecessor, that the building of school canteens has equal priority with houses in the demand for building materials?

Miss Wilkinson

It comes out of the allocation for building which is made to the Ministry of Education. That allocation has nothing whatever to do with the housing allocation