HC Deb 15 April 1957 vol 568 cc1687-710

10.10 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Welfare Foods (Great Britain) Amendment Order, 1957 (S.I., 1957, No. 411), dated 13th March. 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20th March, be annulled. The effect of this Order is both to increase the price of National Dried Milk and to increase the price of welfare milk. In fact, to increase the price of welfare milk from 1½d. to 4d. a pint: that is to say, to more than double the price of welfare milk. The House will well remember that the Labour Government in fact reduced the price of welfare milk.

In recent months, we have frequently debated milk prices. The Government have twice increased the retail price of milk. Then we had a particularly petty economy when the Government reduced the amount of milk for the unfortunate children attending day nurseries. On each of those occasions, embarrassed Government spokesmen paraded by way of mitigation the virtue of the subsidy on welfare milk. In fact when we debated the day nurseries, the hon. Lady who is now one of the Joint Under-Secretaries at the Home Office, in mitigation, expressly claimed the fact that the Government, while they were imposing that mean economy, were nevertheless subsidising welfare milk, which was selling at 1½d.

The effect of this Order is that what the hon. Lady said by way of defence is no longer true. When we last discussed the increase in the retail price of milk, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, more flamboyant than previous Government spokesmen, in fact expressly claimed as his excuse the increase in the amount of the subsidy on welfare milk. In fact, speaking on the subject of welfare milk. he said: There has been no cut here at all. On the contrary. I claim that these very striking figures show how much wiser has been our policy of concentrating on those whose need is greatest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1957; Vol. 564, c. 195.] Little did the Parliamentary Secretary know what his Government were going to do within fourteen days.

We have opposed the Government's deliberate, callous policy in regard to milk because, first, it has led to a fall in the consumption of fresh milk of about 4 per cent. and, secondly, it has been the instrument of a socially unfair redistribution of the national income. As I said when we last discussed the retail price of milk, it is in effect taking the burden off the Surtax payer and putting it on the child and the large family. The fall in consumption has borne more heavily on the lower income groups and on the larger families. Now, having abolished the consumer subsidy altogether, the Government have begun a direct attack upon these groups by more than doubling the price of welfare milk.

We oppose this Order because, in the first place, it is stupid and ill-timed. This Order is bound to depress the demand for liquid milk: in fact that is not disputed. The right hon. Gentleman himself said that there will be no appreciable fall. He concedes that there will be a fall in the demand for fresh milk. What is appreciable or not is a matter of politics, but this is a serious matter to the farmer, because, after all, welfare milk comprises 15 per cent. of the total fresh milk consumed in this country. Now, at a time when the Minister of Agriculture is pointing out that there is a surplus of liquid milk, an excess of supplies over demand. I should have thought that the Government would have taken every step to stimulate demand and not depress it in this stupid way.

Secondly, the Order is nutritionally and socially objectionable. The Minister of Health was quite correct when, in calling attention to the Report of the Milk Marketing Board, he said that some of the variations in the pattern of milk consumption are due to variations in tradition and habit. But these variations in tradition and habit, which are illustrated by the fact that Beckenham consumes far more milk per head than Leeds, will not he overcome by an Order increasing the price of welfare milk.

In any case, the Board, in its Report, came to two major conclusions. The first was that milk consumption per head is higher in families where the heads of the household have higher incomes and, secondly, is lower in larger families, presumably because of the pressure on the family purse. In other words, this Report confirms the reports of the National Food Survey that milk consumption per head is affected by the income of the wage-earner and the size of the family. It is because these facts are widely known and appreciated that we pay particular regard to this provision of cheap welfare milk. It is for that reason that the Labour Government reduced the price of welfare milk.

The Minister of Health has raised the astonishing argument that, bad as the Order may be, it preserves the proportionate contribution by way of subsidy, but surely the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that at a time when the Government have twice increased the retail price of milk it is specially important to ensure that there should be full consumption of welfare milk. We have seen that as each increase in the retail price of milk has been imposed it has had an adverse effect on the consumption of welfare milk.

Thirdly, the Order is patently unfair and unjust. The Chancellor of the Exchequer claims that, by virtue of the Order, he is making an Exchequer saving of £14 million. that is to support the Government's present fiscal policy. In other words, the price of milk is being raised for the poorer children to relieve the Surtax payer. It is as simple as that. We have now had the Budget, and the right hon. Gentleman knew what he was about to do when he imposed this increase on children and expectant mothers who take welfare milk. This Order is ill-timed, nutritionally unwise and grossly unjust, and for those reasons we shall oppose it.

10.19 p.m.

Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)

I beg to second the Motion.

I do so for the simple reason that we are dealing with an Order which raises the price of welfare milk from 1½d. a pint to 4d. a pint. Roughly, that is a 166 per cent. increase and, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, it relates to about 15 per cent. of the liquid milk consumed in this country.

This Order is related purely to the Exchequer. It is not related to the production of milk or to the need of the people who receive the milk. On the one hand, there is this great increase in the production of milk, to such an extent that farmers are talking about quota schemes and one thing and another to reduce production. At the same time the poorest and most needy people in the island are finding that the price of milk is being raised.

I remember right from the days of the old board of guardians how my father as a milk seller used at this time of the year to receive the certificates issued by the relieving officer to the larger families, to the old people and to others in distress. They were able to bring tickets along to him because those on the board of guardians knew that, by enabling the people to have fresh milk to consume, they were doing them as much good as by anything that could be done. I regret very much that in this modern age far greater quantities of drugs and other things for treatment are given when one and a half pints of really good milk at night would do people far more good. Milk is essential for protecting the body against ills and decay.

As I have said, this Order is not related to the needs of thousands of people in the country or to the producers of milk but to the demands of the Exchequer. Only last week the Chancellor showed that there could have been £100 million more in the Exchequer but, because it was not wanted, taxation was reduced. At the same time that was only possible because of such economies as this one—saving on the poorest of people in order that the Chancellor might come to the Dispatch Box opposite on Budget clay and say with pride, "I am not giving— I am not taking from people El million in taxation which I should have done if I had continued tax at the same rate as it was during the past year."

We must relate these two things. Can the Minister who is to reply to the debate say that the people who would have received, or are receiving, this milk will be much better off in 1957 than they were in 1956? Is the argument that the health of those people is that much better, or that their needs are that much less? He cannot possibly argue on the basis that there is not the milk available for them or that milk is not so good for them. It is purely on the question of the monetary policy of Her Majesty's Government that we this evening have to debate this most miserable of all the propositions that have come from the Government during the past twelve months. It would be a good thing if the House would accept this Motion and annul the Order.

10.23 p.m.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

I know that the Order now under consideration carries the name of three right hon. Gentlemen who are Minsters connected with three branches of Her Majesty's Government. I have been wondering if they ever stop to think of what the effect of their actions would be upon the poor, the needy and the old-age pensioners? It appears to me that they blunder along without any thought.

The situation prevailing in this country at present is that the production of milk has increased beyond all expectation. If we were to apply what is called the economic law of supply and demand, instead of increasing the price of milk the duty of the Government would be to reduce it in order to make it easier for the people in the lower income groups and the old-age pensioners to get the milk that they need.

I do not know whether the three Departments concerned have considered the effects which this Order will have. There are 4½ million to 5 million people who are disappointed about the Budget they are disappointed because no relief has been given to them in the Budget. They are wounded, and in my opinion this Order will pour iodine and brine salt into the wounds which the Government have caused to the poor and needy. The Government should be ashamed of themselves for bringing forward this Order now.

If there had been a scarcity of milk one could have understood it, but in fact the farmers of this country, in response to the Government's requests, have increased the production of milk. They have responded nobly and done exceedingly well. I will not go into the question of subsidies, but the fact remains that the farmers have done exceedingly well. Now that they have increased the production of milk, the Government produce this Order and raise the price of milk. To me, as a very ordinary man, it is a crazy idea. It is crazy, it is immoral, it is dishonest for the Government, by in- creasing the price of milk, to impose greater hardships upon those who already are hard pressed.

A few days ago there was a reference in the House to the National Food Survey, which indicated that people with incomes of £2 a week spent 25s. 5d. a week on food. Now these people with very low incomes are to be asked to spend even more on food instead of having the situation eased for them as it ought to have been eased.

Surely, the Government should have regard to the effect of their actions upon the poorer people. I could give the details of the budget of one of the low income group, a copy of which I have in my hand. Even by the most economical way of living she is left with only about 10d. out of her £2 a week. I will not give the items, but she now spends 10d. a week on milk and in future she will have to spend 1s. 2d. a week on it.

Surely we have got beyond such an action as this. The Government should realise the effect of their actions upon these people. Without going into the statistics which I have here, I submit that the Government ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for bringing forward an Order of this kind at this time of the year.

Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Before he finishes, would the hon. Member explain in what way this Order affects the old-age pensioner? He has referred to the old-age pensioner and this Order, but I cannot see how this increase in the price of welfare foods affects the old-age pensioner.

Mr. Brown

I may have mentioned the old-age pensioners, but I meant those in the lower income groups.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. Victor Collins (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

This is the meanest and the most stupid Measure—I emphasise the word "stupid"—that even this Government have introduced. My hon. Friends have emphasised its meanness.

We on these benches can remember when there was a shortage of almost everything to eat in 1947 and 1948. Visiting specialists and doctors came to this country then and told us that we had the brightest and bonniest babies to be found anywhere in the world. That was because, despite the real shortages, we saw in those days that those in the greatest need, the babies, the old, and the sick, had their fair share, and, in particular, the schemes for welfare foods were born and carried through.

Despite the shortages, we took steps to build up healthy babies. This is not funny. If hon. Members opposite were in touch with the people, if any of them had done any real work on the workshop floor and had any contact with the people in field, mine and factory, they would know the kind of thing they are doing

We introduced those measures in time of shortage, and now they are being rapidly destroyed. I have no doubt that hon. Members opposite will tell us that this sum of £14 million will work out to only about 4½d. per family per week over the country as a whole. What they will forget to add is that it means very much more than that to the people who are really in need of this assistance. I have a constituent with seven children. She tells me that the alteration in the price of welfare milk, plus the recent increase in the price of bread, will mean more than 10s. a week for her, out of a wage of little more than £8. That is a very real difference. The only answer to that is that the family will have to go without some other necessity.

I do not want to dwell on that aspect over much. I want to mention the stupid part of this Measure. I am an employer and, despite the difficulties which hon. Members have in trying to do a job here while at the same time keeping in touch with industry, during the twelve years since I first came to this House I have contrived on most days to spend at least a part of the day on the workshop floor.

I know most of my employees by sight and many by their Christian names, and I have some knowledge of what they are thinking and feeling. I shall not pretend that this 4½d. a week is a tremendous financial burden on all workers, but I am sure that the Government have not realised the psychological effect of what they are doing. To the ordinary worker it appears exactly as though the £14 million is being taken out of the stomachs of the babies to provide more for the Surtax payers. That is exactly the comparison they will make and that is exactly how it will appear to them. This and similar things which the Government have done will be translated, whether the Government like it or not, into demands for wage increases tenfold larger than the cost of this piffling Measure which the Government are now trying to enact.

For twenty-five years I have been president of an employers' federation. I know something of wage negotiations with the men. Both the industries with which I am connected have sliding scales for cost-of-living bonuses which move as the cost of living rises. We do not even bother to talk to the men about cost-of-living bonuses. They know that they are worse off. They know that without any of the kind of figures which hon. Members opposite will no doubt produce. They know that they are being kicked around.

This country needs more production and a contented working people. We do not want incentives to be only at the top. We want incentives on the floor of the workshop, in the mines, and in the fields. All that is happening to these people, the people on whom the future of the country really depends, is that they are being kicked around in mean ways of this kind. It is time that the Government realised just what they are doing, just how impossible it is for those of us who are trying to increase production and do a job which the country really needs when the Government do these things and make the job more and more difficult.

Hon. Members may go away, after the inevitable result of the Division which I suppose will take place at the end of this debate, feeling that they have gained a victory. It will not be any kind of victory; it will be a mean political triumph over the people upon whom we depend most of all. There can be no possible justification for it. It is mean and stupid in its intent and purpose. Measures of this kind have an effect far beyond their own limits. It is about time the Government began to try to understand our people, stopped knocking them about and stopped the silly actions which they keep on taking and. instead, started to try to do things in the right way, so that we can go forward in a decent way.

I do not suppose that the Minister will attempt to answer the points which I have made, but I would say to him in all sincerity that the stupidity of the action which the Government are now taking far transcends the importance of its effect upon farmers or upon production. I hope that they will pause before they make any similar enactments to this in the future, even if they do not do so in relation to this Order. They should think not only of the number of pounds, shillings and pence that they can save and which, in turn, they can give to the better-off sections of the community, but also of the overall effect upon all our workers, our production, and our future prosperity.

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)

Will the hon. Member say something about the increased children's allowances which have been given in this Budget? Secondly, will he give some sort of comparison between the price of milk and wages before the war and its price and wages since the war?

Mr. Speaker

It might be a little out of order to go into all those matters. This Order is concerned with milk.

10.37 p.m.

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

We often describe a person for whom we have the greatest contempt as one who would steal milk out of a child's bottle. That is exactly what the Order does. It hits directly at the babes and the toddlers. It takes away the milk from the little toddlers under 5 years of age and also from the infants in their mothers' arms. It has nothing whatever to do with the old-age pensioners. They do not get any subsidised milk.

I feel very strongly upon this matter. I was one of those who saw the inception of controls in the schools, in Lanarkshire, when so many children were put on to milk and so many were taken off it. Day by day the doctors recorded the weights and heights of both sets of children, and the results showed how much advantage accrued to the children who were getting milk. It is even more important that the new-born babe and those up to 18 months old, or even up to school age, should have a plentiful supply of good, certified milk.

I understand that there is so much milk that we now have on the hoardings the faces of film stars with the message to drink more milk; so much milk that it often has to be emptied into pits and various shrubberies in quiet country spots in order to be rid of it.

I regarded the welfare milk as one of the finest achievements of the Welfare State. We could look with pride at the great decrease in infant mortality. Much of that decrease was ascribed to the advance of medical science, the discovery of the antibiotic group and the like, but it was due chiefly to a great available supply of milk—and in particular, of dried milk.

Dried, sterilised milk was a great boon to the mother of a very young infant. As doctors know, gastric troubles in infants are very often set up by the use of ordinary milk. We are now overcoming bovine tuberculosis, but we still have those gastric troubles, and sterilised milk has been an absolute boon. One tin of it costs 10½d. When making up the feeds of my grandchildren I find that I require two tins. The new price of two tins represents an increase of 2s. 11d, per week. I have two other grandchildrentoddlers—and a pint and a half of milk has been coming each day for each of them. A mother who has three pints for the toddler has to find another 4s. 4d. a week. A mother with two children aged between 18 months and 5 years, and one baby on sterilised milk, has to find 7s. 3d. a week extra.

Quite frankly, in my home they do not make much of that. The parents of my grandchildren are very much higher-salaried than are M.Ps. Even so, it is a considerable increase. Where it is really felt is where the total income is £7 or £6 a week, with rents of perhaps 30s. to pay out of that, with coal and lighting accounting for another £1, and children's clothing so very expensive. Today, my grandson's coat costs as much as my own. I think that it is time that there was an inquiry into that, because there is no Purchase Tax there—but I do not want to be stopped by you, Mr. Speaker, for wandering too far from the point. I stress how every item is adding to the cost.

I came across a little exhortation in a broadcast by a Conservative Party leader on the eve of the General Election: What is needed is that we should make the £buy more… I believe we Conservatives can do it. We must do it. Then he said: When the Conservatives return to power we will bring down costs and we will all be better off The babies, the toddlers and the old-age pensioners will not be better off. I do not know how much milk the Surtax payers drink, but possibly if they confined themselves to milk instead of their usual drink they would be better off. The Conservative leader went on to say: Well done. Is this clear enough? I said tonight and I repeat that we will reduce the cost of living. This Order might be withdrawn in view of that promise, of the attack upon those who cannot hit back, and the fact that the proudest boast of our nation lies in the virility, health and strength of our little children.

10.47 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I do not know which of the three Ministers whose names support the Order will reply. I sincerely hope that it will be the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)

What about the former Secretary of State for Scotland?

Mr. Ross

No. The right hon. Gentleman has done enough speaking tonight.

In the absence of the Secretary of State, I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Craigton (Mr. J. N. Browne), will address himself to this matter. He has been congratulating the City of Glasgow upon having got 700,000 people voluntarily to be X-rayed at no cost to themselves to help to remove the scourge of tuberculosis from Glasgow.

It is a question of how we are to spend our money at the right time and in the right place, either to prevent the disease or to have a massive and highly publicised effort to tackle it. The Joint Under-Secretary is a Member for Glasgow. Does he appreciate that the Order will affect every child in Glasgow below school age? He knows the children of Glasgow as well as I do. One of the reasons for the massive publicity drive to wipe out tuberculosis is that we had no welfare scheme before the war. The health of our children has improved precisely because of the welfare scheme.

I wonder that the Joint Under-Secretary can sit here and support the Order. No wonder that the Secretary of State is not here. He has spent his weekend in Ayr. He was in my home town last weekend. I know that the right hon. Gentleman was playing golf in Prestwick. I wonder that the Prime Minister did not talk to the Ayrshire farmers while he was there. They have talked to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and me about milk supplies. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been concerned about the consumption of liquid milk and has promised to do what he can to brash up the advertising activities of the Milk Marketing Board to sell more milk. The Order will make that job much more difficult.

Here is a position in which the price of milk to those who are getting necessary supplies is going up by 2½d. a pint. The same applies to National Dried Milk, which will be going up from 10½d. to 2s. 4d. a tin. I can understand why certain hon. Members opposite are delighted about that. When they harry us about this and ask irrelevant questions it would be pertinent to ask whether they are directors of dried milk firms.

Sir C. Taylor rose

Mr. Ross

The farmers of Ayrshire are very concerned—

Sir C. Taylor rose

Mr. Ross

The farmers of Ayrshire—

Mr. Speaker

I understood the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) to make a reference to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor).

Mr. Ross

Yes, I did, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

It is customary when that is done for the hon. Member who is speaking to permit the hon. Member to whom he refers to say what he has to say.

Sir C. Taylor

I did not disclose my interest in the milk industry tonight because, quite frankly, I have done so very often and I think most hon. Members know that I am a director of milk companies. I apologise most humbly that I did not disclose the fact tonight.

Mr. Ross

We are indebted to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) for making that remark tonight.

Ayrshire and other farmers throughout the country are concerned about the fall in the consumption of liquid milk, and this Order will make it worse.

We are having this Order presented to us at a time when the Government should be considering expansion of the welfare services to take in old-age pensioners. It will affect seriously the pockets and the health of people with low incomes. We have just finished discussion of something else on which the Government have been priding themselves about doing something for parents with children over 12 years of age. Here we are dealing with children under school age. The Government are robbing the poorest children, children of people who are not in most cases paying Income Tax, while the Tories pride themselves on doing something for parents who pay Income Tax and have children over school age.

Mr. James Stuart (Moray and Nairn)

Do children pay Income Tax?

Mr. Ross

I wish that the right hon. Member would confine himself to milk. I make a last appeal to the Government. From the point of view of the national needs in regard to agriculture, this is really stupid. From the point of view of national health and the standards we have built up since the war it is criminal. Is there no depth to which the Government will not sink? If they cannot do better than this they should clear out altogether.

10.54 p.m.

Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I consider that this Order is one of the many mean things introduced recently by the Government. If I were asked to say what, in my lifetime, were the greatest changes in the lives of our people I would say that one of the greatest was that in the last few years we have reduced the infantile and maternal mortality rates.

I well remember the time when I was a young city councillor and the infantile mortality rate in the hospital wards of Stoke-on-Trent was 144 out of every 1,000. It is true that those were the slum wards of the city, but it is also true that the poorest of the poor lived in those areas. There were no welfare centres. There was no opportunity for those mothers in those areas to get any extra milk or any extra help to try to reduce the infantile and the maternal mortality.

We are proud today that our babies are, in the main, bonny babies and that we are rearing healthy children. At the end of his term of office, the Minister of Health will, I am sure, want to keep that record of having the bonniest children and improving the standard of health of the babies. The Order is not the way to do it.

Many of the children who are able to get the welfare milk, whether liquid or dried, are from large families whose mothers are now accustomed to the fact that they can go either to the welfare centre or to centres where the milk is now distributed, and they can get the service of giving additional milk and, therefore, additional nourishment to their children.

I remember the time when it was difficult to persuade even working-class mothers to go to the welfare centre. In those very early days they felt, as many of our old-age pensioners feel today, too proud to go. We have broken down that feeling and the young mothers now accept that service as a right and as part of the Welfare State. This Order is a way of attacking these mothers who have now become accustomed to going to the welfare centre or to the distribution centre for their milk and getting it at a reasonable rate.

I notice on the Order Paper today that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) has tabled a Question to the Minister of Health drawing his attention to the fact that the infantile mortality rate in Manchester has increased for the first time in ten years. Manchester is a big and important city. That is an indication that we should not be doing anything to undermine the standard of health of our children, and particularly the very young ones, because if it happens in Manchester the effect can become cumulative and it can happen in other parts of the country.

An hon. Member opposite asked about the price of milk before the war as com pared with its price today. Does he realise that the increase in the price of milk, and the fact that this increase will be made, is only one of the increases in price of essential commodities? Does he also realise that when the ordinary working-class people had to cut down in the days of poverty before the war, it was on milk that they began to cut down, because they regarded it as a food which was almost a luxury? We have stopped that. This is nothing to laugh at.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

I would like to say, through you, Mr. Speaker, that I was not laughing at the hon. Lady, but at something quite outside the debate.

Mrs. Slater

I accept that, but there has been continuous laughing on the benches opposite, which makes one assume that Members on the Government side are treating the subject almost with disdain and scorn.

Mr. Gurden rose

Mrs. Slater

I cannot give way. To treat this matter with disdain and scorn is not worthy of any Member of the House.

We were also asked whether we had taken children's allowances into account. Hon. Members opposite claim some credit for having increased those allowances. Is there any credit in it if, at the same time, they reduce their value? That has happened time and time again. First, they attack school milk, then milk in the nurseries and now welfare milk. In addition, the price of milk has been increased.

I want to ask the Minister of Health, in particular, whether he does not think it worth while to reconsider this Order. Should not the Government ask themselves how many times they can introduce these Orders, one after another, framed with the same deliberate intention of cutting down the benefits to those who are in the greatest need? Ought they not to reconsider the Order, not merely having in mind a saving of £14 million, but having at least a little concern for the welfare of our children and of those who will be the future workers of this country? Is it not worth while reconsidering the Order not merely from the financial aspect but from the humanitarian aspect, too, so that, even at this late stage, they could withdraw the Order?

11.2 p.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

I can find a measure of agreement with most hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, and that is on the value of milk for expectant mothers and young children. I could extend that to the value of milk for people in general, but the Order and the Prayer which relates to it relate only to welfare milk for children under five and expectant mothers. The value of that welfare milk is not in dispute, and I do not intend for one moment to dispute its beneficial effects on the health of the children over the last 10 to 15 years. Indeed, the annual reports of my chief medical officer have on more than one occasion endorsed the contributions which have been made to health by welfare milk.

The hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) referred to the infant mortality rate in Manchester last year. I will tell her, as I have told the House previously, that the infant mortality rates for England and Wales last year were the lowest ever known in the history of this country. It is a fact that the health of our children has been improving.

What is in dispute is the amount of subsidy necessary to encourage the consumption of welfare milk. The effect of this Order is to provide a subsidy of 50 per cent. when the retail price of milk is 8d. a pint, as it is for most of the year, and slightly less than 50 per cent. in the flush period, which includes the months of April, May and June.

This Order in itself does not deprive any child, any toddler, as the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) said, of its welfare milk. Indeed, the saving on my Estimate this year of £12½ million on liquid milk and £l½ million on the National Dried Milk assumes that the take up of welfare milk will be exactly the same as it has been in previous years, and there is no reason to assume that as a result of this Order any less welfare milk will be consumed in the coming year.

Some hon. Members have related the saving under this Order to Surtax concessions in the Budget. I suppose that is a legitimate point, but they could have related the saving here to the taxation relief of old persons on small incomes; they could have related it to the tax reductions on pots and pans; and they could even more properly have related it to the increase in family allowances for the third child and subsequent children from 8s. to 10s., because there is a definite connection between those two items.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) was the only hon. Member to refer to the history of this scheme, and I think this is important because it relates to the year 1940 when the welfare milk scheme was introduced to encourage the consumption of milk by young children and expectant mothers whose health might otherwise have been affected by food shortages. The retail price of milk in 1940 was 4d. a pint and the subsidy was 2d. That is to say, the subsidy was 50 per cent.. which is exactly the effect of this Order, and it was a subsidy of 50 per cent. in wartime conditions when food was daily getting shorter and incomes bought less than they do today.

It is true that the party opposite, in 1946, reduced the price of welfare milk to 1½d. That, together with an increase in the price of milk, had the effect of increasing the subsidy. Thereafter, as the price of retail milk has increased to the present price of 8d. a pint so, of course, the subsidy has risen, since the price of welfare milk has remained at 1½d. Therefore, now, before the introduction of this Order, the subsidy has risen from 50 per cent. to 81 per cent., at a total cost to the Exchequer of £33.3 million.

If 50 per cent. represented the real need in 1940, or, as it has been said tonight, 66 per cent. in 1946, now, when rationing has been abandoned and a wider choice of nourishing food is available, and when incomes purchase more, it is difficult to argue that the subsidy should be at a greater percentage rate than in those early days. To argue that the subsidy should be increased year after year as the wealth of the country increases seems a fancy of Socialist economics.

Mr. Willey

Has the hon. Gentleman read the speech of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? I have previously argued in debate that one of the cones- quential effects of increased milk prices is to increase the subsidy on welfare milk. When we discussed the last increase in the retail price, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary made a virtue of this and called attention to the figures. That was only 14 days before the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave notice of this vicious cut in the subsidy on welfare milk.

Mr. Vosper

I am fully aware of that. It does not affect the argument, which is that if 50 per cent. subsidy was necessary in 1940 it is not necessary to have one of 80 per cent. today.

In addition, this subsidy is paid to rich and poor. It does not seem reasonable to provide a subsidy of 80 per cent. regardless of need. It seems sense to have an alternative policy of a 50 per cent. subsidy for welfare milk and to encourage the consumption of milk over and above that, by education and salesmanship through the National Milk Publicity Council. I would again refer hon. Members, as I did in a previous speech, to the Milk Marketing Board's Report on this very subject. It said: Family income and the price of milk are probably not the main barriers to increased sale. In many cases there are tradition and habit which can be overcome by persistent effort through education and propaganda. A survey has shown that there are geographical differences in the consumption of milk. The obvious case is that of Battersea, with a consumption of 4.7 pints per head, and Leeds, where there is a consumption, in exactly the same income group, of only 3.7 per head.

I agree that people of larger incomes on the whole show a higher consumption of milk. Taking groups on an income between £9 and £15 a week and groups of an income under £9, that same survey, together with the National Food Survey, shows very little difference between them in the consumption of milk. Therefore, the policy of Her Majesty's Government is not to discourage consumption but to encourage the consumption of milk by education and propaganda and to provide a subsidy of 50 per cent., the original subsidy, for welfare milk.

I accept that there are two groups, to whom surprisingly little reference has been made in this debate, who can be affected by the Order. The first is the group with large families and the second the group on low incomes. I accept that large families, on the whole, consume less milk per head. I do not believe that the answer to assist them is by an indiscriminate subsidy for all families, whatever their income and number of children.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. 'Taylor) was quite right when he referred to the change in family allowances, a policy introduced on two occasions by the Government. The first was in 1952 from 5s. to 8s., a 60 per cent. increase, and the second last October, when the allowance for the third child and subsequent children was increased to 10s. That increase cost £10 million and affected nearly 2 million children. If we are really concerned with large families—and the argument for large families is a serious one upon this Order—the hon. Member for Sunderland, North would have made a better case for them, by proposing helping them in that way, than by spreading the assistance thinly through an indiscriminate subsidy of this nature.

As to those with the low incomes, I should place on record the fact that those receiving National Assistance automatically receive books of milk tokens entitling them to free supplies of welfare milk. Furthermore, those not on National Assistance but whose available resources do not exceed their needs on National Assistance standards— and I have been into this most carefully— can obtain free supplies for 13 weeks at a time. If the applicants have not sufficient margin to meet the whole charge they can receive the full payment for welfare milk.

I do not accept that any child under the age of 5 need be deprived, however low the income of its parents, of welfare milk as a result of this Order. I would remind hon. Members that it is not the only welfare food. Children under 5 receive orange juice at 5d., whereas the retail price is 1s. 4d. They have free supplies of cod liver oil and vitamin tablets. Children in day nurseries, nursery classes and nursery schools are receiving one-third of a pint of milk free, in addition to one pint at 50 per cent. of the price.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent. South)

A good investment.

Mr. Vosper

I agree that it is an extremely good investment. I am placing on record that this is not the only welfare food available to this important group in the community.

The increase resulting from the Order is 1s. 5½d. per beneficiary per week, but the subsidy will be 2s. 4d.—and 2s. 0½d. during the flush period. The cost to the Exchequer in this year is about £25 million.

My conclusion is that to restore the subsidy to approximately the level it occupied in 1940 is not unreasonable when, during the intervening period, there has been a rise in purchasing power and a wider choice of foods has become available and there has been an increase in milk production and food consumed. I do not accept that there is need for any decline in welfare milk. The reduction of the subsidy is not inconsistent with the policy of the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food in encouraging the consumption of milk. Education, propaganda, a further rise in real incomes with assistance for large families and for those in need are preferable to a general subsidy.

For these reasons, I ask the House to support the Order and to reject the Prayer.

11.13 p.m.

Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)

I desire to say only a few words. We have just listened to one of the most deplorable speeches ever to be made in this House by a Minister of Health. It might have been a speech delivered by a Chancellor of the Exchequer who was desperately trying to defend a monetary policy which was immoral.

The Minister of Health has completely ignored the fact that he has a function which, in my opinion, is more important than the function of any other Minister on the Front Bench. His obligation is to protect the health of the people. The right hon. Gentleman did not mention that once in his speech. He must know, his officials must have told him, this simple fact, that the reduction in the incidence of mortality and morbidity among children is closely related to the improvement in the feeding of children during the last ten or twenty years.

Mr. Vosper rose

Dr. Summerskill

I said I should say only a few words. I shall not be long. [HON. MEMBERS: "The right hon. Lady ought to give way."] The Minister really cannot now try to amend anything that he has already said.

The function of the Minister of Health is not to defend the policies of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His function is to do his best to improve the health of the people, but tonight we have heard that he is prepared to defend the policy which must inevitably reduce the protection afforded to the health of the children. We have already heard that the infant mortality rate in Manchester has increased for the first time for many years.

What the Minister has said tonight about infants' milk cannot be supported on medical grounds. He has said, or he

certainly implied, that every individual in the lower income groups will receive milk free of cost. That is what the Minister says, but if one presses the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the point it will be found that the only people to get such milk are those who come within the National Assistance grade. Does not the Minister know that there are hundreds of thousands who do not come within the scope of National Assistance benefit, and who will not be able to afford the price of milk as it is today?

We on this side of the House deplore the fact that the Minister of Health has identified himself with this reactionary policy.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 171, Noes 212.

Division No. 98.] AYES [11.16 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Gibson, C. W. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)
Albu, A. H. Gooch, E. G. Mort, D. L.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Moss, R.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Greenwood, Anthony Mulley, F. W.
Awbery, S. S. Grey, C. F. Neal, Harold (Bolsover)
Bacon, Miss Alice Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)
Baird, J. Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) O'Brien, Sir Thomas
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Hamilton, W. W. Oliver, G. H.
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.) Hannan, W. Oram, A. E.
Benson, G. Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Orbach, M.
Beswick, Frank Hastings, S. Oswald, T.
Blenkinsop, A. Hayman, F. H. Padley, W. E.
Blyton, W. R. Healey, Denis Paget, R. T.
Boardman, H. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.) Herbison, Miss M. Palmer, A. M. F.
Bowles, F. G. Holman, P. Pargiter, G. A.
Boyd, T. C. Holmes, Horace Parker, J.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Houghton, Douglas Pearson, A.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Hubbard, T. F. Peart, T. F.
Burton, Miss F. E. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Pentland, N.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hunter, A. E. Plummer, Sir Leslie
Carmichael, J. Hynd, H. (Accrington) Popplewell, E.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Champion, A. J. Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Chetwynd, G. R. Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Probert, A. R.
Clunie, J. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Proctor, W. T.
Coldrick, W. Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Randall, H. E.
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Jeger, Mrs.Lena(Holbn & St. Pncs. S.) Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Collins, V. J.(Shoreditch & Finsbury) Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Cove, W. G. Kenyon, C. Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) King, Dr. H. M. Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Cullen, Mrs. A. Lawson, G. M. Ross, William
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Lee, Frederick (Newton) Short, E. W.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Skeffington, A. M.
Deer, G. Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)
Delargy, H. J. Lindgren, G. S. Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Dodds, N. N. Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Donnelly, D. L. MacColl, J. E. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Dye, S. MacDermott, Niall Steele, T.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. McGhee, H. G. Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) McGovern, J. Stonehouse, John
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) McKay, John (Wallsend) Stones, W. (Consett)
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Strauss,Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.) MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Fernyhough, E. Mahon, Simon Sylvester, G. O.
Fienburgh, W. Mann, Mrs. Jean Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Finch, H. J. Mason, Roy Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Forman, J. C. Mitchison, G. R. Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Monslow, W. Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
George, Lady Megan Lloyd Moody, A. S. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Thornton, E. West, D. G. Winterbottom, Richard
Timmons, J. Wheeldon, W. E. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Tomney, F. White, Mrs. Eirene(E. Flint) Woof, R. E.
Usborne, H. C. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Warbey, W. N. Willey, Frederick
Watkins, T. E. Williams, David (Neath) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Wells, William (Walsall, N.) Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.) Mr. Simmons and Mr. Wilkins.
Agnew, Sir Peter Gresham Cooke, R. Neave, Airey
Aitken, W. T. Gurden, Harold Nicholls, Harmar
Alport, C. J. M. Hall, John (Wycombe) Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & chr'ch)
Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd) Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.
Arbuthnot, John Harvie-Watt, Sir George Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)
Armstrong, C. W. Head, Rt. Hon. A. H. Osborne, C.
Ashton, H. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Page, R. G.
Atkins, H. E. Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Baldwin, A. E. Hesketh, R. F. Partridge, E.
Balniel, Lord Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Peyton, J. W. W.
Barber, Anthony Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Barlow, Sir John Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Pike, Miss Mervyn
Barter, John Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Pitman, I. J.
Baxter, Sir Beverley Hirst, Geoffrey Pitt, Miss E. M.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Hobson, J. G. S. (Wrwck & Lmngtn) Powell, J. Enoch
Bennett, Dr. Reginald Holt, A. F. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Hope, Lord John Profumo, J. D.
Bidgood, J. C. Hornby, R. P. Raikes, Sir Victor
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Ramsden, J. E.
Bishop, F. P. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Rawlinson, Peter
Body, R. F. Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Redmayne, M.
Bossom, Sir Alfred Hulbert, Sir Norman Ridsdale, J. E.
Braine, B. R. Hurd, A. R. Rippon, A. G. F.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.) Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Bromley-Davenport. Lt.-Col. W. H. Grimond, J. Robertson, Sir David
Brooman-White, R. C. Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Roper, Sir Harold
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Bryan, P. Hyde, Montgomery Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.
Burden, F. F. A. Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry Sharples, R. C.
Channon, Sir Henry Iremonger, T. L. Shepherd, William
Chichester-Clark, R. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Soames, Christopher
Cooke, Robert Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)
Cooper, A. E. Joseph, Sir Keith Stevens, Geoffrey
Cooper-Key, E. M. Kaberry, D. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Keegan, D. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Corfield, Capt. F. V. Kerr, H. W. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Kirk, P. M. Storey, S.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Lambert, Hon. G. Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Crouch, R. F. Leavey, J. A. Studholme, Sir Henry
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Currie, G. B. H. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Davidson, Viscountess Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Deedes, W. F. Linstead, Sir H. N. Teeling, W.
Digby, Simon Wingfield Llewellyn, D. T. Temple, John M.
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Doughty, C. J. A. Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick) Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Drayson, G. B. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
du Cann, E. D. L. Macdonald, Sir Peter Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Duthie, W. S. McKibhin, A. J. Turner, H. F. L.
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster) Tweedsmuir, Lady
Elliott, R. W. McLean, Nell (Inverness) Vane, W. M. F.
Errington, Sir Eric Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Vaughan Morgan, J. K.
Farey-Jones, F. W. Maddan, Martin Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.
Fell, A. Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire W.)
Finlay, Graeme Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)
Fisher, Nigel Markham, Major Sir Frank Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Marlowe, A. A. H. Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Garner-Evans, E. H. Mathew, R. Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
George, J. C. (Pollok) Maude, Angus Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Gibson-Watt, D. Mawby, R. L. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Godber, J. B. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Wood, Hon. R.
Goodhart, Philip Medlicott, Sir Frank Woollam, John Victor
Gower, H. R. Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Graham, Sir Fergus Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh
Grant, W. (Woodside) Morrison, John (Salisbury) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Nabarro, G. D. N. Mr. Wills and Colonel J. H. Harrison
Green, A. Nairn, D. L. S.