HC Deb 26 February 1968 vol 759 cc1067-107

Again considered in Committee.

The Temporary Chairman

Mr. Newens.

Mr. Newens

Mr. Yates, I was referring to the fact that some people had said that many teachers were not in favour of the provision of school milk for secondary school children. This is on the ground of the disorganisation which may be caused in the classroom. This can be overcome quite simply. It was overcome in the school in which I used to teach. Therefore, the problem of organisation ought not to be regarded as a reason for dispensing with a vital service.

The proposal to abolish school milk for secondary school children is disgraceful. It is a paltry step to take this milk away from our children, particularly—

Sir C. Osborne

The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) has made a most powerful case against this proposal from his experience as an expert teacher. May I ask him if he is going to vote against it—[Interruption.] I am entitled to ask that—[Interruption.]

The Temporary Chairman

I was about to suggest that the hon. Member might come a little closer to the Amendments we are discussing, because this is not Clause stand part.

Mr. Newens

The hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) will have his answer in due course. I hope that he will be patient.

If school milk is abolished for secondary school children the saving will have no useful effect, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friends already. It will only be used to justify a larger subsidy to the farmers. What on earth is the use of reducing expenditure if it results in a reduction of production in relation to the reduction in expenditure?

The idea of a Socialist Government economising at the expense of children's milk means a blow which will fall particularly on the children of lower paid workers. With respect to the hon. Member for Louth and his hon. Friends, it is clear from the emptiness of the benches opposite that very few members of the Conservative Party are concerned about this issue. We know that their children will not suffer from this particular step.

How many of us are prepared to go through the morning without a midmorning drink? Instead of letting children drink bottles of pop, and so on, why not provide them with something of real nutritional value?

I support the Amendment, and I plead with the Government to accept it, because it will provide for a national survey to be taken before the school milk is stopped and the damage is done. I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree to this. If he does not, I shall feel strongly about it, and I am sure that I shall satisfy the curiosity of the hon. Member for Louth.

Mr. Orme

I want to deal with a specific item in relation to this question of nutritional value as it affects my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun).

It has been said that the provision of milk in schools has played a major part in raising the standards of children's health and in body building. This is so beyond a shadow of doubt. The provision of free milk to school children is a basic Socialist measure, and I am sure that I carry the vast majority of my hon. Friends with me when I say that.

As has been said, there are different standards in this country. Some Members represent better areas of higher development than others. I represent an area which has its roots in the Industrial Revolution. Much of our housing is still bad. There is still overcrowding, and although some modern secondary schools have been built there, many of the children are in many ways under-privileged.

To support that statement I have here the report of the Medical Officer of Health for Salford, Dr. Burns, who is well known, not only in Salford, but throughout the country. He says that Salford children are particularly in need of a school health service. He goes on to say: It is well to recognise the difficult social psychological and physical conditions in the less fortunate parts of North-Western urban industrialised areas. These conditions have led to a lower standard of health and a lower social—cultural standard of living Mothers who have had poor health themselves with difficult financial and family conditions are often not able to give their children the practical health education in general and, in particular, the nutritious but expensive foods such as proteins and fruit which are essential for full health.… We know that Salford schoolchildren are among the shortest and lightest in England, as evidenced in a special Ministry of Health enquiry into heights and weights of school children aged five and fourteen years… In my area there are no fixed baths in 34 per cent. of the households. Only 45 per cent. of the houses have the exclusive use of hot water, fixed bath, and indoor toilets. The same sort of thing is to be found in many areas of Britain. We want to get rid of these conditions, and they are being got rid of, but too slowly. Coupled with those conditions, one finds moderate or large-sized families with the parents earning low wages as labourers in engineering, on the Manchester Docks, or in one of the many industrial occupations in the area. School milk is a basic part of the nutrition of many families. Since this measure was proposed, school teachers have told me that, although they do not like onerous duties Like supervising school meals or school milk distribution, none of them wanted these things abolished so that their conditions could improve. They wanted a different method of dispensing, but not abolition.

The child who has a decent breakfast before he leaves home and returns to a good meal might not mind, but children from larger families without these conditions, almost without exception, take school milk. I can, therefore, think of no more retrograde step by this Government to save £5 million, especially in view of the other factors like the effect on the farming community. There are many fine new blocks of flats and new houses in my city, but on Sunday I entered a part of the city which still has to be cleared and will exist for quite a few years yet, unfortunately. I saw children and talked to many families about this and I believe that these are the people who will suffer, in cities like Salford and the main industrial conurbations.

The Government must virtually have been out of their minds to have decided, for the sake of an approximate saving of £5 million, to make this a part of the package. This will damage children's diet. On Second Reading, it was said that this will not be applied to primary school children. A couple of years ago no member of the Government would have contemplated it for secondary school children either. How standards decline!

To deny free school milk to children from 11 to 15 when they are growing and need to build up their bodies is a retrograde step. Many of these children, through no fault of their own, may not get a balanced diet but may be fed pie and chips or pop—

Mr. Frank Allaun

They may get no breakfast.

Mr. Orme

As my hon. Friend says, they may get no breakfast.

This is what we are trying to avoid. My right hon. Friend knows that we put down the Amendment with sincerity—not to demonstrate against the Government but to get rid of this Measure. There is a way out for him—to accept the Amendment, which postpones this proposal until the new Committee has reported. Surely nothing could be more fair. Surely any Government—especially our Government—would want to go ahead on the basis of a report like this. I hope that these points will go home to my right hon. Friend and the Government. If not, some of us will have to record our objections in the only way open to us.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)

I rise to speak very shortly in support of the Amendment. I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), because I agree entirely with what he said. It so happens that a few months ago I went to an annual gathering of the British Legion in a village and was introduced to the oldest legionnaire—a very old man. I said to him, "To what do you attribute your tremendous health and vitality at the age of 80?" He said, "I have never touched a drop of milk since the day I was weaned".

That is not a very good argument for the Amendment, but it is a good argument inversely, because I had no proof of this point. The Amendment provides that milk should not be withdrawn until there has been a national food survey, so that the facts on which withdrawal are based are well proved. There was no proof that the old man's not taking milk was the reason for his health. I suspect that it was something very different—perhaps a liquid of a totally different colour.

There is another reason why I feel it essential that milk in secondary schools should not be withdrawn. In a certain class in the local school in my village there was a boy—one of a family of seven—with a widowed mother, living in a two-roomed tenement. Incidentally, the family has now emigrated to Canada. I had cause to complain about the amount of homework children from this class were given, and the head teacher replied that it was quite fair because the same amount of homework was given to every child.

I then compared the child to whom I have referred with another child, whose mother was an ex-schoolteacher, and said, "There is no equality in this, because whereas the child whose mother is an ex-schoolteacher goes home at night to a good supper, having had a good breakfast and a school meal in the middle of the day, and is then coached by her mother, who presses her on so that she will do well the following day, the other child, who is one of a family of seven, has to go home, carry the coals, help look after the younger children and do all sorts of other chores.

In a case like that the boy was probably living on a very much poorer diet than was the girl. In my opinion the withdrawal of school milk will still further remove the possibility of achieving equality. At least children competing in school should have the same basis of equality in nutrition, even if they cannot have that basis in respect of the type of home background in which they are required to do their homework.

There is another aspect of this matter. I can speak from experience gained from my children. I suggest that this is an entirely arbitrary withdrawal of milk, because it must be borne in mind that there is a wide age range at which various children reach puberty. I have a boy of 12 who has not reached puberty, although he is at secondary school, and a girl aged 10 who has reached puberty but is still at primary school. There must be many parallel cases. I suggest that the boy of 12 is much more in need of milk than is the girl of 10. I suspect that the age ranges are much wider than that, and that this withdrawal of milk is entirely arbitrary in relation to puberty.

Children's teeth are notoriously bad in the county of Aberdeen, partly because the water has a high acid content. It is good drinking water, but its acid content has a bad effect on teeth. I speak from experience as a farmer when I say that if cast ewes are brought down from Ross-shire and kept for a season or two in Aberdeenshire, even if they come down with a full mouth of teeth, within two years they will have lost the lot. This is due to the acidity of the soil as well as the water. In Aberdeen it is essential that children, right up to the age of 16, 17 and even 18, should drink plenty of milk if they are to grow at least into middle age with a mouthful of decent teeth.

Not being a dairy farmer, I do not have an interest to declare. I would, therefore, not argue that school milk should continue to be provided in secondary schools merely so that farmers may keep their profits up. However, I understand that the Government are striving for a managed market in agriculture. This withdrawal of milk from secondary schools is bound to cause some depression in the dairy industry. This will have striking repurcussions on beef from the dairy herd, and will inevitably assist in raising the price of beef and our dependence on imported beef. Hon Members will know what this may mean, particularly if we are forced to depend more on beef imports than we are at present.

A number of hon. Members have referred to the attitude of teachers. From the teachers with whom I have talked, I cannot believe that there is any great feeling on their part against the giving of milk to secondary school pupils because of the nuisance in classroom routine that is caused. It would be a selfish and inward-looking teacher who thought along those lines. Any teacher worth his or her salt knows that schools are run for the pupils and not for the teachers.

Sir Myer Galpern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

All evening I have been asking myself whether the proposal to withdraw milk from secondary schools is being advanced on nutritional grounds or on grounds of economy. If it is being advanced on nutritional grounds, then, as has been admirably argued by my hon. Friends, we need an immediate and comprehensive survey to find out whether milk has any nutritional or dietetic value for the pupils who are now receiving it.

I remind the Government that the Amendment is not a wrecking proposal but merely says, in effect, "If the Government can adduce ample and conclusive evidence to show that the supply of milk to secondary school pupils is of no nutritional value whatever, then we are prepared to consider the question of its abolition". But the whole argument tonight revolves around the fact that milk, as far as it can be established without an expert and scientific survey, does not have any nutritional value—and certainly not the sort of value which, particularly as laymen, we have thought it has had for so long.

If we are being told, in the absence of medical evidence, that milk has no nutritional value, then I suggest that that is a phoney argument because it means that we should have withdrawn this milk many years ago, particularly at times when there have been difficulties with our educational budget. The weakness of the Government case lies in the fact that they are not prepared to say categorically yes or no whether milk has any nutritional value.

As a layman and former chairman of the largest education committee in Scotland, the Glasgow Corporation Education Committee, I assure the Government that we have established, as far as laymen can establish, that milk has been of the highest nutritional value. In industrial areas and in Glasgow and its environs we unfortunately have a large and growing army of young people, who, to supplement the meagre incomes of families, go out to work in the mornings, often leaving home as early at 5.30 a.m., then going to school and, after school, doing one or two hours further work. No humane person would allow a boy to go out in the harsh weather we experience in the North simply for the sake of his health. He goes out in order to gain income which is very much needed to make the difference between absolute poverty and a semblance of solvency.

These children, in ever-increasing numbers, will go straight from employment in delivering newspapers to the classroom. They will have no drink of any kind, from about half-past five in the morning to the meal at 12.30 p.m. The £5 million per annum spent on the supply of milk to secondary school pupils is not being wasted because the milk is drunk by those pupils. It is not thrown down the drain; they are drinking £5 million-worth. That in itself is a sufficient argument that a large percentage of secondary school pupils require milk.

I am concerned about the large army of pupils who will have nothing whatever from early morning until midday in the depths of our harsh winter. How a Socialist Government can say—one can conclude that it is only for economic reasons—that we must save this £5 million and deny these children the opportunity to build up their bones and be able to enjoy reasonable health in later years, I cannot understand.

My son who is not at school now, through a great deal of force and argument had school milk. He will not be encouraged to continue the process any longer because the Government say that the milk has no nutritional value, and surely they would not say a thing so mean solely to save £5 million. So the Milk Marketing Board has lost a customer. We could multiply that by the number of secondary school pupils who find the milk supply to them is ceasing and they are told that it is of no nutritional value. What about the misleading advertisements which say "Take a pinta day"? I suppose they should be stopped forthwith because, according to the Government's assessment, the milk has no nutritional value after the age of 11-plus.

I shall certainly go into the Lobby to support the Amendment because I believe this matter has not been properly thought out. It has been done in a panic and an effort to cheesepare for a miserable £5 million. I put this last point in the form of a question to my right hon. Friend. Clause 3, according to my reading, does not preclude a local authority from continuing to provide the milk. It simply removes from the authority the onus of supplying the milk. Assume that a local authority such as Glasgow—which has done many things in the past despite Government instructions, whether from a Labour or a Tory Government—decides to continue the provision of milk to secondary school pupils. Glasgow Corporation has a strong case for doing so, and I hope that it will do so even though the cost would have to come on to the ratepayers, who I am sure would willingly bear it. Would the expenditure rank for Exchequer grant? Or will the Government say "Because you are doing something that we are trying to prohibit you from doing, it will not be eligible for an education grant"?

I hope that the Government will see the wisdom of the Amendment. Let us be honourable and face our responsibilities and agree to conduct a survey. Let us on these benches tell the Government that if at the end of the day they can show beyond a shadow of doubt that milk is not worth drinking we will accept that.

10.30 p.m.

Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

I support the Amendment because it seems the only reasonable way in which we can make a thoroughly mean and contemptible Clause in any way tolerable to us. I am very surprised at my right hon. Friend, who is not an unkind man. I am sure that he can take no pleas ire in this process of deprivation with which he has become associated. I think it fair to ask in the Amendment for him to pay regard to the information and nutritional advice that has been given to him. If we are not satisfied with its amplitude, our Amendment should be accepted. It asks for the facts of the situation on which the decision has been based.

It seems a most extraordinary economic doctrine that has suddenly and conveniently been discovered to coincide with an economic crisis in which the Government are concerned. My right hon. Friends cannot have it both ways. It is incredible that there is real clinical judgment or hanest professional advice behind this policy. If it were a question of a sudden discovery by some underpaid medical officer of health somewhere that milk may not, in the Minister's words, be medically necessary, surely it would have been more credible if the doctrine had been adduced separately in an education context and not read out in that lugubrious list of economic sacrifices, of cows which had to be killed. It seems most extraordinarily irrelevant.

As an old civil servant, I know that Ministers can always get the advice that they want. [Interruption.] One of my right hon. Friends says that I must have been a very bad civil servant. But I have some recollection of how these things work. What we have to consider is not only that there has been this flashing light on the road to Damascus which is to convert us all to a religion of non-milk drinking but that this moment of truth occurs at the precise age of eleven. If that is the kind of advice on which my right hon. Friend is basing the Clause, I can only say, with hesitation, that the advice that he is given is more convenient than clinically credible. The coincidence is too extraordinary.

There is another thing that I cannot understand. We are told that our children are so much bonnier, better and healthier that they do not need milk. What survey has my right hon. Friend carried out to convince himself that the reason why they are so bonny, healthy and splendid is not that they have been having milk? Or is he really looking around and saying that these children have thrived on milk and it has done them so much good that we should now take it away from them? It is an absurd proposition to put to the Committee. In my view, one of the reasons why we have a bonnier generation of children is that we are now getting in our schools the children of young mothers who themselves. when they were at school, were the first generation to have the benefit of school milk and school meals. If our suggestion for a survey is refused, I must press my right hon. Friend to explain on what information he has come to his conclusion.

I turn now to the Plowden Report. I do not want my right hon. Friend to say that Plowden refers to primary school children and is, therefore, irrelevant. The Plowden Committee was a very good and thorough Committee. In Appendix 14 to its Report, it reported that: The proportion of children receiving dinners was highest in the high social class areas where social conditions were good.… The proportion receiving milk was corelated with bad social conditions. The contrast in patterns may well have been due to the fact that a charge is imposed for meals. Thus, the proportion receiving dinners tended to be low where the proportion of children in great need was high. Because the milk was free, in the poorest areas and schools the proportion of milk consumed was higher.

What evidence has my right hon. Friend that this pattern which Plowden found in primary schools is not repeated in the secondary schools? Have we not a pattern in the secondary schools of fewer children in the poorest areas taking dinners and most taking the milk, probably taking the milk, indeed, because they are not taking the dinner? I have no evidence about it. An investigation to uncover that sort of information would be most helpful and would enable the House to come to a rational and objective conclusion.

I know that there are problems in secondary schools. When I was at secondary school, I could not stand milk—and I do not really go much for it now. I do not think that children should have milk pushed at them. Nothing is worse for children than being made to have something because it is good for them. But, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I want the milk to be available for those who want it. In the experience of teachers with whom I have discussed this matter, it is the children who really need it who take it most avidly, who take it hungrily.

Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

This has been said by two hon. Members now. To my great regret, I understand the take-up to be worst in the poorest communities.

Mrs. Jeger

I can only say that that is not the evidence of Plowden. I appreciate my hon. Friend's intervention because, if we are to contradict Plowden now, this is another reason for having a further survey and for putting further information before the Committee. If my hon. Friend and I have rather different impressions and information from different teachers and we are reading different authorities, that is all the more reason—I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend is nodding—

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker)

I was just moving my head. I was not nodding.

Mrs. Jeger

My right hon. Friend's head slipped. In the comprehensive report which we had on the circumstances of families, it was made abundantly clear that there is in this country a hard core of poverty, notably poverty among children.

I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether he has related the information in the survey to his present proposals. We have been anxious for a long time about this question of child poverty, and we were told to he patient because the Government did not want to take any steps without a thorough survey, without a thorough investigation. A very good survey was done and I can only suggest that it is very important that in this matter the Government should take time.

After all, this medical discovery that milk may not be absolutely necessary is not the same as the discovery that the milk is actually poisoning the children. Therefore there seems to be no need for this indecent haste. Let us look at the whole question more carefully. May I remind the Committee that this survey found that in the poorest families, where the father was out of work, only about one quarter of those entitled to free meals at school actually took them. I appreciate all that has been done to improve this, but what we are arguing for is some investigation into whether these children who do not have dinners are not benefiting from having free milk.

Are these nutritionists who are advising my poor right hon. Friend saying that free milk is bad for children who do not have dinners, or has my right hon. Friend no information on whether milk is good for children who do not have dinners? If we have not got this information, surely the decision is premature? We know that in every aspect of the welfare services where one has some charges and some options out of the charges, there is overall a low take-up of benefits. It is only by making the service available free that we can be sure that people benefit from it.

Information has been given to the Committee about Professor Yudkin's work. I want to stress the discovery in the National Food Survey, that in families with one child, 27½ per cent. of the milk intake in those families came from welfare and school sources. Jump to four children and it is found that 47 per cent.—nearly half of the milk consumption in those families—came from welfare and the schools. My right hon. Friend can ask: how do I know that these are secondary school children? I do not know, but I do not know whether he knows. The sort of survey we have in mind would discover points such as this.

Royston Lambert, writing in "Nutrition in Britain 1950–1960", says: The findings of the Government's Food Survey, when analysed, do not support the popular assumption that the diet of the British people has improved uniformly in the years 1950–1960. On the contrary, they show that imperfect nutrition, judged by the official standard of adequacy, has actually become more extensive. Later he says: It is when the findings are examined by family size and composition that the national performance is seen to be misleading. Family size and composition are now the principal determinants of nutritional status in our society. I will not weary the Committee any further. Enough has surely been said to convey to my right hon. Friend our genuine anxieties, our anxieties, as has been said, not to wreck this Clause—not yet—but at least to be sure of what we are doing. The Committee has absolutely no evidence on which it can come to a rational, fair decision.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Lubbock

How right the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) is to say that we must be sure of what we are doing. Until we have the information recommended in the survey, how can we be sure and how can we let the Clause go through unamended without the strongest possible assurances from the Minister that he will provide that information?

Of all the reversals in Government policy since they came into office, the one which we are not discussing is, perhaps, the most extraordinary. If at the 1964 Election anybody had said that in three years' time the party opposite would be depriving secondary school children of milk, people would have thought him mad. I am astonished that the Government have come to the pass that we are discussing this evening and depriving secondary school children of their milk to pay for the economic mistakes which they have made over the last three years.

Even if we admit that the Government have made all those mistakes, why should they take it out in this mean and petty way on the children in our schools? This is shocking. What I also find shocking is that so few hon. Members on this side of the Committee have remained to take part in the debate. We could have done with some expert advice from a few of the farmers on this side. Have they not been receiving expert information from the National Farmers' Union concerning this matter, to which reference has been made several times, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson)? Some of the points made by my hon. Friend were extremely relevant.

The problem goes far wider than merely the dairy industry. It has repercussions for the whole of agriculture and the prices we pay for other foodstuffs, such as beef in particular, and for our balance of payments; although I shall not refer to that in detail because we are considering the health of the schoolchildren and all other things pale into insignificance in comparison. It would have been valuable if we could have had the advice of some of the farmers on this side to add to that given by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West.

I dare say that when the Minister replies, he will point to the increased family allowances which have recently been provided for by the Government and the increased social security benefits which are being introduced. The point is, however, that they are being rapidly swallowed up by increases in the cost of living. The family allowances had not been increased for a long time until the recent change, which has been put partially into effect and will be completed in April. By the time that parents received those increased family allowances to which they are entitled in April, however, nearly the whole of that amount will have been swallowed up by increases in the cost of living and will be surpassed during the coming year as the effects of devaluation show themselves throughout the economy.

In my opinion, therefore, the parents of families with many children will find themselves worse off in spite of the increased family allowances. Similar considerations apply to the people on unemployment, sickness and supplementary benefits of various kinds.

The survey should not only include the nutritional effects, but also how the families on low incomes, or in receipt of benefit of various kinds, will be affected by the Clause and whether the children in those families will receive the milk and whether their parents will be able to pay for it from the increased benefits which the Government have provided.

When looking at the figures which are available, one must have considerable doubts. In the Family Expenditure Survey Report for 1966, for example, showing the amounts spent on milk in families with various incomes, there is a significant correlation between the size of a family's income and its expenditure on milk. In families with a weekly income of between £6 and £10, the expenditure on fresh milk was 5.45s., whereas in families with an income of between £20 and £25 the weekly expenditure on milk was 10.21s., or nearly double. So, either one has to say that the children of families with incomes of from £20 to £25 were drinking too much milk, or that the children in the families with incomes of from £6 to £10 were not getting enough. Therefore, the secondary school milk was of very considerable benefit to these poorer families on from £6 to £10.

It is quite obvious to me that if we take this secondary school milk away the families with such small incomes as that will not be able to afford out of their own pockets to make up for that supply of milk. They will have other expenses—children's clothes, electricity, gas, transport, many of which items are already going up because of the Government's general economic policy. They will simply have nothing left over to buy extra milk to make up for the milk which their children are to be deprived of in school.

The hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) referred to the Circumstances of Families Report presented by the Ministry of Social Security. Here again we have absolutely concrete evidence that a very large number of families with children are living at or below the supplementary benefit level; there were no fewer than 1,110,000 children in families at or below the supplementary benefit level as at the date of that Report.

In view of that huge number, unless the Government can say categorically that there has been no nutritional value in milk all along, then it is a mean and despicable thing which they are doing.

Mr. Mendelson

After the comprehensive case which has been made by so many hon. Members, all I want to do is to take up two lines of argument which were left in the air by the Government during the Second Reading debate and ask my right hon. Friend to clear them up, if he will.

The first one is the case made by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury when he opened that debate. He said: We very carefully considered the possibility of providing free milk for some secondary school children on grounds of special need, and we decided to continue free milk for children at special schools. But we have reluctantly concluded that it would not be possible to select from secondary school children in ordinary maintained schools those who should receive free milk while their fellows were not receiving milk in school at all. Great difficulties are obviously inherent in selecting individual children on nutritional grounds, or grounds of family finances. In particular, there is the overriding human difficulty that any such provision would inevitably single out children and lead to considerable embarrassment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1968; Vol. 759, c. 252.] But earlier in the same speech the Chief Secretary had already told us: By last year the number of secondary schoolchildren at maintained schools taking milk had dropped to 60 per cent. This year the figure has dropped further to 58 per cent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1968; Vol. 759, c. 252.] What the Chief Secretary, on behalf of the Government, was telling the House on Second Reading was—and this is the point I wish to put to my right hon. Friend—that two-fifths were not taking it; three-fifths were taking it.

There was some doubt as to how many of those three-fifths really needed it. Anticipating the point which hon. Members might make, and also being concerned themselves, like the rest of us, with those children, the Government had tried, the Chief Secretary said, in other words, to find some means of seeing to it that those children among the three-fifths who were taking it last year should get it, but they had failed to devise an administrative machine to get children to receive the milk. In other words, because they did not find means of ensuring that the children who needed free milk should continue to have it, they decided to drop the whole scheme. That is selectivity stood on its head.

It is a remarkable achievement for a Government who are carrying on all these discussions on selectivity. We have Ministers saying that it depends on the end from which one starts. The attitude of the Labour Party, on the other hand, always has been that one starts from the end at which it is required. Faced with a situation where only 60 per cent. of children are taking free school milk, the Government turn selectivity upside down and, because they cannot find administrative means to do the job, they turn down all children, including those who badly need it.

The second point which I wish to put to my right hon. Friend arose out of an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). It referred to the other argument advanced by the Chief Secretary in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), who pointed out that, to his own knowledge, a number of children went to school in the morning having had no breakfast or, at best, an inadequate breakfast. My hon. Friend's point was very much reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) in his remarkable contribution.

The Chief Secretary addressed himself to my hon. Friend's point. Summarising his argument, he said that the Government were aware of the position and intended to deal with it. Asked how they would deal with it, the Chief Secretary said that we on this side of the Committee should be patient, because he would tell us. They intended to launch a publicity campaign to bring home to the parents of children entitled to a free school meal that they were entitled to it, the idea being to encourage larger numbers to have it. In my interpretation of what the Chief Secretary said, I see that I carry with me my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, with whom I usually agree on facts, though not always on policy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool asked how it could conceivably help those children who are not getting a proper breakfast to deprive them of school milk, even if they are persuaded by the Government's publicity campaign and have the meal at lunchtime to which they are entitled? That point is unanswerable. If we accept that a publicity campaign is to start and the hope is that the Government will persuade more children to have the free meal at lunchtime to which they are entitled, how can that justify our not seeing to it that they get some milk in the middle of the morning? It is absurdity taken to its nth degree.

My right hon. Friend turned round to one of my hon. Friends who intervened not long ago, and I noticed his look of relief and half-smile. It was the only intervention which he could hope to adduce to make even an oblique point to support the Government's case. Apart from that intervention, we have not heard one word in support of the Government's case.

Mr. Rhodes

Before my hon. Friend draws too many conclusions from my intervention, if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Sir Eric, I shall point out to the Committee that my point makes the present decision a very bad one.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Mendelson

In that case, never have I been more delighted to have been proved wrong than on this occasion. That reinforces the point that I was making. My right hon. Friend was wise and much shrewder than I thought in shaking his head when I said that he turned round in relief. He had no reason to turn round.

The point is that the Government ought to take note of the feeling in the Committee and among their supporters. Governments have occasionally done this, though not very often, and it has stood them in good stead.

An Hon. Member


Mr. Mendelson

My right hon. Friend knows that there has been no consultation with the Members of the Parliamentary Labour Party on this proposal. He also knows that if there had been consultation the proposal would have been rejected by an overwhelming majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

In those circumstances, it would be the wisest and the most democratic course for my right hon. Friend, when he comes to reply, to announce that the Government accept this most reasonable Amendment and go forward with the support of their own supporters and most other hon. Members.

Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)

I think that attention should be drawn to the fact that in so important a debate concerning a basic foodstuff there is no representative of the Ministry of Food here to look after the interests of the Department, unless the Secretary of State for Scotland has a watching brief on behalf of the English Department. However, having heard him complain bitterly at other times where there has been no Scottish Minister responsible for this section present, I think we are entitled to be critical of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman responsible for Agriculture and Food is not here tonight.

Mr. Pardoe

The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Brian Harrison) is making points about the absence of certain hon. Members. Is he satisfied with the number of back benchers of his own party who are present here tonight?

Mr. Harrison

It is extremely important that the Minister directly responsible should be here. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Furthermore, it is equally surprising that we have not had any contribution from that Department. I am, however, delighted to see that the Minister directly responsible for sport should be present, because I am sure that he will be able to contribute to the queries which have been raised by the hon. Gentleman who have put forward this Amendment suggesting that an inquiry should be made. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is conscious of the fact that his Department has been among those who have sponsored and enthusiastically supported the Round-Britain-Race where adults have been proved to benefit from the supply of mlk.

It is ludicrous that, on the present inconclusive evidence, a line should be drawn between primary school children and secondary school children about whether they should have milk. It is ludicrous, and I would be only too interested to hear the sort of remarks that will be made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen currently on the Government Front Bench. If this proposal had been introduced by a Conservative Government as an economic measure, the hypocrisy of the current scrooges on the Government Front Bench is horrifying—

Mr. John Ryan (Uxbridge)

The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Brian Harrison) speaks about hypocrisy. Is he aware that he came in only three minutes before he started to speak?

Mr. Harrison

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Ryan) for giving me the opportunity to explain why I was absent from the Committee for only two hours during the whole of this debate. I was in very much earlier, but I was called away on some constituency points. That does not alter the fact that no case has been made for not giving free school milk to this group of children. I very much hope that wiser counsels will prevail, and that the Government will look again at the possibility of an inquiry, so that we can get some real facts.

There is just one possible reason why some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have taken this line, but this is the sort of inconsistency which I do not think can have any weight. A long time ago there was a scare that milk was taking up quantities of Strontium 90. If the Government are worried about this today, they ought to cut out supplying free milk right across the board, and not merely to the one section of the community which is now to suffer. These youngsters are not able to look after themselves, because they do not have a vote. The Government cannot make a case for denying this form of welfare food to adolescents at an age when they most vitally need it.

Mr. Rhodes

I remind the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Brian Harrison) that the most parsimonious thing about the debate during his two-hour absence has been the attendance of his colleagues on the benches opposite. My impression of the debate is that only a few radicals on educational matters within the Labour Party and Members of the Liberal Party have expressed any interest in this subject.

As we are talking about hypocrisy. I challenge the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) to declare the Conservative Party's policy with regard to the supply of milk for secondary school children. My opponent at the last General Election said that he understood it was Conservative Party policy to economise on school milk because this service was not required at the secondary stage. I shall be interested to hear the official Conservative policy.

This is a debate on nutrition. It is a very narrow debate, or should be to be in order, and it seems that we are arguing about whether there is sufficient evidence to justify the economy being made by not supplying milk to children over 11 in the secondary schools. I have read a great deal of evidence on this subject. It is bound to be somewhat inconclusive, because individuals vary within social classes, in terms of their own health, and in terms of the rest of their diet.

What I would concede is that it is clear that the nutritional value of milk for someone below the age of 11 is, generally speaking, much higher than for someone above that age, but there is no real medical evidence that there is no nutritional value, or little significant value, in milk for children above that age. It all depends on the individual.

The whole point of many of the speeches from this side of the Committee is that the nutritional value of milk is particularly high when there are relatively large families with relatively low incomes, where the per capita consumption of milk in the family is very low. In other words, the nutritional value of milk is in direct relation to the rest of the child's diet, and this is where the crunch comes. Those who will suffer most from this measure are the poorest families, the largest families.

I represent a northern constituency. The per capita consumption of milk is lower in the North of England than in any other region. It is markedly lower than in the South-East.

I understand from doctors that there is evidence that in parts of South-East England there is now a problem of overweight in children in their early and mid-teens. That may be a problem in the South-East, but it is not a very big problem among the children of the unemployed, lower-paid workers in Tyne-side, for example. We must therefore ask whether there is still a sufficiently hard core of lower-paid workers with large families where there is an inadequate intake of milk. Are there not enough for the Government to be very cautious about abolishing school milk in secondary schools? We must make sure that only if there is substantial medical evidence to warrant this step should it be taken.

That is why I think that this provision is premature. I understand that various food surveys are going on, which will carry out substantial investigations into this problem, and I should have thought that it would be better to have a far deeper investigation before coming to the conclusion that we should withdraw school milk in secondary schools. I shall listen to the answer from the Minister with as much objectivity as I can, because I am willing to be convinced.

If it had been a question of saving a substantial sum, such as £50 million, it might have been reasonable to say that there was so doubt about it, and as a large sum was involved we should let it go. But the sum involved is very small, and we have not heard the medical evidence.

On the question of take-up, which caused some confusion between my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) and my right hon. Friend, it is probably true to say that the take-up by children of working-class families at primary school is higher than the average, although the position varies in different parts of the country. But there is evidence that take-up is relatively low, even in the children of working-class families, at secondary school level, although this, again, varies in different parts of the country.

But I do not draw the conclusion that because the take-up is low among the children of working-class families we should not care whether school milk is withdrawn or not. I take the contrary view. If, because of a lack of education in nutrition and the understanding of a proper diet, there is a low take-up among members of the community who often need milk most, in my view it would be fatal for the myth now to get round that milk for children beyond the age of 11 is of no great value, because this would make it even more difficult to educate working-class families on the value of milk for their children. That argument does not strengthen the Government's case.

In the North of England the last solid intake of food in many working-class families is as early as 5 or 6 o'clock. There is no solid breakfast—sometimes there is no breakfast at all—and the school meal is often provided, on a shift basis, as late as 1 o'clock. This means that some children have to go for 16 or 17 hours between solid meals. I do not suggest that the provision of one-third of a pint of milk will solve the problem of these families, but it would help a little.

There are not many teachers who go through a whole morning without some liquid refreshment, even if it is only a cup of tea, and the abolition of school milk in secondary schools is something that requires serious questioning in this Chamber. Until we have seen the results of the survey we need to hear a far more substantial case than has been put forward. I made a statement a year ago that from my observations of working-class families I had come to the conclusion that our policy should be the provision of a half pint of milk each day in schools.

I know that it will be said that some families do not need the milk, but I am getting sick and tired of pointing out that the worst effect of the abolition will be among the poorest working-class families, whose particular interests I was sent to the House of Commons to defend.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Ryan

I hope that my right hon. Friend will meet the substantial points made in the first-class speeches on this Amendment. I single out the moving speech by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) and the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern), who cast serious doubt on the decision-making processes through which the Government went before announcing this major decision.

The research to which we refer in this Amendment could be chemical or physical research into the nutrient quality of milk, or research to assist research already done into the consumption of milk. I hope that my right hon. Friend can tell the Committee what survey the Government commissioned into the nutrient value of milk which caused such a change of policy; and that he can tell the House clearly when the survey was conducted. I can hardly believe that it was between 21st November when the letter was sent to the International Monetary Fund and 17th January when the statement was made to the House announcing this decision, with other quite different ones.

If research showed that the nutrient value of milk was not what we thought, surely the change could have been made, and the benefits derived, earlier? One hears remarks by people that milk in secondary schools should be abolished, and there was a most curious argument by a member of the Labour Party at the weekend that only 40 per cent. of children want their milk. If one translated this into rate rebates or supplementary pensions, that they should be cancelled, because only a few want them, and others do not, does one scrap them or continue them as a genuine social vehicle of advance for our people?

This leads one to say that part of the research should be into wide regional variations into the take-up of milk. Teachers and the National Union of Teachers have expressed doubts about the way milk is dispensed and this calls for increasing study into a better way of dispensing milk. My right hon. Friend would find it difficult to make a statement that it was no longer true that milk was well-known to contain nutrients which were necessary to children because this would start a move away from milk throughout the country which would be harmful.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston, asked whether local education authorities would still be entitled to provide milk, should they so desire, and whether the Exchequer would bear the cost if a local authority was prepared to mount such a service. Might I ask my right hon. Friend whether he would encourage local authorities or individual schools to provide an alternative source of milk through vending machines, what control there would be of such machines and what arrangements would be made for them. These practical questions are being asked in one's own constituency by people who are gravely concerned by the switch in policy.

In supporting the Amendment, my feeling is that the Government's problem is not so much for research in the social sphere to see the use and value of milk. All the evidence points to a decision contrary to that taken by the Government. The Yudkin Survey, the National Food Survey and the Household Expenditure Survey showed that school milk is most necessary for the larger and the poorer families, and, unless he produces evidence to the contrary my right hon. Friend will be accused of having taken this decision irrationally.

Last week, the Government announced another inquiry on Stansted, which we hope will not disregard all relevant factors, as the first did. We hope that my right hon. Friend will bear that lesson in mind, that there is no substitute for rationality in making the right decision. If that has been abandoned whether to appease bankers or anyone else, another decision has to be decided on. But that will not be the end, since groups like the Child Poverty Action Group will probe this decision over the years. If it is wrong, it will come back to the Labour Party and the House. I plead with my right hon. Friends to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)

I face the difficulty of most hon. Members after a comprehensive debate on a narrow point, especially since my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) has done his homework so well. I, too, support the Amendment and feel keenly the emotions of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), who found it extraordinary, and of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mrs. Lena Jeger), who found it mean and despicable. I find it incomprehensible. I have been working with my colleagues who are in the Cabinet for years and cannot understand how they reached this decision.

Under the Amendment, the nutritional facts would be established before the Clause was implemented. I am glad that a representative of the Ministry of Health is here, because that Ministry is seeking to get away from cure to prevention of illness. This is what the National Health Service is about. We have the opportunity when a child is growing to establish solid bones and healthy bodies for the rest of his life. Now, at the age of 11, and despite the fact that bones will grow until the age of 20, we will ignore this factor. Precisely because of this opportunity of giving school milk we have been one of the few countries to eliminate rickets. The calcium and protein which we have fed school children has given them the strength to withstand such diseases.

The National Food Survey showed that, in a family with two children, the protein and calcium diet broken even; with three children, the deficiencies are 5 per cent. in protein and 6 per cent. in calcium; with four children, they are, respectively, 10 per cent. and 13 per cent. One of the great advantages of the National Health Service was that we were fighting against bad teeth, which lead to so many other problems in the human frame. The school dental service is undermanned and, with the present ratio of dentists to children in, for example, the Inner London Education Authority, the task is impossible.

It was a tragedy that at the time when we were making inroads into this problem, our affluent society meant more fruit lollies, more ice-cream, more soft drinks, with all their cyclamates, and the rest of it, with the result that as fast as we were able to make progress in the dental sphere, we lost ground. One of the advantages on our side in this battle, which we have been fighting for 20 years to secure healthy teeth, has been the knowledge that every day the diet of children has contained calcium, and this has been part of the weapons at our disposal in this struggle.

Now, for the sake of £5 million, we are told that we have been wasting our time for 20 years, that we were wrong and that we need not have bothered. In the whole framework of what we have been trying to do, I still find that in the Labour Party many people want us to continue this work and believe that decisions like this can only mean that we are going back on the pledges which we have given over the years. Thus, on straightforward health grounds, as well for reasons of commonsense, I must support the Amendment in the Lobby and hope that the Government will do the same. Without an assurance that there will be no harm to the health of the nation, I could not possibly support the Clause in its present form.

Sir C. Osborne

Hon. Gentlemen opposite may be interested to know—[HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."]—I have been sitting here since four o'clock this afternoon and, being the only Member of my party wishing to speak to the Amendment at this stage, I find it difficult to accept the jeers of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have had to wait until all hon. Gentlemen opposite who have wanted to speak have done so. I protest because, having spent so many hours listening to them, they should have the decency to listen to me without jeering. I have sat all this time because I support the Amendment and regard the Clause as abominable. No hon. Gentleman opposite can be proud of this Government proposal and they must vote against it. Because, like most hon. Gentlemen opposite, I support the Amendment, I have stayed on to register my support. If I did not feel this way, I would have gone home hours ago.

An hon. Gentleman opposite referred to the Minister as "my poor right hon. Friend". How that fits the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman is accident-prone.

Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)

Do not be patronising.

Sir C. Osborne

The Minister has handled this problem tonight in a way which disappoints even his keen supporters. He must accept the Amendment, and I have sat here since four o'clock waiting to hear him say that he would do so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] Having waited all this time, I will make my own speech at my own pace.

The Amendment refers to having a nutritional value test. The Minister must relate that to a financial test. For example, how much nutritional value will be set against the miserable £5 million which he hopes to save out of total Government spending of £10,000 million, this representing a saving of about half a farthing in every £? Half a farthing is what the Government are defying their best supporters over to force through a policy which none of them likes and which, if there were a free vote tonight, would be turned down. This Amendment, if it is rejected, will be rejected by the votes of hon. Members who have heard nothing of the argument throughout the day. If those of us who have sat here all day and taken part in the debate were to vote now, we would overwhelmingly support the Amendment and reject Clause 3. Clause 3 reaches the very bottom.

11.30 p.m.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) made a quip many hours ago. He said that someone had described as the meanest thing a human being could do was to steal the milk from a blind kitten. I have a better quotation. It is from a speech by Jimmy Maxton, who was a very honoured member of the party opposite. Even the Foreign Secretary will accept that. Discussing this kind of proposal, Mr, Maxton said, on 8th September, 1931, when we had a stooge Labour Government—and this is very much to the point tonight: the … Government … enters the House, not as the great, stalwart defender of the nation, as it described itself, but as the miserable hireling, the kept person, of the banking interest of this country; and it enters on the clear understanding that finance and its high priests only tolerate it if it is prepared to take the milk out of the bottle of the unemployed man's baby."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th September, 1931; Vol. 256, c. 54] Now the Government are taking the milk out of the bottle of the school children. From this the back benchers below the Gangway are censuring their own Front Bench. The proposal against which this Amendment is moved is the most despicable I have heard in my 23 years membership of this House. If we had a free vote it would not go through; the Government know that well.

As against the loss in nutritional value for school children, the Government are to save £5 million. How can they justify that? I will give two examples of Government spending, one of which sticks in my gullet. The right hon. Lady who is Minister for the Arts boasted on 2nd February that she had received from this Government an extra £550,000 for the Arts Council.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

Hear, hear.

Sir C. Osborne

My right hon. Friend would prefer to rob children in secondary schools of milk to provide "Arsenic and Old Lace" for those who can easily afford to pay for their own entertainment. I would rather choose good money for poor children in secondary schools. He can have his "Arsenic and Old Lace."

If the Government wanted to save £5 million out of the enormous expenditure of £10,000 million, there are dozens of other places where cuts could be made rather than cutting the milk for kids in secondary schools. This is why I protest. If the Government were so terribly hard up and there was no other way in which they could save the £5 million or if the £5 million were vital to our survival as a nation, there might be something to be said for it. But money is being poured out recklessly elsewhere. When the Budget comes, hon. Members will find that the Government are going to spend £1,000 million more this year than they did last year. In order to help provide that extra £1,000 million, £5 million will be stolen from the kids who go to secondary school—out of their milk bottles. It is against this that I protest.

This will be regarded in the country as the meanest thing that an incapable Government ever brought forward. I think that hon. Members opposite will agree that if they had put in their Election address in 1966 that this was what they were going to do more than half of them would not have been elected. It is because I feel that the whole concept is wrong and because I feel that it is so mean—so contemptibly mean, as hon. Members below the Gangway have said so often—that I shall willingly oppose it and go into the Lobby with those who will support the Amendment.

Mr. Gordon Walker

We have had a number of very sincere and very important speeches in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) said that the First Secretary in the Second Reading debate did not give very fulsome support to this part of the Bill. That is true. None of us gives fulsome support to it. It is a very awkward and unpleasant decision that we have not taken either easily or with pleasure.

But I must say straight away that we cannot accept the Amendment because it would put off indefinitely what we regard as an important policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) was very frank and said that the Amendment was not intended to wreck the Bill yet—that is, that a little later it was intended to wreck it. It is, therefore, an indefinite postponement that is being asked for.

The National Food Survey which is suggested in the Amendment is an annual report. It is very thorough and very slow to produce. The date of the current one is 1964. It is an extremely thorough, long report which deals not only with milk but with all sorts of food problems. The procedure suggested of affirmative Orders and so on would be extremely dilatory, and we cannot afford the delay.

There has been some mockery of the amount of the saving—£5 million. It has been called miserable and so on. But it will help devaluation to work, and there has been singularly little reference to that in this debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] I am just going to explain. I really shall explain the points that I am going to make. Some parts of the total package that we produced help devaluation to work by an actual shift of resources. Some other parts of the package, of which this is one, help it to work by reducing the burden of public expenditure. Since the Vote on Account, everyone must realise how extremely important it is to reduce the burden of public expenditure and make it that much easier for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to impose, as he said he will otherwise have to, too much new taxation.

We cannot accept the argument of taking a particular saving of £5 million and saying "What does that matter?", because one could treat all the savings in this way. The whole of the package is made up of a series of £5 million.

In reply to what was said about the effect on agriculture and farmers, let me say that farmers cannot, any more than anybody else, escape a degree of contribution to what is necessary to make devaluation work.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is this to be taken into account in the assessment of the subsidy to agriculture?

Mr. Gordon Walker

I have said what I have said, and I shall leave it there. I come now to the point on which very many of my hon. Friends laid great stress—

Mr. James Davidson

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the £5 million will be a complete saving? Does he not appreciate that this food will have to be replaced by something else, a large part of which may be imported?

Mr. Gordon Walker

That would affect any saving one made anywhere; it could have all sorts of secondary repercussions. This is a saving of £5 million which will be made.

Now I should like to deal with the question of the nutritional value of milk in secondary schools. We sought advice about it, of course. This is not something which we just settled without thought. Advice was sought by the permanent head of my Department from my Chief Medical Officer, who consulted the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy. Broadly speaking, the essence of the report was that present evidence does not allow us to say whether the abolition of free school milk would affect health. Present evidence does not allow a conclusion to be drawn.

That advice referred to milk in all schools, but we did not rely on that alone since it referred to all schools. We came to the conclusion that the case for going on with milk in primary schools was none the less extremely strong. This was our view, for several reasons, one of them being the very high rate of take-up in primary schools—93 per cent., or as high as one can effectively go. This costs £13 million in a year, and all that expenditure has not been touched. That, naturally, is a point which has not been made, but it is of some importance.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson

Before he leaves the question of the advice he received, will my right hon. Friend assure us that he will arrange for publication of this report?

Mr. Gordon Walker

It is not a report; it is a letter sent from one of my officials to another. I cannot publish advice given to me by my officials.

Mr. Lubbock

Why not?

Mr. Gordon Walker

Because it would be wrong and improper and it would lead to all sorts of difficulties. Also, there is a lot of comment in the letter. If the Chief Medical Officer knows, when he gives advice, that it will be published, he will have to be extremely careful about what kind of advice he gives me.

Mrs. Lena Jeger


Mr. Gordon Walker

Any civil would be in that position.

Mr. John Lee

Is my right hon. Friend saying that there are different standards of veracity, depending on whether a thing is to be pubilshed or not?

Mr. Gordon Walker

Nothing of the sort. I am just stating the ordinary and accepted constitutional doctrine in this matter.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Yates. Is it not the custom of the House that a document of this kind should be laid before the Committee?

Mr. Gordon Walker

Further to that point of order, Mr. Yates. I have not quoted from the document at all.

The Temporary Chairman

The question would arise only if there was a quotation. There is also the consideration of the public interest.

Mr. Gordon Walker

I understand that, if there is not a quotation from a document, there is no reason to lay it. I should like to go on to answer the points made by my hon. Friends, if they would allow me.

We felt that there was a case for carrying on with milk in primary schools, at a cost of £13 million but the case for milk in secondary schools was far less strong. It is not the only factor, but there is some weight to be given to the falling take-up. The take-up has been falling extraordinarily fast. Between 1962 and 1967, it fell from 66.5 per cent. to 58.3 per cent., an average fall of 2½ per cent. a year which looks as though it is going to continue. The fall has been quite steady ever since 1962.

11.45 p.m.

In that period there has been a fall of 12 per cent.

Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

Does that include those in the 15–16 age group? Is the 2½ per cent. accounted for by those who have stayed on at school, aged 16 and older?

Mr. Gordon Walker

It includes the take-up of all secondary school children. Everybody.

Mr. Marks

Up to 18?

Mr. Gordon Walker

It would include those, if they are in secondary schools. Another factor to be borne in mind is that the educational, medical associations and organisations are far from clear about the value of milk in secondary schools. The National Association of Head Teachers, at its 1966 Conference proposed the withdrawal of milk from secondary schools, except for those who needed it on medical grounds. The B.M.A. has expressed conflicting views. On 15th July 1967, the Annual Representative Meeting was told that the Council of the B.M.A. was against with-drawing milk but the Annual Representative Meeting passed a Resolution, recommending that free milk for school-children should be discontinued at the age of 11, except in cases of medical necessity.

It is administratively impossible to make an exception for any particular category on medical or other grounds. We have gone as far as we possibly can in this direction by maintaining free milk in special schools. Both the major teachers' organisations have been either very inconclusive in this matter, or have been against continuing milk in secondary schools. I have had no representations from any teachers' organisation, from any local authority associations, or from any established educational body on this matter.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson

I apologise for interrupting again but I would like to to give my right hon. Friend some information to which it appears he is not privy. I have information from the Library that the General-Secretary of the National Union of Teachers has stated that this step is regarded as retrogressive. It is not in order for him to say that there is unanimity on the part of the teaching profession.

Mr. Gordon Walker

I have said that I received no representations, and I have received no representations.

Mr. Lubbock

There is no point in making representations to this Government.

Mr. Gordon Walker

We receive a great many representations on a great many things, and if there was strong feeling on this in educational and medical organisations, as is held in some quarters, I would unquestionably have had representations. There has been relatively little concern about something that is very worrying, namely the short take-up of free school meals in our schools. This is something of extreme importance. The schools meals provide a very large proportion of the necessary calory and other intake of children. [Interruption.] Nonetheless, it is wholly relevant to the question of the nutritional considerations of schoolchildren. We have had a great success in this direction. Last November I sent out a leaflet for schools to distribute to parents, through pupils. It was designed to bring to the attention of parents the rights of their children to free school meals.

Before this campaign started, the take-up of school meals had risen by 22 per cent. Since the leaflet was distributed, it has gone up by another 26 per cent. Altogether, since last November another 180,000 schoolchildren are receiving free school meals, who were not having them before. This is something of which we should be proud. On 4th April, further children will be getting free school meals, regardless of income. This is one of the things that we are doing in order to try to help larger families. Some hon. Members have pointed out this need.

Having listened to the whole of the argument, and paid attention to the points raised, I hope that the Committee will now dispose of this Amendment, and I invite the Committee to reject it.

Mr. Michael Foot

As the hon. Member who put down the Amendment, I am extremely dissatisfied with the reply given by the Secretary of State. I do not believe that he has provided an adequate answer to the overwhelming case which has been presented by hon. Members on this side of the Committee.

My right hon. Friend says that there has been a campaign to increase the taking-up of school meals. If there has been a fall in the consumption of milk, we say that there should be a campaign to ensure that it is taken up, too. More-over, the nutritional evidence which has been presented to the House does not bear examination. At any rate, we have not the power to examine it.

Normally in such a case, a Minister who referred to a document of the kind in question should have been prepared to present the document to the House. The reason for this rule is precisely that Members of the House of Commons shall be able to examine that kind of evidence. If we are now to be told that we must agree to the abolition of school milk on the basis of the Minister's interpretation of a private letter to him, which none of us is enabled to examine, that is not a proper way for the House of Commons to decide on a matter of such importance as this.

I defy anybody who has listened to every word of the debate, as I have done, to say that an extremely powerful case has not been made for the Amendment. I therefore repeat what I said on another Amendment, although it is much stronger now. I urge all hon. Members on this side who agree with the Amendment to vote for it.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said at the outset of his speech that he could not accept the Amendment because it would mean, probably, the collapse of the whole proposal. The implication is that if there were a survey into the nutritional value of school milk, it

would come to the conclusion which has been presented by every hon. Member on this side who has spoken in the debate, except the Secretary of State.

Therefore, I urge every hon. Member on this side who believes that the argument is overwhelming on the side of maintaining the Socialist plan for providing school milk on a collective basis in secondary schools to vote for that view tonight.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 37, Noes 150.

Division No. 67.] AYES [11.55 p.m.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Park, Trevor
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Pavitt, Laurence
Bidwell, Sydney Jeger.Mrs.Lena(H'b'n&S.P'cras.S.) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Booth, Albert Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Ryan, John
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Davidson,Jame(Aberdeenshire,W.) Lee, John (Reading) Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Lubbock, Eric Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Dickens, James Marks, Kenneth Winnick, David
Dunn, James A. Mendetson, J. J. Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Newens, Stan
Galpern, Sir Myer Norwood, Christopher TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Heffer, Eric S. Orme, Stanley Mr. Michael Foot and
Hooley, Frank Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth) Mr. Ian Mikardo.
Hooson, Emlyn Pardoe, John
Albu, Austen Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Alldritt, Walter Faulds, Andrew MacColl, James
Allen, Scholefield Finch, Harold MacDermott, Niall
Anderson, Donald Foley, Maurice Macdonald, A. H.
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Ford, Ben McGuire, Michael
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Forrester, John Mackie, John
Barnes, Michael Freeson, Reginald Mackintosh, John P.
Benoe, Cyril Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Maclennan, Robert
Bishop, E. S. Gourlay, Harry McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Blackburn, F. Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) McNamara, J. Kevin
Blenkinsop, Arthur Grey, Charles (Durham) MacPherson, Malcolm
Boyden, James Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mallalieu,J.P.W.(Huddersfield,E.)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Hamling, William Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Hannan, William Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Brooks, Edwin Harper, Joseph Mellish, Robert
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Miller, Dr. M. S.
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch A F'bury) Heseldine, Norman Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Buchan, Norman Hattersley, Roy Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Teet)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Hazell, Bert Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hilton, W. S. Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Cant, R. B. Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Moyle, Roland
Carmichael, Neil Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Carter-Jones, Lewis Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Neal, Harold
Coe, Denis Hoy, James Oakes, Gordon
Coleman, Donald Huckfield, Leslie O'Malley, Brian
Cronin, John Hynd, John Oswald, Thomas
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Irvine, Sir Arthur Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Dalyell, Tam Jackson, Colin (B'h'so & Spenb'gh) Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Janner, Sir Barnett Parker, John (Dagenham)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Pentland, Norman
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Jones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham,S.) Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Dobson, Ray Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Doig, Peter Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Judd, Frank Rees, Merlyn
Eadie, Alex Kenyon, Clifford Reynolds, G. W.
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Richard, Ivor
Ellis, John Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
English, Michael Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Ennath, David Loughlin, Charles Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Robinson,Rt.Hn.Kenneth(St-P'c'as) Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael Wellbeloved, James
Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.) Stonehouse, John Wens, William (Walsall, N.)
Rodgers, William (Stockton) Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley Whitlock, William
Rose, Paul Taverne, Dick Wllkins, W. A.
Ross, Rt. Hit. William Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.) Tinn, James Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney) Urwin, T. W. Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) Varley, Eric G. Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Slater, Joseph Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Small, William Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Snow, Julian Wallace, George TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Spriggs, Leslie Watkins, David (Consett) Mr. Alan Fitch and
Mr. Ernest Armstrong.

The CHAIRMAN, being of opinion that the principle of the Clause and any matters relating, thereto had been adequately discussed in the course of the debate on the Amendments proposed thereto, forthwith, put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 47 (Debate on Clause or Schedule standing part), That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Mikardo

Mr. Yates, I should like to make some observations—

The Temporary Chairman

I have decided that the Clause has been sufficiently discussed and, under the Standing Order, I have put the Question.

Mr. Mikardo

On a point of order. The only aspect of the Clause—

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I am sorry, but there can be no point of order. Under the Standing Order, it is in order for the Chairman to put the Question.

Mr. Mikardo

May I make a submission to you, Mr. Yates? With great respect, I wish to make a submission because I think that I have a point of substance, and I should be grateful if you would give consideration to it. The only matter discussed on the Clause so far has been on an Amendment dealing entirely with—

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I am sorry, but the Chair has decided that the Clause has been sufficiently discussed. Pursuant to Standing Order No. 47, I have put the Question.

Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)

Further to that point of order. In making this Ruling, I really must ask you to confirm that you consider that the fullest opportunity has been given, particularly to right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench—

The Temporary Chairman

Order. There can be no point of order on this. The decision has been made that the Clause has been sufficiently discussed, and I have put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 47.

Mr. Alison

Further to that point of order—

Hon. Members


Mr. Alison rose

Hon. Members: Name him.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I have given my Ruling, and I have put the Question.

The Committee divided: Ayes 121, Noes 6.

Division No. 68.] AYES [12.4 a.m.
Alien, Seholefield Carmichael, Neil Faulds, Andrew
Anderson, Donald Carter-Jones, Lewis Finch, Harold
Armstrong, Ernest Coe, Denis Ford, Ben
Bacon, Fit. Hn. Alice Coleman, Donald Freeson, Reginald
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Cronin, John Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.
Barnes, Michael Cullen, Mra. Alice Gourlay, Harry
Bence, Cyril Dalyell, Tarn Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)
Bishop, E. S. Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Grey, Charles (Durham)
Blackburn, F. Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Hamling, William
Boyden, James Dobson, Ray Hannan, William
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Doig, Peter Harper, Joseph
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Hart, Mrs. Judith
Brooks, Edwin Eadie, Alex Haseldine, Norman
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Ellis, John Hattersley, Roy
Brown, R. W. (Hhoreditch & F'bury) English, Michael Hilton, W. S.
Buchan, Norman Ennals, David Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Howell, Denis (Small Heath)
Hoy, James Milne, Edward (Blyth) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Huckfield, Leslie Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Slater, Joseph
Hynd, John Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Snow, Julian
Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Janner, Sir Barnett Moyle, Roland Stonehouse, John
Jones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham,S.) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Oakes, Gordon Taverne, Dick
Judd, Frank O'Malley, Brian Tinn, James
Kenyon, Clifford Oswald, Thomas Urwin, T. W.
Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Page, Derek (King's Lynn) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Loughlin, Charles Parker, John (Dagenham) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Pentland, Norman Wallace, George
MacColl, James Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.) Watkins, David (Consett)
Macdonald, A. H. Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
McGuire, Michael Rees, Merlyn Whitlock, William
Mackie, John Reynolds, O. W. Wilkins, W. A.
Mackintosh, John P. Richard, Ivor Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
McNamara, J. Kevin Robinson, Rt.Hn.Kenneth(St.P'c'as) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
MacPherson, Malcolm Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Mallalieu,J.P.W.(Huddersfield,E.) Rodgers, William (Stockton) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Ross, Rt. Hn. William Mr. Eric G. Varley and
Mellish, Robert Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.) Mr. Alan Fitch.
Miller, Dr. M. S. Shore, Peter (Stepney)
Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire,W.) Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth) Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley) Mr. Eric Lubbock and
Pardoe, John Winstanley, Dr. M. P. Mr. David Steel.
Lord Balniel

On a point of order Sir Eric, I accept that under the authority of the House, and Standng Order 47, you are entitled to close the debate. Under what right did you refuse to accept the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison)?

The Chairman

The hon. Member knows that the Ruling of the Chair cannot be challenged.

Lord Balniel

Further to that point of order. I am simply asking under what authority of the House it is open to the Chair to refuse to listen to a point of order.

The Chairman

Under the Standing Order a duty is placed on the Chairman to decide whether the Question should be put, and if he so decides, he has to put it. No point of order arises.

Mr. Pavitt

On a point of order. I apologise to you, Sir Eric, and to the Committee for raising this, but, in respect of future debates, would it be possible, if you decide that after the debate on an Amendment the Standing Order procedure will be followed, for the Committee to be informed prior to the discussion of the Amendment?

The Chairman

One cannot decide until the end of the debate on the Amendment whether Standing Order No. 47 should be invoked.

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