HC Deb 14 July 1971 vol 821 cc651-60
Mr. Spearing

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 6, leave out 'not'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think it would be for the convenience of the House if we were to discuss at the same time Amendments No. 4, in line 9, leave out 'unless' and insert 'only if'.

No. 5, in line 10, leave out 'in attendance at a special school or'. No. 6, in line 17, leave out from 'school")' to 'for' in line 19 and insert : 'and in any such case there is not'. No. 14, in line 21, leave out 'requires' and insert 'does not require'.

No. 15, in line 22, at end insert : 'or (c) he is in attendance at a special school'. No. 33, in page 2, line 23, leave out 'no longer' and insert 'continue to'.

No. 34, in line 23, after 'pupil', insert : 'other than a pupil receiving special education'. No. 36, in line 25, leave out 'unless' and insert 'only if'.

No. 37, in line 28, after 'is' insert 'not'.

No. 39, in line 30, leave out 'requires' and insert 'does not require'.

Mr. Spearing

I shall move the Amendment briefly. [HON. MEMBERS : "Hear, hear! "] I wish to do so in a non-controversial way. The basis of this group of Amendments is to make the process of giving a certificate rather different from what it is in the Bill. As it is written in the Bill, a medical officer of the authority has to state that the pupil's health requires that he should be provided with milk at school.", The key Amendments are No. 14 for England and Wales and No. 39 for Scotland. Both of these would re-word those lines to say a medical officer of the authority stating that his health does not require that he should be provided with milk at school. In other words, this is a simple administrative inversion.

The Amendment is moved basically for two reasons. First, the Scottish Under-Secretary has indicated that there is a slight change in the amount of guidance that the Government are willing to give local authorities. Second, it meets the case which was put in Committee by the Minister, that he recognised that, as written, the medical certification procedure could lead to some difficulties.

In the Glasgow Herald of 10th July there was a report on a deputation to the Scottish Under-Secretary. The report states that the hon. Gentleman : also assured the deputation that school medical officers would have 'a pretty wide power' in giving certificates for individual children to obtain milk. This could take into account the preventive aspect as well as any question of malnutrition. Mr. Taylor added that the deputation had felt that medical officers would only be able to give certificates if a child was suffering from malnutrition or a disease. Dr. Daniel Docherty. convenor of Glasgow Education Committee, said the delegation had left the meeting feeling a bit happier about certification. It appeared to be less strict than had been set out in the Bill. Hon. Members on both sides of the House probably agree that prevention is better than cure. The same medical officer has to examine the same child and has to make broadly the same decision.

11.15 p.m.

We suggest that by making the medical officer sign a certificate stating that the pupil does not require milk at school for the sake of his health we would cover the point made by the hon. Member in the Glasgow deputation case. It would get over the question of the difficulties of implementation—a point raised in Committee, when the Under-Secretary asked us to consider moving Amendments on this point. The difficulties of implementation arise largely from the relationships between the school and the family. If at school a child is certified as being in need of milk it marks him out as a separate pupil among his fellows ; it is possibly taken as an aspersion upon the parents, who may feel that the school thinks that they are not providing the right sort of nutrition, even though they may be doing so, and that it is nothing to do with them. There could be difficulties with general practitioners, and the human implementation of such certification would be difficult ; but if certification was the other way round I suggest that those difficulties would not arise.

The Government have said that they will consider advice from all quarters. We hope that they will accept this Amendment, because it is an administrative Amendment ; it does not attack the main purpose of the Bill. We hope that it will give greater effect to the preventive aspect, with which we all agree. Secondly, it might avoid some of the human difficulties which would arise from the Bill as drafted.

Mr. van Straubenzee

The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) has moved the Amendment so briefly that I am sure that it would meet the general convenience of the House if I were equally short. I hope that I shall not be discourteous to the hon. Member by being so.

I have written out the full effect of the complicated series of Amendments with which we are dealing so that I may be sure that I understand them. We might find ourselves in this amount of agreement, at any rate : that if those hon. Members who were not members of the Standing Committee had been able to hear what I said then—to which the hon. Member made a kindly reference—and what my hon. Friend the Scottish Under-Secretary also said, about the effect of a medical certificate, many anxieties might not have been voiced as they were

I simply say I do not think that the hon. Member has met his own point. He will remember that his anxiety was that a child who is given a medical certificate is therefore "marked out as a separate pupil". But the effect of his own Amendment would be to do precisely the same thing. It would mean that a large number of fit children would have to be examined to make sure that they should not have the milk, and that would mean that there would be a certain residue of children who for medical reasons were certified as requiring milk. They would be just as marked out that way as they would be the other way.

If the hon. Member's object was to get rid of his own anxieties about identifying children I do not think he achieved anything. We should end with a situation in which the hard-pressed members of the medical service—who do wonderful work, in a sense that hon. Members on both sides of the House acknowledge—would have to examine a great number of children who they know before they start are quite fit in order to detect out of that large number, the small number for whom, for some reason or other, it would be appropriate to order the supply of free milk.

Mr. Spearing

I was brief, and that is why I left out the point that the hon. Member is now making. I suggest that if the Bill becomes law as it stands most local authorities and, indeed, public opinion and parental opinion will demand that there is a medical examination of each child. If the hon. Member is saying—as his hon. Friend said in Committee—that there is an administrative case against this in that it would be more expensive, will he give us an assurance that if it can be shown that it would not the Government will accept the Amendment in another place?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I do not think I ever rested my case on expenditure. I have said earlier that there is a continuing process, very often by way of a partnership between medical services, welfare services, teachers and the rest. But the hon. Gentleman is proposing that there should be an inspection at one moment of time, so that this hard-pressed service will have to examine a large number of children in order to detect a very small number for whom medically it is appropriate to provide milk.

I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will see that that is not an appropriate way of going about it. The positive procedure in the Bill is, surely, preferable. I have put the argument shortly in deference to the wish of the House.

Mr. Buchan

I find that reply as surprising now as it was when we heard it in Committee. Either the Government intend to have children examined to see who require the milk or they do not. Their method of examining to find out which children should have it requires an examination of all children. By our method also all children would be examined. There is no difference in the administrative problem.

What concerns me is the implication behind what the Under-Secretary of State has said. Emerging from his rejection of the Amendment is the clear implication that the Government have no intention of examining children at all to see who requires milk. They will wait for the harm to show itself before taking action. This is the effect of it. But malnutrition is deep-seated, and it takes a long time to rectify. That is what the Hon. Gentleman is saying, is it not? He will wait for the harmful effects of the lack of milk to show before he acts. The way out is simple : accept our proposal. If he really means there to be an examination, very well. If children do not need milk, do not give them milk.

The hon. Gentleman rejected the Amendment on the ground of administrative difficulty, and we were told that it was easy to find the few who would require the milk. But the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said exactly the opposite. Indeed, he drew attention to this matter in the last debate, only minutes ago. He said that he left a happier impression with the deputation in Glasgow. Why did it feel happier? ___either because the Government offered what they had intended all the time under the Bill, or the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland talked far too freely and glibly, as he so often does. Either the Government intend to alter the Bill in the other place along the lines of our proposal, or the hon. Gentleman "conned" that deputation.

This is how the matter was reported in the Glasgow Herald of 10th July : Mr. Taylor said he had the impression that the deputation was reassured … It was reassured because this is what he told it : He had also assured the deputation that school medical officers would have 'a pretty wide power' in giving certificates for individual children to obtain milk. What would that wide power be, and to what would it extend? We have not been told. The report goes on with the hon. Gentleman's assurance :

This could take into account the preventive aspect as well as any question of malnutrition. So this examination, which, we are told, cannot be done because it is administratively difficult, is to take on wider significance. Not only do we have to wait until malnutrition shows itself, but we have to be able to take preventive action before it shows itself. Is that it?

Mr. Edward Taylor

What I said was quite clear. Glasgow was under the impression——

Mr. Buchan

I want an answer to this.

Mr. Taylor

I will give the hon. Gentleman a straight answer—exactly the same answer as I gave the deputation. I say the same thing irrespective of where I am. The deputation was under the impression that the Bill allowed milk to be given only in cases where the children were suffering from malnutrition or some other disease, and I expressed the view, which my right hon. Friend and hon. Friend fully support, that the Bill is by no means so restrictive.

Mr. Buchan

The report says that school medical officers could take into account the preventive aspects … How do people know whether a child might get malnutrition? Are doctors to examine the children and say that child A might get malnutrition? That is what preventive action means—preventing illness. Curative action is the action the Government need to undertake once the children have malnutrition. How can they prevent it? What medical officer will say "Child A. without milk, will suffer malnutrition"?

The hon. Gentleman "conned" the deputation disgracefully. The only way to secure the preventive aspect is to ensure that all children receive milk, and that is the impression the deputation took from him. The Convenor of the Education Committee is not a layman but a general practitioner in Glasgow, Dr. Daniel Docherty. That is why I am so impressed. He said that certification appeared to be less strict than had been set out in the Bill. What did the hon. Gentleman tell that deputation? He went further than the Bill, and the Government had better make up their mind on the matter. Dr. Docherty also said : This makes me. as a family doctor, a bit happier as well, because there are certain complete districts in Glasgow where most of the children require a supply of milk. Earlier today Amendments to provide the milk in certain areas were rejected, but now we learn that a medical doctor, the Convener of the Education Committee, was assured by the Under-Secretary that complete districts of Glasgow, not individual children, after examination, will be entitled to free milk. Did the hon. Gentleman assure the deputation of that? Where did that impression come from? It is time the hon. Gentleman apologised to his constituents.

Mr. Edward Taylor

The hon. Gentleman said that he wanted to try to bring this matter to a conclusion. If he speaks to Dr. Docherty, who is an honourable and straight man, he will accept that what I said to him was clear, and we both understood it. Before going on with this, the hon. Gentleman should speak to Dr. Docherty and the whole deputation.

Mr. Buchan

I have no doubts about the clarity of what was said. The Under-Secretary was obviously perfectly clear. That is why the deputation believed something different from the Bill. What I am worried about is the content of what the hon. Gentleman said, not the clarity.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of preventive measures. That means that all children will get milk, because that is the only means of preventive application here. It is not possible to wait until the individual child has malnutrition. The right hon. Lady or the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science should repudiate the hon. Gentleman, or he should repudiate himself, which might be more honourable, because the people I am talking about are his constituents.

The more sensible thing would be for the Government to accept the lifeline we are offering them. Let them take the alternative procedure. Instead of saying that only children with a medical certificate shall receive milk, let them say that they will not supply milk to those children who the medical officer says do not require it, because that will involve a proper medical check and preventive action. That is the simple way forward, and the Government's honesty will depend on their accepting it.

The entire Government are in greater trouble than they think over this matter, and not just the hon. Gentleman. We all know him ; he talks a bit too much. I want to give the Government a further lifeline. I have no intention of putting the Amendment to a vote. The Government should reconsider the whole question and bring forward their own Amendments in another place to deal with the problem. I give them that chance.

Amendment negatived.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)

I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 1, line 23, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

It is obviously with a high sense of occasion that I move the Amendment, since it is the only Amendment from this side of the House to be tabled to the Bill. It will be seen from its terms that, compared with what we have been discussing, it is not highly controversial. It is an Amendment of principle rather than of substance and that it is not controversial is shown by the fact that a similar Amendment was put down in standing Committee by the Opposition but was not moved because, I believe, it was taken in conjunction with another Amendment which was held by the Chair to be out of order.

I believe that this is an Amendment of principle. I have moved a similar Amendment to another Bill in this session which was accepted by the Government. The problem of delegated legislation is a serious one, obviously, at a time when many orders and statutory instruments are not getting debated even when they are prayed against. I do not believe in these circumstances that it is right for the Executive to try and keep their options open without allowing Parliament to discuss what it is that they are trying to do.

I have do doubt that the Government intend to lay regulations to the same effect as is shown in this Clause. In that case, there is not the slightest reason why they should not say so. If they do not intend to or are in doubt as to whether they are going to do it, they have no right to come to Parliament leaving open the question of whether they will do it or not. I believe that Parliament has a right to expect that, where there is a question of delegated legislation being laid as a result of an enabling Bill, Parliament shall be able to discuss in fairly minute detail what it is that it is intended to do. The habit is growing, and needs to be suppressed, of Departments and parliamentary draftsmen trying to leave all their options open in respect of delegated legislation, and I believe that Parliament should prevent it where possible. I believe that a Bill, if it means that orders are going to be laid, should state what the orders are going to be and that the orders will be laid. I believe that this Bill would be improved and that parliamentary control would be further enhanced by the Amendment.

However, I understand, from having looked at these things a little carefully, that the substitution of one short monosyllable for another word is likely to throw the entire legislative and Executive machinery of the country into total confusion for the rest of the session, and if my hon. Friend finds himself in a position where he cannot for technical reasons accept the Amendment, I tell him now that I would be prepared to withdraw it in response to two assurances.

The first assurance is that the Government intend to lay these orders in the sense in which the Clause states that they will be laid. I am sure that my hon. Friend is prepared to give such an assurance. The second assurance is that in future his Department—and I hope that this will be a lesson taken to heart by others—will not produce enabling legislation in this open, ambiguous and slipshod form, which attempts to commit Parliament to things which it should either discuss in detail or not be bothered with at all.

Mr. van Straubenzee

In a way, this is a case of a poacher turned game keeper, because there was a time when I spent a great deal of time watching delegated legislation and all that goes with it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) is very perceptive. What looks like a simple Amendment, I have to advise the House, would require some consequential Amendments further down in the Clause. Perhaps at this late hour there is no need for me to develop the point at length, although I am willing to do so if required. But this is a rather more fundamental question than perhaps my hon. Friend has appreciated.

I readily give my hon. Friend the two assurances for which he asked. First, I make it expressly clear that regulations will be laid—in fact, they will be laid on or before 1st September. Secondly, he may feel it salutary that this Amendment has certainly drawn the point to my attention very sharply. So long as I have any responsibility for these matters, I am not likely to forget it. I assure my hon. Friend that in the Department the force of what he has said, with great validity, will be noted in future. Perhaps on that basis he will feel able to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Maude

In view of those two assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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