HC Deb 14 June 1971 vol 819 cc169-93

10.14 p.m.

Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)

I beg to move, That the Welfare Foods Order 1971 (S.I., 1971, No. 457) be withdrawn. We have just heard the Education (Milk) Bill described by various speakers as petty, mean and squalid. The Order we are discussing is, for the same reason, equally petty, mean and squalid. It totally abolishes the provision of cheap welfare milk for expectant and nursing mothers and for children under 5.

Once again, the Government have attacked the most needy in the community, those least able to help themselves. Not content with taxing the sick by raising prescription charges, they now deprive unborn babies and infants of cheap welfare milk. This Order is both economically unjustifiable, and medically harmful. It is economically unjustifiable because, on the one hand, the Government have cut taxation, but on the other they are cutting the supply of milk to children. Are the Government claiming that cheap welfare milk for expectant mothers and infants can be classed as an unnecessary public expenditure?

Will the Minister tell us on what the money that will be saved by this Order will be spent? Will it be spent, most of it, on additional free welfare milk, for which the Order provides? Can the Minister tell now what will be the take-up of the additional free welfare milk? I suggest that the estimated saving, like so many estimated savings, can only be a guess. Will the money be spent on further provision for education?

We were told this afternoon by the Secretary of State that twice as much is spent on school milk as on school books. That was one of her arguments for abolishing free school milk for the over-7s. Apparently a child is offered a choice between physical health and mental development; it cannot have both. But that argument cannot be used about unborn babies and children under 5. If they are to be deprived of their cheap welfare milk, what do they get instead? Not even school books!

I submit that medically as well as economically the results of this Order will be positively harmful. That is firmly established, as we have heard throughout the debate today, by the mass of medical and physiological evidence that a good daily supply of milk is essential for the growth and development of children, and at no time is it more necessary than in the very first years of life. Milk is the most nearly perfect food, and contains the best balance of essential nutrients, particularly calcium, proteins and certain vitamins. Not only is milk attacked by this Order, but we have in it the abolition of free cod liver oil and orange juice which contain vitally important ingredients for a young baby.

There are two strong arguments why many children will be deprived by this Order of an adequate milk intake. The first is poverty. We know that the Order entitles an increased number of expectant mothers and children under 5 in low income families to free welfare milk, but there will be millions of families who cannot spend money on extra milk—not only cannot, but will not, or both. We have heard of the 800,000 unemployed who will, obviously, have to watch every penny they spend. There are still people living in poverty who will be above the income level which will allow them free welfare milk.

A pint of milk each day at the reduced price of 2½p was worth more than £9 a year to a man with a family. In July milk prices will rise by ½p a pint. It will then be worth nearly £11 a year. A man with two children under 5 will have to earn £37 a week to gain as much from the cut in income tax as he will lose on his milk bill alone.

Secondly, will those who are entitled to free milk claim it? Here again, we know that there are thousands of people entitled to benefits which they do not take up. Thirdly, we have evidence that when the price of school meals is raised people will not pay the extra money. In my constituency there has been a 21 per cent. reduction in the uptake of school meals since the price rise. Why do we therefore assume that if we abolish cheap welfare milk people will spend money on buying milk? There is no evidence that this will happen.

Whether we like it or not, many mothers, not all, through no fault of their own are still ignorant of the benefits and necessity of milk. There are expectant mothers and mothers with young families who do not appreciate the necessity of milk in their children's diet. In the same way that we have malnutrition in poverty we have malnutrition in affluence. Mothers do not appreciate that a diet of chips and pop is not the best thing for their children. This measure will have the additional effect of reducing the importance of milk in the minds of mothers. When the Government no longer supply cheap welfare milk, cod liver oil and orange juice, mothers will think that they cannot be so important and will ask why they should go out and buy these commodities. The result of all this will be that the majority of pre-school children will not be receiving a sufficient amount of welfare milk.

There are in the Order invidious exceptions similar to the invidious exceptions in the Education (Milk) Bill. Children are being categorised into those who need free milk and those who do not, and the categorisation is based on no clear logic.

First, free milk will be available to all educationally subnormal children up to the age of 12 and all handicapped children attending special schools. Where is the logic of that? Why is milk essential to the physical well being of a handicapped or mentally backward child but not essential to the physical well-being of a mentally normal child? There is no medical evidence that children attending special schools for mental conditions need more milk than children attending normal schools. Here there is set up a completely invidious category of children.

Secondly, free milk will be available for children in day nurseries and private day care groups. Children who go to nursery schools are in one of two categories. There are the privileged children whose parents can afford to pay for them to go, and the under-privileged children who are there because they have an unmarried, divorced or widowed mother or a mother who has to work outside the home. For some reason known only to the Government, these children in day nurseries who are either very privileged or under-privileged will be set apart to receive free milk.

Thirdly, expectant mothers who have two children under 5 will receive free milk. How this has been arived at is unexplained. An expectant mother with one child under 5 does not qualify, an expectant mother with no children under 5 does not qualify, but an expectant mother with two children qualifies. The complete inconsistency of the milk scheme contained in the Bill and the Order can be summed up by saying that from now on milk will be completely free for children between 5 and 7. It will not be free for all children under 5 and it will not be free after they reach the age of 7; between the ages 5 and 7 all children will have free milk. There is no logic or reason in it and there is certainly no scientific basis. According to the Government the main growing years, when free milk is needed, are between the ages of 5 and 7.

Will there be any monitoring of this Order in the way that we heard there is to be under the Bill? Will there be monitoring of these children no longer receiving cheap welfare milk, a nationwide survey? Will the hon. Gentleman undertake, as was done with the Bill, to reconsider the Order if he finds by the monitoring that there is deprivation of these children? Why under this Order do we not have, as we did under the Bill, free milk for children so-called at risk medically? There are surely in the Government's view—although I do not understand their reasoning about this—children under 5 who are at risk medically and need extra milk just as there are children over 5 at risk medically needing extra milk. I do not see how these children will be categorised as needing extra milk.

To me milk is not a medicine given as treatment for some illness; it is a physiological necessity, a basic food that children should have, whether they are ill or well. In view of the Government's argument perhaps the Minister will explain why the under-5s are not to be categorised as medically at risk and given special treatment?

In all this there is no sign of progress towards preventive medicine. Milk is given to children as a nutritious food to create healthy, strong, non-ricketed limbs. Milk is not given to children whom it is thought are in need of it because they are in some way deficient. It is not a drug but it is an essential foodstuff, and it should be available to the expectant mother, the infant and the school child, throughout the period when that child is growing up, to the age of adolescence.

We have had many statistics quoted in the last debate but I would like to give some which are relevant to this Order. The survey by Dr. Lynch of Queen Elizabeth College, London, showed that of children in State schools only half now have a wholly satisfactory diet; 11 per cent. of those children have a very poor standard of diet; 18 per cent. of primary school children are deficient in calcium, a substance in which milk is strong, and 28 per cent. of primary school children are deficient in riboflavin, also a strong component of milk.

Here we have statistics about the condition of children when they go to primary school at the age of 5. This makes it more important than ever that their intake of milk in pre-school years should be adequate and never put at risk. The earliest years of growth are even more important than the primary or secondary school years, although these are important for the full development of the child.

For these reasons I put it to the House that there is absolutely no justification for this Order. It is the responsibility of society to ensure that its children are properly looked after and properly fed. This Order is all the more shameful because it has been brought in so soon after the Government came into power, along with the Bill we have debated. If it had been in the Conservative election manifesto, perhaps the Conservative Party would not have returned to power.

The Welfare Milk Scheme was introducsed originally under the National Milk Scheme in July, 1940, whereby all expectant mothers and children up to 5 years of age received a pint of milk every day at a reduced price. In 1971 the Government are introducing a regressive, retrograde measure of which they should be ashamed. This Order reveals in all its meanness the real philosophy of the Government, and I ask the House to reject it.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

One of my earliest recollections is that of my dad giving me Oxo cubes to take to school to provide the sons of salmon fishermen in Chester with some sort of what we called dinner. These children were suffering from malnutrition, and among them "Boney" was a common nickname. I had hoped that those days had disappeared and that it would be a matter of recollection to talk of rickets. But once again we are debating the subject of malnutrition. The point is emphasised by the increase in the cost of school dinners, not only this year but proposed for next year, the abolition of school milk for children over 7 and the abolition in many cases of welfare milk.

Perhaps, later we shall hear medical practitioners among hon. Members opposite supporting the Government. In the earlier debate the absence of medical Members on the benches opposite supporting the Government was very marked. Equally marked is the absence of evidence to support the Government's view in the documents on this subject to be found in the Library. The only statements in support of the Government's measures have been made from the Front Bench. It is clear from surveys that one-third of the children in the Midlands, a relatively prosperous area, are undernourished, many because of poverty but others because of ignorance. We are not charging mothers with not caring or wilful neglect; we are charging society because of a lack of knowledge among mothers.

We do not have to rely solely on Dr. Lynch for evidence on this subject. We do not have to rely on one survey. The St. Thomas survey has shown that undernourishment is particularly prevalent among working-class children in areas where women go out to work and particularly in areas where there is shift-working. I am not talking of the generality of the population. I am concerned particularly with industrial areas populated by working-class people where women traditionally go out to work or are forced to work because of the low rates of pay for men in the area.

Under-nourishment is a serious matter. Investigations by the National Food Survey have shown that our children are overfed but under-nourished. It has been shown that they are taking too little protein and too little calcium. The actual amounts of protein and calcium are falling.

I have treated with some suspicion many sources of evidence in this matter. I realise that there is a dairy lobby and that farmers are rightly upset because their incomes will fall since they will sell less milk. Farmers in my constituency, who are not a very Socialist group, have made representations to me to support the local authorities in the stand they are taking to provide milk for school children. There are also medical men who are prepared to argue strongly for the provision of milk for our children. They say that 18 per cent. of children are deficient in calcium and that some 28 per cent. are deficient in riboflavin.

The argument about the abolition of school milk is similar in many households to the argument on the abolition of welfare milk because parents will not be able to afford the extra money. Those hon. Members who have been out canvassing in Bromsgrove and Macclesfield will know the feeling in many families over the increase in the cost of living. When commodities which have come to be accepted as being provided free are free no more, there is no spare money for people to go out and buy those things for themselves.

Hon. Members opposite talk as though 4s. was a matter of no significance. Of course it is not to us. For the £40, £50, £60-a-week man it is not difficult to find an extra 4s. a week, but for the average manual worker in an inflationary situation such a sum can be difficult to find.

Calcium is important to a child. John Yudkin has been quoted in this debate. I would quote Professor A. S. Prophet, Professor of Dental Surgery, University College Hospital, who says: Few people realise how important it is for young people to take an ample supply of calcium in their food. Calcium is essential for healthy teeth and bone structure. We must ask the Government whether they have lost all concern for the health of our children. Are they saying that our children's health and well being must depend on the foresight and knowledge of their parents? Many of us who represent people with less knowledge and foresight would argue against this concept. We recall that in 1906 the principle was accepted that the maximum benefit will be obtained from State education only when schoolchildren are healthy and alert. We seem to be going backwards daily.

If we were at war the generals would not allow the Government to pass such legislation. Emissaries from the Ministry of Defence would remind the Department of Health and Social Security that the nation would soon need healthy bodies. As in 1939, there would be a preoccupation of the ruling class with the health and welfare of working-class children. But as we are not at war the Government introduce this mean Measure.

The Government have seen in the local elections at Bromsgrove what the people think of such legislation. At Macclesfield, if the Government are not too frightened, they will shortly see again what the people think of mean and despicable class legislation.

10.42 p.m.

Dr. Tom Stuttaford (Norwich, South)

I agree with the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) that milk must be considered as a dietary necessity and not as a prophylactic medicine. I do not altogether share the Secretary of State's conviction that everybody who needs milk will get it. Having worked with people who have been in need of milk, I know that the lower one goes in the social scale the more there is a need and the less likely they are to make the necessary application or even to know about the means of obtaining free milk.

I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will tell us what will be done to publicise the availability of welfare milk and other welfare foods. What campaigns is it intended to launch so that the general public can know what is available free of charge? This is not only a matter of telling people about it. It is often a matter of ensuring that they do something about the information that they have been given.

There is some misapprehension about rickets. Rickets are caused by a deficiency of vitamins AA and D. They are not due to a deficiency of milk. More fundamental than the intake of milk is the intake of these vitamins, which will still be available free of charge to children at the most important age—under 5.

Although I cannot feel entirely happy about the Order, it is not devastating, as hon. Members opposite would have us believe. The saving will be irrelevant to the national economy. It is probable that the effect will be almost irrelevant to the nation's health—almost, but not completely. The very people who may need the milk most may well be those who do not get it.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

The Under-Secretary has a formidable task this evening. I have much sympathy for him.

I do not know how the Order originated, but from my day-to-day dealings with the Department of Health and Social Security I know that it has been put forward against the wishes of the staff in the Department.

We do not need the antiseptic, clinical analysis employed by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), if I may say so without disrespect. Nor do we need the apologies of the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stutta-ford). Anyone with experience and knowledge of ordinary people knows that welfare milk and foods have made a tremendous change in the physical health of our youngsters. I do not need to go back to the time when I was young. One of the delights of my life, at least in the post-war years, has been to observe the quality of children being born. There is no comparison between the period before welfare milk and foods were available and the post-war period in the physicial health of babies and, indeed their mothers. There is a fantastic difference.

We do not need statistics to prove that one of the finest events in this country was the beginning of the idea that we looked after the pregnant mother from the time of pregnancy to weaning the child and then provided the requisite basic requirements towards the physical health of that child until it could almost fend for itself.

I do not need statistics when I can look back over the three or four gener- ations involved and think of the bow-legged kids who were quite common in my generation compared with the two children my wife has borne to me with the advantage of the welfare facilities, aids, adjuncts to the diet, milk in particular, and so on. I see the product of that assistance in the health of the children of the present generation. I believe that to a large degree the increase in the physical stature of so many of the present generation has been determined by the assistance that we have given to the mother while she has been carrying the child and in the nursing period subsequent to its birth.

I have a lad of 21. He is 6 feet 3 inches and weighs 13½ stone. He is no exception. Such physical characteristics are common throughout our society. Our children are bigger. I believe that is due to the foundation we laid in the gestation period when they were in their mother's wombs.

The Order is mean and despicable, but that is not the charge which has to be answered. The Government are endangering the health of future generations. They seek to return to the differences that existed before, when a small élite had the benefits that accrued from the possession of money and the rest of the community could stew in their own juice. In view of economic and social developments, they are producing the conditions for a revolutionary situation in Britain.

That may sound exaggerated, but I believe that if the Government continue with present policies anarchy will prevail, and out of it there will be either revolution or a Fascist State. It is symptomatic of the approach of Conservative hon. Members that they are making a division in society, arguing that we have an affluent society and that everybody can look after himself. It is not true that everybody can look after himself; it is not true that we have an affluent society. More than 50 per cent. of the people are 3 per cent. worse off as a result of the past 12 months of Tory Government, and the situation is becoming worse. The charge that the Government must answer is not that they are despicable, as they are, but that they are in danger of undermining future generations, and the Order is one of the measures by which they are doing it.

My experience of the Under-Secretary is that he is decent, honest and compassionate, but on an issue like the one before us, when he is withdrawing something fundamental to the nation's future health, he has a lot of explaining to do.

I do not believe that the Government know what they are doing. I wish that Conservative hon. Members would begin to think about it. They are bogged down with doctrinaire Toryism, intent on almost a spiteful campaign against a great mass of our people. They carry it out at their peril; because of their spitefulness we are in serious danger of having a situation in which there will be no co-operation from our side of industry. Why should people engage in productivity deals and drive themselves into unemployment? The Government are in serious danger of alienating the whole of the industrial and working class, and in those circumstances they will bring about a situation which they do not want.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

Will not the hon. Gentleman think again, and acknowledge that the Government have introduced measures to help the disabled, invalids, people over 80, widows and a string of other people, which completely contradicts what he has been saying?

Mr. Loughlin

If the hon. Gentleman restricts himself to the over-80 widows, I accept it. More than 65 per cent. of the over-80 widows who have received a pension under the Government's scheme were previously in receipt of supplementary benefit in excess of that pension. The whole of the other issues to which—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

Order. I hope that both hon. Gentlemen will realise that the Order is on a specific subject.

Mr. Loughlin

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, with due respect, if an intervention is allowed and the Chair does not intervene at the time, one ought to have the opportunity to reply. But I will reply briefly. Each of the measures to which the hon. Gentleman referred were already on the stocks under the Labour Government before this Government came to power.

The Order is another little piece that fits the jigsaw. Unless the Government are careful, they will destroy any possibility of co-operation from our side, and they will be in danger of undermining the health of future generations of Britain.

10.57 p.m.

Mr. D. G. Stewart-Smith (Belper)

I feel compelled to draw the Minister's attention to the yawning gap between the intentions of legislation, passed with the very best of intentions, and what arrives in the house of the ordinary miner in my constituency. He just does not know what he is entitled to. Before we start withdrawing what he is used to, we must remember that.

There is malnutrition in our land. It occurs through poverty and through ignorance. I associate myself entirely with the remarks about poverty made by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding). In my constituency a large number of lower-paid workers, surface workers at the mines, take home £14 a week. They are very badly hit by inflation and they suffer enormously. It will be an immense burden for them to pay for this extra milk. The State should have a continuing rôle here. I probably sound like a Socialist; but I describe it at Tory paternalism. We are, perhaps, less spiteful than the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) implied.

Any policy which accidentally or deliberately—I am certain that it is not deliberate—prevents milk physically reaching children under five is unacceptable. Whatever they do, I ask my Front Bench not to hit the children of the lower-paid workers. If they want to make economies, they should have a crack at the professional layabout, sponger and parasite, but leave alone the children of the lower-paid workers.

10.59 p.m.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Willesden, West)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith) and his hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford). Having sat through the whole of the previous debate about welfare milk, when there was a most lamentable performance from the back benches opposite, and we had not the second but the fourth eleven, I have found it refreshing to hear the two hon. Gentlemen in this debate bringing forward some doubts—without being disloyal—and putting fingers on some extremely important points which I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will answer.

On the question of take-up, what is typical of this Order and a number of other similar Orders which the Government are putting through the House is that, having established a certain economy, we have to incur considerable expenditure to tell people what it is all about. Not only do publicity campaigns have to be run to ensure that the needy poor—a phrase from the benches opposite—are aware of their entitlement, but at the same time, because we are making a barrier between those who are deserving and those who claim to be undeserving, we have to have an army of doctors, welfare officers and others who have to ascertain which is which.

By the time one has finished setting up the machinery, it is not certain whether the net economy is worth making. The classic example of that occurred not under this but under the Labour Government when £10,200 was spent on eight civil servants making sure that £169 was saved on I do not know how many prescription forms when it was suspected that people were bilking by use of the E.C.10 forms. The whole philosophy behind the Order leads to that kind of provision.

I have some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman. I believe that no one in the House knows more than I do about the kind of comprehensive problem which he has to face. He is not dealing just with hospitals, or just with welfare foods, or just with the general practitioner service, or cod liver oil, or orange juice. He has to consider the whole pattern, and he cannot act in one sector without that action having repercussions elsewhere. What disappoints me about the right hon. Gentleman is not that he has yielded to the pressures of the economic situation—all Governments have to do that and no Government were worse than the Labour Government in many respects concerned with health—but that he should have yielded to the Treasury's thinking, which is that each item must be self-balancing without any consideration being given to the effect on other health or welfare provisions.

The right hon. Gentleman is seeking to act in a very narrow area, to save a minimum amount, when over the whole area of his responsibility it is clear that he ought to leave welfare foods alone, when he could probably do better in other respects. Of course more resources are required to meet the items with which the Order deals, but the amount spent on these charges is only 3.6 per cent. of his total cost and even if he doubled that, he still would not be getting at the true problem.

This is one of a number of mean actions. The meanest was imposing an extra 15s. on the chronic sick for their "season tickets", so that those who must have medicine for the rest of their lives will have to pay £3 10s. a year instead of £2 15s. Only those on the fringes will benefit from this and similar provisions, and once again the saving will not justify the cost of the machinery.

My hon. Friend the Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) drew attention to the calcium intake and the number of dental caries cases with which the dental service had to cope affecting schoolchildren. A break-through in research recently may mean that within five years dental caries will be a problem of the past, but at the moment the Order can do nothing but harm the dental health of children. How is that harm to be rectified? I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman of going further with fluoridation research and I hope that he will continue with it. He may be able to deal with the problem of fluoridation of schoolchildren's milk. I hope that we shall hear more about that subject tonight.

My hon. Friend mentioned costs. Hon. Members opposite do not realise that it is not just a matter of the costs which the housewife has to find. In a working-class family, irrespective of the amount of income resulting from overtime and so on, the amount a wife gets from her husband is invariably the same week by week. By Thursday of any week she is often in difficulty. Chemists report that women with a number of prescriptions for their families to have filled at the end of a week will often ask the chemist which prescription is urgent and which may be delayed, simply because of the amount which they had to pay in prescription charges.

Just as a prescription may have to wait the next pay packet, so it is with welfare foods. There are people for whom welfare foods are essential but who, as it were, have a mental block against applying for them. The more barriers we put in the way of application, the more will the feckless and those in need be unlikely to take them up.

The exercise encompassed by the present Order is reminiscent of what happened in 1961. The last time I was concerned in a battle about cod liver oil and orange juice was when the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) was Minister of Health. At that time, the charges for cod liver oil and orange juice and a number of other things were increased in order to raise a total of £65 million, and in the subsequent Budget in 1961 we gave £83 million back to surtax payers. In the same way, the Government are today making small but mean and despicable inroads into the provision of such things as welfare food, welfare milk and cod liver oil and orange juice at the same time as they are changing the aggregate arrangements regarding parents' and children's incomes in order to make it possible for about £20 million of tax relief to go to people who want to send their children to public schools. It is the same exercise. It is back to the same pattern.

Considering the beneficiaries, one wonders why the cut-offs have been made in the way they have. I shall not repeat the arguments; they have been very well put already by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill).

I come to the question of the changeover in the means of providing welfare foods to children, turning from the old-fashioned cod liver oil and orange juice to the drops. The Under-Secretary of State will recall that I put a Question to him about it when he first made the announcement. His answer was most interesting. I want to know why one particular firm got the contract. The hon. Gentleman will recall that one firm was able virtually to corner the market and to eliminate all competition in the provision of drops of cod liver oil and orange juice. What were the market forces in the background? What sort of analysis has the Minister made not only of the medical and clinical aspects of the matter but of the psychological effects of children having to take drops of medicine instead of cod liver oil and orange juice?

One of the right hon. Gentleman's problems today is that the medicine habit is developing. Instead of taking their vitamins in milk and ordinary foods, people are inclined to take them in tablet form. We are becoming a nation of pill swallowers. How much research has been done to show what will be the effect on children of suddenly having to take drops instead of the cod liver oil and orange juice which they have known up to now? My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) said that the Government were inclined to let the working class stew in their own juice. One thing is quite certain: if this Order is allowed to pass, they will not stew in their own orange juice, because the orange juice will be stopped.

In contemplating this Order and the Bill about welfare milk which we debated earlier, I think of what the Scandinavians have done and are doing in health matters, and I note their performance both socially and economically. What we are doing in Britain is going back on the standards which we first set and which the Scandinavians copied. They have copied from us very successfully, but now, by the measures which the House has before it today, we are putting back the clock, retreating from the advances which we have made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax put the point succinctly. Unless the Government reverse their policy which is represented by Orders of this kind, there will be no hope of our moving on to preventive medicine. They will be bogged down in the continuation of a purely curative health service. We can move towards the prevention of illness, the strengthening of people's physique, the elimination of dental caries and the development of the body's resistance to the bacteria which come from modern environmental pollution only if we start right from the time when a child is born.

The Order makes inroads into the very foundation of the health of the nation. I accept that the Government are also trying to extend the provision to those in need, but they are making a division betwen two types of people—those who are really needy and those a little higher up the scale who are beyond the pale.

I should like the Government to forget about the Order. Its contribution to the economy, the health or the welfare of the nation, as was said by the hon. Member for Norwich, South, a qualified doctor, is irrelevant.

11.10 p.m.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I did not want to intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin), but it should be put on the record, from the point of view of my party, that a great deal of the improvement in children's health and appearance was due to the Act, introduced in the late thirties by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, which established maternity and child welfare centres. I am very proud to know that that was established while I was in the House, and under my Government.

During the war, when Lord Woolton was looking after the health of the children, he ensured, even at the height of the controversy, that children had both cod liver oil and orange juice. He did so effectively and with the co-operation of both sides of the House.

A great deal of the wonderful improvement in children's health has been due to the magnificent efforts of the medical people who, after research, have made suggestions which have been put into operation by both sides of the House. I resent it when hon. Members opposite, such as the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West, talk as if my party had never done anything, because in fact they have done a great deal.

11.12 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Michael Alison)

From the rather gloomy speeches of hon. Members, it might be thought that I had an uncomfortable row to hoe, but that is not the case. I rise with no sense of apology and I hope that the House will agree, when it has considered some of the facts behind this Order, that the case is sound and reasonable.

The Order represents a further stage in the implementation of the Government's policies, announced in the original White Paper of 27th October last year, "New Policies for Public Spending", to concentrate provision of free health and welfare benefits on families and individuals who are most in need of them.

There can be little dispute that there have been massive changes in the standard of living of the great bulk of our population over the last 30 years since the original welfare milk and food schemes were introduced. I agree that this is not to say that real poverty does not exist, that real areas of deprivation do not exist. It is because they do that we want to concentrate the free provision of welfare food precisely on those exposed sections of the population who, for various reasons, have not benefited from the sharp increase in the standard of living of the general population over these years and are specifically at nutritional risk. I take the point of the hon. Lady the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill)—that we are here concerned with milk as an aid to nutritional well-being, and not precisely as a medical element.

It is the logic of the contemporary changes in which we find ourselves living today that has led us to decide that it is right to cease paying a subsidy in the shape of cheap welfare milk indiscriminately for all families with children under five, and to substitute for it the extended provision of free welfare milk to large families and to needy families. The extension to which I refer of the concentration of free welfare foods on the large and needy families is no mean extension, and perhaps I might remind the House of the figures involved.

This is our calculation, and it remains to be seen to what extent it is fulfilled; it is bound to be assessed over a period of time, but these are the figures for which we have budgeted: we expect that there will be an increase in those qualifying for free milk of roughly 25 per cent.—and I mention that as it has been the principal element in the welfare foods debate. That is from 590,000 beneficiaries to 754,000 beneficiaries—a massive extension of the availability of free provision.

The point about take-up, which was made by my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford), and Belper (Mr. Stewart-Smith), is very important, and I should like to say something about the expectation of take-up, and also about the figures so far. In addition to the two campaigns that we have been running—and this specifically answers the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South—that is, the Department's campaign, and that of the National Dairy Council, together costing more than £650,000 and aimed at making as many people as possible aware of their entitlement, local authority domiciliary workers and voluntary organisation social workers have been approached by my right hon. Friend in a nation-wide publicity campaign and have been asked, by personal contact with potential beneficiaries, to offer advice, encouragement or help in making applications.

I think that the figures of the response to that personal approach, and the massive extra funds allocated to publicise it, are quite striking. For the period January to April, 1971, that is to say, before the Order took effect on 4th April, the number of claims for free welfare milk and food averaged 32 a week. For the months of April and May, claims totalling 121,367 have come in. That means that from an average of 32 a week, the figure has risen to 15,000 a week. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Belper will appreciate that that is a substantial reflection of the efforts that we are making to bring to the attention of people their entitlement, particularly those who are entitled to substantially more.

I agree that this provision is not entirely without its financial repercussions, and hon. Gentlemen opposite and the hon. Lady have tried to make the most of this. I do not blame them for that. It is fair to ask what the financial implications will be, but I think that we must keep in perspective the increase in family expenditure on liquid milk. The needy are unaffected by any financial penalties there may be. The increase in family expenditure for those held to be more or less able to look after themselves, by the very much extended criteria that we have adopted in assessing availability for free milk, cannot be more than 35p per week in any circumstances. In other words, it cannot be more than the extra half cost which they are now having to pay for the first two children at the rate of 14 pints per week, which would be the entitlement of those two children. As soon as there are more children one gets into the family category and receives free milk; so it cannot be more than 35p a week in any circumstances.

I agree that this is no chicken-feed, even for those comfortably above the supplementary benefit level, if the substantial extra burden is taken in isolation. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is often accused of having done nothing for the poor and given everything to the surtax payer, has in his Budget made enormous provision through increased child tax allowances for all families with children. These benefits apply roughly at the rate of £13 a child right down to the income tax level, which is only just a little about the supplementary benefit rate. So, taking the much higher tolerance we have adopted for entitling people to free provision on grounds of need, the increase in child tax allowances and the absolute limit placed upon the extra charges which may be visited upon families, this scheme does not partake of the vicious, heartless, scandalous and inhumane charges launched against it. Put into perspective, it is a small contribution to expect those who can afford it to make.

Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne. West)

The hon. Gentleman should admonish his Department for what it has put before him on this occasion. The hon. Gentleman referred to the activities of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget. But there is a vast difference between £38 million given to surtax payers spread across several thousand and the £40 million given in income tax child allowances spread across six million. In any event, the people to whom he referred who would find it difficult to pay an extra 35p a week, those earning £14 a week, would not be paying income tax.

Mr. Alison

The income tax allowance goes right down practically to supplementary benefit level. The value of the child tax allowances is worth £200 million a year, and this is the figure to bear in mind when considering the offsets.

The hon. Member for Halifax asked about the net savings. The net savings from taking up to 35p a week from families who on a more generous assessment than supplementary benefit scales are held to be able to meet their own requirements will be £30 million, which produces a substantial extra sum of money towards my right hon. Friend's enormous sum of £110 million extra resources available for the development of the health and welfare services. It is rank hypocrisy for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to criticise us for putting a modest charge on those who can afford it whilst extending free provision of foodstuffs, particularly milk.

I recall what happened in the days of the Labour Government under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), when, as my right hon. Friend said in a recent speech, the publication of the report on the terrible goings-on at Ely hospital revealed the deficiency in the diet of the inmates of mental hospitals. The diet was 25 per cent. below that in ordinary hospitals. All the right hon. Member for Coventry, East could find from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the subsequent year to assist those patients was £1½ million to increase the dietary take-up of the mentally handicapped. From this one Measure of extending free milk and charging a modest sum to people who are able to look after themselves, we are producing £30 million extra for allocation to our starving hospital and welfare services which we have inherited from the outgoing Administration. If this is not humanity, if this is not the right set of priorities in the circumstances, I do not know what is.

The hon. Lady asked why we are continuing to provide children who attend day nurseries with the regular one-third of a pint a day, irrespective of whether they are beneficiaries of free milk. We felt that the children who would be away from home during the day for an extended period ought to have some milk in the course of a day even though there may be free milk for them at home.

I said that I had no hesitation in commending the Order as one which will impose no hardship. All those on supplementary benefit will continue to receive free milk; all those who come into the family income supplement in August will continue to receive free milk; all families with three or more children under five will continue to receive free milk; all children in families where the financial resources are higher than the supplementary benefit levels but where there is still real need will continue to get free milk. It is only in respect of those who really can, on any reasonable assessment, be held to afford up to 35p per week, and no more, that we commend this Order as being able to produce £30 million in extra resources for the community health and welfare services. For that reason I hope that the House will uphold the Order.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 169, Noes 198.

Division No. 375.] AYES [11.27 p.m.
Albu, Austen Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Gourlay, Harry
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Davies, Ifor (Gower) Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)
Ashton, Joe Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Atkinson, Norman Davis, T. A. G. (Bromsgrove) Hamling, William
Bagier, Cordon A. T. Deakins, Eric Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)
Barnes, Michael de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Hardy, Peter
Barnett, Joel Delargy, H. J. Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Beaney, Alan Dempsey, James Hattersley, Roy
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Dormand, J. D. Horam, John
Bishop, E. S. Douglas-Mann, Bruce Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Blenkinsop, Arthur Driberg, Tom Huckfield, Leslie
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Duffy, A. E. P. Hughes Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)
Booth, Albert Dunn, James A. Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Dunnett, Jack Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Edelman, Maurice Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Buchan, Norman Edwards, William (Merioneth) Janner, Greville
Campbell, I (Dunbartonshire, W.) Ellis, Tom John, Brynmor
Cant, R. B. Evans, Fred Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)
Carmichael, Neil Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Lady wood) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elywn (W. Ham, S.)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Foley, Maurice Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)
Concannon, J. D. Forrester, John Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)
Conlan, Bernard Fraser, John (Norwood) Kaufman, Gerald
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Garrett, W. E. Kelley, Richard
Dalyell, Tam Gilbert, Dr. John Kerr, Russell
Davidson, Arthur Golding, John Kinnock, Neil
Lambie, David Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Lamond, James Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Sillars, James
Latham, Arthur Murray, Ronald King Silverman, Julius
Lawson, George O'Malley, Brian Skinner, Dennis
Leadbitter, Ted Orme, Stanley Small, William
Leonard, Dick Oswald, Thomas Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Lestor, Miss Joan Palmer, Arthur Spriggs, Leslie
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange) Stallard, A. W.
Lomas, Kenneth Pavitt, Laurie Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Loughlin, Charles Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Strang, Gavin
McBride, Neil Pendry, Tom Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
McElhone, Frank Pentland, Norman Swain, Thomas
Mackenzie, Gregor Perry, Ernest G. Taverne, Dick
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg. Thomas. Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)
McNamara, J. Kevin Prescott, John Tuck, Raphael
Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Urwin, T. W.
Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Price, William (Rugby) Varley, Eric G.
Marks, Kenneth Probert, Arthur Wainwright, Edwin
Marquand, David Reed, D. (Sedgefield) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Marsden, F. Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.) Wellbeloved, James
Marshall, Dr. Edmund Rhodes, Geoffrey White, James (Glasgow, pollok)
Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Whitehead, Phillip
Meacher, Michael Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon) Whitlock, William
Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Br'c'n&R'dnor) Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Mendelson, John Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees) Williams. W. T. (Warrington)
Millan, Bruce Roper, John
Milne, Edward (Blyth) Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen) Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Morgan, Etystan (Cardiganshire) Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney) Mr. Ernest Armstrong and
Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) Mr. Joseph Harper.
Adley, Robert Elliot, Cant. Walter (Carshalton) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Eyre, Reginald Longden, Gilbert
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Farr, John McAdden, Sir Stephen
Atkins, Humphrey Fenner, Mrs. Peggy McCrindle, R. A.
Awdry, Daniel Fidler, Michael Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) McNair-Wilson, Michael
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Maddan, Martin
Balniel, Lord Fookes, Miss Janet Madel, David
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Fortescue, Tim Maginnis, John E.
Berry, Hn. Anthony Fowler, Norman Marten, Neil
Biffen, John Gibson-Watt, David Mather, Carol
Biggs-Davison, John Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Mawby, Ray
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Goodhart, Philip Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Boscawen, Robert Goodhew, Victor Meyer, Sir Anthony
Bowden, Andrew Gorst, John Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Gower, Raymond Moate, Roger
Braine, Bernard Gray, Hamish Molyneaux, James
Bray, Ronald Green, Alan Money, Ernle
Brinton, Sir Tatton Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Monks, Mrs. Connie
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Grylls, Michael Monro, Hector
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Gummer, Selwyn More, Jasper
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M) Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Burden, F. A. Hall, Joan (Wycombe) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Carlisle, Mark Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Murton, Oscar
Chapman, Sydney Hannam, John (Exeter) Neave, Airey
Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Haselhurst, Alan Nicholls, Sir Harmar
Chichester-Clark, R. Hay, John Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Churchill, W. S. Hicks, Robert Normanton, Tom
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Higgins, Terence L. Nott, John
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hiley, Joseph Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Clegg, Walter Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Osborn, John
Cooke, Robert Holland, Philip Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)
Coombs, Derek Holt, Miss Mary Page Graham (Crosby)
Cooper, A. E. Hordern, Peter Parkinson, Cecil (Enfield, W.)
Cordle, John Hornsby-Smith. Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Percival, Ian
Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate) Pink, R. Bonner
Cormack, Patrick Howell, David (Guildford) Pounder, Rafton
Costain, A. P. Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Critchley, Julian Hutchison, Michael Clark Price, David (Eastleigh)
Crouch, David Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.
Curran, Charles James, David Proudfoot, Wilfred
Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford) Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Jessel, Toby Raison, Timothy
Dean, Paul Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Redmond, Robert
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Jopling, Michael Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Dixon, Piers King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Rees, Peter (Dover)
Dykes, Hugh King, Tom (Bridgwater) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Eden, Sir John Kinsey, J. R. Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Knox, David Ridley, Hn, Nicholas
Lambton, Antony Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Rost, Peter Stokes, John Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Royle, Anthony Stuttaford, Dr. Tom Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Russell, Sir Ronald Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart) Wall, Patrick
Scott, Nicholas Taylor, Frank (Moss Side) Ward, Dame Irene
Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby) Tebbit, Norman Warren, Kenneth
Shelton, William (Clapham) Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth) Weatherill, Bernard
Simeons, Charles Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Sinclair, Sir George Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.) Wilkinson, John
Sheet, T. H. H. Trafford, Dr. Anthony Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington) Trew, Peter Woodnutt, Mark
Soref, Harold Tugemlhat, Christopher Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Spence, John Tunton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Sproat, lain van straubenzee, W. R. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Stainton, Keith Vaughan, Dr. Gerard Mr. Paul Hawkins and
Stanbrook, Ivor Waddington, David Mr. Keith Speed.
Stewart-Smith, D. G. (Belper)