HC Deb 29 November 1971 vol 827 cc186-209

knowledge and belief, no concerted effort has been made by the Government, by the hon. Gentleman in particular and by hon. Members opposite to pursue this line of argument. The right hon Lady the Secretary of State has said that the increase in the number of free school meals was to some extent caused by the increase in unemployment.

The fact is that the Government have been determined to try to identify the "poor" and to rub in to many children that if they are poor they are entitled to free school meals. Large numbers of children are not taking up school meals, either by paying for them or even when they are free, because of the humiliation and other things involved.

What worries us considerably is that as the charge for the school meals must cover the running cost, as was indicated in the White Paper on public spending presented in October last year, this will again mean a substantial increase in the price to cover rising runnings costs. If that is true, we can again expect to see a reduction in the number of children not eligible for free school meals but unable to afford the new increase in the price.

In the regulations, the financial hardship qualifications are very complicated. One would have thought that by now the Government would have realised that means-tested benefits of this nature are destined to be a failure. Recently the Secretary of State for Social Services announced that the take-up of the family income supplement was only 43 per cent. of those heads of household entitled to it. If that is so, the argument by hon. Members opposite that children whose parents get the family income supplement also get an automatic passport to free school meals must be considered in the context that well over one-half of the children concerned come from families who are not receiving the supplement and are not, therefore, receiving their passports to free school meals. That alone must make us all very unhappy about the situation of the take-up of free school meals.

As I have said over and over again, in Committee and on Second Reading, it is about time that we got down to discussing the availability of school meals without the payment of money at the time of consumption. Unless this can be done, we shall never get away from the difficulties, the humiliation and the identification with poverty. When people have to identify their poverty by reason of family income supplement or prescription charges, many people who are eligible do not take advantage of that to which they are entitled.

I wish to couple the question of free school meals with the withdrawal of school milk. When the matter first arose, Dr. Lynch's survey on nutrition, which caused a great deal of concern among teachers and educationists, was rejected by hon. Members opposite on the ground that it was inconclusive and did not represent a true picture of the dietary problems of children. Also dismissed were the views of the dental profession and the fears of the medical officers of health in London, who expressed their concern at this new category of medical need for free milk. Their fears have been echoed by many practitioners in Westminster City Council, who have asked local authorities to defy the milk ban on health grounds. They have also been joined by Professor Borge Nordin, head of the Mineral Research Unit at Leeds Infirmary, who has said that he is worried by the withdrawal of school milk if that is the only milk available to children. He has particularly asked medical officers of health and others to look out for the effects of calcium deficiency. That is also one of the fears expressed in Dr. Lynch's survey.

Large numbers of children will go to school without breakfast and receive nothing during the morning to sustain them, and, in addition, they will probably not have a hot meal in the middle of the day. Most industrial, office and transport workers receive nutrition of some sort at about 10 or 11 a.m.

Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)


Miss Lestor

I am sorry; I cannot give way now. I promised to be brief.

The subject of the supply of milk in schools was ventilated in answers to Questions two weeks ago. The Secretary of State for Education and Science said that she could not understand why people could not pay for milk, as she had to do. The fact is that, despite what was said in the Committee stage of the Bill, the proposal that milk should be available for purchase in schools has not materialised. So far 30 local authorities have indicated that they will make milk available to be bought in schools. What is happening? When the Government first came into office they talked about the freedom of local authorities. We know what they have said to Merthyr Tydvil, which is anxious to continue with its freedom to supply milk to primary school children. Midlothian has been told that it will be surcharged unless it withdraws the facilities which it has made available. This also applies to Glasgow. On the other hand, we have the administrative muddle which makes it possible for the 10 inner London boroughs to spend a 1p rate on the supply of milk to their children, and do so legally because they are not education authorities.

This whole question of milk and meals—and milk in particular—would be laughable were it not tragic. The Government talk of freedom for local authorities, but they stop those which they can stop from doing what they think necessary and beneficial for their children, but, because of a legal loophole, they have no control over the London boroughs which intend to supply milk.

Contrary to the Government's argument underlying the regulations, poverty will continue in this country, and added to it there will be the humiliation for those who are identified as poor. We utterly reject this philosophy. We reject the philosophy which says, on the one hand, that we can afford to give £2 million to direct grant schools and we can afford to give tax reductions to benefit the rich, but we cannot afford to give free school milk to children in primary schools and we cannot afford to ensure that children in need of a decent school meal will have it. Many of them cannot afford to pay for it, or are too embarrassed to take advantage of the free school meal.

Our opposition to the regulations is backed by informed opinion, not necessarily informed Labour opinion but informed opinion among educationists and medical and dental practitioners throughout the country. These measures are a disgrace to the House. Moreover, they will save nothing in the end in terms of money, though they will cost us a great deal in terms of the health of our children. At the end of the day, we shall probably be spending much more on replacing that which children should have had at this time of their lives.

In conclusion, may I ask, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether both the English and the Scottish Motions are being taken together?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

I was about to ask whether the House would agree to take the two Prayers together. I take it that that is agreed. We shall, accordingly, consider at the same time the Motion: That the Milk and Meals (Education) (Scotland) Regulations 1971 (S.I., 1971, No. 1537), a copy of which was laid before this House on 27th September, in the last Session of Parliament, be withdrawn.

10.38 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William van Straubenzee)

As both Prayers are being taken together, it may be convenient if I intervene briefly now, not in any way to curtail discussion, and that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland should seek to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to wind up and deal with specific Scottish questions.

As did the hon. Lady the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor), I appreciate that we have limited time, and as it is clear that a number of hon. Members wish to take part, I hope that I shall be acquitted of discourtesy if I deal briskly with the argument and leave as much time as I can for the debate.

First, a word about what is in the regulations. Understandably, the hon. Lady concentrated on those items with which she disagreed, but it is fair that I should say in reply that the income scale against which entitlement to free school meals is measured is increased by the regulations. Also, an entire category of beneficiary—that is, the family in receipt of family income supplement—will no longer, as a result of the regulations, need to undergo a separate assessment of means. There are other adjustments to the free school meals assessment rules which the House will see set out very fully. They may appear minor in character, but they are, in fact, very significant for the individual families affected.

I want, therefore, first to deal, as the hon. Lady did, with the criticisms about that part of the regulations dealing with milk. She takes the view that the arrangements epitomised in the regulations are a deliberate and direct attack on the nutritional and health standards of our older primary school children. That I totally reject. They are no more an attack on the health of such children than was the decision of the Labour Government to withdraw free milk from secondary school pupils. Indeed, it is possible to show that they are positively less so, because they contain steps to continue the free supply for children who need it on health grounds.

We make it possible for milk to be sold to other children, and, although, frankly, we do not believe that the health or nutrition of the pupils concerned will be injuriously affected by the new arrangements, we have nevertheless, and I think rightly, set up a monitoring system whereby any effects which arise may be identified at the earliest possible stage. None of this was done when in 1968 it was decided to discontinue the free supply to all secondary school pupils, who, after all, included a considerable number of the age of 10 and a great many more of the ages of 11 and 12.

My second point is that I do not accept the hon. Lady's criticism that the arrangements for the certification of pupils for milk on health grounds are not working well just because school medical officers of health have had no guidance from the centre, from the Government as such, on the criteria which they should adopt. It is perfectly true that in some areas only a small proportion of children are getting milk, but we are at the very early stages. Examinations are continuing, and in so far as children require milk on health grounds the regulations should secure that they will get it.

It is true that there have been some teething troubles in the initial stages. There are bound to be in any new scheme of this kind. But it might be worth reflecting, particularly before the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short), the former Secretary of State, looks too pleased about this, that if in 1968 there had been a similar arrangement for certification on medical grounds for secondary school pupils' milk we might have had rather more experience on which to work.

There is no question of rejecting Dr. Lynch's survey. If Dr. Lynch will produce his written survey, it will be most carefully studied, I assure the hon. Lady. I have told her this several times before, if she has influence with Dr. Lynch—and it is double figure months since he made his preliminary statement—and will see that he produces his survey, it can be considered. One cannot reject something which has not yet been produced.

The hon. Lady's third criticism was that not enough local education authorities were selling milk on a large scale. Here I join with her; I do not think that enough are yet doing so. Hon. Members who are interested may enjoy seeing an excellent little pamphlet recently produced by the Milk Marketing Board. It is extremely useful for hon. Members who are anxious that milk should be sold more widely; it gives a good account of the various facilities available, cost and so on.

There is reason to believe that since the census more authorities have decided that milk may be sold in their schools, and I have no doubt that more will do so if, as the hon. Lady hopes, sufficient demand develops. But if in 1968 when milk was withdrawn from secondary schools there had been a perfectly simple power given by the Labour Party to sell milk in the same way as it was possible to sell almost every other non-alcoholic beverage, by this time we might have had experience of the sale of milk in secondary schools, and it would probably have been a regular thing. I leave over for the moment the monitoring procedure—

Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

In the Northern Region almost 50 per cent. of children are getting free school meals because they cannot afford to buy them. Will the hon. Gentleman say how arrangements to sell milk will help children who cannot afford it?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I know of the hon. Gentleman's close concern in these matters. If he studies the pamphlet to which I have referred, it may come as a surprise to him to see what can be achieved and the costs at which it can be produced. There is good evidence to believe that a very considerable number of parents, including a number of those whom the hon. Gentleman has in mind, would be glad to have the facility available in their children's schools.

I turn, then, to school meals, with which these regulations also deals. The regulations mean that more families are brought within the scope of the free school meal scheme. It might be helpful to give the House the up-to-date figures, based on returns from 160 authorities out of 163. They are more up to date than those given a few days ago by my right hon. Friend. I make that point clear in order to take account of any discrepancy.

At the autumn census, 795,000 children, representing 10.4 per cent. of those present at schools in England and Wales, were getting free school meals. That compares with a figure last May of 754,000, or 9.9 per cent., and in the autumn of 1970 620,000, or 8.3 per cent.—

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

Due to unemployment.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I concede immediately that regrettably there is an element in those increased figures which is due to unemployment. I do not attempt to deny that. But the increased income and remission scales demonstrably give help to those who really need it and whose children ought properly to have free school meals. If the hon. Gentleman examines the percentage increases, he will find that the increase in the free school meal take-up is markedly greater than can possibly be accounted for by the unemployment figures.

One can give a considerable number of examples. A family with one child is entitled under these new scales to free school meals where the net income is below £13.25 a week, compared with £11.95 previously or £11.05 earlier this year, and I am talking about net income when I quote from the regulations.

The second main change is that, by these regulations, we bring into entitlement, without separate assessment of means, families in receipt of family income supplement. This arrangement was limited formerly to those in receipt of supplementary benefit. It means that some 85,000 low income families will be able to claim free meals for their children without having to go through a means test for the purpose.

I do not seek to give any impression that these families are eligible for free school meals for the first time. There is a strong possibility that nearly all of them were previously eligible on income grounds. I am not seeking to claim more for these regulations than can demonstrably be sustained. I am saying that the simplification of the procedure brought about by the regulations cannot but encourage any family who may previously have been eligible but did not take advantage of that eligibility because of the necessity of declaring their means. To this extent I hope, and I thought that this was common ground, that the House will welcome this arrangement.

Mr. J. D. Dormand (Easington)

The hon. Gentleman said that he would deal with a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor). He has omitted—I suspect deliberately—to refer to the point of freedom for local authorities. It is something about which many on this side have asked previously and we have not had an answer. The Government said during the General Election and in their election campaign, and many times in this House since, that it was of crucial importance that local authorities should have freedom. I would have thought that the provision of school milk for primary school children was one of the most important functions on which authorities should have freedom. Could we have a clear and unequivocal answer why it has not been given in this case?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and delighted to oblige him. The answer is that under any Government central heads of expenditure have to be the concern of the Government and it is within those central heads that the freedom is given, as I will illustrate. It must be the duty of the Government to be in control, for example, of central capital expendi- ture but it is possible, either as the Labour Party did, to make all the decisions at the centre, or as the Conservative Party has now done, to give them to the circumference. It is equally possible in a youth service to keep central decisions on spending at the centre but to give the disposal function to the circumference. That is the essential difference which I thought I had explained before. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is far too intelligent not to have comprehended it earlier.

I must not take up more time except to remind the House that this is a Prayer being raised by those who were responsible in their time for the largest percentage increase in school meal charges that we have yet known. It is the party which abolished, rightly, free school meals for the fourth and subsequent child on the ground that it was an indiscriminate subsidy going to all irrespective of need. If hon. Members opposite applied exactly the same philosophy now as they applied when in Government they would be proud of these regulations.

10.54 p.m.

Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)

I and some of my hon. Friends would like to protest at the outset that the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Secretary of State for Scotland are not here. I say that without intending any discourtesy to the hon. Gentlemen who are deputising for them on the Front Bench.

Perhaps this debate is a little more realistic than the last one we had on school milk. We had a debate recently on unemployment when the Secretary of State for Scotland had the temerity to announce that he would threaten 25 councillors in Midlothian with the surcharge because they had decided that they would continue to provide milk to the under-7s. This is a disgraceful state of affairs.

The Government are not even arguing logically. They are proposing to give priority to the primary education sector: yet they are depriving the over-7s of school milk. We have a Gilbertian situation in Midlothian. The councillors who have been threatened will be regarded by many as having violated the law, but petitions are being organised all over the county and one can rarely find a member of the Midlothian electorate refusing to back the stand taken by the councillors. It was rather heavy handed of the Secretary of State to issue that threatening circular. Only those 25 votes may have been cast, but every councillor took exception to the over-7s being deprived of their free school milk. The only argument was about the way to challenge the Government's action.

These 25 councillors are honest, law-abiding people. Some of them are housewives. I do not know what attitude they will adopt at tomorrow's special meeting of the education committee. I only know what they have told me, because I do not believe in leading from behind and I have asked them what they think. They have told me that they are prepared to go to prison, if necessary, in order to ensure that these children get their school milk. Yet we have the Government threatening honest, decent people in this way. I do not know what steps the Government will take, but I can tell the Minister now that house ownerships are being transferred from husband to wife as a protection against sequestration of property or seizure of chattels.

What a silly situation we now have. We are proposing to deprive the over-7s of their school milk; yet in the immediate area of the Lothians we may lose a thousand jobs before the end of the year. We have unemployment escalating, and to try to solve that problem the Government seek to rob the bairns of their milk. The whole position in Scotland is absurd. We have only three vacancies for every 100 people unemployed. It is all very well to talk about the medical officers being able to certify, but even young children have their pride—as great a pride as any in the country. They are reared by their parents to have dignity and a pride in their county.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite may not realise it, but the Conservative Government have already been punished for their action. In the recent by-election at Stirling and Falkirk Burghs, the Conservative candidate said publicly in a debate at which the churches were represented that perhaps school milk was not a nutritional necessity; that there was a problem of child obesity. The logic of another of his remarks was that only the rich should have children. That caused a great furore. But what happened at the polls? The Conservative vote slumped from 15,000 to 4,000. The Conservative candidate nearly lost his deposit. That is the political prospect for hon. Members opposite.

I believe that the Government have been punished at the polls. I do not know what the attitude of the Midlothian Education Committee will be, but the people there have a conscience, they have principles and they have integrity. We have heard a lot during the last two or three months about conscience, principle and integrity. I hope that the Government will respect those virtues in Midlothian.

According to the standing orders, a two-thirds' majority will be required at the council meeting. I do not know what the councillors will decide, but there is a proposition before the Government tonight. The Government should swallow their pride. They have been whacked by the electors at the by-election to which I have referred. They should cut the throat of this mean, stupid and callous proposal before the House.

There is a saying in Scotland which, translated into English, is that it is better to tangle with the devil than to injure some of our Scottish bairns. I wonder who the devils are in this proposition. I warn them that the Scottish people are not prepared to go back to seeing their children suffering from malnutrition and rickets. We shall demonstrate to the people of Scotland, England and Wales that we are not prepared to tolerate the despicable proposition put to the House this evening.

11.1 p.m.

Dr. Tom Stuttaford (Norwich, South)

There has been some doubt in my mind about the political wisdom of our school milk and meal measures, and my doubt has been reinforced over the last few months. It is not as a politician that I speak, but more as a doctor.

I think that if the political claptrap of the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) were taken out, one would detect good medical sense in what she said, and we must admit that.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

The hon. Gentleman ought to be ashamed of himself.

Dr. Stuttaford

The medical evidence is beginning to show that the influence of milk and food, particularly the high protein and mineral content of food supplied in school meals, is of lasting importance to school children in the primary school age. There can be no doubt that if a child gets a poor start in life he will never catch up. Children born on the borderline of poverty, the borderline of social deprivation, have a handicap. They have a handicap in their initial birth weight and therefore probably intellectually all their lives, due to the malnutrition with which they are born, and it seems absurd to do anything to accentuate that malnutrition as they grow older.

Does the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. O. Davies) agree with me now?

Mr. S. O. Davies


Dr. Stuttaford

I am so glad.

It is as if one were to take the best horse in the race and put on it the lightest weight, and take the worst runner and put on it the heaviest weight. That is what we are doing when children are born into poverty, are born with disadvantages, and then we feed them badly, because at this level of society of socioeconomic groups, 3, 4 and 5, there is still poverty, however hard we try to remove it. There is poverty because there is poor management. Poor management can occur in any social group. It occurs more often in this group, and we have a duty to protect these children.

It is no argument to say that a mother is responsible for her own child, that it is up to the mother to see that the child is fed, because we cannot penalise the mother by surrounding her with physically dwarfed and intellectually stunted children, as may happen if children are not fed properly when they are young.

The amount of evidence that we can collect to prove this is limited, but if we look to the mammalian kingdom, we realise that if the young are starved, however well they are fed later in life, they never catch up. It is not only physically that they do not catch up. They do not catch up intellectually either. I would point out to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil, who does not care for my accent, that, when my parents were kind enough to spend large sums of money educating me at various educational institutions, they only put a veneer on a cast. What counts is not the accent but the fact that one has been born in better surroundings, has been fed in better surroundings when one was younger, and has been intellectually stimulated when one was younger.

If we are to have a competitive society we must see that everyone starts equal in the competition. It is these measures which are depriving people of the benefit of starting equal in the competition of life.

Mr. Lewes Carter-Jones (Eccles)

I have had a reply from the Minister which says that the adverse effects will be detected and can be reversed. I understand the hon. Gentleman now to be saying that the effect of being deprived of milk is irreversible. Will he please repeat that?

Dr. Stuttaford

I said that the effect of being under-nourished in childhood was irreversible, if we behaved in the same way as the animal kingdom. There is every likelihood that we do, but a controlled experiment is impossible, because no one will volunteer to have his children starved to see how they behave in later life. But if we behave like other mammals, this is so.

We must also reflect the idea of seeing how the children will do after six months, or after a year or two. This, too, is nonsense. We shall not know how the children are doing for 10, 12 or 20 years. There is one medical theory that the ill-effects of milk or mineral deficiency in early childhood will not be seen until the children grow up and even reach old age, when they might be prone to a group of diseases which they might otherwise have avoided. It is no answer to say that we shall keep an eye on it. There is no time: we cannot predict what will happen in 15 or 20 years.

Finally, if we must save money on the education bill, we are saving it at the wrong end. We are probably wasting money by keeping the non-academic at school for an extra year. We should allow them to leave if they are totally non-academic, because that last year will do them nothing but damage. Let us spend that money on giving these children an equal chance of competing in the educational world. If we must save money at all, it should be at the older age groups. At the younger end, we should not save one penny, whether on food or on education or whatever it will take to make those children into reasonable citizens in future, thereby eventually saving money.

11.8 p.m.

Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)

The resistance to this Bill began in this House when I set down an Early Day Motion condemning the Government's action in very strong terms, outlining some of the policies of the Merthyr Tydvil education department and calling on all local authorities in the country to support it.

It is a matter for derision to us on this side that the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Education and Science saw fit, during Report stage of the Bill, to sit there and leave it to the Under-Secretary to make all the argument and answer all the questions. It is still more derisory for her to walk in now, at the tail end of this debate, to hear the winding-up.

If the right hon. Lady can give £2 million to direct-grant schools to reduce fees, and then claim that she will save £9 million on milk for children between seven and 11—on Report we proved to the satisfaction of most people that it would not be £9 million but a much smaller sum—the whole process is exposed. As was pointed out in last Saturday's New Statesman, the right hon. Lady can go to Bloxham, which was struck off the Headmasters' Conference list because of inadequate academic standards and is now to be restored. That is the reactionary place she chooses to visit.

I want to outline what will happen. There are those who adopt a code of morality about the deprivation of children. It is true that many of us disagreed with the withdrawal of milk from secondary school children, but we know that we were facing an economic crisis and that—wrongly in my opinion and that of many others—the decision was made that sacrifices should be made across the board. But here is a party which has inherited the biggest balance of payments surplus this century. In spite of that, it cannot retreat from the dogmatic attitude that in order to feed money into the already wealthy sector of our economy, even younger children must be made to give up milk.

There are people who take up a moral attitude to this. It was always the hope and intention that these facilities should be restored when the economy improved, and if the Labour Party had been returned to power the balance of payments would have been spent to improve benefits for the unemployed, already too large in number in the opinion of many of us, under our Government.

This kind of action has convinced many people in our country that we are at least seeing a return to the classic Toryism of the 'twenties and 'thirties and the disappearance of the slightly more liberal attitude of the 'fifties and early 'sixties.

The moral attitude is so strong in my country of Wales because this Government saw fit to call the councillors of Merthyr Tydvil in front of them and do a finger wagging exercise, saying, "If you do not abandon this, you will be liable to surcharge for the cost of milk, out of your own pockets, and you run the risk of being disqualified from eligibility to stand for local government for five years. If you do not pay the surcharge, you are in danger of going to prison".

I have been on the telephone tonight and learned that tonight the Merthyr Tydvil Trades and Labour Council has met and said, "We commend our council and councillors for their resistance to this reactionary approach" and have condemned the pressures which the hirelings of the Secretary of State for Wales has seen fit to put on them. They have also said that we should adhere to our tradition, set in 1932, when school fees were introduced into grammar schools and we said that we would not do that in Merthyr Tydvil—and won. This is not the local council, but the Trades and Labour Council, which represents the overwhelming majority of the population in Merthyr. Its members have passed a vote of commendation for the local council.

There was an attempt to introduce a negative resolution by one or two to say that they should obey the Secretary of State and charge for supplies of school milk—

Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North)

Is the hon. Member seriously suggesting that it is the Trades and Labour Council in Merthyr which represents the people of Merthyr and not the Merthyr Council?

Mr. Evans

I think I know Merthyr rather better than does the hon. Gentleman, and my hon. Friend who represents Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) is in his place. A negative resolution to obey the mandate of the Secretary of State was defeated by four-and-a-half to one, which means that the signal is plain.

I take it that the members of the Government are men and women of wisdom. If so, they should be aware from what they saw last Wednesday of the mood they are inducing in the British people. The ordinary people, who ask only to live decent lives in dignity, are suffering a savage onslaught on their standard of living. It is clear that they will resist with increasing strength, especially when they see their children being attacked in this way. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are making it all the more certain that judgement will fall on them, and when it falls they should beware lest their efforts result in it being a very condign judgment indeed.

11.16 p.m.

Mr. Richard Hornby (Tonbridge)

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford) said he was speaking as a doctor rather than as a politician. There is nothing in these regulations that should worry him as a doctor. [Interruption.] The milk is there for children under seven, and if he and his colleagues in the medical profession are prepared to make the necessary provision, the meals are there, too.

It is natural for each profession to pipe its own corner when a matter of Government policy affecting it arises. Many corners are bound to be piped as policies are produced, and it is up to the Government of the day to decide which final steps to take. It is perfectly in order to say that milk and hot meals are good for children, but both are available under these provisions—[Interruption.]—both in England and Wales, so that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) need not get too emotional about it.

These instruments merely say that within the total context of the education budget, we must make a number of choices, and that within those choices in an expanding budget, which is what we are getting on all these services, it is sensible to say that these regulations are necessary to enable us to make added contributions to the primary school building programme, the expansion of further education and so on. It would be wise for us to concentrate on that aspect and to recognise that my right hon. Friend is looking at the true priorities. Opportunities to help children lie within these provisions. I urge hon. Gentlemen opposite not to try to make too much political capital out of this wholly sensible Measure.

11.18 p.m.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

With friends like hon. Gentlemen opposite, does the Secretary of State need enemies? It is clear, for example, that the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. Hornby) understands neither the argument nor the facts. For his benefit, and for that of hon. Gentlemen opposite generally, I will spell them out. There is no hardship exemption in this milk Measure. There is no free milk on the basis of poverty. This Government have been more reactionary than most past Tory Governments.

The hon. Member for Tonbridge must not fall into the trap—which even the Secretary of State has avoided—of saying that this is all being done to increase the primary school building programme. We keep hearing that argument from this Government. One would imagine that one saving on one item can finance the whole of the Western world. Even the Secretary of State has not used that argument on this occasion.

Let us be clear on another point. We are not talking about the nutritional value of milk. That is accepted. Nor about whether it should be available in the schools. That is accepted. The right hon. Lady continues with the argument about how it should be paid for.

This paltry saving of £9 million was in order to give tax cuts to the rich. It cannot even be on the principle of saving public expenditure. I agree that it was introduced in the first flush of euphoria about saving public expenditure, but the shadows have caught up with hon. Gentlemen opposite since then. Last week we saw a scrambling to spend more money as a factor of dealing with unemployment. We had two big deputations last week, and we got an extra £180 million of public expenditure as a result. Even that point has gone. The Government are left with nothing but their shame. This saving was in order to give tax cuts to the rich, and hon. Gentlemen opposite need not take that only from me; they can take it from the people who know. On 18th June an article in the Teacher said: Mrs. Thatcher herself gave the lie to her own argument when she explained why she was not prepared to allow some local authorities to continue to supply free milk and pay for it out of the rates. She said that rates and taxes were equally public money and that one of the aims of the Bill was to reduce public expenditure. This is as clear an indication as could be wished that the decision to stop the milk had nothing to do with the desire to improve primary school buildings. Because of course the £9 million saved is exactly half of the amount that was given to the wealthy by the measure of disaggregation of the children's and the parents' incomes in order to go directly to pay for school fees.

Twice the amount of £9 million for the milk was given to pay for school fees for the wealthy. That happened in the same set of measures. It is a most shameful day for right hon. and hon. Members opposite. It is made even more shameful when Members from Wales and Scotland, areas hit by the Government's policies, have to come here to defend their local councils against the Government's meanness and vindictiveness.

Taking another comparison, of total school meals and milk together, the saving is £38 million. That figure is very significant. It is almost exactly the same as was given away to those with higher earned incomes of over £4,000 per year—handed over to the wealthy in that form.

Mr. Rost

Rubbish. What about school building?

Mr. Buchan

That is what has been saved on school meals and milk. Those are the priorities of hon. Gentlemen opposite, including the hon. Member who has interrupted from a sedentary position. We have dealt with school building. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know that argument is nonsense.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Buchan

If I give way now, I shall not give way to the Front Bench.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Is not the hon. Gentleman insulting every parent in the land if he suggests that they would prefer a few pennyworth of school milk free every week rather than have the outmoded primary schools rebuilt?

Mr. Buchan

That has already been dealt with by the right hon. Lady.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

The hon. Gentleman did not deal with it.

Mr. Buchan

That has nothing to do with it. In any case what the right hon. Lady said about this theory of hypothecation, that one saves specifically in one form and raises taxes to go towards primary school building, was that this was an argument that one runs when one has nothing else to say. That is what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has supported because that is what his right hon. Friend has said.

I look at some of the practical effects of this matter. We have been told that this is an element of generosity—I wish that I had realised that the right hon. Lady was present, because I might then have used more adjectives—because there is an extension of free meals. I am glad to have it recognised for the first time by the hon. Gentleman that what we have been hearing that the family income scale was allowing more children to receive free dinners—is not true, and that most children receiving free dinners under the F.I.S. were already receiving them for reasons of poverty. So there is no increase there. Therefore, when there has been a change upwards in the income, perhaps catching up with the inflationary policies of hon. Gentlemen opposite, it comes nowhere near dealing with the figures we have.

We find that the proportion of meals that were given free in Scotland in 1970 was 25 per cent. The proportion given free in Scotland in 1971 was 37 per cent. In other words there has been a 50 per cent. increase in the proportion of free meals in Scotland. That is an indictment of the Government's policy. It is a factor of poverty and nothing else.

I would have left the Under-Secretary of State a moment to reply had not two hon. Gentlemen opposite taken up the time we had hoped to divide between us. I gave the hon. and nautical Gentleman the Member for Winchester (Rear Admiral Morgan-Giles) the opportunity of giving either his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State or himself the chance to speak. I will leave a minute for the answer.

The Secretary of State for Scotland told us on 18th November: Milk can be provided on preventive grounds on a medical decision. It is not necessary for all children over seven to be inspected."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1971; Vol. 826, c. 766.] Along with that statement, I received a letter from the right hon. Lady and I now want to put a simple and specific point. Is it not now the position that any medical officer of health who believes, like the 100 general practitioners of Westminster, that milk has dietary value from the preventative point of view can give a certificate for free milk on preventive grounds? Could not every single child in Scotland, England and Wales be given such a certificate on these grounds?

The Government say that they refused to give guidance to medical officers of health, but that is not true. In their circulars they set out certain elements

of guidance, and they have now given me the further guidance that preventive grounds are permissible. Is it not therefore the case that every single medical officer of health could, if he wished, without challenge from the Government, prescribe free milk for every single child? I want an answer tonight.

The disgraceful behaviour of the Government in surcharging those local authorities trying to do no more than exercise the freedom which the Conservative Party election manifesto promised to give, is being rejected by the people not only in Wales but in Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland is becoming known north of the Border as "Thatcher's poodle".

11.28 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office (Mr. Hector Monro)

The time left to answer this debate is quite ridiculous in relation to the importance of the subject. The Opposition tabled a Prayer on a subject which is important to the Government and to themselves but they have left no time for a reply. But the condensation—

Mr. Walter Harrison (Wakefield)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes, 254, Noes, 265.

Division No. 21.] AYES [11.30 p.m.
Abse, Leo Cant, R. B. de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey
Albu, Austen Carmichael, Neil Delargy, H. J.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Dempsey, James
Armstrong, Ernest Clark, David (Colne Valley) Devlin, Miss Bernadette
Ashton, Joe Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Doig, Peter
Atkinson, Norman Cohen, Stanley Dormand, J. D.
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Concannon, J. D. Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)
Barnes, Michael Conlan, Bernard Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Barrett, Guy (Greenwich) Corbet, Mrs. Freda Driberg, Tom
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton) Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Duffy, A. E. P.
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Crawshaw, Richard Dunn, James A.
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Cronin, John Dunnett, Jack
Bidwell, Sydney Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Eadie, Alex
Bishop, E. S. Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Edelman, Maurice
Blenkinsop, Arthur Cunningham, G. (Islington, S. W.) Edwards, Robert (Bilston)
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven) Edwards, William (Merioneth)
Booth, Albert Dalyell, Tam Ellis, Tom
Bradley, Tom Davidson, Arthur English, Michael
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Evans, Fred
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Ewing, Harry
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Davies, Ifor (Gower) Faulds, Andrew
Buchan, Norman Davies, S. O. (Merthyr Tydvil) Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Fitch, Alan (Wigan)
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.)
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Deakins, Eric Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Lipton, Marcus Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Foley, Maurice Lomas, Kenneth Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Foot, Michael Loughlin, Charles Robertson, John (Paisley)
Ford, Ben Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Forrester, John McBride, Neil Roper, John
Fraser, John (Norwood) McCann, John Rose, Paul B.
Freeson, Reginald McCartney, Hugh Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Galpern, Sir Myer McElhone, Frank Sandelson, Neville
Garrett, W. E. McGuire, Michael Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury) Mackenzie, Gregor Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Golding, John Mackie, John Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Gourlay, Harry Mackintosh, John P. Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton. N. E.)
Grant, George (Morpeth) McManus, Frank Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) McNamara, J. Kevin Sillars, James
Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Silverman, Julius
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Skinner, Dennis
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Marks, Kenneth Small, William
Hamling, William Marsden, F. Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Marshall, Dr. Edmund Spearing, Nigel
Hardy, Peter Mayhew, Christopher Spriggs, Leslie
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Meacher, Michael Stallard, A. W.
Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Steel, David
Hattersley, Roy Mendelson, John Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Mikardo, Ian Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Heffer, Eric S. Miller, Dr. M. S. Strang, Gavin
Hooson, Emlyn Milne, Edward Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Horam, John Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen) Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Swain, Thomas
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon) Taverne, Dick
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Moyle, Roland Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)
Hunter, Adam Murray, Ronald King Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Oakes, Gordon Tinn, James
Janner, Greville Ogden, Eric Torney, Tom
Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas O'Halloran, Michael Tuck, Raphael
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) O'Malley, Brian Urwin, T. W.
John, Brynmor Orme, Stanley Varley, Eric G.
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Oswald, Thomas Wainwright, Edwin
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Paget, R. T. Wallace, George
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Palmer, Arthur Watkins, David
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Weitzman, David
Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Pardoe, John Wellbeloved, James
Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Parker, John (Dagenham) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda. W.) Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange) White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Kaufman, Gerald Pavitt, Laurie Whitehead, Phillip
Kelley, Richard Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Kerr, Russell Pentland, Norman Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Lambie, David Perry, Ernest G. Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Lamond, James Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Latham, Arthur Prescott, John Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Lawson, George Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Woof, Robert
Leadbitter, Ted Price, William (Rugby)
Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Probert, Arthur TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Leonard, Dick Reed, D. (Sedgefield) Mr. Joseph Harper and
Lestor, Miss Joan Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.) Mr. Tom Pendry.
Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold Rhodes, Geoffrey
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Richard, Ivor
Adley, Robert Body, Richard Clark, William (Surrey, E.)
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Boscawen, Robert Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Bossom, Sir Clive Clegg, Walter
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Bowden, Andrew Cockeram, Eric
Astor, John Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Cooke, Robert
Atkins, Humphrey Braine, Bernard Coombs, Derek
Awdry, Daniel Brewis, John Cooper, A. E.
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Brinton, Sir Tatton Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Cormack, Patrick
Balniel, Lord Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Costain, A. P.
Batsford, Brian Bruce-Gardyne, J. Crouch, David
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Bryan, Paul Crowder, F. P.
Bell, Ronald Buck, Antony Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Burden, F. A. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Butler, Adam (Bosworth) d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. James
Benyon, W. Carlisle, Mark Dean, Paul
Berry, Hn. Anthony Channon, Paul Dixon, Piers
Biffen, John Chapman, Sydney Drayson, G. B.
Biggs-Davison, John Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward
Blaker, Peter Chichester-Clark, R. Dykes, Hugh
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Churchill, W. S. Eden, Sir John
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Kinsey, J. R. Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Kirk, Peter Rees, Peter (Dover)
Elliot, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Kitson, Timothy Rees-Davies, W. R.
Eyre, Reginald Knight, Mrs. Jill Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Farr, John Knox, David Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Fell, Anthony Lambton, Antony Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Lane, David Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Fidler, Michael Langford-Holt, Sir John Rost, Peter
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Russell, Sir Ronald
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Le Marchant, Spencer Scott, Nicholas
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Sharples, Richard
Fookes, Miss Janet Longden, Gilbert Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Foster, Sir John Loveridge, John Shelton, William (Clapham)
Fowler, Norman Luce, R. N. Simeons, Charles
Fox, Marcus McAdden, Sir Stephen Sinclair, Sir George
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) McArthur, Ian Skeet, T. H. H.
Fry, Peter McCrindle, R. A. Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. McLaren, Martin Soref, Harold
Gardner, Edward McMaster, Stanley Speed, Keith
Gibson-Watt, David Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Spence, John
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) McNair-Wilson, Michael Sproat, Iain
Goodhart, Philip McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Stainton, Keith
Goodhew, Victor Madden, Martin Stanbrook, Ivor
Gower, Raymond Madel, David Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Marten, Neil
Gray, Hamish Mather, Carol Stokes, John
Green, Alan Maude, Angus Sutcliffe, John
Grylls, Michael Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald Tapsell, Peter
Gummer, Selwyn Mawby, Ray Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Gurden, Harold Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Meyer, Sir Anthony Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N. W.)
Hall, John (Wycombe) Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Tebbit, Norman
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W) Temple, John M.
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
Hannan, John (Exeter) Moate, Roger Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Molyneaux, James Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
Haselhurst, Alan Money, Ernie Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Hastings, Stephen Monks, Mrs. Connie Tilney, John
Havers, Michael Monro, Hector Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Hawkins, Paul Montgomery, Fergus Trew, Peter
Hayhoe, Barney More, Jasper Tugendhal, Christopher
Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Heseltine, Michael Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. van Straubenzee, W. R.
Hicks, Robert Morrison, Charles Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Hiley, Joseph Mudd, David Waddington, David
Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Nabarro, Sir Gerald Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Holland, Philip Nicholls, Sir Harmar Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Holt, Miss Mary Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Hordern, Peter Normanton, Tom
Hornby, Richard Nott, John Wall, Patrick
Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate) Onslow, Cranley Ward, Dame Irene
Howell, David (Guildford) Oppenhelm, Mrs. Sally Warren, Kenneth
Hunt, John Osborn, John Weatherill, Bernard
Hutchison, Michael Clark Page, Graham (Crosby) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Page, John (Harrow, W.) White, Roger (Gravesend)
James, David Parkinson, Cecil Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Percival, Ian Wiggin, Jerry
Jessel, Toby Peyton, Rt. Hn. John Wilkinson, John
Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Pink, R. Bonner Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Pounder, Rafton Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Jopling, Michael Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Woodnutt, Mark
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Price, David (Eastleigh) Worsley, Marcus
Kaberry, Sir Donald Proudfoot, Wilfred Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Younger, Hn. George
Kershaw, Anthony Quennell, Miss J. M.
Kilfedder, James Raison, Timothy TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Kimball, Marcus Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Mr. Tim Fortescue and
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter Mr. Oscar Murton.
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Redmond, Robert
It being after half-past Eleven o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.