HC Deb 17 June 1975 vol 893 cc1167-8
1. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will now consider the reintroduction of free school milk for children from 8 to 11 years of age; and if he will make a statement.

17. Mr. van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will now introduce legislation to restore free school milk for children from 8 to 11 years of age.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Joan Lestor)

Future policy on school milk is still under consideration.

Mr. McCrindle

Recalling the opposition of the Labour Party, and particularly that of the Under-Secretary, to the Education (Milk) Act 1971, remembering that the Government's reasons for not revoking that Act are financial ones, and recalling equally that the reason for introducing the Act in the first place was to save Government finance——

Mr. Speaker

May we have a little less recalling and rather more questioning?

Mr. McCrindle

Will the Under-Secretary tell us what has happened between 1971 and now to change what we were then told was a matter of principle for Labour Members into a matter of policy?

Miss Lestor

I well recall my words when the Conservatives withdrew free school milk. I in no way retract anything I said about that decision. I am not in a position to make an announcement at present, because the matter is still under consideration. For the hon. Gentleman's information, it would cost approximately £8 million a year to restore the free milk to those from whom it was withdrawn at the time the Conservatives were in office.

Mr. Newens

Does my hon. Friend not agree that it would be desirable to restore free school milk? Will she take this opportunity to repudiate any suggestion that the Government may seek to end the powers whereby some local authorities have been able to get round the policy of the previous Government and supply free milk?

Miss Lestor

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is desirable that free milk should be made available to children, as it was in the past. As the matter is still under consideration I shall bear in mind the point he has raised when we examine the whole question of school milk.

Mr. van Straubenzee

May I be the first male Member to welcome the hon. Lady to her present position? Even in these days when women are equal a little courtesy is agreeable. Does the hon. Lady recall that when the Education (Milk) Bill was going through the House—I speak as the junior Minister who took the Bill through—she was deeply engaged in the question of school milk? May I, therefore, assume that her answer means that if the Government decide that free milk should not be reintroduced, she would clearly not feel it possible to remain in her present post?

Miss Lestor

Considering the courtesy with which the hon. Gentleman welcomed me back, and as I believe in equality, I thank him and wish to be courteous in return—but I think he wants me out of my job a little early. I remember clearly what I said, and I in no way retract it. We are in financial difficulties. The whole matter is under review and I cannot this afternoon make any commitment about my future or the future of school milk.