HC Deb 14 October 1975 vol 897 cc1109-10
2. Mr. van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has yet decided what he will do to restore free school milk for children from 8 to 11 years old.

15. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if it is now the Government's intention to reintroduce free school milk for children aged 7 to 11 years.

30. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to be able to announce the reintroduction of free school milk for 8–11-year-olds.

Mr. Mulley

In the present economic situation it is not possible to reimpose the obligation to supply free school milk to all children of junior school age. Subject to this, I am consulting the local authority associations about the possibility of modifying the existing arrangements.

Mr. van Straubenzee

What, exactly, does that answer mean? The Secretary of State for the Environment has been advising local authorities on ways in which they can sharply reduce their expenditures. Is not the inference of the Minister's answer that he is considering increased expenditure by local authorities? Is there not an incipient conflict here?

Mr. Mulley

There is no incipient conflict. I am concerned to take from the statute book the proposition of 1971 that, in the context of school food, milk should be treated differently from every other kind of beverage and food, and cannot be supplied by local education authorities below not merely the cost but the cost plus the overheads. That proposition cannot be allowed to rest on the statute book. The consultations that I have mentioned have arisen on the question of the amount of additional funds that could be employed for the supply of school milk.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his answer will cause a great deal of disappointment to many hon. Members, the more so as the Government have found themselves unable to reverse one of the nastiest and most despicable acts of the Leader of the Opposition? We appreciate the difficult economic circumstances, but there is nevertheless a strong feeling that the Government ought to reintroduce free school milk, particularly at a time of a high level of unemployment and when school meals are being drastically reduced in value content. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the position sympathetically?

Mr. Mulley

I met my hon. Friend's first point by saying that we needed to change the 1971 Act, to which he understandably takes great objection. I do not think that in the present situation it is possible to have a general reimposition of free school milk, but because I am anxious to improve the present situation I am having discussions with the local authorities, which will in part have to finance such an extension. That is the only reason for these discussions, and I hope that we can work out something which will improve the present position and make it possible, in the longer term, to return to the pre-1971 situation.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to ensure that some milk is available this winter to distribute?

Mr. Mulley

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will pay to that observation the great attention he usually pays to what the hon. and learned Gentleman says.