HC Deb 18 July 1978 vol 954 cc239-41
1. Mr. Grocott

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations she has received from Staffordshire county council on the question of the supply of milk to the 7 to 11-yearolds.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Margaret Jackson)

None, Sir.

Mr. Grocott

Is my hon. Friend aware that I am not surprised by the answer to my Question? Is she further aware that for reasons of pure political spite the Tory-controlled Staffordshire county council, against the wishes of parents and against the health interests of children, is refusing to supply school milk? Does she agree that the education of Staffordshire children is far too important to be left to the Neanderthals of the Staffordshire county education committee? What powers will she take to enable us to provide children with milk?

Miss Jackson

To take powers to enable us to provide milk would require legislation, for which there seems to be little time left in this Session. I agree that it is most undesirable that many counties have reacted as Staffordshire has reacted. It makes one wonder whether they fear the advent of a Tory Government dedicated to cutting public expenditure.

Mr. Lawrence

Is the Minister aware that any child between the ages of 7 and 11 who is in need in Staffordshire now receives free school milk? Is she also aware that the cost to the ratepayer of providing free school milk to schoolchildren between the ages of 7 and 11 regardless of need would be £450,000? Is she aware that that was not even done by the Labour-controlled Staffordshire county council?

Is the hon. Lady aware that if her Government gave the rate support grant that was fair to Staffordshire, the county council would be able to spend more money on urgent priorities, such as putting schoolteachers back in jobs and reconstructing some of the dangerous, old primary schools?

Miss Jackson

It is a pity that Staffordshire has not acquainted the hon. Member with the facts. It will not cost Staffordshire one penny this year to give free milk to all 7 to 11-year-olds in the county. That is because the Government and the EEC are prepared jointly to subsidise this.

Other counties have chosen to give the milk for this year and have put in abeyance their decisions for next year. Most of the counties that have taken the decision that Staffordshire has taken are nevertheless considering wasting money on such things as fee paying at independent schools and voucher schemes.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

How many children in Staffordshire have been deprived of school milk because of the decision by the Staffordshire county council? How many more children are being deprived of milk because of the bandwagon effect of this decision throughout the rest of the country? Will my hon. Friend consider giving additional powers to Labour-controlled district councils which wish to provide milk and which have done so in the past?

Miss Jackson

Any changes in the proposals require legislation. I cannot tell my hon. Friend offhand how many children are affected, but every child between the age of 7 and 11 in Staffordshire will be deprived of milk because of the decision. Every child living in an area controlled by a Conservative county council which has made a similar decision will also be deprived.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State does not wish to mislead the House. She must be aware that, although the milk will be free for two terms, after that the cost to the local authority will be about 3p per pint. Will she consider sending some constructive advice to local education authorities about how they can use this subsidy to improve the nutritional content of school meals?

Miss Jackson

We have already done what the hon. Member asked for in the last part of his supplementary question. I said specifically that the milk was free for two terms and that after that there will be the question of the rate support grant. The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) cannot have been listening, because that is exactly what I said. The cost is likely to be about 1p per day per child.