HL Deb 07 February 1967 vol 279 cc1239-40

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether any symptoms of chronic malnutrition are being observed among children in primary schools in this country; and, if so, whether such children are in fact hearty consumers of school dinners.]


My Lords, in 1965 less than 0.38 per cent. of all school children were considered to be of unsatisfactory physical condition from all causes. Separate information on symptoms of chronic malnutrition or on the eating habits of such children is not available.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lady for that reply. May I express the hope that the matter will be kept under review and that should there be any deterioration in the position she will inform the House?


My Lords, I can safely assure the noble Earl that watch is being kept. He might be interested in this comment from the Report of the Chief Medical Officer, The Health of the School Child: It is still essential for a close watch to be kept on the physical condition of school children from large families and from those in modest economic circumstances. I know there are private trusts which also are looking into this question. I shall be happy to let the noble Lord have details of the results.


My Lords, will my noble friend impress upon the Government that we should not increase the price of school meals, as mentioned in Press reports, or else malnutrition will be higher than the figure she quoted?


My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend, having been a Member of another place, will appreciate that I cannot reply to that question. He must put down a separate Question.


My Lords, would the Government not agree that we have a wonderful lot of Billy Bunters and Wilhelmina Bunters about?


My Lords, I think that that is so. There are an extraordinarily large number of plump children, which, of course, may be occasioned by their having had plump parents.


My Lords, may I ask whether the proportion of school meals in the Inner London Education Authority area is going up or down—because that is the area referred to by the reports in the Press about the malnutrition of school children.


My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord a breakdown of the figure I gave, which was for the United Kingdom, but I will see that he receives this in writing.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many nutritionists believe that the only way to diagnose malnutrition is to examine the family income? Therefore, would she not agree with the Answer given by the Minister for Social Security in another place yesterday to a Question similar to this one, that there are half-a million children whose families are living on a lower income and supplementary benefits income, is an adequate answer to the question my noble friend was asked?


My Lords, while to a certain extent I would agree with the reply of my right honourable friend and the comment of my noble friend Lady Summerskill, we must remember that children of the lower income group do receive school meals, so that there is some measure of assistance there to this type of child.