HL Deb 23 July 1971 vol 322 cc1327-72

1.12 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill is introduced into your Lordships' House at a time when the ability of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take the measures which were announced last Monday to stimulate the economy has been made possible by the major changes in public expenditure which were announced last October.

it was part of the White Paper New Policies for Public Spending published nine months ago that the Government announced a saving of £9 million in a full year by the provisions of the Bill before the House to-day. That is a significant sum, but what is of far greater importance is that this saving forms part of an overall design to discontinue, or reduce, public expenditure which benefits many people who may not need the subsidy that it contains and to concentrate Government help where it is most needed, and to reallocate the savings in scarce public resources to priorities which are crying out for attention. As part of this overall policy my right honourable friend has particularly announced record allocations to replace or improve old primary schools, while at the same time, as I hope to show the House, measures have been taken to protect those who might suffer from reallocation of resources.

The present situation for the supply of milk to schools is that local education authorities have a duty to provide milk to pupils in nursery and primary schools, to junior pupils—that is, those up to the age of 12—in middle schools, and to all pupils at special schools. Under this Bill the duty towards special schools remains quite unchanged; and pupils elsewhere will receive milk free up to the end of the summer term after their seventh birthday; that will mean up to an average age of seven years, six months; this is a lowering of the age for milk as of right, but the Bill expressly requires the supply to continue as before if the school medical officer recommends this. I have said"as before ", for essentially the same age groups of pupils will continue to have free entitlement on medical recommendation as were entitled when, in 1968, the previous Government restricted free milk to primary schools. Thus primary pupils will continue to be covered on medical recommendation, and so will those at middle schools up to their 12th birthday. In other words, the Bill follows the principle that those sectors of the school population now receiving free milk should, where their entitlement does not continue automatically, be eligible to receive it free if their health requires it.

While arrangements obviously differ from area to area, children are medically examined on their entry to school, or soon after, and this will provide the first check on a child's needs which can be re-examined at later stages; in this process all those who normally come into contact with pupils—that is to say, teachers, educational and other welfare officers, family doctors, school nurses—will be able to make representations to school medical officers about particular pupils who might be at risk. I do not want to minimise any of the devoted work which is done by the school medical service, nor do I want to minimise the initial work in this particular field; but I suggest that pupils are under pretty constant surveillance, for the reasons that I have just referred to, while they are at school. We on this side of the House do not see that this process under the Bill should become anything other than a normal part of the processes by which school medical officers identify children for special treatment for literally any one of a number of reasons.

Because the Bill makes provision for milk on health grounds, and thereby safeguards children who might be at risk if free milk were withdrawn, my right honourable friend did not engage in formal prior consultations, but the Chief Medical Officer was consulted informally and subsequently his Committee, the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (known as COMA), endorsed his advice that it was not possible to predict whether or not the withdrawal of free milk from older primary school children would have any adverse effect on their health.

Three years ago, when the previous Government withdrew free milk from secondary schools, COMA had also been asked for its advice, and the Secretary of State at that time made it clear in the other place that evidence did not allow COMA to say whether the abolition of free school milk would affect health, and that that advice referred to all schools. However it is obviously vital that future standards of nutrition should be monitored; to effect this, COMA'S subcommittee on nutritional surveillance has suggested steps to be taken to check nutritional standards in widespread areas of the country. This is in addition to surveys already being undertaken in Kent, Newcastle and Birmingham. The Department of Health and Social Security, with the approval of COMA, is initiating dietary surveys of school children in a number of areas; and the data obtained from the National Food Survey will in future be analysed to find out how far milk no longer taken at school will be replaced by extra milk consumed at home, or in other ways.

In addition, we have the Chief Medical Officer's Annual Report on the State of the Public Health which reports on the general nutritional condition of schoolchildren, as well as other sectors of the population. This, together with the annual reports of local authorities' principal medical officers (which were referred to both in Committee and on Report in another place), shows that, generally speaking, the health of our children is of a high order, and lends weight to the view that our national worries on malnutrition are, mercifully, a declining factor.

Clause 1 of the Bill therefore restricts free milk but continues to safeguard children with a medical requirement. But this clause also gives local authorities a new power to sell milk in all their schools, secondary as well as primary. At present local education authorities have no such power, although they can sell other drinks. This anomaly stems from the 1968 Act which abolished the provision of milk in secondary schools. I think it is absurd that milk may not be sold at schools, although the range of suitable other drink and food can, legally, be obtained in this way. Therefore a power to sell milk is being given to the local authorities in this Bill; exactly how they use it will be for their discretion, but certainly neither this Bill nor the regulations to be made under it will place any new duties or responsibilities on teachers.

My Lords, I have described the content of Clause 1(1) and (2) of the Bill. Subsection (3) continues the power of L.E.A.'s to provide milk in the new age range in non-maintained schools; subsection (4) repeals Section 3 of the Public Expenditure and Receipts Act, which governs the present arrangements for milk in schools, and the 1970 Act, which removed the anomaly in the 1968 Act which excluded junior pupils in certain middle schools. This point is taken care of in Clause 1 of the Bill.

Clause 2 imposes similar restrictions, and provides similar powers for Scotland. If your Lordships have questions on this clause I will endeavour to reply to them at this stage, and, if your Lordships agree to the Motion for Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton will undertake this clause in Committee. Perhaps I may now clarify two points which affect the drafting of the clause. First, the Scottish Education Acts lay powers and duties in regard to the provision of milk and meals directly on education authorities, not requiring, as the English Acts do, those powers and duties to be imposed by the Secretary of State by regulation. Second, it happens that the Scottish Education Acts do not use the expression"school term ". It was therefore necessary to use a fixed date for the start of the new milk arrangements in Scotland.

Since the pattern of school holidays is rather more constant in Scotland than in England and Wales, it was thought possible to settle on August 1, which I am advised will fall within the summer holidays of all Scottish schools. I might add that since most English and Welsh schools break up for the summer holidays towards the end of July, the practical effect of the two clauses will be virtually the same in the respective countries. Clause 3 is in common form and enables the Secretary of State to make the necessary adjustments to rate support grant which will be necessitated by savings from the Bill.

I know that the House will wish to study carefully the effect of the Bill on those with different incomes. For several years now there has been a recognition—I think on both sides in politics—that some benefits have gone to people who do not need them, and that this process has deprived education of opportunities to tackle urgent priorities. We believe that the right way to tackle nutritional and health needs for individual primary pupils over seven is through the medical provision in the Bill. For other children, local education authorities will be able to provide daily milk on payment of about 10p per week. In this connection, it will be recalled that for parents who are taxpayers the new increased child tax allowances, worth about £15 in cash per year for each child, announced in the Budget, came into effect this month. For those families on low incomes, the family income supplement of £4 per week starts operating next month. At about the time that the new milk arrangements start to have effect in September, further increases in social security will take effect, not only for married couples on social security but for unemployment, for sickness and for widows' benefit. These increases, together with the family income supplement, will automatically bring more children into entitlement for free school meals. All these measures, the Government are convinced, will make it possible for families to buy milk without hardship for their children, who no longer get it free, that is to say for children who will not get it anyway on a medical recommendation.

This Bill will continue to make milk available free to the very young, to those who need it for health reasons, and, on payment, not only to primary pupils but also to the secondary schools who have been deprived of their supplies since 1968. The Bill implements the relevant part of the Government's White Paper New Policies for Public Spending. The savings arising from it will be £5.9 million this year and £9 million in a full year. These sums, however small some may think them, play their part in the general reappraisal of public spending with which the White Paper was concerned. They are part of the Government's plans for ensuring that users of social services who can afford to contribute rather more towards their cost should, in the public interest, do so, while those who need more help should be given it as of right. I would ask your Lordships to see this Bill against the background of the many substantial improvements announced by the Government in all forms of social benefit, some of which I have referred to in this speech, and in the context of my right honourable friend's priority for old schools, which is being so faithfully carried into effect. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Belstead.)

1.26 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for the exposition he has given of the contents of this Bill. Had the Government wanted to put a gloss on it they could not have chosen a better speaker. We respect him greatly for his unfailing courtesy and for the very great care he takes in presenting whatever case he is asked to take on behalf of his Department. But, my Lords, I say right away that, despite anything he has said, and despite the fact that this is only a small Bill, we regard it as a highly controversial Bill, a destructive Bill, unwanted and unloved. If he could have produced any evidence of support in the country for it, he would have done so; and he has not been able to do so. It is a Bill that is pretty universally condemned. In listening to the noble Lord I was confirmed in the view I have been forming since this Government have been in office that if they are determined to do one thing, almost more than anything else, it is to dismantle the Welfare State. This Bill is fitting into a pattern. At the end of the day, when it has been fully realised, we shall have a situation which will make a mockery of the splendid services that were built up in the years following the war. What this Bill does—and it ought to be called Education (No Milk) Bill—is to take milk from the mouths of the 7 to 11-year-olds. If one is to interpret the claims made by the noble Lord towards the end of his speech with regard to replacing old primary schools, it is taking milk from the mouths of the 7 to 11-year-olds to make bricks, and the Government will try to claim some credit for the building. I should have thought it was generally recognised that good health was almost a prerequisite for obtaining maximum educational advantage in young children. As one would expect, the food value of milk has been established and recognised for a very long time, covering calory intake, protein intake calcium, iron, Vitamin A, thiamine, niacine, riboflavin and Vitamin C. It is quite the best kind of food that can be supplied, particularly to younger children.

The noble Lord told us that £5.9 million would be saved this year and £9 million in a full year. It became quite clear during his early remarks, when he spoke about expenditure, that that saving was intended not to provide new buildings for old but to help pay for the tax relief to people with incomes in excess of £4,000 per year. If the Government save what they hope to save on the two items, reduction of milk and increase in the price of school meals, they calculate that they will save altogether £38 million; and they need exactly £38 million in order to give tax relief on these higher incomes. That is the price that is being paid by little children for the relief that people in excess of £4,000 a year will enjoy as a result of income tax reduction. They will lose their free daily milk, unless the school medical officer says they need it.

The noble Lord has said that there is here no financial means test. He may not have used those exact words, but that was the general implication of what he was saying. Let us face it, despite all he said, however poor the family, there will be no free milk for the 7 to 11-year olds unless the school medical officer certifies need. It matters not if the breadwinner of the family is unemployed; if the child is to have milk at school it will have not merely to pay 10p per week, but it will have to pay 10p per week on the very small income. If there are two children in the family, that means an addition of 20p—which perhaps does not sound as much as 4s. used to sound in the old currency. Four shillings a week is an awful lot of money for the wife of an unemployed worker to find. I really should not like to be defending this Bill.

My Lords, I appreciate, and I think that the House will appreciate, what the Minister said with regard to the introduction of monitoring with regard to the effects of these proposals. But if the Government were sure that there would be no ill-effects, there would be no monitoring. The very fact that they feel it necessary to have a monitoring service indicates beyond question that they are not so positive on the point as they would have us believe. I want to ask the Minister a question, and I should like him to reply to it. If the report which they receive as a result of the monitoring system is adverse, will they reintroduce free milk for the whole of the age group? It is important for us to know this.

Why do we have to take risks? Why do it at all? I want to refer to the inquiry by members of the Social Nutrition Unit at Queen Elizabeth College. London, by Dr. George Lynch and Dr. Sylvia de la Paz. They have thought it desirable recently to publish an article in the New Scientist; they issue relevant findings of the primary data of their survey in regard to the food patterns of 4,382 schoolchildren. Dealing with primary schoolchildren, they say: Of primary children, 18 per cent. and 28 per cent. respectively were estimated to be at risk in terms of insufficient intakes of calcium and riboflavin. We calculated that in the event of the withdrawal of school milk, and on the assumption that no compensatory changes in dietary habits occurred, the percentages of inadequate intakes referred to would increase to 34 per cent. and 39 per cent. Subsequent investigations of the 2,471 primary children included in the sample have shown that of those consuming milk drinks, 39 per cent. depended entirely on school milk for this source of nourishment. My Lords, on monitoring, they have this to say: The monitoring of children who are no longer able to obtain free school milk must be based on the acknowledgment that it cannot be known how they would have developed if the milk had been available. It would be interesting to have the comments of the Secretary of State on that particular point.

I realise that some effort was made in the other place to cast doubts on the qualifications of Dr. Lynch and Dr. Sylvia de la Paz. It did the Government very little credit. If the Government were sure that there was no risk, they would not have introduced the monitoring service, and that these two doctors have voluntarily drawn attention to the risks involved makes us very greatly indebted to them.

I would have spoken on the advice that was the subject of a good deal of discussion in the other place at Committee stage—on what the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food Policy had to say in 1968. May I, without going into too much detail, say that I am very impressed indeed by what is set out in column 104 of the proceedings of Standing Committee A for June 24, 1971, where my right honourable friend, the former Secretary of State, made clear the steps which the previous Administration took to get advice when they decided to deprive secondary schoolchildren of milk. I say quite plainly that I will not defend, as I never have defended, the decision to deprive secondary schoolchildren of milk. I believe that it was a tremendous mistake, and if we want to learn that lesson, the way in which we have been addressed to-day ought to be an encouragement to us to learn it and to learn it fast.

The noble Lord has said that the Government are doing nothing that their predecessors did not do; that they deprived children over the age of 11 of secondary school milk, and all the Government are doing is to continue the process by depriving the 7 to 11-year-olds. He could equally well stand at that Box and defend in that same kind of way depriving all schoolchildren of school milk. I hope that my Party, and those for whom I speak, will take full note of the way in which, if they make a slip or a mistake, the Party opposite, when it comes to office, will exploit it and take full advantage of the situation that has been created. General opinion in the country, professional and lay—and lay opinion in this field is important—is of the view that milk for this age group is valuable; that it ensures the avoidance of unnecessary risk. Having in mind the full sum of national expenditure, we are taking that risk for an amount of money that cannot be regarded as large or significant. I appreciate that the noble Lord has said that all these things add up and that all play their part. My Lords, we have not taken milk from the mouths of the 7 to 11-year-olds before in order to balance the budget. In any event, surely in an area where there is so much doubt, research should have preceded decision.

May I now turn to the issue of local authorities who believe that the proposal to cut milk for this age group is so wrong that they wish to pay for the milk themselves. The least the Government can do is to make it quite clear that they may do so if that is their desire. If some local authorities were doing that, it would at least provide a most useful basis for comparison for the monitoring exercise that is to be undertaken. Some wish, and some have indicated that they intend, to continue to supply milk to this age group. May I interpose a point here? If we cut off this supply of free milk for this age group, let the Government be quite sure that they will be able to obtain supplies of milk for the children in the lower age group, because it becomes less attractive to supply when there is such a substantial reduction as will be involved under this Bill.

If the Government refuse to permit local authorities to supply milk free to this age group. I can only say that it comes ill indeed for a Government which has talked about greater freedom for local authorities. It is no answer at all for the Government to say that they are giving local authorities greater freedom by allowing them to sell milk; that they have never been able to sell milk before and so this is an extension of freedom. May I ask the Minister to tell us who in the education service he thinks is going to sell this milk? I am sure that he knows that in our primary schools we do not have too many hands for all the things which need doing. We have heard of the difficulties of supplying free milk. What of the difficulties of calling on little children to pay?

Her Majesty's Government would do well to take note of what the Association of Municipal Corporations feel. I quote from a letter, dated July 16, written to my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale; I am sure that the Minister will not be surprised at what is says: It is the Association's view that, where a local education authority wishes to continue the supply of free milk for all pupils in primary schools up to the age of twelve, and is itself prepared to bear the expense without Government aid, then the authority should have power to do so. That is a clear enough statement from the Municipal Corporations. What does the Association of Education Committees have to say? I quote from its Journal for July 2, 1971 which records the following resolution: Milk in schools: That this Annual General Meeting of the Association of Education Committees instructs the Executive Committee to pursue vigorously with Her Majesty's Government the terms of the Education (Milk) Bill with a view to such amendment as will enable local education authorities to make appropriate provision of free milk after considering the needs of their schoolchildren of junior school age. With the greatest respect, I am bound to say that, in so far as the Government have said anything on this matter of allowing authorities to pay for milk if they think fit, the Government have not given any clear indication as to whether the local authorities are entitled to do so, and, if they do, whether they will get into any kind of trouble.

I should like, if I may (and I am sure that the Minister will again be aware of what I am referring to), to refer to a letter written by Mr. Norman Buchan, the Member of Parliament for West Renfrew to his right honourable friend on July 20. He wrote as a result of a deputation which attended on Mr. Edward Taylor, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office. It was in the light of Press reports of that meeting, and what that delegation had to say, that he wrote to the Secretary of State. He says this: I have now received corroboration from members of the deputation that the reports of what they were told by the Under-Secretary are substantially correct. I have been further informed by Baillie Peter McCann, the Chairman of the Law and Procedure Committee, they were assured that medical officers of health could delegate the undertaking of medical examinations. Earlier in the letter he writes: You will remember that they were assured that ' preventive' considerations would he taken into account in deciding which children should receive free milk. The leader of the deputation, Dr. Docherty, said on leaving the meeting that it would mean that in complete districts in Glasgow most children would be able to receive milk. Can we have some indication from the Minister today whether authorities will be entitled to distribute free milk on the basis that it has preventive value? If the answer is that they are not free to do so, I hope that that will be made quite clear to the members of the deputation, because if they misunderstood I think that their misunderstanding ought to be corrected. If the answer is, Yes, that local authorities have power to pay for free milk for this age group if they see fit, will it be in order for them to pay for milk for children within the catchment area of the school but outside the boundaries of the district concerned? I ask that because the question was put to me by members of a local authority who wish to do this very thing.

My Lords, I hope that in what I have said I have made it quite clear that we on this side believe that this Bill is ill-conceived. I hope that I do not express myself too strongly when I say that I think and hope it will be aborted. If the Government refuse, and continue with it, I must make it clear that at Committee stage we shall consider whether it is possible to make improvements. If we think that improvements can be made, we shall undoubtedly submit Amendments for your Lordships' consideration. I repeat, I regret that this Bill is before your Lordships. I believe that it is ill-conceived and, among the majority of the people of this country, unwanted and quite unloved.

1.48 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first of all to pay tribute to Lord Garnsworthy's honest admissions about the Labour Party's and the Labour Government's initiative in this respect. It is all honour to him that he makes it quite clear that this unfortunate Bill before us now has a precedent in his Administration, and that he, as I know is absolutely true, opposed it, and will oppose such a Bill all the way down the line. I hope that I shall not be thought ungenerous, in taking up his honesty and his courage in making that remark, if I say that one of the things for which a great many of us find it difficult to forgive his Party and its recent Administration is that on so many things—milk, school meals, prescription charges, immigration and many others—they have in fact sold the pass to the Tories and made their job easier.

I am grateful for the explanation of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, produced in his usual careful and courteous way. It is indeed fortunate for the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that in this House Scottish educational affairs are looked after by the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, since I think that if he had had the task of defending both the squalid little Bills which have been unworthily dignified with the title of Education Bills since the Tory Government came in, it would have been enough to turn anyone away from politics. The Education (Scotland) Bill, which some of your Lordships will remember, at least had something to do with education, even though it was possibly something to do with dis-education. This Bill has very little to do with it at all. The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, said that it should be called the"Education (Non-Milk) Bill ". In my view it should be called the"Non-Education (Non-Milk) Bill ". That is the burden of my complaint to-day.

I think it is perfectly true to say that the dietary and nutritional effects of the Bill are in doubt. Cases have been made out on both sides. One of the difficulties is that we do not have sufficient evidence. Although this is not my main argument, there are a couple of points which should be made. First, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, is right in saying that malnutrition is a declining factor in our national life. It is still far too big. Secondly, we are entitled to more knowledge and more guidance, and I hope that I am not being rude to a very worthy body if I say that the quotations in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, about the actual activities of COMA would seem to reinforce the view that it may well be well-named. There is a case for saying that the nutritional effects may be marginal, but it must also be remembered that to those living on the margin, the marginal itself is of central importance. If noble Lords on the Labour Benches intend to put forward any Amendments to try to broaden the area in which free milk can be given, they will have our support.

Something that is totally wrong with the Bill has not been touched upon so far—the arithmetic that says that less school milk equals more primary schools. I accept that resources are limited, and my Party's educational panel, on which I serve, is rather proud of the fact that we try to work out the Party's educational policies strictly in terms of priorities within available resources. But it is weird arithmetic that balances a welfare matter against an educational matter. Educational priorities should be balanced against each other, and social welfare priorities should be balanced against each other. Free school milk, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, gave away in his speech, should be balanced against family allowances. It is part of the whole question of family provision. In an educational budget one should balance primary schools against nursery schools, and against higher education.

Nutrition is necessary for education, and I entirely take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, on that. But nutrition is necessary for everything. Nutrition is necessary for life. Nutrition is necessary for the growing child and for the adult. These matters should belong to welfare, and not to educational budgets. If this had been a welfare matter, we would have seen the truth of what the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, said, much more easily, that what is happening is that money is being taken away from social welfare for tax relief for the richer part of the community; instead we have the pretence that it is in order to produce more primary schools.

I do not know how school milk ever got into the educational budget. I suspect slipshod thinking. The sooner it is out again, the better. I hope that the Government, who presumably cannot be persuaded to withdraw the Bill, even in a week when they have cut taxes by £400 million a year, will at least register the basic mistake in structure. They should do so, if only for the sake of the Secretary of State. She is unpopular enough with educationists, parents and teachers, without"carrying the can "—if I may use a slightly unfelicitous expression—for cuts in family welfare, which is what the Bill is about. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has my utmost sympathy.

1.56 p.m.


My Lords, in the course of the debates on means-tested benefits, I chose to focus attention on the cruel decision to deprive schoolchildren over 7 of free milk, and now the Bill—the miserable little Bill—which is to implement that decision is before the House. I deliberately described the Bill as a cruel measure, for in the long run the injury inflicted on the child by depriving it of essential nutrients, as described by my noble friend on the Front Bench, will not only be calculated to stunt the child, but will also reduce his or her capacity to assimilate knowledge. To that extent, it is an Education Bill.

Every teacher knows that the brighter pupils are always found among the better fed. Underfeeding inevitably results in inattention in the class. Medical inspection in schools was introduced at the beginning of the century because it was found that certain children were inattentive and certain children were backward, although it appeared that they had a high I.Q. Medical inspection was introduced, and it was found that when milk, food and meals in schools were introduced, these children responded in a remarkable manner, particularly in the degree of attention which they paid to the teacher.

Last week when the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, answered questions on the reduction in the numbers of school meals, he appeared confused. I must admit that he had my sympathy. In these debates he has all our sympathies. It is extraordinary that the Government should pick particular Ministers, such as the noble Baroness who has just been described and who has been castigated throughout the country, and nice personalities like the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, to do these very unpleasant jobs. He receives very little support from his own Benches.

I was very struck last week when Lord Alport, a school governor, recognised the position as indefensible. He said, with regard to school meals, which is an allied subject, that he and the other governors know that the number of pupils taking school meals has dropped substantially since the increased cost was introduced, and that it was a great mistake for the Government to try to gloss over this and prove a situation which does not exist. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has tried to gloss over it. Last week he stated that people's eating habits have changed since the war. Would he tell us, when he winds up, how children's eating habits have changed? Milk is still the food which nature supplies free, in order that the species will survive. An adequate amount of proteins, carbohydrates and fats still constitutes a balanced diet, and they are all to be found in milk. We are not talking to-day of one item of a mixed diet. We are talking about a food which is a complete balanced diet containing all the constituents which a child needs. These are being withdrawn, with the excuse that money must be found for the reallocation of resources—an excuse which scarcely bears examination. Surely essential food for children is the very last place to make savings.

My Lords, if the Government are not motivated by principle, or fail to be persuaded by the moral issue involved, I am prepared to argue the case for expediency if that will help to kill this miserable, tawdry Bill. Most politicians know that there are certain basic needs, the most important being food, which rouse people to protest if they are denied. It is called, I believe,"The Politics of Food ", and has been demonstrated, time after time, in our social history. In my own Parliamentary experience, in the Ministry of Food, the reduction in the import of dried eggs nearly brought a Minister down. Further back still, the same principle was involved; the repeal of the Corn Laws concerned the price of bread, and the controversy over tariff reform boiled down to the price of food. I have no doubt that in every by-election in the next few years the Government's cruelty, the cut in free milk for children and for nursing and expectant mothers, will be used to symbolise their attitude to the most helpless in the community.

It is difficult to associate the name of Winston Churchill with milk, but one of the most important things that Winston Churchill ever said—and he was a very shrewd politician who had a knowledge of food politics and the importance of a healthy, well-fed community—was: There is no finer investment for any community than pushing milk into babies ". I can imagine Winston Churchill's lurid language if a Minister had tried to reverse Britain's nutritional policy in his time.

The noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, Lord Hailsham, has made some profound remarks in his time, but nothing can equal the wisdom he displayed when he said in 1960: One of the main reasons perhaps for the remarkable improvement in children's health in recent years has been the access of children to reasonable supplies of fresh milk. How can the noble Lord who is answering repudiate these statements? They were made by men with knowledge of the world, with knowledge of the community, and with knowledge of the fundamental needs of the people. In this matter, the evil that men do will certainly live after them.

I want to come to the medical examination of these children, and how malnutrition is to be detected. The noble Lord has not given sufficient thought to this matter. He talks about monitoring as if he can take somebody, give him a dose of a glass of milk and everything will be all right. Does he realise that before they are chosen these children must show signs of malnutrition? Has he appreciated that fact? Has he appreciated that malnutrition takes some time to establish its symptoms? Has he also appreciated that the harm has already been done when it is detected? I listened to him very carefully this morning on that aspect, and I understand that the already over-stretched school medical service will be responsible for certifying children as suffering from malnutrition. We all know how short of doctors we are, how precious their time is. One has only to look at The Times of to-day, and at the British Medical Journal. There are protests about the limited staff in our hospitals, and now this Bill will direct the doctors of the country to weight-watching. When malnutrition is confirmed and the harm already done, then milk will be ordered to try to remedy matters.

The noble Lord has also said something about delegating medical authority. By"delegating medical authority"does he mean that he will tell the teachers, who have already objected to supervising school meals, that one of their new jobs is weight-watching and being a delegate to the medical service? This procedure is the very converse of preventive medicine. Preventive medicine is the essence of twentieth century medicine. I ask the noble Lord to answer this question specifically. When malnutrition is detected, the diagnosis made, and a desperate effort made to remedy the situation, how long will the child be given milk? Until it has re-gained weight? What will be the symptoms which will indicate that the child need no longer have milk? When it is cancelled—if, as I presume, it is then to be cancelled—will the child be allowed then to resume the way of life and dietary habits responsible for its condition in the first place?

These are the details which the noble Lord's Department has not thought out. It is so easy to sit in Whitehall and give these directions, but if the noble Lord thinks of the actual details of this measure, he will find all kinds of difficulties which he is asking the school and the doctor to face. If they are going to give milk until the child has re-gained a little weight and then take it away, I would regard it as a"cat and mouse"exercise which the doctors are ordered to undertake. I would say that this"cat and mouse"exercise will not be cheap, either in medical time, or teachers' time, or child health. It would be found much cheaper in the long run to supply free milk, and to re-establish a form of preventive medicine which has proved effective during the 49 years since it was first introduced.

It is a fallacy to assume that because high wages are received in some industries, then all children are adequately fed. Low wages are the rule in many fields, and the latest decision to give a free hand to some hire-purchase and credit sale"sharks"will worsen conditions for many families. The irresponsible parent, the parent of low inteligence, will succumb to the tally man at the door, and it is precisely in these families that the child will be underfed. If we are going to decide what the children should be given, and the guide should be the parents' income, then those who know the lives of these people know that it is a nonsensical approach. One has also to discover the expenses of these people, and one of those expenses I regard as hire-purchase commitment, which keeps the family poor.

One cannot disregard the fact that there are large numbers of these irresponsible and inadequate parents. They have little knowledge of dietetics, and what constitutes a balanced meal. Any increase in wages does not guarantee that the man gives his wife a commensurate increase in housekeeping money. A most curious argument is pursued in another place and here, that if a man's wages are increased, therefore the amount spent on food by the wife must necessarily increase. Of course, those two things do not follow. If the man is irresponsible and inadequate he sees to it that his wife does not know of the increase and she does not get an increase in the housekeeping allowance for food.

So we see that the child at home is completely dependent upon the parent. That is why a helping hand at school, even in the shape of milk, will improve his physique, will increase his self-confidence and enable him to rise above his environment. That is one thing that we should do to help this child to rise above his environment. I noticed that in the debate on this Bill in another place there were those who charged selfish men with drinking too much at the expense of their children. These charges have been made for generations and they fail to solve the problem. This has happened since alcohol was first sold, and this is precisely another reason why the introduction of free dinners and free milk fifty years ago represented a social service of the very first importance. Therefore it has been proved, time after time, that the care of children cannot be left solely to parents, and furthermore that education and welfare are interdependent and must be the responsibility of the State.

My final point is this. The noble Lord mentioned the fact that there had been no formal discussion of this question by the Department or by the Minister with any advisory committee. This is an astonishing state of affairs. As we all know, it was decided many years ago that certain departments, particularly our welfare departments, should have attached to them advisory committees of men and women who have special knowledge of the subject with which the department is generally concerned.

The Department of Health and Social Security is no exception. The Department of Health and Social Security has a powerful committee of knowledgeable, dedicated people, which includes Professor John Yudkin, a distinguished nutritionist, a man with an international reputation. I was not surprised that he expressed himself in the strongest terms on learning of a decision to abolish free milk for children over seven, without any consultation with this committee.

What an extraordinary attitude of the Ministry! So confident were they that they—all lay people—knew precisely what should be done in this important field, that they ignored those who had been asked to give them advice in matters of this kind. I can only say that Professor Yudkin's attitude reflects the views of local councillors of both Parties throughout the country. No doubt, when they come to write of the 1970s, social historians will not fail to condemn the reactionary attitude of this Government.

2.14 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to make a very few brief comments on this Bill, because I think it is obviously open to a few Amendments. I do not wish to indulge in any wholesale condemnation of the Bill, but I think that some Amendments are highly desirable. I am dealing with the matter rather in relation to the amount of authority which should be vested in such matters at a local level.

It seems to me that where a local education authority wishes to continue the supply of free milk to all pupils in primary schools up to the age of 12, and is itself prepared to bear the expense without Government aid, then the authority should have the power to do so.

If the Bill is allowed to go through in its present form, it would seem that only local authorities which are not themselves local education authorities may be able to resort to the use of the so-called"free penny"under the provisions of Section 6 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act 1963. It seems to me that whether or not this power can be used for the continued supply of milk without cost to parents or pupils, is a matter of legal opinion which, if challenged, can presumably only be settled in court. Nevertheless, it may well be that the power can be used for that purpose, and it seems highly unsatisfactory if local government is to be left in the position where some authorities will be able to pay for milk supplies to all children in primary schools, and others not.

During the Report stage of the Bill in another place, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office, stated: I assure the House—I hope that this will explain the matter—that the powers of local authorities under Section 6 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act 1963, and Section 339 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947, will remain. Those are the penny rate provisions. Obviously, it is not for me to interpret those Acts to local authorities, which have available to them highly competent advice…. I hope that that clarifies the matter to some extent. I cannot put myself forward as a lawyer, and, as I say, the local authorities have highly competent advice available to them. But nothing in the Bill has changed the situation as regards the penny rate provisions. With the greatest respect, I am bound to say that the statement on behalf of the Government does not really explain the matter. It is, of course, agreed that the powers of local authorities relating to the penny rate will remain. The question surely is can they be used? Expenditure can only be incurred under the provisions of the 1963 Act if the authority has no other statutory power available. If there is such a power, then they must comply with the terms of that power. Therefore, we have the position that, under the Education (Milk) Bill, local education authorities will have the power to supply milk and, in accordance with Clause 1(2) of the Bill, must recover the cost from the pupils or their parents. On the other hand, it would seem that local authorities which are not local education authorities could still use the penny rate, because they are not the authorities which have the power to provide milk, subject to the limitation of having to recover the cost.

In all the circumstances, and despite the reply given on behalf of the Government, it would still seem reasonable to resolve the doubts about the powers of local authorities by amending the Bill to ensure that all local education authorities have the discretion to continue the supply of free milk, even though the cost of so doing is not reflected in the calculation of the rate support grant from the Government. This seems to me a proper matter for local decision, and it is also in full accord with the statement in paragraph 8 of the Government's recent White Paper on Local Government in England, namely: a vigorous local democracy means that authorities must be given real functions—with powers of decision and the ability to take action without being subjected to excessive regulation by central government through financial or other controls. I hope that the Government will be willing to consider some sort of Amendments on the Committee stage, so as to give local authorities the powers to which I have referred.

2.20 p.m.


My Lords, like so many other noble Lords, I, too, commiserate with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, on having to defend an indefensible Bill. I sympathise with him more than I do with his right honourable colleague, because I think that his right honourable colleague will go down in history as the right honourable Mrs. Bumble. I say that because this is not just turning the clock back; this is turning the calendar back a long, long way. This Bill has the smell of Charles Dickens. It is so mean and contemptible, so utterly indefensible, that it is a shame we should even be discussing it in this day and generation. The day on which we are discussing it is the day when we have an announcement of 829,000 unemployed. That takes us back to 1940. We are discussing it in the week in which, in St. Stephen's Crypt, we paid tribute to a noble and revered colleague, Lord Boyd-Orr. This is an insult and an affront to the memory of John Boyd-Orr, the man who pioneered this whole business of social nutrition.

I personally find this matter impossible to discuss without emotion because it is so deep and meaningful to me. I should remind your Lordships of the history of this, which exposes the extent of this betrayal. When I first knew John Boyd-Orr, back in 1932, he was carrying out a survey of the feeding of the children of the unemployed in seven cities. At that moment he was Director of the Rowett Research Institute, concerned with animal nutrition, and, as he pointed out to me at the time, it was very easy for him, as Director, to convince farmers of the benefit of nutrition in terms of their animals because they could always measure the dividend in visible returns. But he could not convince anyone, including the farmers themselves, of the meaning of this to children. It was his awareness, during the depression of 1931–32, which developed into the survey of Food, Health and Income.

I want to quote from John Boyd-Orr's own account of this in his autobiography, As I Recall. His Research Institute was given £5,000 to carry out a survey to discover ways in which the farmers could get rid of their product. He stated: A test was made on schoolchildren in the seven largest cities in Scotland and in Belfast in Northern Ireland "— not inappropriate at this moment, again, because this was a depression period and the 829,000 unemployed this morning includes a very large fraction in Belfast. He continued: One group of children was given from a half to a pint of milk every day at school, some receiving whole milk and others separated milk which contained the proteins, vitamins and minerals of whole milk. As a contrast another group was given biscuits of calorie value equal to whole milk. The test ran for seven months and showed a marked improvement in the health of the children and in their rate of growth, the improvement being most marked in the children of the poorest families. The Department of Health in Scotland was asked to supervise another test on the same lines and this showed the same results—the great improvement in health due to the increased consumption of milk. Then in 1931 Mr. Torn Johnston…obtained a grant to carry out a test on mothers and children in Lanarkshire. It showed the same beneficial results due to increased milk consumption that the earlier tests had done. When Walter Elliot saw the results of these tests, he put a Private Member's Bill through the House of Commons enabling the local authorities in Scotland to provide free milk to schoolchildren in Scotland. This extended to England. The message also went to a gentleman called Mr. Harold MacMillan, M.P., in Stockton-on-Tees, and his work in the hungry 'thirties and in the The Middle Way was based on these experiments, these tests and these exposures. He had to listen not only to the voice of John Boyd-Orr and the evidence of the figures; he had to listen to people like Dr. McGonagal, the Medical Officer of Health who was there to demonstrate in his own constituency just what this meant. I am not surprised to find, for example, that Newcastle is fighting to be allowed to pay for school milk, because there again we have this wonderful example of continuous surveys and dedicated work by a local authority in carrying this through—work by people like Sir James Spence, famous in nutrition.

This is so profoundly important that it cannot be allowed to go by default. We are a small group here in this House to-day. The significance of this whole event is one which not only shakes the foundations of our Welfare State and means the erosion of our Welfare State; it betrays everything we have been trying to tell the rest of the world to do. For instance, what inspired or compelled John Boyd-Orr before and after the First World War was the fact that he was living with the people in Glasgow who were manifestly suffering from malnutrition. It was here in those days, when you had to invent The Bantam Regiment so that we could send the runts, the"peelie wallies ", the"keelies"into the front line to fight in a world war.

Then we had the evidence in the 1930's of this appalling malnutrition. My Lords, many of you must remember what the face of hunger really looks like, because you saw it in our own country in the 1930's. We are not talking about some abstract, remote thing or something you see on"the box "; we saw the face of hunger in the 1930's. Some of us saw it in our own mirror. Therefore, the Government are going back and betraying a whole history which has its root in one of the greater crimes of ignorance in the earlier part of this century. However, we no longer have the excuse of ignorance, because it was all exposed 40 years ago, when John Boyd-Orr computed compassion, made meaningful what people felt and saw that it was made meaningful in terms from which no Government from then onwards was ever going to escape This is something we have to hold on to, because this contemptible Bill is the beginning of the destruction.

Make no doubt about it, my Lords: we are told that the evidence in this country of the physique of our people apparently justifies the start of a process of erosion. This very day you have 820,000 unemployed, and you are going to get the same process developing again as developed in the 'thirties. We demonstrated in the 1930's, through the committees against malnutrition and, eventually, in that most wonderful demonstration to which all Parties and all peoples were party during the war, that we could establish an overall nutritional base for the country, regardless of class. We were not then dealing merely with baling out our consciences by helping the poor; it applied to everyone. The whole base of reckoning of school meals, school milk, and so on, established beyond a peradventure that a nation which has a sound basis of this kind can not only fight a war, but emerge from a war far healthier than it went in. If we are to"sell out"that achievement of 30 years by sitting back and saying that we will wait until there are clinical manifestations of malnutrition, that will be too late. Once there is clinical evidence of malnutrition, the rot has already set in.

My Lords, I have been concerned with malnutrition throughout the world, with famine and other conditions. I hope that we shall never see a famine situation, but in many countries, even those not suffering from acute famine, one can see the manifestations of malnutrition which is a progressive thing through neglect of the necessities. The Food for Peace Agency in the United States, with which I was involved at one time, was able to show that if only we could have enough milk, even dried milk, one could prevent what was manifestly happening to millions of young people in the world, the children who were not receiving the adequate protein and vitamins which were necessary to them at this stage of growing—not just in the post-weaning period but in the stage of growing into a puppy state of exercise and enthusiasm. That is the age of 7 and beyond.

One goes on from there and finds that one has now crippled a generation by merely providing, as Food for Peace had done up till then, carbohydrate foods to the neglect of protein. All the time we were trying to find substitutes for milk, like incaparina or any other kind of protein source; food supplements which would provide for the liquid milk which was not available to the hungry world. If the world could have had enough milk, UNICEF dried milk or any other kind of milk, most of the problems would have been solved. In this country we are now being told that, in order to buy refrigerators or"hi-fi"sets on hire-purchase, we are to cut out free milk. The Minister said so. He said that the result of the cutting of the milk in order to provide the cutting of the taxes had made possible the hire-purchase of the mini-Budget.

This is quite intolerable, because, as my noble friend Lady Summerskill has pointed out, one is putting the hire-purchase commitment on the doorstep at the expense of the children. Do not let us get into the position where we argue as to whether parents should be taking care of this nutrition. Responsible parents do; irresponsible parents do not. One does not always realise that if there is a situation of poverty, which we are having again, with unemployment, and the mother has to go out to work in order to back up the family income, then the children will be neglected, not by irresponsibility, but by the nature of the case. Therefore one is saying at another critical time in our social history that one is acting on the trivial pretext—that old story about getting father back from the pub. We have had it all our lives, these stories about the improvident poor drinking their children into the grave. This is something that we cannot now accept, even if we feel novelettish about it. The fact is, my Lords, that we have a direct and demonstrable national and social responsibility to look after our next generation—even if the parents are neglecting them—and that irresponsibility is not true of 99 per cent. of parents. One must ensure this raft in nutrition which is school milk, and which is the cheapest way of buying a measure of protection against the deficiencies that arise from other causes.

I have never quite understood, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said, why this ever came into education at all. We know of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, has reminded us, that it was realised 40 or 50 years ago that if children were not fit, they could not learn. Again, if I may cite my friend, John Boyd Orr: he demonstrated in Aberdeen with Professor Rex Knight, the psychologist, that by proper feeding of children one released their IQ. The one thing that could be demonstrated in reverse was that if they were not getting food, they were numb and stupid and quite unrepresentative of their IQ. That was demonstrated again beyond peradventure. Therefore we are dealing to-day with something which I insist is not just a question of whether we are saving £9 million—God help us if we deny the children of this country the basic privilege of a future physique, as John Boyd Orr demonstrated in 1932, when he predicted that there would be a generation 2½ inches taller. He was right. The Bantams of the Highland Light Infantry disappeared; even in Glasgow they have disappeared. We now have a generation which is 2½ inches taller than it was a generation ago.

We shall betray not only the present children, but a posterity. We cannot foresee what will happen in the next generation and beyond through a departure from this high established norm which we have been able to achieve. My Lords, I plead that, whatever happens in the House in terms of the niggling and wiggling of this Bill in Committee, you never forget that what we are talking about is something which is fundamental not only to education, but to the Welfare State and to the world.

2.39 p.m.


My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships for only a few moments. First, as other noble Lords have done, I should like to offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for his very clear and acceptable presentation of the Bill. I suppose that every Government who seek to recast an important social service must necessarily expect that they will be met by strenuous opposition from those to whom that particular social service is of special importance. That, of course, has happened this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, who introduced this measure, has had to encounter considerable and strongly expressed opposition. Nobody complains of that. That is what noble Lords on the other side are for. But it is significant that a social service of this nature, which makes a particular appeal to persons who value the social services, should be met with such strenuous and determined opposition.

I have listened to every speech this afternoon. Looking back on the debate, it is difficult to see where is the evidence upon which the expectations of the misfortune which would follow the withdrawal of this part of the school meals service is based. Nothing has been disclosed in the debate that could be accepted as real evidence that the results which have been forecast as a result of the withdrawal of this section of the school meals service are likely to be realised. Before one condemns the proposals of the Government, one must be certain that there is some practical alternative. There is no evidence this afternoon that any injury has been done by withdrawal of meals on previous occasions. After all, the Labour Government withdrew the schools meals service from the secondary schools. Nobody has claimed that that action was followed by any of the misfortunes which had been forecast. Indeed, I do not think that any noble Lord has suggested that harmful results have followed from the action which the Labour Government then took. Taking the broader field, has anybody been able to suggest any real grounds—when I say"real grounds"I mean any grounds worthy of acceptance as evidence—that the withdrawal of this section of the school milk service, for it is only a section, is likely to be followed by the kind of disasters which have been forecast this afternoon? In the absence of anything which could be called evidence that harm will be done by this withdrawal, surely the Government are quite right in pressing it a little further. No change in the social services has taken place with such adequate safeguards as are planned for this service. There is to be the monitoring system. It is all very well to sneer at it, but it may produce most interesting results. I see the noble Baroness shakes her head, but even she failed to find any evidence among the mass of medical evidence which she collects. She failed to find any real evidence that the action being taken by the Government was likely to be followed by the results which have been forecast.


My Lords, the noble Lord must not put words into my mouth. Does he not realise that milk was introduced in the first place because the evidence for its need was there? Monitoring does not mean going round and finding people very well fed and therefore congratulating ourselves; we are going to monitor chiefly to find out those who are suffering from malnutrition. We gave children milk because of the situation that was found to exist in the past. To say, for instance, that everybody is well fed now is an indication that that policy was the right one. The reason we get so incensed is that this measure is putting that policy into reverse. Unless we take action now, the harm will be done.


My Lords, if that were so, why did these consequences not follow from the withdrawal of the secondary school milk?


Because, my Lords, the children were not seven years old. The noble Lord, who I know has had so much experience as the Chairman of the National Assistance Board, must realise that we are talking about two different things. He is talking about the 11-year-old. We are talking about the seven-year-old. This Bill proposes to take milk from the over-sevens. I can assure him that a child of seven is an entirely different proposition from one of 11.


My Lords, what I am pointing out to the noble Baroness is that the earlier proposal proposed to take milk from children between 12 and 14 in the secondary schools. That was not followed by any of the disasters which had been forecast. One must really base one's judgment in these matters on some real estimate of what is likely to happen. In this case, there will be the most complete medical examination before a final decision is taken. No social service has ever been safeguarded in the way in which this proposal is to be safeguarded.


My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that the monitoring service will not cover the whole of the country, but only selected areas? When he talks about things not being done on this scale before, does he realise that the monitoring exercise will be quite a limited one and could easily miss out in some area of the country where nobody has thought it worth while to conduct it?


Yes, my Lords; I am well acquainted with that fact. As I understand it, the monitoring system, as the noble Lord says, will be carried out in certain districts first. Of course, if it is a testing system, that is the proper way to use it.

I do not desire to add anything further to what I have said. However sympathetic one may feel in this matter, and however convinced that some misfortune is likely to follow from it, let us at any rate not allow ourselves to be moved this afternoon by anything short of the real circumstances of the case.

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to detain your Lordships for long. I am not an authority on education and I am not a medical officer, but I do know something about milk. Way back in 1932 I contracted to sell milk of certified standard at the ordinary milk price to Northamptonshire County Council, so that children should have it in school. I never had a complaint; I never had a bottle go wrong; and the children improved in their mental and physical condition. I am all for seeing that every child has milk. It was iniquitous that the Labour Government reduced school milk to the 11-year-olds, but it is far worse for the Tory Government to take the reactionary measure of reducing the age for free milk to under seven. That is what I want to say on school milk.

This Bill seems to me iniquitous. I do not see how one can make it any better by Amendments. Personally I should like to see it thrown out at this Second Reading, and sent back to the Commons so that a better Bill is produced. It is a reactionary measure. In our day and age, it is terrible that we should starve our children in order to prove that the Government are wrong. I hope that the Second Reading goes to a Division. I shall certainly vote against it.

2.49 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for holding up the House on a Friday afternoon for another few minutes. I would have put my name down as a speaker, but I thought it most unlikely that I should be able to get here at all in time for this debate. As it happened I came in during the speech of the noble Lord, Beaumont of Whitley. I am very sorry that I did not hear the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, because I really would like to know what he said in favour of this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, who does not seem to be any longer in his place, made a number of points. I shall not go into them in any detail. After having listened to the evidence of the experiments of Boyd-Orr and other facts, to say that there was no evidence seemed to me rather remarkable. Another remarkable thing the noble Lord said was that of course he was not surprised that there was opposition on the other side of the House. Why should there be two sides in the House when one is discussing the nutrition of children from 7 to 12 years of age? Is there a side of the House which hopes that they will not flourish and another which hopes that they will? That struck me as a most remarkable statement. Then, of course, he compared them with secondary schools which, as others have said, is a different matter.

I do not want to go over all the evidence again, but I should like to say something about monitoring. The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, again mentioned this question of monitoring. This is absolute nonsense in my view. You cannot tell whether a person is getting enough food unless he is absolutely starving, in which case it will show in a very short time. These are marginal effects, and you cannot tell whether a child is getting proper nutrition until, as certain speakers have said, it is really too late to put matters right.

The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, also said that there was no evidence that if we stopped this milk the children would suffer. Nobody could absolutely guarantee what is going to happen in the future, but, as other noble Lords have said, this was an experiment done in the past which had certain effects. If you reverse the experiment, most people who follow logical lines of reasoning would say that you would then reverse the effects.

The only thing that could be said is that if a child has a really nourishing diet, with plenty of milk in it, provided by the parents, then the State need not come in. If we had ideal conditions and a flourishing State and we did not have any feckless or ignorant parents, this would be a reasonable statement. In other words, if somebody else provides the milk, then that is all right. When we have high unemployment, higher, as I read in the newspapers, than at any time since 1940, is this the time to try a mean, despicable experiment of this kind?

2.53 p.m.


My Lords, 3 o'clock on a Friday afternoon is not a time to detain your Lordships for more than a few moments. I intervene in this debate primarily on a point of clarification. Even in the face of so many experts on this subject—very sincere experts who know a good deal more about the medical aspects than I do—I should remind the House that we are now talking about the 1970s, when the nutritional value of food has, surely, made a good deal of progress since the 1940s when, in the days of the late Lord Boyd-Orr, there was a much greater need for calories in children because of the very restricted diet. I merely put that forward as a point.

I should like to ask my noble friend one point of clarification of which I have not given him notice, but perhaps he can look at it between now and the next stage. In Clause 1(b) it requires a certificate given by the medical officer of health of the local authority to state whether the child should or should not have school milk. May I ask my noble friend whether the family doctor should not be consulted first and thus work in liaison with the medical officer of health? Would this not bring about a more elaborate decision and a more satisfactory decision than consultation with the medical officer of health, which might lead to some delay? It seems that this is a point which might be looked into, particularly for the benefit of the child himself or herself.

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to make one short intervention in this discussion. At the beginning of this controversy, the Secretary of State said that she wanted to get this money which is being spent on milk and meals in order to improve the conditions of the schools, many of which were in a very bad state. That reminded me of the fact that during the time of the 1930s, which have been referred to by more than one speaker this afternoon, researches were carried on on the North-East coast into the effects on the health of people, particularly the children, of living under poor housing conditions and deprived of the proper diet. It was proved in quite a number of cases—I have it very clearly in mind—that the effects of malnutrition are very much worse than living in poor housing conditions.

It seemed to me that at this time this was a very important point to which the Secretary of State should have given much more close attention than she did: that these children could survive poor conditions in the schools—though, for goodness' sake! let us get rid of them as soon as possible—but that they could stand up to poor conditions in the schools with a much better chance of success than they would if deprived of their milk and their food.

2.57 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, particularly at this hour, but I am afraid I cannot sit silent and listen to this Bill being piloted through. As the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has hinted, one of the reasons why school milk was originally introduced was because many children were so undernourished that they were not able to take full advantage of the instruction that was offered in their schools. The consequences of the introduction of free school milk have been enormous.

I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, though I often do, particularly on matters which concern local government, when he said that the abolition of free school milk in the secondary schools had not been attended with any disasters. As my noble friend Lady Summerskill pointed out, in the secondary schools we were dealing with children of 12 and above, whereas in the Bill that is now before the House we are dealing with children from the age of 7 years upwards. From the age of 7 years upwards is when the very foundations of their future physique are being laid.

Like so many of your Lordships, I speak as a grandfather. I have four little grandchildren, ail of whom, I am pleased to say, are very bonny and bright, but there are other grandfathers and grandmothers in the country who may not be so fortunate. For the upbringing of their children they may be reliant, to some extent, upon the free school milk they receive. They may come from under-nourished families; they may come from normally nourished families, but whatever be the case the addition of this free school milk is certainly something which fortifies them for their later years.

I feel that this is a very mean, miserable and class-conscious Bill—and it is probably almost indecent to mention the phrase"class-consciousness"in your Lordships' House, but it is. The Chancellor of the Exchequer boasted that he was giving £38 million in tax relief to the people with incomes of over £4,000 and £38 million is precisely the sum that is going to be taken away from another section of the community in charges for school meals and school milk.

We have to ask ourselves whether milk is really a nourishing food. It is hammered into us by every propaganda organisation in the country, even by the Ministry of Agriculture, that milk certainly is a nourishing food. It provides us with proteins and calcium and all the other things that may not be essential to me and to you but are absolutely essential to a child between the ages of 7 and 15. Do we want to see once again a rickety generation of children? It is no use waiting until all the monitoring has been done or until all the medical officers of health have carried out their inspections. That will be too late. We shall be closing the stable door after the horse has vanished. Every piece of evidence shows that the school milk for children has worked wonders for the physique of the rising generation who, as my noble friend, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has said, are to be the fathers and mothers of the coming generation. If we now turn back and prejudice these children in their growing years, we may be doing untold harm to future generations.

It has been suggested, I know, that some parents are negligent. It was always so. Are we to visit the sins of the parents upon the children? If a child is so unfortunate as to have a negligent parent, surely that is where our ideas of social welfare come in—to protect the weak. It is not always the case that parents are negligent. We know for a fact that at present over 9 million women go out to work. Many of them are mothers. Some of them probably go out to work in order to find something to do; they do not like sitting idly at home. However, many of them go out to work because the main breadwinner in the family does not earn sufficient to keep the family in comfort. Naturally it follows that when these wives are out at work all day, full attention cannot be given to the children. That is where the community steps in and says,"These little children do not get all that they should from their parents, either because of negligence or because of economic necessity, so we, as the responsible directors of the community, must step in to see that they do not suffer.

My Lords, I said that this was a class-conscious Bill. I said that it was a class-conscious Bill because the £38 million to be saved on school meals and school milk will be handed over as a bonus to the richer sections of the community—those with £4,000 or more a year. This has been done at a time when unemployment is increasing at an almost unprecedented rate, when the price of food and the cost of living have gone up by 12 per cent. in a single year—the most rapid advance ever known in our peace-time history—a time when rents are going up; a time when rates are going up; a time when fares are going up; a time when ever and ever increasing pressure is being imposed upon the family budget. If ever there was a time for a Government to indulge in an experiment of this type, it is not now, in a year of so much suffering.

The introduction of free school milk was one of the greatest reforms within our recollection, resulting in the lifting up of the physical standards of our young people to something never before known. Only last night I looked at an old photograph taken of the children in my class at school. We were a pretty good class—I was in it. My friend Stanley Evans, of"featherbed farming"fame, was in it. We were a pretty good lot. But there were, among those children, some very skinny, rickety kids, and I do not want to see that kind of thing happening again.

The least I can ask is that if the Government will persist in punishing the children of the present generation as they propose, they will give the local authorities power to provide free school milk in the future from the rates. It would be a scandal if that burden had to fall upon the ratepayers, but it is better that it should fall upon ratepayers than that the children should be penalised so that sums of money can be handed over to surtax payers. What is £9 million—the sum to be saved by the cessation of school milk? What is that to be set against the welfare of our children? We are told by the Marketing Board to drink an extra pint of milk a day. Presumably the Board, which has some measure of Government support, is telling us the truth when it tells us that milk is good for us. Why take it away from the most deserving section of the community?

We have been assured that the Government will not act blindly in this matter; that they will stop the school milk, but that they will then subject the children to periodic medical examinations to see whether there is any deleterious effect. However, the medical monitoring will take place only in three towns: Croydon, which is a fairly prosperous area, Bristol, which is a fairly prosperous area, and Sheffield, which is not an unprosperous area. Why do we not have some monitoring in some of the more depressed areas: Tyneside, Tees-side and Merseyside? A different picture might then emerge.

This is one of the biggest scandals we have had to deal with since the Government took office. I know that one can ask why we should subsidise people. I could appreciate that if the rule were applied all round. We subsidise farmers. We subsidise landowners. We shall be subsidising the big industrial concerns. They are important, naturally. But what is more important to the nation than the children now growing up, the children between the ages of 7 and 11, when the very foundations of their future physiques are threatened? Monitoring is all right in its way. This monitoring is not satisfactory because it is to be applied only in three selected areas, instead of some of the most depressed parts of the country. Why should we have to wait until the damage is done and until medical officers have reported that this child, that child and the other child are suffering because of the action which the Government propose to push through this House to-day?

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, referred to his schooldays and the condition of some of the boys who were at school with him. The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, called upon the House to see that children can rise above their environment. It is true to say that the noble Lord has risen above his environment, probably at every stage of his life. We always enjoy listening to the noble Lord, and he has, if I may say so, ended a debate in which the majority of your Lordships in the House at this moment have spoken. A great deal of advice has been given to the Government, and I can assure your Lordships that it will be looked at very hard indeed.

I ask your Lordships on the other side to accept a point from this side of the House, even if we do not see eye to eye on methods. When we put it to your Lordships that the submission of this Bill is part of a re-look at social security, and social security as it comes into the educational field, we are being sincere. We do not say that one figure exactly balances another figure, but we say that by re-allocating resources—an expression which, as I reminded your Lordships in replying to a question a week ago, is not a new expression and has been used by previous Ministers of Education in the quite recent past—we are genuinely trying, whether noble Lords agree that we are doing the right thing or not, which for the moment is another matter, to divert resources to what we believe are crying priorities. If any of your Lordships have looked at the newspapers this morning and seen some of the views of the teaching profession on schools as they have been left to the 1970's, your Lordships will agree that, although we may disagree about the means, at least we are being sincere in our objectives.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he has forgotten to tell us what the said Associations have said about the decision to deprive children of 7 to 11 years old of milk?


My Lords, the noble Lord, if he will forgive my saying so, is brushing aside completely what I have tried to put forward to your Lordships—I hoped in a reasonable manner. I was saying that I appreciate that we can disagree about the means. What I was asking the House to accept, before I get on to the other points, is the fact that we are being sincere in our objectives. I say this in the light of remarks which have been made in the debate to-day about the objectives of my right honourable friend. They really are objectives which, at the end of this decade rather than at the beginning, will be seen in their true light. My right honourable friend is being as good as her word in trying to tackle the really desperate legacy of some of the old schools in this country.

The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, asked me specifically about general health and also about monitoring. I will not travel over the ground again about the standard of nutrition. I think the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, referred to the high standard of nutrition in the country and so I will not go through this again. Indeed, your Lordships who have read the Committee and Report proceedings in another place will see that references were made to certain statistics in part of Wales and also generally in Scotland, to show the increase and improvement in nutrition standards, and not the decrease.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will permit me to interrupt. I do not like interrupting in principle, but even if nutritional standards are increasing in those parts of the country, unemployment is also increasing in them at the moment.


Yes, my Lords, I will come to Lord Leatherland's point in a moment or two. I believe that the system laid down in the Bill of milk on medical recommendation will continue the ability to reverse the dangers of malnutrition. I know the differences of opinion on this subject, but that is the belief of the Government. Noble Lords opposite have countered this by warnings, dire warnings in some cases, of potential malnutrition, and the views of Dr. Lynch at Queen Elisabeth College, and of Dr. Yudkin too, have been called in aid. May I simply say, on the survey which is being carried out by the distinguished sociologist, Dr. Lynch, and his colleague, Dr. S. de la Paz, that there is no final report yet available. An undertaking has already been given in another place that when the final report is available—and it is awaited just as eagerly by the Government as by noble Lords opposite—it will be referred immediately to the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food Policy. But until then, I am sure your Lordships would acquit me of trying to get round this point by saying that final judgment on Dr. Lynch's words must be suspended.


My Lords, I do not want to be a nuisance about this matter, but there has been much controversy about it and the status of the two doctors has been questioned in another place. The noble Lord is now saying that we should wait for the final report. Will he acknowledge that they are so concerned that they themselves have made an interim report? So I think we may take it that they are genuinely disturbed. It is because of the Government's proposals that they have made this interim report. That is the point that really needs to be taken. The Government having declared themselves on this matter of policy, they feel that it is their duty to issue a warning of the consequences as they think they may well be.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, is quite right to bring these matters to the House. But I also have to point out to noble Lords who may not be familiar with this subject that the interim report of Dr. Lynch was presented as a document described as first and fundamental impressions of an interim analysis. It was based on questions to 4,300 school children who were asked to recall everything which they had eaten in the previous 24 hours, and really this is not the sort of survey which can be put to the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food Policy which has been described by noble Lords opposite as a body with extremely distinguished people in it, who will be looking, with the greatest of hope, to the work which Dr. Lynch may produce of a survey which is based on something rather more of a clinical nature than questions asked of a sample of school children.

Dr. Yudkin, who is a highly distinguished man, is of course a member of COMA and I can only remind the House of the evidence which I referred to earlier in the debate and which has also been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy. Neither in 1968 nor in 1970 could COMA advise that withdrawal of free milk in the secondary or primary schools would be harmful to nutritional standards. Your Lordships may wish to debate this further, but that is a statement of fact.


It is also a double negative.


A double negative can also be a statement of fact. I would have thought that this would at least give noble Lords cause to think, when the Committee have given the same advice to two successive Governments within the space of three years. On the point about children going to school without breakfast and without adequate food for the remainder of the day, may I say that it seems to me that the risk of ill-effects is probably greater in the secondary field, bearing in mind young people's attitude to food and the pace of modern life. Lord Ilford, put to the House the point that if the withdrawal of milk from secondary school pupils was liable to lead to malnutrition, why did we now not know that this was so. The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, with her professional expertise, quite rightly said—and I accept it at once from her—that older children are different from younger children. At the same time, if the Government are being castigated because, it is said, the removal of free milk, quite apart from the new powers of the sale of milk, or the provision of milk on medical recommendation, is per se something that is bound to lead to malnutrition, I think it it is fair to ask where is the evidence of that malnutrition since 1968.


My Lords, then may I say that it is equally fair to ask the Government why they have undertaken no exercise to discover whether, in point of fact, there has been any ill-effect. Why have the Government undertaken no exercise to measure whether, as a result, there has been any damage, because at the moment I think the position is that no one has undertaken such an exercise. We really do not know the consequences; whatever the previous Government thought may have happened, I think nobody has measured the consequences.


My Lords, I did give your Lordships details of (I know the noble Baroness does not like the term; and nor do I) the monitoring processes which are going on at the moment. One to which I think perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, did not give quite enough credence is the exercise that is being carried out by the Department of Health and Social Security. If your Lordships would like to look back at my initial words when I opened this debate, you will find that I devoted a considerable passage to the exercises which are going on at the moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, and the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, then brought up the most important point, of local authority autonomy. But before I refer to that may I just put a general point? I would suggest that money which is spent entirely from the rates is none the less public expenditure. The plan of this Government of last October, contained in New Policies for Public Spending, was to reduce public spending, and to ease the burden of taxation. For this, the Government have a central responsibility.

Noble Lords opposite claim that this Bill represents a curtailment of local authority freedom. But I think it is right to remind the House that when, on November 12 last year, the Government issued Circular No. 270 from the Department of the Environment this passed a freedom to local authorities in expenditure, very considerably in excess of what they had had before. But that circular said some significant words. It said that one of its aims was: to improve the Government's ability to monitor the total level and main trends of expenditure, while reducing its detailed control of individual projects. Truthfully, no Government can relinquish overall responsibility for the level of public spending. If this were so—if I were misleading your Lordships—why, in 1968, did the Labour Government not give local authorities freedom to provide milk for secondary schools? The noble Baroness talked about school meals, and it is perfectly reasonable that this subject should at least intrude upon our debate. Why, after the school meals increases were made, was this freedom also not given to local authorities?

My Lords, I think the answer is perfectly simple: because the Party opposite, just like the Party this side, just like any Party which is in power at any time, has an inescapable overall responsibility for public expenditure.


My Lords, the noble Lord is asking a question, and I think it is fair to make the point. Can he recall, in 1968, an outcry resembling the present outcry? Does he not take the point that there is all the difference in the world between depriving children over the age of 11 of milk, and depriving those between the ages of 7 and 11? Is it not stretching it rather too far to suggest that the circular to which he has referred does not promise greater responsibility to local authorities, whereas we have had it demonstrated here to-day that they are asking for power and are being denied it, in a very small field.


My Lords, the circular does of course, give more power to local authorities to spend, in the way in which they would wish, block allocations, instead of allocations of money for special objectives.

The noble Lord asks directly: is there not a difference between 1968 and 1971? Yes; I would accept immediately, and particularly from the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, as it were, through the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, that there is a difference between the age groups. But I think the noble Lord is being a little less than fair when he does not include in his critical remarks the terms of the Bill for the medical recommendation and for the sale of milk, not to mention the subject matter of three-quarters of the speech of my noble friend Lord Ilford, which was on the social security and welfare benefits that the Government have managed to bring in not only in the last few months but, as I sought to show your Lordships in my speech, at precisely the time this Bill will become operative.

May I pass on? The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, asked whether school medical officers can prescribe or certify free school milk on preventive grounds. This will be a matter for the school medical officer, who has great experience in identifying children who may be vulnerable for any one of a number of reasons. If, in the school medical officer's opinion, a child needs free milk at school, he will be able to certify to this effect. So there is no question of interfering with a doctor's medical judgment.

May I bracket with that another of the noble Lord's questions? It was whether the local education authority can continue to provide free school milk for the over-sevens; in other words, whether the local education authority could, whatever the result of the deliberations of local authority autonomy, simply breach the Act. The answer which I have to give from this side of the House is that an L.E.A.'s duty and power in respect of the provision of milk in schools are defined in the Bill. Milk provided under its duty will be provided free. The milk provided under its power, for the sale of milk, must be paid for. A local education authority which went beyond either its duty or its power would be acting ultra vires and the consequences of this, as the noble Lord, Lord Milverton said, quoting my honourable friend the Under-Secretary for the Scottish Office in another place, would be something which neither side of the House could foresee.

May I answer three detailed points which were put to me? First of all, the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, asked about the length of time that a child would have milk: whether, when the school medical officer has prescribed milk, with the result that the child becomes healthier, the milk is then removed; and she asked: is this not a cat-and-mouse game? Whether milk is continued will surely be a matter entirely for the discretion of the school medical officer. As I have just said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, prevention obviously plays its part here, and the noble Baroness will have heard me say that there can be no question of interfering with a doctor's medical judgment.

The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, put to me the narrow point about milk supplies. This is a point which I do not think has been put before in either House. May I answer him and the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, on the rather wider grounds, first by just reminding the House that, from a national point of view, it has been estimated by the Government that the supply of milk will drop by about 24 million gallons, or about 1 per cent. of the total annual sales of milk; and the effect of milk sales of the reduced quantity required by schools has been taken into account by the Government in determining the guaranteed prices and standard quantity for milk for 1971 to 1972. I know that that was not the point of the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy. He was on the narrower point, that if you start removing supplies from schools, does there not come a moment when it may not he worth while for the supplier—as the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, used to be most successfully to schools in Northamptonshire—and when the market is not big enough in a particular school.

The noble Lord is specifically disregarding the hope which the Government have, which is that the sale of milk will be like the sale of many other things in many schools to-day, particularly secondary schools, where choice is being given. This is becoming more and more popular and anyone who goes round on the schools meals service will find out that the amount of waste is being lessened.


Will the noble Lord give way?


No, my Lords, I will not. We are hoping very much that the sale of milk will make the noble Lord's point invalid and, for the moment, that is the answer which I have to give him.


Will the noble Lord tell us a little more about the milk in primary schools?


My Lords, I want to make only one point, which I think is quite valid, about the supplies. The dental profession are very perturbed that the condition of the teeth of children in secondary schools is deteriorating. One of the reasons is the freedom of choice through the advertisements and the impact of mass advertising upon them. It is the children of 7 about whom we are worried. Never mind what the doctors find out. Those of us who lived through hard times know that you can never make it up to a child of 5 or 7 by taking milk away and stuffing him with cream ten years later.


My Lords, what we are hoping is that the money which is at present being spent on sweets, to which the noble Lord was by inference referring, will in future be spent on milk. This is not a flippant reply. The noble Lord has said that there is a deterioration in dental standards. The noble Lord and I know perfectly well what the deterioration in many cases stems from. I hope that the noble Lord will not refer to 5 to 7 year olds. The Bill, with respect, does not affect the 5 to 7 year olds.


My Lords—


No; I am sorry, my Lords. I think I have been more than generous; I think we must get on. The noble Lord, Lord Auckland—this is the third of the detailed points—asked me a specific question about Clause 1(1)(b) on the medical certificate. I think the noble Lord in essence asked whether the family doctor ought not to be consulted first; ought not the family doctor to have a hand in any recommendation for milk on certificated grounds? I cordially agree and, if your Lordships agree to a Second Reading of this Bill, this might be something which the House would like to look at more closely. I know that this was resisted in another place and I will not go into the reasons why or the reasons why I still agree with those reasons. Where I most closely agree with my noble friend is that the family doctor, the child's doctor one would hope, would have a hand in recommending and bringing to the notice of the school medical officer any need in the child. The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, made the point—and the point has been made several times in this debate—that the difficulty is that malnutrition takes some time to discover. The noble Baroness put it bluntly. She said it was all very well for the layman to talk about malnutrition but this might be shutting the door after the horse has bolted. I really think that the apprehensions of noble Lords opposite arise from some disregard of the substantial social security benefits which become operative this year. I described them to your Lordships. I felt that possibly the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, either had not taken or did not wish to take them into account. The noble Lord spoke about dismantling the welfare services. I enumerated family incomes supplement; I enumerated supplementary benefits, and I enumerated the higher entitlement these would give to free meals. These things are of importance and are certainly relevant to this Bill.

We on this side of the House say that it is right that these increases should support the view that, with the careful monitoring which I have tried to describe in this debate, parents really should be relied upon, not entirely but more rather than less, and that this Bill should be seen as part of the objective for more urgent priorities, which will, I hope, persuade the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.