HL Deb 14 March 1973 vol 340 cc300-3

2.48 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take to combat the increasing incidence of rickets in children.


My Lords, the whole question of rickets was last extensively reviewed in 1969 when the conclusion was reached that there was no evidence of any important incidence of sub-clinical vitamin D deficiency. Recent reports of overt rickets in the Asian population and of alleged "biochemical rickets", that is, without clinical signs, in the indigenous population of one city are being considered by an expert panel of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy, and it is too early to say what, if any, action is needed.


My Lords, in view of one of the latest reports of Dr. Cooke in Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent, and his subsequent statement that probably therefore there is rickets in nearly every school in the country, does not the noble Lord think we are wasting time, and should we not now restore the free milk to the children before their growth is stunted?


My Lords, the noble Baroness is quoting evidence of Dr. Cooke. It is his evidence that is going to be examined by this expert panel so as to establish what the problem is. On the second part of the noble Baroness's question, I would say that milk is not a rich source of vitamin D and what she really wants to recommend is cod liver oil.


My Lords, the noble Lord must not try to cross swords with me on these subjects; I was talking about them before he was conceived. Is he not aware of this simple fact, that milk is one of the richest sources of calcium, and that one of the things these children need to-day is more calcium? The noble Lord says he is examining Dr. Cooke's report, and of course the Government must examine it, because it is most important; but I am saying they are losing time. Let the children have their milk back, and do not be so mean.


My Lords, the noble Baroness may have been talking about these matters before I was conceived, but that does not mean to say that she was right. Certainly she cannot maintain that because free school milk has been stopped that has had such a sudden effect as she is alleging. This matter, and the whole nutritional aspect of schoolchildren and their diet, is being studied by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy, and this seems to me to be the right way to proceed.


My Lords, would the noble Lord say when he thinks that it will be possible to publish the results of the survey, which he promised the House would be carried out following the Government's decision to abolish the supply of free school milk for children between the ages of seven and eleven?


My Lords, I really do not think that I need answer that question. It is completely different from the one on the Order Paper. The fact is that the health of schoolchildren is being kept under continuous study by a special panel of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we thought we had abolished rickets, which is a poverty disease? If it is emerging now, then it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to give very serious consideration to ways of getting rid of it.


My Lords, I accept that, and this is why we are asking the special panel particularly to look at this matter. There is some evidence that there may be an increased incidence among the Asian population, for various environmental reasons; but these are the problems we are looking into.


My Lords, if there has been a promise by the Government to publish the results of this survey, would not the noble Lord wish to reconsider his reply that this question was not relevant, because it seems to me to be precisely related to the Question?


My Lords, we are discussing the incidence of rickets, and I have already explained that milk is not rich in vitamin D. Therefore, this point lies quite outside the Question.


My Lords, is the Minister suggesting that there should be a free issue of cod liver oil instead of milk?


My Lords, is the noble Lord saying that not only is my noble friend wrong, but also that Sir Winston Churchill was wrong when he said that the finest investment the country could make was to give milk to the children?


No, my Lords, that is a completely different question. The fact of the matter is that nowadays many more people can afford to give their children milk without free supplies.


My Lords, has the noble Lord ever tried to persuade a child to take cod liver oil?


My Lords, may I ask this one simple question: Is not the noble Lord aware that in this century everybody has recognised that the poor are so often much smaller than the better off because they have been denied adequate food, and particularly milk? This is a fact. I am asking the noble Lord not to waste any more time but to feed the children and solve this problem.


My Lords, I do not think that that arises on the Question of the noble Baroness about rickets.