HL Deb 13 December 1979 vol 403 cc1365-8

3.16 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they agree that the provision of cheap milk to schoolchildren is desirable where local authorities are able to take advantage of the EEC subsidy.


My Lords, under the provisions of the Education (No. 2) Bill, which is now being considered in another place, the present statutory obligation on local education authorities to provide free school milk will be replaced by an enabling power. This is being done to allow those authorities who wish to do so to reduce their expenditure on free school milk in 1980–81 and beyond. It will be for individual authorities to decide to what extent to provide free or cheap milk in the future, and, in coming to a decision, they will no doubt take account of the availability of the EEC subsidy.


My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for that satisfactory Answer, may I ask her whether she would not agree that it would be unwise for local authorities not to accept this subsidy, this generous subsidy, from the EEC for the provision of free milk to schoolchildren? Would she not further agree that if we do not accept monies from the EEC for purposes with which the general public would agree, presumably, our pleas of poverty regarding our contribution to the Common Agricultural Policy of £1,000 million a year might fall on deaf Continental ears and might appear to make us out to be hypocrites?

Baroness YOUNG

I think, my Lords, that the facts of the situation are that local education authorities can recoup 49 per cent. of the cost of providing free school milk by claiming the EEC subsidy, but they will still have to meet the other 51 per cent. of the cost, which we estimate to be approximately £10 million. It is in relation to this charge that they will be free either to recoup or, indeed, not to provide milk at all.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness the Minister how many local authorities it represents when she says that it will cost local authorities £10 million? What is expected to be the average cost to local authorities who decline to provide free milk and who decline to take advantage of the EEC subsidy?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, there are 104 local education authorities. I have not available the figures to provide a breakdown in relation to each authority; but if they decline to take the subsidy, of course, they will not in those circumstances provide the other part of the cost of the milk. Therefore, although they would lose the subsidy they would not have to pay the 51 per cent. of the cost which they have to do at present.


My Lords, could the Minister say at this particular stage how many local authorities are likely to decline to provide free school milk?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, we have not yet received final figures from local authorities. It is true that a great many are contemplating abandoning free school milk except for those children who have a medical certificate.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that administration is now the greater part of the cost of provid- ing school meals? It is not either the milk or the food, but the administration. Are these facts available as they concern the different 104 local education authorities, so that those who are good in this respect may be copied by those who are bad?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I do not have the breakdown of the administration of the service, authority by authority, but we estimate that the average cost of administration works out at about 4 per cent. of the cost of the milk.


My Lords, could the noble Baroness say exactly what is the actual cost at the moment, bearing in mind that it is relevant expenditure; so that the £10 million comes down to 51 per cent. and that is just over £5 million? If the Government add their contribution, how much does it really cost?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, the gross expenditure on milk is about £20 million, in round figures. The subsidy is approximately £10 million. It is true that it attracts rate support grant. If one breaks it down, as it were, to pints of milk, it works out at 15p per pint, 7p for the subsidy, and to qualify for the subsidy the local authority must pay a minimum of 2p a pint. This could mean that if an authority decided to charge, the charge for the pint of milk could go up to 6p. The difference would have to be borne by the local authority.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether the administrative cost is not infinitesimal? Is not the distribution and administration in the main done by the teachers themselves?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, it is true that a lot of the detailed administration within the schools will be done by the teachers. I can only give the cost as it has been estimated to us, and the cost of the administration is 4 per cent. of the cost of the scheme.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that a great leader of the Conservative Party in his heyday said that no nation can invest its money better than by stuffing milk into babies and children?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I think the answer to the noble Lord is that, of course, that famous leader said a great many important and wise things. The latest information that I have from the Department of Health and Social Services is that the only time when milk is essential is for the young infant up to the age of six months—and then it is human milk which is essential, or a suitable substitute.