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Yes, Sir. The House will no doubt wish to see that a high standard of nutrition among school children is secured and maintained under war-time conditions. An active campaign for the expansion of the provision of meals for school children has been conducted by my Department during the past year and has resulted in doubling the number of children receiving mid-day meals daily. In consultation with my noble Friend the Minister of Food, I have now decided on certain important measures which I hope will secure an immediate and large development of this service. I have accordingly obtained the Chancellor of the Exchequer's approval to an increase of 10 per cent. in the rate of grant on authorities' expenditure on provision of meals, subject to an overriding maximum grant of 95 per cent. I am further raising the minimum rate of grant, which now stands at 50 per cent., to 70 per cent. These steps will go far to remove any financial obstacle to expansion and will, I hope, lead to a great increase and level-ling-up of provision in all areas.
In the second place, hon. Members will be glad to hear that my noble Friend is placing at the disposal of local education authorities the facilities provided by the chain of cooking depots which are being set up near the large centres of population. Authorities will now be able to obtain from the depots substantial meals which will be delivered to schools or school canteens in the neighbourhood in large and increasing numbers.
In the third place, I aim at securing an increase in the proportion of children receiving milk under the milk in schools scheme from some 60 per cent., where it now stands, to as near 100 per cent, as may be possible. To this end it has been decided that the whole of the cost of the provision of free milk to necessitous children and of the handling of the milk in the schools shall be reimbursed by the Exchequer. With the help of my noble Friend other measures are being taken to facilitate the purchase of equipment for cooking and dining, to ensure that the kinds of food which are most necessary and suitable for children are available in adequate quantities for school canteens, and to remove various difficulties which have stood in the way of a more rapid expansion. The efficacy of these measures will depend on the energetic support of local education authorities and on the active co-operation of teachers, who have shown themselves ready and willing to participate in all developments which are designed for the benefit of the children committed to their charge.
We have had the problem in mind. There is already provision for holiday milk, but, of course, these proposals affect chiefly the provision of meals and milk at schools.
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that there is a proper allocation of materials such as steel and timber for the provision of these canteens, which everyone welcomes; and will he consider whether there can be some extra provision for welfare in the schools, in view of this great additional burden of providing milk and meals in the canteens, because teachers at present find it extremely difficult to perform the detailed work now being put upon them?
As regards the first part of the question, this is more a question of providing the equipment necessary for meals than buildings. The building normally used will be the school. As to the second part, I am aware that extra burdens will be put upon teachers in regard to the supply of milk, and I am hoping to examine this question closely myself and to say what can be done to enable the teachers to see it through.
Can my right hon. Friend say whether the provision of meals for children will be confined to a midday meal, or will other arrangements be made in areas where women are working?
Is the Minister aware that in some poor areas in and around London large numbers of children have been away, and have come back; and will he give priority for the necessary equipment for feeding these children to enable those who are waiting to be fed, to be supplied with the equipment with which to cook the food?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the great dissatisfaction that is felt as a result of the supply of milk in bulk, because the teachers have to deal with it and the children have to bring beakers and the whole thing is unhygienic? Has any progress been made with a view to getting back to the one-third pint bottle per child?
One hon. Member has answered the other. We cannot get the one-third pint bottles, so where supplies run out the milk has to be dealt with in bulk, but I will do my best to deal with the points that the hon. Member has raised.
Is the Minister aware that one of the difficulties where central cooking systems are set up will be the provision of vehicles to keep the food hot, and what arrangements are being made to ensure hot meals that really should be hot but will Hot unless proper vehicles are provided?