Public Expenditure and Receipts Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th February 1968.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed,That the Bill be now read the Third time.

10.0 a.m.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

I wish to oppose the Third Reading of the Bill because of the Clause which I consider most objectionable. Clause 3 is one of the most damnable, mean, contemptible and indefensible Clauses that have even been put in a Bill in the House of Commons. When I say this, I say it deliberately. It is a bastard child of Panic by Cowardice, and the godmother is Ignorance.

I am sorry to say these harsh words, but I think the House is not fully seized of the importance of Clause 3 as it affects both schoolchildren and the industry which will be severely hit as a result of this panic Measure. I hope that after reflection—I do not ask at this stage for the Government to drop the Bill—when Clause 3 goes to another place the Government will have second thoughts and that the Bill will come back minus Clause 3. If that is so, I believe a sigh of relief will go up from hon. Members on this side of the House and also, I think, from the more enlightened hon. Members on the other side.

I want to deal first of all with the educational impact of Clause 3. If the Bill is passed into law it will mean considerable reduction in expenditure on school milk. The total estimated saving is £ 5 million. I think the proposal was first brought forward not as an educational measure, not as a nutritional measure, but as a panic economy measure. I feel that the more time we have to examine and consider it and its implications, the more hon. Members should call for its withdrawal.

Other hon. Members will be interested in how it affects their own area, but the £ 5 million sum to be saved is for the United Kingdom as a whole, and of this sum approximately £ 700,000 has to be contributed by Scotland. I will tell the House what it means for my constituency. In Ayrshire we shall have to spend £ 24,000 less; this is our share of the economy measure. What justification is there for taking £ 24,000 away from the expenditure on school milk in the County of Ayrshire? I have been associated with the education committee of Ayrshire for very many years; I was, I believe, one of its most active members. I was associated with the late hon. Member for Kilmarnock, Mrs. Clarice McNab Shaw, in the pioneering efforts to get school milk established in our area, and over the years it has been a recognised and good thing, good for the pupils and good, incidentally, for the farmers and milk producing industry of my constituency. So, if the Bill is given a Third Reading, £ 24,000 will be our contribution to the Government's, I believe, completely mistaken policy of economy in this field.

I still take an interest in education in my area and made inquiries last weekend about exactly what this economy measure means. I find that in the town of Cumnoch where I live—it is a typical mining town—705 children will be deprived of their milk if the Bill goes on the Statute Book. I strongly object to that. After having worked and strived to improve the physique of the children of my area, I now find that a very important part of what is done will be cut away by this economy measure for which I can find no justification. It is not only the 705 children in secondary school; we have a Catholic school where 125 children will lose their milk. I do not know what I am to say to parents or even intelligent children when the milk stops and I am asked what the reason is.

The Government say "Economy. We must save money because we are in a financial crisis." Of course we are in a financial crisis. But how does this mean economy help us in our financial crisis? Nobody has explained it. All that we are told by the Minister was that it was necessary to have certain economies. Why this particular economy?

Also, how will it work out? The children will get less milk, and so the farmers will not be able to supply the usual quantity of milk. What are the economics of this? The dairyman will no longer supply such a quantity of milk to the schools, and the result will inevitably be that he will have to alter his system of distribution. The possibility that the dairy producer will not be able to sell the milk to the schools will sooner or later result in the overhead costs going up, and so the cost of milk for the whole community will go up. I can see no justification for this.

We have had some arguments about nutrition. I do not blame the Secretary of State for Education and Science for this argument. It was the Financial Secretary to the Treasury who introduced the argument that there was some nutritional reason for the proposal. I do not believe that for one moment. I believe that the argument about nutrition was brought in at the last moment to justify something for which the case was very flimsy.

I believe that the case for saying that when children reach the secondary school stage they no longer need milk is very doubtful. What is the evidence for it? The only evidence that has been produced so far was a letter, the contents of which we did not have read out by the Secretary of State in the Committee stage. He was advised by some permanent official or other that a cut back in milk supplies might affect children in the primary school but would not affect children in the secondary school. That is a new and novel argument.

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Poplar

Our right hon. Friend did not go as far as that. He did not say that the highly anonymous evidence supplied to him argued that children in secondary schools would not be disadvantaged by withdrawal of the milk. What he said was that there was no evidence to conclude one way or the other whether they would be.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

If there is no evidence one way or another, how am I to defend the proposition to an intelligent young pupil from the secondary school who says "Sir, why have you cut off our milk?" He will say, "What evidence is there?" I shall have to say that the Minister has come to this conclusion without having evidence one way or another. That position is indefensible, and that is why I ask the Government to withdraw the Clause.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I am trying to keep to the terms of the Third Reading Question. I am sorry for a slip of the tongue.

The Government's proposal is likely to result in misplaced economies throughout Scotland. In Lanarkshire £ 81,000 is to be cut off the secondary school milk bill. In Glasgow £ 150,000 is to be saved in this way. Anybody who knows Glasgow as I know Glasgow, and as the ex-Lord Provost of Glasgow knows it realises, that to cut down the supply of milk to the schools is bound to have a detrimental effect on the physique of the population. When I went to Glasgow in 1924 the children suffered very badly from rickets. There was T.B. There were all the diseases that come from malnutrition. As a result of the progressive change in outlook of Governments and education authorities, milk was introduced more and more into the schools. When one sees the generation in Glasgow now, one does not see rickety malformed young people. One finds a healthier generation, and one of the contributory causes of this has undoubtedly been the supply of milk in the schools. But now the Government say "On the basis of something for which there is no evidence one way or another, we will cut £ 150,000 off the secondary school milk provision of Glasgow." No wonder the ex-Lord Provost of Glasgow, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern), made a powerful and unanswerable speech in the Committee stage. Edinburgh is to have £ 53,000 knocked off the bill.

So I say that I am doing my duty as an ex-teacher, as an ex-educational administrator, in protesting in the strongest possible terms against this reactionary proposal. We are to be asked in Scotland—slummy Scotland—Scotland which needs nutrition, Scotland which is associated with the name of Lord Boyd-Orr, the eminent nutrition expert—to sacrifice £ 700,000 in the expenditure on school milk.

To turn to another point of view. I refer to the effect on the agricultural community. I represent probably the largest milk producing constituency in the country, and I have been associated with the development of the milk industry in the County of Ayrshire, too. The proposal will deal—I will not say a crippling blow—a considerable blow at the farming community in the county that I represent. Of course, it will inflict a far greater blow upon the agricultural communities in England. Their market for milk will be lost to the extent of £ 4,300,000, and many of these dairy farmers have not recovered from the crippling effect of the foot-and-mouth disaster. What a help it is to the dairy farmer thinking of restocking his herd to know that his market for liquid milk is going down and this as a result of an economy measure!

I am amazed at the attitude of hon. Members opposite who usually claim to speak for the farming community. I should have thought that at the time of the Price Review there would be protests from the agricultural community opposite. I was told by one of the best informed milk producers in Scotland that older farmers were semi-officially told by some politicians that they would not suffer as a result of reduction in school milk supplies because it would be taken into account in the Price Review. That was not the impression that the Minister gave me last night. I do not believe that the Minister has ever thought of the implications of this. I think that the farmers in Scotland will be angry when they find that it is not to be considered in the Price Review.

So this is a very definite blow to the farmer who produces the milk and to the dairyman who distributes it. I am astonished that I do not get support from the hon. Gentlemen who normally pretend to speak for the agricultural constituencies. Where has the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), who waxes very eloquent on milk in other respects, been on this occasion? Where have such hon. Members been while I have been putting the case for the farmer? They have been nowhere. The only support that I have had from the Opposition benches was from the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne), who is a cuckoo in the nest and rather an embarrassment, and he is not present to embarrass me this morning. But when the farmers realise that hon. Members opposite have gone out of action and slept in and have had to be replaced by the so-called rebels who are at present even denied entrance to the Parliamentary Labour Party

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

Is my hon. Friend not rather harsh on the Opposition? They are seeing their policy which they put forward at the last General Election being implemented. Why should they talk?

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

I should be going wide of the Third Reading if I developed that point. I make this point only because I believe that it should be re-examined from the point of view of the agricultural producer. I should have thought that the milk industry was so important that it should be encouraged. We are told that in our economic situation we have to do with less foreign food. But the milk industry is not being developed and encouraged by Clause 3. Of course, it may be said, "Oh, but the farmers will sell their liquid milk and it will go into butter and cheese". But what price do they get for it? Therefore, I. say that the Bill is a badly-thought-out one and that even at this stage the reactionary Clause 3 should be withdrawn.

I have some sympathy with the Secretary of State for Education and Science, because I would like to believe that both he and the Secretary of State for Scotland have at different stages of this controversy fought for the schoolchildren. I do not want to be harsh on them, but I do say that a Secretary of State for Education should at least learn to do his homework. Children in Scotland and in England used to be beaten if they did not do their homework, but here we have a Secretary of State for Education and a Secretary of State for Scotland who simply have not done their homework on this proposal, and so the Clause has been attacked in the Committee stage by every hon. Member who has spoken. Every hon. Member last night who criticised what is in this Bill took up a critical, hostile attitude towards this proposal, and I believe that every intelligent member of the Labour Party is thoroughly ashamed and disgusted with it.

I ask the Government to have second thoughts when the Bill goes to another place. They have had second thoughts about Stansted. They have had to have second thoughts about a good many things. I appeal to the Government to remember that the Bill has this Clause which has not had sufficient consideration and has been shot to bits during the Committee stage, and I ask for its withdrawal.

10.23 a.m.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

I want to oppose the Bill, and in doing so I should like to draw the attention of the House to the speech of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury when the Bill was introduced. He said: The main purpose of the Bill was to enable savings in public expenditure to be made. It achieves this partly by reducing certain items of expenditure and partly by increasing certain receipts; but the policy changes involved are substantial and need careful consideration. He went on: I would refer to the statement on public expenditure which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made on 16th January. He laid the greatest stress on the need to achieve a progressive and massive shift of resources from home consumption, public and private, to the requirement of export, import replacement and productive investment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th Feb. 1968; Vol. 759, c. 245.] The operative words in that statement, I think, are "massive shift of resources".

Let us look for a few moments at whether the Bill achieves anything like a massive shift of resources. We have £ 5 million being saved on the basis of, in the rather colourful words of the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne), "taking the milk out of the bottles of the secondary school children." Is this in any way a massive shift of resources towards the export drive? I ask the House to think of that for a few moments and consider whether this is really a sensible and serious argument that we are having presented to us on the Bill.

The other "massive shift of resources" is in regard to the increased National Insurance and National Health contributions. We have had two contradictory statements on this point. We were told, for example, by the Secretary of State for Education and Science, rather like the Chief Secretary, that the whole basis of the Bill—he complained yesterday that sufficient attention had not been paid to this was the question of the effects of devaluation and that this was to help make devaluation work. But the Minister for Social Security said it had nothing to do with devaluation; it was because there was a deficit, and we were having extra contributions because there was a £ 75 million deficit.

I am just a simple soul, and I should like to know why it is. Is it to help the "massive shift of resources" or is it to meet the deficit? We ought to know the answers to these questions. Quite honestly, the truth is that this is a pretty miserable Bill which I believe was conceived in haste and is of extremely doubtful parentage indeed. If we analyse the Bill a little further we find that it is the sort of Bill that one would expect to have emanated from the hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were in Government. One would never have expected it to come from the present Government benches.

I particularly dislike and oppose three provisions in the Bill: first, the increased contributions to the National Insurance scheme; secondly, the increased contributions to the National Health scheme; and, thirdly, the abolition of school milk in secondary schools.

Let me just say a word about the abolition of school milk in secondary schools. I come from Liverpool. We have a great number of extremely fine and funny comedians from Liverpool. It is often said that one has to be a comedian to live in Liverpool. But there is a reason for this. People overcome their adversity by making jokes about it. One of our famous comedians is Ken Dodd, who talks about "Doddy's Diddymen", and I will tell the House why. Before the war the kids in Liverpool grew up as "Diddymen." A "Diddyman" is somebody small. They were small because they were under-nourished. They did not get either sufficient food or sufficient milk. The children in Liverpool today are no longer "Diddymen", and to that extent Ken Dodd is getting a little out of date.

My young brother-in-law who has just completed his education at London University is a very different sort of lad from the earlier ones in the family. He is a big, strapping lad. Why? He was helped along the road by free milk in both primary and secondary school. But we are taking that away. That is what the Bill means; a massive shift of resources—£ 5 million. That is what it is all about. Obviously, we cannot possibly be expected to accept this without a protest and without opposing it as hard as we possibly can.

I honestly believe that some members of the Government Front Bench are living in a somewhat different world from other hon. Members. For example, the Minister of Social Security said that the provisions of the Bill were by no means as unpleasant as some of my hon. Friends think they are. I think the hon. Lady is living in an ivory tower. Members of the Government have ceased to understand what is unpleasant and who are being hit by the Bill.

Despite the pathetic defence of the Bill put up yesterday by both my hon. Friends the Minister of Social Security and the Under-Secretary of State, from the Front Bench, I find it a very unpleasant Bill indeed, and so do most of my hon. Friends. That is also true of many of my hon. Friends who up to now have voted for it. The Government Front Bench should understand that there is no enthusiasm for it. It is high time that they took note of the deep feelings which have been expressed in relation to these measures, although they have not always been expressed by a vote. I am not criticising my hon. Friends for not voting, and I hope that they will not criticise me for voting, because we all feel very deeply indeed about this Bill. I hope that, even at this late stage, my hon. Friend will consider dropping it, or at least giving us an assurance, even now, that the offending measures in this Bill to which we object will be eliminated.

I could have said much more about this Bill. The hon. Lady yesterday, for example, admitted that the increased contributions represent a regressive poll tax, about which, she said, she has complained throughout the years. If that is so, why introduce this regressive poll tax? If it is admitted that it is a continuation of a system which we, as a party, over the years have consistently opposed, why bring it to the House today? The true solution is to find money in other directions.

One further point concerns the effect which the Bill will have on the lower income groups. We were given some figures yesterday that the average wage of the workers in industry had gone up from £ 20 6s. 1d. to over £ 21.

Photo of Mr James Dempsey Mr James Dempsey , Coatbridge and Airdrie

I wonder whether my hon. Friend would develop that? Where has this average wage increased? How is the average wage arrived at? Does this average wage apply to Scotland?

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

I was about to come to the point which my hon. Friend made: this £ 21 obviously takes into consideration overtime earnings, a whole group of piecework, and all sorts of extra payments. It also lumps together some very highly paid workers with those who are extremely low paid workers. I want to give a few figures.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) introduced a very important point. If one goes to Scotland and says that the average wage is £ 20 in any of the areas, they will immediately reply that that applies only to the higher paid workers. In Scotland wages have always been lower than in England.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

We can all, perhaps, claim for our various parts of the country that the workers' wages are low. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. One need only go to the Merseyside to find very low-paid workers from time to time—[HON MEMBERS: "The majority."] The majority, as my hon. Friends rightly say.

I should like to give the official figures which I have culled out of statistical books in relation to the income of certain groups. What do I find? I find that the latest overall figures I have, for 1965, show that those earning between £ 500 and £ 600 a year were 1,901,000. Those between £ 600 and £ 700 per year were 1,829,000, and those between £ 700 to £ 800 a year were 1,374,000, making a total of 5,104.000, all earning less than £ 16 a week. But I have not included the figures of those earning less than £ 10 a week. If one added all these, too, one would find that it was much more than five million. There are seven to eight million earning less than £ 16 a week.

That puts a somewhat different complexion on the figure of £ 21 as average earnings. This is precisely the section of the community who will be hit most by the Bill. It is for that reason that I and many hon. Members on this side of the House have opposed this Bill as strongly as we could right throughout.

I conclude by once again making a plea to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I suppose that, in view of the way in which Parliament grinds on, there is little chance of their dropping the Bill at this stage. I suppose that we have to go through this traumatic experience of having the Bill foisted on the people of this country. But I appeal to my hon. Friends to make its duration as short as they possibly can. There is no reason why we should not rush through legislation which can change the provisions of this Bill. Last night my right hon. Friend the Minister of Social Security said that this was the Bill in the form in which we had to accept it. She said that it would be impossible to change it at this stage. However, today in this House we are to discuss a Bill which no one knew about until last Friday. It is a bit of rushed legislation. I suggest that we can also rush some legislation through to change the provisions of this Bill, for example, to take out the Clauses which put the full burden of National Insurance and health contributions on to the shoulders of the workers and introduce Clauses which would transfer it on to the shoulders of the employers. That is the sort of legislation that I should like to see rushed through the House.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The hon. Member cannot amend the Bill at this stage.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

I am not trying to amend the Bill, Mr. Speaker. I am expressing the hope that Ministers will bring in a new Bill at the earliest possible moment to replace that which I am opposing and which hon. Friends have opposed right throughout. I conclude on that note, but it is a thought which I leave with my hon. Friends on the Front Bench.

10.38 a.m

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

I want to follow up one or two of the points which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) made, I thought, very cogently. This is a peculiar Bill, and one reason that it is peculiar lies in its undoubted publicity and the way in which the Government have presented it in the context of the devaluation measures. The Secretary of State for Education was quite emphatic about that yesterday. Yet, as the hon. Member for Walton rightly said, one of its principal Clauses, connected with the Actuary's Report, has absolutely nothing to do with the devaluation measures at all. One of its most important provisions, namely the capacity to increase fees, is not quantified at all in a Bill in which the financial figures involved are quite marginal in relation to Government expenditure as a whole. Thus, one of the most important Clauses is not quantified.

We then find that the school milk proposal is thrown into the middle of the Bill as by far and away the least important financial aspect when the sums are added up, and yet the whole of the Government's devaluation packet is alleged to turn on it. The only common thread running through the Bill is the involvement of the Treasury in all developments. It really is a Treasury Bill. The disparate package has been brought into the Bill simply because the Treasury is in some way involved in all of them, and I must say that it is quite unsatisfactory that we have not got the Chief Secretary to the Treasury here this morning.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

We are told that he will be here, but we have a lot of important questions—I certainly have—that we want to put to him about the financial aspects of this Bill. May we be quite certain that he will, in fact, be here to deal with them?

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

That is reassuring.

I want to concentrate what I have to say on this aspect of school milk because this is undoubtedly the factor which is causing the greatest concern and interest both in the House and outside it. The first question I want to put to the Secretary of State for Education and Science—and I think it is a cardinal point of the Bill—relates to this provision in Clause 3 about school milk, permissive or mandatory.

So far as I can see, reading the first few lines of Clause 3—and I hope that the Secretary of State will address himself, as I have no doubt the House will—to the words in Clause 3. We read that Regulations made under section 49 of the Education Act 1944 as to the provision of milk for pupils shall not impose on local education authorities the duty of providing milk … That is to say, as from the passing of this Bill, local education authorities do not have to provide milk, but presumably they can provide milk if they so wish. But it is, I think, a reflection of some encouragement to hon. Members on both sides of the House, and in all parties, that all the fiery thunder which has been generated by these provisions can be effectively harnessed. I have no doubt that the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) and others will now turn their attention to the local education authorities of the constituencies they represent and urge them that they accept the lifting of the Government contribution towards the provision of school milk but that they are determined to urge these local education authorities to go on providing it. As far as I can see, it is entirely open to local education authorities so to do.

We certainly accept that local education authorities are not being compelled by this Bill to stop providing milk for secondary school children. If this is the case, if it is permissive and not mandatory, it makes the ludicrous nature of the Secretary of State for Education and Science the justification for this Bill. But it is the key linch pin of the devaluation package, the one element in it which is going to call for gnomes to take a new look at Britain and all the rest of it; it makes this absolutely and totally absurd. There can be no guarantee at all about the £ 5 million which is written into the Bill as the justification for ending the Government support for this. There can be absolutely no guarantee that the final figure is going to be realised. Local education authorities may very well take over the expenditure on school milk, entirely on their own initiative and authority. Let us be under no illusion that they are quite capable of doing it; they have got the finance to do it.

If we look at Cmnd. 3515—the estimate of forward expenditure by the Government—we find that the Prime Minister explicitly said that in the year 1969– 70, the last year of the package in which alleged cuts have been made in public expenditure, expenditure by local authorities in real terms will be allowed to rise by 3 per cent. Local education authorities are at present spending something in the neighbourhood of £ 3,000 million a year. If they are allowed to increase their outlay by 3 per cent., at constant prices in 1969– 70—and this is really the period when the cut in school milk will come into operation—they have here an actual committed increase of expenditure of something like £ 90 million. If the Secretary of State does not think they can find scope within that to include the continuance of school milk, I shall be very surprised.

Photo of Mr Patrick Gordon Walker Mr Patrick Gordon Walker , Leyton

The right hon. Gentleman is overlooking the fact that there are already built-in increases locally—increased teachers and so on—and I think that if he talked to local education authorities at the moment he would not find that they were eager to take on new charges, though they are perfectly entitled to.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

I suspect, with respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that the Secretary of State for Education and Science underestimates the impact that some of his hon. Friends behind him can have on local education authorities. I would not mind betting that at least half the local education authorities would not mind having a good look to see whether they could not continue to provide free milt in secondary schools, in which case the saving of £ 5 million is halved straight away.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rhodes Mr Geoffrey Rhodes , Newcastle upon Tyne East

I am following the hon. Gentleman very closely; I have a very deep interest in this subject. I wonder if he could tell the House whether he knows of any Conservative-controlled local education authority which is even in favour of free milk in secondary schools—never mind doing it themselves.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

This is beside the point. It is not the point at all, with great respect. We are talking about projections for forward expenditure which will come into effect—either the cuts or the continuance—in September of this year and, in fact, relates, so far as the main charges imposed, in the financial year 1969/70. So really one cannot pre-empt this by asking whether Tory educational authorities will take it on or not. The only point I am making is that in principle the allegation that £ 5 million is automatically going to be saved by the House passing this Bill is nonsense because the discretion under the Bill remains entirely with local education authorities and they may very well, in fact, decide to continue.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

Would the hon. Gentleman like to indicate to the House whether his hon. Friends on the Front Bench will urge any local authorities controlled by their party to continue with free school milk for secondary schools? Would he like to give us an assurance, because I am sure we would be delighted, especially in places like Liverpool with a Conservative controlled city council.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

I really think the Hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is expecting a little too much of me to be able to speak for all my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, but, with respect, I think again he is doing me an injustice. He is looking a gift horse in the mouth. I am showing him here that the principle of this Bill—and this is what we are debating—that it is automatic that £ 5 million is going to be saved—and this is the whole of the case of the Secretary of State of Education and Science—is a myth. It is an entirely permissive piece of legislation and it is entirely within the scope of local education authorities to go on providing this milk.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, because he is developing a most progressive line and I am quite sure that Conservative local authorities will be very pleased to follow it, but before he sits down will he tell us if the party opposite is in favour of cutting £ 5 million off school milk and injuring the agricultural industry?

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

We made our position quite clear on this whole question in the vote that we took on the reasoned Amendment that we tabled to the Public Expenditure Bill when it came before the house on 17th and 18th January. We voted on a reasoned Amendment which was quite clear; that we had no confidence in Her Majesty's Government whose mismanagement of the economy had led to the present situation, recognised that there is a need to curtail public expenditure, regrets that the statement—that is the Prime Minister's state ment—is purely negative in character. We voted on that Amendment.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Denis Howell) rose—

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

I give way every other minute. I must be allowed to develop this argument a bit.

I am sure that it is reasonable to expect an explanation, at any rate, from the Secretary of State as to why it is that the Government are so confident that this £ 5 million is going to be saved by this provision. There is no evidence for it at all.

We have had some gibes as to whether or not Tory local education authorities may or may not assist the Government in removing secondary school milk, but there can be no doubt at all that some of the constituencies represented by his hon. Friends who criticised this—this is surely the cardinal point at stake—are wondering whether we are effecting a genuine economy measure here, because if devaluation is the explanation for it this is an important question; we have to have a clear answer. If there is ample scope within this Bill for local education authorities to continue with the provision of school milk—let us assume those authorities who are broadly in sympathy with the line taken by the hon. Members for Poplar and Penistone—quite immediately we have a substantial hole shot in the whole of this provision for saving £ 5 million. We must have a clear explanation on this because otherwise the thing is really quite ludicrous.

I want to just say a further word on the Secretary of State's justification for this provision. He laid great stress—and here I must express considerable sympathy with the speech made by the hon. Member for Walton—on making a valid distinction, in justifying the provision of school milk, between the kind of retrenchment in Government expenditure which relates to goods and services, real resources, and that which relates to either transfer payments or subsidies. He agreed, I think, as far as I can make out, that the school milk provision fell into the latter category, that it was Government expenditure related to subsidies, or to transfer payments.

The Secretary of State really must follow his argument through. The suggestion that this is going to make a real contribution to the working of devaluation, because a payment for school milk is going to be transferred from the Exchequer, or from the local authorities, to the individual parents, thereby diminishing the spending power they will have upon other goods and services, and thereby helping the export drive, is quite undemonstrated. We do not know whether this will happen at all. The public involved in this may not in any way replace the money which the public authorities are spending on school milk from their own pockets. They may simply drop the school milk, as many hon. Members on the other side feel. This will have absolutely no contribution to make at all towards relieving the pressure on resources which might otherwise go for export.

The Government have shown a total lack of imagination over their handling of this matter. We suspect that the alleged savings are quite bogus, that there is no evidence that this amount will be saved, and I could tell the Secretary of State for Education and Science a very much more pertinent sector in which he could make an equivalent saving if he wanted to. This comes under the broad embrace of Clause 5, dealing with the charges for licences, the charges for commissions, fees and so on. Why have the Government not considered a broader look at the whole question of the charges for various licences?

My mind turns without any facetiousness, Mr. Speaker, but as a genuine argument, to the question of dog licences. This has had some publicity in the past—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. We are on the Third Reading of the Bill. I do not see any mention of dog licences in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

You will see, Mr. Speaker, that Clause 5 does relate to various charges, and fees and so on which might be increased, and this is not unrelated to the money that the Government are trying to raise. I would just point out, with great respect to you, Sir, that the amount of money involved, for example, in increasing licences in some other fields—and there is probably the power within Clause 5 for this—is two or three times—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The hon. Member cannot argue that by increasing dog licences under Clause 5 we could get rid of Clause 3 which seems to be the point in his argument.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

Mr. Speaker, I certainly bow to your Ruling. I just want to remind the Secretary of State that the £ 5 million involved here is by no means a definite saving. In any case, even if it was, the saving could more than constructively be made by charges in many other different directions than those relating to the charge upon children.

There are two special points that I hope the Minister will be able to deal with when he answers. The first is this: what is going to be the effect upon Government expenditure of the fact that as from 1967– 68 the Government support, which has hitherto been given for local authorities in respect of school milk, through the vote of his own Department, the Department of Education and Science, has, I understand, been included in the rate support grant, paid by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government? This again is a matter of some substance. If, in fact, the contribution received by local authorities for the provision of school milk has, as from the current financial year, been buried in the morass of the rate support grant paid by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, then not only is it entirely open to local education authorities, as far as I can see, to opt into the continuance of the provision of school milk, and some may well so do, but since the support for school milk for local education authorities is now under the Vote of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in respect of the rate support grant, there will be absolutely no difficulty at all in any local education authority continuing to draw the additional money from the Exchequer which is needed for continuing secondary school milk simply by a modest increase in the rates, which would be compensated for by a modest proportionate increase in the grants from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Let us not forget that local authorities are at present spending enormous sums of money. The Education Department alone is laying out about £ 1,000 million a year. The normal 6 per cent. increase, the normal buoyance, that we find, for example, in the Supplementary Estimates is important, for 6 per cent. of £ 1,000 million is about £ 120 million. That could well cover the extra £ 5 million cost which school milk involves. There is plenty of scope, as far as I can see, for the provision to continue without anybody knowing about it. The rate support grant from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government could well embrace the continuance of school milk by those local authorities which opt for it.

Would the Minister also say a word about a category of schools which has not so far been mentioned and is not mentioned in the Bill—the category known as the "middle school"?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. If it is not mentioned in the Bill, the hon. Member may not discuss it.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

I imagine that it is mentioned in the Bill by implication. I refer to the middle schools which are neither secondary nor primary in the strict definition of the age range which they embrace. What will be their position? Will they continue to receive the grant? We want a specific answer on that. We want confirmation that this is a permissive and not a mandatory provision and, secondly, that it may be assumed that some local education authorities may opt for this and continue to get rate support grant provision for it from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

10.59 a.m.

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

What has been characteristic most of the time of the debates on this Bill, through its various stages, has been the high quality of debate on the major Amendments. But, on those rare occasions when a Front Bench representative of the Conservative Party has intervened in the debate, the debate has immediately descended to the lowest levels of hypocrisy and humbug. We have had another example of that this morning. The hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) supports the provisions of the Bill; he supports the increase in the contributions from working people; he fully supports the withdrawal of free school milk, and his party support it. In order not to have to admit that, however, he makes a speech casting about among such subjects as dog licences and all manner of things —anything so that he need not talk about the Bill. It was a despicable performance.

Not only are the hon. Gentleman and his party fully involved, but we have here a case of an open and blatant denial of parentage, which is regarded as the most dishonourable kind of conduct in other affairs. The Conservative party pioneered the withdrawal of free school milk. The Conservative Party have been campaigning against these welfare provisions for years. Yet their representative has the face and the effrontery to come to the House and, even from the Front Bench, to make the kind of speech to which we have just listened.

Throughout this debate there must be one point clear in our minds: anything that is said from the Conservative Front Bench is irrelevant to the debate, and the only true debate begins when hon. Members on this side of the House—with the honourable exception of some Members of the Liberal Party—take part in it. Then the debate is real and meaningful.

Before I leave the hon. Member for Barkston Ash may I say this: no hon. Member on this side of the House needs his hypocritical advice as to what he ought to advocate in his own constituency. The hon. Member will be fully occupied, and so will his colleagues, urging upon their Conservative-controlled education committees and local authorities throughout the country to get the free milk scheme adopted in those Conservative authorities. He will have his work cut out there, and he has no need to cast about for additional advice to give to hon. Members on this side of the House.

But the real purpose of this debate must be, of course, a general review of what is in the Bill, the policy behind it, the circumstances—this is appropriate, I submit, on Third Reading—and the context within which this Bill must be placed. I do not complain of the absence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, because he has been here all morning and nobody can be here all the time, but it is rather a pity becase I was going to address most of my remarks to him.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I am sure my hon. Friend will understand the working of Government and appreciates that my right hon. Friend's absence, for which he has asked me to apologise to the House, is due to the fact that at 11 o'clock there is a Cabinet meeting which he must attend.

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

I was quite sure that there was a very good constitutional reason for the absence of my right hon. Friend, but I appreciate the intervention of the Parliamentary Secretary.

Addressing myself to the Department and to all the Ministers responsible for the Bill, I want to return to the rather extraordinary passage in the speech last night of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he was winding up one of the debates in Committee. When he was talking about the advice which he had received and that formed the basis of the decision to withdraw free school milk from secondary school pupils, he was pressed on this matter by several hon. Members. I quote his reply in paraphrase because the HANSARD report of that part of the debate has, for good reasons, not yet been printed; there has not been time.

Therefore, I am not in a position to quote verbatim, but the Secretary of State argued that he had not only relied on the rather uncertain evidence emanating from medical circles, because, he said, there is no evidence that it will make no difference if we withdraw free school milk. He did not try to make a case at any time that there was evidence saying that it would not matter. He said the matter was left open. That is all he said.

He then went on, being pressed by hon. Members, to say that we did not only have that advice, but we had further advice. The only further advice which he quoted was a letter from a permanent official in his Department. I was not quite clear whether it was a letter from one permanent official to another permanent official, or whether he said it was a letter from a permanent official to himself. [Interruption.] I am now assured by my hon. Friends who were here that he said—HANSARD will show whether he did so—it was a letter from one permanent official to another permanent official.

I have been in four Parliaments, although there are Members here who have been here for a longer time. I have never yet in any of these four Parliaments heard a member of the Government, the head of a Department, advancing as a reason, as evidence, as advice, as a basis for introducing legislation, a letter from one permanent official in his Department to another permanent official in his Department. This is quite unprecedented and very strange, because we all know that there are letters passing from one permanent official to another at any time in the day, and there must be hundreds of thousands of such letters passing all the time. They are like ships in the night, passing each other, from one permanent official to another, and whilst he is receiving one, he is already sending another one to somebody else.

If we were to accept such correspondence, which goes on permanently and ceaselessly, as a sufficient basis for justifying the introduction of a new piece of legislation, we would be acting in a very strange manner. I therefore hope that when my hon. Friend comes to reply he will be able to produce some better reason for including this provision in the Bill.

Moreover, the House is in a very great difficulty, as far as this, according to the Secretary of State, cardinal piece of advice is concerned, because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did not quote directly from the letter. As he did not quote directly from the letter verbatim, there is apparently no constitutional obligation—I am subject to direction here—for this letter to be laid as a document before the House.

Moreover, speaking entirely for myself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would be hesitant in joining any of my hon. Friends in pressing the Secretary of State to put this letter as a document on the Table, because I think, on general constitutional grounds, that it would be undesirable if a head of a Department were to be forced to disclose private correspondence that is passed from one permanent official in his Department to another permanent official in his Department. I think all government would become impossible if such a constitutional obligation were ever established.

But if that is so, thenipso facto,no head of Department should even introduce such private correspondence as evidence or in making a case for introducing a certain type of legislation. This is wholly wrong, and my right hon. Friend ought to be advised to withdraw this point altogether, because if he were to persist in it, then I see a serious danger of an invasion of our very important constitutional convention that the advice given to him by his private officials is in fact private, that he is solely responsible for the case that he makes and that he must put the evidence upon which he bases his case upon the Table of the House, which my right hon. Friend has not done.

The House is completely in the dark this morning, in being asked to give a Third Reading to this measure, as to the kind of argument or the kind of evidence contained in this blessed letter. Nobody knows what is in it. We have not been told by the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State were to say today, "I agree that the constitutional convention ought not to be breached. I am not prepared to lay the letter as a document, but I will now give you the reasons that finally persuaded me to put this Part of the Bill into the Bill" then the House would know what we were talking about. At the moment nobody knows what the advice was; nobody knows what the evidence was. There was only a hint, an implication that somehow or other in this particular letter from one permament official to another there was either overriding evidence, new evidence or overriding argument, which made a completely uncertain position now so hard and certain that my right hon. Friend was able to proceed to introduce legislation.

We ought to know what is this new evidence, if there is any, overriding the uncertain evidence that had been supplied hitherto. In the absence of this information, it is quite incomprehensible to see how my right hon. Friend came to introduce this part of the legislation.

The other important point is the context and the real political reasons behind this provision and behind some of the other provisions. My right hon. Friend made an attempt last night, which the Minister of Social Security has not made, to justify the provision withdrawing free school milk from secondary school pupils by saying that all these savings and economy measures must be seen as a whole. Of course, this is by no means a justification for being able to avoid the most careful and detailed examination of every one of them. If we once came to accept that because the members of the Cabinet sit round a table and say to each other, "You cut this and therefore you will cut that" and they agree amongst themselves, they can then come to this House and say there is no need for any detailed justification of any particular economy measure, that indeed would be turning the Constitution upside down.

It is wholly irrelevant to this House, whether this is the result of a compromise or a package deal, or call it what you will. In this House, every Measure affecting the lives of our citizens has to be justified on its own grounds, or it cannot be justified at all. The whole doctrine of a package deal is totally alien to democracy and is totally hostile to the doctrine that has hitherto inspired our constitutional arrangements. This was pointed out on Second Reading when we looked at the peculiar agglomeration of measures contained in this Bill. It is a dog's breakfast, if ever there was one. The hon. Member for Barkston Ash was talking about dogs' licences, but dogs' breakfasts would be more appropriate than his reference when he was casting about for a new subject—

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

Not a new subject, but new sources of revenue. I beg the hon. Member to be fair.

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

Yes, I know. The hon. Gentleman is always very keen to talk about new sources of revenue, because he does not want to admit to the House that he approves of the withdrawal of free school milk, because his party has been advocating it for years. That is the real reason. But I leave the hon. Gentleman where he is at the present time.

I return to the second main aspect which, I submit, ought to dominate the debate on Third Reading, namely, the context in which this Bill is put. Many hon. Friends of mine have been asking themselves again and again: why on earth should the Government stick to this particular provision; why should they not accept the overwhelming sense of Members on their own side? It has been known before that, on occasion, when a Government find that in a Bill one of the provisions is particularly unfavourably received, they make some concession to the House or to their own party. Why are the Government so stubborn on this matter?

The real reasons are very serious and very grave. If the Government ever reintroduce the Order to reimpose prescription charges, there will be an even bigger opposition, and there will be even more determination to defeat this Order when and if it comes before the House. I hope it never will. But the context is this. For many years there has been ignorant and ill-informed campaigning by members of the Conservative Party, by some self-appointed spokesmen in the business community, and we have recently seen that some of them have moved from the withdrawal of free school milk from secondary school children to a demand to withdraw it from the primary school children as well. We also have the obscene spectacle of very rich men demanding the withdrawal of free school milk from children who need it. The Government are to blame, because they have opened the door to this further demand by the provision that they have put in this Bill.

After many years of ill-informed and ignorant campaigning by people basically hostile to our Welfare State, there has been built up a campaign at home, and the campaign at home has never been successful. The Conservative Party put forward measures designed to destroy the Welfare State at the 1964 election and at the 1966 election. On both occasions they have been rejected by a majority of the British people. But that was not the end of the story. When the country got into a balance of payments difficulty, there were demands from abroad that our attitude, and the attitude of this Government to our own people, must be determined by the policy considerations and the outdated social views of people who are trying to control our affairs from abroad.

Here we come to the real heart of the matter. The great danger to democratic government in this country is this—and it is involved in this Bill and in this particular provision—that when the Conservative Party have put forward their antisocial reactionary schemes to the electorate, and after the electorate have rejected these schemes, there is then a way of re entry, namely, by imposing, through international bankers' committees and consortia, a social policy upon the Government of this country which the people do not want and which the Government themselves do not want. This is the real truth of the dilemma that faces my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench, and I believe them when they say, "We do not really want this any more than you do".

I believe this to be wholly true. I believe this to be their real feeling about the matter. But what they do not tell us is this: that they have been intimidated, that panic and hysteria have been built up, that they have been made to believe that the safety of the £ and the future depends on whether they prove to be tough enough with the British people. That is the doctrine they have accepted, and it is from that doctrine that this legislation flows. This is the real and tragic kernel of the matter that the House has to consider. It goes beyond this Bill, although it does involve some of the provisions of this Bill.

This particular attitude has its own seeds of destruction, because whenever we approach the real purposes of Government after devaluation, whenever we begin to talk about the first requirements, the release of real economic resources for the export drive, we immediately come up against the impossible position of morale and enthusiasm among working people. This export drive is not only a mechanical method, as my hon. Friend well knows. I am not trying to teach him this, for he has as much experience as any of us. What is required in addition to the release of real resources is a conviction that things are fairly handled and fairly done. If productivity deals are going to be considered, if there is not to be too much suspicion on either side, then everybody must feel that the burdens are not concentrated on a particular section of the community. This Bill increases the burden unfairly and unduly upon working people, and on the lower-paid groups in particular. That is why the Bill is wrong.

If devaluation is to work, if the success of post devaluation policies is to come about, then we need a release of real resources. Nobody has yet been able to prove that this Bill has anything to do with the release of such resources. We need the good will of working people as well as industrialists, and we need a sensible social policy. This is not the time to reduce the social benefits and the feeling that they are living in a just society for working people. This is the time to improve these conditions. If everybody could feel that if the Government were to say to the trade unions, "This is a period where some wage increases are justified, but from our point of view and from a national point of view they ought to be limited; everybody ought to be reasonable about it." I should have said that the Government would be helped by an improvement in the Welfare State instead of choosing this particular time to cut down on the welfare services.

I must not be too long, as other hon. Members want to take part in this debate. I therefore come to the last point that I wish to mention, and this concerns the very real influence of the Department of Education and Science throughout the country on educationists, on local authorities and on various other groups concerned with the education of children. The hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), who had the difficult task of making a speech at all due to the attitude of his party to these matters, tried to suggest at one time or another in his speech that the local education authorities might decide, as one man, "We will ignore what the Ministry feel about this; we will ignore the legislation; we will ignore the attitude of the Secretary of State for Education; we will just go ahead and do as we like."

But the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that what the Secretary of State for Education and Science does has a very great deal of influence upon the attitude of education committees and the attitude of local authorities. If the unproven doctrine, however flimsily based, were to go abroad that there is a case for the abolition of free school milk for secondary children, it would have a very bad influence upon educationists in local authorities and on local education committees. The local authorities cannot ignore what the Minister says.

I would go further than that. The Secretary of State for Education has often pioneered improving the social provisions in our schools and he has no right to abdicate that task without any real evidence that he is entitled to do so and that there is a case for doing it. It therefore remains a matter of the greatest possible importance as to the attitude that he and his Department adopt, and I urge my hon. Friends to accept that all of us who have made this a major matter of debate and a major fight are deeply and desperately convinced that this is a most dangerous path that the Secretary of State has embarked upon and that the Government should reconsider the particular provisions of this Bill.

11.20 a.m.

Photo of Mr Paul Hawkins Mr Paul Hawkins , South West Norfolk

I have been pleasantly surprised at the support on the benches opposite for, indirectly, the agricultural industry, but I must say, coming from a constituency which has a very large number of lower-paid workers, that I entirely support many of the arguments which have been put on the other side over the effect that this Bill will have upon lower-paid workers.

I do not intend to detain the House for more than a few minutes. I stayed up here from late last night but was not able to get in, and I have come back this morning hoping I would be able to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, over two matters.

I also listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Education and Science and I could gather no information at all upon where he based this cut in free school milk for secondary school children. I should have been far happier—and I am a member of an education committee on a local authority—if we had been given some information. He made himself even more ridiculous than ever before when he started quoting a letter passed front one official to another official in his own Department. That was quite clear; I heard it myself. We have no information at all as to whether the take-up of free school milk in secondary schools could be improved, whether it should be improved and whether there is any real need for this free school mik or not. Therefore, I am in great doubt as to whether the Government have thought through this part of the Bill at all.

The second point on which I wish to speak for a few moments is this. The Bill will hit the lower-paid worker—and my constituency largely comprises lower-paid workers—because wages in rural areas are based upon agricultural earnings. Agricultural earnings, as I have never tired of saying in this House at every available opportunity, have been £ 5 to £ 6 a week less than the average of all other manual workers, who are described in the bulletin of the Minister of Labour—E5 to £ 6 less than the average for working five to six hours a week longer work to gain those earnings. In addition, the agricultural worker, who has only just received some increase—I think, 15s. a week—has through devaluation had his earnings devalued from the former figure by 15s. a week, even if one only takes devaluation as being 2s. in the £ An amount of 2s. in the on £ 15 a week, which is the average earnings of the agricultural worker, is 30s. a week cut. I know it should be 2s. 10d.. but, if one takes 2s., in fact the agricultural worker is 15s. a week worse off since devaluation than he was previously. In addition, having received, as I say, 15s. a week increase quite recently, through the Wages Board, he has now had his wages cut by 2s. in the £ devaluation, if not more, and I feel that this will affect the whole of the wages in the lower-paid area.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

On the question of the low-paid worker suffering as a result of this Clause, does the hon. Member realise that the worker might get the sack? If the farmer is producing milk for the schools and there is less demand for the milk, he might sack the agricultural worker?

Photo of Mr Paul Hawkins Mr Paul Hawkins , South West Norfolk

I entirely agree, for once in a while, with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I agree that this is a danger.

I was coming on to the point of how, in my opinion, this cut of £ 5 million is no cut at all because in fact the agricultural industry will straightaway ask for an increase because of less sales of milk. They will ask for an increase in the subsidies. This Bill, which cuts in every possible way, at the lower worker, and he has already had his low earnings devalued, is, in my opinion, nothing but the result of the complete mismanagement of our economic affairs by this miserable Government over the last three and a half years.

11.26 a.m.

Photo of Mr Laurie Pavitt Mr Laurie Pavitt , Willesden West

The House seems increasingly to call upon the animal kingdom for its metaphors. This morning we have had the gift horses, the sacred cows, the sacrificial lambs, the dogs' licences, the dog's breakfast, and I now think the hon. Gentleman has brought in really a cat of another colour when he starts to talk about the agricultural workers.

I am very much concerned, like most hon. Members, about this Bill and its provisions and I think my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) was quite right when he said that we all, on front and back benches, have been strained and stressed by these measures. I accept exactly that it must have been even more difficult for some of my colleagues on the Front Bench to reach these difficult decisions than it may have been for us. I still find some of them incomprehensible.

We have all had to compromise, in various ways, over most of the issues that we have had in the last few months. We usually dig our toes in at the points about which we know most, and I know the House will forgive me if the point on this Bill about which I have been digging my toes in most has been Clause 3 and the question of what happens to the health of children if we start to impose a restriction on the amount of prophylactic milk that we pour into their bodies while they are growing.

I am equally concerned with Clauses 1 and 2, but I have been prepared—and I say quite frankly to my hon. Friends that this was a difficult decision—to compromise on that and I have accepted the poll tax. Nobody fought harder in March, 1961, on the imposition of a poll tax for health services than my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Social Security, and I know that he shares the distaste for that kind of increase. Nevertheless, when we are faced with a choice of evils, very often we have to accept reluctantly and disappointedly that kind of provision.

When it comes to the question of expenditure on health, I never regard this as expenditure. This is investment. What we are trying to do is to have a healthy nation. If we talk in terms of export, and of productivity, if we talk in terms of an increasing standard of living for the population, then the health of the people is the first consideration. Therefore, when we get this mean and miserable cut of £ 5 million, one inevitably feels that this is one thing that cannot be accepted.

The argument was made on nutritional grounds during the Committee stage, and I do not propose to repeat many of the things that were said at that time, but I think sometimes in relation to the whole question of this £ 5 million and other measures that affect the health of the nation, the Government have a kind of crazy logic at the back of their decisions.

For some reason or other, in health matters, we apply the same kind of standards of judgment as we do on productivity. In the Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer of Health we take pride in the fact that we have more hospital beds used this year than were used last year, that we have given more treatment to people. In fact, the more people who are ill and the larger the number of statistics at the end of the time, it seems the greater success the Department has had; but in health this is the one place where the opposite is true. The fewer people we have to treat in hospital—apart from saving in my area £ 46 a week for everyone put into a bed—the fewer people who have to visit the general practitioner, the fewer children who are ill from lack of the right nutritional standards, the better and the more successful the policy has been.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rhodes Mr Geoffrey Rhodes , Newcastle upon Tyne East

I confess immediately that my knowledge of this subject is markedly less than the hon. Gentleman's, but could I ask him a straight question in all sincerity? Is it not true that with the improvement in medical science one gets earler diagnosis and consequently a longer period of treatment?

Photo of Mr Laurie Pavitt Mr Laurie Pavitt , Willesden West

That seems a little wide, but the more successful a Health Service is the longer people live, and the longer people live the more chronic bronchitis one has to deal with. This is a fact. But if one starts to take measures like this and if early diagnosis is impossible—prescription charges are an even worse case—one increases the bill to the nation. In terms of economics it does not make sense.

In Clause 3 we seem to be applying a crazy kind of logic. In health matters we say, "You can cut school milk, you can cut other charges elsewhere, but the one thing that you must not do is touch hospitals; we must keep them filled". Perhaps Clause 3 will help to make sure that the beds in the new hospitals that we are going to build will be fully occupied by children who have not had the proper prophylactic measures. [Interruption.] On that, of course. I get the obvious comment from my colleagues that I have stretched the argument far too far, and I accept that I have done so. But the basis still remains that if one starts to make inroads into practical or constructive measures to prevent people getting ill, it inevitably means that one has got to take other measures elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) made a great point about whether, because it is permissive and not mandatory, the Government's measure on economic grounds will act as effectively as the Treasury would obviously like it to do. All I say about that is that it makes our planning more difficult. If they know that 58 per cent. intake of the secondary modern schools are on milk, know how much they are giving to the primary schools and know their agricultural policy, the Government and the Treasury can plan their whole economic policy in a known situation far more efficiently. But the hon. Member for Barkston Ash pointed out that until the next two years are over we shall not know which Labour-controlled councils will insist on giving milk to their secondary schools and which Conservative-controlled councils will decide that the ratepayers' money is more important.

I want to raise the whole question of the saving under the Bill in the context of our priorities. According to the Financial Memorandum, the Bill will save £ 16,780,000. Will the Government confirm this? I am very pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary on the Government Front Bench; he is perhaps the one person on the Front Bench to give me the answer. I have already put this question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I am still awaiting a reply.

On 24th January the Minister of State, the Board of Trade, told the House, on the subject of investment grants, that we were to give £ 39 million to companies controlled by persons resident outside the United Kingdom on new ships ordered before 8th January, 1968. Some £ 35 million will be on ships built outside the United Kingdom. We are talking about £ 5 million in Clause 3, and we are talking about £ 25 million in Clause 2, which in total, is £ 5 million less than the amount which we are to give to foreign controlled companies in investment grants on ships not built in Newcastle-on-Tyne, not built on the Clyde, but built in Amsterdam. I cannot see the logic of that, when we are asked to cut back expenditure on our own people in this country.

I have no Chauvinistic feeling. If, like many hon. Members, I have spent much time persuading the Government to spend money in Botswana, it is because I think it essential for the peace of the world that money should be given to under-developed countries. Bait I cannot see the logic of the £ 5 million in Clause 3 and the £ 25 million in Clause 2, making £ 30 million in all, against the background of £ 39 million given to companies not even owned by British people, with ships built in foreign ports taking £ 35 million of that sum. I cannot see why the Government cannot alter this Bill by recognising that we can save an additional £ 5 million, to help the country out of its difficulties, in the way that I have suggested.

I do not claim to be a rebel. Every now and again my Party moves to the right, and I find myself on the left because my party has moved to the right. I do not move at all. I have a crick in my back from leaning over backwards for three years trying to support the Government. I shall not oppose this Bill this morning. I shall abstain. Indeed, I feel keenly that the Government are making the wrong move. I feel intensely for the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the tremendous job that he is trying to do and the difficulties that he is facing in trying to do it. But when he makes the wrong choice and the wrong decision, I for one must make the strongest possible protest. I say that in the kindest way and with sympathy for my colleagues, who have an even more difficult task than I have; not only have they to take the decisions but they have to shoulder res- ponsibility for the consequences which those decisions bring in their train.

11.36 a.m.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

The hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) touched on a key point in the last phrase of his speech—a point which no other hon. Member has yet mentioned. I refer to how hon. Members intend to vote. It would help If I stated quite clearly that I intend to vote against the Third Reading of the Bill and against the Closure, should it be moved. [An HON. MEMBER: "How many tellers?"] Unfortunately, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that some explanation of last night's episode might be called for at this occasion. It was, in fact—

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Order. That would not be in order on the Third Reading of the Bill.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

I feared that you would not let me get away with that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I regard the Bill as a total disgrace upon the Government and nothing that was said on Second Reading, in Committee or this morning has changed my mind. I do not think that the Government have even bothered to produce cogent reasons why they have had to go back on so many of their promises, any more than Judas produced any reasons why he sold out. This Bill does not demonstrate any economic strategy at all.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

Is that all that the Government have sold out for—30 pieces of silver? Or is it £ 5 million?

The Bill does not seem to me to fit into any economic plan either real or imaginary. What is the purpose of the Bill? First of all, apparently, it is to make devaluation work. That is presumably the central theme. That is what we have been told by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen from the Government Front Bench. I believe that the Bill demonstrates the total lack of preparation for devaluation because it is a hotch-potch, a patchwork quilt of tawdry measures, foisted upon us in order to try to show the bankers of the world that the Government mean business.

This is not planning. It is, I believe, anti-planning by an anti-Government. Will it have any effect at all on devaluation? I do not believe that it will make devaluation work. I do not believe that there is one measure in the Bill which will help to do that. Even if one accepts the central thesis of the Government's argument, that it is necessary to increase taxation and necessary to produce economies in Government spending in order to make devaluation work, are these measures in the Bill the right way in which to go about it? Do they represent the right priorities? If one has to produce economies, if one has to increase taxation, why choose to increase taxation upon those whom it will hit hardest? Why not choose to impose taxation in many other fields where it would not affect the lowest-paid workers? Why choose to cut school milk? There are plenty of places in which one might have saved £ 5 million if one had decided that that was necessary. Are these the new social priorities of the Socialist Government—if it can be called anything like that today?

Clause 1—and this is the first reason that I am against it—increases the poll tax, the National Insurance contribution. Of course, one can say that it is only increased by a shilling, but since they came to power the Government have increased the contribution of the working man in this country through the insurance stamps by five shillings. This is therefore part of a process. I have consistently opposed the poll tax.

I remind right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite what they said about the Conservative Government when they relied on the poll tax. They said: As a result the Tories have placed increasing reliance upon flat-rate poll tax contributions which fall heavily on the lowest paid. The Tories have more than doubled the cost of the insurance stamp since they took office. Incidentally, I am quoting from the bible of the Government, a document produced by the Labour Party in 1963 called "Twelve Wasted Years of Tory Rule". One no longer needs to make speeches about the Government. One simply reads out quotations from that document and changes the word "Tories" to "Labour". Indeed, one can turn up any chapter on the Government's policy and find a host of broken promises. I am making precisely the same points as the Secretary of State for Education and Science would have been making if he had been sitting on the Opposition Front Bench in this debate. I believe that I am right to make those points, and I believe that other hon. Gentlemen were quite right to make them, too.

I have consistently opposed the Poll Tax, and I shall go on doing so, because the people who sent me to the House of Commons live in an area where incomes are exceptionally low—the lowest of any county in the country—and they will not stand for this kind of increase by a Government which once they might have believed understood what social priorities were all about.

It is not as if the Government had not been offered alternatives. I am not simply attacking them for what they have done. I have consistently put forward in this debate other ways in which they could have gone about financing the social security system. On Third Reading it would not be in order again to go into the details of the social security tax, but the Government have had alternatives put to them.

They could have increased the Exchequer contribution. As I pointed out, they attacked the Conservatives vehemently, again in their own bible, for reducing the Exchequer contribution, and they said that the Conservatives had increased the proportion of the total contribution which fell on the employer and on the employee. One of the cardinal points of Labour's social policy in the 1945– 1950 Government was that there should be fair shares in contributing to social security as between the three partners—the employer, the employee and the State. We have seen in the latest figures of the Actuary's Report that the State's contribution has fallen to a mere 16 per cent. That is going back totally on the views which the Labour Party expressed when they were in Opposition and even when they were last in Government, when at least they had a social conscience which was not a tattered shred of a thing.

I come to the Actuary's Report, which is one other basis for the increase in the National Insurance contribution. Without wishing to criticise a civil servant, I must say that I regard this report and those which have gone before it as a totally inadequate basis for the kind of decisions that we are being asked to make. We cannot accept the kind of statement that is included in this Report. It goes back upon so many of the things that these Reports have said in the past. How do we know that these figures are right if those which he produced a year ago were so hopelessly wrong? I do not believe the figures in this Report for one minute, and I believe that within six months or so the Government will have to explain that the whole actuarial basis of the scheme has gone wrong.

Why is that so? Because there is not such a thing as an actuarial basis in the National Insurance system. Let us forget the word fund" and the word "actuary". Let us sack the Government actuary. Let us not get another one but have an accountant instead. Let us forget these old-fashioned phrases and get on with financing the Health Service in a modern way.

How do we know that the present trends which he mentions will continue? Last year he told us that he did not think that they would continue. Now he tells us that there is some confirmation that they will continue. What do we know about the cause of earlier retirement? What is the cause of increased sickness and increased absence from work as a result of sickness? There are very disturbing trends which the Government should certainly have investigated and tried to explain without simply putting up the National Insurance contribution. The Government have said nothing about their investigations, and that is yet another reason why I shall oppose the Bill today.

The National Health contributions were dealt with fairly fully in the Committee stage. These are raised to pay for the exemptions in the prescription charges. We are being asked again to vote for a figure in which I have no confidence whatever. The £ 25 million which it is said these exemptions will cost is a wild guess. I do not suppose it is acc irate even to the nearest £ 10 million. So we may well find that there is no need to cut out the £ 5 million of school milk because the wild guess may be wrong by £ 5 million. There is no attempt to define, for instance, who the chronic sick are or how they shall be adjudged.

Then one comes to the most disgraceful part, the need apparently for Socialist priority which occasions the Government to ask for £ 5 million to be saved by cutting school milk. When the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) denounced the Bill in ringing terms at the start of his speech the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Education laughed out loud. I never thought I should see the day when a Socialist Secretary of State for Education would actually laugh at the taking away of school milk.

This is a miserable measure.

Photo of Mr John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone

That had nothing to do with my right hon. Friend's laugh. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayreshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), as we all know, is one of the most humorous Members of the House, and he began with a paraphrase that made all of us laugh. The hon. Gentleman ought to withdraw his remark.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

I realise that Labour Members are very good at laughing out of the back of their heads, but I happened to see the face of the Secretary of State for Education.

This is a miserable measure.

Hon. Members:

Withdraw.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

I shall certainly not withdraw; I have no intention of withdrawing.

This is a miserable measure, and it is a very small saving. Why not adopt some alternative? Why come to us and say "Because we have to get rid of milk in secondary schools to save £ 5 million, we will get rid of it entirely. We will make no provision for charging for it; we will not get our revenue through the Income Tax form."? Why not accept the alternatives? Why do away with school milk entirely?

What about secondary schools which supply sweets and pop for sale? Was it never in the mind of the Government to divert to the provision of milk the money with which some kids come to school to buy such things? They certainly have not made any attempt to do so, but I think that would have been far better.

Although I certainly would not argue for cutting family allowances, I should rather have seen family allowances increased by less than school milk cut. School milk is one of the benefits in kind of the total provision for family allowances. When one advocates increasing family allowances, the criticism comes from all manner of political opinion that the money is spent in bingo, beer or betting. I do not myself accept these arguments and have often argued against them. Nevertheless, this is one part of family provision that is in kind. One knows at least that it is going into the bellies of the kids. It seems extraordinary that the Government should have increased family allowances but at the same time removed the one part that was certainly being spent in the right place.

Various hon. Gentlemen opposite, and certainly the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), yesterday referred to school milk as a Socialist measure. It is no such thing. It was introduced as part of the Beveridge Plan, as part of the family endowment plan. Lord Beveridge argued that school milk and school meals were part of the total provision that was to be made for families—

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

As a matter of absolute accuracy, it may well have been in the Beveridge Report but it was actually introduced by the Labour Government in 1946.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

I am not denying that. I am just trying to deny the ownership of one idea. There are no better measures that this country could ever have than Liberal proposals implemented by a Labour Government. They do sometimes work. I wish the Government would implement a few more.

Government agricultural policies have caused a milk surplus, and at the very time when we have a milk surplus—it is of gigantic proportions and by the autumn will be extremely serious—the Government take away this bastion of our sales. The Government would be justified in doing this only if they could show—and they certainly have not shown it—that all children get enough milk or, at any rate, that the great majority of children get enough milk. But all the market research in this field shows that the greatest single barrier to the consumption of more milk in the family is price—not the barrier of desiring it, not the barrier of taste, but the barrier of price. I could show the right hon. Gentleman a report which illustrates this and proves it conclusively. Price is the main barrier; very often housewives say they would buy an extra pint or two pints for their children, because it would be drunk, but they cannot afford it. But they know that if they paid the money, it would be drunk. If the Government could have shown us that these families did not want more milk, and that the children would not drink it if it were provided, they might have been on better ground.

On Clause 5, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will try to tell us something more about the items concerning the charges for road accident victims. It is unfortunate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that an Amendment in the names of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) and myself was not called. The point of it was to ascertain from the Government how far they are prepared to go. They have said that they want to increase the charges above the maximum level of £ 50; I should like to know how far they are prepared to go. I see very considerable arguments in favour of going the whole hog and charging the whole amount.

This seems to be a Bill which is a symbol of a crumbling Government. They have lost all social purpose and abandoned their social conscience. It is a despicable and disreputable Bill. Our opposition has been consistent throughout. We have shown our alternatives; therefore, we have shown that we have a duty and right to divide the House on this Bill. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite who feel as I do about the Bill will join me in the Lobby.

I can only say of the Tory opposition that it has been pathetic throughout the whole course of the debates on the Bill. There is no burden that I would rather shoulder than that of opposing the consensus which exists between the two Front Benches. Throughout the debates we have tried to keep the Labour Government's word for them. That is why I hope that many hon. Gentlemen will support the Liberals in the Lobby. I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) will do so, too, and that she will be able to say why by catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If hon. Gentlemen opposite do not support us in the Lobby, they will have to say what part of the Bill they support. They have opposed almost every aspect of almost every Clause except the one dealing with civil defence. Are they saying that by sitting there, doing what I said on Second Reading—exercising their conscience by the seat of their pants—they are supporting the abolition of school milk, the increase in National Insurance contributions and the increase in National Health contributions simply for the sake of getting a cut in their prize sacred cow, civil defence?

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

There are aspects of the Bill, such as the speeding up of building grants to development areas, which I and my hon. Friends feel are very beneficial. There are other aspects of the Bill which are also beneficial. Our opposition to the aspects which we do not like will be made very clear indeed by our vote. We do not need the advice of the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

That is precisely what the hon. Gentleman does need. On Second Reading hon. Gentlemen opposite refused to support us in the Lobby. I remember the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) carefully avoiding making a promise about how he would vote until after I had declared my position and then he knew he would not have to join us in the Lobby. So the only consistent opposition has come from the Liberals. I firmly believe that if we had not said that we would divide the House hon. Members opposite would never have gone into the Lobby.

Photo of Dr Reginald Bennett Dr Reginald Bennett , Gosport and Fareham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. While it is possible from these benches to discern quite a number of opponents of the Bill, I find it singularly difficult to see very many supporters. Is it possible, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to do anything about the fact that forty Members are not present?

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

The sitting began at 2.30 on Monday, 26th February, and was interrupted by a suspension under a Sessional Order of 12th December at 1.33 a.m., and the interrupted proceedings were resumed at 10 o'clock this morning, also in pursuance of the Sessional Order. The sitting is therefore still Monday's sitting, and under Standing Order 30(1), a sitting which goes after ten o'clock cannot include a Count. So there is nothing that I can do to help the hon. Gentleman.

11.56 a.m.

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Poplar

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) is two personalities rolled into one. Whenever I listen to one of his speeches, I find it a blend of two-thirds cogent argument well and modestly presented and one-third behaviour deriving directly from TheMagnet, The GemandThe Pop.He is in one way a strange mixture of the adult politician and the cad of the Remove. If I may borrow a phrase which is often used about maiden speakers, though the hon. Gentleman is not one, we shall all look forward very much to hearing his further contributions in this House when he has grown up.

I want to comment on two things that the hon. Gentleman has said. He said first of all that the only real opposition has come from the Liberal Party. He spoke of me in particular as having been careful during the debate on the Second Reading to avoid indicating what I would do about a division until he had said he would divide the House. He does me a great injustice, as I am about to show, and I accept his apology in advance.

The debate on the Second Reading began a little after 3.30 p.m. At about 11.30 a.m. that morning I handed in a note to Mr. Speaker telling him that I proposed to divide the House that evening. It is clear, therefore, that my intention that there should be a division was not contingent on the benevolence of the hon. Gentleman and that what he has just said, I am sure inadvertently. does me a great injustice. I merely repeat that I accept his apology unuttered.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

A private note to Mr. Speaker is not for publication; speeches in the House are. The hon. Gentleman carefully avoided making a public pronouncement about it until after I had declared my position and he knew he would not have to vote. Furthermore, if he was so intent at 11.30 that morning on dividing the House—

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Order. I think it would be for the benefit of the House if both hon. Gentlemen confined their remarks to the Third Reading.

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Poplar

I am much obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House will judge between the hon. Member and me as to whether his accusations are justified.

I will comment on only one other thing which the hon. Gentleman said, and here with less disapproval than was the case with my last comment. He said that when we come to add up all the sums at the end it may very well turn out that the saving which it is intended to effect in the Bill and the somewhat lesser amount which is actually effected by way of saving as a result of the Bill may turn out to be very much smaller than the margin of error in the overall economic calculations at which this is directed, and that we might be straining at a gnat and letting the whole camel go through.

When I listened to the hon. Gentleman saying that my mind went back to a rather similar, perhaps rather more graphic moment in 1951 when three distinguished and valuable members of the then Government, including the present Prime Minister, were forced to resign by the insistence of the Treasury at that time. One of the predecessors of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary said that the Government could not balance the Budget unless they saved £ 13 million by imposing some charges on the Health Service. In the outcome that year we had a surplus of £ 232 million.

An Hon. Member:

We tore ourselves to pieces for it.

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Poplar

As an hon. Friend of mine says, we tore ourselves to pieces over an argument about encroachment into the service which in the upshot amounted to rather less than 6 per cent. of the surplus which we eventually got. I am afraid that the parallel is much too close for my liking, and it forms part of the reason why I oppose the Measure.

Last night the Secretary of State for Education and Science invited hon. Members to look at the measure in the round, to look at the whole of it, and all of its economic implications taken together. Most hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House who have spoken this morning readily accepted that invitation and have directed their arguments to the Measure in its place as a part of the Government plan for, to use the Secretary of State's term, making devaluation work, a part of the overall plan to improve the economic health of the nation. I propose to do that as well.

My hon. Friends who have spoken and one or two hon. Gentlemen opposite have pointed out that it is important to consider the effect of the measures contained in the Bill upon workers, trades unions and others whose co-operation is vitally necessary if we are to make devaluation work. For the first few hours of our sitting tomorrow I shall absent myself from the service of the House because I shall be in Croydon at the conference of executives of trade unions which is considering the Report put to it by the General Council of the Trades Union Congress. I shall also, incidentally, have to absent myself in the morning from a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which I have not been able to attend in the last month—a deprivation which I have borne with my usual cheerful fortitude. I shall be going directly to Croydon. The members of Her Majesty's Government who are concerned with economic policy, as we have heard and read over and over again, are watching the meeting at Croydon very closely indeed. It is highly germane to the success of the Government's economic policy, highly germane to the problem of making devaluation work—to use again the shorthand phrase of the Secretary of State—and highly germane to what the Government are up to whether or not tomorrow's meeting of the executives of trades unions affiliated to the Trades Union Congress will adopt the sort of middle road which the General Council has put forward between the views of the Government, from which it strongly dissents, and the views of the Government's most direct critics.

Does my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary think that putting a bit more on the stamp will encourage the good will and co-operation of the People who will be at Croydon tomorrow? Does he think that the men at Croydon tomorrow, who will include representatives of some of the lowest paid workers in the country, will be induced to stand up and cheer support for the Government because some of their members are having the milk for their secondary school children withdrawn? In what way is this Bill a contribution to creating that framework, that atmosphere, that climate of co-operation which we need throughout the country if we are to make devaluation work? In what way is the Bill a contribution to creating throughout the country a feeling of justice based upon equality of sacrifice, on the protection and shielding—promised by the Prime Minister but so far not fulfilled—of those least able to bear burdens from the worst of the burdens? In what way does the Bill make a contribution to creating the atmosphere in which people will pull together, not in the sloganeering sense of a "Back Britain" movement which urges school children voluntarily to give up their milk—the idiots, the nit-wits—but in a real, solid, genuine sense of work?

I am extremely concerned about the effect on the political climate, the economic climate, the industrial climate and the working climate of Clause 3. I do not say anything about the nutritional aspects of the matter because that was well discussed in Committee yesterday. Indeed, it was the only part of the matter which was discussed. The only debate we had was on an Amendment which, though important, was very narrow and dealt purely with a nutritional inquiry. There was no discussion of the economic aspects. Only the Secretary of State made a reference to the economic aspect, and he said he was surprised that it had not been mentioned during the debate. There was a very good reason why it had not been mentioned during the debate—that to mention it would have been out of order, as he was out of order. It was in order only on the Question. That the Clause stand part of the Bill. When I rose to mention it on that Question I was slapped down and not allowed to speak. I make no criticism of the Chair. I am merely explaining why the Third Reading debate has to be a little longer than it otherwise would have been—because now we are invited to consider the economic implications.

I will say two things about the nutritional implications. First, the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) talked about the possibility of some local authorities going ahead on their own, irrespective of what the Bill says, in order to maintain the standards of welfare within their own community, and he instanced a number of local authorities which he thought might do it. He mentioned Penistone and Poplar. I do not know whether he was recalling as he spoke—I was—Poplar nearly 40 years ago and what happened then? We were in a very similar situation then. Again, the parallels are uncomfortably close. Again the Government were cutting savagely into the living standards of lower income people. At that time local authorities and boards of guardians were being used as the instruments of the Government attack on the lower income groups. They all stood for it except Poplar, whose leading representatives went to prison rather than further those mean actions. Among those who went to prison was perhaps the most distinguished of my predecessors in the representation of my constituency, George Lansbury, a man who was honoured for many things but not least for the part which he played on that occasion and the contribution which he made on that occasion to creating throughout the country a totally new attitude to social welfare. That was a contribution which came to fruition only twenty years later. I must tell the hon. Member for Barkston Ash—

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Before my hon. Friend gives that interesting piece of history, will he also add that it was a distinguished Scottish Minister, John Wheatley, who did justice to Poplar and had the whole thing wiped out?

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Poplar

Yes, that is so, and I am glad to join in the tribute which my hon. Friend pays to John Wheatley who sailed along with the tide which Poplar had created.

I was about to tell the hon. Member for Barkston Ash that it will not be so easy for Poplar to do in 1968 what it did 40 years ago, because only within the last week or two its local authority has been deprived by an action of the Minister of Housing and Local Government of a very substantial portion of its income. This is, therefore, one more burden added to all sorts of previous burdens. Therefore, I do not think that he will find that even those local authorities which object to the action which the Government have taken will be able to do much about it.

I turn to consider the wider implication of this Bill and where it fits into the economic scene. Here I will be helpful to some of my hon. Friends. My hon. Friends the Members for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) and Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer)—and they are not alone, because there are millions like them throughout the country—confessed that they were unable to see the processes of reasoning by which it is argued that taking away school milk from secondary school children creates a switch of resources into exports or import-saving, or into productive investment. I am about to tell them what are the processes of reasoning which have induced the Government to believe that the way to increase exports or to reduce imports or to increase productive investment is to stop secondary school children from having school milk.

I am able to tell them not because I am cleverer than they are—heaven forbid that I should make any such suggestion—but because I have had the advantage of some private inside information. I obtained this private inside information by employing one of the new industrial espionage services who are advertising their services of electronic bugging in order to enable us to find out what other people are up to. I got to know that in the Treasury they had set up a Departmental committee consisting of a number of the Treasury knights whose job was to write a brief for Ministers to enable them to explain the causation, to enable them to explain that withdrawing school milk helps export and import savings. I got that industrial espionage company electronically to bug the room in which this Departmental committee was sitting. They managed to infiltrate a hidden microphone into the base of the teapot.

It would take me far too long if I were to recount to the House the full tape-recording, which I have, of the proceedings of this Departmental committee, and therefore I am bound to abridge it, and I shall abridge it very considerably indeed. The meeting was opened by the chairman, Sir Roderick, who said, "Our mandate is to work out an explanation to show that the way to get a great export boom is to stop secondary school children from having milk. Let us consider how we can do that. A sum of £ 5 million equals a lot of milk. We could export that milk." But Sir Cuthbert asked, "Sir Roderick, where would we export it? "Sir Roderick replied," How about Western Europe for a start? "Sir Graham said," I am not sure that that is a very good idea. I hear that they have a big surplus of milk in Western Europe, so we cannot export it to Western Europe".

Then Sir Percy chipped in and said, "It has nothing to do with exporting milk. It is based on releasing labour from inessential industries to essential industries. Supplying secondary school children with milk is an inessential industry. If we could get the labour out of it, we could put it into an export industry and we could increase exports in that way." But Sir Graham asked, "What labour are you talking about?", and Sir Percy replied, "All those lovely milkmaids, who could be put to work, for example, in the assembly of electronic instruments, because they have one qualification in their task which is very valuable in assembling electronic instruments."

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Order. The House is enjoying the hon. Member's speech, but he is getting too involved in detail for a Third Reading debate.

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Poplar

With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that if one is putting the point satirically instead of directly, it does not make it less relevant. We have been invited from the Front Bench to support this measure, because it is to make devaluation work. Ministers claim that it will help exports. I am trying to analyse in what way it will do so. I hope, Sir, that you will not prevent me from concluding this analysis. If you compel me to do so, I will abandon the satirical in favour of the direct, but I do not think that that puts me any more or any less, with great respect, in order or out of order.

And so Sir Percy said, "We want these milkmaids in light assembly. They have one quality which is very much required in light assembly—manual dexterity. All those lovely, long, soft, fingers, which have been made supple by the nuzzling of the udders, could be used perfectly in assembling micro-minaturised components in the electronic industry, for example, in the A.E.I. factory at Woolwich". Sir Cuthbert commented, " That will not do. They do not have milkmaids any more. They have milking machines". "Ah," said Sir Roderick, "now we are on to something. The contribution which this Bill can make is not to exporting the milk or diverting labour to essential industries; it is to diverting expensive and valuable plant and equipment to the production of exports. Therefore, if these milking machines were not used for milking cows in order to spoil the secondary school children of the country, they could be used in some other industrial use which would help the export drive. I cannot say", he added, "what that industrial use would be, because, as you know gentlemen, I have never been inside a factory, and nor have any of you, because the system of recruiting the experts at the Treasury is carefully designed to preclude anybody who has ever seen inside of a factory. I do read in the Ministry of Labour's returns an industrial classification called extractive industries, and surely a milking machine can be put to some use". "No, no", said Sir Cuthbert. "you have all got it wrong; you have all got it absolutely wrong. The economic importance of this measure and the contribution which it makes to devaluation is not by way of exporting the milk, not by way of diverting the labour to export industries or of diverting machinery to export industries. It is entirely by way of reducing home purchasing power which may suck goods on to the home market which could otherwise be exported. This milk is a very special thing", he said, "and some of these Labour people are going to put down Amendments to except queer people like under £ 15 a week people. We hope they will not be called, but if they are called they will argue that the poorest people ought to be exempted from this deprivation of school milk". Indeed, we are not considering them because they are not now in the Bill and therefore I will not refer to them. "But", he said, "of course, it is just those people who are sucking goods into the home market. For example, I have heard", said Sir Cuthbert, "that we are not exporting enough Jaguars to the United States of America and this is because the local Jaguar agent in the Gorbals and the main Jaguar distributors in the Borough of Tower Hamlets and the Swansea Valley are absolutely pulled over the place with the demand for Jaguars. Therefore, we have got to cut out all these Poplarites, Swanseaites and Gorbalites".

I have put this point as I have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker satirically. But it is a serious point. If the Government cannot justify this measure on the grounds that the goods released from home demand are to be exported—as they cannot; if they cannot justify it on the grounds that it diverts labour from an inessential to an essential industry—and they cannot; if they cannot justify it on the grounds that they are diverting machinery from the inessential to the essential—and you cannot; and if they cannot justify it on the grounds that by switches of purchasing power it is going to increase exports—and they cannot; then how on earth can the Government say that this is a part of the strategy of making devaluation work.

If I have dealt with this matter in a satirical way, it is because I do not think this proposition of the Government is misguided; it is farcical. We do not need to argue against it. All we need to do is to laugh at it, because it is a laughable, ridiculous, farcical proposition to pretend that we are making a major contribution to the solution of what we all understand to be great economic problems by stopping school children having their milk. If the Government are going to use their majority to force this Measure through, let them do it; let them offend our consciences in that way. But do not let them insult our intelligence by telling us a fairy tale about the motive for it.

12.23 p.m.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing , Hamilton

The greatest single transformation in health in Scotland that one can see in my generation as against that of my parents is the health of the children. I was born and brought up in Glasgow, and I am told by my parents that most big families lost a child and most classrooms had a child who never grew up. Now, fortunately, almost all children grow up, and I think I am right in saying that in the very big school that I attended, no-one died throughout the whole of my school career. I may say that I left the school in 1935 and had free milk throughout my school days until I left school, as did everyone else in the Glasgow schools.

Now children do not have rickets; they do not get T.B.; they have good teeth; they are bigger; they are no longer small statured, as they very often were. The vital factor is nutrition, and milk, of course, has a very important place in that factor. But I would suggest that we should never relax in regard to the health of children, because there was an instance in fairly recent history where we relaxed and rickets re-emerged. T.B. is no longer the scourge of Scotland; but it could re-emerge. Moreover, there are pockets of neglect everywhere.

The recent facts about child poverty shocked many of us, but apart from poverty, where one might expect that they would not get milk in their homes, there are homes where, by not being organised, where there is plenty, there is a lack of nutrition. The milk at school is a constant. It may be that part of the justification—and I have heard this said by some people—is that much of it is wasted, but the waste is not important if we are looking at the gain, and the gain is every single child who swallows the milk every single day. The justification for excluding secondary schoolchildren cannot be that they are bigger, because they are still growing and it is growth that is vital in this matter of nutrition.

On this matter of neglect and food, although I am not suggesting for a minute that we extend free milk to universities, even in my own university career a great many students in my law year were found to have tuberculosis. One died; many were away from university for one year, and I myself was found to have it, although the modern drugs cured it. Students are notoriously always hard up, and we probably spent money on the wrong things, the girls spending money on their stockings instead of on food.

Whenever we relax our vigilance in the matter of nutrition for people who are growing or who are vulnerable, then we must realise that the result may be the re-emergence of these diseases. I suggest that it would be better if, instead of saving this £ 5 million, we regarded it as money well spent in our function as watchdogs over the health of children. I find it a petty economy, because there are so many things that we could easily cut, such as the Polaris programme, that would be to the benefit of health as well.

It is not acceptable to cut this milk, particularly in Scotland because there food prices are higher and wages are lower. I end by saying that I must vote against this measure. I would put it to the House, that Tom Johnston would have done the same thing.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Mr. Hugh D. Brown—[Interruption.]

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing , Hamilton

On a point of order. I shall be obliged if the hon. Member can explain to me how I can be in six places at the one time.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

I am afraid that is not a point of order.

12.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

This problem of being in half-a-dozen places applies to all of us, and I must admit that I myself should be in the Committee discussing sewerage in Scotland. I am missing from that Committee.

I am a bit more temperate, I hope, and a bit more reasonable in my language than the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), but I must say I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo). I sometimes have the uneasy feeling, though, that his undoubted talents are slightly wasted in the sense of his satirical, destructive approach. I thought the most important part was not the funny part, but where he was trying to relate the significance to the T.U.C. meeting tomorrow. I think this is really a fundamental point.

I do not want to be unduly personal, but I would say to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing), that I am getting quite fed up with this constant approach that is being made by her, when she was not even present to vote on Second Reading. Really, this kind of cynical approach to politics—sometimes helped, I may say—

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing , Hamilton

On a point of order. I do not have a cynical approach to politics.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

These are not matters for the Chair. These are matters for debate.

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

I think this is a fair—

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

Would the hon. Gentleman give way? Is it not also true that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing) would not even be able to participate in this debate this morning, if it had not been for hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House putting down Amendments and voting on them yesterday?

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Order. This is a very important measure, and I think e ought to devote ourselves to the Third Reading. Mr. Brown.

Photo of Mr Hugh Brown Mr Hugh Brown , Glasgow Provan

I do not want to pursue this matter, but I do find it difficult to accept tie situation where a single Member, because of the peculiar circumstances can attract all the publicity and attention, and not be subject to the same kind of informed criticism that other Members are subject to. As I say, I take it particularly hard this morning when the hon. Member for Hamilton was not even here on Second Reading, did not even vote on the Second Reading of the Bill, was not here at all yesterday, and certainly was not here at 1.10 a.m. this morning. I am not criticising you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I think it is a bit unreasonable when some of us have to sit here so long for the opportunity of saying a few words.

However, I want to be constructive now. I must admit that I am deeply perturbed about the reasons for this Bill. I did not oppose the Government on the increase of contributions. My minor outburst was on the withdrawal of school milk from secondary children. I am merely expressing my reluctance to support the Bill enthusiastically. I did so because, unfortunately, in the country, and certainly among many active people in the Labour Party—there is nothing original about this—there is the feeling that we are attacking the wrong sections of the community. Of course, many of us would be more than willing to face up to a comprehensive review of all the welfare services. Where can savings be made? Everyone knows that there are abuses in school meals. For example, the free meals on Saturdays and on holidays are sometimes abused, an enormous amount of waste. Nevertheless, I think it is wrong that somehow or other all this should be linked up with devaluation. This is the breakdown in the psychology.

I reserve the right, however bumptious or arrogant it might appear to be, from time to time to disagree with all the knowledge, experience and "know how" that exist in the Cabinet. I would like to think that there were differences of opinion in the Cabinet—not to be exploited by all the political commentators who write about things that I am quite sure they have no substance for—and I would like to think that there has been healthy disagreement and argument in the Cabinet about this.

I say to the Chief Secretary: the Budget is coming along. There must be greater evidence that there is going to be more equality of sacrifice than we have seen up to now. This is, I think, the thing that has been troubling many Members in the party, and I am not linked with the regular abstainers. In fact, perhaps it might help if they were to listen to what I am saying. I am not linked with the regular abstainers, and make this plea simply because I feel strongly that unless there is some greater evidence of equality of sacrifice, we shall destroy this Labour movement. I can only appeal to the Chief Secretary and the Front Bench, that it is not enough to come along with sophisticated, clever—I am not suggesting insincere—arguments that might be acceptable in this place or in Cabinet committees. If they are not acceptable by the people we represent, they will fail. I am delighted to have the opportunity to make this clear.

Going home last night, at a quarter past one this morning, hon. Members may have passed the Grosvenor House, the Playboy Club, the Savoy or any of the other establishments in London. I am not pursuing the line that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) or my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) indulged in about the Royal Family. But we cannot expect people to support this proposal unless we can convince them that we are after the William Hickey society as well. I know that it is practically impossible to defeat those who are trying to beat the Income Tax legislation and all the rest of it, but we must at least be seen to be trying to introduce some equality of sacrifice.

Unlike some of my other colleagues, I do not think that the Cabinet or the Government are deliberately trying to make things more difficult for the working-class people. I do not share that belief. I understand some of the dilemmas with which they are confronted. But, please, in the Budget there must be greater evidence of some equality of sacrifice. Otherwise we just shall not win the next election.

12.37 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Worsley Mr William Worsley , Chelsea

I shall not keep the House long, but I want briefly to thank the Patronage Secretary for the opportunity that he has given for a Third Reading at a morning sitting. Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite will perhaps echo the thanks. Too often Third Reading debates disappear in the mirk of early morning hours and are very little reported.

This is a mean and a miserable Bill. It is first and foremost mean and miserable in form. I do not think I have ever seen such a ragbag of a Bill, a Bill covering so many matters. I do not think that any but a Government who have totally lost control of their legislative programme would have produced such a Bill. It is mean and miserable in content. But I shall not seek to repeat many of the points which have been made on all sides of the House during the debate.

What we are doing this morning is erecting a tombstone upon the aspirations, policies and promises which the Government had when they were voted into office. A recent Bill had its name changed in another place to something describing more exactly what it contained. If another place should so change the title of this Bill, I think it would call it "The Socialism (Declaration of Intellectual Bankruptcy) Bill". This is what the Bill does. It is harsh and niggling. A Government who could produce such a Bill have surely lost every pretence of having a coherent policy. Therefore, I would suggest that, rather than produce this sort of Bill, it would be better for the Government to resign and leave to others in the House the job of running the country properly.

12.39 p.m.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

We have had an extremely lengthy Third Reading stage. I do not complain about that on behalf of the Government. I will deal with the remarks of the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) at the conclusion of my speech.

I want to say at the outset, particularly as there has been a long series of speeches by my hon. Friends casting doubts on various provisions of the Bill, that we fully recognise the genuine area of the concern there is about it. I hope to convince them even at this late stage that this is part of a coherent strategy to deal with the economic situation and is related to other activities of the Government. I concede—I am sure they will concede as much to us—that this is a question on which concern, compassion and strong feelings are not confined to any one section of the House. They have taken an active part, to their credit I think, all through the Bill. Nevertheless, those hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House who have found it right to sustain the Government in the Lobby at various stages equally share that concern and understanding.

There are two ways in which the Bill, which is a technical Bill, tries to make devaluation work—in the time-honoured phrase that we are now using. One is by trying, in some parts of the Bill, to attract the movement of resources from one area of the economy to another. I think my hon. Friends have tended to concentrate too much of their attention on that aspect of the policy.

There is a second—particularly in respect of school milk and Clause 3—even more compelling argument which we have to put forward, and that is the immediate need this year and within the next year or so to have a degree of retrenchment in public expenditure. It is in the light of this second aspect of policy that many of the measures in the Bill have to be seen. I am not saying that people ought not still to argue against them on that account—indeed, they will—but I think the Government are entitled to say that it is in respect of all this that one has to consider the matter.

None of us pretends to be delighted about any aspect of the Bill—not my right hon. Friend the Minister of Social Security, not my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, and certainly not myself, those of us dealing with the two main contentious issues. We are not pleased and delighted that we have to produce these proposals, but we judge them necessary in the present situation.

Liberal Members were in the forefront of the campaign to bring about devaluation, and I think that the decision to devalue had a marked measure of support on these benches from a great many hon. Members who have spoken in the debate so far. I do not know of anybody in the country who believes that the decision to devalue could be taken in isolation from any other measures such as we are having to put before the country. Anybody who believed that we did not have to back devaluation up by really tough and earnest measures, both as announced in the House and those that will be announced in the forthcoming Budget, and that we could make the decision in isolation from all these other factors would certainly be entitled to be accused of living in cloud cuckoo land.

The argument is about what sort of decisions have to be taken to back up devaluation, and it is in the context of that that we have to consider these questions. All the early indications are that because of the decision to devalue productivity is improving, and that the unemployment figures, even at this time of the year, show a welcome sign of declining. All must be delighted to hear of the successful indications there. But there has to be a firm resolve to make devaluation work even if it involves us in these very unpleasant measures. If the Government departed from the firmness and resolve that will be necessary they would be guilty of selling the country short. Those of us on this side of the House who are pledged to get the economy right and to ensure that devaluation works are entitled to say that our measures should be seen within this context.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Will my hon. Friend—

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

Perhaps my hon. Friend will not interrupt. I have sat here a long time, and I know that the House wants to divide. at an appropriate moment.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

The hon. Gentleman may have plenty of time, but there is a great deal to be said, and I think I am en titled to try to deploy the arguments of the Government since the main burden of those who were here during the night and throughout the morning has been that they were not satisfied that we had supplied enough arguments.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

On a point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could we have some elucidation about when the debate has to end? I understood we could go to two o'clock. I am not sure why the Minister feels he is running out of time.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I am trying to apply a serious argument and I will do so if I may be allowed to do it in my own way.

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot bring the debate to an end. It can be done only by the application of the Standing Order.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I am trying to pay hon. Members the compliment of giving them a reasoned answer to the case that has been put up. I do not ask them to accept what I am saying, though I hope it will have some effect on them but I hope they will listen and realise that I am trying to meet the arguments put forward as well as I am able.

I was saying that it is in the light of this thinking that the two main measures on which I want to concentrate and which I know concern my hon. Friends have to be taken. There is the question of the social services, which is in part a question of the National Insurance Fund and, therefore, can be said to be outside questions of devaluation. I am informed that this is correct. My right hon. Friend dealt at some measure last night with this aspect of the situation. I emphasise what my right hon. Friend said last night about wage-related benefits, which I think was a matter of major importance. All of us in this House, and certainly in the Labour Party are pledged to a scheme of wage-related benefits. I again emphasise what my right hon. Friend said last night, that it is the intention of the Government to introduce into Parliament this year the proposals for such a scheme which we believe can be successfully launched. That I think will in a sense mitigate, or at any rate get into perspective, the emergency proposals, which I concede they have to be, in respect of the National Insurance part of these proposals, and the poll tax which we, as well as many other hon. Members, find objectionable in principle and which we are pledged to eleminate at the earliest possible moment.

I turn to Clause 3, which deals with school milk. I say at the start, having regard to the general overall strategy which I have been talking about—about a retrenchment in public expenditure—that this was a moment in time when education Ministers, as other social Ministers, whatever we should like to have done, had to make our contribution. As my right hon. Friend said on Second Reading, the contribution of education, proportionately from the percentage point of view, is less than that of many of the other social services. I say this, however, having spent many anxious nights myself looking at what contribution education could make in these circumstances. I believe that if any of my hon. Friends or any other hon. Member started with the proposition with which we had to start, that education had to make a contribution, inevitably in the end their choice would have been the same as ours. I understand my hon. Friends well enough to know that they would have wanted to do what we wished to do, and that was at all costs to preserve the main fabric of the education service and make as little inroad into that fabric as we could. In keeping with that, our decision, for example, to postpone the school leaving age, however undersirable and regrettable, allowed us not to interfere with anything that was happening in education at this moment. The postponement was undesirable, but it preserved the main fabric of the education service.

It was in the light of that sort of thinking that, in order to achieve the target which we had set ourselves or had been set for us or had been jointly agreed upon, we turned our attention to the question of school milk in secondary schools. I want, therefore, to deal with this for a moment.

It was in a sense a natural place to start because this is the one area of the service where people were opting out of their own volition. The demand for or take up of free school milk in the secondary schools was going down considerably.

An Hon. Member:

Where?

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

Over the country as a whole. In fact, there has been rather a dramatic drop since 1964—a drop from an average of over 65 per cent. to about 58 per cent. in only three years. That drop in take up is accelerating.

It is our opinion, too, that those figures in some measure hide the real situation, because in addition to the 42 per cent. who we know do not take milk, there are large numbers of children who each drink two or three bottles of milk. That is not statistically ascertainable. I cannot give the House any facts on the matter, but the general picture is that this is a service which appears to the children in secondary schools themselves to be less and less relevant.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Will my hon. Friend give way? This is a very important point.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I am sorry, but I will not give way. I apologise to my hon. Friend, but I have a lot to get through before one o'clock.

The reasons for this are that children in secondary schools and in education generally are exercising their choice. Indeed, I believe that that is what education is all about—to enable people to exercise choice in their own lives. There has been a tremendous movement into these schools, especially the new comprehensive schools and the very large schools, of vending machines by means of which a large number of children can exercise their right to buy a cup of coffee, a cup of tea, and, unfortunately we may think, a bottle of Coca-Cola. There has been a considerable movement in the schools in that direction. One must pay regard to that. My hon. Friends will make a sad mistake if they do not regard the failure of take-up as a significant movement in the school welfare service.

Much has been said about nutritional advice. My right hon. Friend dealt with that last night and has been attacked about it today. I want to say as clearly and emphatically as I can that there is no question at all of the Government acting in isolation from the best advice that they could get. But my hon. Friends are quite right: the fact is that we could not get any firm and emphatic advice upon the matter. A degree of research is going on. It will take a long time. In order to carry out research into the dietetic effects on children, we have to have regard not only to school milk but also to the rest of the balanced diet which children have these days. To measure the effects of taking away this or that part of the diet will take many years. That is the view of our advisers, and all that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said yesterday was that, at the end of the day, having taken the best advice they could, the Government had to make their own judgment. We say, frankly, that this is a question of judgment. We believe that we are right to put the emphasis in other sectors.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

It may be a small point but it will take a lot of time. The smaller the point—it works out in the House in inverse ratio—the more time is needed to deal with it.

We were not acting professionally in isolation. We had a great deal of professional advice which had caused us to send this issue, in the first place, to the Committee on Nutritional Standards, because all sorts of conferences, to which I know the House would pay proper respect, had been declaring themselves on the subject of secondary school milk. The B.M.A., for example, had decided the question by an overwhelming majority. The National Association of Head Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters—[HON. MEMBERS: "They have no teeth."] Hon. Members may think what they like about them, but the Government have to have regard to their views. Although the N.U.T., which my hon. Friends might perhaps rind a more respectable organisation, have discussed the subject at some length at their congresses, they have never included it in a resolution. But it is, I think, fair to say that they do not support these Measures.

The fact is that there was, and still is, a large area of professional support for this decision. As my right hon. Friend said last night, there were no representations at all from the local authority associations or any of the professional bodies following immediately upon the decision which we have announced.

I agree with my hon. Friends that the area of family poverty in this country is a matter of considerable concern to us all. The House knows that in the last twelve months the Government have mounted a major campaign in this respect. I am happy to say that we have had a very successful campaign indeed. The very fact of our talking about the number of children not taking up their free school meals, backed up by comment in the Press, produced another 80,000 cases in the last twelve months. That was the result of the mere fact of our talking about it.

But we decided to go further. We decided not to have a Press or television campaign, but my right hon. Friend drafted a letter, in very simple English indeed, which every child in the country received. I know that my hon. Friends will understand when I say that there were serious doubts expressed to the Government in some quarters whether that campaign ought to have been carried out, bearing in mind the amount of administrative work and the fact that some local authority associations said that it was their job and not ours. Nevertheless, we were concerned about the shattering effect of the Ministry of Social Security's report on poverty in the family, and on getting through to every home. I am able to tell the House, on the assessment of the first returns that we have received that there has been an increase in uptake of free school meals—and these are for the families of the very low wage earners. The increases are 32· 8 per cent. in English counties, 21· 9 per cent. in English county boroughs and 30· 2 per cent. in London boroughs, an overall increase of 26· 3 per cent. My hon. Friends will be glad to know that another 100,000 cases have been found since November. If we add those 100,000 cases which we have now found to the previous 80,000 cases which we found just by talking about it, we have discovered 180,000 school children in the country who are now getting free school meals for the first time. These are children of low wage-earners. That is an appreciable success story which I can give the House. It is a long, long way, it is true, from the 250,000 children we set out to find, but I can assure hon. Members that we shall keep this matter under constant attention.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

The Government should not have followed it up with a cut in school milk.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I am coming to that point. The school meal is designed for a child of eleven to provide a calorie intake of 800 calories. That is towards his balanced diet. That is a much better way of dealing with the matter, in the Government's view, than relying solely on school milk, important as it is, in other sectors, particularly in primary schools. When we discuss this, I think that I am entitled to ask the House to have regard to all the other supporting factors which are part of the Government's thinking. Family allowances are being raised. There is the maintenance of the welfare milk system and the continuation of free milk in primary schools. There is the big campaign on school meals which I have mentioned. Apart from free school meals, there is the school meal service generally. Even when there is an increase in price this year, it will still mean a subsidy of 1s. 1d. per day for every child taking school meals in this country.

There are two points which the hon. Member for Barkston Ash asked me. I will very briefly deal with them. He asked about middle schools. Children in middle schools will get free milk until the age of eleven, and not afterwards. Secondly, the real savings are £ 5¼ million this year, and they will be £ 5¾ million when the school leaving age is raised. All the saving goes to local authorities this year, and next year it will be shared

fifty-fifty between the taxpayer and the ratepayer.

Finally, I must refer to the attitude of Her Majesty's Opposition on this Bill. There has not been a moment during the Second Reading, the Committee Stage, or the Third Reading of this Bill when there were not more Ministers sitting on the Government Front Bench than the entire number of the Conservative Party in the House. That is why I think that I am entitled to draw attention to the words of the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) who said about these measures, "This is a gigantic hoax." Later he referred to "phantom cuts".

That is not what my hon. Friends thought and that is not what the Opposition thought when they had a full-day debate on education recently. The right hon. Gentleman's deafening contribution was not made from the Opposition benches. It was made from the benches of Mitcham, where he made that speech. It is a synthetic indignation and a synthetic leadership, and it is a synthetic campaign which they are trying to give to the country. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to support us today, whatever misgivings they may have about individual measures, in the knowledge that these are part of the strategy in the Government's campaign to make devaluation work and to have an all-out attack upon the evils of family poverty wherever it can be found.

Question put,That the Bill be now read the Third Time:—

The House divided:Ayes 178, Noes 9.

Division No. 69.]AYES[1.0 p.m.
Albu, AustenConcannon, J. D.Foley, Maurice
Aldritt, WalterConlan, BernardForrester, John
Anderson, DonaldCraddock, George (Bradford, S.)Fraser, John (Norwood)
Armstrong, ErnestCullen, Mrs. AliceFreeson, Reginald
Bacon, Rt. Hn. AliceDalyell, TarnGardner, Tony
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Darling, Rt. Hn. GeorgeGarrett, W. E.
Bence, CyrilDavies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton)Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)Courlay, Harry
Bishop, E. S.Davies, Harold (Leek)Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)
Blackburn, F.Davies, Ifor (Gower)Grey, Charles (Durham)
Blenkinsop, ArthurDell, EdmundGrimond, Rt. Hn. J.
Bray, Dr. JeremyDempsey, JamesHamling, William
Dewar, DonaldHannan, William
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Diamond, Rt. Hn. JohnHarper, Joseph
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)Dobson, RayHart, Rt. Hn. Judith
Brown,Bob(N 'c' tle-upon-Tyne, W.)Doig, PeterHaseldine, Norman
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)Eadie, AlexHenig, Stanley
Buchan, NormanEdwards, William (Merioneth)Hilton, W. S.
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)Ellis, JohnHobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)
Cant, R. B.Ennals, DavidHoughton, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Carter-Jones, LewisFaulds, AndrewHowarth, Harry (Wellingborough)
Coe, DenisFinch, HaroldHowarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)
Coleman, DonaldFitch, Alan (Wigan)Howell, Denis (Small Heath)
Hoy, JamesMapp, CharlesRoebuck, Roy
Huckfield, LeslieMarks, KennethRoss, Rt. Hn. William
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Marsh, Rt. Hn. RichardRowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Mellish, RobertShaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Hunter, AdamMiller, Dr. M. S.Shore, Peter (Stepney)
Janner, Sir BarnettMilne, Edward (Blyth)Short, Rt. Hn. Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Jeger, George (Goole)Molloy, WilliamSilkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)Moonman, EricSkeffington, Arthur
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, s.)Morgan, Elystan(Cardiganshire)Small, William
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Snow, Julian
Jones, Dan (Burnley)Morris, John (Aberavon)Spriggs, Leslie
Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn(W.Ham, S.)Mulley, Rt. Hn. FrederickSteele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)Murray, AlbertStewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)Nabarro, Sir GeraldStonehouse, John
Judd, FrankNeal, HaroldSwingler, Stephen
Kelley, RichardOakes, GordonTaverne, Dick
Lawson, GeorgeO'Malley, BrianThornton, Ernest
Leadbitter, TedOswald, ThomasTinn, James
Ledger, RonOwen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)Varley, Eric G.
Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)Page, Derek (King's Lynn)Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Lestor, Miss JoanParker, John (Dagenham)Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Pentland, NormanWallace, George
Loughlin, CharlesPerry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)Watkins, David (Consett)
Lyon, Alexander W. (York)Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Mabon, Dr. J. DicksonPrice, Christopher (Perry Barr)Wellbeloved, James
McBride, NeilPrice, Thomas (Westhoughton)Whitlock, William
MacColl, JamesPrice, William (Rugby)Wilkins, W. A.
MacDermot, NiallProbert, ArthurWilliams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Macdonald, A. H.Randall, HarryWilliams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)Rees, MerlynWilliams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Mackie, JohnRhodes, GeoffreyWillis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Maclennan, RobertRichard, IvorWoodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)Woof, Robert
McNamara, J. KevinRoberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
MacPherson, MalcolmRobertson, John (Paisley)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Marion, Peter (Preston, S.)Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth(St.P'c'as)r. Ioan L. Evans and
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)Robinson, W. 0. J. (Walth'stow, E.)r. J. McCann.
Mallalieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield,E.)Rodgers, William (Stockton)
NOES
Bessell, PeterMackenzie, Alasdair(Ross& Crom'ty)
Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire,W.)Steel, David (Roxburgh)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Ewing, Mrs. WinifredWainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)Mr. Eric Lubbock and
Hooson, EmlynWinstanley, Dr. M. P.Mr. John Pardoe.
Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Bill accordingly read the Third Time, and passed.