Public Expenditure and Receipts Bill

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

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Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 27th February 1968

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.