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Milk And Meals, School Children

Volume 345: debated on Thursday 30 March 1939

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31.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education the number of school children in the county of Durham who receive milk at school, also what percentage of these are in receipt of free milk upon grounds of penury or malnutrition, with the total weekly charge to the authorities concerned?

:On 1st October, 1938, the latest date for which figures are available, 63,724 children in the administrative county of Durham for purposes of elementary education were receiving milk at public elementary schools. During the month of February, 1939, 37,746 children, or 59 per cent. of the total number, received a pint of free milk a day, at a cost to the local education authority of about £900 a week. Grant is payable by the Board of Education at the rate of 50 per cent. on this expenditure.

Are the Government not shocked at the state of gross penury prevailing in County Durham under this head?

33.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education what action he proposes to take following upon the representations made to the Board by the Children's Minimum Council for the extension of the provision of free meals to children attending school?

At an interview with a deputation from the Children's Minimum Council on Monday last my noble Friend explained the action which is already being taken by the Board of Education to secure a fuller exercise by local education authorities of their powers to provide free meals and milk for school children. This action includes a survey of the conditions in all areas, and, where necessary, representations to the local education authorities, urging them to extend or improve their arrangements.

Is the answer an indication that the Board agree with the representations, and that they will do everything, including the provision of the necessary classrooms, to enable the committee's representations to. be adopted by the authorities?

If the hon. Member will wait, there is a question distinctly relating to that.

35.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education the number of local education authorities that have been urged by his Department to improve their provisions for the feeding of schoolchildren, giving separate figures for Lancashire; and in how many cases has the response been satisfactory?

Local education authorities have for many years past been urged by the Board to improve their provision for the feeding of school children. Since the more intensive survey of the position in each area was begun in July last, representations on the subject have been made to 89 authorities, including 10 in Lancashire. In many cases replies from the authorities have not yet been received, but in 31 cases improvements have been effected or promised as a result of the Board's representations.

Failing a satisfactory response, what action do the Ministry intend to take?

I announced some of them in the Debate last week, but I will certainly let the hon. Member have a list.

36.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education the estimated cost of the suggestions made by the deputation organised by the Children's Minimum Council and received by the President of the Board on the 27th instant; and whether he is aware that these suggestions are strongly supported in the country?

The cost of the suggestions made by the Children's Minimum Council depends on a number of uncertain factors, and it is impossible to give more than an approximate estimate; but on the assumption that the allowance of free milk would be two-thirds of a pint per day, that the provision of milk and meals would be continued during school holidays, and that the charge to children paying for meals at school canteens would cover only the cost of the food, it is calculated that the additional cost to public funds would be about £34,000,000 a year. While it is very desirable that the existing powers for the provision of free meals and milk for school-children should be more fully exercised, and that additional provision for the supply of meals on payment should be made in rural areas, I am not aware that there is strong support for expenditure on the scale proposed by the Children's Minimum Council.

If the hon. Gentleman estimates the cost of the recommendations of the council at £34,000,000 per annum, can he give any estimate of the failure to provide such free meals?

All that I can say is that there is no reason why there should be any under-nourished child in this country if the local education authorities will use their existing powers.

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that in some destricts they are feeding the children, and that in other cases they are not; and is it not wrong that children should be subjected to injustice in the areas in which they live?

As long as you have local government with optional powers, that is inevitable, but, as I pointed out last week, we are bringing pressure to bear upon local authorities which do not do so.