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Milk (Aged People)

Volume 446: debated on Friday 30 January 1948

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Joseph Henderson.]

3.39 p.m.

Our business today has covered a variety of subjects, including the Royal Marines, telephones and water. Now I want to raise a point in connection with milk supplies, and to make a strong appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food on behalf of elderly people, many of whom are not getting enough milk. The medical advisers and scientific gentlemen at the Ministry of Food have apparently sat round a table and considered who are the people who should be added to or included in the priority classes for milk supplies, and they have decided—and one cannot quarrel with them—that they should be invalids, expectant and nursing mothers and growing children. They have not been able to say that old people should be included in the priority classes.

The point has been raised from time to time, and it is evident that this is not a matter which is restricted to my experience. It has been raised from time to time in Questions in the House by quite a number of hon. Members, which shows that there is general evidence of this need to do something that will make it possible for elderly people to obtain more milk. It falls particularly hard upon those old people who are living alone, where the total milk supply coming into the family is not such that it can be shared out so that they benefit from the larger number of people living in the house. Where old people are living alone, and especially when they live in country districts, where they have not the ready facilities for going to restaurants and catering establishments, it is particularly hard, and I have had some very heart-rending letters from people in such a condition, showing that they have at some times not only been restricted to their half-pint a day, but have, on occasions, had to do without any supply at all.

I know very well that the Parliamentary Secretary will say, in reply, that it would be possible to increase supplies to elderly people only by drawing away supplies, in the existing state of shortage, from the other priority classes, but I say that there might be a case even for doing that. Readily as I recognise the importance, on nutritional grounds, of an adequate milk supply being available to expectant and nursing mothers, for invalids—where supported by a doctor's opinion—and for growing children, I think there is a case even for giving priority to the old people over, say, milk for children in schools. One of my correspondents has written to me saying—
"I feel that we who are old and have borne the brunt of life need milk much more than boys and girls of 16."
Whatever case may be made out on scientific and nutritional grounds for adolescents, I have some sympathy with that point of view. I was very glad the other day to hear the Minister of Food say that his Department was making a special investigation and inquiry into the difficulties that old people were experiencing with food supplies at the present time, and I suggest to him that he should go to those local organisations—I have one in my constituency, and there are others in other parts of the country—which are carrying out special work in connection with the welfare of old people. My local old people's welfare committee is running a mobile meals canteen, and they tell me from their experience that they are finding that old people are having very great difficulty because they cannot always digest the foods available to them nowadays. That, I think, is an added reason why special consideration should be given to making it possible for them to obtain greater supplies of milk.

I know that it may also be said that there will be great administrative difficulties, with such questions as "How are we to determine who are old people? What line are we to draw about age? Is it going to be confined to people who can produce an Old Age Pension Book?" I would say "No." There are elderly people who may not be old age pensioners, but who are equally in need of an adequate milk supply. I suggest that administrative means could be found by which they could go to the food office and get a certificate which would enable them to have the right to draw priority supplies. I hope my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that the Ministry will give attention to this problem, which is a really human problem, in regard to these old people, and that means will be found for ensuring that they can have a little extra milk.

3.46 p.m.

I think that the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton) has done a great service to a large section of the community by raising this matter this afternoon. As he said, this is a matter upon which there has been a great deal of discussion in the country. The Parliamentary Secretary may be aware that, not three weeks ago, I forwarded to her right hon. Friend a memorandum on this subject, which had been submitted to the food committee of the borough of Malden and Coombe. Therefore, it is a matter on which it is desirable that there should be discussion, and that the point of view, both of the old people and of the Ministry of Food, should be made quite clear.

I would not go quite so far as the hon. Member for St. Albans and urge that this very real need be met by any cut in the milk actually consumed by the adolescent. I believe that the mid-teen group is, at the moment, the age group which is suffering, perhaps more than any other, from present stringencies, and I would not urge upon the Parliamentary Secretary that the milk very urgently required by the old people should be found from that source. I think that the old people's claim is so strong—because, as the hon. Member pointed out, in many cases they cannot properly digest certain available foodstuffs—that it can only be rebutted at all if the Ministry of Food can establish beyond any doubt that the necessary milk could only be found by a direct cut in the milk supplied to other equally important groups. That reasoning, I think, demands that the Ministry should make it quite clear, and beyond all dispute, that there is no wastage occurring in the supply to the other groups.

In that connection, I should be very grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would deal with a possible source of wastage which I have never heard fully explained, and that is the question of what happens to the school milk during the school holidays. I know that there is the scheme under which children can collect, at certain centres, the milk which they would be consuming were they in school; but, I think the hon. Lady will agree, that only covers a comparatively small percentage of the milk consumed during the school term. There is a substantial amount, which, for some reason, is not collected. One of the reasons undoubtedly is that the arrangements for its distribution are far from satisfactory at the moment. I do not think the hon. Lady would seriously dispute that those arrangements could be improved.

What happens to the difference between the ordinary milk consumed during the school term and the amount consumed during the holidays as the result of that collection? There is a substantial amount involved, and I have never been able to follow what happens to it. Quite obviously, the cows are not aware of the precise end of the school term, and do not synchronise their output in accordance with the requirements of the Ministry of Education. Therefore, there must he a certain amount of milk available for distribution. What happens to that milk? The hon. Lady may be able to tell us, but it seems to me that if that milk has not all been traced, there is, at any rate during the school holidays, a quantity of milk which is not going to the other priority persons, and which, if it is at all possible, I would suggest to the hon. Lady might be used, at any rate during the holidays, to meet the needs of the old people.

I am sure the hon. Lady will appreciate that that suggestion is put forward with the intention to be helpful and with the recognition that there may well be technical difficulties, but I think she will equally agree that where there is, as there undoubtedly is, this very great need for every drop of milk that can be produced, and where there are many clamant mouths demanding it, it is incumbent upon those responsible for its distribution to see that every drop goes in the right direction and that there are no losses due to wastage. I am sure all hon. Members hear accounts of wastage. Very often when one analyses them they tend to be the result of exaggeration or prejudice, but there is, no doubt, a certain substratum of truth behind these rumours. The hon. Lady would be doing a good service to the House and to the country if she were to explain what steps are taken to prevent any wastage of this very precious liquid, either in the particular connection which I have mentioned, for school milk during the holidays, or in any other connection. I hope the hon. Lady will be able to reassure the House and our constituents on what is being done in the matter.

3.52 p.m.

I am glad this matter has been raised, because it is very serious in the country areas. In my own constituency there is a great outcry about the inadequacy of the rations of old age pensioners and other old people, particularly those living alone who have no means of cooking their meals and are unable to go to the village shops and obtain foodstuffs and other commodities. It is apparent to those who live in the country that the milk ration is inadequate. The old people could easily make small dishes which would help them along if the milk ration were increased. The Parliamentary Secretary may suggest that if the milk ration of the old people were increased, other consumers would suffer a reduction in their ration. My view is that if the farming industry received a call from the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture, they could easily supply the extra milk which is required by the old people.

In reply to a Question in the House recently, we were told that there were about 6½ million old age pensioners. All of those 6½ million would not require extra milk. I have produced some figures on the basis of four million old people receiving an extra pint of milk per week; that is, au additional half-pint on Saturdays and an additional half-pint on Wednesdays. The administration of such a scheme would be very simple, and the milk would be delivered in the ordinary way by the local milk distributor. I am sure that if the agricultural industry were called upon to produce this extra milk, they would be able and willing to do so. An extra pint for 4,000,000 old people would mean very little extra effort. It would mean simply an extra gallon of milk per cow per month from the cows at present in the dairy herds of this country. If the cows could not produce that extra amount of milk at the present time, we should have only to introduce one additional cow for every nine on the farms of the country to obtain it. That, surely, is not beyond the means of the agricultural industry? This extra allowance, however, would make a great deal of difference to these old people. I do, therefore, ask the Minister of Agriculture, in consultation with the Minister of Food, to deal with this question.

The agricultural industry might rightly ask for additional feedingstuffs. No doubt, there would be ways and means of obtaining the additional feedingstuffs. It is an important matter. It is a matter which requires action, and I think it requires immediate action. There is a considerable amount of dissatisfaction about this issue throughout the countryside—that old men and women should be called upon to help in milk production on the farms, where they see the extra milk produced, and yet are not able to obtain it.

There is another and most important point. If this additional milk is produced and is to be obtained by the old people, it is up to the Government—I put this suggestion quite seriously—to provide some sort of subsidy to ensure that the milk can be obtained at a cheaper rate. At present milk can be obtained on a medical certificate, but the cost of the milk is the same whether bought on a medical certificate or not. With the rising cost of living, these small incidental expenses mount up month by month. It may be that some of the old people with fixed incomes would not be able to afford additional milk even if they were allowed to obtain it. It is up to the Government to find ways and means of making it possible for those old people to obtain the additional supplies. I commend the suggestion to the Parliamentary Secretary. I hope the Government will take action immediately.

3.59 p.m.

I am particularly interested in what the hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise) has just said, because I raised that particular matter of the old age pensioners in a Question earlier this week. In answering the Question the hon. Lady told me that there were 6,500,000 people entitled to the old age pension, and that, therefore, there would not be enough milk available. As has been suggested, there may not be as many as that who actually draw their old age pension. Will the hon. Lady consider that? Perhaps, she will tell us how many old age pensioners over 70 draw the extra tea ration. Perhaps, the extra milk which is asked for them could be allotted to them on a similar basis. When I asked a supplementary question on Wednesday, I suggested that some of the existing allowances might be manipulated—not necessarily cut—to provide this extra milk for the old people. One of the reasons I had in mind has already been mentioned—that milk that is at present allowed to children or adolescents between 15 and 18 is not fully—

It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Joseph Henderson.]

While I fully agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said, that it is most important for these allowances to go on till the 'teen ages, I wonder whether those between the ages of 15 and 18 who are allowed the milk actually receive it. The school-leaving age is now 15; most children go out to work soon after reaching that age, and are then able to feed in canteens and places outside the home, and the extra milk they are allowed may go into their own family pool. Perhaps that point could be considered. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames also referred to the wastage of school milk. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary has examined that very carefully My third and last point is that of priority for extra milk. I am sure the scales and the administration which enable people to obtain extra milk are right, but I hope the hon. Lady will make quite certain that the administration of these priorities is all it should be.

4.2 p.m.

I desire to support this human plea for an increased milk supply to elderly people. If, as has been said, there are six and a half million old age pensioners who cannot afford to buy extra milk, then it is high time that their pensions were in creased. Today, I approach this question from the point of view of food values. The present amount of rationed food for a household of two people is totally inadequate. With three or four people it is easier, for they are able to share it out; but when it comes to two people—no matter what the Minister of Food or anybody else may say—looked at from the food value aspect, there is not sufficient to keep them in a healthy state.

I come from the Fen area, where for miles and miles one meets with only an occasional house, and farms dotted here and there. One can imagine the difficulty old people there have in getting to the villages to obtain their supply of rationed foods. Milk is a perfect food, and if old people are unable to get sufficient of other foods, milk will contribute very largely to their health. It must be borne in mind that we are here speaking of people of mature age, of 50 and 60, and over. They have delicate stomachs, and must be dealt with accordingly. That is another reason to see that elderly people get an increased supply of milk.

We are now nearing the time of year when we can obtain an increased supply of milk, and steps should be taken to see that that increase is used to give an extra allowance to elderly people. I know it will be argued that to give more milk to elderly people will mean taking it from somebody else. I cannot accept that argument, because it is our duty to see that old people get whatever is necessary from the milk supply in the country. I am sure the farmers would do all they possibly could to help in this direction. If these old people cannot afford extra milk, then some means must be found, perhaps by way of subsidy, to ensure that the extra milk they need is supplied to them. I hope to hear from the Par- liamentary Secretary that a serious attempt will be made by the Government to meet this great need.

4.5 p.m.

I intervene in this Debate because of the remarks made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise), who thought it was a comparatively simple matter to get an increased milk supply from our present herds. I want to correct that impression, because I do not think it would be fair if that statement were allowed to go unchallenged. I have a little experience of this matter, through a municipality which is running large farms, on which are large herds of cattle, and I know from experience that the only way in which we can ensure our present supply of milk is by the careful rationing of the limited quantity of feedingstuffs that we can import or produce at home. To obtain an increased milk supply from our herds would mean that we must have extra feedingstuffs, and there are only two ways of doing that—by importing more concentrates, or increasing the number of herds and the acreage of grassland. There is great difficulty in obtaining more feedingstuffs at the moment, and there cannot be an increase in herds and the amount of grazing land without food supplies suffering in another direction. If more cattle use more grazing land, that land cannot grow other kinds of food. I have great sympathy with the plea which has been put forward today, but the remedy is not so simple as my hon. and gallant Friend would have us believe.

4.8 p.m.

I welcome the opportunity which the House has given me once more to explain, to Members who have spoken on this subject, what determines our milk policy. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton) that if emotion solely dictated our policy, his request would have been acceded to a long time ago, but unfortunately, we have to face the stern realities of the supply situation. We have to allocate our milk according to available supplies. As my hon. Friend said, we have decided on certain priorities which I group, as a doctor, in to physiological and pathological groups. The physiological group contains the expectant and nursing mothers, children, babies, and adolescents, and the pathological group includes those who are suffering from certain diseases, the symptoms of which are alleviated by an extra allocation of milk.

After we have made our allocations of milk to priority and non-priority groups, we are left with a marginal allowance of 800,000 gallons. If we were to give 6½ million old age pensioners one pint of milk a day, as we would like to do, it would mean that we should have to find 5,687,500 gallons. For the first time, a Member in this House has specified which of the priority groups he would exclude and replace by old age pensioners.

Hon. Members must be specific on this subject. Every hon. Member, except the hon. Member for St. Albans, has been very vague. They have appealed to us. I was very surprised that the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise), who is a farmer, should ask us to persuade the cow to produce another gallon of milk, when he has heard in this House, time after time, my right hon. Friend and myself at this Despatch Box tell the House how we are trying to get feedingstuffs from many countries in the world. He has known our difficulty, yet he vaguely comes to the House and says, "Just get the feedingstuffs and give it to the cows; they will produce the extra gallons, and the old age pensioners can have the milk." He must be more specific. I invite him to give a detailed scheme of how this is to be done. If he could find means of producing these extra gallons, we would regard his case very sympathetically.

It is not a question of my Department being hard-hearted. We have looked at this matter from every angle, and have tried to discover some means of satisfying hon. Members who have spoken on this subject. We do not decide these priorities in an arbitrary fashion. We have been advised by nutritional and scientific advisers; not only of my Department, but of the Ministry of Health, and by the Special Diets Advisory Committee composed of some of the most distinguished physicians and surgeons in the country. They say that our scheme of priorities is the right one. I think that it is clear from the Debate that most hon. Members accept the fact that people suffering from some pathological condition should be given extra milk. It is quite clear that they do not agree that all children should enjoy the allocation that they are having today. The hon. Member for St. Albans' who raised the matter, had the courage to come into the open and say that we should divert the milk from the children to the old people.

The hon. Member must remember that the schoolchild is only having one-third of a pint.

Certainly. It would not be a priority allowance if it was not additional. I am sure that the House will forgive me if I approach this matter from a scientific angle. I must impress on hon. Members that the nutritional value of milk lies in its high biological value, because it contains very important elements of diet, animal protein, mineral salts, calcium and vitamins A and D. It is for those reasons that milk is said to be a food of such importance that our available supply should be allocated in such a way that those individuals who depend upon this food for its body building properties, should be given priority. The animal protein of milk is an element in the diet which is indispensable to children.

I now come to the main point I want hon. Members to appreciate it. The most important mineral salt in milk is calcium, and milk is responsible for approximately one-half of the calcium in the diet. The reason we give priority allocations to prospective mothers, nursing mothers and children is because, without a sufficiency of calcium, a child's bones are imperfectly formed. That is the whole basis of it. Without this milk a child would risk one of the deficiency diseases which were quite common in the last century. Normal adults, including old people, have sufficient calcium stored in their bones to prevent them taking any deficiency disease.

I know the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Stubbs) has a tong memory. He knows of the days when it was far too commonplace to see a child in the streets of our industrial towns with knock knees and bandy legs, the result of deficiency diseases. We can see the results of bad feeding in our cotton areas today, for mothers had to go out early in the morning and leave their babies to be minded and children were denied fresh milk. We also see unmistakable signs of milk deficiency, because milk contains the calcium which is essential for perfect bone formation. Milk contains vitamins A and B both of which promote growth. That is why we regard milk as the complete food for a baby. When a child begins to walk it is necessary to make certain additions to its diet. It is essential if that child is going to attain maximum physical proportions that it should have a priority allocation of milk.

The hon. Member for St. Albans comes along and says he has got a good idea. It is to take that calcium from the children and give it to the old people. Of course, we would like to give the old people milk. I can assure him that the officials in the Ministry of Food have old fathers and mothers who would like the little extra milk, as indeed would the parents and old friends of hon. Members here. I understand that the hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Major Wise) has a parent of 85. We should like to see all our old friends having this little attention.

Recently, I spoke to a meeting in the Central Hall which was attended by old age pensioners. It was a very moving meeting. I thought when I went there that these old people would probably tear me to pieces. Speaking to a meeting of people who have all lived a long time is a most interesting experience, because one can put a case to them and they can soon tell in the light of their experience of life whether they are being told the truth or not. I told them about the calcium content of milk, of the bad old days when the children were denied these things as a result of which they were malformed with crooked bones. Instead of these old people rising up and saying, "Take the milk from the children and give it to us," they applauded me. They had come from the industrial towns in the north and had seen these things for themselves. They had seen these children warped in body and their big hearts allowed them in their old age to say, "That is right." Instead of selfishly demanding, as they might well have done in that big audience, that they should he given the milk, they understood.

In case the House might think I am only expressing my own views on this subject I should like to quote from the report of the Advisory Committee on Nutrition in 1936. Many Members will remember how this Committee recommendations were eagerly scanned by those who were interested in the social services and kindred subjects. The Advisory Committee on Nutrition in 1936 said:
"Within recent years much experimental evidence has been brought forward which has shown that cows' milk is the most valuable food known for the promotion of growth and health in children"
That is still the opinion of the authorities. It is difficult for all those old people to understand what may seem to them to be newfangled ideas and the coddling of the modern child. Hon. Members must realise that we have a new conception of diet from what it was in the old days, when the criterion of an adequate diet was whether it satisfied hunger. Today, we are concerned with the quality of the diet and with those nutrients about which I have told the House. We know that they are essential for the building of a structurally sound body. That is what determines our milk policy.

I have been asked certain questions. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) quite rightly asked whether we were satisfied that there was no wastage. The hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) asked what happened to milk in the school holidays. I assure him that we have our eye on that, too. That milk is used for manufacturing milk products such as baby food. It is integrated with on, other food policy. We have to ensure that babies get dried milk. Therefore, that pool is used for that purpose. My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn made a suggestion to which I have already referred. I will repeat that we should be only too pleased to have his scheme forwarded to us.

Other hon. Members have asked me about wastage in schools. I am surprised that they have not raised a point which has struck me before, which is, What happens to milk which is delivered at the schools when the children to whom it is allocated do not turn up? Obviously, one cannot stop the supply for that morning, made careful inquiries about this matter, and I am sure the House will be glad to know that the teachers have been told to give that milk in the afternoon to necessitous children. The necessitous children, therefore, if there is any surplus, get one-third of a pint in the morning and one-third of a pint in the afternoon.

Another hon. Member suggested that we might choose old people. He pointed out that there were 6,500,000 people eligible for old age pensions, and that all those would not require milk. On what basis are we to choose? Are we to choose them on the basis of age groups? I can assure the House that if we did that—unless we considered giving compassionate consideration to the highest age groups—we should be faced with an administrative difficulty. It is possible to have somebody quite physically strong and healthy at 75 while the neighbour at 69, also eligible for the old age pension, is rather a frail creature and might be glad of a little extra milk. Asking us to choose the age group would confront us with a problem which would be difficult to solve.

I want the House to realise that we do not ignore this problem. Haling debated it in the House today and having looked at it from its different aspects, does not encourage me or anyone else in my Department to put the whole question into a pigeon hole and to say; "Next time the House brings it up we shall bring it out again and tell them these reasons." Every time we feel that there might be a small pool of milk surplus to our requirements, we look again at the old age pensioners question. We wonder whether we could allocate it in some way. People in the Ministry are very concerned with the problem. As I have already said, they have old relations, too, and are not removed from the problem, and I have invited them on many occasions to consider it and to produce a scheme which they think would be workable. I therefore want to assure hon. Members who have spoken that this will remain very much in our minds, and when the time comes when we can consider revising our policy, I can assure the House that we shall do it immediately.

Would the hon. Lady deal with one point which arises out of the reply which she gave to a Question a couple of days ago? She indicated that the Ministry were discussing with the Committee on Milk Distribution the possibility of unscrambling, as it is called, the present rationalisation scheme. Is she bearing in mind, in connection with the matter we have just been debating, that the effect would be to increase processing and distribution wastage, and that while there would be a bigger quantity available, it would put off a little further her hopes of finding a little extra for the old age pensioners and would so increase the retail price of milk that many old age pensioners would not be able to afford their present ration, let alone an increased one?

We should not think of introducing a scheme which would bring about the things the hon. Member anticipates. What the House has been rather anxious about is that the housewife should be given another choice. We have not yet decided just what form our announcement will take and whether we shall accept the recommendations, but I can assure hon. Members that the matter will shortly be dealt with.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-seven Minutes past Four o'Clock.