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10.28 pm

Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): I rise to represent the concerns of the residents of Bridgnorth and the surrounding area in the face of 10 per cent. cuts in health care provision in the county of Shropshire. I have a petition with 11,781 names, which states:

To lie upon the Table.

Mr. Dunne: I also rise to represent the concerns of the residents of Ludlow and the surrounding area, where 10,220 residents have signed a similar petition, which I shall read to the House.

The petition of users of Ludlow Community Hospital,

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To lie upon the Table.

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School Milk

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Claire Ward]


Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): This is obviously an interesting time to hold a debate on school milk. One could say that early-day motion 1329, "School Milk", has had a great effect. Proposals to abolish school milk have been withdrawn and we shall keep it.

Most Members will remember the great slogan, "Mrs.   Thatcher—Milk Snatcher". Can we now say "Minister Knight has got it right", or "Lord Bach has brought it back"? There could be a lot of slogans on the back of this debate.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I   hate to interfere with his rhetoric and his poetry. Does he agree that abolition of school milk was an early act of Mrs. Thatcher's that we reversed and that it is a pity that we have no plans to reverse one of her later acts—the decoupling of pensions from pay and the economy? In Chorley, North-West Leicestershire and throughout the country, children in 15,000 schools receive significant nutritional value from milk at a very low cost indeed, so will my hon. Friend congratulate a little more warmly the ministerial duo, Lord Bach and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, our hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), on what they have done in that regard? It is a huge step forward for nutrition and sends all the right signals for our public health agenda.

Mr. Hoyle: I agree and shall pay compliments to the Minister, if I am given a little more time.

School milk is important in a balanced diet, providing iodine and riboflavin. There are many reasons why school milk should be provided. We welcome the fact that the Government overruled departmental officials. After all, how much are we talking about? Savings of only £1.5 million. Thank goodness that politicians made the final decision and that it was the right decision. There is no doubt that providing milk for 15,000 nursery and primary schools in England will be of real and significant benefit. As has been pointed out, the Government pay only £1.5 million; the remainder is paid by the European Union. Would it not have been senseless for us to refuse EU money to provide the white stuff for children up to the age of seven?

I congratulate the Minister on the decision that has been taken. It is right that common sense has prevailed. It is important that the Government are listening to the   views of parents, schools and MPs throughout the country, because their view is clear: keep milk in schools. Congratulations are due for the fact that that has happened.

Of course, a correct diet is important, and milk plays a significant part in that. We know how important milk can be to youngsters at school. According to the national diet and nutrition survey, the average daily intake of milk for children aged four to seven is 370 ml, and for those aged seven to 11 it is 277 ml. If children
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receive 50 ml or less, if we are getting it right for children up to the age of seven, if the EU subsidy exists for children over the age of seven and if the cost is only £1.5 million for nursery and primary schools, why do we not ensure that all children up to the age of 11 benefit from school milk?

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this very important debate. Am I to understand that the EU would give us some money to subsidise milk in our schools and we are not taking it? For goodness' sake, let us get something back from the EU.

Mr. Hoyle: The good news is that we are taking money back, but we could take more money from the EU by extending the scheme up to the age of 11. Surely, we ought to be selling that on the benefits that milk brings. There is no doubt that children benefit from the calcium, other minerals and riboflavin—we can include iodine—that come from milk. The debate thankfully gives us the opportunity to recognise the importance of expanding the scheme and taking some of the money back from the EU.

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): Is it not bizarre that we should be even talking about the removal of milk from schools, while some hon. Members would advocate the introduction of fluoride in water? Does he agree that if he had to choose between milk and fluoride, milk would be in the best interests of our children?

Mr. Hoyle: Who could disagree with that? Of course, I welcome my hon. Friend's comments. Yes, I totally agree that milk is important, but the challenge now is to expand the scheme. For the sake of £1.5 million, what are we playing at? We know that if milk is not provided, parents can take an easy option and we see schools where children can get cans of Coke. The Government and, in fairness, MPs of all persuasions are committed to a healthy diet in schools. We are trying to get rid of the Coca-Cola machines and Pepsi machines—it does not matter which—and the bad diet must be removed. What better way of doing so—we are now seeing this happen—than to put in new machines that provide fresh milk? Unfortunately, people must pay for that, yet the European Commission is offering us money to expand the scheme. Let us not hesitate any more. Let us take advantage of that, because there is double benefit, not only to children in this country but to the farming community. That is why it was absolutely critical that we got it right—otherwise, there would have been a double whammy: not only would children not have had the benefit of milk, but there would have been a major effect on British farming.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I certainly had a bottle of milk every day when I was at school, and I have grown to be 6 ft 8 in. That shows the benefits of drinking milk. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of dairy farmers. Does he agree that it is extremely important for the
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Government to do even more to ensure that dairy farmers get considerably higher prices for the milk that they produce?

Mr. Hoyle: I absolutely agree. I can see that the rest of us only got a third of a pint at school; some got a litre of milk—it was obviously double Jersey—and we can see the benefit of that. On a serious note, it is important that we recognise what the scheme can do for farming, and what effect the schools market could have on farming. It is critical that that point is raised.

It is crucial that there is a fair farm-gate price for milk, and the benefit of that milk going into schools must continue. Farming in this country is dependent on that free milk being given, which is why we can give benefit to not only an older generation of children at school, but British farming. A new market can be created. We would not be saying, "It's the supermarkets or nothing" because schools could create a challenge to the supermarkets. By expanding the scheme, perhaps we could get a better and fairer price for farmers, which is important.

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