Parliamentary activity
Meetings and engagements 

We held three parliamentary meetings this month:

  • Former Shadow Education Minister Lucy Powell MP (7th March)
      
During the meeting, we discussed recent research which demonstrates the nutritional benefits of school milk, as well as the Alliance’s current policy priorities – including a replacement for the EU school milk scheme and the recent changes to the Eatwell Guide. Ms Powell said that she would be happy to support media work surrounding the provision of school and nursery milk.  
  
  • Lib Dem Education Spokesperson Lord Storey (21st March)
        
The meeting focused on the Eatwell Guide, with Lord Storey keen to discuss the recent changes that had reduced the dairy allowance. We also discussed his participation in the school and nursery milk questions session led by Lord Lexden in the House of Lords in January, provided an overview of current school and nursery milk policy and highlighted the issue of childhood obesity, dental decay and childhood obesity in Liverpool, where he worked for most of his career.
  
  • Former Shadow Defra Secretary Maria Eagle MP (28th March)
  
Ms Eagle’s constituency of Garston and Halewood is located in Liverpool, which came in 9th place in our World School Milk Day ranking of childhood obesity and dental decay levels. We discussed this, as well as the research by Northumbria University which highlighted the role of milk in combatting both of these. Additionally, we spoke about the need for a programme to replace the European School Milk Scheme once we leave the EU as well as the changes to the Eatwell Guide that reduced the daily allowance for dairy.

The House of Commons is currently in recess, and will return on 18th April. The House of Lords will rise for the Easter recess on 6th April, and return on 24th April. We will use these recess periods to set up engagements for the summer term with Labour MP Diana Johnson having already pledged to meet with us at a date TBC.  



House of Commons written questions
  
This month four written parliamentary questions were answered. Labour MP Lucy Powell asked what assessment he has made of the role of school and nursery milk in the Government's Childhood Obesity Plan, and for his views on the role of school and nursery milk in supporting the health of children in deprived communities. Public Health Minister Nicola Blackwood said that milk must be available during school hours, offered free to disadvantaged pupils and that free milk is also available to infants if served as part of their lunch. She added that as part of the Childhood Obesity Plan, the Government will publish and promote example menus for early year’s settings in England later this year which will help settings to meet the latest Government dietary advice, including the consumption of milk and dairy products.

Additionally, Labour MP Graham Allen asked (a) how many and (b) what proportion of children aged over five in (i) the Nottingham North constituency, (ii) Nottingham city and (iii) the East Midlands received milk through the European School Milk Scheme in the last year for which figures are available. Farming Minister George Eustice responded that the information is not readily available and could only be provided at disproportionate cost.

Mr Allen also asked how many and what proportion of children aged under five in (i) the Nottingham North constituency, (ii) Nottingham city and (iii) the East Midlands received milk through the Nursery Milk Scheme in the last year for which figures are available. Nicola Blackwood responded that the requested information was not held centrally.



Westminister Hall debate

A debate on children's health and access to milk in educational settings was held in Westminster Hall on 28th March, and was led by Shadow Farming Minister Mary Glindon, with the Government’s response given by Children’s Minister Edward Timpson. The debate was secured at the request of Ms Glindon after she met with the SNMA in January and we provided briefing material to support her.
 
The debate covered the full spectrum of issues relating to school and nursery milk. In her opening speech, Ms Glindon:
 
  • Thanked the SNMA for the information we provide in advance of the debate, noted the problems with childhood obesity and tooth decay in the UK and highlighted the research which indicated that milk could help limit children’s body mass and reduce dental problems.

  • Noted that academy schools opened between September 2010 and 2014 are not obliged to meet the School Food Standards and that there was no system in place to monitor compliance. She asked the Minister if he would consider forcing such schools to abide by the regulations, and implement a monitoring system.

  • Highlighted the Government’s assurances that the UK would continue to participate in the European School Milk Scheme until Britain departed the EU, and asked Mr Timpson if he could provide any further information or assurances about the future of subsidised school milk.

  • Outlined the Nursery Milk Scheme and highlighted that children in reception are only eligible for free milk until the age of the age of five. She asked the Minister if he would consider changing the scheme to make free milk available to all children in reception.

  • Raised concerns with the Eatwell Guide, noting the reduction of the milk and dairy allowance in the March 2016 update to the Guide and the potential that held for deterring milk consumption by children, as well as the outstanding questions over the scientific reason for the change and scope of the supporting consultation. Ms Glindon asked the Minister if he could offer reassurances that children will not be discouraged from drinking milk due to the new guide, and if he could guarantee a wider consultation on future changes.

  • On the Childhood Obesity Plan, she asked if it was the Government’s intent to include the daily serving of milk as one of the criteria in the new healthy rating scheme for primary schools, if the Ofsted thematic review of nutrition would produce recommendations on the provision and serving of milk and if the Minister could provide any additional information on the plan to revise the School Food Standards.

Mr Timpson started his response to the debate by referring to his recent role as milk monitor at a school in his constituency to celebrate World School Milk Day. He also told an anecdote about when he had been the milk monitor at primary school and he and a fellow milk monitor embarked on a failed attempt to steal milk that they thought was spare.
 
He then went on to respond to the specific points raised in the debate by stating:

  • The Government wishes to support milk consumption amongst children in education settings, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, because of the positive impact on children’s growth and development.

  • He understood Ms Glindon’s concerns regarding the academy and free schools that opened between September 2010 and 2014 that are not covered by the School Food Standards. He said that efforts would continue to encourage their voluntary participation in the Standards, and that this issue would be kept under review.

  • Mr Timpson said that the process of updating the School Food Standards to reflect new scientific advice on sugar consumption was still in the scoping stage. He added that the new standards would take into account the need to apply to all schools, and to encourage healthy eating behaviour in children as they grew up, including the consumption of milk.

  • Mr Timpson did not make an explicit commitment to a post-Brexit scheme for school milk, but said that the Government’s commitment to the provision of milk in education settings since the 1940s should be seen as a measure of likely path of future decisions.

  • He said he would look at the provision of Nursery Milk to children over five in reception year, but highlighted that primary children received free school milk as part of their free school meals.

  • He said that he understood concerns about the Eatwell Guide but that it was revised as a result of scientific advice. He said that it was “absolutely not” the intention to discourage children from drinking milk, but to encourage them to consume milk as part of a healthy diet.

  • Finally, Mr Timpson hinted that some of the proceeds to be raised by the soft drinks levy could be used to promote the consumption of school milk.
 
The debate received media coverage on the Politics Home website, as well as The Chronicle, a local newspaper covering Newcastle and the North East. The left-wing blog Political Scrapbook picked up on the debate and published an article that was critical of Conservative policies towards school milk.


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