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1971: Councils defy Thatcher milk ban
Opposition is growing to Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher's plans to end free school milk for children over the age of seven.

The bill received its second reading last night. It was passed by 281 votes to 248, a government majority of 33.

The Conservatives have issued a warning to local authorities not to go ahead with any plans to break the law deliberately.

Some Labour-controlled councils have threatened to put up the rates in order to continue supplying free milk.

New buildings

But Mrs Thatcher said increasing the rates would, in turn, mean that central government would have to provide more money through the rate support grant.

She has argued that ending free milk for all but nursery and primary children would free more money to spend on other areas of education, like new buildings.

At present free milk for primary school children costs 14m a year - twice as much as is being spent on school books.

In a full year the saving on milk provision will be about 9m.

Mrs Thatcher told MPs the Chief Medical Officer had been consulted on the plans and he had advised that it was not possible to predict whether the withdrawal of free milk would harm children's diets and overall health.

However, the government has asked for the effects to be monitored and promised to carry out a review if necessary.

Labour's education spokesman Edward Short attacked the Tories' proposals as "the meanest and most unworthy thing" he had seen in his 20 years in the House of Commons.

Labour reckons the number of children getting free milk will be reduced from five million to just over two million.

Harold Wilson's Labour government stopped free milk for secondary school pupils in 1968.

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Margaret Thatcher
Mrs Thatcher's milk cuts earned her the nickname 'Thatcher milk snatcher'

In Context
Margaret Thatcher's decision to end free school milk for the over-sevens earned her the nickname "Thatcher, Thatcher Milk Snatcher".

The economic outlook was bleak when Edward Heath was returned to power in 1970 and the Tories had to take some drastic measures to meet election pledges on tax.

The most infamous cut of all was the decision to end free school milk.

Documents released under the 30-year rule revealed that Mrs Thatcher was considering several options including charges for borrowing library books, increased prices for school meals and admission fees for museums.

However, it also revealed that she advised against cutting free school milk for all children on the grounds it would "arouse widespread public antagonism".

In total a savings package of 200m was subsequently approved in September 1971 - including the cut in free milk and increased prices for school meals.

In 1985 Oxford University refused her an honorary degree in protest against her cuts in education funding.

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