British leader halts plan to take up Thatcher's infamous policy on scrapping school milk

LONDON (AP) — The British government said Monday it would continue giving free milk each day to school children under 5 years old, despite a drive to sharply cut public spending.

Prime Minister David Cameron's office confirmed that he had personally scotched a proposal to extend Margaret Thatcher's 1971 move, when she scrapped free milk for children over age 7.

The change earned Thatcher, who was then education secretary, the infamous nickname "Thatcher Milk-Snatcher."

Britain is making deep cuts to public spending to reduce a record national debt, and over the weekend junior health minister Anne Milton suggested the government would consider cutting the 189 milliliter — or third of a pint — of milk given to children under 5.

Cameron's office said the proposal had been considered, and rejected by the prime minister.

"It has been an integral part of early schooling since the war, and any plans to change that have been ruled out," said a Downing Street spokeswoman, on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

The policy is aimed at ensuring that young children, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, get adequate nutrition. Some schools provide their pupils with an entire breakfast.

"You have to look at the impact on poorer, more vulnerable members of society. The prime minister felt that keeping milk for the under-5s was part of that," his spokeswoman said.

Cameron returned his Conservatives to popularity by shaking off their "nasty party" image, reversing many Thatcher policies and focusing on programs that appeal to young families.

His coalition government will announce details of major public spending cuts in October.