HC Deb 24 October 1946 vol 428 cc23-4
36. Mr. Douglas Marshall

asked the Minister of Education if she is aware that in some cases parents are not benefiting by 5s. a week per child under the National Insurance Act owing to this sum being taken into consideration when calculating as to whether a child should obtain free meals at school; and if she will reconsider this matter which is causing concern.

Miss Wilkinson

Under Regulation 10 of the Provision of Milk and Meals Regulations 1945, local education authorities may remit the whole or part of their charge for school meals if they consider that the parent is unable to pay without financial hardship. As the family allowance is an integral part of the parental income authorities cannot disregard it under this Regulation when considering whether there would be such hardship. It is open to authorities to revise their income scales for free meals if they think that they are unsatisfactory and I shall consider any such proposals on their merits.

Mr. K. Lindsay

When this was introduced, were we not made aware that the five shillings would be in addition to other services in kind?

Miss Wilkinson

Yes, we are fully aware of that and, as soon as we can get sufficient canteens—which we are extending rapidly every week—to cover a large proportion of the children, then the meals will be made free, but the hon. Gentleman can see the obvious difficulties there would be of freeing them under present conditions.

Mr. Lipson

Will not the right hon. Lady consider making the meals free now for all children who are able to attend school?

Miss Wilkinson

I am sorry, but the position is not as simple as that. If we did that, those children who did not receive free meals would have to receive a cash payment. (HON. MEMBERS: "No.") I am sorry, but that is the legal position, and it would make for a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. We have gone into this matter with the greatest care, and we think that the best way of dealing with the situation is to increase the provision of canteens as rapidly as possible so as to give the school meals free generally.

Mr. Wilson Harris

Was it not in the nature of an assurance to the House, when the National Insurance Bill was introduced, that the family allowance sum should be five shillings and not eight shillings because the difference would be made up in school meals? Is not this in the nature of a breach of a bargain with the House?

Miss Wilkinson

Yes, certainly, but that is as and when it is possible—and it is not possible at the present time—to provide sufficient meals to cover the whole of the school population. We are pressing on with the provision of school meals as a first priority, and as soon as we can accommodate a sufficient number of children, the meals will be free.

Major Bramall

Has the right hon. Lady been advised of the considerable feeling among parents in many parts of the country about this? Also, can she give us any estimate as to when it will be possible to put the scheme fully into operation?

Miss Wilkinson

I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that, whatever feeling exists, it is nothing to the feeling which would exist if children in certain schools got their meals free for no other reason than the fact that canteens had been provided, and other children did not get them. That would make a most complicated situation. I can only repeat that, while we see the difficulties, it is a question of getting a sufficient number of canteens for the schools.

Mr. D. Marshall

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.