HC Deb 27 July 1967 vol 751 cc958-60
22. Mr. Hunt

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has reached a decision on increasing the price of school meals.

Mr. Crosland

Yes, Sir, I would refer the hon. Member to the statement made on Monday by my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio.

Mr. Hunt

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the decision to increase the price of school meals, which I support, can make sense only if a major part of the £20 million a year which is being raised is devoted to improving outdated primary schools and the expansion of universities and technical colleges? What guarantee can he give that this will in fact happen and that the money will not merely be absorbed in general Government extravagance in other spheres?

Mr. Crosland

Ignoring the last phrase in the hon. Member's question—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why."]--he was, first of all, incorrect in a figure. The saving on school meals will not be £20 million but £16 million. The hon. Member may not have noticed that within the same statement my right hon. Friend made a rather striking announcement about Plowden educational priority areas.

23 and 24. Dr. David Owen

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science (1) what action he intends to take over the findings relating to school meals disclosed in the official Report on Circumstances of Families;

(2) in view of the fact that only one in every four children of full-time wage earners entitled to free school dinners are obtaining them, whether he will now take action to remedy this situation.

Mr. Crosland

We shall arrange for publicity campaigns to ensure that parents are aware of their entitlement. We are now reviewing the arrangements for free- meals to make sure that children can receive them without embarrassment either to themselves or to their parents. I have set up a working group jointly with the local education authorities to study these and related matters; it is having its first meeting today.

Dr. Owen

Would my right hon. Friend consider putting on that working group some outside sociologists to advise on increasing the uptake of school meals? Does he not agree that the figures of low uptake are an indication that means testing, as at present exists, is very unsatisfactory and that this does not arise from out-dated dogma or memories of the 1930s but is a reflection of present-day practice?

Mr. Crosland

Quite apart from the working group, we have asked for an inquiry to be made by social scientists in Professor Titmuss's department of the London School of Economics to examine the causes which lead to the low take-up of free school meals. That point, I think, is covered. What the low uptake figure reveals, I think, is that not only in school meals but also in many other fields we have still not discovered satisfactory methods by which we can make it clear to people who are entitled to free benefits that they are so entitled and how best they may claim them.

Mr. Pardoe

Is the Minister aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome the statement that a committee has been set up? Will he say whether this committee is prepared to accept suggestions from individuals and organisations on this point?

Mr. Crosland

I should be grateful if any hon. Member or any organisation would submit suggestions to us. We have an open mind. It is not a simple question because ultimately it is a matter for the local education authorities. There is an enormous variety of different arrangements for the free meals part of the service. I am very ready to receive suggestions from any quarter.

26. Mr. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is satisfied that the school meals service will be adequately supervised during the forthcoming school autumn term; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Crosland

Responsibility in this matter rests with the local education authorities, and I have nothing to add to the reply given to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) on 13th July.

Mr. Biffen

Is not the ability of the right hon. Gentleman to answer this Question really determined by the outcome of the dispute over teachers' pay? Will he, therefore, use this opportunity to inform the House of the views of his Department on the Honeyman arbitration proposals and the machinery whereby his Department—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Question is about the school meals service.

Mr. Crosland

I have already made my views clear on this point. I did so in answer to Questions yesterday. To answer the school meals part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, this is a matter of opinion, on which anybody can have a view. I should be surprised if, in the light of the announcement I made yesterday, the threat to carry out sanctions in respect of the school meals service looks as likely to be carried out today as it did 24 hours ago.