HC Deb 10 June 1971 vol 818 cc1221-4
28. Mrs. Doris Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what has been the increased cost per unit of school dinners that has arisen because of fall in number of children participating.

Mrs. Thatcher

We estimate it will be just over 1p.

Mrs. Fisher

Does not the large falloff in urban areas in the number of children taking school meals because of the increased cost make the provision of school meals much more uneconomic following the heavy capital investment which went into the equipment needed to provide school meals on a proper scale?

Mrs. Thatcher

That is always a problem in putting up charges for school meals. It has been faced before and we shall face it now.

Mr. Fry

When answering criticisms about the number of children not taking school meals, will my right hon. Friend refer hon. Members opposite to Liver- pool where, in many schools, more children are taking school meals because they are being offered more variety? Does not this give the lie to many of the accusations made by hon. Members opposite?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have not had reports from Liverpool but I have read other reports similar to that to which my hon. Friend refers.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Will the right hon. Lady take an assurance from someone who was teaching until three weeks ago that there has been a substantial decrease in the number of children taking school meals since the price increase was imposed? Does not she think this disgraceful?

Mrs. Thatcher

May I say, "Welcome back"? The hon. Gentleman asks whether I do not think it disgraceful that there should be a fall-off. I do not think that one should assume that because fewer children are taking school meals they are not getting as good a meal at home or elsewhere.

Mr. Rost

Does not my right hon. Friend feel that it would be appropriate to remind the Opposition and the country that it is not the State's responsibility to feed children, that her resources in the education service should be concentrated on improving educational facilities, and that it if parents are not prepared to ensure that their children are properly fed, they are not fit to be parents and should not have children?

Mr. Arthur Lewis

That is real Tory philosophy.

Mrs. Thatcher

I believe that most mothers in this country are fully capable of looking after the nutritional requirements of their children.

Mr. Edward Short

Will the right hon. Lady now answer a question which I have asked her on many occasions? Is she carrying out the policy of the White Paper of last October by making the charge equal the cost of providing a school meal? What happened to her proposal for providing part meals?

Mrs. Thatcher

The policy is set out in the White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman has asked me the question before and I have given him the same answer. We are having a general look at the school meals service. It is not necessarily my policy to provide part meals. Some local education authorities do provide a variety of foods along with the school dinner.

35. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many schoolchildren in Derbyshire are taking school meals at the latest possible date; and by how much this figure has fallen since a year previously.

Mrs. Thatcher

The latest information available to my Department relates to the autumn of last year, when the number of school meals served in Derbyshire was 73,441. The corresponding figure for 1969 was 73,289.

Mr. Skinner

The right hon. Lady will be aware, of course, that those figures are completely irrelevant to the situation today. Is she aware that, according to the figures which have been compiled by the Derbyshire County Council and the National Union of Public Employees, who are concerned about the women who deliver the school meals, the numbers are alarming? Would she ask the Prime Minister whether this was another of the Government's promises that we should not have taken too seriously at the time of the General Election?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's supplementary bears much relationship to his question. Local education authorities were asked to put in returns about school meals by tomorrow. Of 163 authorities, we have so far heard only from 59.

Miss Lestor

Is the right hon. Lady aware that in areas like mine, for example—Slough, an area of fairly high wages—there has been a drop in school meals for which people pay of as much as 20 per cent., and that this is being deeply regretted by members of her own party on the local council? Is she also aware—referring back to an earlier answer of hers about the responsibility of parents—that it is about time that she found out how some working-class people live and the fact that many women have to go out to work, which means that their children will be deprived of a decent school meal?

Mrs. Thatcher

Because women have to go out to work does not mean that they are incapable of looking after the nutrition of their children. I deeply resent any suggestion that the women of this country are incapable of looking after the proper nutrition of their own children.