HC Deb 23 June 1971 vol 819 cc1401-2
7. Mr. Robert Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the survey of school meals taken on 27th May and indicate what reduction has taken place since charges were raised.

Mr. Edward Taylor

The returns so far received from education authorities indicate that the number of pupils taking the school meal expressed as a proportion of the number present in school fell from two-fifths in January to one-third on 27th May. However, while the total number taking school meals was lower, the number receiving free meals increased and constituted 41.7 per cent. of the total number taking meals.

Mr. Hughes

But is the Minister not prepared to accept that the very serious reduction in the number of children taking meals, coupled with the Government's policy on school milk, means that the Government are gambling with the health of children in Scotland? In view of the figures which he has just given, will he not be man enough to admit the error of his ways and reverse this policy?

Mr. Taylor

Certainly not. I do not accept anything of what the hon. Member said. The fact is that there is always some decrease in the uptake in the summer term, and past experience suggests that a fall in uptake which immedi- ately follows any increase in charges is largely recovered during the following months. I would explain to the House that my figures are for Scotland less four authorities, because we are still awaiting returns from them; but I want to give the House as much information as possible. On that basis of comparing January and May, and less four authorities, the number receiving free meals increased from 83,502 to 103,084. I think that that shows the benefits of our policy.

Mr. MacArthur

It is sometimes difficult to relate two-fifths and one-third, but am I right in my calculation that this means that one child fewer out of 15 is taking meals in school and that we should relate that to an increase of 25 per cent. in the number of children who are receiving free meals?

Mr. Taylor

Yes. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his mastery of the decimal system as well as of fractions. He is absolutely right. I emphasise that there has been this quite dramatic increase in the number receiving free meals, so that we are getting help to where it is most needed.

Mr. Buchan

Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that these are the most devastating figures that he has given, that the total number receiving school meals has dropped, but that the number of free meals has risen—and that that is a terrible indictment of the employment policy of the Tory Party? Has he worked out how much more it will cost the Treasury as a result of the events last week with U.C.S., for example, and would it not be cheaper as well as more humane to drop this whole ridiculous policy?

Mr. Taylor

No. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that his party increased school meal charges in the past, and that experience has been that when charges go up, there is a temporary reduction in uptake which, however, is largely recovered during the following months. I think that the figures for free meals which I have given show that many parents who, perhaps, in the past were reluctant to apply have now done so. This shows that the help we give goes where it is most needed.

Mr. Ross

It is a measure of poverty in Scotland, that is all.