HC Deb 08 March 1971 vol 813 cc179-200

10.33 p.m.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Provision of Milk and Meals (Amendment) Regulations 1971 (S.I., 1971, No. 169), dated 1st February, 1971, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th February, be annulled. The White Paper relating to school meals stated that the aim was that the charge should eventually cover the running costs. Therefore, tonight we are opposing these Regulations, the first of many which we shall oppose, because the cost of school meals, which eventually is to be covered by the parents, will increase as prices rise.

Before hon. Members opposite say "You did it first", let me emphasise that there is a difference of principle between the two sides of the House. We increased the price of school meals, but we kept the subsidy steady because we felt that the subsidy, the investment in our children, which was roughly one-third of the cost of the school meals, was very worth while since it guaranteed a certain level of nutritional value to children receiving school meals. If the cost of the school meal is ultimately to be met in full by the parent, the whole principle of the subsidy is removed.

I know that provision has been made to alter the level of entitlement so that more children will be entitled to a free school meal, but I am not at all clear—I take this from an answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher)—whether the children of parents receiving family income supplement will automaticaly receive a free school meal or whether the parents will have to go through the process of filling up yet another form. However, it is true that more children will be entitled to free school meals.

The problem, as all hon. Members realise, is that the take-up of free school meals is never satisfactory. It varies from area to area, and, although one may cite an overall figure of take-up, an examination of the position in certain areas shows unsatisfactory variations.

The Government have said that they intend to continue, with, perhaps, extra effort, to make entitlement known to parents, but I do not believe that knowledge of entitlement, although it plays a big part in many other benefits, is really what determines parents to allow their children to accept free school meals. One of the great problems is the humiliation and the "lame duck" feeling which goes with a child's application to have a free school meal. This is so no matter how careful teachers are in handling this matter. Most teachers are very careful about it, although one has had instances from time to time of such care not being taken. Nevertheless, although most teachers are aware of the problem and take care, the fact remains that a child knows that it is in receipt of a free school meal, and this is one of the biggest inhibiting factors which we have to face.

I am sure that I speak for many of my hon. Friends when I say that the time has come for us all to reconsider the system whereby the act of payment for a school meal takes place in the school and involves the child. We must devise another scheme so that humiliation to the "free dinner" child is avoided. I have put suggestions to the Department of Education and Science, and it has examined them. True, it has not exactly cheered my suggestions, but the dialogue will go on. If the Government intend continually to raise the price of school meals, and if more and more children are to be entitled to free school meals, something must he done about the embarassment and humiliation caused to children receiving free meals. Many, no doubt, will take them and will suffer the embarrassment which is caused.

That is just one part of our objection to these Regulations. Another objection, which is, perhaps, even more important, is that many children not entitled to a free school meal but whose parents are not really able to afford to pay will cease to have school meals. This has happened every time there has been an increase in price, and, if the increases are to grow larger, the number of children on the borderline, so to speak, will grow and the number dropping out will inevitably increase.

This point is made by the Inner London Education Authority, which communicated to me its resolution expressing opposition to the proposed increased charges for school meals, basing its opposition on the fear that more such children will drop out because they will not be entitled to a free school meal and their parents will not be able to afford to pay or will not be inclined to pay for the school meal.

It may not have occurred to the Minister that if more and more children continue to stop taking school meals for which they have been paying, as I believe will happen, the overheads will fall on an increasingly smaller number of children, and those overheads alter only very little with the numbers. This will again mean an increase in price, if it is to be related to cost. If there is no subsidy, which is the aim indicated in the White Paper, the increases will be larger.

The basic fear concerns the diet of children. What happens to those who do not have a school lunch, whether free or one for which they choose not to pay? How many will be affected? It is very difficult to make an estimate, because this varies in different parts of the country. An estimate was made in 1969 by Bleddyn Davies and Mike Reddin, which was reported in New Society. They estimated that with an increase of nine old pence there would be a 600,000 drop-out of children taking school meals. This was based on what happened before when the price went up. The new increase is 1s. 1d., or 5p, and on that basis nearly 1 million children will drop out.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

How many of those children who dropped out when the increase was made came back later?

Miss Lestor

I am not saying that this has happened yet. It is true that some come back. The estimate in 1969, revived in relation to the proposals in the Regulations, is that 1 million will drop out—[Interruption.]—1 million net. There is no indication that any of those will come back. It is true that areas vary. In some areas none of the children who drop out come back, for understandable reasons, while in others some children return after a period.

I hope that the Government have made an estimate showing that this drop-out is not likely to happen, though I do not believe that they have. All the evidence I have collected shows that every time there is an increase there is a falling off, that this becomes greater as the increase becomes greater, and that the return to taking school meals is very closely related to the financial situation of those concerned.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

I appreciate very much the important point my hon. Friend is making. Does she agree that it is precisely in the poorest areas, such as the industrial slums, that fewer come back?

Miss Lestor

I was going to make that point. One of the biggest difficulties is that the areas thus affected are those where the social environment is very poor. It is interesting to note that in parts of Liverpool the figures dropped by 5,000 between March, 1968, and September, 1970.

The most serious aspect is the nutritional effects on children which are now beginning to come to light as a result of a report by Queen Elizabeth College of London University. In September, 1970, it issued its interim report. Many of us fail to appreciate the degree of diet deficiency, and the fact that the changes that have taken place over the years do not necessarily mean that children are receiving the sort of diet that they should receive. What comes out of the report is the vitally important fact that, generally speaking, the children who appeared to be receiving a good or satisfactory diet were the ones who were taking school lunches, whether free or paid for.

The report showed that for the cross-section of the community dealt with 32 per cent. of the children received a good or satisfactory diet, 57 per cent. an unsatisfactory diet and 11 per cent. an extremely poor diet. In the North—one of the best areas—46 per cent. received a satisfactory diet, whereas in the South-East and the South-West—one of the worst areas—only 28 per cent. received a satisfactory diet.

The report also indicated that in many areas the dietary deficiency in secondary school children was much worse than in primary school children, and that, contrary to what many hon. Members believed, many children had no breakfast before going to school. The figures were 15 per cent. in the North, 21 per cent. in Wales, and roughly 1 in 5 in the South-East.

That tells us a great deal. If these children are not having satisfactory breakfasts and what is estimated will happen comes about, a sizeable minority of children will go through the day deprived of an adequate amount of food, perhaps until they go home in the evening. The survey showed that those children who had a satisfactory diet were those who took school lunches, but also that many of those whose diets were found to be unsatisfactory, and even those who had no breakfast, also missed an evening meal. Less than half—43 per cent.—were satisfactory, and 13 per cent. were very poor, the rest coming somewhere in the middle.

On the basis of that survey it is clear that we face a very serious problem. Despite the enormous improvements in the health and well-being of many of our children, a sizeable minority are not benefiting from our present knowledge of health and diet.

I am sure that the Minister will have read the report. I suggest that in the light of its findings and the serious gaps that it shows to exist in the diets of many children who do not have a school meal, the Minister should be prepared to consider the matter again and see whether some other arrangements cannot be made to make sure that our children receive an adequate school lunch.

I turn to the question of milk. Children who reach the age of 7 will lose the benefit of free milk. Incidentally, the position of the pre-school child—the child who is at a nursery school, or in a play group or a day nursery—is a very peculiar one. It will continue to be eligible for its one-third of a pint of milk. Until now, children at home with mother—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

This part of what the hon. Lady is saying does not come into the Regulations.

Miss Lestor

With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Regulations refer to milk and meals.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William van Straubenzee)

Would it assist, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I respectfully confirmed what you have said? That may help the hon. Lady and allow those who wish to take part in the debate to know what the position is. No doubt the hon. Lady has been misled by the terminology, but legislation is necessary to deal with the changes in school milk supplies and such legislation would, of course, have to come before the House.

Miss Lestor

Milk is mentioned in the Regulations, which are the Provision of Milk and Meals (Amendment) Regulations, 1971. This is directly related to the difficulties with school meals, and I wanted—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There is nothing about milk in the Regulations.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

On a point of order. Surely my hon. Friend is entitled to draw attention to the combined effect of these two changes, even if they are brought before us separately. It is impossible to deal with the dietary and nutritional effects of meals without mentioning the loss of milk to children in primary schools.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

On a point of order. The Regulations are entitled Provision of Milk and Meals (Amendment) Regulations. There is a clear reference to milk. Surely we are in order in debating the issue of the loss of milk in primary schools.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There is a misapprehension about this. I am quite clear about it. The Regulations are about meals. Although the provision of milk is mentioned in the title, the provision of milk is not mentioned in the Regulations. I must ask the hon. Lady to confine her remarks to meals.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

On a point of order. Is it the logic of your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that all those parts of my hon. Friend's speech referring to meals which are not taken in schools were out of order? Are you suggesting that whether children are having breakfast is irrelevant to deciding whether they should have meals at school? If you are not ruling that out of order, ought not my hon. Friend to be allowed to develop her argument on nutritional grounds, and is not milk part of a meal and part of a diet?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am bound by the rules in these matters. The Regulations deal with meals and not with milk as such. The debate must therefore be confined to meals.

Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

On a point of order. These are Regulations made by the Secretary of State under two Acts, one being the Education (School Milk) Act, 1970. As that is one of the sources of the Secretary of State's power to make these Regulations, are we not entitled to discuss that source?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No. I cannot help the right hon. Gentleman all that much. I am bound by the terms of the Regulations, and that is all we can deal with tonight. I fully appreciate the difficulty in which hon. Members find themselves, but those are the rules to which the House always adheres when discussing Prayers.

Mr. Alan Williams

Further to my point of order. My hon. Friend will be in serious difficulty if she is asked to confine her remarks to meals which are part of formal school meal provision. Is she not allowed to speak about general dietary provision? I am sure that the House understands your predicament, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it does not understand the contemptible willingness of the Under-Secretary to skulk behind procedural protection to avoid discussing such a matter.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

Further to that point of order. Are you therefore ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that milk is not a food? My hon. Friend was about to explain that milk is a food, and I would suggest with great respect that she is right.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am desperately anxious to help the hon. Lady if I can. I think she can use this as a background to what she is saying, but the Regulations do not relate to milk as such. I will ask her to use her discretion and I will do my best to be as lenient as possible.

Miss Lestor

I can assure you Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I will be the soul of discretion in discussing the food properties of milk. I know of no advice taken by the Government as to the likely effect of the combined withdrawal of school milk from primary schools and the reduction in the number of children eligible for school meals. It has been estimated that 18 per cent. of primary schoolchildren are deficient in calcium and the withdrawal of school milk will increase that percentage. We all know that the N.U.T. is not keen to sell milk in schools. I suggest that a combination of these facts will lead to a further loss of nutrition and must be taken into account.

We now know a great deal more about patterns of nutrition in children. It is clear that the health of our children is at risk and will continue to be at risk. Hon Gentlemen may argue that it is up to the parents to ensure that children are properly fed, but it is no good flying in the face of facts. We know that many children are not being fed properly. The rôle of the school is vitally important in the feeding habits of the child and that is why I place the highest importance on devising a scheme which does not discourage a child from receiving free school meals because of humiliation.

It must also be borne in mind that many children travel a long way to school and often do so without a good breakfast. In addition, they may have an inadequate mid-day meal. In discussing dietary patterns of children it has to be remembered that a third of the working force is made up of women and two-thirds of these are married. Half of that number have children in the school age range. That fact must be borne in mind when considering the role played by the school in providing an adequate diet. The risk that we are being asked to take in continuing to increase the price of school meals is a risk that we cannot afford to take.

10.59 p.m.

Mr. John E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

The hon. Lady the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) has made out a case on the ground of malnutrition. But surely that matter is outside the education programme and should be dealt with through the health visitor because it is a question of educating parents rather than children. She said that it was worth retaining the principle of subsidising school meals as to one-third. But the right and overriding principle today, when money for education is in short supply, should be not to subsidise parents who do not need it.

I ask the hon. Lady to cast her mind back to the time that her right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) raised the price of school meals, which was done twice under the Labour Government. When the right hon. Gentleman raised the price in April, 1968, free meals were extended to the fourth and subsequent children of large families. Within six months he said that he wished to withdraw the free provision for large families because the greater part of the£4 million involved has been going to people who do not need it.…This is not a cut. It is simply using resources much more wisely. All the children who need free meals can get free meals. There is no need to give the money to quite wealthy people with large incomes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th Nov., 1968; Vol. 772, c. 486.] That is a sound principle. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that the amount saved would pay for more nursery classes and would assist the urban programme which the hon. Lady the Member for Eton and Slough has close to her heart.

Should we spend money unnecessarily on current consumption when a great deal of capital work needs to be done? I have in mind particularly the need for improving primary schools and getting rid of old ones, which we have said is our priority. That is in our election manifesto. What is more, this is what parents want.

Mr. Edward Short

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that there are no wealthy people whose children get free meals now?

Mr. Hill

There are. If it is a matter of principle and the right hon. Gentleman and his party believe that the subsidy should always be retained at one-third the cost, every parent, rich or poor, will get that subsidy. I am questioning the right hon. Gentleman's principle.

We believe that we must concentrate help where it is needed. In terms of current priorities, if any money can be spared, we should put right some of the shortages which, stemming from the right hon. Gentleman's policy, have fallen on the local education authorities and the schools. I refer particularly to the decline in the sum which can be spent on school books. That is an educational priority.

I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Eton and Slough that parents should be told of their children's eligibility for free school meals, because the provision we are making is much more generous. I am sure that our policy is wiser.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. Barry Jones (Flint, East)

This Statutory Instrument puts at risk the schools meals service in the foreseeable future. It is very worrying for much of the teaching profession as well as for many parents and children.

I am aware that the service is worthy of tribute. After all, it is the biggest catering service in the United Kingdom. It provides in the schools of England and Wales over 900 million school meals a year. The school meal gives the average school child at least one-third of his nutritional requirements in a day. The school meals service has given the children more choice, more trolley services and a more civilised approach to school meals. It has helped to establish sound dietetic habits and social training. The first breach of the poor laws occurred when the school meals service was begun many years ago, and that marked the beginnings of the Welfare State.

I am particularly concerned about children from poor homes, many of whom begin their school day without breakfast, without corn flakes, without milk and without toast, and are not fit to face the long school day. We see sorry-looking queues at chip shops, and children scampering away to the nearest park or street corner to eat sandwiches. I am told by headmasters and teachers that the incidence of sandwich-eating is rising daily. A child may take sandwiches to school, become bored with them and throw them away, so that he may have no nourishing food until he gets home later in the day. Alternatively, a child may take money to school to purchase a meal from a street café or the sweet shop near the school. This policy pares away at the balanced meal in this supposedly prosperous society.

We cannot take these measures in isolation. The rise in school meals, taken with the rise in bus fares, is crippling many a family budget. Parents are not able to budget to be able to pay for this crippling rise in the cost of school meals.

11.6 p.m.

Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)

I join with the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones) in paying tribute to the school meals service.

The Government are right in what they propose to do next month. Some of the criticism opposite has a hollow ring when one remembers the increases made by the last Government. I will not inflict on hon. Members opposite quotations from the speeches of the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) and the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), but those of us who were here remember what was said at the time.

Looking at all the calls on the resources of the education service today, we can see no justification for going on letting the subsidy element increase all across the board. The rise proposed is not unreasonable, taken in conjunction with the raising of the income threshold for entitlement to free meals. I have seen quoted a figure of 200,000 additional children who will be entitled to free meals after April. I do not know whether this is correct. Perhaps my hon. Friend will say something about that.

I echo the anxieties expressed by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) about nutrition, but she draws the wrong conclusion. The right conclusion to draw in this context is that much more should and will be done by the Government, first, to make known their entitlement to those who are entitled to free meals and, secondly, to try to find a way round the embarrassment which we realise exists. I look forward to hearing something from my hon. Friend on that point.

In reply to the worries expressed by the hon. Member for Flint, East, I want to quote from an answer to a Question given by the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central. He said: To say that the school meals service is being whittled away is plainly nonsense. Sixty-nine per cent. of all school children are getting school meals. In 1964, the figure was 62 per cent. So the service is not being whittled away; it is increasing. But the subsidy is now approaching the£100 million mark, and we must be prepared to weigh one priority in the education service against another."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1969; Vol. 791, c. 863.] We agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said then about priorities and I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. John E. B. Hill) that the Government are getting their priorities right.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West) rose

Mr. Lane

No. I am just about to finish. Other hon. Members want to speak.

I believe that the Government's priorities are right, and I hope that they will press forward particularly with the increased expenditure which, for this among other reasons, they are going to be able to make over the next four years on primary schools.

11.12 p.m.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on one or two matters which my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) did not have time to deal with in her excellent speech.

Clearly, this is a Cabinet decision which the Under-Secretary of State is defending. It has nothing to do with school meals or nutrition or anything of the sort. It has nothing to do with the merits of the school meals service. It is a proposal to increase the cost of living deliberately. It is one of the first results of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's budget speech last October. I wonder what effect the Government think increasing school meal prices by no less than one-third will have in our present economic situation. Nothing could be more blatantly inflationary than this.

We have had so much talk in recent months about reducing prices "at a stroke" but the first thing to be said about this proposal is that it is a deliberate move to increase prices "at a stroke". The economics of this case should not be forgotten. In the same week in which the Government are trying to make a test case of the postmen and restrict their increase in wages to 8 per cent., they cheerfully impose a rise of one-third on the cost of a vitally important element in the lives of most ordinary families. It is almost beyond comprehension. It is a scandalous state of affairs.

The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) was not comparing like with like. I was one of the Ministers who had to deal with one of the previous increases. I remind him that we were talking then about a rise in the cost of school meals which had been caused by a rise in the cost of food. We were not talking about a deliberate attempt to price a large number of people out of the market.

Mr. van Straubenzee

indicated dissent.

Mr. Howell

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that that is what the Regulations do. He should read Part B of his own Schedule. Even on the best possible construction, a family with one child—it has no family allowance, remember—unless its income is the meagre one of less than£12 a week, which most of us regard as unacceptable, will not get any help under these Regulations.

When this proposal was first announced some months ago, it was obvious to the House that the Secretary of State was putting it forward as a fiscal measure and had taken no advice from the Government's own nutritional experts. We are entitled to an explanation whether the matter has since been put to the Secretary of State for Social Services' Committee on Diet and Nutrition. That Committee was always consulted by the last Government, particularly about the increases referred to by the hon. Member for Cambridge. What advice has that Committee given the Government? I do not believe that that Committee has been consulted? The withdrawal of the school meal from the primary school and the effect which this will undoubtedly have in creating a fallout of youngsters taking a balanced school meal could be disastrous, both nutritionally as well as economically, in future years.

11.16 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William van Straubenzee)

Three matters are dealt with in the Regulations, but I suppose that it is understandable that the increase in the price of school meals starting next April should have largely taken the attention of the House. I shall start with that, but I shall wish to say a few words about the other two objects of the Regulations as I go along.

Listening to some of the speeches which have been made by hon. Members opposite, particularly the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell), one might think that there had never been an increase in the price of school meals before.

Mr. Frank Allaun

No, we did not.

Mr. van Straubenzee

It is no good the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) saying that he voted against it. The hon. Gentleman loyally supported the Government—

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Only one hon. Member on his feet at one time.

Mr. van Straubenzee

—and gladly went to the country under the banner of his party. The school meal price increase in April, 1968, was a 50 per cent. increase, which was the largest percentage increase that we have ever had in the history of the school meals service. It is this kind of fact which needs to be remembered when we listen to some of the arguments put forward by hon. Members opposite. These arguments come from a party which was responsible for a 75 per cent. increase in school meals during its period in office.

I gladly use this opportunity to reaffirm and repeat the total difference in approach to subsidies between the two sides of the House. We on this side of the House do not believe in the indiscriminate use of the subsidy regardless of need, and I gladly repeat the intention set out in the White Paper progressively to remove the subsidy from the school meals.

The Labour Party is again in the very greatest difficulty in defending its—

Hon. Members


Mr. Buchan rose

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Willesden, West) rose

Mr. van Straubenzee

I shall not give way. I have very little time. I am not being discourteous. The rules of the House preclude me giving way.

As was so ably put by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. John E. B. Hill), the same argument was used by the Labour Party when, I think quite rightly, it got rid of the free school meal regardless of circumstance for the fourth and subsequent child.

We were reminded of the words of the then Secretary of State: The saving from this is£4 million a year, the greater part of which has been going to people who do not need it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th Nov. 1968; Vol. 772, c. 486.] The right hon. Gentleman was absolutely right. If it was wrong for the four or more children family, then assuredly it is absolutely wrong applied over the entire board. That is why I gladly take the opportunity of making quite clear the difference in approach between the two sides.

The second thing dealt with in the Regulations is the remission of charges. The two things go together and are an essential part of the whole. It is for us an essential part of the argument that more children should be permitted and encouraged to take up the free facilities which are now made available for large numbers of children.

Mr. Orme

Good Tory philosophy.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Yes, good Tory philosophy.

There are two ways in which this is done. The first is common to both sides of the House. In previous such instruments, it is true that the position of the parent has been improved in terms of remission by the increase itself, because that increases the remission charge. This is something—

Mr. Pavitt

On a point of order Mr. Speaker. Is it not usual for the hon. Member at the Dispatch Box to address the Chair and the Reporters? The Under-Secretary is turning his head the other way most of the time and it is very difficult to hear.

Mr. Speaker

No doubt the Minister will have regard to what the hon. Member has said.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am obliged, Sir.

The second reason which makes this an exceptional Measure is that in Part B of the Schedule there is an entirely new provision, which is a topping up by a factor of 75p added at each point on the scale, which makes a substantial pro- portionate difference to those who are now entitled to a free school meal. This has never been done before. This is a new concept to which I draw the attention of the House as fitting exactly into the philosophy which I have attempted to explain.

To give a practical example, if at this moment there are parents with four free school meals, they can earn 90p, or 18s., a week more than at present and still retain entitlement to free school meals.

Mr. Barry Jones

On a point of order Mr. Speaker. One understands that the Secretary of State for Wales has recently had added powers for dealing with schooling in Wales. Is the Minister now referring to Wales, and, if so, when will the Minister from the Welsh Office be present?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I now deal with the question of embarrassment, which is a real anxiety. I should have hoped that, when a provision like this was made by the House, we could all have combined, as happened on previous increase Orders. I have shown what extensive increases there have been. I would have hoped that we would have sought to make it possible for the greatest possible number of children both to know about and to claim remission. I do not believe that we are helped by talk of "lame duck" children. This does not help the large numbers of people who will be brought into the ambit of the Regulations. I hope that, in the vast majority of cases, we could agree that the provision of the remission of charge is dealt with with the greatest skill and care and sympathy. If any hon. Member comes across any individual case which has not been dealt with in a sympathetic way, he would surely contact the local education authority or the Department.

I do not accept the validity of the two researches to which the hon. Lady referred. The first has been made public only partially, in snippets, and is not available in full. The same applies to the second one involving Dr. Lynch, which has merely been referred to in a Press conference. To found an entire argument on two reports of this kind, neither of which has been fully published and analysed, seems to be very unsound.

Miss Lestor rose

Mr. van Straubenzee

I beg the hon. Lady's pardon, but I am running very short of time.

The third thing which, significantly, has not been mentioned is that this will decimalise the existing 1s. 9d. The reason it has not been mentioned is that it is the most glorious example of muddle by the Labour Government. The present school meal charge before 15th February was 1s. 9d., which is 9p. If converted into a weekly payment at 8s. 9d., it comes out to 44p, and not five times 9p.

When 1s. 9d. was chosen as the figure, the appointed day for decimalisation had been fixed. It was known way back in 1968 that the date of decimalisation was 15th February, 1971. Yet last April that figure was chosen, which painly did not go into decimals. As a result, in countless schools from 15th February—

Mr. Alan Williams

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The whole of the debate has centred on the nutritional content of school meals. We have been trying to extract from the hon. Gentleman whether nutritional advice was sought by the Government. Since in the time available the hon. Gentleman has not managed to answer us on this matter, would it be in order for the House to extend the debate to deal with this point?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order. It is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I realise that hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like these matters brought to their attention. In innumerable schools teachers are wondering how it was possible for the figure to be 9p a day and 44p a week [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is no good hon. Members shouting that the Minister should answer the question and then not allow him to do so.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I have dealt with the two central reports on which the hon. Lady bases her case. To be persuasive, she must have something better than those. If the Prayer is carried tonight—[Interruption.] I know that the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) hates having his past brought up against him. We all remember that the last school meal increase, by which he sought to save£11 million, was brought in to pay the teachers. I propose to remind the House of what, in fact, happened—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the debate."] I am sayinging that the third point raised by this debate is that it is necessary to put right—

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER put the Question forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 100 (Statutory Instruments, &c., (Procedure)).

The House divided: Ayes 246, Noes 271.

Division No. 232.] AYES [11.30 p.m.
Abse, Leo Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Dormand, J. D.
Albu, Austen Cant, R. B. Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Carmichael, Neil Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Driberg, Tom
Ashley, Jack Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Duffy, A. E. P.
Ashton, Joe Clark, David (Colne Valley) Dunn, James A.
Atkinson, Norman Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Dunnett, Jack
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Cohen, Stanley Eadie, Alex
Barnes, Michael Coleman, Donald Edwards, Robert (Bilston)
Barnett, Joel Concannon, J. D. Edwards, William (Merioneth)
Beaney, Alan Conlan, Bernard Ellis, Tom
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Corbet, Mrs. Freda English, Michael
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Evans, Fred
Bidwell, Sydney Crawshaw, Richard Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.
Blenkinsop, Arthur Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood)
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.) Fitch, Alan (Wigan)
Booth, Albert Davidson, Arthur Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Foley, Maurice
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland) Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Foot, Michael
Bradley, Tom Davies, Ifor (Gower) Forrester, John
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.) Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Fraser, John (Norwood)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Deakins, Eric Freeson, Reginald
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Galpern, Sir Myer
Buchan, Norman Delargy, H. J. Garrett, W. E.
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow,Sp'burn) Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Gilbert, Dr. John
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Dempsey, James Ginsburg, David
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Doig, Peter Golding, John
Gourlay, Harry Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Robertson, John (Paisley)
Grant, George (Morpeth) McBride, Neil Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Br'c'n & R'dnor)
Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) McCartney, Hugh Roper, John
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) McElhone, Frank Rose, Paul B.
Griffiths, will (Exchange) McGuire, Michael Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J. Mackenzie, Gregor Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Mackie, John Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Hamling, William Maclennan, Robert Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Hardy, Peter McNamara, J. Kevin Sillars, James
Harper, Joseph MacPherson, Malcolm Silverman, Julius
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Skinner, Dennis
Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Small, William
Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Heffer, Eric S. Marquand, David Spearing, Nigel
Horam, John Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Spriggs, Leslie
Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Stallard, A. W.
Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Mayhew, Christopher Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Huckfield, Leslie Meacher, Michael Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Mendelson, John Strang, Gavin
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Mikardo, Ian Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Millan, Bruce Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Hunter, Adam Miller, Dr. M. S. Taverne, Dick
Irvine, Rt. Hn. SirArthur (Edge Hill) Milne, Edward (Blyth) Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)
Janner, Greville Molloy, William Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)
Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St.P'cras, S.) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Tinn, James
Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)
John, Brynmor Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Torney, Tom
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Murray, Ronald King Tuck, Raphael
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Ogden, Eric Urwin, T. W.
Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) O'Halloran, Michael Varley, Eric G.
Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) O'Malley, Brian Wainwright, Edwin
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Orbach, Maurice Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W.Ham, S.) Orme, Stanley Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Oswald, Thomas Wallace, George
Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton) Watkins, David
Judd, Frank Palmer, Arthur Weitzman, David
Kaufman, Gerald Parker, John (Dagenham) Wellbeloved, James
Kelley, Richard Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Kerr, Russell Pavitt, Laurie White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Kinnock, Neil Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Whitehead, Phillip
Lambie, David Pendry, Tom Whitlock, William
Lamond, James Pentland, Norman Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Latham, Arthur Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg. Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Lawson, George Prescott, John Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Leonard, Dick Price, William (Rugby) Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Lestor, Miss Joan Probert, Arthur Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Rankin, John Woof, Robert
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Lipton, Marcus Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Loughlin, Charles Rhodes, Geoffrey Mr. Ernest Armstrong and
Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Richard, Ivor Mr. James Hamilton.
Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Adley, Robert Bossom, Sir Clive Cordle, John
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Bowden, Andrew Cormack, Patrick
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Costain, A. P.
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Bray, Ronald Critchley, Julian
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Brinton, Sir Tatton Crouch, David
Astor, John Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Crowder, F. P.
Atkins, Humphrey Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Curran, Charles
Awdry, Daniel Bruce-Gardyne, J. Dalkeith, Earl of
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Bryan, Paul Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus,N & M) d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry
Balniel, Lord Buck, Antony d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, James Maj.-Gen.
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Bullus, Sir Eric Dean, Paul
Batsford, Brian Burden, F. A. Digby, Simon Wingfield
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Dixon, Piers
Bell, Ronald Campbell, Rt. Hn. G. (Moray & Nairn) Dodds-Parker, Douglas
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Carlisle, Mark Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Chapman, Sydney Drayson, G. B.
Benyon, W. Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Dykes, Hugh
Berry, Hn. Anthony Chichester-Clark, R. Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Biffen, John Churchill, W. S. Elliot, Cant. Walter (Carshalton)
Biggs-Davison, John Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Emery, Peter
Blaker, Peter Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Eyre, Reginald
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Cockeram, Eric Farr, John
Boscawen, Robert Cooper, A. E. Fell, Anthony
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Kimball, Marcus Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Fidler, Michael King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) King, Tom (Bridgwater) Rees, Peter (Dover)
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Kinsey, J. R. Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Kirk, Peter Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Fookes, Miss Janet Kitson, Timothy Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Fortescue, Tim Knight, Mrs. Jill Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Fowler, Norman Knox, David Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Fox, Marcus Lambton, Antony Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Lane, David Rost, Peter
Fry, Peter Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Russell, Sir Ronald
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Le Marchant, Spencer St. John-Stevas, Norman
Gardner, Edward Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Scott, Nicholas
Gibson-Watt, David Longden, Gilbert Scott-Hopkins, James
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Loveridge, John Sharples, Richard
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) McAdden, Sir Stephen Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Glyn, Dr. Alan MacArthur, Ian Shelton, William (Clapham)
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. McCrindle, R. A. Simeons, Charles
Goodhart, Philip Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Skeet, T. H. H.
Goodhew, Victor McMaster, Stanley Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Gorst, John Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Soref, Harold
Gower, Raymond McNair-Wilson, Michael Speed, Keith
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Spence, John
Gray, Hamish Maddan, Martin Sproat, Iain
Green, Alan Madel, David Stainton, Keith
Grieve, Percy Maginnis, John E. Stanbrook, Ivor
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Marten, Neil Stewart-Smith, D. G. (Belper)
Grylls, Michael Mawby, Ray Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
Gummer, Selwyn Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Gurden, Harold Meyer, Sir Anthony Stokes, John
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Mills, Peter (Torrington) Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Hall, John (Wycombe) Miscampbell, Norman Sutcliffe, John
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W) Tapsell, Peter
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Hannam, John (Exeter) Moate, Roger Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Molyneaux, James Tebbit, Norman
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Money, Ernie Temple, John M.
Haselhurst, Alan Monks, Mrs. Connie Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Hastings, Stephen Monro, Hector Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Havers, Michael Montgomery, Fergus Tilney, John
Hawkins, Paul More, Jasper Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Hay, John Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Trew, Peter
Hayhoe, Barney Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Tugendhat, Christopher
Heseltine, Michael Mudd, David Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Hicks, Robert Murton, Oscar van Straubenzee, W. R.
Higgins, Terence L. Neave, Airey Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Hiley, Joseph Nicholls, Sir Harmar Vickers, Dame Joan
Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.) Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Waddington, David
Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Normanton, Tom Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Holland, Philip Nott, John Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Holt, Miss Mary Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally Wall, Patrick
Hornby, Richard Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Walters, Dennis
Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Osborn, John Ward, Dame Irene
Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate) Owen, Idris (Stockport N.) Warren, Kenneth
Howell, David (Guildford) Page, Graham (Crosby) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Page, John (Harrow, W.) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Hunt, John Parkinson, Cecil (Enfield, W.) Wiggin, Jerry
Hutchison, Michael Clark Peel, John Wilkinson, John
Iremonger, T. L. Percival, Ian Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Pike, Miss Mervyn Woodnutt, Mark
James, David Pink, R. Bonner Worsley, Marcus
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Pounder, Rafton Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Jessel, Toby Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Younger, Hn. George
Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Proudfoot, Wilfred TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Kaberry, Sir Donald Pym, Rt Hn. Francis Mr. Bernard Weatherill and
Kellett, Mrs. Elaine Quennell, Miss J. M. Mr. Walter Clegg.
Kershaw, Anthony Raison, Timothy