HC Deb 10 February 1972 vol 830 cc1533-5
7. Mr. William Price

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many children were taking school meals on the last date for which figures are available; and what was the figure 12 months earlier.

9. Mr. Carter

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many children are now taking school meals and what this figure represents, as a percentage of the total prior to the last increase in charges.

Mrs. Thatcher

On a day in October, 1971, 4,658,000 pupils in maintained schools in England and Wales took the school meal: this represents 90.5 per cent. of the corresponding figure for October, 1970, which was 5,148,000.

Mr. Price

Is the right hon. Lady aware that that is a thoroughly shocking, miserable answer? Could she say whether the story is true that she has appointed a new public relations officer whose job it will be to convince the country that she is human after all? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There is plenty more to come. Is she further aware that she is regarded as the meanest member of a thoroughly reactionary Government, and if she wants to know the reason why, she should start by asking the thousands of children who have lost their school meals and milk?

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Gentleman does not perhaps appreciate that secondary school milk was withdrawn by his party when in Government, an action which was supported by most hon. Members opposite, who trooped through the Lobby in support of their Government.

Mr. Carter

Is the right hon. Lady now prepared to admit that the number of children taking school meals will never return to its former level? Is she aware that many children are going from breakfast time to evening meal without anything to eat or drink? Before any further increase is proposed in the charges, will she see that a thorough inquiry into the school meals service is carried out?

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Gentleman should know that there is no need for any child to go from breakfast to evening meal without anything to eat. There are about 800,000 children receiving free school meals. If the hon. Gentleman knows of any case in the category he has described, he should draw attention to the free school meal service.

Mr. John E. B. Hill

Do not these figures show that the usual trends are repeating themselves and, as might be expected, after an increase in the price of food there is a sharp falling off and later there is a recovery, thereby demonstrating that, even at the new price, school meals are extremely good value? Is this not true under both Labour and Conservative Administrations?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The present school meal is extremely good value at 12p. More children have returned to taking the full school meal in primary schools than have done so in secondary schools. I believe that this has to do with the changing attitude towards a school meal and changing fashions in what school children at secondary schools want for the midday meal.

Mr.. Edward Short

Does the right hon. Lady not view with some alarm a drop of 1 million in the number of children taking school meals at a time when there are 1 million unemployed? Does she not believe that this will have some dietary and social consequences? What does she intend to do?

Mrs. Thatcher

A fall from 5,148,000 to 4,658,000 is not a drop of 1 million but a drop of half a million, so the right lion. Gentleman is 100 per cent. wrong. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy is monitoring what has been happening consequent upon the changes in school meals and milk provision.

Sir G. Nabarro

Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that this problem is not a matter of quantum alone and that nutrition is equally important? In the case of the densely populated industrial areas in the Midlands, why should the children not have a diet of fresh vegetables from the Vale of Evesham, which would do them much more good than all this propaganda about quantum?

Mrs. Thatcher

I hope that parents will take note of what my hon. Friend said and will purchase vegetables and fruit from the Vale of Evesham.

Mr. Armstrong

Will the right hon. Lady bear in mind that this is a serious matter and that a number of children who are entitled to free meals do not receive them for various reasons? Is this not a national disgrace? Is she aware that there are a number of children whose parents incomes are just above the scale laid down and who are thereby denied a free meal? Does she not take a serious view of the fact that fewer children are taking advantage of the meals provided at schools?

Mrs. Thatcher

Dealing with free school meals. 805,000 were served in October, 1971. The income limits for free school meals have been raised so that more parents can—and more do—take advantage of them.

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