HC Deb 04 May 1976 vol 910 cc1040-1
2. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the average cost of providing a school meal, at the latest available date; and what is his latest estimate of the amount of subsidy payable in respect of school meals during the current financial year.

Miss Margaret Jackson

41½p and £328 million respectively.

Mr. Gow

Does the Minister recall that the Government's White Paper on Public Expenditure stated that it was intended to reduce by a half the total subsidy for school meals by 1980? Is it not the case that the Minister's estimate of the subsidy this year is only £3 million less than that for last year?

Miss Jackson

We said that we hoped to reduce the subsidy. This is, however, the first step. One of the reasons why there is so little difference in the estimate is that the remission of charges is bringing many more families into the provision of school meals, which is why the level of subsidy remains high in the present year.

Mr. Freud

Will the Minister impress upon the LEA's, who seem hell bent upon economies and synthetic food, that these should not deter them from the fact that school meals should be a pleasure rather than an ordeal?

Miss Jackson

Those of us who have eaten school meals have our own memories of them, but I take the hon. Member's point entirely.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

In the Minister's efforts to increase the number of free school meals, will she consider that one of the spin-off advantages is that that will reduce truancy? I know of more than one case—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It might be interesting knowledge, but this is the time for Questions.

Miss Jackson

I think I understand the point that my hon. Friend was making—that children who have to go home for meals are much less inclined to return to school. That may be a factor to help with the problem.

Mr. Cryer

Is my hon. Friend aware that many Labour Members oppose a reduction of the subsidy on school meals? Will she or one of her colleagues tell the Secretary of State for Defence that a Labour Government have no business spending money on tactical nuclear weapons instead of free school meals?

Miss Jackson

I am happy to say that I have no responsibility for expenditure on nuclear weapons. Like my hon. Friend, I dislike any suggestion that the cost of school meals should be increased and the subsidy reduced. It is an unfortunate fact, however, that the cost has been rising greatly over recent years and that 64 per cent. of it is now subsidised. It was felt that this should be remedied.

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