HC Deb 18 April 1978 vol 948 cc228-9
1. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what account she is taking of the representations received since January on her consideration of the price of school meals for the next 12 months.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science and Paymaster General (Mrs. Shirley Williams)

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his Budget Statement last Tuesday, there is to be no increase in the charge for school meals in September. Local authorities will be reimbursed for the income they would otherwise lose this financial year, and consultations with their associations about how best to do this have already started.

Mr. Bennett

I appreciate my right hon. Friend's answer, but will she make it clear that this represents a change of Government policy and that there will be a continuing subsidy to school meals rather than merely a deferment for a short period of the date of an increase?

Mrs. Williams

Consideration is being given to the consequence of this decision for future years.

Mr. Tim Smith

Will the right hon. Lady say what proportion of total current expenditure on schools will now be represented by the subsidy on school meals as a result of the decision?

Mrs. Williams

I cannot give that information without notice, but the net cost of the school meals service is £377 million for 1978–79.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

What has happened to the Government's pledge to halve the subsidy on school meals by 1980, which I think was given in a White Paper? Furthermore, has the right hon. Lady any plans to have any consultations with the teachers so that their role in supervising meals may be clarified?

Mrs. Williams

I am well aware that the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) indicated that the Conservative Party felt that the charge for school meals should be increased. The orginal decision to allow the subsidy to decline was taken before two years of pay policy. It is in the light of that that the Government feel that families badly need help with school meal charges.