HC Deb 25 November 1980 vol 994 cc314-5
10. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what are the latest figures available for the number of children taking school meals and those receiving free school meals; what were the equivalent figures for a year and two years ago; what steps he is taking to increase the take-up of school meals and those receiving free school meals; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Macfarlane

For October 1979, the figures for England were 4.9 million, including 0.9 million free meals. For October 1978, the figures were 5 million, including 1 million free meals; and for October 1977, 4.9 million, including 0.9 million free meals. Figures for October 1980 are not yet available. Arrangements for the provision of school meals and the charges to be made for them are now for individual authorities to determine.

Mr. Roberts

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that he is a little shy about producing the up-to-date figures? Does he agree that the figures for Staffordshire with which I provided him showed a 30 per cent. fall in the example taken over the county as a whole and about a 60 per cent. fall in working class areas in the take-up of school meals? Does not this amount to the destruction of the school meals service by the Government? Does he accept that the school meals service provides an essential welfare provision for millions of children?

Mr. Macfarlane

The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on an interesting welfare point. The bone of contention between hon. Members on both sides of the House is whether this is an integral part of the education service. This is not a question of the Government being shy but of it being an administrative procedure. The survey covers the period until October. Those figures in the normal way, repeating the precedent of previous years, will be produced some time in January.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

May I extend to those angry Opposition Members an invitation to come to Dorset where the school meals service has been changed—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is Question Time, not invitation time. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question.

Mr. Baker

Will my hon. Friend bring an Opposition Member with him to see an example of a cafeteria service which has resulted in the quality of the school meal being maintained and the take-up being multiplied by four?

Mr. Macfarlane

An invitation to Dorset is always a pleasing prospect, especially in the winter. I note my hon. Friend's invitation. There will probably be some argument as to which of us accepts it. We are aware of what has been going on in Dorset as a result of the legislation that we passed last session which, as I said earlier, has given greater flexibility in the provision of school meals.

Dr. David Clark

In the absence of his own figures, does the Minister realise that he does neither himself nor his colleagues any good by being dismissive of the excellent NUPE survey on school meals, which has shown a sharp fall in the take-up of school meals, especially when prices have been increased? Is the hon. Gentleman willing to reiterate the Government's commitment to retain the school meals service? If so, what advice would he offer to authorities, such as Dorset, Lincolnshire and Bromley—all Tory-controlled—which are threatening the existence of the school meals service?

Mr. Macfarlane

The hon. Gentleman opened his remarks by saying that no figures were available. I repeat, we have figures available up to 1979. The current survey is continuing. Those figures will be published as soon as they are available. Therefore, the rest of the hon. Gentleman's remarks do not apply. We shall analyse and assess the figures in the early part of 1981.

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