HC Deb 07 April 1981 vol 2 cc798-9
2. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when the next census of school meals will take place.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

My right hon. and learned Friend has this matter under consideration.

Mr. Roberts

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that school meals have an important education and welfare function to perform? Bearing in mind the 25 per cent. reduction in the take-up of school meals during the past year and the real danger that the school meals service will collapse because of Government policies, will the hon. Gentleman provide the relevant figures more regularly and act to increase the take-up of school meals?

Mr. Macfarlane

As the House knows, that matter has been discussed on several previous occasions. Once again, Opposition Members are trying to exaggerate the situation into making the House believe that the school meals service is collapsing. That is far from the truth. The hon. Member specifically asked me when the next census of school meals would take place. I remind him and the House that the school meals census is a costly operation, which involves local education authorities and my Department in a great deal of work. However, I confirm that my right hon. and learned Friend is considering the matter.

Mr. Michael Brown

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the county of Humberside, which has reduced its rates by 6p in the pound, more school meals have been taken following the introduction of its new system?

Mr. Macfarlane

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comment. That is a good example, and there are others elsewhere. The legislation passed last year guaranteed that local authorities had more flexibility to make the meals more attractive.

Mr. Field

As about 175,000 poor children have lost their right to free school dinners under the Government, will the Minister tell the House what steps he is taking to ensure that each of those children receives an adequate, balanced diet?

Mr. Macfarlane

That is a matter for the local authorities and the local social services. Hon. Members understand that fully. I have to remind the hon. Member once again, for about the third time this year, that two-thirds of local authorities are providing the statutory requirement, as enshrined in last year's legislation.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Minister aware that, when that census has taken place, the results will show clearly that meals provided in schools have been drastically reduced because of Government policy? Is he also aware that the other Under-Secretary told us in the House that schoolchildren should even walk to school? Is it a policy to starve children?

Mr. Macfarlane

The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating the case. His question has no relevance to the question put down by the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts).