HC Deb 01 December 1981 vol 14 cc127-8
7. Mr. Ashton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the current number of meals being served in schools each day compared to 1978.

Mr. William Shelton

The necessary information will not be available until the new year, by which time all the returns under the 1981 school meals census will have been received and analysed.

Mr. Ashton

Is it not a fact that the Minister does not want to give the figures because they have decreased considerably? Is he aware that in 1978 the children of the unemployed qualified for free school meals? Why do they not qualify now?

Mr. Shelton

I think that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. The 1980 census was published in January 1981. The 1981 census will be published at the beginning of next year. If the hon. Gentleman asks this question in a few months' time, he will receive the answer. As the hon. Gentleman must know, there is a statutory obligation that the children of those on family income supplement and supplementary benefit should have free school meals. In addition, two-thirds of local education authorities give more free school meals than they are required to give under the statutory obligation.

Mr. Haselhurst

Is there any evidence that the introduction of the cafeteria system—even in primary schools—has led to an upturn in the number of those eating schools meals?

Mr. Shelton

Unfortunately, it is too difficult to say. We shall know the answer in January or February when this year's census is published. However, my hon. Friend is right. There are signs that the upturn has started.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Will the Minister take it from me that there has been a distinct drop in the number of meals available to schoolchildren? Does he accept that the main concern of those involved in education is that, geographically, the poorest areas have suffered most? Will he please promise to discriminate positively in favour of the weakest in our society?

Mr. Shelton

There is a considerable variation between one education authority and another. However, that does not seem to be based on the poverty or otherwise of the authority. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State plans to monitor the effect on nutrition of recent legislation. That will take place in the not-too-distant future.