HC Deb 19 March 1985 vol 75 cc767-8
8. Mr. Fatchett

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will introduce legislation to lay down minimum nutritional standards for the provision of school meals.

Mr. Dunn

No, Sir.

Mr. Fatchett

I am grateful to the Minister for that detailed reply. Does he not recognise that in many parts of the country, particularly those areas under Conservative control, there has been a fall in nutritional standards? Does he not also recognise the impact of that, particularly on low-income families? Should not a Government who claim to be a caring Government do something about it and make sure that children from low-income families have a proper and decent meal as part of their daily diet?

Mr. Dunn

I challenge the hon. Gentleman to prove the first part of the allegation contained in his question. The law makes it quite clear that children from families which are in receipt of supplementary benefit or family income supplement should receive free meals at school. I remind him and the House that the responsibility for a balanced diet for children rests with parents. It is parents, not the state, who bear children.

Mrs. Rumbold

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is more important to encourage local authorities to undertake the private sector provision of meals in schools, as my authority in Merton has done, than to hound local authorities by asking them to do things that are rightly the responsibility of parents?

Mr. Dunn

My hon. Friend makes a fair and correct distinction between those essential elements of the education service which are concerned with education and those which are not. Making savings on school meals does not bring about the provision of junk food. It can mean savings on expenditure, which can go elsewhere in the education service to bring about better results and standards in the schools.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Is it not staggering that the Minister should ask my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) to prove whether school meals are good or bad? Should not the Minister be able to say to the House that he knows? That is his responsibility as a Minister charged with responsibility for the schools system.

Mr. Dunn

I challenged the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) to prove the allegation that he made. If he can do so, I am prepared to sit down and talk to him. If he cannot, it is up to him to apologise to me and to the House.

Mr. Adley

Is not nutrition related to content? Can my hon. Friend explain why we spend so much time and trouble warning people about the dangers of cigarettes, but seemingly spend no time at all warning them about the dangers of either alcohol or foods which can induce heart disease? Will he consider the problem seriously, in consultation with his ministerial colleagues, and ensure that the branding of foods is undertaken?

Mr. Dunn

I understand the point my hon. Friend is making. I am aware of the concern felt by many about the link between diet and disease. The Department of Health and Social Security has commissioned a survey of the diet of schoolchildren. It is hoped that the results will be published in the very near future. I shall take on board the points made by my hon. Friend.

Mrs. Clwyd

Why do the Government continue to provide a subsidy for full fat milk, but no subsidy for skimmed milk, which nutritionists say is better for all of us?

Mr. Dunn

The hon. Lady may be right; she may be wrong. I do not know.