HL Deb 11 May 1971 vol 318 cc848-50

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that there has been a considerable reduction in the number of Welsh children taking school meals as the direct result of increased charges, and that the children's physical wellbeing is being jeopardised.]


My Lords, it was estimated that overall there would be a fall of about 12 per cent. in the number of children taking meals. The special return, which will be made during the week beginning May 17, will enable the Government to assess how much of the drop is due to the higher charge and how much may be due to the normal seasonal decline at this time of the year. It will also show the effect of the new arrangements for remitting the charge on grounds of hardship. There is no evidence that the physical wellbeing of children is being jeopardised as a result of the higher charge.


My Lords, I have no wish to make a Party issue of this question, but is the Minister aware that we can boast nowadays of having the healthiest, strongest children in the whole of Europe, due to the fact that every child is guaranteed at least one square meal a day? I wonder whether the Government can have another look at this particular subject.


My Lords, I do not want to make a political answer to the noble Lord, but the noble Lord's Government did put up the price of school meals twice.


My Lords, in view of the seriousness of the situation, I wonder whether it is too early to estimate the physical effect on the children of the increase in the price of the meals? I wonder whether it would be appropriate at some early stage to have consultations, first in Wales with the Welsh Joint Education Committee and then in England with the Association of Education Committees and the Association of Municipal Corporations, so that we can see the extent of the problem and the serious effect that this increase is going to have generally on the children in our schools.


My Lords, I do not accept that this is going to have a serious effect, but certainly we shall be ready to consider with the bodies the noble Lord has mentioned what effects there may be. I should also mention that the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy is watching this matter very closely and has set up a specialist panel.


My Lords, would the noble Lord take note that this problem is not confined to Wales? There is a considerable number of children who live some distance from school and who are now living on sandwiches, and I cannot believe that this is right.


My Lords, I am well aware that this applies to the whole country and the matter will be kept under review.


My Lords, may I ask whether some estimate could be made of the increased overheads in serving school meals, because of the reduced number of children taking them?


My Lords,I cannot answer that question off the cuff, but I will certainly see whether I can get an answer for the noble Lord.


My Lords, may I ask whether a notice of the scale of wages of those who are eligible to claim against school meals could be published in local post offices? I feel that this right to claim in certain cases, is not well enough known by the general public.


My Lords, my noble friend may be aware that we have just started a publicity campaign to make sure that the public are aware of all the welfare benefits that are available to them, and this includes those who may be eligible for free school meals. And of course, we have increased the number of children who are eligible for school meals.


My Lords, would it not be better to spend the money on the meals rather than on the publicity?


My Lords, we are spending the money on those who most need it.