HL Deb 03 February 1981 vol 416 cc1033-4
Baroness Fisher of Rednal

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 will provide information regarding school meals provision since April 1980 when controlled pricing ended.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Young)

My Lords, in October 1980, about 4 million pupils at maintained schools in Great Britain were taking a school meal, or just under half of the pupils attending school on the days of the census. About 900,000 pupils received the meal free. Since April 1980, the charge for the meal has been a matter for each education authority to decide and in October charges were in the range 35p to 60p. The average of authorities' charges was about 43p. A detailed statement of the returns from local education authorities in England relating to October 1980 has been placed in the Library.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, I thank the noble Minister for that reply. One has to feel a little worried that the education service, of which school meals are part, is suffering the real brunt of the education cuts being made by the Government. I am particularly interested in whether the Minister could give us any information as to how she is protecting the interests of those children who are entitled to meals without payment, and that the nutritional standards of those meals are beneficial to the children receiving them?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, it was the intention of the Government that the bulk of the economies to be made in the education budget should come on the not strictly educational parts of that budget, but she will be pleased to know that two-thirds of the authorities in England have adopted criteria of entitlement to free school meals more generous than the statutory minimum; the statutory minimum being those families on supplementary benefit and family income supplement.

Baroness Bacon

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say how many children are receiving school meals now? While she said that 4 million were receiving school meals, I did not hear her say what the figure was today.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the figure of 4 million is the latest available figure we have, taken last October, 1980.

Baroness David

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the department is taking any interest in the quality of the meals, and whether it is asking for information about that from the local education authorities?—because one reads possibly untrue accounts of the type of meal being offered by some LEAs?

Baroness Young

My Lords, under the Education Act 1980 it is for local education authorities to determine the type of meal provided and the charge that will be made for it.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, can the noble Minister say what action she takes with local authorities who might be envisaging the future complete disbanding of the school meal provision in their areas? How then will the children who should be entitled to free meals be dealt with?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Act is quite clear. Those children who are from families on supplementary benefit or family income supplement are entitled to a free school meal. The local education authority is under a duty to make arrangements for such a meal. There can be no question of their avoiding that duty. Whether or not an authority decides, as indeed Dorset has decided, to give up school meals for primary schools, is a matter for them. They must make arrangements for those for whom they must provide a meal. They must also provide facilities for the children to eat sandwiches at school.

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