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School Meals, Milk And Transport

Volume 974: debated on Wednesday 21 November 1979

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8.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will indicate the names of those organisations which have advised him of their support for his proposals on school meals, milk and transport.

None, Sir. The only organisation that has written to me since the Bill was published, however, is one Church of Scotland presbytery, which is concerned about school transport.

In the light of those remarks, would the Minister like to come clean and say just how many people have indicated their horror at these proposals, including the National Farmers Union? Is the Minister aware that one of my rural constituents—recently made redundant by Massey-Ferguson—is faced with having to pay transport fares and increased meal charges for his four children amounting to £27 a week?

With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, there is no way whereby he can know what the cost to his constituent will be until the local authority decides what plans it is going to put forward.

On the subject of the opposition in Scotland to these proposals, does not my hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely outrageous that certain Labour councils are giving employees a day's leave with full pay next Wednesday so that they may come down and join a Rentamob crowd lobbying this House?

The Government expect local authorities to act in the best interests of the ratepayers, not in the best interests of trade union popularity.

Does the Under-Secretary of State remember the election press conference given by the leader of the Conservative Party on 23 April when she denied absolutely the suggestion that a Tory Government would put up the charge for school meals by 10p? What estimate has he made of the likely increase in school meals charges? Does he accept that the most regrettable nature of these cuts is that the Government are making the local authorities do their dirty work?

There is no question of the local authorities having to do the Government's dirty work. They are carrying out their responsibilities. As I have already indicated this afternoon, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has welcomed the extra discretion which these measures give to local authorities.

Is the Minister aware that in recent years there has not been a word of criticism from the Conservative Party about the provision of milk, meals and school transport, which would suggest that even the Conservative Party accepted that these were rational, essential and fair provisions all round? What will the Scottish Office do now to reverse this reactionary policy?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will wish to bear in mind the fact that fewer than half of the children in Scottish schools actually take up school meals. Clearly there is something wrong with the system when that is the result. Clearly it is better that the local authorities should be able to provide a service that is more in keeping with the desires of the children.

Have we not heard enough of this hysterical outburst about imposing charges for school meals and rural transport? Will the Minister say quite categorically to the House, once and for all, that there is no obligation whatsoever on any local authority to impose charges for school meals or rural transport and that this matter is purely for the local authority?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. We have in mind the need to contain public expenditure, which is in the interests of reducing the high levels of inflation that we inherited from the Labour Party.

Is it not a fact that to make the savings the Government are proposing that the price of school meals, which is at present 30p, will have to go up next year to between 50p and 60p?

The problem with the school meals service, as I have already said, is that fewer than half of the children actually take up school meals. This means that there is a considerable amount of wastage in the school meals service. It also means that local authorities are in the best position to make improvements and to produce economies.