‘(1A) Regulations under this section may prescribe requirements in relation to the food and drink provided at or by the governing body of an academy, city technology college or city college for the technology of the arts in like manner to the requirements imposed in relation to schools maintained by a local education authority.'.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
‘(2A) Before making regulations under this section the Secretary of State must consult such persons as he considers appropriate.'.
Amendment No. 270, in clause 73, page 57, line 29, leave out ‘X' and insert ‘contractor'.
Amendment No. 271, in clause 73, page 57, line 31, leave out ‘X' and insert ‘the contractor'.
Amendment No. 272, in clause 73, page 57, line 33, leave out ‘X' and insert ‘the contractor'.
Amendment No. 269, in clause 73, page 57, line 45, leave out
‘different classes or descriptions of persons' and insert
‘persons of different age groups'.
Amendment No. 429, in clause 73, page 58, line 2, leave out
‘maintained by a local education authority'.
Amendment No. 430, in clause 73, page 58, line 6, at end insert—
‘(11) References in this section to the provision of food or drink include references to provision by way of sale from a vending machine or similar appliance.'.
New clause 55—Consumption of food and drink contributing to good health of children—
‘(1) The governing body of a maintained school shall, in discharging their functions relating to the conduct of the school, take such steps as may be necessary to promote the consumption by children of food and drink which may be considered to contribute to their good health and well-being.
(2) At the end of subsection (4)(a) of section 482 of EA 1996 (Academies) leave out “and” and insert—
“(aa) conditions and requirements for the purpose of securing that measures are taken to promote the consumption by children registered at the school of food and drink which may be considered to contribute to their good health and well-being, and”.
(3) The obligations required to be performed under this section shall be performed having regard to guidance from time to time issued by the Food Standards Agency.'.
I am delighted that we have finally made it to part 6 of the Bill, which is about nutrition and health. Many hon. Members will be aware that last year, when I was drawn 10th in the private Member’s Bill ballot, I presented the Children’s Food Bill to this House. I pay tribute to the many Members present who supported me with that Bill, and to all those who are among the 281 MPs who signed the early-day motion that calls for better standards in school food. The main strands of what my Bill called for—issues on which teachers and parents across the country campaigned—are contained in this Bill.
It is fair to say that school meals currently have their highest profile since they were introduced at the start of 20th century. They are finally being recognised as a vital plank in ensuring child health and public health in later life. I am pleased that access to fresh tap water is being considered. In my school days, the only way one could get a drink of water was by sucking the taps in the school toilets—that was comprehensive education under the Tories in the ’80s. I am glad to see that the bad old days are now well and truly behind us.
To put the amendments in context, it is important to talk about the obesity problem in the UK. Government figures from 2002 show that 30 per cent. of children aged two to 15 are either obese or overweight. If the rate of obesity increase continues at the current rate, more than half of children will be overweight or obese in the next 15 years—by 2020. The links between poor diet and chronic disease are well known. If we do not address this problem, mothers of my generation might, for the first time, have a longer life expectancy than their children.
I welcome the support that the Children’s Food Bill had from Unison, GMB, the National Union of Teachers, the Communication Workers Union, the Co-op, the British Medical Association and the British Heart Foundation. Parallel to the debate about children’s food has been a television process, with Jamie Oliver’s programme “Jamie’s School Dinners”, and a political process with the children’s manifesto, launch of the fresh fruit and veg for primary school children scheme, and the joint public service agreement on childhood obesity between the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Health.
We are beginning to see the results of the £220 million investment to tackle obesity through better training for school cooks, better ingredients and longer hours for school meals staff, who are crucial not only to the cooking of school meals, but to cajoling children to eat them. I can see the difference in my own schools in Wakefield. When I launched the Children’s Food Bill last July, I visited two schools in my constituency. In one, all the children were eating white pasta and white sausage rolls, and in the second there were many smiley faces, but unfortunately they were on the shaped potatoes that are so abhorrent to parents, including me. Children like those kinds of food, so it is hard to wean them off that particular brand of unpleasant regurgitated mush.
With Wakefield council and its contracted in-house catering provider, Kingswood, we have seen the changes already, not just with ingredients, but with methods of encouraging children to make healthy choices, such as the use of stickers. I have an extraordinary memory for very good meals, and I have fond memories from my September visit to Lawefield primary school, in my constituency, of the turkey casserole with dumplings followed by pineapple pudding and low-sugar custard. That pretty much knocked me out for the rest of the day, but was, I assure hon. Members, the ultimate in comfort school food. Sandal Magna school, in my constituency, which I have mentioned before in Committee, has used the healthy school approach to transform the school by cutting out sweets and crisps, and switching to fruit and milk-based snacks.
In yesterday’s debate on clause 61, we spoke of the need for children to learn how to cook and grow their own food. We should not rely on TV celebrities to educate our children about what goes into turkey twizzlers. On that subject, I know that one French department has a food education programme, and that obesity there has risen by less that 1 per cent. over the past decade. However, in the rest of the country the increase is between 98 per cent. and 100 per cent. I understand that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is considering doing something similar at key stages 3 and 4.
I am slightly disappointed that the clause makes no mention of lunch boxes. I believe that all school food should be good food. I know that it is difficult to legislate for what people do in the privacy of their own homes, but I shall share with the Committee perhaps the worst anecdote that I heard in all my time working on the Children’s Food Bill. I heard several hair-raising stories, but the worst was that of a school dinner lady, who asked another member of her staff to look into a child’s lunch box. The child had been sent to school with a can in their lunch box, but it was a can of lager—this was a six-year-old child at a primary school. We need to give lunch boxes careful consideration. I know that some head teachers are taking steps to ban pre-packed and processed food. There is nothing wrong with a cheese sandwich and an apple, but not all children bring that sort of food to school.
Amendments Nos. 428 and 429 seek to probe questions on the nutritional standards of school meals available to pupils in academies and city technology colleges. I want to know to what extent the clauses relating to school food apply to children there. Ideally, we would like to see the requirements for food and drink on school premises covering all schools. Although they are categorised as independent schools, the academies and technology colleges are publicly funded and should be protected by the same legislation as other schools, particularly as they are often intended to replace schools in deprived areas.
I am interested in what the hon. Lady has to say. One thing that I am trying to grapple with is whether schools should permit children to leave the premises during the day, for instance at lunch time, when they can buy unhealthy food from the local shops. It is a difficult problem and I have been to some schools that do not allow children to leave the premises. What is the hon. Lady’s view?
My instinct is that it is appropriate for head teachers and governing bodies to make their own choice. At the school in Coventry where I grew up, only sixth-formers were allowed to leave the school premises. It is to do with keeping children together, combating antisocial behaviour, ensuring child safety on the roads and many other factors. Different schools will take a different approach. For instance, some children might leave for lunch and not come back. In other schools children will have lunch at home because it is close by or because they have specific cultural needs. Schools need to consider the local and cultural sensitivities, but my instinct as a parent would be for my child to be kept on the school premises—for all sorts of reasons, not least the burger van that the hon. Gentleman has at the back of his mind.
Poor nutrition, even in its milder form, can have detrimental effects on cognitive development, behaviour, concentration and school performance. Research shows that people of all ages in low-income households have lower nutrient but higher calorie intakes than those in richer houses. Including all schools in the requirements would ensure that the food and drink provided on school premises was not subject to undue influence from outside parties such as school sponsors. The amendments are designed to probe on that subject.
I turn briefly to what is happening now. Ofsted inspectors are considering school meals and, with the Food Standards Agency, visited primary and secondary schools in three local authority areas. They found that the standard of school meals had improved in a minority of schools, with primary schools making more rapid progress than secondary schools. That comes back to the point made by the hon. Gentleman; secondary school children have more mobility, more flexibility and, being teenagers, more resistance to doing the right thing, and they can use food as a means of rebelling.
Although primary school children are using the skills learned in the classroom to make informed choices about healthy meals, secondary school students do not always apply their knowledge when choosing meals. There is limited choice in schools. I have seen for myself that if children are given a choice—perhaps pasta and sausage rolls or salad and an apple—they always choose what they like most, because it is comforting. I wrestle with such issues myself as an adult; there is no reason to expect a five-year-old to do any better than a 38-year-old.
I should be interested to hear the Under-Secretary’s response to the evidence that students do not have enough time to eat or enjoy the social benefits of eating with others. There has been a move towards a plastic tray culture and away from proper cutlery and plates. Lunch may be the only time that some children sit down to eat with others in the day. There is evidence that the lunch break is too short in some secondary schools.
I turn to amendment No. 430, which seeks to clarify whether the provisions in part 6 apply to vending machines. I seek reassurances from the Under-Secretary. The amendment might provide schools with an opportunity to consider their contracts with vending machine companies. Healthy eating messages should be reinforced across the whole school—in the tuck shop, in the breakfast club, at the vending machines and through kitchen staff, so that the messages that children get about nutrition are consistent and mutually reinforced. That is important. However, I am glad that the provisions will not apply to the cakes brought into school for parents’ cake sales; for me, those are one of the highlights of school fêtes.
The amendment builds on the recommendation to remove fizzy drinks, crisps and chocolates from school vending machines which was published in February by the School Food Trust. The recommendation is in the middle of its 12-week consultation period, but I hope that at the end of May, when the time comes, the Under-Secretary will feel able to follow it.
Attempts to improve school meals are likely to be undermined if children have access to unhealthy foods at times other than lunch. Many of the foods and drinks commonly stocked in vending machines have been shown to have an impact on behaviour and concentration. There is evidence from secondary schools of children using their dinner money to buy Coke, crisps and chocolate bars at lunch time and nothing for lunch.
Fizzy drinks have a detrimental effect on concentration, behaviour and learning. A survey by the Food Commission revealed that a single drink of Ribena or Lucozade provides as much sugar as several packets of sweets. There is a danger with sports drinks; schoolchildren require energy, but most are not elite athletes training every day, and they do not take part in very high-energy sports every day.
I should be grateful to hear from the Under-Secretary about the lack of provision in the Bill to support schools tied into long-term contracts with vending machine suppliers providing unhealthy food and drink. All vending machines have been taken out of schools in France, and, I believe, the United States.
New clause 55 seeks to place a duty on governing bodies in all schools to promote healthy food to children. Schools are more likely to be successful in encouraging children to follow a healthy lifestyle if they adopt a whole-school approach to improving health and well-being; that has certainly been the case in Sandal Magna school in my constituency. School messages need to be reflected in all aspects of school life, including what is provided on the premises, in the science, food technology and history curriculum, in extra-curricular activities and in the social and physical environment. It is essential that discussions on promoting healthy lifestyle messages involve not only teachers and governors, but all members of the school community—support staff, caterers, parents and pupils. I should also like Ofsted to consider the quality of school meals when conducting inspections.
I commend the Food Standards Agency for its work on this issue. Its traffic light system for meals and food products has been taken up by Sainsbury’s, Asda and Waitrose, and I hope that Tesco will follow suit. The system helps parents, outside the school, to make the split-second supermarket choices that will help them feed their families healthily.
I should like to mention the report, “Tackling Child Obesity—First Steps”, which is a joint National Audit Office, Healthcare Commission and Audit Commission document that was published in February. It considered what was effective in tackling childhood obesity, and it found that school-based initiatives were the one area in which there was evidence of effectiveness. They talked about the effectiveness of nutrition education, physical activity promotion, a reduction in sedentary behaviour, behavioural therapy, teacher training, curriculum material and the modification of school meals and tuck shops.
They found that school-based intervention was more effective than either family-based intervention or the provision of exercise classes in schools. We must scotch the myth that this issue is simply about exercise. It is about considering the way in which the entire school works together and gets those messages out to children. I hope that the Under-Secretary will consider the amendment positive.
We must get the food companies out of our schools and classrooms. The provision before us is an important step, but it does not tackle the issue of sponsorship by multinational food companies of all sorts of things. In my constituency, there is a McDonald’s walking bus, which I am not happy about, and I do not see why we should give such food companies access to places where children are at their most eager to learn. Exercise books, leaflets and websites all have one simple aim: to place their products in front of children and disguise it as philanthropy.
I hear what my hon. Friend is saying, and I wonder whether she is aware of a parallel example in India. Alcohol advertising is banned, and companies promote water using the alcohol brand. They are very successful at promoting their brand while selling healthy products.
That sounds like an insidious promotion. If multinational companies are serious about tackling child health issues, they cannot do so just in this country. We must consider the international actions of large food companies. They may say one thing in this country, but if they do something else in other countries, particularly in developing countries, we must consider that carefully, too. There has been an explosion in obesity among certain sections of the Indian population.
Schools exist to develop children’s minds and introduce them to the world around them, but as Juvenal said in his satires, “Mens sana in corpore sano”, or “A healthy mind in a healthy body.” I was one of the five people who took Latin in Coventry in 1986. Catullus was my favourite, I must say. We know that, sadly, for many of our most disadvantaged children, the food that they eat in school is the only food that they may get all day.
The Bill will ensure that all schools, wherever they are and whatever their intake, provide healthy, nutritious meals for their children. I hope that the Bill will be remembered for improving the eating habits of a generation, and that we will be remembered for changing the life chances of this generation and those to come. Our children deserve nothing less.
I am delighted therefore, to speak to the amendments that stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends. As the hon. Lady said, schools meals matter, because they may be the only meal that many children have during the day. They have the potential to be nutritious and to contribute to childhood health. It is not only schools meals that matter, but the type of school meals. Back on 27 February, the Daily Mirror reported that the Bill could mean free school meals for everyone. However, the Bill gives only those local education authorities and governing bodies that wish to do so the power to provide pupils with food and drink free of charge. Have the Government made any estimate of how many schools are likely to do so? The Daily Mirror headline was misleading, I presume.
Our amendment would require the Secretary of State to consult on the regulations and requirements for school food and drink. Where regulations specify nutritional standards, it is surely appropriate to take advice from appropriate bodies. The hon. Lady mentioned a number of those bodies. I endorse what she said. I, too, have met the Food Standards Agency to discuss this. It has a genuine concern about the quality of food consumed by many young people and the impact that has both on fitness and health more generally. We know of the accounts of increasing childhood diabetes, and the many other related conditions which are increasingly prevalent among younger people. It is crucial that the advice of bodies such as health organisations, nutritional organisations and others with useful information and insight to bring to this matter is taken into account. That is precisely what our amendment would deliver.
Amendments Nos. 270 to 272 are probing amendments to ascertain precisely what the Government mean by “X”. We suggest that “X” be replaced by “the contractor” or “contractor”, but what I am really interested in is the Government’s view on that; what do they perceive as the appropriate term to replace “X”?
Amendment No. 269 refers to the age of the pupil as the important issue in determining nutritional requirements, rather than the somewhat paternalistic phrase that is used:
“different classes or descriptions of person”.
There are shades there of the “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” trial—“different classes” of people. I have in mind people such as servants. I think “different age groups” is a much more appropriate term. The amendment would give us the opportunity to make the proper judgments that we need to make about the different dietary requirements of children of different ages as those change over time, as all parents know.
I wondered whether the reason behind the Bill’s description, clumsy at it is, was to include different religious groups, for example, who may have distinct dietary requirements. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will respond to that later. It occurs to me that the description in the amendment might be more prescriptive and therefore preclude such groups.
Yes, it may be appropriate on that basis to add “descriptions” or some other similar word, and we will hear what the Government have to say on that. However, it seems to me that “classes of person” is an inappropriate way of describing even the groups that the hon. Lady refers to. A phrase such as “different ages and groups” might be a more appropriate term, so I do not argue that our amendment is perfect, but I hope that it will at least tease out from the Government consideration of the way they describe those categories. I am mindful of the sensible remark the hon. Lady makes.
The case made for amendment No. 428 by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) is a strong one. It is hard to understand why different requirements should pertain in relation to this matter in the case of the governing bodies of academies, city technology colleges, city colleges for the technology of the arts and other specialist schools. I do not understand why anyone would want to create difference between them, but, again, the Government might have a logical explanation for that. However, there is, at least at face value, some force to the hon. Lady’s argument that standards should be the same throughout.
To repeat what I said at the outset, this is an important part of the Bill. We are all conscious of the fact that this matter has been driven into the public domain by the work of Jamie Oliver. That is the second time he has been mentioned in this Committee. He must be desperately pleased; I bet he is at home reading Hansard by the day to discover how often he is mentioned in the Committee. The publicity that he has given this important matter is valuable. It has had the effect of elevating it in the considerations of all politicians, including those in the Government. So I am disturbed that he has recently said that he has gone through three Secretaries of State—perhaps as many as he has had hot dinners, one might say—without seeing much progress. That is a worrying report from him.
Is it not true that many local authorities in the land have been advancing that agenda for some time? With Government co-operation, Hull city council has done a great job in introducing healthy school meals free of charge for all primary school children. Should not that action of a Labour council be applauded?
Yes, the hon. Lady is right. There are some local education authorities that run very good school meal services. The truth, however, as I think she would acknowledge, is that it is pretty patchy. Different regimes prevail in different parts of the country regarding what is provided, whether a hot meal is available, where it is provided from, and the other circumstances that might pertain. Nutritional standards also vary from one place to another.
I share the concern about vending machines that the hon. Member for Wakefield expressed when she was speaking on her amendments. I do not want to see any vending machines at all that sell crisps, chocolate or pop in schools. It is a monstrous idea that one should be promoting nutritious food, yet as children walk out of a dining hall they are confronted with the opportunity to purchase food that is fundamentally unhealthy. I understand that that is even the case in some primary schools; perhaps the Under-Secretary will confirm the position. The idea of nine, 10 or 11-year-olds being subjected to that is unacceptable, and I support the hon. Lady’s views.
As for McDonald’s hamburgers having a handle on it, I believe that they are the unacceptable face of capitalism, with all their brutal ubiquity, and I am in agreement with the hon. Lady on that as well. We need a cross-party consensus on delivering the best possible school meals for all our children—meals that encourage good health, good diet and the kind of fitness for which the hon. Lady and I, as we proved earlier, can only yearn.
This may be the only part of the Bill on which we can guarantee a complete cross-party consensus, and the Liberal Democrats thoroughly welcome these clauses. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wakefield, who covered most aspects that I wanted to address. I shall not repeat them, but, of the many excellent points that she made, I should like to highlight the need to take a holistic view. The point is not just one of diet and exercise. As the hon. Lady mentioned yesterday, it is also about making sure that young people learn the skill of cooking for themselves, learn the differences between kinds of foods, and are able to apply that knowledge at a later stage. They must also be able to exercise choice. If we enable people to move in and out of school at 16, we need to make sure that they are equipped with the skills and knowledge to make healthy decisions on their lifestyles.
I strongly endorse amendment No. 428. Academies are going to be placed in some of the most deprived areas of the country, so they are more likely to have a large number of young people taking free school meals, and it is particularly important that the regulations apply. My party has not received the draft regulations, whereas in previous sittings we have received copies—albeit barely in time to be able to read them. It is possible that they were simply not sent to our offices, but will the Under-Secretary confirm whether the regulations have yet been drafted or will appear later, and whether they will be made available before the Report stage?
On the amendments tabled by the Conservatives, will the Under-Secretary indicate whether the Government might encourage local authorities to work with local traders in particular, and might also encourage locally based partnerships between the local authority, schools and local organisations, rather than simply encouraging multinationals to come in?
I agree with the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) that the words of the Bill highlighted in amendment No. 269 are clumsy. It is not clear what they mean. It is vital that sensitivity and flexibility are allowed, particularly in multiracial areas, multi-ethnic areas and multi-religious areas. We must ensure that schools have enough money and flexibility to provide food that meets the dietary requirements of the various religions. However, it is not clear whether the amendment would make it any easier.
Before the hon. Lady rushes on from what she is saying about local provision, does she agree that Jamie Oliver has highlighted the importance of fresh food? Fresh locally produced food with a short food chain from the producer to the school would support local businesses and local primary producers. The Bill could give rise to an ideal partnership.
Absolutely. I strongly endorse what the hon. Gentleman says. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats, working with Labour, have pushed forward the “Hungry for Success” programme in Scotland. Jamie Oliver has highlighted it, and he has congratulated people on running such partnerships. It demonstrates what can be done with the right investment if one concentrates on nutritional standards in the curriculum and ensures that young people are taught about the various aspects of diet.
One difficulty with vending machines is the amount of money that schools are still making from them. The hon. Member for Wakefield highlighted the problems that schools sometimes have with getting out of long-term contracts. If we want schools to move away from providing the unhealthy options that are sold from vending machines, we should support them so that they can move to another contract, although that may be expensive.
Schools now focus more on being at the centre of the community and many are used by adult groups, adult education and the voluntary sector over the weekends and in the evenings. We need to be aware of that pressure on schools. However, I see no reason why school vending machines should not offer healthy options. It may not be practical to sell apples from vending machines, but all sorts of healthy bars and drinks can be provided that would be suitable for community use at the weekends and in the evenings, as well as for young people. I welcome the provisions.
We have had a good debate on this important clause, which establishes the provision for new and tougher nutritional standards for food and drink served in maintained schools in England. As we heard, it will establish regulation-making powers to ensure that children have access throughout the day to food and drink of a high nutritional standard and will replace the existing standards for school lunches, which were introduced in 2001. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) was right to say that there is all-party consensus in Committee on this important matter.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield for her ongoing interest and her commitment to improving children’s health. Her private Member’s Bill, the Children’s Food Bill, has driven forward the agenda, raised its profile and gained public support. I am glad that she is a member of the Committee, and I thank her for presenting her case so forcefully and eloquently. We have similar goals, although our methods of achieving them may differ in detail. I hope that my explanation of how we intend going about things will meet the many concerns and issues that she raised.
There is a wider public interest in what we are debating. It is not only Jamie Oliver—there we are; a third mention—who is taking an interest in the health of our schoolchildren, although his unique position helps him to inspire pupils to consider their diet and to make the right choices. I was pleased to be reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms Smith) that the matter has been of concern to local authorities, teachers and schools for many years. Patchy though it has been, we want to apply best practice throughout the country. I acknowledge the work of authorities such as Sheffield, which have led the way. Long before the current high-profile initiatives began, we were working with the Department of Health, the Food Standards Agency and healthy schools teams on a range of activities supporting healthier eating and drinking throughout the school day.
On amendment No. 263, it would serve no useful purpose to consult further on the proposed standards for school food and drink. There is no requirement in England to consult on the details of secondary legislation. We have already consulted widely on the detailed proposals for school lunch standards. We have sought the views of many different key stakeholders—the hon. Gentleman for South Holland and The Deepings identified many of them—on similar proposals for school food served at other times of the day. Proposals for lunch standards made by the school meals review panel were subject to a full, 12-week public consultation, with responses from local authorities, schools, health sector charities, the food industry, trade unions and caterers. The proposals are still available on our DFES website.
I am impressed by the list of people that the hon. Gentleman has consulted and I take his point. I wonder whether he has taken into account the important issue of fair trade in this respect. Has consultation included proper consideration of a fair trade agenda and also proper consideration of those who advocate British produce, where local supply can guarantee the kind of quality that we all spoke about?
Clearly the priority is nutritional health and nutritional standards. I am sure that where fair trade products meet those nutritional standards, there is clearly value in adopting those products. I was reminded by my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools, who has recently moved from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that DEFRA recently undertook a public procurement initiative.
It is a public sector procurement initiative as part of the sustainable foods and farming strategy established by the Government. In my hon. Friend’s new post, he will almost have to talk to himself about how we might carry on promoting the use of local fresh produce and of local producers of food to be served in our schools, which is an important consideration.
In terms of consultation, we have held many detailed discussions with a variety of stakeholders on many of the concerns that they have raised. There has been plenty of opportunity for all interested parties to comment on those. As a result of those discussions, we are consulting on the new regulations, and when the consultation is complete, we will publish the draft standards and regulations.
A minor technical point is that the position is slightly different in Wales. The Welsh Assembly established a food in schools working group last year. The group has considered how to improve nutrition in schools, and later this year there will be a public consultation on its report. The Assembly Government will then take account of the report and consultation in making regulations. I am told that the Standing Orders of the National Assembly require Welsh Assembly Ministers to prepare regulatory appraisals of the cost and benefits of draft Assembly regulations. Where costs are likely to be significant, there must be consultation with business and other organisations with an interest in the draft instrument and appraisals.
Amendment No. 269 deals with the scope of the clause and suggests that it should be narrowed. I hear the comments that hon. Members made about the wording. Let me be clear: it does allow for regulations to set different requirements in connection with food and drink provided by or to different classes or descriptions of person. This is not about social class in the way that the hon. Member for South Holland and Deepings suggested; it is just a generic term to imply that there are groupings. I am sorry if the wording jarred with him, but that is what it means in practice. It encompasses the different age groups suggested in his amendment, but gives wider flexibility.
The hon. Member for Brent, East made her point about sensitivity to different cultural norms very well. The clause gives wider flexibility for school standards to be relaxed, or indeed tightened, if the Secretary of State considers that necessary.
Will the Under-Secretary consider going away again and looking at a phrase like groups, ages and descriptions, which might give him the breadth that he needs but will not be misinterpreted by others?
I am happy to take the hon. Gentleman’s concerns into account. We think that the measures we are talking about, in addition to those mentioned by the hon. Member for Brent, East, will result in us finding that children’s dietary research offers new insights into what might be best done in schools, and we therefore might want to revise our standards. We might discover that nutritional deficiencies are identified as having an impact on some medical symptoms.
Amendments Nos. 270, 271 and 272 suggest narrowing the scope of subsection (6) to cover only contractors. I understand that they are probing amendments to discover why we used the letter ‘X’. We want to ensure that all food and drink provided to children at school by any person, not just by those defined as contractors, must comply with the requirements and regulations. We want the messages that we give to children to be consistent, and we therefore believe that the same standards must apply equally to all food providers, whether they are the local authority, the governing body, a contractor or any other person. I hope that that explains why we have used that wording.
We will relax standards to exempt schools from the requirement to follow them when food and drink is provided for parties or celebrations to mark religious or cultural occasions, when parents bring in a birthday cake and so on. We want such exemptions because we want common sense on the matter.
On amendments Nos. 428 and 429, yes, the requirements of the clause extend only to local authority maintained schools and will therefore not automatically apply to academies. However, the point was made that academies serve disadvantaged areas, where a high proportion of pupils are entitled to free school meals, so the requirement to meet nutritional standards will be made through amendments to their funding arrangements. CTCs were also mentioned. Many CTCs have healthy eating rewards. Most are in the process of converting to academy status or have already done so, and will therefore be expected to comply through their funding agreements.
On amendment No. 430, it is not necessary to state explicitly that references to food and drink also include that sold in vending or similar machines. The title of the clause is “Provision of food and drink on school premises etc”, and it is intended to cover all food and drink provided on school premises, regardless of how it is provided. It therefore includes food and drink sold from vending machines and tuck shops, or by any other method. On the detailed point about contracts for vending machines—the hon. Member for Brent, East suggested that there are things that we need to consider—we are developing further information to assist with the variation of such costs. We will make that available to schools and local authorities to overcome the dilemmas that might exist.
I was asked how regulations will set out specific, detailed requirements on the provision of food and drink at lunch time and other times. The school meals review panel commented on the importance of ensuring a whole-school approach to healthy eating, which as my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield said, is very important. Placing an additional duty on governors, as new clause 55 suggests, is not the best way forward. Under current legislation, whichever body holds the budget for school meals has a duty to ensure that nutritional standards are met. If that budget has been delegated to school level, the governors become responsible. We do not plan to change that arrangement.
The Food Standards Agency has published guidance on how the nutritional standards can practically be achieved and how to develop approaches to providing children with access to healthier food across the whole school day. Last year, the National Governors Council published “Food Policy in Schools”, a step-by-step guide to adopting a strategic approach. We have also published guidance that is not specifically school-related. It would not be sensible or realistic to expect schools to be accountable.
Hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, made the point about the time available at lunch time to eat a nutritious meal. The length of school lunch times will remain a decision to be taken at a local level by head teachers and school governors, but the School Food Trust will issue guidance giving examples of good practice to help implement new standards. It will address issues related to school lunch.
The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) made an intervention about pupils going out of school at lunch time. I wish to make clear the Government’s view and support that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield. Wherever possible, we want schools to keep pupils on site during the lunch hour and provide them with supervision and a range of appropriate clubs, activities and sports. That approach will ensure that pupils are well nourished and will have a better school day. As it will minimise any friction with the community it will have wider benefits too. I know that that approach creates challenges for some schools, but it is one that we would support.
Finally, all maintained schools will be required to achieve healthy school status by 2009, including healthy eating, using a whole-school approach and involving the whole school community. There is a growing body of healthy school initiatives, enough of which are statutory to ensure that governors take their responsibility for healthy living in schools seriously. I hope that I have addressed all the issues raised by hon. Members and that they will not press their amendments.
The communal consumption of food is important in all cultures, including ours: it involves everything from the sacrament to every feast and festival. School meals are important in that respect. The Minister has been persuasive in his account of what the Government are doing, and we urge them to do ever more. I certainly urge them to take the comments of Conservative Members and of the hon. Members for Wakefield and for Brent, East into account. They demonstrate a collective view of the importance of this part of the Bill. I am reassured to a degree and I certainly will not press my amendments.
I am delighted that there is finally an outbreak of consensus in the Committee. I should like to bring to hon. Members’ attention some of the realities on the ground in Hull. We heard from the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings that he supports what is happening there, with 24,000 primary school pupils in the city getting free school meals. I wonder whether he is in agreement with the Conservative group leader, John Fareham, who told the Hull Daily Mail on 24 March that Tories oppose universal free school meals because
“it perpetuates a culture of state reliance.”
I wonder whether the hon. Member for Brent, East agrees with the Liberal Democrat leader, Carl Minns, who before the election said that they would be asking parents to pay—
I am grateful to you, Mr. Cook. I was responding to the debate in its broadest sense, but I will move on and address my comments to the Minister. I share his approach on amendment No. 263. I agree that the consultation on these matters has been exhaustive. The fact that hundreds of thousands of parents across the country have signed up to the feed me better campaign is a demonstration that this is one of the parts of Government policy that really has reached the parts that other parts do not reach, to paraphrase a well-known alcohol advert.
I am also relieved to hear that treats such as cakes, birthday food and celebration food will be exempt from the regulations. As I have said repeatedly, we have to have a sensible approach on this. I agree that this is the middle way. I was relieved to hear what myhon. Friend had to say about vending machines and tuck shops and I take on board his comments about governors. I am also relieved to hear that he will be advising schools on how to transfer to healthier school meals. One of the problems is that when there is a big bang, televisual approach, children stop taking the meals because, for example, they do not like carrots and leeks, and it is hard for the school to make its school meals financially viable. We need to think about how we make that transition.
I am also glad to hear that guidance will be issued on lunch times and making the lunch period last a full hour. I am grateful that there will be a range of clubs and activities, but I also recommend the boredom of the lunch hour. Children have far too little experience of the aching boredom of the school lunch hour, which helps them find their own creativity and internal resources. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.