After section 52

Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:15 pm on 7 June 2000.

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Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 5:15, 7 June 2000

We move to amendment 44, which stands on its own, in the name of Helen Eadie.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

Amendment 44, if passed, will increase the number of children living in poverty who are entitled to free school meals and it will ensure that those who are already entitled to them—those whose parents receive income support or income-based jobseekers allowance—will be encouraged to take school dinners. Currently, only 20 per cent of those who are entitled to free school meals take them up. That is due, in part, to the stigma that is associated with the way in which the system is administered. The nutritional content of school meals will be increased and nutritional education will be built into the syllabus. The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 governs school meals and is, I believe, within the legislative competence of the Parliament.

There are those who argue that my proposal is flawed, in that there is an element of finance for free school meals built into the working families tax credit. People would have been entitled to the benefit under the previous rules, prior to 1998, under family income supplement.

In early 1999, the Government outlined the cost of extending free school meals provision. According to a written answer at Westminster, extending provision to all school-age children would cost £1.8 billion. It would cost £1 billion to extend provision to primary school children. The Child Poverty Action Group is calling on the Scottish Executive to give free school meals to all school children whose parents receive the new tax credits. In the UK as a whole, that would cost £410 million, or £210 million for schoolchildren under 11. Those figures are from a written answer at Westminster. Such a measure would affect about half of the 1 million poor children who do not currently receive free school meals.

The Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Bill is about ensuring that there are standards in place that will maximise the achievement of children in school. At constituency level, it has been pointed out that the bill provides a valuable opportunity to address other issues that affect children's achievements at school. In that regard, the purpose of the amendment is to set standards for school meals, which in turn will help to address the disadvantages of poverty and ill health, which work against children's performance at school and affect their life chances.

Research shows that there are clear links between nutrition, health and educational attainment that affect disproportionately the most disadvantaged children. One in three children in Scotland lives in poverty. We are all aware that Scotland's health record is poor in comparison with the records of other European countries. The health gap between the richest and the poorest is the biggest that has ever been measured. I hope that the chamber will support the amendment.

I move amendment 44.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I will try.

I recognise the strength of feeling that lies behind amendment 44. Helen Eadie has campaigned consistently on this and similar issues.

The amendment has three parts. I will try to deal with them all. The first relates to the working families tax credit and other benefits. It is defective because it refers to section 53(2) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, which was amended and repealed by the Social Security Act 1986. The amendment therefore has no effect. I know that that was not what Helen Eadie sought to do, but that is the practical effect.

In any event, the tax credits already include an element that is intended to take some account of the cost of school meals. If the amendment were accepted, a free meal entitlement could be extended while the tax credit continued to include an element for school meals payable for 52 weeks of the year, rather than only in term time, which clearly would be wrong. While I understand the importance for many children of receiving a good school meal every day, the Executive is not persuaded of the case for this amendment.

No one—certainly not the Executive—would quarrel with the sentiments that lie behind the other elements of Helen Eadie's amendment. What it suggests about nutritional standards in school meals is very important. It is important that children have access to a good diet, but I do not think that legislation is the best way in which to provide that. I know that, through local authorities and health boards, a number of healthy eating initiatives are under way or are being considered. I make it clear that as a result of Helen Eadie's amendment, I will pick up discussions with Susan Deacon and the health department to try to ensure that we address and put further emphasis on the very important points that her amendment raises.

With the recognition that there is a technical defect in the amendment, and with the assurances that I am giving Helen Eadie, I hope that she will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

On the basis of the assurances the minister has given me, no, although I will tie him to a time scale. If he does not, within a period of one year, take action on the ground, I shall introduce a member's bill or whatever is required. He has one year to take action on this.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

On a point of order. Helen Eadie seeks to withdraw this amendment, but I object to that. According to the standing orders, I suggest that this amendment go to a vote.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

That is absolutely correct. The question is, that amendment 44, in the name of Helen Eadie, be withdrawn. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I am told that we cannot have a division on this. We must vote on the amendment. The question is, that amendment 44 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 13

For: Adam, Brian, Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Cunningham, Roseanna, Eadie, Helen, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Fergus, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Harper, Robin, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, McGugan, Irene, Morgan, Alasdair, Munro, Mr John, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Mr Gil, Raffan, Mr Keith, Reid, Mr George, Robison, Shona, Russell, Michael, Salmond, Mr Alex, Sheridan, Tommy, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Ullrich, Kay, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Andrew
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Finnie, Ross, Galbraith, Mr Sam, Gallie, Phil, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Harding, Mr Keith, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Johnston, Nick, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, MacLean, Kate, Martin, Paul, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLeish, Henry, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Mundell, David, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Stone, Mr Jamie, Thomson, Elaine, Tosh, Mr Murray, Wallace, Ben, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan, Young, John
Abstentions: Smith, Margaret

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

The result of the division is: For 36, Against 77, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 44 disagreed to.