First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 7th June 2007.
To ask the First Minister when the Executive will increase the threshold for free school meals in primary and secondary schools to help Scottish families. (S3F-46)
I want Scotland to be healthier and fairer and I want all families and communities to enjoy the benefits of healthier lifestyles. The SNP fully supported the introduction of hungry for success—the initiative to improve school meals. We want more of our poorest children in particular to benefit from free nutritious school meals. The Government is committed to increasing entitlement to free school meals. We will consider when and how to increase the threshold for free school meals as part of the spending review process.
I suggest that the pilot on free school meals that has recently been announced will take too long for the poorest families with older children to be able to benefit from it. The First Minister said that he will work with the Labour Party on issues, and I believe him. Will he consider Labour's proposals to increase the threshold for free school meals to include almost 100,000 children, which would help the most vulnerable working families? Surely, if the SNP is committed to helping families with children and tackling child poverty, it will increase the threshold immediately, because that would help Scottish families. I should add that no legislation is required.
In the interests of consensus, I am sure that Pauline McNeill will accept that the pilot scheme on free school meals from primary 1 to 3 that the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning announced is an excellent initiative. I hope that it will be supported by all members of the Parliament and, in turn, I will commit to look closely at the measures that the Labour Party proposes. If those measures are so obvious and excellent, it is kind of strange that the previous Administration did not implement them. Perhaps that is another thing Liberal Democrats stopped it doing.
I remind the First Minister that when I sought to amend the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Bill at stages 2 and 3 to extend eligibility for free school meals to families on working tax credit and council tax benefit, for example, the Liberal Democrats and Labour opposed the attempt on both occasions. Does he share my delight that consensus is now coming and that he may consider extending eligibility now that we are in government?
I am delighted that Christine Grahame's famous powers of persuasion, which have so often prevailed upon me, are now prevailing even upon the Labour Party.
Will the First Minister tell the Parliament how many children will be involved in the pilots that were recently announced by his Cabinet
That is why it is called a pilot project. I hope that people will enthusiastically support the pilot so that, as we return to the project to roll it out across Scotland, there will be real benefits for real pupils in real schools across the country.