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Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (LD): What is the hon. Gentleman's view of large corporations such as McDonald's sponsoring sports kits or donating money to schools? That clearly influences the choice of products that children will buy in the future.
Geraint Davies: That is an important point. I am not against large corporations per se sponsoring events in schools, but we must think carefully about which organisations do it. There would be a big difference between sponsorship in a school by McDonald's and by a non-food product such as a toothpaste brand, for exampleperhaps I should not mention namesif one could show that the toothpaste helped to prevent decay. Head teachers and governors should be careful about this, but I certainly do not think that it is a good idea for corporations promoting a lifetime's loyalty to consuming high fat, salt and sugar products to be allowed to sponsor schools. My approach is therefore slightly mixed, but I hope that it is clear.
The issue of protecting children has been raised. Another issue is whether children should be protected from being bombarded in pre-school television
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schedules with imagery suggesting that eating unhealthy food is "cool". I am glad that the Government are now considering that.
These problems have been known, and the Government are beginning to address them through the health White Paper, to which I was pleased to contribute on issues of advertising, targets for salt, sugar and fat and controlling clarity of labelling so that consumers know what they are eating. A great deal of labelling lacks clarity, and the highest consumers of low-nutrient products are least likely to look at labels and make such judgments. We need to make it easy for people to know what is good or not good for them, or what should be eaten in moderation.
During the emergence of the health White Paper, I put forward a number of other ideas: making certain types of food, such as chips, unavailable in schools at certain times; controlling vending, which is a sort of Trojan horse of fat, sugar and salt to people who are trying to introduce a healthy food regime in schools; and keeping children in at lunchtime to increase participation in a healthy food regime. I have now compressed those ideas into the Bill, which I put out just before the Secretary of State made her welcome statement on raising school meal standards. I was also a supporter of the children's food Bill put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Ms Shipley).
The Secretary of State has issued minimum health specifications for processed foods such as burgers, sausages and cakes in terms of salt, fat and sugar, which I welcome, on the way towards tougher nutrient-based standards in 2006. She has introduced the idea of a schools food trust, giving independent support and advice for parents and schools, which the Bill specifically mentions. I shall refer later to my desire for a more pushy, comprehensive approach from that schools food trust to deliver standards rather than simply giving advice. She also mentioned the need for parents to have a greater role in terms of empowering parents to examine menus. I shall deal with that later in terms of the need to give parents the tools to bring about a healthy regime rather than talk about it without the knowledge needed to deliver that change.
In November 2004, the health White Paper introduced vocational qualifications for school caterers. In July, local education authorities were given specifications for catering contracts to help get nutrition on to the agenda, as previously many LEAs were simply buying to a price as low as 37p per child, so the nutrient value of those meals was increasingly small. There is an argument for including nutritional value as well as cost in that tendering process. From September 2006, tougher minimum standards for meals and nutrient-based standards will be considered, of which I am also in favour. In the first instance, my Bill mentions food-based standards, with the aim of not having chips or deep-fried products on certain days. I welcome the aspiration, however, to move to a more scientifically driven, nutrient-based analysis, which is implicit in clause 7 in terms of nutritional standards and my recommendation that Ofsted should play a role in nutritional standards and measurement.
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Legislation is needed at some point, partly due to the extended school days. At the moment, education legislation does not cover the new breakfast clubs, after-school activities and so on. There is a new opportunity to make progress on some of these ideas. I hope that some of those contained in the Bill will be embraced in that process. Indeed, that is the Bill's purpose.
Vending, which the Government have been looking at, is also addressed. The health White Paper showed that there was a demand among parents for a whole-school approach to healthy eating, including vending. It is refreshing to learn when we ask the public that they are in many respects ahead of the Government in pushing for such an approach.
My proposals are about not a nanny state, but a public duty of care. In my view, the public agree with me that any Government should protect our children in the school environment in which they are educated and prepared for life. School is not a social club where people can choose whether to learn or to loaf about, so nor should they be able to choose to consume untold amounts of unhealthy food. A regime should be in place through which they can learn about eating healthilyand, hopefully, they in turn pass on that knowledge to their children.
The Government have made other progress, but I will not refer to it all because if I did we would be here all day. However, I welcome the provision of free fruit or vegetables for four to six-year-olds who attend nursery. I hope that that will be extended because children need four or five portions of fruit or vegetables a day. According to one standard, at least one of the starchy foodsbread, potato, rice and pastashould not be cooked in oil or fat. That is a fairly minimalist standard to adopt, but only 83 per cent. of schools deliver on it. In other words, the remaining 17 per cent. do not offer an option that is not completely immersed in fat or oil.
One of the Bill's innovations is the concept of unavailability. Instead of simply requiring that a certain amount of healthy food be available, it requires that certain foods shall not be available on certain days, especially deep-fat fried vegetables and the like. It prescribes that, in the first instance, two days be fat-free, but the head or board of governors of a school could choose to provide healthy meals for the entire week, as Jamie Oliver wants. I support that idea as well, but this provision is a more modest approach to meeting that ambition.
The Bill requires the unavailability of food low in nutritional standards for a minimum of two days, but as I said, that can be extended. Interestingly, the Health Committee found that many schools offered a cafeteria-style approach, and the Consumers Association said that the majority of school lunch menus read like a fast-food menu. That is cause for alarm and a reason to make certain types of food unavailable.
The aim is to improve food standards with a move towards a nutrient-standard approach. I hope that the Government will accept such a system by September 2006; currently, they are prepared to look at doing so. I commend what Jamie Oliver is doing. He wants all meals to be healthy, which is the ideal, but as the Opposition mentioned earlier, a problem arose in a school in Hull in that regard. It provided healthy meals
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free to everybody, but unfortunately the children and/or their parents boycotted them. They simply did not consume them and took lunchboxes to school instead. That underlines that we must be realistic in making the transition from unhealthy to healthy food.There is also the question of how tasty healthy foods are. My guess is that the healthy food in Hull was not cooked by Jamie Oliver and that it was not as attractive as it might have been. We need support in that regard.
I understand that, initially, Jamie Oliver experienced a problem with take-up of his healthy fooduntil it poured with rain. The kids could not be bothered to leave the school and to go to the local chip shop, so they ate his food. After that, the participation rate started to improve.
That brings me to another central feature of the Bill: the power of head teachers to stop children leaving school at lunchtime. Obviously, I cannot impose raineven I cannot do thatbut children could be gated. If parents and governors allowed it, the school could keep the children in, which would make more of them eat school meals and would spread the fixed costs over more meals so that more could be invested in catering facilities and training. The Local Authorities Catering Association and its head Neil Porter have been going on about the need for more investment to raise nutritional standards. I do not for a moment rule out more investment, but by keeping children in we would cover the overheads in time.
Such a move would also be welcomed by local communities, as antisocial behaviour often takes place outside schools at lunchtime. It should be encouraged by the Government and local authorities and embraced by schools. It would be up to individual governors and heads to deliver it, but I am sure that it would be supported by parents and local communities.
Jamie Oliver says that he is spending just 37p per school meal. The average investment is 45p. The largest private sector provider, Compass, tenders for only 55p. If we add labour costs of about 65p, a margin of about 8p and administrative costs of about 15p, we end up with a price of £1.30 or £1.40 per meal. If raising the food cost from 40p to 50p would make a massive difference to the nutrient content, that would be an investment worth making. Incidentally, public schools spend twice as much on ingredients. I am not saying we should necessarily do the same, but Mr. Oliver is clearly finding it difficult to deliver on 37p, so we should consider such action if we want better nutrition.
We have a long way to go. A number of local education authorities, including Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Kingston, do not even have facilities for preparing hot meals, which is disgraceful. We need more investment in training, equipment, eating space and better food. Local authorities that have "died" in terms of delivering any meals at all, let alone nutritious meals, may need support, but we should adopt a targeted approach rather than just saying, "Here's the money, chaps" and bailing them out. Over time, participation rates should pay for higher fixed costs.
I support the nutrition-based approach that is being considered for September 2006, and the Bill is consistent with that. I also support the children's food Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge, and I support what Jamie Oliver is aspiring
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to doget junk food out of schools. As well as being consistent with those ideas, however, my Bill allows the gradual elimination of chips, although not necessarily an immediate ban in all schools, which could lead to boycotts and an exodus. It also provides for minimum standards accredited by Ofsted, so that parents know that those standards are being delivered rather than just seeing plates of food.
There has been a move towards power for parents and schools to choose to keep children in at lunchtime, and in some schools that is already happening. I think the Government should encourage it, although I realise that some schools will have limited space and a limited number of teachers available at lunchtime. However, we and parents should encourage that change. Local education authorities should facilitate it. Parents want it and we should encourage them to demand it.
The Secretary of State has pressed for greater parental control. I am all in favour of that. Under clause 7, Ofsted could provide parents with the objective reality of the nutritional standards being delivered at the school, so that they can put pressure on caterers to deliver better standards. Unless the parents have a clear measurement of nutritional standards in the Ofsted report, they cannot enforce better, healthier standards for their children.
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