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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 06:11 GMT 07:11 UK
Fresh bid for free school meals
Children having school meal
"About 100,000 children would benefit"

A new bill aimed at giving free school meals to every child is being brought forward by the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).

Similar legislation failed to gain enough support in the last parliament.

A commitment to delivering nutritious meals and free milk or drinking water for pupils was one of the SSP's core manifesto pledges.

The plans are backed by health and poverty campaigners, trade unions and some church groups and are estimated to cost about 174m a year.

The Scottish Executive, which is already taking steps to improve nutritional standards, argued that the cash could be better targeted at other areas of health and education provision.

It's about so much more than nutrition and health; its about inclusion, it's about lifting stigma, and it's about equality
Rosie Kane

However Rosie Kane, who is introducing the bill, claimed it would be a "travesty" if the parliament was to reject the plans a second time.

She said: "It's about so much more than nutrition and health; its about inclusion, it's about lifting stigma, and it's about equality.

An executive spokeswoman said: "We do not believe that free school meals will have any benefit to health in addition to policies currently being pursued by the executive."

However, SSP leader Tommy Sheridan said the measure would help about 100,000 children whose parents were the "working poor" and who did not qualify for the free meals.

He also claimed the chances of the bill being passed had been "greatly enhanced" by the parliament's "significant shift to the left" following the election.

But this time around the Scottish National Party offered no guarantee of support.

A spokesperson said: "When the SSP last introduced this bill there was serious criticism of their chosen method of achieving this, not just from politicians but from children's groups.

"We will need to wait to see whether they have taken these criticisms on board, or whether they are attempting to use school meals as a way of posturing."




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