London mayoral race: Tory candidate Susan Hall forced to defend criticism of free school meals at TV hustings

Tory candidate Susan Hall was forced to defend her wish to restrict free school meals to poorer children in the first TV debate of the 2024 mayoral race.

The ITV London hustings on Tuesday night also saw Sadiq Khan insist it was “untrue” that he was planning to introduce pay-per-mile road pricing. His full manifesto is expected to be published on Thursday.

Mr Khan came under attack from Lib-Dem candidate Rob Blackie for the Met police’s failure to catch rapists and sex offenders – and for recycling a failed pledge from the 2021 election to bring in rent controls.

Ms Hall said last week that Mr Khan’s £140m-a-year scheme to provide free lunches for all London primary school pupils meant that Londoners “on the breadline” could be paying for food “for people who may be millionaires’ children”.

Asked by ITV presenter Charlene White how many children of millionaires were eating for free in State schools, Ms Hall said: “It’s the theory of it – it’s not necessarily millionaires. It’s people who can afford to feed their children.

“If it’s targeted, you can give people more nutritious meals. People are telling me the quality of these meals aren’t good and they’re sending their kids in with a packed lunch.

“That money could be targeted at the kids who really need that, far better than a blanket [scheme] for everybody.”

Four play: the ITV London mayoral election hustings (ITV London)
Four play: the ITV London mayoral election hustings (ITV London)

Green candidate Zoe Garbett said she wanted to extend free school meals to secondary school children.

She also wants to cut the cost of public transport, and suggested the DLR follow the bus network in having a single fare.

Mr Khan, who repeatedly praised the Greens – in a blatant bid to pick up votes from Green supporters wanting to avoid a Tory victory – said Londoners were less likely than people living elsewhere in the country to be a victim of crime. But he admitted the crime rate was “still too high”.

Mr Blackie described the mayor’s partial fares freeze – which will cost Transport for London £500m over four years - as a “gimmick” and said the money would be better spent on policing.

Mr Blackie said: “The proportion of rapists and sex offenders the police are catching has halved under the mayor. If I was in his position I would be ashamed.”

Sadiq Khan was forced on the defensive by Lib-Dem rival Rob Blackie (ITV London)
Sadiq Khan was forced on the defensive by Lib-Dem rival Rob Blackie (ITV London)

He challenged Mr Khan’s assertion that a Labour government would fund an extra 1,300 Met police officers and said the mayor’s promise to introduce rent controls would never be delivered.

“You said exactly the same thing three years ago,” Mr Blackie said. “I think you need to explain: why haven’t you done it?”

When Mr Khan replied “because we have got a Conservative Government”, Mr Blackie hit back: “The Labour party now say they wouldn’t do it either.”

Mr Khan mistakenly promised to deliver “six million rent control homes if I win” rather than 6,000.

Ms Hall has been accused by Mr Khan of running a “Trumpian-like misinformation campaign”.

Labour has asked the Crown Prosecution Service to investigate an election leaflet that suggests he will introduce pay-per-mile road charging in place of the Ulez and congestion charge.

 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

Asked if his next plan was pay-per-mile, Mr Khan said: “It is untrue.”

But Ms Hall said: “Sadiq Khan says he is not going to bring in pay-per-mile but Sadiq Khan also said he would never bring in the Ulez expansion, and look what happened there.”

She said the idea was in his book, Breathe, which refers to his wish to introduce a “new, more comprehensive road-user charging system” by the end of the decade. “It is not nonsense – he will bring it in,” Ms Hall said.