South Swindon MP Robert Buckland has explained why he voted against a motion backed by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford to extend free school meals to the school holidays.

Together with his North Swindon counterpart Justin Tomlinson, both of whom are Conservative ministers, he voted against the Labour party’s motion on Wednesday night.

The motion, which called for the free school meals scheme to be extended over school holidays until Easter 2021, was defeated by 261 votes to 322 – a majority of 61.

Mr Buckland said he had voted against the Labour motion for a number of reasons.

He told the Adver in a statement: “The government has already extended free school meal eligibility to a further 50,000 children and expanded programmes including breakfast clubs.

“Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we have added over £9 billion to the welfare system, which has allowed us to: Increase Universal Credit by £1,000/year; increase Local Housing Allowance and create a £180m fund to help families struggling with their rent; create a £63m fund for councils to use for local welfare assistance; award £16m to food charities.

“This is all funding that will go to families who need it the most.

“The Conservatives extended free school meals over the summer holiday this year, because most children hadn’t been in school since March, and families had been meeting the extra cost of this.

“This autumn, 99 per cent of children are back in school and have therefore been benefiting from free school meals during term time as normal.

“It is crucial that the government seeks to provide support to all families on low incomes at this time.  It is also important that families are able to maintain their independence and budget through a responsible and effective welfare system.

“We need to support those who need it the most, without creating a cycle of state dependency and that is a delicate balance and one which I fully support.”

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Marcus Rashford Picture: PA

READ MORE: How Swindon's MPs voted on Marcus Rashford free school meals motion

Half a dozen Conservative MPs voted with Labour – and against the government.

They included Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, who urged the government to continue providing meals over the holidays while the coronavirus crisis was ongoing and called on ministers to work with Rashford.

Reacting to the vote, shadow education secretary Kate Green said: “Boris Johnson and the Conservatives have badly let down more than one million children and their families.

“No child should go hungry over the holidays, but the government is blocking the action needed to prevent this.

“We pay tribute to Marcus Rashford and others for shining a spotlight on this incredibly important issue.

“This campaign is not over and the government must reconsider.”