An ex-Tory Cabinet member has been slammed by Question Time viewers for defending Parliament’s decision to throw out a motion to extend free school meals for children in need.
Former Conservative MP Nicky Morgan got into a heated row with Labour’s Bridget Phillipson on Thursday’s episode of the BBC panel show a day after all but five Tory MPs voted down the motion.
It would have seen the scheme extended over school holidays until Easter 2021.
Ms Morgan had tried to deflect the issue by referring to Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner appearing to call Conservative Christopher Clarkson “scum” during Wednesday’s House of Commons session.
She went on to argue the current Government had invested millions this year alone in ensuring children are fed but opposed Labour’s way of going about bringing in the legislation through an ‘opposition day’ motion.
This is a day in a legislature using the Westminster system in which an opposition party sets the agenda rather than the ruling party.
Ms Phillipson cut in: “So, kids go hungry this Christmas because you don’t like the parliamentary process?”
As the former Tory culture secretary tried to deflect the argument onto Ms Rayner, who was reprimanded for her apparent choice of wording, programme host Fiona Bruce said “that’s not exactly the point, is it?”
“I’m not sure anyone is defending that,” added the veteran broadcaster.
Referring back to the meals motion, Ms Bruce said: “Was it a political reason, then, that the Government didn’t support it or did the Government not support it because it doesn’t believe in it?”
Ms Morgan said: “The Government has put money in dramatically to expand free school meals, anyway…”
But Ms Bruce cut in again: “No, no, I get that. I’m just trying to understand why the Government didn’t support it yesterday.
“Is it because they didn’t like the way Labour put the motion or because the Government doesn’t believe in it on principle?” she asked.
The Conservative Party member, who stood down from her ministerial position following a re-shuffle in February before being elevated to the House of Lords as a life peer, reiteration that the Government “has spent over £300 million this year” to help replace free school meal vouchers.
She said: “Obviously, when schools were not open in the Spring and Summer of this year, that is exactly when the Government did put those hundreds of millions of pounds in to make sure that meals were available to those children that would otherwise have been on free school meals.”
Ms Morgan said there are “other ways” to tackle the issue, vaguely referring to an “overall strategy” as the right way forward but adding: “We can’t do that in a pandemic.”
She stressed it is important to work with local authorities.
“I’m sure we could do more to put money, via local authorities, to support families in need.
“But yesterday’s handling of the debate – watching that toxic debate in Parliament, and watching the way that it was handled, Bridget knows, if you want an issue really tackled don’t put it down as an opposition day motion if you want to build a coalition in Parliament,” she said.
Viewers took to Twitter to criticise the former Longborough MP, with one tweeting: “Build coalitions, blah blah, blah…are we supposed to pretend that Marcus Rashford didn’t have to shame the government to act the first time around?”
Manchester United and England footballer Rashford, 22, a former recipient of free school meals, launched a petition urging the Government to go further in tackling child hunger, hitting 100,000 signatures within just 10 hours.
The striker, who forced a Government U-turn on free school meal vouchers for eligible pupils over the summer holidays, has been an ambassador for national food redistribution charity FareShare since March 2020.
Another viewer said: “If you object to being called scum then don’t vote to deny hungry kids a hot meal…What else can the rest of us call you?”
While one viewer called her Question Time speech “waffley s****” and another said: “See, the problem with the Tories is they don’t see that there is a problem.
“They certainly don’t see its their problem to fix.”
However, others were more balanced.
One Twitter user said: “Let’s face it, both main parties are making this about politics and not about the common interest of the people.
“We are in unprecedented times but MPs are looking to further their own career rather than looking after the people in the UK. Time to grow up.”