CLACTON'S MP has defended his decision to vote against a proposal to extend the free schools meals scheme, saying: "all that can be done is being done."

Earlier this year Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford MBE fronted a campaign asking the Government to continue feeding students-in-need outside of school time.

Downing Street initially said no, but performed a U-Turn, subsequently agreeing to extend the free schools meals initiative throughout the six-week summer break.

The Labour Party, backed by the England international, then put forward a motion urging the Government to extend the scheme even further until Easter 2021.

Braintree and Witham Times: Campaigner - footballer Marcus Rashford Picture: PA WireCampaigner - footballer Marcus Rashford Picture: PA Wire

On Wednesday evening, the proposal was defeated by a majority of 61 after 322 MPs voted against it, including Colchester’s Will Quince and Braintree’s James Cleverly.

Clacton MP Giles Watling also opted against supporting the motion but has since defended his decision, branding the premise of the vote somewhat meaningless.

He said: “The proposal on free school meals would not have been legally binding on Government. 

“If it had passed, it would have expressed Parliament’s view on the matter, nothing more, and it would not have automatically brought about any new actions or policies. 

“It is not my habit to vote for things that would have no beneficial legal effect, especially when Parliamentary time is so valuable.

“Instead I choose to focus on the reality of what the Government is doing in this area.”

Braintree and Witham Times:

Despite dismissing the motion - which if successful would have furthered the discussion about free school meals - Mr Watling has stressed the importance of ensuring no child goes hungry.

He also believes the Government, however, is already doing as much as it can to support families struggling to put food on the table for their children.

He added: “Of course all children should have enough to eat.

“That is why the Government acted to implement the National Voucher Scheme earlier this year.

“This ensured that eligible children were still able to get free school meals in lockdown and helped the most vulnerable through the worst of the crisis.

“The Government is considering three policy proposals put forward by Marcus Rashford MBE and his taskforce, and ministers have offered to meet to discuss these further.

“Given the above, it is wrong to say that the Government have been blind to, or have not acted, over this matter. 

“We must also remember that there has never been a requirement for schools to continue this provision during school holidays. 

“Schools quite simply are not geared up to provide food out of school term time. They already have enough pressure put upon them and their staff.  

“I believe that all that can be done is being done.”

Tendring Council’s Labour group leader Ivan Henderson said the move would have benefitted 2,504 children in Clacton who receive free school meals – one of the highest figures in Essex.

He said: “Over the last ten years the Government has made massive cuts in local Government finance and as a result deprivation levels and child poverty has increased.

"We have got areas of high deprivation here.

“Things have been getting worse and families are finding it hard to manage in parts of the Tendring area, including Clacton and Harwich.

"Until deprivation decreases, we should be doing whatever we can to support those who need extra help.”