EAST LANCASHIRE’S Conservative MPs have defended their decision to vote against extending free school meals for vulnerable children over school holidays.

This comes after the Conservative controlled House of Commons decided by 322 votes to 261 - a majority of 61 – to reject the bid, which came about as a result of a campaign by Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford.

In the first of two public statements, Burnley MP Anthony Higgenbotham said he did not believe the government could ‘do everything.’

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He said: “We all know responsibility for a child rests with the parent and I‘m firmly of the view that if a parent is struggling or cannot properly feed their children then we should all jointly step in through the government to help.”

He added: “I’m proud to live in a country that looks out for each other in that way but I cannot and will not subscribe to the idea that the government does everything.

"Individual responsibility is important as is avoiding an increasing dependency that a small minority in the political class would want.”

However, after the statement drew a negative response online the former Natwest banker turned Conservative MP replaced the statement with a second one.

In his new statement, Mr Higgenbotham said: "I did not vote to end free school meals, or for children to go hungry, I voted to ensure support got to those children in our borough who need it and for a long-term solution to holiday hunger.

"Everything I have done and will continue to do in Parliament is about supporting our borough."

In addition to Mr Higgenbotham, all of East Lancashire’s Conservative MPs voted against the motion.

They were:

Jake Berry, MP for Darwen and Rossendale

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Sara Britcliffe, MP for Hyndburn

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Andrew Stephenson, MP for Pendle

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As Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans is exempt.

Labour MPs had been instructed to vote in favour of the motion, despite having previously been told to abstain of controversial government legislation.

As such, Blackburn Labour MP Kate Hollern was the only East Lancashire MP to vote in favour free school meals.

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Speaking about members who rejected the motion, Mrs Hollern said: “Shame on them, the same people who voted against an extension of the furlough scheme, families and businesses in Lancashire deserve better.”

She added: “More families than ever are struggling, that’s why I voted to extend the free school meals over the holidays.”

Child Poverty Action Group chief executive, Alison Garnham also condemned the move.

She said: “We’ve reached a low point if in the midst of a pandemic we decide we can’t make sure children in the lowest-income families have a nutritious meal in the middle of the day.

“Tonight’s vote means more children going without and more desperately anxious parents, just as a coronavirus winter approaches.

“In short it ducks our moral responsibility to protect the country’s most vulnerable children.”

Marcus Rashford meanwhile urged politicians to “unite” to protect the most vulnerable children and vowed to continue campaigning, writing on Twitter: “For as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine.”