North Wiltshire MP James Gray has explained why he opposed a motion to extend free school meals over the holidays.

England football star Marcus Rashford’s bid to extend free school meals over the holidays was dealt a blow after MPs voted against the measure on Wednesday night.

Manchester United player Marcus Rashford 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.”

He released a statement after Labour’s motion, which called for the scheme to be extended over school holidays until Easter 2021, was defeated by 261 votes to 322 – a majority of 61.

Mr Gray said of the vote: "This was not a substantive vote which would have resulted in extending the free school meals voucher system.

"It was a party political motion proposed by the Labour Party, which even if it had passed would have achieved nothing at all.

"The Government are considering the issue more widely, just as they did during the period of partial school closures and over the summer holidays.

"The national voucher scheme saw over £380 million worth of voucher codes redeemed into supermarket e-gift cards by schools and families with over 20,000 schools placing orders.

"However, the provision of free schools meals is ordinarily in term time only and it would be impossible for schools to continue this provision during school holidays.

"They never have done, pandemic or none.

"The question of ending food poverty, and poverty in general is not a matter for schools, but for the Department of Work and Pensions, and the benefits system as a whole.

"I do very much welcome the publication of the first part of the National Food Strategy, particularly the recommendations in the report with regard to nutrition for disadvantaged families and children.

"A key recommendation is to expand the number of eligible children for free school meals by an additional 1.5 million, taking the total number of children to 2.6 million.

"The coronavirus outbreak has made the importance of good nutrition for children even clearer and I am sure that ministers will consider these recommendations carefully, and implement policy proposals that will benefit children and their families.

"I therefore did not vote for the amendment but am hopeful that the Government will find an alternative solution through the benefits system rather than the educational one.

"Schools have enough on their plates as it is without adding this extra burden.

"Yesterday's Labour Party motion would have had no effect even if it had been passed by the House of Commons, but would have resulted in that extra burden on schools.

"That is why I voted against it- so that anti-poverty nutrition should be handled properly by the DWP.

"Secondly, I do believe that the Government have provided an unprecedented level of support for individuals and businesses throughout the crisis.

"I do agree that we need to look carefully about how to extend these schemes, especially if the lockdown periods are going to continue.

"I have written to the Chancellor about this matter and hope the Government will introduce an effective scheme."