Daisy Cooper’s first PMQ – standing up for hungry children

This week, Daisy Cooper had her first chance to question the Prime Minister at PMQs and the issue she chose was one close to Liberal Democrat values – helping children in poverty by providing them with free meals during holidays until next Easter.  This can only be sensible when many of their parents will be struggling to make ends meet because of the current situation.

Here she is, highlighting how Welsh Lib Dem Education Secretary Kirsty Williams was the first to do this:

And here’s the exchange in full:

Daisy Cooper

On 16 June, the Prime Minister agreed to provide free school meal vouchers to hungry children over the summer holidays after claiming just 24 hours beforehand that he was completely unaware of the campaign that was calling for it. Last week, the Liberal Democrat Education Minister for Wales, Kirsty Williams, guaranteed that free school meal provision during school holidays would continue until at least Easter 2021, and yesterday the Scottish Government committed to do the same. Can the Prime Minister confirm that he is indeed aware of these announcements, and, if so, when does he plan to do the right thing? [907911]

The Prime Minister

Governments of all stripes have supplied free school meals since 1906, and I am proud that it was this Conservative Government who extended universal free school meals to five, six and seven-year-olds. The Labour party was in power for 30 of the past 100 years and never did anything like that. We support kids of low incomes in school, and we will continue to do so, but the most important thing is to keep them in school and not to tear off into another national lockdown, taking them out of school. We will continue to use the benefits system and all the systems of income support to support young people and children throughout the holidays as well.

Boris Johnson was very keen to take credit for the policy of free school meals which the Liberal Democrats pushed through in coalition to the consternation of the right wing press.

Last week, Daisy and other Lib Dem MPs wrote to English Education Secretary Gavin Williamson asking him to  guarantee meal provision during holidays:

When this was debated later on Wednesday, Daisy made a very powerful speech saying she felt ashamed to be an MP when the government drew the red line at hungry children:

The Secretary of State gave us a spectacular display of number theatre: millions for this, millions for that, billions for this, billions for that. There is no doubt that the Government are facing unprecedented demands for money from all sorts of directions, but I simply do not understand why they draw the red line at hungry children.

I feel ashamed to be an MP today and I feel ashamed of this debate. While we throw mud at each other from the security of these plush green Benches, there are millions of families who do not know where they are going to find the £30 or £40 to feed their kids next week in half-term and have no idea at all where the money is going to come from to feed their kids at Christmas. Even if we agreed the extension of free school meals in school holidays until Easter, there would still be families who struggle. There would still be families claiming universal credit who would not qualify. We need to look again at the eligibility criteria.

It was the Liberal party that first introduced free school meals, in 1906. It was the Liberal Democrats in Government who introduced free school meals for 1.89 million infant children. In Wales last week, Liberal Democrat Education Minister Kirsty Williams led the way by agreeing to extend the scheme until Easter next year. Scotland has followed suit. Now it is England’s turn. Why should children in England go hungry when children in Scotland and Wales will have access to support in the coming holidays?

There are colleagues on the Government Benches who have called on us to work with them on a long-term food strategy. We are happy to do that. This debate today does not stop us looking at long-term solutions. But half-term starts in just a few days’ time, and we need to give immediate reassurance to a nation of families who are lying awake at night. I urge every Member of this House to please consider providing that immediate reassurance tonight.

It’s good to see Lib Dem run councils such as Richmond and Kingston making this provision for children anyway.

The Huffington Post highlights some areas where the Government might divert funds into feeding hungry children, for example a £120 million Brexit bridge.

Yet Tory MPs voted against providing parents with the ability to feed their children. One of many pieces of evidence that the Nasty Party is well and truly back.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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21 Comments

  • Steve Trevethan 24th Oct '20 - 2:46pm

    Is the ruling body in Wales a Labour- Lib-Dem coalition?

  • I am sure that our councils and activists are doing a good job around the country.As a party we should now stop pointing out the disastrous passed and encourage and praise the members, activists volunteers for the work they will be doing to build the party up for next years elections. WE SHOULD BE INSPIRED TO ACT LIKE OTHER DEDICATED PEOPLE WHO CARE FOR ALL AND A BETTER FUTURE>\

  • Barry Lofty 24th Oct '20 - 4:14pm

    I had not noticed that ” The Nasty Party” had actually gone away!!

  • Peter Martin 25th Oct '20 - 9:22am

    …..”the Government might divert funds into feeding hungry children, for example a £120 million Brexit bridge.”

    If the bridge in question is between Ireland and Scotland, £120 million would be ridiculously cheap! We are talking about a factor of at least a 100 more.

    It may still be value for money. If it can be done.

    The curious thing about macroeconomics is that it’s not generally a case of either/or. For example, when wars start the government spends big on armaments that money ends up in workers’ pay packets. Children end up being fed better than they would have been otherwise.

    So if it can be done with armaments, maybe bridges could provide the same route to general prosperity.

  • Steve Trevethan 25th Oct '20 - 9:51am

    Hey! Hey! Hey!
    Boris J!
    How many kids
    Starve today?

  • Steve Trevethan 25th Oct '20 - 9:57am

    Might the current chronic hunger crisis for children indicate that “The Market,” as currently conceptualised and operated, is not inherently stable but is inherently unstable?
    Might it prove that “The Market”, as currently conceptualised and operated, is inherently unfair and even dangerous?

  • David Brenton 25th Oct '20 - 10:13am

    I have just read the appaling comments by Saxby about the companies helping fund free meals for children. This just about sums up the Conservative party at the moment. I also find it most dispriting when I realise she sits for an ex-Libdem seat. Everytime I see tory MPs on tv in an ex-libdem seat I feel so sad. I also realise how much damage the Libdem leadership did to the future of the party.

  • Peter Martin 25th Oct '20 - 11:06am

    @ Steve,

    The market isn’t unstable per se. It’s an instrument of class oppression which depends on a general public misunderstanding of how the economy functions in a macroeconomic context. When we have a national crisis, such as a war or a public health issue we have at the moment, the ‘core principles’ are simply set aside. Maintaining the previous stance is no longer a political imperative. Budgets no longer have to be balanced. Railways no longer have to be privatised. If the banks, or whatever else, need nationalising to keep the system alive then they’ll be nationalised. Period.

    When well meaning Lib Dems swallow the disinformation that is usually disseminated they’ve essentially toed the line. The PTB, or ruling class in Marxist terms, are more than happy to hear Lib Dems say that they can solve problem A with a penny on income tax and problem B with a LVT or whatever else as been alighted upon as a way of ‘finding the money’. They know that you aren’t going to win elections on that basis and that there’s usually no need to ‘find the money’ anyway.

    As they’ve showed themselves in their handling of this crisis.

  • suzanne fletcher 25th Oct '20 - 11:58am

    Very well done, Daisy.
    Can anyone expand on
    “It was the Liberal party that first introduced free school meals, in 1906”
    was it free for all, or means tested?
    “It was the Liberal Democrats in Government who introduced free school meals for 1.89 million infant children.”
    Can anyone remind me just what it was that was brought in under the coaltion government, and has the tory government rescinded it?

  • suzanne fletcher 25th Oct '20 - 12:31pm

    Note the first paragraph of the second page of the photo of the letter.
    I am so pleased that Daisy has taken this up.
    Complicated but from year 3 onwards those who have No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and asylum seekers on what is called Section 4 payment, didn’t get free school meals. thankfully the government did include them in getting the vouchers for over the spring and then summer school holidays, but when we revert to “normal” those kids will stop getting free school meals.
    It is “niche”, does not affect that many children, and not popular to speak out on, but the difference it makes to the very poorest of families is immense.
    So thank you and well done Daisy.
    PS Some NRPF people are working and enough money, but some are not or cannot, and a number lost their jobs due to Covid. We are just asking for FSM for those under the Universal Benefit level. I said it was complicated.

  • Steve Trevethan 25th Oct '20 - 12:52pm

    Thanks and a tip of the hat to Peter Martin for his most useful comment!
    Here is relevant quotation:

    “The selection and rejection of ideas, hypotheses, and formulae, the moulding of them into schools or tendencies of thought, and the propagation of them — have been plainly directed by the pressure of class interests.” (Liberal economist John Hobson 1858-1940)

    Why do L.D.s fail to follow and promote such traditional Liberal economic wisdom?

  • Steve Trevethan 25th Oct '20 - 1:29pm

    Perhaps the power of the current theory or “faith” of “The Free Market” and the current reaction to Covid, comprise an example of “The Two Categories of Proaganda” proposed by J. Ellul (1912-1994).

    “The first strives to create a permanent disposition in its objects and constantly needs to be reinforced. Its goal is to make the masses “available” by working spells upon them and excercising a kind of fascination. The second category involves the creation of a temporary impulsiveness in its objects. It operates by simple pressure and is often contradictory.”

  • @ Suzanne Fletcher ““ Can anyone expand on : It was the Liberal party that first introduced free school meals, in 1906”.

    Provision of School Meals Act, 1906.

    I’m afraid free school meals wasn’t brought in by the Liberal Government in 1906, Suzanne. The Government permitted local councils to provide school meals for ‘necessitous’ children’ – but they didn’t fund it. Councils had to pay for it. It was already taking place but was technically illegal.

    It was started at West Lane School, Bradford by the Head teacher Jonathan Priestley (father of J.B. Priestley). The first meal consisted of scotch broth, fruit tart, bread and a mug of water for each child. The City Council had adopted it before 1906 after a campaign led by Fred Jowett, (a Labour Councillor elected as Labour M.P. for Bradford West in 1906) and the educationalist Margaret Macmillan.

    The newly elected Jowett persuaded the Liberal Government to ‘permit’ local Councils and School Boards to do it and end the illegality. To claim the Liberal Party started free school meals is – forgive the pun – to over egg the pudding.

    Sadly, local authorities were slow to respond to this legislation and by 1939 less than 50% were providing this service.

    Liberals, like all political parties, should avoid claiming benefit from other people’s actions.

  • suzanne fletcher 25th Oct '20 - 4:25pm

    thanks @David Raw, always helpful to have the facts. I’ve seen the quote from other “leading” Lib Dems too, so needs dealing with. ALthough “legalising” is supporting the principle of so it was still a good thing.
    Anyone give chapter and verse on what we did in the coalition? I seem to recall there was a lot of derision for it, probably from the same people attacking what is happening now.

  • @ Suzanne Fletcher I meant to add how much I admire your work for asylum seekers and the way you challenged the dreadful G4S on Teesside.

    Did you get any ultimate success with G4S ?

  • suzanne fletcher 25th Oct '20 - 5:53pm

    completely off topic @David Raw, so might get axed by mods! but thank you. G4S were nowhere near as bad as the firm they subcontracted to. But a huge amount evidence collecting, badgering and pestering of the Home Office local people did mean some changes to the spec when the new contract went out last year to Mears.

  • I note the government has reiterated it’s position on ‘Child Hunger’…

    Yesterday ‘Portly’ Brandon Lewis (Northern Ireland Secretary) was doing the rounds backing the government line..My question for him, and other ministers, would be, “How can you defend Westminster MPs having meals subsidised by the taxpayer whilst letting children go hungry?”
    The ‘food scene’ in ‘Oliver’ with the contrast between the trustees and the inmates comes to mind; vote Tory for Victorian values..

  • Gerald Stewart 27th Oct '20 - 2:08am

    Where children experience hunger, there is often other deprivation such as adequate heating or clothing.
    So perhaps the Lib Dems will campaign for an energy bill circuit breaker over the coming months?

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