A DORSET MP has defended his decision to vote against extending free school meals for eligible children throughout school holidays, insisting: "The best form of help comes from the welfare system, not through schools."

Richard Drax, MP for south Dorset, voted against footballer Marcus Rashford's bid to have free school meals extended through the half term and winter holidays.

The motion, put forward by the Labour Party, called for the free school meal voucher scheme to be extended over holidays until Easter 2021.

The motion was defeated by 261 votes to 322 - a majority of 61 - in a vote on Wednesday night.

MPs have faced criticism from members of the public for voting down the scheme, with Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner saying the decision meant 'vulnerable and needy children will go hungry'.

But Mr Drax said: "We have supported the scheme over the partial school closure and summer where eligible children did get free school meals because of the unprecedented time when schools were closed.

"However, the view of the Government is that now that schools are open, they can feed children during school terms and not during the holidays which was always a temporary fix.

"The Government believes, and I concur, that the best form of help comes from the welfare system and not through schools - schools are not welfare providers.

"We have put £9 billion into the welfare system because of these unprecedented times. From that money, each recipient of Universal Credit will receive an additional £1,000 a year which can be used by parents to help cope with this situation.

"The welfare system is here to do this very thing and there is money there for parents that need it."

Chris Loder, MP for West Dorset, also voted against the motion.

Elsewhere in the county, Michael Tomlinson, Mid Dorset and North Poole, Conservative; Sir Robert Syms, Poole, Conservative; Conor Burns, Bournemouth West, Conservative; Tobias Ellwood, Bournemouth East, Conservative; Sir Desmond Swayne, New Forest, Conservative and Sir Robert Syms, Poole, Conservative, all voted against the motion.

In Scotland, the government has made £10 million available to local councils to continue to fund free school meals over the Christmas, February and Easter breaks.

The Welsh government has made £11 million available to extend free school meals for every school holiday until Easter 2021.