Boris Johnson says children won't go hungry because of 'Government inattention', as free school meal row intensifies

Cat Neilan
·46-min read

Boris Johnson has said children will not go hungry "a result of any Government inattention", as the row over free school meals intensifies. 

The Prime Minister stressed the Government was also "uplifting Universal Credit" which was "one of the best ways you can help families in these tough times". 

He added: "I totally understand the issue. It is there, we have to deal with it. The debate is how you deal with it."

"We don't want to see children going hungry this winter, this Christmas, certainly not as a result of any inattention by this Government - and you are not going to see that."

Mr Johnson was also forced to clarify that he had not spoken to Marcus Rashford since June, after the England footballer rejected claims the pair had communicated earlier today. 

"What he is doing is terrific," he said during a visit to a hospital. "We support local councils, and indeed we fund local councils and many of the organisations who have been stepping in."

Tory councils including Hillingdon - which is in Boris Johnson's constituency - Medway and Wandsworth are among those stepping into the breach.  

His comments come amid growing anger on the backbenches, after MPs were deluged with emails from outraged constituents. 

Senior Tories including Sir Bernard Jenkin and Caroline Nokes attacked Number 10's position over the weekend, while Labour has said it will table another motion for Christmas holidays if there is no U-turn. 

04:13 PM

And that's it for another day...

It's the first day of recess, but while Boris Johnson was hoping to talk about his new policy for better hospital food there was only one type of meal people wanted to talk about. 

Tory MPs are angrily passing on the contents of their inboxes, as outraged constituents complain about the Government's position. Some such as Tobias Ellwood, Caroline Nokes and Sir Bernard Jenkin have called for ministers to rethink its stance. 

Marcus Rashford has continued to publicise the huge number of private businesses and local councils who are coughing up the cash to feed hungry children during October half-term, and forced the Prime Minister to admit the pair hadn't spoken since June. 

Even Mr Johnson's key ally Danny Kruger conceded they had lost the "political football game" against the England striker, although he insisted the policy - to leave it to local councils to determine who needed what support - was the right one. 

And while it looks as though there could be some extra support coming down the pipeline, the Prime Minister and his outriders show no sign of changing tack on the emotive issue. 

We asked, you answered....

Some 59 per cent of respondents to our daily poll think Mr Johnson should hold firm, without giving another penny to councils, while 31 per cent of you think he should take control and fund free school meals directly throughout the pandemic.

Just 10 per cent said he should give more cash to councils and let them decide. 

Read on for the rest of the day's news.

03:50 PM

Business Committee chair 'not satisfied' over opaqueness of £771m Future Fund scheme

The Chair of the Business Committee has said he is unsatisfied by the Government's decision to not publish the names of companies that have been financed by the Government's Future Fund scheme.

Darren Jones had called on Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, to release information about the companies backed as part of the £771 million scheme, which provides convertible loans of between £125,000 and £5 million to start-up businesses.

The loans can be converted into shares in the business, meaning that the Government could end up owning a chunk of the 745 companies it has so far backed.

However Mr Sharma replied saying the identity of the companies "is confidential".  

Mr Jones said: "Concerns had been raised, not least by the British Business Bank, about the vulnerability to fraud and abuse of some of the Government's support. Estimates suggest that several billions of pounds of taxpayer money could be lost.

The Bristol North West MP added: "I am still not satisfied by the Government's explanation as to why it isn't publishing the data of which companies have received what funding, including through the Future Fund, given taxpayers could end up as shareholders of a whole portfolio of start-up businesses."

03:38 PM

Warrington to enter Tier 3 from midnight tonight

Warrington is being placed in Tier 3 from midnight tonight after cases rose to 361 per 100,000, the Department for Health has confirmed. 

Under these restrictions people are largely banned from mixing with anybody outside their household or support bubble. All pubs and bars must close, unless they are serving "substantial" meals, and any alcohol must only be served alongside such a meal. Betting shops, adult gaming centres, casinos and soft play centres and areas will also be closed. 

Local authorities are getting £1.68m in support, alongside £4.2m in business support funding. 

Matt Hancock said: "I know that these new measures will mean sacrifices must be made by the people in Warrington, and I want to extend my thanks to each and every one of them for recognising the severity of the situation and sticking to the rules."

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick thanked local leaders for "productive discussions". 

The restrictions will be reviewed in 28 days. 

Three-tier postcode tool
Three-tier postcode tool

03:28 PM

Government should offer more support for children on free school meals, says Tory council leader

The Conservative leader of Darlington Council has said the Government should offer more support for children on free school meals ahead of next holiday "but we have to do something now". 

Heather Scott told Sky News the money that had been allocated previously which ministers have suggested could be used during the half-term holiday had already been spent but the council had taken the decision to give support "not only to those on free school meals but other families" as well. 

She added: "The PR for the Government nationally has not been good but I am more concerned about the people of Darlington and as leader of the council, we will do whatever we can to support them."

Asked what Number 10 should do, she added: "We will be urging them to, certainly when we come into the next school holidays, to do something but we have do something now."

03:17 PM

Government 'definitely lost the political football game' over free school meals

The Government has "definitely lost" the "political football game" against England striker Marcus Rashford over free school meals, a key ally of Boris Johnson has conceded. 

Danny Kruger, the MP for Devizes, told Sky News that the Government had been "slow to get argument over this week", adding: "If it is a political football game - who has won the PR battle - we have definitely lost it.

"But fundamentally it comes down to whether it's the right policy and I think we have got the right policy. From a political perspective and in terms of the public we serve I think we have a lot of explaining to do."

He noted there was a "huge Twitter storm, a huge media campaign" and he had constituents "writing into me", but added: "We are not hearing from the majority of people who understand the complexity of the challenge we are facing here."

02:59 PM

Test & Trace consultants' pay 'wasted money' that should be reviewed, says Boris Johnson ally

The "wasted" money being paid to Test & Trace consultations should be reviewed, a key ally of Boris Johnson has said as he defends the Government on free school meals. 

It has recently emerged that some executives from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) running Test & Trace are being paid day rates of around £7,000 - equivalent to an annual salary of around £1.5m.

Danny Kruger, the MP for Devizes, and the Prime Minister's former political secretary said while this would not "go very far" in supporting impoverished families around the country, it was "outrageous and someone should look into why consultants are being paid that kind of money". 

He added: "This is a good example of the kind of problems we have with centralised government... It is a shame [Labour] are now calling for more centralised approach for welfare, when what we need is that local system." 

Mr Kruger added: "So yes, I am so, so sorry that money is wasted in the way that it often is with these big contracts. It's an absolute disgrace and has got to be fixed but the way to do that is with a localised system, not a centralised one."

02:50 PM

Tory MP brands Labour 'cynical' for 'jumping on bandwagon' over free school meals

A backbench Conservative has accused Labour of being "cynical", saying the party is "jumping on the bandwagon" when it comes to free school meals. 

Danny Kruger, the MP for Devizes and Boris Johnson's former political secretary, told Sky News that councils had received funding that could be used to support children outside of term time. 

He added: "Money is tight... it is very, very tight for everybody - businesses, councils, families. It is very, very difficult but what the Government is trying to do is ensure that the money that is spent gets to the right family."

Mr Kruger noted that £10bn had been spent on welfare since the start of the pandemic, and argued that Labour had "always opposed" free school meal vouchers in school holidays previously. 

"It is quite cynical that they are jumping on the bandwagon now when it was a policy they have opposed," he added. 

02:40 PM

Free school meal vouchers 'stigmatising', says Boris Johnson's ally

One of Boris Johnson's long-time allies has defended his approach to free school meals, saying "supermarket vouchers are not the right system". 

Danny Kruger, the Conservative MP for Devizes and formerly a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute before becoming the Prime Minister's political secretary, told Sky News that his council was able to direct struggling families towards "support that is available locally or if your circumstances need it, they will put cash straight into your bank account". 

"That is the kind of flexible system we need," he added. "There is so much hardship  in our country and our society at the moment. 

"It's just that supermarket vouchers are not the right system. We need a more local system that relies on the understanding that councils and local authorities can give."

 "We are all in agreement that we have got to stop children going hungry," Mr Kruger added. "The question is how we do that.

"Cash is better because vouchers are stigmatising." 

02:30 PM

Further 91 people die with coronavirus in English hospitals

A further 91 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals in England to 31,910.

Patients were aged between 44 and 95 years old. All had known underlying health conditions.

The date of death ranges from 24 September to 25 October 2020, with the majority being on or after 23 October.

 The North West was the worst-affected region, with 29 deaths registered, followed by the North East & Yorkshire (24). The Midlands recorded 22 deaths, followed by London (eight), the East of England (three) and South West (three).

The South East recorded just two Covid deaths. 

Three-tier Covid lockdown map
Three-tier Covid lockdown map

02:21 PM

His Rebel Lord: Philip Hammond takes his seat in the Upper House

Former chancellor and one-time Tory rebel Philip Hammond has taken his seat in the House of Lords.

Lord Hammond of Runnymede was flanked by supporters Lord Moynihan and Lord Barwell for the brief introduction ceremony.

Lord Hammond was appointed to the Lords by Boris Johnson despite being stripped of the Tory whip as an MP last year for joining with those attempting to block a no-deal Brexit.

He was Conservative MP for Runnymede from 1997 to 2019, served as chancellor from 2016 to 2019 and was in the Cabinet for several years previously as foreign secretary, defence secretary and transport secretary. 

Lord Hammond's appointment to the Upper House has been criticised by some Tory Brexiteers and comes after he stood down from the Commons at the last election.

Philip Hammond upgrades to the House of Lords - Heathcliff O'Malley
Philip Hammond upgrades to the House of Lords - Heathcliff O'Malley

02:11 PM

Ending VAT holiday on face masks 'the wrong thing to do', says Wales' health minister

Wales' health minister has said he is "really concerned" about the UK Government's plans not to extend the VAT relief on personal protective equipment (PPE).

Downing Street defended the plan to end the VAT holiday earlier today (12:57pm). 

But Vaughan Gething said: "As we are in a second wave in every part of the UK, to load 20 per cent of extra cost onto PPE just cannot be the right thing to do."

He said the Welsh Government would be in touch with their Westminster counterparts "to make clear we think this is the wrong thing to do, to ask them to reconsider and to consider the impact on our health and care services," he added.

"I hope that the UK Government will listen and reflect on that and change course before that VAT waiver is lifted," Mr Gething said.  "Hopefully there will be some cross-party support to make sure we can all encourage the UK Chancellor [Rishi Sunak] to do the right thing."

Wales' health minister Vaughan Gething - Getty
Wales' health minister Vaughan Gething - Getty

02:06 PM

Government will not remain 'static' on free school meals, says Defence Secretary

The Government will not remain "static" on free school meals, the Defence Secretary has said today, as he stressed how "incredibly generous" it has been so far. 

Ben Wallce defended the support that has been increased in response to the pandemic, including a rise in Universal Credit and £63 million being given to local councils "to focus specifically on families in need."

But he added: "The Government will always look at cases as they come in front of them, that is part of the function of the Government, which is to problem-solve as we see something.

"If there is still need or if this Covid crisis continues to kick in and more lockdowns happen, of course the Government will look at other alternatives, or other solutions. We're not going to sit there in a static environment."

He went on: "Overall this Government has been, from everything from business rate relief, to wages subsidies, to increase in benefits, has been incredibly generous with tax receipts to make sure we get through this crisis.

"I don't think anyone can say - our schemes are some of the most generous in Europe - and I think as a result people will understand that we're always trying to make sure that when we help, we help those most in need, but at the same time balance the other requirements of the economy and indeed of public spending."

01:51 PM

Boris Johnson must extend free school meals - then 'go much further', says Social Mobility Commission

The Government's own advisory committee on social mobility has backed Marcus Rashford's campaign on free school meals - but said ministers must go "much further" in ending child poverty. 

The Social Mobility Commission has urged the Government to extend free school meals during school holidays until Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

A commission spokesman said: "We know that the current pandemic is having its greatest impact on the poorest regions in Britain where people are already struggling to afford food for their families.

He added: "Our earlier research this year showed that 600,000 more children are in poverty than in 2012. We believe the Government should do all it can to start reversing that trend.

"It should begin by ensuring that all children are properly fed but it needs to go much further. We now need a much more ambitious programme to combat child poverty."

01:41 PM

Brexit: 'Time is very short' to bridge gaps, warns Downing Street

Downing Street has warned "time is very short" to bridge the "significant" gaps between the UK and European Union sides, as Brexit talks continue today.

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier has delayed his return to Brussels until Wednesday to carry on intensive discussions with his British counterpart Lord Frost. He had been expected to return on Sunday ahead of the talks switching this week to the Belgian capital.

The decision to stay in London was thought, at least in part, to be related to soaring coronavirus infection rates in Brussels.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We are in now what is an intensive phase of negotiations. I wouldn't wish to pre-empt what's being discussed.

"It's the first time that we have been negotiating on legal texts and across all areas at the same time and we have welcomed that fact.

"But there is also much work to be done if we are going to bridge what are the significant gaps that remain between our positions in the most difficult areas and time is very short."

01:27 PM

Labour 'will hold Prime Minister to his word' on hungry children, says shadow minister

Labour's shadow education secretary has said the Prime Minister must make children "a national priority" or face another vote on free school meals.

Kate Green said: "Warm words from Boris Johnson will do nothing for the over 1.4 million children at risk of going hungry this half term that he and his MPs refused to help last week.

"Labour will not give up on the children and families let down by this Government and we will hold the Prime Minister to his word, forcing another vote in Parliament if necessary.

"The Government must now make children a national priority, and ensure that no child goes hungry."

However, somewhat undermining Ms Green's position of moral superiority is that she told activists that the pandemic could be a "good crisis" for her party, something which has been repeatedly seized on by Boris Johnson and his ministers. 

Kate Green warns that Labour will force another free school meals vote - Heathcliff O'Malley
Kate Green warns that Labour will force another free school meals vote - Heathcliff O'Malley

01:16 PM

Lobby latest: Boris Johnson has full confidence in Dido Harding

Boris Johnson continues to have "full confidence" in Baroness Dido Harding as head of NHS Test and Trace, despite senior Tories suggesting she should be replaced.

Sir Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Liaison Committee, yesterday called for her to be removed after latest official figures showed fewer than 60 per cent of the contacts of people testing positive for Covid-19 were being traced and told to self-isolate.

Mr Johnson's official spokesman said: "I think we've certainly set out before that the Prime Minister continues to have full confidence in Dido Harding.

"NHS Test and Trace has built a testing capacity of over 360,000-a-day from a starting point of 2,000-a-day in March - that is a bigger figure per head than in France, Germany, Italy and Spain. 1.1 million have been contacted and told to self-isolate.

"But as you've also heard the Prime Minister say, the system does need to improve especially in terms of the turnaround times for tests and we expect that to happen."

01:15 PM

Black Lives Matter applies to register as political party

Black Lives Matter has submitted an application to the Electoral Commission to register as political party. 

The movement, which began in the US after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin in 2012, gained ground worldwide following a series of events earlier this year, particularly the killing of George Floyd. 

Protesters in the UK took to the streets in defiance of lockdown rules, demanding justice for transport worker Belly Mujinga and others, as the racial disparity in health outcomes from Covid began to emerge. 

Today the Electoral Commission revealed the group is now seeking a formal status as a political party across the UK. 

01:01 PM

Boris Johnson: Brexit and US elections are 'entirely separate'

Boris Johnson has insisted there is no relationship between the US election result and the next step on Brexit trade talks, amid claims he is holding off on his next step until he knows who will be named president. 

Yesterday Sir Ivan Rogers, who was the UK’s permanent representative in Brussels from 2013 to 2017, told the Observer: “Several very senior sources in capitals have told me they believe Johnson will await clarity on the presidential election result before finally deciding whether to jump to ‘no deal’ with the EU, or to conclude that this is just too risky with Biden heading for the White House, and hence live with some highly suboptimal skinny free-trade agreement.”

Asked if the Government was waiting for the result, the Prime Minister  said: "The two things are entirely separate.

"On the EU negotiations, that's obviously, they've come back, I'm very glad to say, to discuss the way forward, we'll see where we go.

"On the US presidential election, every UK Prime Minister will say the same. The US is the closest and most important ally and we don't believe in getting involved in the presidential election."

12:57 PM

Lobby latest: Government defends removal of VAT holiday from face masks and PPE

The Government has defended the decision to remove the VAT holiday on face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) at the end of the month.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "It is probably worth me setting out what the VAT relief on PPE was designed to do, and that was to accelerate supply to the health and social care sectors when supply did not match demand earlier this year.

"What it did was save them around £200 billion when they needed it.

"Prices and supply have now stabilised and we have committed to providing free PPE to every adult care home, who have been the main beneficiaries of this tax relief, until March 2021.

"Also most businesses can recover any VAT that they will incur (when buying) PPE as business expenses."

12:55 PM

Lobby latest: Government on course for 500,000 daily testing target, Downing Street claims

The Government is still on target to increase coronavirus testing capacity to 500,000 per day by the end of the month, despite the deadline approaching in only five days, Number 10 has said.

"The target still stands and I think we have set out that it is our intention to meet that figure by the end of the month," said the Prime Minister's official spokesman.

"It (the target) is capacity for 500,000 per day."

Pressed on how the current capacity would increase from 369,000 to 500,000 in such a short amount of time, the spokesman added: "We have known throughout that the target was to have a capacity of 500,000 by the end of (October).

"We are working to get additional laboratory capacity coming on stream."

12:53 PM

Lobby latest: Trick or treating OK if you live in lower Tiers, says Downing Street

Downing Street has suggested that trick or treating can take place this Halloween as long as the respective tier-related social distancing rules in each area are adhered to.

Asked about the prospect of trick or treating being banned this year, the Prime Minister's official spokesman: "The rules are those which apply to household mixing in general and what that means in practice is if you in a Very High alert level then you cannot mix with other households indoors or in private outdoor spaces.

"If you're in a High Covid alert level then the rule of six applies in private gardens and outdoor spaces but households must not mix indoors.

"And in terms of the Medium alert level, you can meet indoors and outdoors in groups of no more than six people.

"The rules are there for all circumstances and people will have to use their commons sense in ensuring they are following the rules."

12:50 PM

Prime Minister 'salutes' Marcus Rashford as he admits they've not spoken since June

Boris Johnson has said "I totally salute" Marcus Rashford as he was forced to admit he has not spoken to the footballer since June. 

This morning Matt Hancock suggested the pair had been in communication following the England striker's letter in September warning that inaction would lead to "devastating effects on the stability of our country." 

Asked about the growing row over free school meals, the Prime Minister said: "We've now got kids back in school, that’s the most important thing. So we think the best way of tackling holiday hunger. It is an issue, and you know people like Marc Rashford, I totally salute and understand where he’s coming from. This is something we need to focus on, the issue of holiday hunger.

He added: "I haven't spoken to Marcus since June [but] I think what he is doing is terrific. We support local councils, indeed we fund local councils and many organisation that are helping, but we also uplifting UC by £1,000 and we think that is one of the best ways to help family in this tough time."

12:40 PM

Wales' health minister apologises after Tesco banned woman from buying sanitary products

Wales' health minister Vaughan Gething has apologised after a woman was incorrectly told she could not buy sanitary products at a Tesco store due to the firebreak lockdown.

Tesco has apologised over the error and said an aisle selling sanitary items at one of its stores was temporarily closed due to a break-in (11:27am).

Mr Gething told a press conference in Cardiff he was "saddened" by the event. "This is simply wrong," he added. "It's an incorrect reading of the regulations and the guidance. I am very sorry that this woman was given this information.

"Supermarkets are open and trading as are many other shops and are able to sell the wide range of everyday items that we all need.

"But there are some other items that won't be on sale for the next two weeks. These are items that other high street shops, which are currently closed, can't sell at the moment."

12:38 PM

Scotland's five tiers to be unveiled ahead of parliamentary debate, says Nicola Sturgeon

The geographic division of Scotland into five tiers will be set out ahead of a coronavirus debate in the Scottish Parliament tomorrow, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.

The new five-level approach will be introduced from November 2 and the level will depend on the spread of Covid-19 in local authority areas.

Areas in the central belt which are currently subject to stricter local restrictions are likely to be classified as level three, while other areas may be equivalent to level two, the First Minister said. 

Speaking today, Ms Sturgeon said a "sustained" fall of virus transmission will be needed for an area to move down tiers.

"The best way of moving to a lower level of restrictions and of living more freely is to have a lower level of transmission of the virus," she told the daily press conference. "The best way we have of driving transmission lower and keeping it low is for all of us to stick to the rules that are in place at any given time.

"And that, of course, is a collective responsibility for all of us."

12:34 PM

Commons chamber 'brings out the best' in MPs, says Speaker

The Speaker has defended the adversarial nature of the Commons chamber, arguing that it "brings out the best" in politicians.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle conceded that last week's Commons debate on extending free school meals during the holidays had become "overheated" but praised his deputy, Dame Eleanor Laing, for intervening to restore order after Tory MP Chris Clarkson accused Angela Rayner of calling him "scum".

"It was a very overheated debate," hr told Times Radio. "It was important that the debate continued, but you've got to take the heat out of it... we want a nicer Parliament, we want a nicer chamber."

 

"I think it is pretty unique, isn't it?" Sir Lindsay said of the Commons layout. "You look at the European Parliament - magnificent for a modern building - but it's nothing like the House of Commons chamber, is it?

"The House of Commons has got that real feel, hasn't it? Let's look into your eyes, let's see what you're really saying, let's look at the meaning of this, and I think it brings out the best."

12:19 PM

Have your say: Should Boris Johnson give more support on free school meals?

Boris Johnson is facing another firestorm of its own making, amid growing anger over its refusal to back down on free school meals. 

Senior Tories including Sir Bernard Jenkin and Caroline Nokes have called on ministers to rethink their stance after MPs were deluged with emails from outraged constituents for backing the Government on an opposition day motion calling for free school meals to be extended over the October half-term. Labour's Wes Streeting this morning said the position is "morally bankrupt".

It is thought that a U-turn could be on the cards - but it may be too late for this week. 

What should the Prime Minister do? Have your say in the poll below.

12:06 PM

Matt Hancock hints at free school meals concession as he admits there is 'question' about best approach

The Health Secretary has conceded there is a question about how England's poorest children are fed during school holidays, amid growing speculation that Number 10 is readying a concession. 

Matt Hancock defended the Government's position on free school meals today, saying "of course" ministers believed that "no child should go hungry", and that he had been inspired by the campaign led by England footballer Marcus Rashford. 

He told Sky News: "I agree very strongly with the purpose of the campaign... the purpose is that no child should go hungry. The question is how we fulfill that."

During an interview with BBC Breakfast he dodged a question about whether central Government would hand local authorities more cash, repeatedly highlighting the £63 million councils were given during the summer as being intended for this kind of support. 

Speaking to the Today programme, the Health Secretary added: "There is constantly work ongoing with councils, especially given their finances have been hard hit by this pandemic, to ensure they can provide services they need to."

12:00 PM

Boris Johnson: Children will not go hungry because of 'Government inattention'

Boris Johnson has he does not want to see children "go hungry this winter... certainly not as a result of any Government inattention", as the row over free school meals intensifies. 

The Prime Minister was forced to clarify that he had not spoken to Marcus Rashford since June, after the England footballer rejected claims the pair had communicated earlier today. 

"What he is doing is terrific," said Mr Johnson during a visit to a hospital. "We support local councils, and indeed we fund local councils and many of the organisations who have been stepping in."

The Prime Minister stressed the Government was also "uplifting Universal Credit" which was "one of the best ways you can help families in these tough times". 

He added: "I totally understand the issue. It is there, we have to deal with it. The debate is how you deal with it."

11:42 AM

Priti Patel urged to crack down on 'pimping websites'

The Home Secretary has been urged to crack down on "pimping websites", which a senior Labour MP has described as a national scandal.

Dame Diana Johnson called on Priti Patel to bring forward legislation to criminalise the use of such websites and to close them down.

The MP for Hull North said a "significant" number of women are being trafficked from Romania, leading to an online summit on Monday for concerned politicians and policymakers to get together to try to tackle the issue.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "One of the obvious things to do is to criminalise the paying, the demand for sex, for paying for sex whilst you decriminalise for the victims and you give them support and also you deal with this problem of these pimping websites which are bringing together advertising in a very easy way.

"This is a trade, it's a business model that we're wanting to tackle....[and] Priti Patel as Home Secretary could bring forward legislation to criminalise the use of those websites and to close them down," the chairwoman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation added. 

11:27 AM

Tesco apologises after banning sale of sanitary products under Wales' firebreak lockdown

Tesco has apologised after it mistakenly prevented customers from buying sanitary products as part of new lockdown measures in Wales.

Over the weekend the supermarket responded to shoppers on Twitter saying: "We understand how frustrating these changes will be for our Welsh customers. However, we have been told by the Welsh Government not to sell these items for the duration of the firebreak lockdown."

The Welsh Government later corrected Tesco, tweeting: "This is wrong - period products are essential. Supermarkets can still sell items that can be sold in pharmacies.

"Only selling essential items during firebreak is to discourage spending more time than necessary in shops. It should not stop you accessing items that you need."

The company has now apologised, adding that the issue was localised to one store and is being urgently rectified.

"Of course sanitary products are essential items and are available to customers in all of our stores including those in Wales," a spokesperson said. "The reply to this customer was sent by mistake and we're very sorry for any confusion caused."

11:21 AM

Jeremy Warner: Sorry to say, but I’ve never been more worried for Britain’s future

Business people tend to be natural optimists and pragmatists. Where there is a problem, the job is to fix it, move on and seize the opportunities that lie ahead. Yet even the most positively minded of bosses are struggling to maintain that mindset against the backdrop of today’s multi-faceted array of challenges.

Rarely if ever have I seen them quite as gloomy and downbeat, writes Jeremy Warner.

At the very moment that as a nation we have chosen to cast aside the moorings of the European Union and head for the high seas of the world beyond, we face a perfect storm of negatives, with virtually everything that could go wrong having already done so or threatening to at any moment.

11:05 AM

Driverless trains would cost TfL £7bn, leaked document reveals

Introducing driverless trains across London Underground would cost £7 billion and would represent "poor value for money", according to a leaked document.

A presentation prepared for senior Transport for London (TfL) managers said the case for driverless Tube trains "is not financially positive given the high capital costs".

The document says: "Staffing efficiencies are offset by increased maintenance costs of the additional safety systems, surveillance, security fencing etc required... Its implementation network-wide will present a considerable affordability challenge which will further exacerbate TfL's current financial and longer-term funding position."  

The drivers' union Aslef, which obtained the leaked document, said it proved the idea - which has been backed by Boris Johnson in the past - is a "politically-driven fantasy".

A TfL spokesman said: "We put together this analysis for the KPMG review into TfL's finances, commissioned by the Government following the emergency funding agreement agreed in May. The possibilities, costs and benefits of driverless trains are things that TfL has looked at in the past and will continue to keep under review but it is not something we are actively pursuing."

11:01 AM

ICYMI: How a ten-hour standoff on an oil tanker near the Isle of Wight ended in just nine minutes

When flashlights were spotted darting around the deck of the Nave Andromeda, it was clear that the 10-hour standoff was nearly over.

Under the cover of darkness, six miles off the Isle of Wight, sixteen Royal Navy Special Boat Service commandos dropped down from four hovering helicopters and took back control of the 228-metre oil tanker from a gang of seven stowaways.

The raid lasted just nine minutes, but the dramatic climax was nearly three weeks in the making.

Read the full inside story here

10:39 AM

Extend free school meals - but don't make it permanent, says former children's minister

A former children's minister and Conservative MP called on the Government to extend free school meals through half term, and "probably" into the Christmas holidays.

Tim Loughton told BBC 5Live on Monday: "It's not a matter of a U-turn. The Government has given unprecedented amounts of money during the pandemic.

"The total bill is now over £215bn, of which a large amount is on welfare measures, not least a £20 extra on Universal Credit which is really, really welcome.

"Let's just do it over half term and probably into Christmas and that would continue doing a lot of good.

"I think it's just so much easier, it's a simple and effective method that you carry on free schools meals."

The East Worthing and Shoreham MP added that there is a "concern" in Government that the funding would be open-ended and added that he does want it to become a "permanent commitment".

10:25 AM

Tobias Ellwood: I've changed my mind on free school meals - and I hope ministers do too

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood has admitted he regretted voting against the original motion on free school meals, and said he had been “convinced" that extending the support was the best way forward.

While he criticised the “Punch and Judy” politics of the original Labour motion, Mr Ellwood told the Telegraph: “We owe a debt of support to a generation of children who have had their lives impacted in a way we've not seen since the war and we should do everything we can to provide support to them.  

The Defence Select Committee Chair said that the Government should not be afraid of changing its mind on the issue and insisted that doing so would be a “sign of strength”.

Retaining the good will of the public would be vital to the Government’s coronavirus response, he added.

“At this time should we be expending political capital or working more with the grain? I hope common sense will prevail.”

10:00 AM

Pub curfew to come under further pressure after study suggests it has no impact on contacts

The Government is likely to come under further pressure to drop the unpopular ‘rule of six’ and 10pm curfew, after a study suggested they were having "zero effect" in reducing contacts.

For the ‘rule of six’, nearly one third said they had fewer contacts, while 26 per cent said they had seen more people, researchers at the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) found.  However, the majority of participants saw the same number of people, and there was no change in the overall mean number of contacts for the whole group between the two time periods. 

Likewise for the 10pm curfew, researchers found ‘near identical’ numbers of people had increased and decreased their contacts since it was implemented. 

Behind the scenes Tory MPs are still deeply unhappy about the curfew, and have been calling on the Government to consider tweaks such as allowing "drinking up time" or later closing on Fridays and Saturdays. 

But ministers have insisted there is (as yet unpublished) evidence to back up the policy.

09:52 AM

The week on Planet Normal: Now is the winter of our discontent

The lockdown consensus is cracking. Until recently, to criticise anti-Covid restrictions was to be cast out from polite society. Those questioning conventional wisdom were “nutters” or “Trumpian” – selfish libertarians only out for themselves.

When lockdown was first imposed in March, we worked from home and clapped for the NHS on our doorsteps – it was “only for a couple weeks”. Then restrictions were extended... but the weather was good, we saved money on train fares and so many were able to treat it as “family time”.

The contrast with today’s lockdown is stark. The rule of six, and now this wildly incoherent three-tiered regional clampdown, is fuelling simmering discontent. The public is getting angry at what the political class is doing to them, and also with mainstream broadcasters who seem asleep on the job.

Planet Normal podcast - latest three episodes (auto updates)
Planet Normal podcast - latest three episodes (auto updates)

09:47 AM

Anne Longfield: 'Unthinkable' to leave children without food over Christmas holidays

Boris Johnson's position on free school meals  is "out of step with the rest of the UK", the children's commissioner for England has said. 

Anne Longfield told BBC Breakfast it would be "unthinkable that children in this country would face Christmas without the food they need during this pandemic when others around the UK have got the support of their governments."

She warned there was "a task ahead" for ministers to right the situation, saying they must act quickly "for a long-term plan".

09:29 AM

Matt Hancock: Vaccine could be available this year

Matt Hancock has said he does not “rule out” the chance of people receiving a coronavirus vaccine before the end of the year.

The Health Secretary said the vaccine was “not there yet” but when asked if some people could receive a vaccine this year he told the Today programme: "I don't rule that out but that is not my central expectation."

The Government is preparing to roll out the vaccine with his expectation it would be available by the first half of 2021.

"We want to be ready in case everything goes perfectly but it's not my central expectation that we'll be doing that this year but the programme is progressing well, we're not there yet," he said. 

The vaccine, being developed by the University of Oxford, produces an immune response in both elderly and young people and adverse reactions were lower among the elderly, British drug maker AstraZeneca Plc said today.

Coronavirus animated spread - 1 million deaths
Coronavirus animated spread - 1 million deaths

09:25 AM

Have your say: Should Boris Johnson give more support on free school meals?

Boris Johnson is facing another firestorm of its own making, amid growing anger over its refusal to back down on free school meals. 

Senior Tories including Sir Bernard Jenkin and Caroline Nokes have called on ministers to rethink their stance after MPs were deluged with emails from outraged constituents for backing the Government on an opposition day motion calling for free school meals to be extended over the October half-term. Labour's Wes Streeting this morning said the position is "morally bankrupt".

It is thought that a U-turn could be on the cards - but it may be too late for this week. 

What should the Prime Minister do? Have your say in the poll below.

09:06 AM

Marcus Rashford: Boris Johnson has not been in touch since June's U-turn

Marcus Rashford has questioned Matt Hancock's assertion that the Prime Minister had been in touch over his free school meals campaign.

The 22-year old England striker had written to Boris Johnson back in September to ask him to reconsider the Government's stance on free school meals over holidays, warning "if we don’t take action quickly, the issue of child food poverty will have devastating effects on the stability of our country." 

The Health Secretary told BBC Breakfast: "There has been communication between the two, as far as I understand it."

But Mr Rashford said the two have not been in touch since June.

08:59 AM

Tory MPs decision to block free school meals 'morally bankrupt', says Labour frontbencher

The decision by Conservative MPs to block free school meals is "morally bankrupt", shadow schools minister has said.

Speaking to Times Radio, Wes Streeting said: "We face difficult choices in politics all the time (but) I don't think that feeding hungry children is a difficult choice - it would strike me to be a blindingly obvious choice.

"But nonetheless, too many Conservative MPs blindly followed the whip but I think now, having seen the public outcry on this, Number 10 will want to rethink the policy.

"And I hope that they will U-turn before we even need to bring another vote because what they've done this week is just morally bankrupt," the Labour frontbencher added. "It has left children at risk this half-term.

"Many councils are stepping in to the breach but that means we've effectively got a postcode lottery this week where children will only be fed in an area where a council is providing free school meals or local businesses are stepping up to the plate."

Wes Streeting said it was "blindingly obvious" that free school meals should have been backed - Heathcliff O'Malley
Wes Streeting said it was "blindingly obvious" that free school meals should have been backed - Heathcliff O'Malley

08:50 AM

Wales' health minister defends decision to ban sale of non-essential items

Wales' health minister has defended the decision to stop supermarkets selling non-essential items during the firebreak lockdown, after pictures of children's clothes, books and greeting cards being blocked off went viral this weekend. 

The Welsh Government is due to discuss the ban, which has been heavily criticised over the weekend, with supermarkets on Monday.

"We're looking to have that clarity so you don't see cards, for example, sealed up in one shop but available in another," Vaughan Gething told Sky News.

"We want the clarity on the principle that if there really are exceptional circumstances when someone needs what would otherwise be a non-essential item, that can happen as well.

"We want that clarity because this potentially overshadows the much bigger issue of having a firebreak to save people's lives."

Childrens clothes in a supermarket near Cardiff are deemed non-essential items and are cordoned off as Wales entered a two-week "firebreak"  - PA
Childrens clothes in a supermarket near Cardiff are deemed non-essential items and are cordoned off as Wales entered a two-week "firebreak" - PA

08:43 AM

Matt Hancock opens the door to free school meals concession

Matt Hancock has opened the door to the Government giving additional support to councils so they can fund free school meals during holidays, amid rumours that a concession is imminent. 

It is thought that ministers could be poised to announce additional cash to help support the poorest families in the country, following widespread anger at Number 10's refusal to extend the support it had given during the summer. 

Speaking to the Today programme this morning, the Health Secretary said: "There is constantly work ongoing with councils, especially given their finances have been hard hit by this pandemic, to ensure they can provide services they need to. 

"Extra money has gone into councils, including for this purpose," he said. "Central government, councils and private companies are all playing a role in trying to support the goal we all share."

Asked if a U-turn was coming, he said: "Obviously it is not my area of policy to speak about... Our attitude and purpose is to ensure that everybody gets the support they need and ensure, of course, that no child goes hungry. 

"The question is how best to do it," he added. "Councils have got very important role in this."

08:33 AM

Matt Hancock pays tribute to Dido Harding as Test & Trace reaches record-low contacts

Matt Hancock has pledged his support for Baroness Harding, head of NHS Test & Trace, despite increasing issues with the system.

Last week it hit a record low with just 59.6 per cent of the contacts of people who tested positive for the disease being successfully contacted and told to self-isolate.

Asked on BBC Breakfast if she is the right person for the job, Mr Hancock replied: "Yes, of course."

He said: "I look at the whole system and how it's operating. It's really easy to pick at one individual data point, but you have got to look at the system as a whole.

"This is a system that's expanding fast and is absolutely critical to helping reduce the spread of the virus."

Speaking to Sky News, he said "I pay tribute to Dido Harding" and the others working on the operation.

08:29 AM

Ministers will 'rule nothing out' on creating fourth tier of restrictions, says Matt Hancock

The Government will "rule nothing out" on the prospect of a new fourth tier of restrictions, Matt Hancock has said, although stressed the three levels appear to be working as they are.

The Health Secretary told BBC Breakfast: "We've always said all along that we take nothing off the table.

"Having said that, we have seen the rise in the number of cases has slowed a bit.

"The problem is it's still going up, and while it's still going up we've got to act to get it under control.

"We rule nothing out but at the moment the three-tier system is what we're working to and it's effective in slowing the growth of this virus but it hasn't brought this curve to a halt."

Three-tier Covid lockdown map
Three-tier Covid lockdown map

08:19 AM

Decision to cut self-isolation time will be based on clinical science, says Matt Hancock

Proposals to cut isolation time for people who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 from 14 days to seven will be based "entirely" on "the clinical science", Matt Hancock has said. 

Yesterday the Sunday Telegraph revealed that officials on Boris Johnson's Covid-19 taskforce were examining the case for cutting the fortnight period of isolation to between seven and ten days, amid concerns about compliance.

He told Sky News: "It's always under review. You might remember that a couple of months ago we increased the amount of time that people who have a positive test have to isolate from seven days to 10 days.

"That's a clinical decision."

Mr Hancock said France has reduced the amount of time people have to isolate based on clinical advice, adding: "So it isn't about the compliance issue. It's about the overall clinical judgment of what time is required for isolation.

"Obviously I'd rather have isolation as short as is reasonably possible because of the impact it has on people's lives, but it must be safe."

He said the Government will be "guided by the science as we have been in all decisions in this pandemic".

08:13 AM

Boris Johnson has responded to Marcus Rashford over free school meals, says Matt Hancock

Boris Johnson had responded to a letter from free school meals campaigner Marcus Rashford, Matt Hancock has said. 

The Health Secretary told BBC Breakfast: "There has been communication between the two, as far as I understand it.

"We have all seen what Marcus Rashford has done, and the way he has conducted himself in this campaign I think is absolutely exemplary.

"He is making an argument based on his personal experience for the benefit of people who really need that support."

Pressed on the response from Number 10, Mr Hancock added: "I'm not in charge of the Prime Minister's correspondence - if there hasn't been, I'm sure that that will be followed up."

08:10 AM

Matt Hancock: 'Absolutely wonderful' that businesses are stepping into breach on free school meals

Matt Hancock has said it is "absolutely wonderful" that businesses and "brilliant" that councils have stepped into the breach and help with free school meals. 

Many of these organisations have expressed anger and dismay that they have had to do so. 

But the Health Secretary stressed it was a sign of the country coming together.

"I think that's absolutely wonderful that companies have come forward and are playing their part and supporting people in these very difficult times," he told Sky News. "I also think that it's brilliant that the councils are coming forward, having been funded by central government.

"£63 million has gone to councils so that they can do exactly what you say, so that they can support people and make sure that everybody and every child gets the support that they need."

Mr Hancock said "of course" he welcomes the support from councils "because that is the councils delivering with the funding that has been provided by central government".

He told Sky News: "I saw yesterday that Marcus Rashford called for people to work together, for collaboration on this, and I strongly agree with that.

"It's about making sure that we give everybody the best possible start in life in what are very difficult circumstances."

08:08 AM

Matt Hancock: I agree with Marcus Rashford's 'purpose' on free school meals

Matt Hancock has said he agrees "very strongly" with "the purpose" of Marcus Rashford's campaign on free school meals, amid growing anger at the Government's position.

The Health Secretary told Sky News: "I think we're all inspired by the way that he's led that campaign.

"And the purpose is that no child should go hungry, and that's right.

"The question is how we then fulfill that, and so I think that there is a need during this pandemic, and at all times, for the country to come together and to support people and that's what we're doing putting that investment in."

Mr Hancock said the Government has put a "huge" amount of extra investment to support people during the coronavirus pandemic, and referred to "an extra £20 a week into Universal Credit".

07:53 AM

Boris Johnson faces Tory revolt over free school meals

​Former ministers are leading a growing Tory revolt on free school meals as they told Boris Johnson to come up with “something better” or they would vote against the Government.

Up to 100 Tory MPs were said to be sharing furious texts over the Government’s handling of England footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free school meals in the holidays, and the way it handed a political coup to Labour.

MPs described it as "shockingly inept", a "political disaster”, and "hopeless communication" as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer took advantage of the Tory disarray to pledge a second vote on Rashford’s appeal for free meals for children in need to be funded over the school holidays until Easter 2021.

Read the full story here.