Matt Hancock told the show’s co-hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid that he was “really glad” the government was able to send out meals while schools are closed under lockdown, while discussing images of food parcels sent to eligible families which drew swift condemnation from the public and ministers.
But when challenged by Mr Morgan about why he voted against extending the meal programme over the school holidays in October last year, Mr Hancock was unable to provide a straight answer or say if he regretted his vote.
In a clip of the segment, immortalised on social media, Mr Hancock is seen attempting to dodge the question and manoeuvre the conversation back to his point about being happy that free schools meals are being provided.
Mr Morgan asked: “If you’re that glad, can I just ask you a difficult question – why did you vote against it?”
“Well, I’m really glad we were able to put it into place,” replied Mr Hancock.
When asked the same question again, the health secretary said: “Well, because, the reason that I’m glad now is because we’ve been able to sort that out and put it in place.”
“Let’s be honest, you got shamed into it by a football player (Marcus Rashford), a young football player with a conscience, who managed to prick the conscience of you and the government,” said Mr Morgan. “Do you regret now, given how glad you are that it’s now happening, do you regret voting against it?”
Mr Hancock replied that he is “of course” pleased the government could ensure free school meals were sent out during the current lockdown, but is interrupted by Mr Morgan, who says the answer should be “yes or no”.
“As I say, I’m really glad that it’s happening now… Put it this way, in the first lockdown, we took this action, and now,” Mr Hancock starts to say before being cut off once again by Mr Morgan, who says: “You either regret it or you don’t.”
“Well, I’m really glad the situation has been resolved,” said Mr Hancock, adding that he is “going to use my own words to describe my feelings about this one”.
“Let’s just hope we don’t have to rely again this week on Marcus Rashford to once again expose the inequity of this system, because these kids are in lockdown, they’re suffering, they’re hungry and they need the proper support from you as health secretary and the government,” concluded Mr Morgan.
The interview was described by viewers on social media as “excruciating” to watch, as the health secretary “squirmed” and appeared “utterly spineless”.
The issue of free school meal food parcels was raised by a mother who shared a photo of what she received, which she described as depressing and “mean”.
Sarah, who declined to be identified to protect her children, is disabled and relies on free school meals. She told the BBC that unpacking the food parcel was “very sad and very depressing”.
The box comprised of: “Two days jacket potato with beans, eight single cheese sandwiches, two days carrots, three days apples, two days Soreen, three days Frubes. Spare pasta and tomato. Will need mayo for pasta salad. Issued instead of £30 vouchers. I could do more with £30 to be honest.”
Speaking on BBC Breakfast earlier, Mr Hancock said the parcel was “clearly inadequate” and that the Department for Education was able to address it “straight away” after it surfaced on social media.
“I think it’s good that we’re able to provide free school meals, even when the schools aren’t in, but obviously they’ve got to be decent meals and this wasn’t,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“If you’re told you’re getting a free school meal, even whilst you’re at home, then that comes through the door, I can imagine how it makes you feel, of course.”