School Closures: Support for Pupils — [Dame Angela Eagle in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:56 am on 13th January 2021.

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Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Opposition Whip (Commons) 10:56 am, 13th January 2021

I thank everyone who has participated in today’s debate, in incredibly difficult circumstances. It is clearly an important debate, and the fact that we have been able to hold it is testament to the need for it. I guess we all share some frustration when the Chambers are not available to us, and about not holding the Government to account. The Minister is a decent person, and will understand that the concerns of Esther McVey, for example, are constructive. They may be critical, but we want the best for our children and communities. That is why it so important to have such debates.

I want to give particular recognition to my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh, who has done such sterling leadership work on child poverty and in the education sector. I thank her, having listened to her speak in the Chamber many times. She leads the way on many fronts and is worthy of special recognition.

I shall not go through the individual contributions, but I reiterate my thanks for Members’ participation and for so many important points. I will perhaps summarise just two areas. On free school meals, I understand the Minister’s point about Chartwells and the meeting that took place yesterday, but when businesses apologise, those apologies can be cheap. There are serious amounts of money involved, and profiteering is going on to the detriment of the children and families involved. I urge that the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee should look at the issue. It is a scandal, and a blemish on the work that the Minister is doing—as the Department. I hold the Minister in good regard, but it is right that the matter should be looked at most carefully.

I want to focus on the issue of laptops and digital access. There is poverty in many parts of our modern lives, but in this day and age the idea that the sixth wealthiest nation should have digital poverty and exclusion seems quite wrong. I think back, and perhaps I can put the matter simply by framing it in this way: for a child not to have an exercise book provided by the school, or access to a textbook in class, would be wrong. The school would not allow it. We have to think differently and recognise that digital access through the internet and broadband is crucial—laptops and digital access. Therefore, it should be mandatory for the Government to provide them to every child in our schools.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered support for pupils’ education during school closures.