Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, if he will extend the validity of driving theory tests to take into account the cancellation of practical driving tests during lockdown measures.
A: (Rachel Maclean, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Department for Transport) The maximum duration of two years between passing the theory test and a subsequent practical test is in place for road safety reasons; to ensure that a candidate’s knowledge is current. This validity period is set in legislation and the Government has no current plans to lay further legislation to extend it.
It is important that road safety knowledge and hazard perception skills are up to date at the critical point that new drivers drive unsupervised for the first time. Those who have not been able to practice are most likely to see their knowledge base diminish and research suggests that this would be particularly harmful for hazard perception skills.
Ensuring new drivers have current relevant knowledge and skills is a vital part of the training of new drivers, who are disproportionality represented in casualty statistics. Taking all this into consideration, the decision has been made not to extend theory test certificates and learners will need to pass another theory test if their certificate expires.
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what discussions he has had with sports-related event organisers on the importance of ensuring that fans receive full ticket refunds in the event of cancellations caused by changes in covid-19 tier restrictions.
A: (Nigel Huddleston, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) I expect all sports events to look after their fans in line with the relevant consumer rights legislation, good practice and their wider legal obligations. Where organisations offer fans additional ways to support their club - such as foregoing refunds in lieu of vouchers or donations - this is a decision for the organisations themselves.
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what steps her Department is taking to support former members of extremist faith groups and protect them from harassment and intimidation.
A: (James Brokenshire Minister of State, Home Department) Our manifesto gave a clear commitment to protect those who work in counter extremism from threats and intimidation. Where individuals are subject to harassment and intimidation they should report this to the police.
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether she plans to have discussions with the Governments of (a) Australia and (b) Canada on frozen overseas pensions; and is she will make a statement.
A: (Guy Opperman, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) The Secretary of State has no plans for discussions with either Australia or Canada, and the Government has no plans to change its policy on the uprating of UK State Pensions overseas. This is a longstanding policy which has been supported by successive Governments for over 70 years.
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whether he has made an assessment of the potential merits of the Bingo Association's offer for its bingo halls to be used as vaccine distribution centres.
A: (Nadhim Zahawi, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care) The National Health Service is grateful for the support that businesses have offered and is in the process of establishing vaccination centres across the country that can manage the logistical challenge of needing to store the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at an appropriate temperature.
Our approach, with three delivery models – community teams, vaccination sites, and hospital hubs – has been devised to be flexible and reach all parts of the country. The phased vaccination programme - which began on 8 December 2020 with hospital hubs - will be expanded over the coming weeks and months to include local vaccination services and large-scale vaccination centres across the country. More than 730 vaccination sites have already been established across the UK and hundreds more are opening this week to take the running total to over 1,000.
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he has made an assessment of the potential merits of closing early-years settings alongside the closure of primary and secondary schools during the covid-19 lockdown period that commenced on 5 January 2021, in (a) England and (b) Havering.
A: (Vicky Ford, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education) My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 4 January 2021 that early years settings remain open for all children during the national lockdown. Details can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home.
Schools have been restricted because additional measures are needed to contain the spread of the virus. The wider significant restrictions in place as part of the national lockdown to contain the spread of the virus in the community enable us to continue prioritising keeping nurseries and childminders open, supporting parents and delivering the crucial care and education needed for our youngest children.
Early years settings remain low risk environments for children and staff. Current evidence suggests that pre-school children (0 to 5 years) are less susceptible to infection and are unlikely to be playing a driving role in transmission. There is no evidence the new strain of the virus causes more serious illness in either children or adults and there is no evidence that the new variant of coronavirus disproportionately affects young children.
PHE advice remains that the risk of transmission and infection is low if early years settings follow the system of controls, which reduce risks and create inherently safer environments.
Early years settings have been open to all children since 1 June 2020 and there is no evidence that the early years sector has contributed to a rise in virus cases within the community. Early modelling evidence from SAGE showed that early years provision had a smaller relative impact on transmission rate when modelled with both primary schools and secondary schools.
Early years childcare providers were one of the first sectors to have restrictions lifted last summer, in recognition of the key role they play in society. Childminders and nursery staff across the country have worked hard to keep settings open through the COVID-19 outbreak so that young children can be educated, and parents can work. The earliest years are the most crucial point of child development and attending early education lays the foundation for lifelong learning and supports children’s social and emotional development. We continue to prioritise keeping early years settings open in full because of the clear benefits to children’s education and wellbeing and to support working parents. Caring for the youngest age group is not something that can be done remotely.
These plans are being kept under review in the light of emerging scientific evidence. We are working with the scientific community to understand the properties and dynamics of the new variant VUI-202012/01 in relation to children and young people.
The department has been working closely with local authorities to assess the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, setting up dedicated regional teams that are in frequent contact. Bringing together expertise from across the department, these teams monitor the challenges local authorities are facing. Our London regional team is in close contact with Havering and will be assessing the situation for early years settings in the authority.
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment his Department has made of the effect of the closure of gyms in areas under tier 4 covid-19 restrictions on the (a) mental health and b) physical wellbeing of people who regularly use gyms to exercise.
A: (Nadine Dorries, Minister of State for Department of Health and Social Care) Throughout the pandemic, the Government has listened carefully to the views of the scientific community, the information from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and its sub-groups when making decisions on the best way to tackle the pandemic. The SAGE has provided expert strategic scientific advice to Government throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic, and this can be found at the following link:
The Government is committed to publishing data that has informed its decision making, including the tiers framework and allocations, which can be found at the following link:
Evidence is clear that action is needed on a national scale to suppress the spread of the virus. We have introduced national restrictions to reduce social contact across England. It is therefore necessary for sports facilities, such as golf courses, to close. Whilst these facilities are closed, it remains important for wellbeing to be able to exercise and enjoy outdoor recreation safely, and that is why individuals can continue to do this in public outdoor places under the new restrictions. However, people are advised to remain as local as possible, to act responsibly, and limit transmission risk wherever possible, including by ensuring social distancing with anyone they do not live with. Health is a devolved issue and so each nation is able to make decisions as they see fit.
We understand these rules are difficult for everyone, but reducing social contact is paramount to protecting the National Health Service and saving lives. The Government will keep this under constant review and has published guidance on mental health and wellbeing and this is available at the following link:
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, if he will introduce financial support for parents who are ineligible for the Test and Trace payment and who need to provide childcare at home while their children are self-isolating or the school has closed due to the covid-19 outbreak.
A: (Helen Whately, Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Care) The Test and Trace Support Payment scheme is for people who have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, either because they have tested positive for COVID-19 or have recently been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.
Parents or guardians of children who have to self-isolate because of contact with someone outside their household who has tested positive are not eligible. If a parent and/or guardian needs support because a child has to self-isolate, the NHS Test and Trace service can provide guidance on how to access local support provided by their local authority or by NHS Volunteer Responders.
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what plans are in place to protect staff and patients in hospices from covid-19; and whether he has made an assessment of the potential merits of introducing weekly testing for staff in hospices in line with the policy in care homes.
A: (Helen Whately, Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Care) Hospices have made an incredible contribution during this difficult time going beyond their provision of end of life care, reducing pressure on the wider health and care system and supporting patient choices and outcomes.
The Government has helped hospices get the equipment they need to protect staff and patients. Personal protective equipment push pallet arrangements have been in place since May, providing regular equipment deliveries via central delivery points. The equipment delivered in this way is free of charge to hospices.
The Department is aware that routine asymptomatic testing for hospice staff is a key concern in the sector and is looking urgently at this issue. Anyone working in healthcare with symptoms can already access testing as a priority, including hospice staff.
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, whether he has made an assessment of the potential merits of extending the expiry date of Compulsory Basic Training certificates for motorcyclists, who may be reliant on motorcycles for essential travel and unable to take a full motorcycle license test as a result of covid-19 restrictions.
A: (Rachel Maclean, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) There are no current plans to extend the two-year validity period of a Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) certificate. It is important that learners have the skills to be competent and safe riders and have up to date road safety knowledge as they prepare to take their test. To extend the validity period would require regulatory change.
Minimising the risk to road safety has always been a priority in our response to COVID-19. Ensuring riders have the current relevant knowledge and hazard perception skills is a vital part of the training of riders, who are most at risk of being involved in an accident on the road.
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps she is taking to ensure that married women who are state pension age before April 2016 and receive less than 60 per cent of their husband's basic state pension are (a) made aware that they are entitled to an increase up to 60 per cent of their husband's pension, and (b) receive the full amount of their entitlement in a backdated payment.
A: (Guy Opperman, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) The Department is aware of a number of cases where individuals have been underpaid State Pension. We are checking for further cases and any that are found will be looked at in line with the relevant legislation and any arrears payments backdated to the point they became eligible.
Those married women who are already getting a State Pension based on their own National Insurance contributions must make a separate claim for the Category BL top up if their husband reached State Pension age after them and before 17 March 2008. The top up payments can, in accordance with legislation, be backdated for a maximum of 12 months before the date the claim is made.
Any individual who believes they are being underpaid State Pension should contact the Department on the Freephone number 0800 731 0469. Further details on how to do this through the Pension Service are available on the gov.uk website.
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on allowing British visitors the right to stay within the Schengen area without a visa beyond 90 days in any 180-day period.
A: (Wendy Morton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) The Government discussed arrangements with the EU for British Citizens travelling to the Schengen Area. Regrettably, the EU consistently maintained that British Citizens will be treated as Third Country Nationals under the Schengen Borders Code from 1 January 2021. This means that British Citizens will be able to travel visa-free for short stays for up to 90 days in a rolling 180-day period. This is the standard length of stay that the EU offers to nationals of eligible third countries that offer visa-free travel for EU citizens, in line with existing EU legislation.
British Citizens planning to stay longer will need permission from the relevant Member State. This may require applying for a visa and/or permit. Information about travel to Europe is available on gov.uk: https://www.gov.uk/visit-europe-1-january-2021
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whether he has made an assessment of the potential merits of making a distinction between cases of covid-19 infection among staff and residents in Public Health England guidelines on the re-opening of care homes after a covid-19 outbreak so that care homes whose residents have not had a case of covid-19 infection for 28 days are permitted to take on new residents.
A: (Helen Whately, Minister of State for Department of Health and Social Care) Section 3 of ‘Admission and care of residents in a care home during COVID-19’ provides information to care home providers on the reporting of COVID-19 cases and outbreak management. The guidance is available on GOV.UK. In the instance of a single possible or confirmed case of COVID-19 within the care home, providers should inform their local Health Protection Team (HPT) at Public Health England. It is the role of the HPT to provide advice and support to help the care home manage the outbreak, along with local authority partners.
The HPT may advise implementing restrictions such as the closure of the home to further admissions, recognising this is usually the care home manager’s decision in discussion with their commissioners and alerting the clinical commissioning group and local authority. The outbreak can be declared over once no new cases among residents or staff have occurred in the 28 days since the onset of symptoms in the most recent case, which is twice the incubation period.
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what steps he is taking to ensure a competitive broadband market in outer London.
A: (Matt Warman, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) The UK broadband market is generally competitive at a retail level, with a wide variety of Internet Service Providers, like Sky and TalkTalk, utilising BT Openreach’s broadband network to provide services across the UK, including in outer London. Much of the UK, including many areas of outer London, will also have access to other broadband networks, including Virgin Media’s network.
The UK has good superfast broadband coverage, with over 96% of premises having access to superfast speeds. As such, the government’s current focus is on delivering faster nationwide gigabit-capable broadband networks as soon as possible. Much progress towards this ambition has already been made, with around 1 in 3 UK premises now able to access gigabit-capable broadband according to the latest figures from Ofcom and ThinkBroadband.
The government believes that the way to deliver gigabit-capable broadband at pace is to encourage greater network competition and commercial investment, and to do so through the following steps:
Making the cost of deploying gigabit capable networks as low as possible by addressing barriers to deployment, which increase costs and cause delays.
Supporting market entry and expansion by alternative network operators through easy access to BT Openreach’s ducts and poles, complemented by access to other utility infrastructure.
Stable and long-term regulation that encourages competitive network investment.
Supporting the timely switchover to new gigabit capable broadband networks.
As the telecoms regulator, Ofcom has a key role in promoting competition. In addition, the government’s first ever Statement of Strategic Priorities (SSP) for telecoms, which was designated in October 2019, reiterated the importance of network competition and commercial investment to the rapid rollout of gigabit-capable broadband. Ofcom has to have regard to the SSP when exercising its regulatory functions and it is currently consulting on its regulations for the broadband market from April 2021 to March 2026. Its stated aim for this review is to promote competition and investment in new full fibre networks.
Some UK premises, mainly those in rural and/or remote areas, are unlikely to benefit from network competition and may not get gigabit-capable broadband in a reasonable timeframe without public sector investment. This is why we are investing £5 billion in these areas through our UK Gigabit programme.
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of lifting the restrictions on solo golf exercise during January 2021 covid-19 lockdown.
A: (Nigel Huddleston, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) Sports and physical activity including golf are incredibly important for our physical and mental health, and are a vital weapon against coronavirus.
On Monday 4 January the Prime Minister announced a national lockdown and instructed people to stay at home to control the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.The National Restrictions are designed to get the R rate under control through limiting social contact and reducing transmissions.
In order for these measures to have the greatest impact, we will all need to sacrifice doing some things that we would otherwise like to do. We have not introduced further exemptions because when you unpick at one activity the effectiveness of the whole package is compromised.
You can continue to exercise alone, with one other person or with your household or support bubble. This should be limited to once per day, in a public outdoor place and you should not travel outside your local area. You should maintain social distancing. Indoor and outdoor sports facilities, including gyms, must close.
We plan to open up sports facilities including golf courses as soon as the public health situation allows.
Q: (Andrew Rosindell) To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what steps he is taking to ensure that staff at covid-19 vaccination centres are equipped with full personal protective equipment.
A: (Jo Churchill, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care) As the largest vaccination programme in the United Kingdom’s history begins, we have worked closely with the National Health Service to understand the personal protective equipment (PPE) needs of the vaccination programme and are confident we can provide a continuous supply to support the rollout in the coming months.
Since February 2020, we have ordered almost 32 billion items of PPE. The majority of this PPE has either been delivered or is en route. By December 2020, we had built a four-month stockpile of all COVID-19 critical PPE, with a tremendous contribution from UK manufacturers. This enables the Government to provide a continuous supply of PPE to the frontline throughout the winter.