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Petitions

Volume 683: debated on Monday 2 November 2020

Petitions

Monday 2 November 2020

Observations

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Nestlé’s relationship with Fairtrade

The petition of the residents of the United Kingdom,

Declares disappointment in Nestlé’s decision to end its ten year relationship with Fairtrade, switching sugar and cocoa sourcing for KitKat from Fairtrade to Rainforest Alliance accreditation; notes that up to 27,000 farmers in Côte d'Ivoire, Fiji and Malawi stand to lose their Fairtrade Premium; and further declares that these farmers will have less say on how money from that Premium is spent, at a time when those producers are facing unprecedented uncertainty.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to reaffirm its commitment to Fairtrade and urges Nestlé to ultimately reconsider their decision, in order to provide support to producers during a period of considerable uncertainty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Holly Lynch, Official Report, 30 September 2020; Vol. 681, c. 453 .]

[P002600]

Petitions in the same terms were presented by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) [P002601]; the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) [P002602] and the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) [P002604];

Observations from The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (James Duddridge):

The UK Government have been a long-time supporter of the Fairtrade movement with support dating back over a decade. Between 2010 and 2018, they invested over £20.2 million into Fairtrade and are currently funding the Fairtrade Foundation to support Kenyan flower workers and Ghanaian cocoa farmers to recover from the impact of covid-19. The UK Government will continue to be a vocal champion of Fairtrade's work to ensure fair treatment of farmers in global supply chains.

The UK Government are supportive of business choices to enter partnerships with credible sustainability standards. The UK Government are unable to comment on the specific decision by Nestlé to end its relationship with Fairtrade.

Health and Social Care

Closure of gyms in Bradford due to covid-19

The petition of residents of the United Kingdom,

Declares that the continued closure of gyms and fitness facilities in Bradford only is having a grave impact on a vast number of businesses and members, creating a desperate situation with consequences beyond what is being appreciated by those in power; notes that businesses in Bradford that are currently closed have received no additional support during the extra four weeks and are closed at their own cost; further declares that, after over four months of closure, any recovery from these closures becomes more unlikely by the day; further notes that gym members are being forced to travel into neighbouring districts causing a counter intuitive effect in social mixing, and in turn increasing the transmission risk; further declares that Bradford is currently facing an obesity, diabetes and mental health crisis which these facilities are at the forefront of fighting; and further declares that the nature of these closures was based on now out-of-date advice, and not on more recent data that is available and shows that the measures gyms are putting in place greatly mitigate any risk to almost zero.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to allow gyms to reopen in the Bradford district according to covid-secure guidelines.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Judith Cummins , Official Report, 2 September 2020; Vol. 679, c. 254 .]

[P002593]

Observations from The Minister for Care (Helen Whately):

The Government are aware of the impact of closing facilities such as gyms, and the benefits that their use can have on members of the community that use them. The measures to close gyms were not taken lightly or without due consideration. The threat to life in the onward transmission of the covid-19 virus to persons who in turn transmit to others through the use of such facilities outweighed the risks associated with the closures. Following a review of the facts and information available surrounding the known infection rates within Bradford, an area experiencing high incidence within the local community, the action to close gyms as a non-pharmaceutical intervention was reasonable and proportionate for the benefit of the community as whole. It should be noted that following a number of regulatory changes, gyms in Bradford are now allowed to open in a covid-secure manner.

NHS parking charges

The petition of residents of the constituency of Coventry South,

Declares that NHS staff deserve thanks and recognition for their extraordinary service through the Coronavirus pandemic; notes that parking charges have recently been re-imposed at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire; and further notes that NHS staff have faced a decade of falling pay and that, despite this, a pay rise has still been refused to nurses, porters, cleaners and many other staff.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to scrap hospital parking charges for staff, patients, and visitors, and to ensure that there is a pay settlement for NHS staff that gives them the recognition they deserve.

And the petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Zarah Sultana, Official Report, 9 September 2020; Vol. 679, c. 736 .]

[P002594]

Observations from The Minister for Health (Edward Argar):

The Government are incredibly grateful to all NHS staff and remain committed to ensuring that the NHS employment offer continues to attract and retain the compassionate and dedicated staff our NHS needs and this continues to be kept under review. The NHS reward offer encompasses multiple elements beyond just basic pay. Staff also benefit from premium rates of pay for working during unsocial hours or for agreed overtime along with wider benefits including annual leave and sickness absence arrangements well beyond the statutory minimum and a much-valued pension scheme.

Over a million NHS staff, including nurses, porters and cleaners employed on the national collectively agreed agenda for change contract have already benefited from year on year pay increases as part of the multi-year (2018-19 to 2020-21) pay and contract reform deal.

This deal, agreed in partnership with the NHS trade unions, has seen the starting salary for a newly qualified nurse increase by over 12% and pay for the very lowest paid increase by over 16%, with nearly all staff receiving pay increases of at least 6.5% over the course of the deal.

The established mechanism for determining annual pay increases for NHS staff outside of multi-year pay deals, is the independent pay review body process. For next year we plan to ask the independent NHS pay review body to make recommendations for all staff employed on agenda for change including nurses, porters and cleaners.

For medical and dental staff not already within multi-year deals, we plan to ask the independent review body for Doctors' and Dentists' Renumeration (DDRB) for pay recommendations for 2021/22. In July 2020, the Government accepted the independent DDRB's recommendation of a 2.8% pay-rise for SAS doctors, dentists, consultants and salaried GPs for 2020/21.

In June 2019 we agreed a multi-year pay and contract reform deal, in partnership with the BMA, for doctors and dentists in training. The four year agreement, covering 2019-20 to 2022-23 provides certainty over pay awards, ensuring all pay scales increase by at least 8.2% along with further investment beyond just pay to help improve junior doctors' working lives. As such, the DDRB were not asked to make pay recommendations for this group.

In addition to the pay and conditions package for NHS staff, on 25 March, we asked the NHS and local authorities to make staff parking free during the pandemic, so they can travel safely and more easily to work. This commitment was further reinforced by the NHS People Plan, published on Thursday 30 July which states that

“NHS organisations should continue to give their people [i.e. staff] free car parking at their place of work for the duration of the pandemic”.

The Prime Minister restated this commitment on 8 July, stating:

“hospital car parks are free for NHS staff for this pandemic—they are free now—and we are going to get on with our manifesto commitment to make them free for patients who need them as well.”

This remains the Government position.

NHS trusts employ many thousands of staff and usually have only a proportion of that number in car parking capacity. The reduced patient and visitor traffic to hospitals throughout the pandemic has provided some of the extra capacity needed to support free staff parking. Additional capacity from outside the NHS has also been required to make free staff car parking work during the pandemic.

To help deliver free NHS staff parking, the Local Government Association also committed on 25 March that local authority parking spaces would be free for NHS staff to use. The NHS has also worked with commercial car park operators to obtain further capacity for NHS staff. However, even with this additional capacity, some NHS trusts have struggled to provide parking capacity for all their staff.

As workplaces and city and town centres have seen businesses reopen, we have seen demand for commercial car parks return, so limiting the availability of this extra capacity.

We want the NHS to deliver on the Government commitment of providing free hospital parking for those in greatest need. This means we are rolling out free parking for disabled people, frequent outpatient attenders, parents of children staying overnight and staff working night shifts, which will become mandatory in England from January 2021. The Government recognise that it is not possible to provide free parking for everyone but that these groups have a greater need for hospital parking than others.

We announced that the new exemptions would begin to be rolled out beginning from April 2020 however the full roll-out programme has been delayed due to the pandemic as we prioritised supporting NHS staff with free parking. We expect NHS trusts to implement this commitment over the coming months.

Thousands of NHS patients, staff and visitors will be eligible for free hospital parking under these rules.

Removing classification of prescription only medicine from injectable vitamin B12

The petition of the residents of the constituency of Loughborough.

Declares that a lack of B12 can have far reaching and significant effects on both physical and mental health; notes that a significant number of people who are B12 deficient are unable to absorb the vitamin from food or supplements, and so need to inject it, which they can only do at their GP practice; further notes that NICE CKS guidance states that treatment of B12 deficiency in people with neurologic involvement should include injections on alternate days until there is no further improvement; further notes that a restricted maintenance dose of just four injections per year is what is normally allowed, which can leave people physically and mentally unable to contribute to either family or society, and lead to permanent neurological damage; further notes that, in response to a Freedom of Information request asking for the clinical evidence for the three monthly maintenance dose, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency stated that they were unable to obtain this information; further notes that B12 injectables should be made available over the counter at pharmacies, which would bring our approach in line with that of other countries, affording those with B12 deficiency the same dignity and control over their own health as a diabetic using insulin, and reducing the workload and financial burden on GP practices, District Nurses and other NHS services; further notes that a Change.org petition started by the petitioners on this issue has garnered over 94,000 signatures.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to remove the classification of Prescription Only Medicine from injectable vitamin B12.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Jane Hunt, Official Report, 23 September 2020; Vol. 680, c. 1076 .]

[P002599]

Observations from The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Bethell of Romford):

The medicines and healthcare products regulatory agency (MHRA) is committed to making more medicines available over the counter (OTC) where it is safe to do so.

MHRA has a well-established procedure for moving medicines from prescription only status to OTC. Before a medicine can be switched from a prescription only medicine (POM) to a pharmacy (P) medicine, Ministers must be satisfied that it would be safe to allow it to be supplied without a prescription. This means that it is a medicine which no longer meets any of the criteria for a POM, set down in the Human Medicines Regulations 2012, regulation 62(3). In other words, it is a medicine which:

is not likely to present a direct or indirect danger to human health, even when used correctly, if used without the supervision of a doctor; or

is not frequently and to a very wide extent used incorrectly, and as a result is likely to present a direct or indirect danger to human health; or

does not contain substances or preparations of substances of which the activity requires, or the side effects require, further investigation; or

is not normally prescribed by a doctor for parenteral administration (that is, by injection).

Vitamin B12 could not legally be classified as a medicine that can be made available for sale without prescription in pharmacies because it is an injection and because the condition it is licensed to treat, pernicious anaemia, needs a clinician to diagnose it, and monitor its treatment (see above). The same applies to insulin injections and to the diagnosis and monitoring of treatment of diabetes.

Vitamin B12 injection is currently licensed for use in maintenance therapy for pernicious anaemia every 2-3 months depending on the type of pernicious anaemia. Even if the product could be reclassified to make it available for sale in pharmacies, it could not be used more frequently than every 2-3 months, so reclassification to a pharmacy medicine would not help those who require more frequent injections.

It is for the GP or other responsible clinician to decide on the most appropriate course of treatment for their patient, including selecting the most appropriate method of supplying any required medication. Some patients are able to administer their own B12 injections, but this is not a suitable option for all and is at the discretion of the clinician who prescribes the B12.

Clinically urgent treatment must always be provided, with the patient's clinical needs being paramount. Any patient who wishes to discuss their need for vitamin B12 injections can request a review with their GP or other responsible clinician.

Housing, Communities and Local Government

Restructuring of Warwickshire County Council

The petition of residents of Warwickshire,

Declares that the proposed restructuring of Warwickshire County Council represents a naked power grab by the Council; notes that Warwickshire is currently run by a two-tier system, with borough and district councils taking responsibility in local areas for some services, while Warwickshire County Council runs other services across the wider area; further notes that the proposed new arrangement would see a single, unitary authority replace this system; further notes that there has been no other options for local government structures proposed by the county that reflect possible hybrid structures between borough/district councils and the county council; and further declares that there has been a lack of public consultation about these plans or any other.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to engage with Warwickshire County Council and halt their proposed plans, and works to create a public forum, such as a People’s Assembly, to oversee a review process whereby local district and borough councils, and the county council submit their proposals for the future structuring of local Government in Warwickshire.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Matt Western, Official Report, 30 September 2020; Vol. 681, c. 454 .]

[P002603]

Observations from The Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government (Luke Hall):

The Government recognise that locally-led changes to the structure of local Government can be an appropriate means of improving local service delivery, saving taxpayers’ money and improving local accountability.

The Government will not impose top-down restructuring of local Government and will continue to follow a locally-led approach for unitarisation where councils can develop proposals that have strong local support. In this way any reform of an area's local Government can most effectively be achieved. This approach has been consistently followed by the Government.

On Monday 12 October, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced, through a written statement, that this Government are inviting the principal councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire, and Somerset, including associated existing unitary councils, to submit proposals for moving to unitary local Government in those areas.

The Government are aware that Warwickshire County Council and other councils in two-tier local Government areas are considering ideas about whether and how to reform local Government to better serve their local communities. When considering reform, those in an area will know what is best, the very essence of localism to which the Government remain committed. However, the pandemic has rightly necessitated resources across Whitehall and in local government being re-allocated to tackling covid-19 and to economic recovery, and this must be the No. 1 priority for Whitehall and town halls at present.

Transport

Railway station in Gamesley

The petition of the residents of High Peak,

Declares that the people of Gamesley were promised a railway station in 1968 to help residents commute on the Manchester to Glossop line; notes that a railway station would improve local transport connections by easing parking pressures at Dinting, shortening commuting times to Manchester, and reducing traffic around Glossop and Tintwistle; and further declares that the cost of a railway station would be modest for the Government and transformative for the life chances of residents.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to prioritise the reallocation of funds to build a railway station in Gamesley, transforming the lives of Gamesley’s residents.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Robert Largan, Official Report, 19 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 871 .]

[P002611]

Observations from The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris):

We announced the £500 million “Restoring Your Railway” fund in January 2020 to enable opportunities to reinstate railway services and add new stations, such as Gamesley, to the railway network. The “Restoring Your Railway” programme is about connecting people and communities. It includes an “Ideas Fund” for those schemes that are in an early stage of development and need to explore the options for solving a transport problem, as well as the “New Stations Fund” for station schemes that are further developed.

The Department is aware of the proposed station at Gamesley which is one of several proposals being looked at by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM). Officials have been working with TfGM to discuss how the business cases for these stations can be developed ready for future funding opportunities.

I would encourage the residents of High Peak to work with TfGM and their Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Robert Largan), to develop the proposal further for the next round of the “Ideas Fund”. The next round will be announced later this year.

Support for the travel industry

The petition of the residents of the constituency of Kilmarnock and Loudoun,

Declares that the economic consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic have had a devastating effect on the travel and tourism sector; notes that, normally, outbound and inbound travel is estimated to generate approximately £65bn to the UK economy; further notes that an estimated 12,000 jobs are already lost and approximately a further 75,000 jobs could be at risk; further declares that no more operators should be pushed to bankruptcy; and further declares that any work by the Secretary of State for Transport to support the travel industry should be in coordination with the #SaveTravel Campaign organised by Trade Travel Gazette.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to immediately bring forward additional measures to support the travel industry, including the aviation sector, coach companies and travel booking agencies.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Alan Brown, Official Report, 14 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 487 .]

[P002609]

Observations from The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Robert Courts):

The Government continue to work with the aviation sector and we have recently announced a package of measures in the “Winter Economy Plan” to support jobs and businesses through the winter months.

The Government recognise the challenging times facing the travel industry as a result of covid-19, including the aviation sector, coach companies and travel booking agencies.

Safe re-start

To start building confidence and restoring travel while focusing on public health, the Government followed the principles of the ICAO CART (council’s aviation recovery taskforce) and built first guidance on ensuring safe air travel. The UK was one of the members of the taskforce. We did so by building an expert steering group to engage and consult with sector regularly.

In July, the UK introduced international travel corridors (ITCs); a list of countries and territories “exempt” from the self-isolation requirement. In September, the Government announced the travel corridors policy now included adding and removing specific islands.

Support measures

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Government have delivered one of the most generous and comprehensive packages of support globally, with a total fiscal response of close to £200 billion. The measures introduced, including loan schemes, tax deferrals and the coronavirus job retention scheme, have been designed to be accessible to businesses in most sectors and across the UK. We have also cut VAT to 5% for tourism and hospitality-focused businesses.

The Chancellor has announced an extension to the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme (CBILS), the bounce back loan scheme (BBLS) and other loan schemes until 30 November, ensuring there is further support in place for firms who need it during this ongoing period of difficulty. We will work with lenders and business representatives to introduce a new, successor loan guarantee scheme, set to begin in January.

Our job support scheme is designed to protect viable jobs in businesses which are facing lower demand over the winter months due to covid-19, to help keep their employees attached to the workforce. The scheme will open on 1 November 2020 and run for six months. Employers using the job support scheme will also be able to claim the £1,000 job retention bonus if they meet the eligibility criteria.

On 9 October, the Chancellor announced that the job support scheme will be expanded to protect jobs and support businesses required to close their doors as a result of coronavirus restrictions. We are also extending support to the self-employed by providing two grants that will last for six months, from November 2020 to April 2021. Grants will be paid in two lump sum instalments each covering a three-month period.

In relation specifically to the aviation sector, the Government continue to work with the sector to understand the scale of the impact on the workforce, as well as what can be done to retain skills within the sector. In addition, officials are actively engaging with industry and across Government on maximising use of the existing support measures such as DWP’s flexible support fund and rapid response service.

We have also introduced measures to build back consumer confidence in the sector, these measures ensure that ATOL protected customers will not lose their protection if they elected to take a refund credit note in lieu of a cash refund. Furthermore, the Government have committed to financially standing behind the air travel trust, who manage the ATOL scheme fund, to ensure it can meet any calls on the fund due to these vouchers or insolvency in the market.

Next steps

In October, we announced the establishment of the global travel taskforce to explore a testing regime for international arrivals, and to support the safe recovery of international travel. We have set up the global travel taskforce which will consider:

How a domestic testing regime for international arrivals could be implemented to boost safe travel to and from the UK and allow UK residents to travel with confidence;

What steps we can take to facilitate global business and tourist travel, including through bilateral agreements and multilateral forums by exploring with key international partners issues such as global common standards, testing models, "bubbles", measures around enforcement, exemptions and other border management measures; and

Beyond the above, what steps we can take to increase consumer confidence, ensure existing measures are being properly adhered to and restart international travel safely.

The taskforce will report to the Prime Minister in early November.