Coronavirus: 'No review' of lockdown fines - despite Hancock promising a vicar he'd 'look at it'

May 26, 2020

The government will not review fines issued to families who travelled to get childcare in lockdown, Sky News understands – despite the health secretary promising a vicar in a TV briefing he would "look at" the issue.

After the daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing, Sky's deputy political editor Sam Coates said a government adviser had since stated that there was no "formal review" of lockdown fines.

"As the hours go by, it's looking like something a bit more sketchy," Coates said.

"I understand that senior figures in other departments weren't aware that Mr Hancock was going to say that and Number 10 weren't that impressed, and within minutes the special adviser for Matt Hancock was calling round to make clear no such thing as a formal review was underway.

"The steer from government now is that there will be no change in government policy on that."

During the briefing, a vicar called Martin Poole from Brighton asked Matt Hancock: "Will the government review all penalty fines imposed on families travelling for childcare purposes during lockdown?"

The question came after days of criticism of Dominic Cummings, a senior Number 10 adviser, who travelled to Durham from London to seek childcare for his four-year-old child in case him and his wife became "incapacitated" by COVID-19.

Mr Hancock replied: "We do understand the impact and the need for making sure that children get adequate childcare. That is one of the significant concerns that we've had all the way through this.

"So I think especially coming from a man of the cloth, that is perfectly reasonable to take away that question. I'll have to talk to my Treasury colleagues before I can answer it in full and we'll look at it and if we can get your details I'll make sure we can write to you with a full answer and make an announcement from this podium."

After the briefing, Reverand Poole said it was "disappointing" that the government is no longer committing themselves to a review.

He told Sky News: "I hope I'm going to get an answer in some way, after Mr Hancock said he was going to get back to me.

"It is a perfectly reasonable response to say 'we're not going to do it' but, if that's the case, that is disappointing for all those people who have been treated in this way."

Rev Poole said his question to the health secretary was rooted in equality.

"I think everything about this weekend and the kind of storm that's going around… is about unfairness," he said.

"I think people feel a very strong sense that its not right that certain people can behave in a way that the rest of us are not allowed to

"I'm very interested, as a vicar, in unfairness. There are all sorts of different inequalities in our society at the moment and this is just one of them that needs to be sorted out and particularly for any families that have travelled, probably worried they were doing the wrong thing, and were stopped and charged a penalty notice, that should definitely be, as far as I'm concerned, refunded if that was allowed."

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Rev Poole added: "I don't think any of us realised there was an element of discretion in these rules. It seemed to me very clear that it was about staying at home. And many millions of us have done that… so for me its about fairness."

He also said that he "would like to see government ministers and advisers treated in the same way as everybody else," and that "there's a sense with government that they sometimes operate on a different set of principles to the rest of us".

Rev Poole would not be drawn on calling for Mr Cummings to resign, saying it was a matter for Mr Cummings and the prime minister.

Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Labour's Shadow Home Secretary, responding to the Government's decision not to review fixed penalty notices issued to those who travelled in order to get childcare, said: "The attempts from the Prime Minister to defend the indefensible actions of his most senior adviser are quickly descending in to chaos and seriously undermining trust.

"It's now been made incredibly difficult to police vital public health guidance, as this flip-flop over fines shows. The reality is it's one rule for the most powerful people in Government and another for the rest of us, which is incredibly dangerous."

Government minister Douglas Ross has resigned over Mr Cummings's lockdown trips and dozens of Conservative MPs have publicly called for Mr Cummings's resignation.

The PM's senior adviser gave a statement on Monday on his reasons for travelling to his parents' estate in County Durham when the lockdown was in force, saying he did not regret his actions.

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