I thank the Chair and all the other members of the PACAC for this timely report, its fifth report; they have been very assiduous.
Her Majesty’s Opposition have responded to this pandemic in a spirit of co-operation that has always put the national interest first, and we are also willing to work together to ensure the right lessons are learned. The fundamental task of any Government is to protect their citizens’ health and wellbeing, so it is crucial to get this inquiry right. A full, independent public inquiry into the Government’s response to the covid-19 pandemic is essential to ensure that we are better equipped to confront future health emergencies. We also need to ask questions about why Exercise Cygnus was not followed during the pandemic.
An emphasis should be placed on the early response to the pandemic, including the factors that might have contributed to a delay in ordering a full lockdown and whether the initial herd immunity strategy was pursued. Members will have been shocked by the disproportionate number of BAME deaths, which were not just confined to people in poverty but included people of all classes, including consultants. Understanding these disparate outcomes should form a central part of the inquiry.
The Prime Minister has said that the inquiry should not take place while the pandemic continues. I suggest there be a two-stage inquiry: an initial review followed by a wide-ranging public inquiry. We know that the Government Legal Service can set up inquiries quite quickly and that there are different inquiries taking place. I support the 16 recommendations in the report. It is extremely important that we hold the Government to account, so I agree with the Committee that the Liaison Committee should consider adding the scrutiny of the Government’s responses to public inquiries to the list of core tasks of the Departmental Select Committees. It would be a welcome development. I also think that the four nations should hold their own lessons-learned inquiries, because they all dealt with the pandemic differently.
To conclude, I again thank the Committee for its assiduous work. Her Majesty’s Opposition welcome the report.