Government Response to Covid-19: Public Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:10 pm on 22nd July 2021.

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Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price Conservative, Thurrock 2:10 pm, 22nd July 2021

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Clearly, where there is wilful bad behaviour it should be exposed, but we need to set the tone: this inquiry is about how the Government and society have dealt with a very difficult set of issues. The heroes and villains to whom he refers will find a way of being outed, if I can put it in such a way, without it being the entire focus or ethos of the inquiry.

We obviously need to be very clear about the inquiry’s terms of reference, to inform what the focus will be, and about how the various themes that could be looked at will be examined. The chair will obviously be a very important appointment. This is by tradition the choice of the relevant Minister, but, again, respect for and the authority of the inquiry will be very much set by who the chair is. The Committee was very attracted to the idea of a chairman and panel approach, recognising that some of the issues that will be considered by the inquiry are broad ranging so it would be right for the chairman to have access to appropriate expertise in various areas. The Committee also felt that the appointment should be subject to a pre-commencement hearing with the relevant Select Committee, given the very high level of parliamentary interest in this inquiry. That would be an unprecedented step, but, again, in terms of setting the tone of how the inquiry will be progressed, it could be a very important innovation, and I hope the Government will consider that.

One of the issues that needs to be considered by the inquiry is of course the response by the Department of Health and Social Care in terms of management of risk of transmission and so on, but we need to consider in the round the tools adopted by the Government to deal with that, including the impact on liberties and the impact on our economy. There will be obvious consequences in the longer term for the nation’s wellbeing in the round. We also need to consider the wider behaviour of public services in that regard.

There also needs to be a way of considering the impacts in the devolved nations, including whether this should be a UK-wide inquiry or there should be separate inquiries; quite possibly there should be a combination of both.