Government Response to Covid-19: Public Inquiry

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

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Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Alba, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath 2:22 pm, 22nd July 2021

I want to focus my comments on page 1 of the report—in particular, the fact that the Government accept that there will be an opportunity to look back at some undefined “appropriate time” in the future. I raise the concern that at some “appropriate time” in the future does not deal with the problems that we know exist already today. That underscores the necessity of building public confidence in the decisions that we make in this place by holding an inquiry as quickly as possible. We already know from comments today that public confidence is waning and app usage has dropped off, and other compliance concerns have been raised. At no time is that more important than in the grip of a public emergency such as the pandemic.

The Government have repeatedly called for the House to get behind their plans. However, the message that they give has been mixed and the information that has been requested to enable Members like me to get behind those plans has often not been forthcoming. Observant Members will have noted that my efforts to seek transparency in respect of the surveillance and testing of covid have largely fallen on deaf ears. In July 2020, at nadir regarding the number of cases following the first wave, I first raised my concerns with the chief medical officer. More recently, I raised concerns about the sensitivity of Innova lateral flow devices to the delta variant—on 29 June and again on 6 July in a follow-up email. On each occasion that I raised my concerns with the Minister for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care, Jo Churchill, I was advised that information would be forthcoming, but I have still not received those data.

So concerned was I that I wrote a piece, published in The Scotsman yesterday, that raised the concerns on which I have not been able to get answers from the Government. Last night, The Scotsman took down that article after legal representatives of Innova intervened with quite wrong accusations that I was comparing lateral flow devices to PCR tests. I made no such assertion or comparison. Innova questioned the US Food and Drug Administration’s decision, which I will not go into, given the time I have, but which is pretty well set out in various articles, including in The BMJ.

That there was such action—when I cannot get an answer from the Government, when I have raised my concerns in this House, and when I have written a piece for a reputable newspaper and the contractors the Government are working with seek to shut the conversation down—is an unacceptable position for any democracy to find itself in. I feel I am being prevented from carrying out my role and that the Government are preventing me from properly scrutinising their actions. We need urgent action to change that.