The covid-19 outbreak has been one of the most significant and consequential periods of our lifetimes. It has led to a tragic loss of life in this country and around the world. We salute the fortitude and courage of the British people and the bravery of our NHS and key workers, which means that we have now passed the peak of deaths and hospitalisations.
I am very pleased that this inquiry will have full powers under the Inquiries Act 2005 and will have the ability to compel the production of relevant material and to take oral evidence in public under oath. I support this approach, rather than having a non-statutory inquiry, as it allows statutory safeguards to be put in place and ensures that it is carried out to the highest standard.
I must emphasise, however, that the pandemic is not over. The threat of new, more transmissible covid variants remains, as is only too clear to us all, and the Prime Minister has warned of a likely surge in cases this winter. That is why the right time for an inquiry is spring next year. I understand calls for an inquiry to be held sooner, but this timetable will avoid inadvertently distracting those whom we continue to need this year in the fight against the virus. Furthermore, lessons are being learned all the time by the Government and health authorities during the pandemic, and measures are being implemented accordingly. So we are dealing with an organic, rather than static, response to the crisis.
I fully support the approach of the Committee’s report, which makes it clear that resorting to blaming individuals is not conducive and we should be looking to learn lessons to guide our response to future pandemics and to the ongoing covid-19 pandemic. As other speakers have said this afternoon, this inquiry should be forward looking in its approach. It is, of course, vital to ensure the impartiality of the chair and that the inquiry will have the widest possible consultation and engagement. Having the highest levels of confidentiality is also of particular importance, particularly when we are looking at the personal experiences of people who have suffered as a result of covid-19.
As a Welsh MP, I am particularly interested in how the inquiry interacts with the devolved Administrations, which was touched on by my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price. We need to ensure that the inquiry can take into account the full scope of the UK response to the pandemic, in my constituency, in the rest of Wales and in the rest of the UK. The report recommends that each of the devolved nations must
“establish its own inquiry. This is because most aspects of the response to the pandemic are devolved matters but doing such also ensures proper attention is granted to each of the nations’ response”.
The problem is that so far the Welsh Government have refused to hold their own inquiry. If the UK Government are prepared to incorporate a thorough assessment of the handling of the pandemic by the Welsh Government and by the other devolved Administrations in their inquiry, as part of a truly UK-wide approach, that would have my support, not least because it would be a welcome recognition of the vital importance of the Union of the UK in fighting covid, particularly in the development and roll-out of the very successful vaccination programme. But this approach must not inadvertently result in the Welsh Government and the other devolved Administrations being less rigorously assessed in the inquiry. With power comes responsibility for all Governments to account fully for their actions in an open and transparent way.