Government Response to Covid-19: Public Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:52 pm on 22nd July 2021.

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Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Paymaster General 2:52 pm, 22nd July 2021

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and congratulations.

I have answered many debates on the pandemic from this Dispatch Box, and it has always been right to start by thinking of all those who have lost so much and who have been through such pain and distress in this cruel pandemic, which has even denied people the ability to grieve properly. Inquiries have many purposes, as the chairman of the Hillsborough inquiry ably stated. They are a stepping-stone to closure for families, although Jack Dromey is right to say that they bring no comfort for their loss.

It is incredibly important that we place those individuals and others, such as NHS and care staff who have given so much during this crisis, at the heart of the inquiry. Having had the privilege of being the sponsoring Minister for the infected blood inquiry since February 2020, I know how it can be done well. I have just announced the compensation study, which will involve a consultation on the terms of reference for that study with those affected by infected blood. That is how we do things, and I would give people comfort by saying, “Look at how we do these very sensitive inquiries. Look at how we can do them really well.” We want to do the covid-19 inquiry really well, and we will place those affected at its heart.

I want to answer the many points that have been raised by hon. Members and put on record my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for this debate. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have made contributions, and I thank the Chair, Ian Mearns, and the Committee for their work. I also thank my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price for opening the debate.

Clearly, the Government agree with the Committee that there needs to be a statutory inquiry, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirmed that in a statement to the House on 12 May. The public inquiry will be established on a statutory basis with full powers under the Inquiries Act 2005.

Several Members have raised the timing of the inquiry, and I agree with many of the comments that have been made. We want to do this as swiftly as possible, but not to the detriment of the pandemic response. Several Members have recognised that this would place a significant burden on the whole of Government, our scientific advisers, our NHS and many others.

Although we want to start the inquiry in the spring—on the timetable, given what I have said about the work that needs to be done to set the inquiry up, I hope that I will be able to give hon. Members some comfort that that will start very shortly—of course we do not want to wait for that before commencing other work. As my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin, the Chair of the Liaison Committee, has suggested, we need to learn lessons now to enable us to continually improve our response, not just to this crisis but to other threats that may be out there. And we have continually learned—not just in Government, but ably supported by the excellent work of this House and its Committees, as well as the National Audit Office and many others.

We are already taking important steps to improve our resilience, which is why last week we launched the call for evidence to inform the development of a new resilience strategy. That call for evidence starts a proper national debate about what effective resilience should mean for us all, and will allow us to move towards a whole of society approach to resilience and build resilience into our everyday lives.