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

I agree with the thrust of what my hon. Friend says. Leaving the inquiry to one side for the moment, the call for evidence and, indeed, all the work that we have done improving not just our risk register but our risk assessment tools, because we recognise that we need to reform the methodology that sits behind it, are with external partners. For example, on the risk assessment, we are using various external stakeholders—with engineering skills, for example—to kick the tyres on our methodology, and it will be much more open and consultative than any previous process.

I will move on to how the inquiry could be established. Many Members have commented on having a panel. Clearly, some inquiries have taken that model. That is a very good point, and it is one that I know my colleagues are listening to. We have not rested on those findings; we have established many things to improve our response. I will go into this in slightly more detail, as many Members have raised these points. We have established a joint organisational learning system, jointly managed by the emergency services interoperability principles team and the civil contingencies secretariat. We established the UK Health Security Agency in April this year. We have a new situations centre. We have the Boardman reports, the first of which set out 28 recommendations that the Department is committed to implementing in full. The second report, which is a wider review, has identified a further 28 recommendations for improvements to procurement in Government. We are also steadfast in our commitment to intensify international co-operation. We want to reflect on the central role that the World Health Organisation has played over the course of the pandemic in achieving resilient healthcare systems.

We are seeking to implement improvements to systems and processes so that we are better prepared for any future crisis, whether it is a health issue or any other. Those improvements need to be embedded into the development of new capabilities such as the situations centre or the launch of the catastrophic emergency planning programme. With regard to those on the frontline, particularly local resilience forums, a huge amount of learning has gone on. We are currently funding a pilot to build capacity in local resilience forums. They are on the frontline. They should be in the driving seat for local decisions, and we want to build their capacity in that respect.

I very much welcome the Committee’s conclusions, and also the views of other Members of the House who have said that the inquiry should be forward-looking and primarily focused on improving our policy. I know that many are in agreement on that.

With regard to the chair of the inquiry, the Committee recommended, as we have heard, that the Government give proper consideration to a non-judicial chair. There are many ways that that could be set up. There could be a panel to sit alongside the chair. What is critical is that there is a genuine breadth of experience. While not wanting to slow the inquiry down, we really do need it to be led and supported by people who have that expertise.

The Government are extremely grateful to the Committee and this House for their thoughtful considerations on these issues. I hope that some of what I have said may provide reassurance to all those who have been affected by these terrible events. Retaining their confidence, and the confidence of all who have been involved in this crisis, is vital if we are going to get a good result in this inquiry. I want to assure Members that we will also be working with the devolved Administrations in this regard.