On 12 May, the Prime Minister confirmed to the House that a public inquiry into covid-19 would be established on a statutory basis with full formal powers. It will begin its work in spring 2022, and further details will be set out in due course.
Earlier this week, I visited the covid memorial wall opposite Parliament to remember those I have lost to this crisis, including my mum and both my parents-in-law. Yesterday, grieving families like mine watched in horror as Mr Cummings detailed the litany of failures and gross incompetence right at the heart of this Government, which the proposed statutory inquiry will no doubt examine in much more detail. Given the importance of this inquiry to bereaved families, will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives from Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice as soon as possible, to ensure that their voices are heard?
First, may I pass on my condolences to the hon. Member for the sad loss of members of his family? I know that the whole House will want to pass on sympathies and condolences. So many people have lost those dear to them. That is why it is so important that, at the inquiry, we ensure that the voices of victims are heard and their questions are answered properly and fully.
The healing will not start until the public inquiry begins. Yesterday’s Select Committees’ damning evidence clearly caused significant pain to grieving families. They need answers now—they need to know whether decisions by this Government could have avoided the death of their loved ones, and that includes 396 families in my city of York. Does the Minister understand why the commencement of the public inquiry must not be delayed until next year, especially following yesterday’s evidence? Will he bring it forward and ensure that bereaved families not only are consulted on the scope of the inquiry but have their questions answered?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. A statutory inquiry is obviously the right way to ensure that all the right questions are asked and that full answers are arrived at. To ensure that the inquiry works, the experience, voices and views of those who have suffered so much must be a critical part in ensuring that it is set up appropriately.
Jane Roche from Erdington tragically lost her father Vince and her sister Jocelyn within five days of one another last April. This devastating loss has driven Jane and thousands like her to be tireless campaigners for justice for those who lost their lives. Does the Minister agree that it is imperative that the public inquiry has the full confidence of the relatives who are grieving to this day? Will he therefore commit to ensuring that the bereaved families groups are fully consulted on who is the chair of the inquiry and the inquiry’s terms of reference? Finally, will he commit to the Prime Minister meeting personally the covid-19 bereaved families? They want to meet with him. Will he meet with them?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the case of his constituents who have suffered so much and who, understandably, want to ensure that the inquiry provides them with answers at a time of grief and not only contributes to the healing process but ensures that appropriate lessons are learned. I look forward, as everyone in the Government does, to working with victims’ groups to ensure that the inquiry can command their confidence.