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Covid-19 Public Inquiry

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 25 November 2021

4. What steps he is taking to consult with covid-19 bereaved families on the public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the covid-19 pandemic. (904349)

12. What steps he is taking to ensure that all ministerial correspondence relating to the Government’s response to the covid-19 pandemic will be made available to the public inquiry. (904360)

13. What steps he is taking to consult with covid-19 bereaved families on the public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the covid-19 pandemic. (904362)

I am pleased to reiterate that the Prime Minister has already confirmed that bereaved families and others will be consulted on the covid inquiry’s terms of reference before they are finalised and that the inquiry will be established on a statutory basis with full formal powers.

The University of Liverpool this week released a report on the lived experience of those who have lost a loved one to covid-19, in collaboration with Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. The report recommends that the public inquiry be brought forward without delay, stresses the importance of transparency and asks for bereaved families to be an integral part of the inquiry. Is it not about time that the Government listen to the bereaved families of covid-19 victims and adopt the report’s recommendations?

I thank the hon. Member for her question, and may I take this opportunity to express my condolences and sympathy to all of the many bereaved families who have suffered as a result of the pandemic? The Prime Minister announced in Parliament as early as May this year—on 12 May—that the inquiry into the pandemic would be established on a formal statutory basis, with all the requisite powers that go with that, under the Inquiries Act 2005. A chair of the inquiry will be announced by the end of this year, and the Prime Minister told the bereaved families group that in a meeting he had with them on 28 September. It is important that formal powers will be attached to the inquiry, and everything will be done to make sure the relevant material and oral evidence, for example, is given under oath.

The Prime Minister refused to meet bereaved families for nearly 400 days. When he eventually deigned to meet them in September, he promised them they would have a role in setting the terms of reference for the inquiry. Yesterday, these grieving families wrote to the Prime Minister asking why, yet again, they are being ignored. Can the Minister explain to them why they are being ignored?

As I just said, the Prime Minister met Bereaved Families for Justice on 28 September. He welcomed the opportunity to hear directly from them, and of course the areas they would like the inquiry to cover were mentioned. The importance of choosing the right chair was also mentioned. All commitments made to the Bereaved Families for Justice group will be met. The chair of the inquiry will be appointed by Christmas, and bereaved families and others will be consulted on the terms of reference before they are finalised.

This Christmas, many constituents of Members across the House will sit where they normally are, but their loved one will not be with them. Indeed, for some people it is two years, isn’t it? Could I press the Minister on announcing the chair, or having the Prime Minister announce the chair, not on Christmas eve, because that will wreck Christmas? As the end of the year is nearly here, could he speed that up, just for their sake?

I hear the hon. Lady’s question and absolutely recognise the importance of the matter. It is also of course important to go through the proper processes in selecting possible chairs, appointing one and so on. I know this will be given the considerable importance it deserves, and as I said, it will be disclosed before the end of the year.

For the covid-19 bereaved families two things matter above all: that the inquiry begins as soon as possible, with the families at its heart; and that the national covid memorial wall opposite Parliament must be preserved. The Government have indicated that they support a national memorial at St Paul’s cathedral instead, but this is not an either/or choice and the families’ agony must end. Both memorials deserve their place: will the Minister therefore support the bereaved families’ request to preserve the memorial wall, because it is their wall, their memories, their love?

The Government recognise the need for bereaved families to have a location, or locations, where the representation will take place, and of course there is a UK commission on covid commemoration, as the hon. Gentleman knows. It will carefully consider how communities across the country can remember those who have lost their lives due to this appalling pandemic, and recognise those involved in the response as well, in a fitting and permanent way. So there is a specific UK commission on covid commemoration, and we should let it do its job.