Thank you for contacting me about the forthcoming public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been one of the most consequential periods of our lifetimes. It has led to a tragic loss of life in this country and around the world and given rise to previously unthinkable restrictions to our way of life. The bravery of NHS staff and key workers and the fortitude and courage of the British people throughout has been truly admirable.
I welcome, therefore, the Prime Minister’s decision to launch a full independent public inquiry on a statutory basis set to begin its work in the spring, to examine in a forensic and thoroughgoing way the Government’s response to the pandemic. The Inquiry will be established under the Inquiries Act 2005 with full powers, which includes the power to compel the production of documents and to summon witnesses to give evidence on oath.
The Prime Minister has appointed the Rt Hon Baroness Heather Hallett DBE as Chair of the Inquiry. Baroness Hallett has previously conducted a range of high-profile and complex inquests, inquiries and reviews, including acting as coroner for the inquests into the deaths of the 52 victims of the 7th July 2005 London bombings; and as chair of the Iraq Fatalities Investigations. I am glad that the Prime Minister has appointed someone with such a wealth of experience who will, as Baroness Hallett has said herself, do her utmost to ensure the Inquiry answers as many questions as possible about the UK’s response to the pandemic so that we can all learn lessons for the future.
The Prime Minister is now consulting with Baroness Hallett and ministers from the devolved administrations on the terms of reference for the Inquiry and will publish them in draft in the new year. Once the draft terms of reference have been published, Baroness Hallett will take forward a process of public engagement and consultation - including with bereaved families and other affected groups - before finalising them. Additional panel members will be appointed in the new year to make sure the Inquiry has access to the full range of expertise needed to complete its important work.
Spring Start: I understand the desire expressed by some to see the Inquiry start as soon as possible and I, too, believe that unnecessary delays will only cause further pain to bereaved families. However, I must emphasise that the pandemic situation is not over. The current timetable, with a spring start, will avoid inadvertently distracting those whom we continue to need in the fight against the virus including our NHS workers, officials and scientific advisers.
Thank you again for contacting me.
Craig Whittaker MP