Covid-19 inquiry draft terms of reference published by Government

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The Government has published its draft terms of reference for the Covid-19 public inquiry, which bereaved relatives have described as a “huge step forward”.

In a statement published on Thursday, the Cabinet Office said the two main topics of the inquiry will be examining the response to the pandemic and its impact in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and it will produce a factual narrative account of what happened.

It adds that the inquiry plans to identify the lessons to be learned so it can inform the UK’s preparations for future pandemics.

Kings College Hospital
A Covid intensive care unit at Kings College Hospital in south London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Cabinet Office said the terms allow for an inquiry which is UK-wide and “respects and does not duplicate” any inquiry established on a devolved basis.

It comes after a consultation with the inquiry chairwoman, Heather Hallett, and ministers in the devolved administrations.

There will be a further public consultation of about four weeks, led by Lady Hallett, to consider any changes to the terms before they are finalised.

She has urged those with views to come forward and share them.

Baroness Heather Hallett
Baroness Heather Hallett is leading the public inquiry (UK Parliament/PA)

“The inquiry is a one-off and historic opportunity for the terrible suffering and loss of the past two years to be learned from, to ensure these tragedies are not repeated in the future,” she said.

“The Government finally publishing the draft terms of reference is a huge step forward, and we look forward to feeding into the consultation on them.

“Sadly, today’s announcement comes far too late. We will never know how many lives could have been saved had the Government had a rapid review phase in summer 2020, as we called for at the time.

“Crucially, Boris Johnson must now commit to implementing the chair’s recommendations for the terms of reference in full.

“The fact his office is under police investigation for breaching their own rules means that if he attempts to interfere with what the inquiry looks into, it risks ruining its credibility before it’s even begun.”

The Prime Minister announced last May that an inquiry would take place in spring 2022, and told MPs it will place “the state’s actions under the microscope”.

The inquiry will be able to take oral evidence under oath, he said, adding that the state has an obligation “to learn every lesson for the future”.

He said devolved administrations would be consulted before the final scope of the inquiry was published.

Downing Street previously indicated Mr Johnson would be willing to give evidence under oath if asked, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman saying he “will conform to what is required for the inquiry”.

On Thursday, the Cabinet Office said the inquiry will aim to understand the experiences of those most affected by the pandemic – including bereaved families – as well as looking at any disparities in the impact of the pandemic and the Government’s response.

Baroness Hallett said: “Following publication of the draft terms of reference by the Government, tomorrow I shall open the public consultation on the scope of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. This consultation is independent of the Government and an opportunity for everyone across the United Kingdom to give me their views on what the inquiry should investigate.

“I should like to hear views on the draft terms of reference from all those who have been particularly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, especially people who have been bereaved, experienced hardship or suffered other harm.”

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