Danger Wales will be a ‘side show’ in Covid inquiry say Plaid but Drakeford says nation will be heard
Plaid Cymru have said that there is a danger that Wales will be a “side show” in the UK-wide Covid inquiry, as Mark Drakeford insisted the nation’s voice would be heard.
Yesterday saw Prime Minister Boris Johnson formally establish the UK inquiry into Covid-19, days after bereaved families warned they could take legal action against the UK Government over delays.
Wales’ First Minister said that he had the “opportunity to comment on” the terms of reference of the Covid enquiry and that the opinions of those who wanted a stand-alone Welsh inquiry also had an impact.
“I have met representatives from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice (Cymru) to discuss the inquiry and terms of reference,” he said.
“Their experiences and comments were directly reflected in our representations about the terms of reference.”
Plaid Cymru’s Health and Social Care spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS however repeated their call for an inquiry to be held in Wales on the decisions made in Wales.
“It’s striking that most issues listed to be covered by the UK inquiry relate to devolved matters,” he said. “Everything from health to education, support for businesses and housing, even social distancing, all are devolved fully to Wales.
“The First Minister is asking us to put our trust in Boris Johnson’s UK-wide inquiry option, and trust that the UK Inquiry will be forensic in its consideration of the covid response here in Wales.
“Whilst not doubting the Chair’s commitment to trying to do so, the danger is that the Welsh picture will be a side-show.
“Plaid Cymru supported many of Welsh Government’s pandemic decisions, but were also strongly critical when needed. That’s how scrutiny should work, and Plaid Cymru believes strongly that decisions made in Wales should be scrutinised in Wales.”
Mark Drakeford said that the final terms of reference had been developed as part of an iterative process and that he had been given the opportunity to comment on them at each stage.
“Through the public consultation Baroness Heather Hallett, Chair of the inquiry, ensured that people in Wales had the opportunity to engage and comment on the work of the Inquiry,” he said.
“Importantly, she also heard directly from bereaved families. I am pleased the experiences of people in Wales will be properly and thoroughly reflected in the inquiry and the decisions made by the Welsh Government and other Welsh public services are properly scrutinised by the inquiry team.
“I am satisfied that the terms of reference now ensure that the Inquiry will cover the actions taken in Wales and the interrelationship between decisions made across the UK.
“I encourage the people of Wales to continue to engage with the inquiry as it undertakes its important scrutiny of events which have taken place during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Following Tuesday’s launch, the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign’s spokesperson Hannah Brady said: “Finally we can begin the process of learning lessons from the awful suffering we’ve endured…
“However it is pitiful that after six months of inexplicable delays, the Government has finally decided to act just two days after we announced that we were considering a judicial review over their time wasting.
“It goes to show that they were simply delaying the process for as long as they could get away with, and there are going to have to be serious consequences if valuable evidence has been lost as a result.
“Baroness Hallett is now going to have to get the process moving as quickly as possible so that lessons can be learned ahead of future waves.”
‘Ready to begin’
Mr Johnson said he accepted Baroness Hallett’s changes to the Government’s draft terms of reference for the inquiry “in full”, and proposed to appoint two additional panel members in the coming months so that the probe “has access to the full range of expertise needed”.
The inquiry’s aims include to consider any disparities in the impact of Covid on different categories of people, consider the experiences of bereaved families, highlight where lessons from the pandemic may be applicable to other civil emergencies, and to produce any recommendations “in a timely manner”.
Baroness Hallett said: “I am pleased to see all of my recommendations accepted by the Prime Minister and included in the final Terms of Reference. The Terms of Reference set the broad outline of the Inquiry.
“My team and I are ready to begin the Inquiry’s work at speed and in earnest. The Inquiry will be run independently, fairly and openly, and those who have suffered significantly during the pandemic will be at the heart of the Inquiry’s work.”
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, chair of the all party parliamentary group on coronavirus, said: “While we welcome that the Inquiry and now the Prime Minister have accepted important recommendations made by our APPG including the use international comparisons and the inclusion of Long Covid, the omission of one vital element risks damaging public trust in the entire process.
“With one of the highest death tolls and deepest recessions, with repeated mistakes and millions in contracts unlawfully awarded, the Inquiry must publish interim findings before the next general election to ensure lessons are learned and those responsible are held to account.”
Labour MP Fleur Anderson tweeted: “It has taken far too long to get to this stage and the delay has been a clear attempt to avoid scrutiny of the Prime Minister’s failings before the next General Election.
“Oral hearings must start soon, and interim reports published in this Parliament.”
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