Posted: Thu 1st Dec 2022

Special purpose committee for Welsh Covid inquiry proposal falls – First Minister indicates future support if ‘concern materialises’

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Dec 1st, 2022


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Labour MSs have voted down a plan that would have seen a ‘special purpose committee’ hold an inquiry into Covid-19.

The committee would have been a cross party group and would have looked into areas of the Welsh Government Covid-19 response where the UK wide inquiry was not able to fully scrutinise.

The vote ended 27 v 27, with the Presiding Officer using her vote in line with convention and therefore voting against.

There have been long standing calls for a Wales-specific inquiry, with this middle way option seen as many before the vote as something that could have been successfully created.

The motion that was rejected read:

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 16.5:

1. Establishes a Wales COVID-19 inquiry special purpose committee.

2. Agrees that the remit of the committee is:

a) to identify where the UK COVID-19 inquiry is not able to fully scrutinise the response of the Welsh Government and Welsh public bodies to the COVID-19 pandemic;

b) to undertake an inquiry into the areas identified;

3. Agrees that the committee will be dissolved no later than December 2024 following a Plenary debate on its final report.

Russell George MS explained why the Welsh Conservatives had put it forward, “The Government has continually denied the request for a Wales-wide inquiry, and they have done so in the knowledge that half the Members of this Chamber believe that there should be a Wales-wide, specific inquiry. So do many health bodies and professionals across Wales as well and, most importantly, of course, the Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group, representing many of the people who have died in Wales from COVID-19.”

“I have no doubt that the UK COVID inquiry will do their job at scrutinising the UK Government and its actions, but now we’ve seen the blueprint, we know that the inquiry cannot fully scrutinise the Welsh Government. We know this because, just this month, Baroness Hallet, who is leading the UK inquiry, has stressed the inquiry would not be covering every issue in Wales. That’s what she said. The inquiry would not be covering every issue in Wales.”

“The Welsh Government has made its own decisions, and at times very different decisions, and it’s entitled, of course, to do that, but I would hope the First Minister would accept there should be scrutiny and accountability for those decisions that were made. And we know that the UK inquiry is not able to do that. ”

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS spoke as Plaid Cymru was co-tabler of the motion, “It was obvious we would need an inquiry. We called for one. Welsh Government agreed. But it turns out we were talking about two very different inquiries. For us, it always had to be a Wales-specific inquiry, running side by side with the UK one—why not? There were indeed decision that were Whitehall based that affected all of us, and areas of shared responsibility too, but so many decisions were rightly taken wholly in Wales by Welsh Ministers, who were held to account here in this Senedd. Budgets were set in Wales. People were treated by dedicated staff in the Welsh NHS. Thousands died across the health and care sectors in Wales. We could only scrutinise those actions properly with a Wales-specific inquiry. But the Labour Government chose to opt out of that forensic level of scrutiny, choosing instead to leave it all in the hands of whatever inquiry Boris Johnson at the time decided to establish. And that, I have no doubt, did a disservice to the people of Wales, and the COVID bereaved, all of us wanting to ensure that lessons are learnt.”

” If the UK inquiry cannot possibly cover all issues, let us do the gap analysis, if you like; identify what isn’t being given the scrutiny it needs, and then focus on seeking answers around those issues. What possible objection could Government and Labour Members have to that?”

Welsh Labour’s Carolyn Thomas defended a UK wide only inquiry, “By having a UK-wide inquiry, it will be more rounded. The UK Government will have the powers and resources to be able to mobilise all the necessary information and powers needed to interrogate it. The Welsh Government is disclosing hundreds of thousands of documents in the inquiry and I want to know why certain cohorts were more impacted, BAME communities, people who lived in deprived areas, and my daughter caught COVID when she was 12 weeks pregnant and then developed a heart condition that made her collapse. I wanted to know whether that’s because she was pregnant or because of COVID; we still don’t know. However, once the UK inquiry report is published, the Senedd should then be able to analyse it and further consideration should be given to setting up a Senedd committee to conduct its own inquiry in those areas that need further scrutiny. ”

The First Minister Mark Drakeford addressed the chamber, “The pandemic touched the lives of everyone in Wales, but none more so than those many families who lost a loved one to this awful virus. It is absolutely necessary that the questions that those families have are properly scrutinised and answered. But the way in which that is best done—indeed, the only way in which that can be fully be done—I continue to believe is through a UK COVID-19 inquiry.”

“That is the body that will be able to scrutinise those decisions made by the Welsh Government and other Welsh bodies, which drew on the relationships between decisions made in Wales and Whitehall, the scientific advice that was received, not just in Wales, but at a UK level, the often complex funding streams that shaped the decisions that were made, procurement decisions, guidance decisions, that plethora of issues that crossed the border between Wales and the United Kingdom every single day and which only a UK-wide inquiry will be able to scrutinise, and on which only a UK inquiry will be able to provide answers to the questions that people, including those families, very properly need and deserve to have answered.”

“The reason why the UK inquiry is able to do the work in the way that it will be able to do is because of the agreement we made with the UK Government so that, as the Prime Minister of the time, Boris Johnson, said, it would guarantee that the UK inquiry would have a significant Welsh dimension to everything that it did. And I think the way in which the UK inquiry is going about its work already demonstrates that commitment: the way in which it works through the medium of the Welsh as well as the English language; the first place Baroness Hallett visited was to come here to Wales, and she herself has met with members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group here in Wales.”

The First Minister did indicate that if Wales did not get enough focus then he may reconsider his position, he said of the motion, “It suggests that a Senedd committee should consider aspects of the COVID experience in Wales that might not receive sufficient attention by the Hallett inquiry, and let me be clear that, if that concern materialises, then the motion’s central proposal, a special purpose committee, is one that the Government can and will support.

“What I had hoped to do was to lay an amendment this afternoon that would have allowed the Senedd to focus on how and when it would be possible to identify any unanswered questions or areas of incomplete scrutiny so that the work of a special purpose committee could be focused on that, on those gaps. Now, I’ll think carefully about the points I’ve heard made in today’s debate, Llywydd, but the most straightforward approach would be to receive the Hallett report, then to see if and when and where any gaps have emerged, and then to allow a special purpose committee to discharge the remit suggested, which is to fill in any gaps should the UK inquiry not be able to answer them for Wales.”

“Now, unfortunately, we’ve not been able to make that way of proceeding debated this afternoon, and, for those reasons, the Government side will have to vote against the current motion. However, we will do so in order to bring forward our own motion for debate in Government time. That motion will accept the case for a special purpose committee on the basis that I have set out this afternoon, and will allow the Senedd to give our proposals its full consideration.”

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