Covid inquiry roundup: Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings provide worrying insight into No 10
Ex-health secretary Matt Hancock believed that he – rather than doctors or the public – should decide “who should live and who should die” if hospitals became overwhelmed with Covid patients, the former NHS chief executive has said.
Lord Simon Stevens said that “fortunately this horrible dilemma never crystallised”, as he told the Covid inquiry on Thursday that it would have to look “very carefully” at the issue of asymptomatic Covid patients being discharged from hospitals into care homes.
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock, who was health secretary at the start of the Covid outbreak, told Public Health England’s then medical director Yvonne Doyle “not to patronise him” when she warned that the virus could be in the UK, she told the inquiry.
She said she was barred from doing media interviews for a time after that, and apologised to him, even though she had been telling the truth.
It comes a day after former top civil servant and ethics chief Helen MacNamara said the “female perspective” was missed during the pandemic as she condemned a “toxic” and “macho” culture at the highest levels of Mr Johnson’s government.
We’re pausing live updates on the blog for this evening. Thanks for following here – my colleagues will be back tomorrow with more live updates.
In the meantime, our political correspondent Adam Forrest has this report on today’s proceedings, or else keep scrolling to catch up on the day’s events here:
Need for rapid decisions in emergency must not supersede parliamentary scrutiny, says expert
It is “really vital” that the need for rapid decision-making in an emergency does not “obscure the need for parliamentary scrutiny”, an expert has said.
“There were other ways that the government could have legislated. We flagged the Civil Contingencies Act, which was passed in 2004 and the purpose of that act was precisely to make provision for civil contingencies – or, in other words, emergency situations – where rapid decision-making would need to take place,” Jun Pang, the policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, told the inquiry.
“I think it’s really vital that rapid decision-making in an emergency context does not obscure the need for effective parliamentary scrutiny, which is integral to our democracy and also ensures that decision-making is transparent and accountable, and responsive to the needs of people who it’s going to affect.
“And we really recommended that the regulations at the very minimum be made under the CCA instead of the Public Health Act, because it had safeguards, for example, for greater parliamentary scrutiny. Regulations would lapse after seven days if they were not debated and approved by parliament, and other measures like that which the regulations as they were didn’t.”
Six-monthly debate of emergency Covid bill was ‘not enough’, says Liberty expert
An amendment secured by MPs to ensure that parliament could debate emergency coronavirus legislation every six months was not enough to ensure the laws “could be adequately scrutinised”, an expert has said.
Jun Pang, the policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, told the Covid inquiry that the vast Coronavirus Bill received Royal Assent on 25 March 2020, just a day after it was first put to parliament.
While one amendment secured by MPs meant that parliament could debate the emergency rules twice a year, “even with that addition it was not enough to ensure that the act could be adequately scrutinised”, Ms Pang told the inquiry.
Coronavirus Bill was ‘extremely worrying’, Liberty says
Emergency legislation rushed in to deal with the coronavirus pandemic was “extremely worrying”, Jun Pang, the policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, has told the Covid inquiry.
“From start to finish, when the Coronavirus Bill was first published, at more than 300 pages – spanning areas including new extraordinary detention powers, border closure powers, easements on social care and other care provision – the wide range of areas it covered and the little amount of time it was allowed to be scrutinised by parliament was extremely worrying to us,” said Ms Pang.
The two-year sunset clause – the length of time in which an emergency bill will expire – was “unprecedented and a real bar to public scrutiny”, she added.
Politicians ‘not there to dictate to police’, says Patel
Priti Patel said it was vital to respect the “operational independence” of the police when trying to make sure Covid regulations were enforced – in an apparent dig at her successor Suella Braverman.
The ex-home secretary told the Covid inquiry: “Throughout the pandemic I felt that I spent a great deal of time reminding my colleagues of the role of policing ... and also operational independence, and that we as politicians are not there to dictate directly to the police as to when to arrest people and enforce the law.”
Patel admits ‘inconsistency’ in her own messages to public
Priti Patel has admitted there was “inconsistency” in her public messaging about protests during the Covid crisis.
The former home secretary was questioned about a tweet in June 2020 in which she said “protests must be peaceful and in accordance with social distancing rules”, and then a piece in the Telegraph two days later in which she said large gatherings of people were unlawful.
Questioned on her remarks, Ms Priti appeared to give a wry smile before saying: “There’s inconsistency there, yes, I can see that.”
Home Office thought restrictions on outside gatherings ‘unenforceable’, says Patel
Former home secretary Priti Patel admitted that there was a view within her department that some restrictions on outside gatherings were “unenforceable”.
She was presented with a WhatsApp message from Lord Frost, then-Brexit minister, who said the regulations on outside gatherings were “close to unenforceable”.
Asked if there was also a view within the Home Office that such rules were “practically unenforceable”, Ms Patel said: “Within the Home Office, yes.”
Policing of the Sarah Everard vigil was ‘totally inappropriate’, says Priti Patel
Former home secretary Priti Patel said she was “dismayed” by the policing of the Sarah Everard vigil in early 2021 – which saw arrests.
She told the inquiry: “I saw the news and just felt that was totally inappropriate policing,” adding that she had conversations with then Met commissioner to express her views.
Police struck right balance between Covid rules and protest rights, says Patel
Former home secretary Dame Priti Patel said she believed police struck the right balance between protest and freedom of expression, and enforcing coronavirus regulations – despite their approach appearing “uncomfortable”.
Asked whether she believed the police’s approach struck the right balance, Dame Priti said: “I do. At the time it probably felt uncomfortable – where we had lockdowns, for example, and people’s movements were being restricted and the public discourse would be ‘why are these protests happening?’
“Of course, those are difficult challenges – it feels uncomfortable.”
The former home secretary referred in particular to Black Lives Matter protests and spoke about one demonstration which “turned particularly violent”, adding: “So, striking the balance – difficult. I think at the time it felt very uncomfortable.”
Priti Patel says Home Office was ‘agile’ in protecting vulnerable
Our political correspondent Adam Forrest has more on Priti Patel’s remarks that conversations about protecting domestic abuse victims during lockdown began around 18 March 2020.
“We were agile, we were able to work at pace, and we were able to start working across the sector with partners as soon as we were effectively locking down,” she said of the Home Office work.
Ms Patel said “absolutely” stands by the support given by the Home Office when dealing with the rise of child abuse.
“They were the right steps to deploy,” she said. “We knew there would be a surge in demand for people seeking help and support.”
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