The COVID-19 outbreak has been one of the most significant and consequential periods of our lifetimes. It has led to a tragic loss of life in this country and around the world and gave rise to previously unthinkable restrictions to our way of life.
The fortitude and courage of the British people and the bravery of our NHS and key workers means that we have now passed the peak of deaths and hospitalisations and I welcomed the announcement by the Prime Minister of a full independent public inquiry on a statutory basis.
The inquiry will have full powers under the Inquiries Act 2005 and will have the ability to compel the production of relevant material and to take oral evidence in public under oath. Discussions with the devolved administrations will ensure the inquiry can take into account the full scope of the UK response to the pandemic.
Furthermore, I am assured that the Government continues to review all available evidence regarding the impact of COVID-19 for disabled people. Research from the Office for National Statistics and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine published in June 2021, which considers deaths from COVID-19 by disability status, concludes that a combination of circumstances explain the increased risk to disabled people, but more information is needed to ascertain whether the findings are robust as well as which protective and policy measures should be put in place. I await further conclusions with interest. I note the desire for an inquiry into the impact of the pandemic and will discuss with ministerial colleagues whether this might be something that will be included in the upcoming public inquiry.
However, it is standard practice for government departments to review internal practices so that they can continually improve. I understand that the review referring to is an informal piece of work conducted by the Department of Health and Social Care. It is not a full examination of the Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This will be the remit of a future COVID-19 public inquiry.
I must emphasise, however, that the pandemic situation is not over. The arrival of the omicron variant has demonstrated this, and the Prime Minister has warned of a possible surge in cases this winter.
That is why the right time for an inquiry is spring next year and I am glad that the Government has committed to appointing an independent chair of the inquiry before the end of this year with further details, including terms of reference, to be set out in due course. I understand calls for an inquiry to be held sooner but this timetable will avoid inadvertently distracting those whom we continue to need in the fight against the virus including our NHS workers, officials, and scientific advisers. I have no doubt that the inquiry will have the widest possible consultation and engagement.