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Senedd could investigate Covid response under plan

2023-06-04 01:47:08 source:The Washington Post author:Press center2 click:127order

Wales' response to the pandemic could be investigated by a new Senedd committee under a deal between Welsh Labour and the Welsh Conservatives.

A special committee will see if there are any gaps in what the UK Covid-19 inquiry says about Wales.

It follows a long-running row over whether Wales needs its own probe into the pandemic.

The Tories welcomed the "halfway-house" compromise, but Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems criticised the "backroom deal".

Labour ministers said it was right that decisions they took were openly and properly scrutinised.

The Welsh government has continued to resist calls for a Wales-specific public inquiry into Covid, supporting instead the UK-wide effort chaired by Baroness Hallett.

The inquiry has a sub-module specific to Wales and will hold public hearings in the country this autumn.

Campaigners fear the UK inquiry will not be comprehensive enough.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said last year he would support the establishment of a new committee should "aspects of the Covid experience" in Wales "not receive sufficient attention by the Hallett inquiry".

A joint motion will be voted on next week, in an unusual deal between the two parties.

The motion establishes a special purpose committee, which will identify any gaps in UK inquiry reports "in the preparedness and response of the Welsh government and other Welsh public bodies".

Should it find some it will then review those areas, subject to the approval of the Senedd.

Any reviews would not be the full public inquiry that campaigners have hoped for.

Conservative leader in the Senedd Andrew RT Davies said: "The Welsh Conservatives have been pushing for an independent Welsh Covid inquiry, to cover all bases and ensure that bereaved families get the answers they deserve. We will not give up on our calls to ensure this takes place.

"I'm hopeful that securing this committee will go some way in achieving this."

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "The pandemic touched the lives of everyone in Wales, especially those many families who lost a loved one.

"It is right that the decisions taken by the Welsh government and Welsh public bodies are openly and properly scrutinised. We continue to believe the best way to do that is through the UK Covid-19 inquiry.

"However, as the UK Covid-19 inquiry moves through each of its modules, this special purpose committee will allow the Senedd to determine whether there are any gaps in relation to Wales' preparedness and response and whether further and specific scrutiny needs to be undertaken."

However Plaid Cymru accused Labour of striking a "backroom deal with the Tories", rather than working with "openness and transparency" across all the other political parties in Cardiff Bay.

Rhun ap Iorwerth, who speaks for Plaid on health matters, said: "When the purpose of this committee should be to fully scrutinise Welsh government Covid decisions, paving the way for such an important committee in this way is not only bizarre, it raises more serious questions over the openness and transparency of the whole process to date.

"The news that Welsh government is finally opening itself up to some scrutiny over its handling of the pandemic should come as good news - instead we're left wondering if this is a stitch-up?"

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds also criticised the "backroom deal", saying "those most impacted, the bereaved families, haven't even been consulted on this plan".

"Worst of all this now means instead of being an independent inquiry this issue will come before the Senedd, which will inevitably lead to the politicisation of the discussion, which is exactly what we need to avoid.

"The Welsh Liberal Democrats will continue to push for an independent inquiry free from any political interference because it is what bereaved families in Wales deserve and what is right for the country in terms of ensuring lessons are learnt for the future."

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