Hancock told MPs the public inquiry would cover not just how the UK government handled the pandemic, but how the Scottish and Welsh governments, and the Northern Ireland executive, handled it too. But how that would be done was yet to be determined, he said.
Neale Hanvey (Alba) asks if Hancock told colleagues that people would be tested before being discharged into care homes.
Hancock says so many of yesterday’s allegations were unsubstantiated.
He says the Scottish government had to respond to the same problems, as did governments in other countries.
He says testing was increased. And because of that testing was then rolled out more broadly.
- Hancock refuses to deny Cummings claim he told colleagues patients would be tested before being discharged into care homes.
Mark Harper (Con) asks about the India variant. He says he thinks the vaccines are very effective at stopping serious disease, including from the Indian variant. If that is the case, does Hancock agree that full reopening should go ahead from 21 June.
Hancock says this is the key question.
In Covid hotspots, he says one person in 10 in hospital has had both jabs.
He says this suggests that we can have a “high degree of confidence” that the vaccines are effective against serious illness.
But it also shows they are not 100% effective, he says.
He says we will know more about this in the coming weeks.
Munira Wilson (Lib Dem) says if the government did sent people back to care homes without being tested, that was one of the biggest scandals. When was testing for discharged patients routinely offered?
Hancock says this has been a challenging time. He says the government published full details of the approach it took. It worked with the care home sector on keeping people safe, and followed the clinical advice.
Cherilyn Mackrory (Con) told Hancock in the Commons he should “ignore unsubstantiated Westminster gossip” and carry on with his job.
Jeremy Hunt, the chair of the Commons health committee, says the allegations made by Dominic Cummings are serious, and as yet should be treated as “unproven”.
He asks if Prof Neil Fergusion was right to say the India variant is now dominant. (See 9.52am.)
Hancock says the India variant is spreading across the country. Estimates vary as to what proportion of new cases it accounts for.
He says it is too early to say if it will be safe to take further steps on 21 June.
A formal assessment will be taken before 14 June, he says
Hancock is replying to Ashworth.
He says “these unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true”.
He says he has been “straight with people” in public and in private.
He says every day he has gone into work thinking about what he can do to save lives.
And he says he has been accountable, making more than 60 Commons statements and holding 84 press conferences.
UPDATE: Hancock said:
These allegations that were put yesterday – and repeated by [Jonathan Ashworth] – are serious allegations and I welcome the opportunity to come to the house to put formally on the record that these unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true and I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, is speaking now.
He says the public deserve answers.
Are the claims false?
Why were people discharged into care homes without tests?
Did Hancock tell No 10 people would be tested?
Why did he not insist on a precautionary approach?
Vaccines are now open to people aged 30 and above, he says.
And he says it is on track to get every adult vaccinated by the end of July.
Setting ambitious targets in government is how you get things done, he says.
(That is is first reference to Dominic Cummings, who criticised Hancock over his 100,000 tests per day target.)
And that’s it. He does not address the Cummings allegations directly.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is welcomed by loudish Tory cheering as he stands up.
He says the pandemic is not over yet. The vaccination programme has reached 73% of the adult population. But that means more than a quarter of people have not been vaccinated.
He says the number of cases yesterday was at the highest level since 12 April. But he says the link between cases and hospitalisation has been broken.
In the Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, starts the urgent question by reminding MPs that they are not normally meant to accuse each other of lying.
As well as doing interviews this morning, Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, had his first jab. He is 39.
That means every member of the cabinet has had at least one dose, Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine deployment minister, says.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is about to answer an urgent question from Labour about his handling of coronavirus.
Here is my colleague Aubrey Allegretti’s preview story.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, suggested the government was “wilfully neglectful” in its handling of coronavirus. In an interview with Sky News this morning she said:
The public inquiry should start immediately. But we also know that the government did a lessons learned review, and they failed to publish the results of that. I think the public need reassurance by making sure that that is in the public domain …
There are serious questions for today, not just about what happened in the past, but how do we protect our loved ones today. And if the government were wilfully neglectful, knowing that they were going to put people’s lives at risk, people need to know that now.
It was not clear from the interview whether Rayner intended to go this far or not. There is a lot of evidence to support the claim that government errors cost lives. But to say it was done “wilfully” implies an intent to cause harm. When the presenter, Stephen Dixon, challenged Rayner as to whether that was what she really meant, she did not retract the claim, but she did not elaborate on it either.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, declined to answer questions about Dominic Cummings when he left home this morning. Speaking to reporters outside his house in north-west London, Hancock said:
I’m just off to drive forward the vaccine programme and then I’ll be going to the House of Commons and I’ll answer questions there.
Labour has moved the writ for the Batley and Spen byelection to take place on Thursday 1 July.
Prof Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College epidemiologist whose modelling played a key role in persuading Boris Johnson to order the original lockdown last year, told the Today programme this morning that the variant originating in India (B.1.617.2) is now the dominant one in the UK. He said:
It’s now in well over the majority of local authority areas in the country and is now the dominant strain. The majority of new cases are of the variant – that is obviously concerning. It’s gone from being really a small minority a month ago to the majority variant.
Ferguson said this meant that whether or not England would be able to go ahead with step 4 of the roadmap – the lifting of all remaining restrictions – was “in the balance”. He explained:
Step 4 is rather in the balance, the data collected in the next two to three weeks will be critical.
The key issue as to whether we can go forward is: will the surge caused by the Indian variant – and we do think there will be a surge – be more than has been already planned in to the relaxation measures?
So it was always expected that relaxation would lead to a surge in infections and to some extent a small third wave of transmission – that’s inevitable if you allow contact rates in population to go up, even despite immunity – [but] we can’t cope with that being too large.
In the next two or three weeks we will be able to come to a firm assessment of whether it’s possible to go forward.
Ferguson also restated his claim that locking down a week early in March 2020 would have saved 20,000 to 30,000 lives. He said:
I think that’s unarguable. I mean, the epidemic was doubling every three to four days in weeks 13 to 23 March, and so had we moved the interventions back a week we would have curtailed that and saved many lives.
Good morning. Today will be dominated by Matt Hancock, the health secretary, responding to the multiple criticisms of him made by Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former chief adviser, in his select committee evidence yesterday – Hancock is in the Commons this morning, and holding a press conference this afternoon – but Cummings did not just criticise Hancock, and it is for the government as a whole to respond too.
Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, was doing the morning interview round and he made it clear that the government is taking a dual-pronged approach. Broadly, it is not going to engage with Cummings, Jenrick implied, because he said the government wanted to wait until the inquiry, which is not due to start until next year. Jenrick said:
The last year has been uniquely challenging and difficult for everyone in ways, but very, very profoundly difficult for those people who’ve lost loved ones and they are right to seek answers and explanations. That’s why we’re having the full public inquiry next year.
I think that is the right moment to consider these things in a calm and reflective manner with all of the evidence.
But ministers are responding to some of Cummings’ allegations and Jenrick said he did not believe probably the most damning one of all – that “tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die”. Asked if Cummings was wrong to make this claim, Jenrick replied:
Yes, I think it is because you have to remember that we didn’t have all of the facts at the time that the decisions were being taken. Nobody could doubt for one moment that the prime minister was doing anything other than acting with the best of motives, with the information and the advice that was available to him … At the very beginning of the pandemic we didn’t know much about this new virus.
I will post more from Jenrick’s interviews shortly.
Here is the agenda for the day.
10am: Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, gives a speech on transport policy.
10.30am: Matt Hancock, the health secretary, answers a Commons urgent question about his department’s handling of Covid.
12pm: Downing Street is expected to hold its daily lobby briefing.
12pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, takes questions in the Scottish parliament.
2pm: Public Health England publishes its weekly Covid surveillance report.
2.30pm: Sir Tom Scholar, the Treasury permanent secretary, gives evidence to the Commons Treasury committee about Greensill Capital; at 4pm Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, will give evidence.
2.30pm: Tony Sewell, chair of the commission on race and ethnic disparities, gives evidence to the Commons women and equalities committee.
3.30pm: Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, gives evidence to the public administration and constitutional affairs committee about Covid-status certification.
5pm: Hancock holds a press conference.
And Boris Johnson is doing a visit this morning, where he is expected to record a short TV interview.
Politics Live has been a mix of Covid and non-Covid politics recently, but today I expect to be focusing mostly on Hancock, and other reaction to Cummings’ evidence yesterday. For global Covid developments, do read our global live blog.
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