The Lord Speaker, Norman Fowler, has said a public inquiry into how the Covid pandemic was handled by the government should be set up “as soon as possible” and should not be delayed.
Lord Fowler, who was a cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher for 11 years and is a former Conservative party chair, said: “I would support those saying we need an inquiry into … whether there was a delay in lockdown because if there was we need to know why.”
He added: “If it was … in face of medical advice then that is quite a hurdle. Politicians need to be guided by the best medical advice in positions of this kind.”
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said an inquiry of this kind should “be automatic” and “should take place as soon as possible”. He added: “What we don’t need is an inquiry in a few year’s time.”
His calls echo those of the Institute for Government, whose leadership includes the former Conservative cabinet minister David Lidington and the former Labour science minister Lord Sainsbury, as they urge the prime minister to set up a statutory public inquiry in May, with hearings to start in September.
The healthcare thinktank the King’s Fund, which is chaired by Lord Kakkar, a government adviser on race and a professor of surgery at University College London, is also expected to tell Downing Street: “Now is the time.”
Their intervention comes after the Guardian revealed the extent of support for an inquiry from senior doctors and government scientific advisers.
Fowler, who as health secretary under Thatcher was central to early government information campaigns about HIV, will step down near the end of April, before the formal end of his five-year term in September. He is taking on a new role for the United Nations to continue campaigning on issues including HIV/Aids and the persecution of LGBT people.
A leaked memo revealed this month that the UK is to slash funding for lifesaving water, sanitation and hygiene projects in developing nations by more than 80%. When asked about this, Fowler said cutting the aid budget was a “bad decision”. “We have an 80% cut in funds and we only have a small budget, to begin with in terms of what the UK government gives. We get £15m a year and it has gone down to £2.5m.”
He said the move would harm the national reputation of the UK, describing the decision as “so tragic”.
When asked about the future of the House of Lords and whether there were too many people given a position, he said that “there are good people in the House of Lords” who are “experts” and “work hard”.
“My committee proposed a reduction from 800 to 600 [sitting members in the House of Lords] and below the House of Commons. Had we followed recommendations of my committee then we would be nearer that target … but on the other end the prime minister is putting more and more people in,” he said, adding that there needed to be a return to the former prime minister Theresa May’s policy of “moderation”.