London politics latest LIVE: Keir Starmer demands Covid inquiry report by end of year amid Hancock messages furore
Labour leader Keir Starmer has demanded the Covid inquiry release findings by the end of the year amid fresh criticism of former Health Secretary Matt Hancock over his pandemic response.
Mr Hancock was engulfed in a row over whether he rejected advice from one of England’s health chiefs at the start of the pandemic over testing people going into care homes.
Mr Hancock faced allegations in The Daily Telegraph, which obtained more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages between him, ministers and officials, that he had not followed the advice of England’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty. Mr Hancock furiously rejected the claims.
At Prime Minister’s Question’s on Wednesday, Mr Starmer said the messages were an “insulting and ghoulish spectacle” for families across the country who have lost loved ones.
The country “deserves better” he said, criticising the cost of the Covid inquiry so far.
Rishi Sunak insisted the coronavirus inquiry was the “right way” to investigate the Government's handling of the pandemic rather than relying on “piecemeal bits of information”.
Mr Starmer had earlier attacked Mr Sunak over the “shocking state” the Tories had left the country in during cost of living crisis.
Following PMQs, health minister Helen Whately faced an urgent question from Labour on testing of care home residents during the Covid-19 pandemic.
She told MPs the “importance of testing was never in doubt" but added "tough decisions about prioritisation had to be made”.
Don’t create drama, Sunak pleads
10:59 , Miriam Burrell
Rishi Sunak has told Tory MPs to give the DUP “time and space” to consider his Northern Ireland Brexit deal as they were warned it is the best offer they will get.
The Prime Minister said he was “confident” they would back it as he urged colleagues not to create another “Westminster drama”.
But Conservatives were waiting with “bated breath” to see if the DUP will back the Windsor Framework, which is hoped to restore powersharing to Stormont after a year-long absence.
Hancock disputes ‘distorted’ WhatsApp leak
11:07 , Miriam Burrell
Matt Hancock says claims that he rejected advice to give Covid tests to all residents going into English care homes is a “distorted account”.
A spokesperson for the former Health Secretary said more than 100,000 leaked WhatsApp messages have been “spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda”.
A Telegraph investigation claims chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty told Mr Hancock in April 2020 there should be testing for “all going into care homes”.
But the messages suggest he rejected the guidance, telling an aide the move just “muddies the waters”.
Labour granted Urgent Question after Hancock leak
11:17 , Miriam Burrell
The Speaker has granted Labour an Urgent Question ahead of PMQs this afternoon, Sky News is reporting.
It’s in relation to allegations that Matt Hancock rejected advice to test all English care residents for Covid during the pandemic.
Mr Hancock says the messages have been taken out of context.
The Urgent Question will take place after PMQs, at around 12.30pm.
Labour claims Govt wasted £26.8bn under Sunak’s watch
11:24 , Miriam Burrell
Labour has claimed Rishi Sunak oversaw “wasteful” government spending and departmental losses that cost the taxpayer up to £26.8 billion.
The party compiled a dossier of the “extensive waste” under Mr Sunak during his time as Chancellor and as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 2021-22 and 2019-20.
The list includes examples of sums lost due to fraud and faulty PPE during the pandemic, through poorly-planned defence procurement and on private consultancy fees.
Number of children in food poverty nearly doubles in a year
11:38 , Miriam Burrell
The number of households with children experiencing food poverty has nearly doubled in the past year, the Food Foundation revealed, affecting almost four million children.
Among families experiencing food poverty, more than three quarters reported being worried about the impact it has on their children’s physical and mental health.
Around 80 per cent of British people support the expansion of free school meals to all children on Universal Credit, as pressure grows for the Government to do so.
Pictured: Rishi Sunak leaves No 10
11:41 , Miriam Burrell
PMQs shortly underway
11:57 , Miriam Burrell
Prime Minister’s Questions will shortly be underway in the House of Commons.
It will begin at midday.
UK families to become poorer than Polish families, Starmer says
12:05 , Miriam Burrell
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the average family in Britain will be poorer than the average family in Poland by 2030.
Rishi Sunak said the energy crisis, as a result of an “illegal war” in Ukraine is to blame, but the Government is paying over half of a typical household energy bill, saving households £1,000.
He said it’s one of the most generous support packages globally, and called on Mr Starmer to “back our plan to halve inflation”.
‘Only one party that broke the economy'
12:08 , Miriam Burrell
Rishi Sunak said 400,000 global CEOs ranked the UK as their number one European investment destination, according to a new survey.
The Prime Minister said Labour should back the Government’s minimum service levels.
But Sir Keir Starmer said: “There’s only party that broke the economy and they’re sitting there”, as he pointed to the Tories.
PM asked to increase housing supply
12:10 , Miriam Burrell
Sir Keir Starmer asked the Prime Minister if he would bring back planning reforms to increase housing supply.
Rishi Sunak said there is “recordly high housebuilding” under his Government, and a record number of first-time buyers in 20 years.
He said Labour’s policy to oppose any new oil and gas licences in the North Sea is “absurd”.
Hancock WhatsApp leak ‘peacemeal bits of information’, PM says
12:14 , Miriam Burrell
The Covid inquiry has cost taxpayers £85m and it hasn’t heard from a single Government official yet, Sir Keir Starmer said.
He asked the Prime Minister for progress to be sped up following allegations against former Health Secretary Matt Hancock made this morning.
Rishi Sunak said the Telegraph investigation into Mr Hancock’s WhatsApp messages was “peacemeal bits of information”.
He said the “right way” to investigate this is to leave it up to the independent inquiry.
“We should let them get on with their job,” Mr Sunak said.
Nurses working in ‘crumbling’ hospital
12:23 , Miriam Burrell
Nurses are working in crubling hospital buildings in Lancashire, MP Cat Smith said.
“How many broken hospitals will it take for the Prime Minister to finally fix something?” she asked.
Rishi Sunak said there have been 90 upgrades around country and in communtiy diagnostics, and the Government “backs” nurses.
Deadly migrant boat crossing ‘tragic’, Sunak says
12:25 , Miriam Burrell
A migrant boat shipwreck over the weekend in Italy that killed at least 65 people is a “tragic incident”, Rishi Sunak said.
The Prime Minister said that’s why he and Suella Braverman created five new measures to tackle increasing migration and struck deals with France and Albania.
Colin Pitchfork up for parole
12:30 , Miriam Burrell
Double child rapist Colin Pitchfork is once gain up for parole next month, the House of Commons heard.
The Prime Minister was asked if he could organsie an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State of Justice so concerns about his release could be included in submissions to the Independent Parole Board.
Rishi Sunak said Pitchfork committed “heinous crimes” and said the Deputy Prime Minister will submit views before the oral hearing.
Sunak urged to continue energy bill support
12:32 , Miriam Burrell
MP Chris Elmore urged the Government to continue energy bill support beyond April.
Rishi Sunak said the Government is helping households “now” with the Energy Price Guarantee, with £1,000 in savings for the average household.
He said further support will only be for “most vulnerable” but said there has been a record increase in pensions, benefits and the national living wage under the Government.
Over the counter sales of laughing gas
12:37 , Miriam Burrell
A Sky News investigation on over the counter sales of laughing gas to children and young teenagers was mentioned, including an increase in the size of cannisters and ambulance callouts.
The Prime Minister was urged to take action against those knowingly selling the “harmful substance”.
Mr Sunak said an advisory council is looking closely at it.
Hancock WhatsApp leak ‘misleading'
12:41 , Miriam Burrell
MP Helen Whately said the situation in British care homes during the Covid pandemic “was extremely difficult”.
“It is vital that we learn lessons and equally vital that we learn those lessons in the right context,” she told the House of Commons during Labour’s Urgent Question about allegations that former Health Secretary Matt Hancock rejected advice to test all care home residents in 2020.
“Selective snippets give a limited and misleading insight into the machinery of the Government at the time,” Ms Whately said.
“That’s why the Covid inquiry is so important.”
WhatsApp messages aren’t full picture, Govt says
12:46 , Miriam Burrell
MP Helen Whately said she’s “shocked and disappointed” in the tone MP Liz Kendall has taken in the House of Commons.
Ms Whately is being grilled by the Labour MP about the Government’s failings with Covid testing at care homes during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
“The courts have already agreed that our decisions on testing were completely rational,” she said.
“By mid-April...we were in a position to test more widely.”
She said a selection of WhatsApp messages doesn’t show the full picture.
“A meeting to discuss the implementation of the advice on testing was not referenced in WhatsApp messages [Kendall] is talking about but instead in an email following this exchange, saying we can ‘press straight away’ with testing.”
Whately admits seeking Covid test for family member
12:53 , Miriam Burrell
MP Daisy Cooper said leaked WhatsApp messages show that despite a shortage in Covid tests during the pandemic, a test was sent to a minister’s home by courier.
“How many other Tory MPs and their families received priority tests during the pandemic when there was shortage of tests?” she asked.
MP Helen Whately admitted that the WhatsApp message show she was also seeking a test for a family member when there was a shortage.
Ministers asked to show humility
12:58 , Miriam Burrell
MP Karin Smyth said NHS was run at 96 percent capacity during the pandemic, and many other mistakes were made.
She said some “humility” should be shown by Government ministers to ease families suffering and more detail on “what actually did happen” should be revealed now.
MP Helen Whately said the appropiate way to reach solutions is through the Covid inquiry.
MPs ‘not listening to me’, Social Care Minister says
13:01 , Miriam Burrell
“It really feels like MPs have not been listening to my answers on this,” Helen Whately said during an Urgent Question about the Government’s handling of Covid testing in 2020.
The Social Care Minister said public health advice was followed and the issue was limited testing numbers.
“As soon as capacity was available, further tesitng was used for testing residents and people being discharged to care homes,” she said.
Visits to care homes during pandemic about ‘getting the right balance'
13:10 , Miriam Burrell
Helen Whately said context is “absolutely important” when looking at Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages and “it’s disappointing to see an attempt to play politics with this issue”.
The Social Care Minister admitted she was “concerned that families were able to see loved ones in care homes” and therefore allowed visits to care homes during the pandemic, when other countries banned it to prevent the spread of Covid.
She said she tried to “get the right balance”. She said her decisions will be part of discussions in the Covid inquiry.
Downing Street says ‘significant public interest’ in claims a child of Jacob Rees-Mogg got preferential Covid test
13:23 , Barney Davis
Asked about the claim in Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages centring on former cabinet minister Mr Rees-Mogg, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “On all these issues clearly there is significant public interest, that’s why we have established an independent public inquiry that will look to establish the facts.
“It’s not for me to look at individual claims put out.”
One of the suggestions in the leaked files is that in September 2020, during a severe backlog in testing, an adviser to Mr Hancock helped get a test sent to the senior Conservative’s home after a lab “lost” the original test for one of his children.
No10 insists WhatsApp leaks taken ‘seriously’ but not looking into leaks
13:24 , Barney Davis
Downing Street has insisted leaks are taken “seriously” but declined to open an inquiry into Matt Hancock’s messages, saying it was a matter for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
Asked if a leak inquiry would be opened, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Leaks regarding data protection issues are a matter for the information commissioner.
“We take leaks seriously, we don’t comment on them.”
Asked if Rishi Sunak wants to see the ICO investigated considering his own messages could be revealed, the official said: “I’m cautious they are an independent body, it’s for them to make a decision, I wouldn’t want to be seen to be putting any undue pressure on them.
“There are no plans to do that I’m aware of. It’s for the information commissioner to investigate data breaches if they think it is right to do so.”
Pressed on how the leak is being taken seriously if no public action was being taken, the spokesman said: “It’s because we don’t comment on actions taken after leaks nor do we comment on security matters.”
Labour MP demands answers over care home test failures
13:40 , Barney Davis
Labour’s shadow social care minister Liz Kendall asked in the Commons “why weren’t care home residents prioritised when the devastating impact of Covid was there for all to see”?
She told MPs: “Former ministers are touring the studios this morning claiming this delay was simply because there weren’t enough tests. Where is the evidence for this? And even if tests were in short supply, why weren’t care home residents prioritised when the devastating impact of Covid was there for all to see?”
She added: “The families of the 43,000 care home residents who lost their lives will be appalled at the former health secretary attempting to rewrite history, an attempt that will turn to ashes along with his TV career.
“We need more humility and less celebrity from the member for West Suffolk and above all we need answers.”
Telegraph editor questions Hancock’s decision to hand over WhatApp messages to Isabel Oakeshott
13:53 , Barney Davis
The Telegraph’s associate editor has denied claims that Matt Hancock’s leaked WhatsApp messages have been doctored.
Camilla Tominey told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “The suggestion that we’ve somehow adopted these messages is simply not true.”
She also defended Isabel Oakeshott after the journalist was accused of breaching a non-disclosure agreement signed when working on Mr Hancock’s memoir by sharing the messages.
“I support Isabel’s decision-making wholeheartedly. In the interest of openness, transparency and accountability, she felt that she was sitting on a huge amount of information that the public had a right to know.
“We can question Mr Hancock’s decision-making when it came to deciding to hand over the entire contents of his own WhatsApp messages to a journalist and the potential pitfalls of that.”
Ms Tominey added that it was “perfectly legitimate to question how the decisions were made, to ask whether the normal protocols went dangerously out of the window as people made public health policy”.
Sir Keir demands answers now over Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Covid test
14:07 , Barney Davis
Labour has urged the Government to come clean after reports that in September 2020, during a severe backlog in testing, an adviser to Matt Hancock helped get a test sent to the home of senior Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The allegation emerged after a trove of more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages were handed to the Daily Telegraph.
A spokesman for Sir Keir Starmer said there was no need for that matter to be left to the official Covid-19 inquiry and answers could be provided by the Government now.
“The Government is more than capable of answering those questions now and ensuring that we can have clarity and transparency on those issues, rather than needing to wait for the inquiry to add that to its workload,” he said.
“There is absolutely no reason for that to need to be within the remit of the inquiry,” he told reporters, adding that the inquiry should also be free to look at it if it so chooses.
“Equally, to hide behind the inquiry at this stage seems bizarre from the Government when it would be very easy for that information and those questions to be answered now.”
Live coverage ends
14:35 , Miriam Burrell
That’s all for our live coverage today.
Please check back in for next week’s PMQs.