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Commission chair discusses plan for Covid-19 memorials as recommendations go to Prime Minister

Friday 31 March, 2023

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is to be asked give his support to a range of recommendations, including memorials, to remember those most affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, the leader of the commission tasked with drawing up proposals for a national response has revealed.

Baroness Morgan of Cotes, chair of the UK Commission on Covid Commemoration, said there was a need for the nation to remember not only those who died from the virus, but also the suffering of those whose lives were - and in some cases continue to be - disrupted, the key workers on the frontline of Britain’s response, the scientists and medics who worked on treatments and vaccines and the volunteers who held communities together.

Lady Morgan was speaking in the latest edition of the Lord Speaker’s Corner podcast, released on 31 March as the Commission’s recommendations went to Mr Sunak following a nine-month consultation process.

In an in-depth discussion with the Lord Speaker, Lord McFall of Alcluith, the former Cabinet minister detailed the wide range of interests she has pursued since joining the Upper House in 2020, including action to tackle misogynistic abuse online and to tighten protections against digital fraud.

Lady Morgan joined the House of Lords as Culture Secretary in Boris Johnson’s cabinet, and said the most immediately obvious difference was that she was “asked tougher questions” by peers, many of whom are able to draw on the expertise and experience of long service at the highest levels of government, the law, academia, the military, civil service, media and science.

She discussed how she has used her position in the second chamber to put forward amendments to the law on revenge porn and violence against women and girls.

And she explained how she chaired a committee reviewing the operation of the Fraud Act 2006, which recommended new measures to make corporations responsible if their services are used to swindle customers.

Lady Morgan was commissioned by then prime minister Mr Johnson in July last year to lead a consultation into the commemoration of the Covid-19 pandemic. She has just completed her report, which has now been sent to Downing Street.

She told Lord McFall: “The report is actually finished and due to be sent to the government by the end of this month. And we wait for the government to publish it and to obviously respond.”

The powerful message from the Commission’s consultation exercise was that “everybody lost something”, she said.

She cited those who lost loved ones to the disease, but also those bereaved due to other causes, who were unable properly to say goodbye to family and friends because of restrictions on funeral services during lockdown.

She paid tribute to the “extraordinary” volunteers who maintain the unofficial Covid Memorial Wall, visible across the Thames from the window of Lord McFall’s office in the House of Lords where the interview took place.

“Equally, we're also tasked with remembering frontline key workers, the achievements of UK science and the community and volunteering spirit,” said Lady Morgan. “We're all aware in our own communities of how everybody pulled together to help others.

“So we are going to come up with a range of different recommendations, one recommendation would not cover that broad remit. ”

She said that the Commission also heard calls for enhanced preparations for future pandemics as a way of remembering those lost to Covid.

“When people have something traumatic happen to them, of course they want that to be … remembered, but they also want to stop other people going through it as well,” she said.

“So some of this was about how we can prepare and be resilient for future pandemics or natural hazards.

“Of course people have got mixed views. Some people just want to move on, some people can't move on, some people of course have got long Covid or are immuno-compromised and still shielding.

“It's been very humbling. My fellow commissioners have been brilliant and I very much hope the Government will accept the recommendations and we'll do justice to what we've been told by the bereaved families.”

After serving for nine years from 2010-19 as MP for Loughborough as Nicky Morgan, including two years as Education Secretary, the baroness told Lord McFall said she was very aware of the way the Upper House improves legislation sent to it by the Commons.

“The House of Lords absolutely has a major role in improving the laws that we pass as a Parliament,” she said. “Because we have the time, but also because ministers in the Lords will engage often early and will continue the engagement with peers on all sides to come up with... a step forward, an improvement in regulation based on experience.

“The fact is you can have proper lengthy, detailed debates… and ask difficult questions. Ministers can't get away in the House of Lords with trite answers or too many promises of future action because the peers won't stand for it. And I think that's a real service to the nation.”

Lady Morgan’s interview is the latest in the Lord Speaker’s Corner podcast series shedding a light on the personalities in the House of Lords and the work they undertake.

You can listen to the podcast on Parliament's website,  watch it on the House of Lords YouTube channel or download from your usual podcast source.

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