Labour demand Randox meeting minutes into Covid testing contracts worth nearly £600 million
Files detailing discussions between health company Randox, a former MP and ministers show that the Government is “simply unfit for office”, Labour has said.
Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds (pictured) also pressed the Government to release the full minutes of a “crucial meeting” on April 9 2020, after which Randox went on to win Government Covid testing contracts worth nearly £600 million.
Health minister Maggie Throup said a note of the 2020 meeting published last week was the equivalent of “an official record of a meeting”.
The Government also faced scrutiny over suggestions in the published files that former health secretary Matt Hancock and former Conservative North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson discussed Randox in one of the division lobbies either side of the Commons where MPs cast votes.
Asking an urgent question following the release of the documents, Ms Dodds said: “They (the files) paint a picture of a Conservative Government that is simply unfit for office. That the Conservative Government played fast and loose with public money. It handed Randox a £133 million contract, without competition.”
On the meeting between then-health minister Lord Bethell, Mr Paterson and Randox on April 9 2020, the Labour Party chairwoman said: “There are still no minutes of that crucial meeting on April 9. Just a rough draft email, sent seven months later. Two years on, the department can’t even explain who was there.
“Health ministers held, we now know, another four meetings that were never declared in the register. So how many more secret meetings were there?”
The Labour chairwoman added: “The file showed that this former MP, a paid advocate for Randox, was arranging meetings with the health secretary in the division lobby. A place which only MPs can have access and where it is impossible for civil servants to join them.”
Ms Throup made “no apology” for the Government’s actions to acquire Covid testing equipment, and suggested the note released in the Randox files about the meeting on April 9 is the equivalent of “an official record of a meeting”.
She said: “When the department received a Freedom of Information request for the minutes of this meeting, the private secretary found the minutes and shared it. And for clarity, notes and minutes mean an official record of a meeting. The words mean the same from an official meeting’s record point of view.”
Ms Throup also stressed there are “robust rules and processes” in place to assure that all contracts are awarded in line with procurement regulations and transparency guidelines.
She added: “Direct awards, like in this case, are permitted by the public contract regulations for reasons of extreme urgency brought about by unforeseeable events. I’m sure no member would deny that this was a situation of extreme urgency.”
The minister faced further questions about the meeting in the division lobby, with Hull North MP Dame Diana Johnson asking: “The documents showed that there was a meeting with the former member for North Shropshire and the former secretary of state for health and social care in the division lobbies… Did that meeting take place?”
Ms Throup replied: “The evidence has been put in the library and obviously information is there and obviously I want to make it clear that my department went through as much evidence as they could.”
Dame Diana could be heard shouting “yes or no!” as the minister answered.
Mr Paterson resigned from the Commons in November last year, after he was found to have lobbied – against parliamentary rules – on behalf of Randox, for which he was a paid consultant.
The saga prompted a sleaze scandal in Westminster after Boris Johnson’s Government launched a defence of Mr Paterson and tried to save him from a 30-day suspension, only to back down when under considerable pressure.
The documents released on Friday February 4 show the extent to which Mr Paterson was in contact with the then health secretary over Randox’s offers to provide coronavirus testing services.
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