New sleaze row as Government claims it has LOST the official record of a call between a senior health minister, disgraced ex-MP Owen Paterson and Randox firm he lobbied for while in Parliament amid call for probe over £600m contracts for PPE equipment
- Call between Lord Bethell, Randox and Owen Paterson took place in April 2020
- MPs concerned at how firm received nearly £600m of Covid testing contracts
- Commons heard today that officials have been ‘unable to locate a formal note’
The Government was facing new fury today over PPE deals after claiming it had lost the official record of a phone call between a health minister, the former MP Owen Paterson and Randox, the company at the heart of his lobbying shame.
MPs were told today that officials have been ‘unable to locate a formal note’ of what was said during a call involving Lord Bethell in April last year regarding equipment.
Labour wants to force the Government to release minutes of meetings between ministers, officials and the diagnostics company amid concerns over how nearly £600 million of Covid testing contracts were awarded to the firm.
Randox is the diagnostics company which employed Mr Paterson, the former Tory cabinet minister who resigned as MP for North Shropshire during the Westminster sleaze row, as a consultant.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson said he was ‘very happy to publish all the details of the Randox contracts, which have been investigated by the National Audit Office already’.
Health minister Gillian Keegan later echoed the Government’s desire to review the information it holds and publish what is deemed ‘in scope’ of Labour’s request.
But she prompted a furious reaction by disclosing the lack of a formal note related to the conference call on April 9 last year.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner suggested the lack of minutes was in breach of the ministerial code.
Randox is the diagnostics company which employed Mr Paterson (right) as a consultant. The former Tory cabinet minister who resigned as MP for North Shropshire during the Westminster sleaze row over his work
MPs were told today that officials have been ‘unable to locate a formal note’ of what was said during a call involving Lord Bethell (pictured with Boris Johnson) in April last year regarding equipment.
Speaking in the Commons, Liberal Democrat former minister Alistair Carmichael asked Ms Keegan to publish the minutes of the telephone conference call.
Ms Keegan, in her reply, said: ‘In terms of the minutes, I think we’ve said we will publish things here in the library.’
She later said: ‘We will review what information is held, that’s in scope, and we will come back to Parliament and deposit them in the libraries of the House. We will commit to do that.’
Pressed further by Labour MP Tony Lloyd (Rochdale) on the Randox meeting, Ms Keegan said: ‘The meeting he refers to was a courtesy call from the minister to Randox to discuss RNA extraction kits.
‘That was declared on the ministerial register of calls and meetings, and we have been unable to locate a formal note of that meeting, but all the other notes that are available with regard to this – and that meeting, by the way, was after any contracts were let with Randox.’
Raising a point of order, Labour former minister Dame Angela Eagle said the minister had made ‘astonishing’ revelations to MPs about there being ‘meetings with no minutes that are official, involve Government minister, and she is unable to locate a copy of what is clearly a meeting that happened’.
Another Labour MP shouted: ‘Staggering.’
Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he hoped the ministerial officials would look into this, adding: ‘I would expect that Government meetings that take place with people around would always be minuted.
‘If not, I think it opens up another question and I don’t want that question to be opened up – I’d sooner for it to be answered.’
Opening the debate, Ms Rayner said: ‘We already know that the former member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) broke the rules on lobbying, we already know that Randox was awarded nearly £600 million of taxpayers’ money without a tender.
‘We already know that Randox were awarded a second £347 million contract, having failed to deliver on a previous £133 million contract, and we already know this decision was made after a conference call involving the then-member for North Shropshire and the health minister Lord Bethell.
‘What we don’t know is what happened in those meetings, who else was present, what was discussed and what was decided?’
Health minister Gillian Keegan prompted a furious reaction by disclosing the lack of a formal note related to the conference call on April 9 last year
Randox said it would ‘co-operate fully’ after Labour’s motion attempting to force the Government to release minutes of meetings between ministers, officials and the firm was approved unopposed.
A Randox spokesman said: ‘Randox will be pleased to co-operate fully in laying before the House all the material required.
‘Public disclosure will demonstrate the efficiency and value for money provided by Randox through contacts awarded in full compliance with Government regulations at a time of national crisis.
‘Contrary to much of what has been written and broadcast, lobbying played no role in the awarding of these contracts.
‘The company has 40 years’ experience in testing and diagnostics. It is proud of its performance and delivery under the contracts awarded to it on merit by the Government. They resulted in the delivery of more than 21 million Covid tests, 15 million of them to the national testing programme from the start of the emergency in the spring of 2020.
‘At this time, hindered by global shortages and less experience than Randox, other laboratories were simply not able to provide whole-system capabilities to deliver the tests which the World Health Organisation and the UK Government agreed were crucial to combating the pandemic.’
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