Labour move succeeds amid furious row over ‘missing’ minutes detailing Owen Paterson call
It following the stunning admission from the government that minutes of a key telephone call about a Covid contract awarded to Randox after it employed former Tory MP Owen Paterson are missing.
MPs were told details of the conference call could not be “located” – just one hour after Boris Johnson bowed to pressure to release details of the contracts.
Labour attacked the “astonishing revelation”, with the party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner suggesting the lack of minutes was in breach of the ministerial code. “This is corruption," sy het gese.
The meeting at the heart of Labour’s request for information took place on 9 April 2020, and involves Randox, ex-health minister Lord Bethell and Mr Paterson – who recently quit over the government’s botched attempt to save him from suspension.
Speaking at PMQs, Boris Johnson had said he was “very happy to publish all the details of the Randox contracts, which have been investigated by the National Audit Office already”.
But health minister Gillian Keegan later told MPs the government has been “unable to locate a formal note” of what was said during a call between the ex-health minister, Mr Paterson and Randox.
Ms Keegan echoed Mr Johnson’s desire to publish what is deemed “in scope” of Labour’s request – but she prompted a furious reaction by disclosing the lack of a formal note on the conference call.
Labour MP Dame Angela Eagle said the minister had made an “astonishing” admission about the existence of “meetings with no minutes that are official … and she is unable to locate a copy of what is clearly a meeting that happened”.
Another Labour MP shouted: “Staggering.”
Ms Keegan sought to clarify that the government had not “lost” the minutes of a meeting between Randox and a health minister – only that it cannot find them at the moment.
“I just want to make it clear what I said: we have been unable to locate a formal note of the meeting. That is what I have been told so far. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one. It has been unable to locate one.”
Lib Dem Alistair Carmichael hit back at told Ms Keegan: “I wonder if the search by these ministers extends to the shredding room.”
Ms Keegan added: “We will review what information we hold in scope and we will define the scope … and we’ll come back to parliament and we’ll deposit them here in the libraries of the House. We will commit to do that.”
Warning that missing minutes would have to be found, Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said: “I would expect that the 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.”
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA trade union for civil servants, told Sky News that the admission “raises serious questions about whether officials were present and whether a note was actually taken – those are matters of fact which should be clarified urgently”.
Randox said it would “co-operate fully” after Labour’s motion to force the government to release minutes of meetings between ministers and the firm – and all communications over contracts – was approved unopposed.
A company spokesman said: “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.”
Randox said lobbying played no role in the awarding of 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,” said a spokesman.