Baroness Dido Harding has voted with the Conservatives on a parliamentary vote on the government’s plans for immigration and their impact on social care despite having promised to remain neutral due to her roles in the NHS.
According to reports in the The Mirror this afternoon, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case wrote in a letter that test-and-trace boss Harding had promised to avoid votes relating to health and social care.
But the Conservative life peer voted against the amendment tabled by Labour on Monday to review the implications that the government’s immigration plans would have on staffing for the sector.
Angela Smith said: “Baroness Harding either never intended to keep her commitment not to vote on health and social care issues or just didn’t care enough to find out what the Tory whips had told her to vote against. Either way, it’s brazen behaviour.”
The opposition won the division on the amendment, which will require the government to carry out an independent review. 304 members voted in favour of the change to the bill, while 224 voted against.
The Labour leader of the Lords added: “She voted against a review to understand the impact on the social care sector after the government has ended freedom of movement in the EU. That is both shocking and extraordinary given her NHS roles.”
Harding is executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP), which is a public body that brings together Public Health England and the NHS test and trace programme. Its officials are civil servants.
Smith raised concerns last month in a letter to the Cabinet Secretary. She highlighted that Harding should be bound by the civil service code, which includes the obligation to “not act in a way determined by party political considerations”.
She described Harding continuing her membership of the Conservative group in the Lords while holding her NHS positions as a “flagrant breach of the code”, adding that she knows of “no other example where this has been tolerated”.
Smith argued that Harding could be made a government minister and consequently be made accountable to parliament. She asked why the Prime Minister had not taken this step.
Harding was appointed to head up the NHS test and trace programme early in the pandemic. She recently assumed the role with the NIHP when the new body was created in August.
Former Labour lord chancellor Charlie Falconer accused Boris Johnson in September of corrupting the UK constitution by appointing Harding to the influential twin civil service roles in the fight against Covid-19.
He said: “It is such a corruption of our constitution to make a Tory backbencher in parliament a senior civil servant without any process and without even requiring the most basic rules of political impartiality.
“It is hardly surprising that our track and trace system is going so wrong if your talent pool is restricted to Tory backbenchers in parliament.”
The government has faced significant criticism since appointing Harding to the prominent roles in the country’s fight against the pandemic as she has been a Tory peer since August 2014 and is married to Conservative MP John Penrose.