Jonathan Ashworth has demanded that Conservative peer Lord Bethell step down from his role as parliamentary undersecretary of state for innovation following his use of a personal email account to carry out government business.
Responding to an update from Sajid Javid on the pandemic this afternoon, the Shadow Health Secretary asked whether, in light of the use of his private account and other conduct in breach of guidelines, Javid has “confidence” in the minister.
“Why is the parliamentary undersecretary of state for innovation, the noble Lord Bethell using his personal email account to discuss government contracts?” he asked. “Why did he have a meeting with a firm that won a contract but not declare it? Does he have confidence in this minister? Isn’t it time this health minister was relieved of his responsibilities as well?”
The Health Secretary replied: “I have got such a fantastic ministerial team. It’s not even a question of confidence, it’s a group of ministers that are incredibly talented.” He added: “This is one of the best teams I have ever had.”
Ashworth also asked Javid to confirm that he would not use a personal email account to carry out government business. Reports emerged over the weekend that the former Health Secretary had routinely done so since March last year.
Labour has called for a “full-scale” investigation into the use of private accounts by ministers. The party has said it is concerned about security risks and the potential for ministers to avoid scrutiny, “whether internally, by the public via freedom of information requests, or in any future public inquiry”.
Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham has said she is “looking carefully at the information that has come to light” and considering “what further steps may be necessary”.
Giving his first statement to parliament since replacing Matt Hancock, Javid declared today that he is “very confident about July 19th”, the new ‘freedom date’, and said the vaccine was “breaking the link” between infection and hospitalisation.
He added that “every step [in the roadmap] must be irreversible” and said: “The Prime Minister has said it is our terminus date. For me, July 19th is not only the end of the line but the start of an exciting new journey for our country.”
The Health Secretary told MPs that, as of this weekend, more than half of all adults under the age of 30 have taken up the offer of a jab and that the vaccine had according to the latest modelling saved “over 27,000 lives”.
Ashworth warned that there were around 84,000 cases in the past week, up 61%, and that today saw the highest case rate since January. “If these trends continue, we could hit 35,000 to 45,000 cases a day by July 19th,” he said.
“I want to see an end to restrictions, our constituents want to see an end to restrictions. But I hope his confidence today about July 19th does not prove somewhat premature or even, dare I say it, hubristic.
The Shadow Health Secretary asked whether Javid was this afternoon ruling out the possibility of restrictions this winter, for which government officials had been drawing up plans. Javid did not provide a response.
Javid replaced the outgoing Hancock this weekend. Hancock resigned on Saturday evening following a public backlash after a video and pictures emerged of the minister breaking his own Covid rules with his aide last month.