MPs pass motion on Covid contracts amid claims of “dodgy lobbying”

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

MPs have passed a ‘humble address’ motion tabled by the Labour Party calling on the government to release documents relating to the controversial decision to award contracts worth more than £200m to PPE Medpro.

Angela Rayner urged ministers to “come clean” over claims that Tory peer Michelle Mone received £29m after she recommended the company to ministers. Mone’s spokesperson has claimed the allegations have been “unjustly levelled against her” but the peer announced today that she is taking a leave of absence from the Lords.

Opening the debate for Labour this afternoon, the deputy Labour leader said the motion from her party was a “plea for answers, a plea for clarity, a plea for the truth” and called on MPs to “end the cover up and begin the clean up”.

Labour’s motion demanded that ministers release correspondence, documents and advice relating to government contracts awarded to PPE Medpro. Conservative MPs did not vote against the Labour Party’s motion this evening.

“We already know that the so-called VIP lane for PPE enabled the shameful waste of taxpayers’ money and inexcusable profiteering by unfit and unqualified providers. We know that the government has already written off £10bn of public funds spent on PPE that was either unusable, overpriced or undelivered,” Rayner said.

“What we don’t yet know is how on earth any of this was allowed to happen. We don’t know what was said in correspondence between the key participants on the benches opposite – and the unqualified cronies on the make – and on the take.”

PPE Medpro was awarded two government contracts worth £203m to supply masks and medical gowns in May and June 2020. The firm was a newly created company just a few months old at the time of the awards. In December 2020, reports emerged that materials worth £122m supplied by PPE Medpro were never used.

Glasgow-born businesswoman Baroness Mone is currently being investigated by the House Lords commissioner for standards over her “alleged involvement” in procuring public contracts for PPE Medpro during the pandemic.

The Guardian revealed last month that Mone, who has not taken part in a vote since April this year and has not spoken in a debate since March 2020, received £29m originating from the profits of PP Medpro after her support helped secure the company a spot in the government’s ‘VIP lane’ for PPE procurement.

Documents seen by The Guardian indicated that tens of millions of pounds of PPE Medpro’s profits were transferred to a secret offshore trust of which Mone and her adult children were the beneficiaries.

Mone did not include the money in her House of Lords register of financial interests. Her lawyer claimed last year that the peer did not do so because “she did not benefit financially and was not connected to PPE Medpro in any capacity”. Leaked documents, produced by the bank HSBC, appear to contradict that statement.

Rayner told MPs the face masks were bought for “more than twice the price as identical items from other suppliers” and that the surgical gowns were rejected by the NHS after a technical inspection, arguing that the matter “points to a total failure of due diligence and the rotten stench of cronyism”.

Tory minister Neil O’Brien argued this evening that “due diligence was carried out on every single company, financial accountability sat with a senior civil servant, all procurement decisions were taken by civil servants and a team of over 400 civil servants processed referrals and undertook due diligence checks”.

“I’m not going to stand here and say there weren’t any lessons to be learned – of course, there are. But we should be clear about what the lessons are,” the junior health minister told parliament.

“We should be rightly proud of what was achieved during those dark and difficult days at the start of the pandemic, operating in conditions of considerable uncertainty.

“We were in a situation, Madam Deputy Speaker, where literally there was gazumping going on. If you didn’t turn up with the cash, things you had brought were literally removed from the warehouse. That was the global race that we were in.”

Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock has separately accused Mone of being aggressive and threatening when trying to secure another government Covid contract – reportedly for a different company – for tests in his new book, Pandemic Diaries. He alleged she had demanded “urgent help” in an email in June 2021.

Hancock claimed that he was later informed that the applicant had not won any contracts because they had not passed the standards required by the government, and because he chose not to reply to the “extraordinarily aggressive email”.

The Guardian revealed earlier this afternoon that a second company, for which Mone lobbied for Covid contracts, was a secret entity of her husband’s family office. Mone’s lobbying for LFI Diagnostics, to try and secure lateral flow testing contracts, prompted a formal rebuke from a health minister.

A Department of Health and Social Care source claimed that Mone was “in a class of her own in terms of the sheer aggression of her advocacy” on behalf of LFI Diagnostics. Mone is alleged to have lobbied at least four Tory ministers during the pandemic: Matt Hancock, Michael Gove, Lord Agnew and Lord Bethell.

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