Minutes of call with Owen Paterson about Randox contract lost, minister says

Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael said: “I wonder if the search by these ministers extends to the shredding room.”

www.independent.co.uk 

No minutes of a key telephone call about a Covid contract awarded to Randox after it employed Owen Paterson as a consultant can be found, a minister says.

MPs were told the failure to “locate” them meant details of the conference call could not be published – just one hour after Boris Johnson bowed to pressure to release details of the contracts.

Labour’s Angela Eagle attacked the “astonishing revelation”, saying: “There have been meetings with no minutes that are official and involve government ministers.”

The Commons Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, also laid bare his alarm – at the start of a Commons debate on sleaze, in which Labour is attempting to force the release of all records.

Sir Lindsay said accurate record keeping was even more important during the Covid pandemic, telling the minister, Gillian Keegan: “I’m very, very concerned.”

Mr Paterson’s work for Randox is in the spotlight after documents appeared to show the firm was awarded a £133m testing contract despite government officials knowing it did not have enough equipment.

The army had to be drafted in to secure the equipment for the Northern Ireland company that eventually won almost £600m in Covid testing deals

Attention has been focused on a conference call on 9 April last year between Mr Paterson and the conservative peer Lord Bethell, the minister responsible for testing contracts, a week and a half after the first contract.

The Sunday Times reported that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) was refusing to release minutes of the call.

In the Commons, health minister Ms Keegan was asked to commit to releasing details of the phone call – claiming, at first, that only Randox and Mr Paterson would know what was said.

Under pressure, she then switched tack, admitting to “a courtesy call from the minister to Randox”, but told MPs: “We have been unable to locate a formal note of that meeting.”

Ms Keegan said of “other notes that are available”: “In terms of the minutes, I think we’ve said we will publish things here in the library.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, seized on the comments as an admission “that the government is routinely breaking the ministerial code”.

“When a minister meets an organisation or company an official must be present to keep a record of that meeting,” she tweeted.

Ms Keegan said later the government would sit on its hands in the vote on the release of the Randox contract details, which will allow it to pass with Labour votes.

The government, meanwhile, argued it had not lost the minutes of the Randox meeting, but was unable to find them at present.

But the Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael said: “I wonder if the search by these ministers extends to the shredding room.”

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