Angela Rayner’s Opposition Day Debate speech on Randox Covid Contracts
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At the heart of this debate today there are two very simple questions.
Does the Government have anything to hide?
And will Members opposite now vote for a clean up, or another cover up?
The Prime Minister just said, minutes ago, that he is very happy to publish all the details of the Randox contracts. If that is the case he should vote for our motion today and publish all the documents and correspondence related to the Randox contracts and dodgy lobbying that went on around them.
The motion before the House is very simple.
We already know that the former Member for North Shropshire broke the rules on lobbying.
We already know that Randox was awarded £600 million of taxpayers’ money without a tender.
We already know that Randox were awarded a second £347 million contract having failed to deliver on a previous £133m contract.
We already know this decision was made after a meeting by conference call involving the then Member for North Shropshire and health minister Lord Bethell.
What we don’t know is what happened in those meetings. Who else was present, what was discussed, and what was decided.
We don’t know what was said in any correspondence before or after, including through private email accounts or phones. We don’t know why or how these contracts were awarded, what rules might have been broken, and what role the Member for North Shropshire’s lobbying played in government decisions.
We do know that they have refused to provide answers in response to Freedom of Information requests on these points.
And we do know that this is far from the only time they have swerved scrutiny on these decisions.
Take the mystery of Lord Bethell’s mobile, for example.
The House may recall that the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson denied categorically that Ministers ever used private accounts for Government business, only for that denial to fall apart.
The government has now admitted in court that Lord Bethell corresponded about public contracts via WhatsApp or text message, while searches of his three private email using keywords about Covid contracts unearthed tens of thousands of messages and documents.
In December last year, Lord Bethell was told his mobile phone would be searched for documents. Just weeks later he said he had ‘replaced’ that phone.
First, he claimed his phone had been “lost”.
Then he said it was “broken”.
Then said he’d given it away to a family member.
Finally, nearly a year on, he remembered that he had the phone all along!
But unfortunately, he was in the habit of routinely deleting his WhatsApp entirely, and sadly the relevant messages may all be lost.
He said the problem – I’m not making this up – was exacerbated by using two phones. A personal one as well as his official one.
That at least I can agree with him on.
This is why we are calling for transparency today.
Frankly we have every reason to be concerned about how procurement decisions were being made and the lack of any paper trail showing that they were made properly.
So the question is very simple. What are Ministers hiding?
If they have got nothing to hide… And no rules were broken… Then Ministers would surely be happy to publish the details of these meetings and the correspondence?
But they have refused, time and time again. So today we have tabled this motion and will put it to a vote.
Because the only logical conclusion is that there is something to hide. That the dodgy lobbying at the heart of this scandal has played a part in how vast sums of taxpayers’ cash have been spent.
Which leads me to the second simple question for the House today.
Two weeks ago, the government led members opposite through the lobbies for a stitch up, and a cover up. Many have publicly and privately expressed their regret at voting in favour of that motion. I have no doubt their regret is sincere, and they surely must now look with fresh eyes at those who led them through the lobbies.
The Prime Minister brought shame on our democracy and on this House. That vote undermined trust in our democracy, and undermined the integrity of public office.
So today, I say to Honourable and Rt Honourable Members opposite. Learn your lesson. Don’t vote for another cover up.
The first step in restoring trust, is publishing these documents today.
Mr Speaker, taxpayers’ money must be treated with respect, not handed out in backhand deals to companies that pay Conservative MPs to lobby on their behalf.
And Randox is just the tip of the iceberg of this scandal.
Just yesterday we finally found out the list of favoured suppliers referred to the so called VIP lane for PPE procurement.
Information that Ministers have failed to release of their own accord, despite a ruling from the Information Commissioner, and that we only found out now due to a leak.
And no wonder they didn’t want to publish it.
We know that those companies that got into the VIP lane were ten times more likely to win a contract than anyone else.
Many did not, as ministers’ have belatedly admitted, go through the so-called eight stage process of diligence.
We now know how they got into the VIP lane in the first place.
Not a single one of them had been referred by a politician of any political party other than the Conservative party.
Of the 47 successful companies revealed yesterday, the original source of referral was a Conservative politician or adviser in 19 cases.
The then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the cabinet member who oversaw the entire emergency procurement programme, fast-tracked a bid from one of his own personal friends and donors – who went on to win hundreds of millions of pounds of public money.
Three and a half billion pounds of contracts have been handed out by this government to their political donors and ministers’ mates.
Almost 3 billion pounds more has been wasted on unusable PPE, which is costing the British taxpayer 1 million pounds a day to store.
So yes, we need an investigation into that too. We need an investigation into every pound and penny that has been handed out, and to learn the lessons so public money isn’t wasted again.
But today, the question before the House is very simple.
Do we choose to clean up, or to cover up.
I know that Members across this House care about our democracy.
Although we disagree on many things, I hope we agree on the importance of trust in our politics. The values of honesty and integrity in public office.
A vote for our motion is simply a vote for the truth. To tackle the dodgy lobbying that has brought shame on this House.
The Prime Minister has created a corruption scandal that has engulfed his government and his Party.
And voting for another cover up today would send a very clear message.
That the Prime Minister cares more about covering up dodgy lobbying than putting things right.
That he cares more about his self-interest, than the public interest.
After the last two weeks, that surely cannot be the message members opposite want to send.
So I say today, I hope the benches opposite are listening, let’s end the cover up and begin the clean up.