Ministers warned not to delay release of papers in PPE Medpro row

MPs have been told the release of documents on coronavirus contracts awarded to PPE Medpro might have to wait for criminal investigations to end.

David Hughes
Tuesday 20 December 2022 17:51 GMT
(PA)
(PA) (PA Archive)

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Ministers have been warned not to delay the release of papers relating to a row over deals for coronavirus personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Government has promised to release documents on the contracts awarded to PPE Medpro, a firm referred to minsters by Tory peer Baroness Mone.

But health minister Will Quince told the Commons Public Accounts Committee that the disclosure may have to wait until a National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation has concluded.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has also launched legal proceedings against PPE Medpro over an alleged breach of a contract worth a reported £122 million for the supply of gowns.

Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Dame Meg Hillier told Mr Quince that a “significant” delay would “thwart” the MPs on her panel from scrutinising the deals made with PPE Medpro.

The Government did not oppose a Labour motion in the Commons requiring the release of the records.

But in a letter to Dame Meg, the minister said: “The NCA has confirmed that they opened an investigation in May 2021 into suspected criminal offences committed in the procurement of PPE contracts by PPE Medpro.”

Mr Quince said “we will look into timescales as part of our scoping activities and be ready to share information with the committee as soon as possible”, but “this may have to be once the investigation has concluded”.

Dame Meg told him: “Any such delay would not be acceptable to the committee and, in our view, would not be in the spirit of the resolution of the House.

“Such a delay in providing Parliament with this information would likely become significant and would in effect thwart the purpose of the resolution of the House by preventing the committee from conducting its scrutiny function within a reasonable period.”

She said the Commons agreed to the resolution on disclosing the papers “in the knowledge that the NCA was likely to be conducting an investigation, as well as the open investigation into the conduct of Baroness Mone by the House of Lords Commissioners for Standards”.

Dame Meg said her committee had a “long track record of handling highly sensitive and secret information” and had “no intention of taking any action which would risk interfering with an ongoing investigation”.

Reports – denied by Lady Mone – have suggested the peer may have profited from the firm winning public contracts worth more than £200 million to supply equipment after she recommended it to ministers in the early days of the pandemic.

The entrepreneur, who founded lingerie firm Ultimo, claims the accusations have been “unjustly” levelled against her and has taken a leave of absence from the House of Lords while she fights to clear her name.

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