The session in the Commons raked over the scandal surrounding ex-NI Secretary Owen Paterson, who resigned as an MP in November last year after he was found to have lobbied – against parliamentary rules – on behalf of the firm.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner had told the Commons at the time that “Randox was awarded nearly £600 million of taxpayers’ money without a tender” as the government sought suppliers of medical equipment amid the burgeoning Covid crisis.
She had said: “We already know that Randox were awarded a second £347m contract, having failed to deliver on a previous £133 m contract, and we already know this decision was made after a conference call involving the then-member for North Shropshire [Paterson] and the health minister Lord Bethell.”
Randox responded at the time by saying it had delivered “value for money”, that its contracts were “awarded in full compliance with Government regulations at a time of national crisis”, and that it would co-operate with MPs.
“Contrary to much of what has been written and broadcast, lobbying played no role in the awarding of these contracts,” it had said.
But the controversy has refused to abate in the months since, and today Labour raised the matter on the floor of the Commons once more.
Labour MP Annaliese Dodds told MPs that the government had “played fast and loose with public money”.
And SNP MP Martyn Day went further. Looking back at the whole Owen Paterson lobbying affair, he asked: “Can the Minister explain to me how that’s not institutional corruption?
“Nobody trusts this Government. They’re rule breakers and system cheaters.”
Maggie Throup, the Tory under-secretary of health, responded with a refrain she returned to many times during the debate: “I make no apologies for how we as a country rose to the challenge that we faced in early 2020. I think that sometimes we forget what this country – indeed, the world – was going through.”
Another Labour MP, Nick Smith, said: “Randox cashed in on Covid contracts; its profits jumped from £12m to £50m, and as the money rolled in the company was re-registered in the Isle of Man.
“Does the Minister think that tax on UK covid contracts should be paid in the UK?”
Ms Throup replied: “That is really for the Treasury to look at, but I come back again to the fact that Randox was an established company in diagnostic testing and that at the time we looked at which businesses could deliver our testing requirements.”
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