The Skill that Boris has to divert from questions

On Monday during the discussion about how our nation will move forward as part of the Covid-19: Road Map there were understandably many questions that related to how we got to where we are. A small number related to the way that the Government and specifically the Health Secretary, Matthew Hancock has handled the contracts which he has been convicted of by the High Court. These are all of those questions and answers. A few elements have been removed to try to focus on the theme. The full set of questions and answers can be found from here. I was delighted that Caroline Lucas who is my MP was the first to ask a question. It was very noticeable that the answers were more or less a disconnect from the questions or in some cases are purely dishonest. Perhaps in the future we will get a response from the Government that is a bit more credible.

Caroline Lucas (Green): As well as welcoming the success of the vaccination programme, I want to emphasise that there is a lack of sufficient financial support for self-isolation. There is, in the words of one of the Government’s own advisers, a “huge gaping hole” in the Prime Minister’s covid strategy. The payments are not enough and they are not reaching the right people. So as well as fixing that once and for all, will he also take this opportunity to respond, with the seriousness it deserves, to the High Court’s ruling on Friday that the Secretary of State acted unlawfully by failing to publish covid contracts? No one has ever suggested that Ministers did not need to act fast to procure PPE and other covid-related contracts, but transparency matters, even in a crisis, so if the Government have nothing to hide, will the Prime Minister now publish details of who benefited from the VIP lane, who lifted the velvet ropes for those favoured companies, what price they were paid and why they were chosen? Parliament and the country have a right to know.

Boris: Of course, we will continue to look after those who are self-isolating and improve their support where we can, as I have said. As for the contracts that the hon. Lady just mentioned, all the details are on the record, and of course it was right to work as fast as we possibly could to get the PPE that this country so desperately needed.

Jeremy Corbyn: Mr Speaker, answers are required from the Prime Minister: how £10.5 billion of NHS contracts were awarded without tender; how a further 99% of all NHS contracts were awarded, again, without tender; and how, last week, the High Court found that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care had not acted legally in the awarding of those contracts. I ask the Prime Minister to do two things: will he end this scandalous privatisation of our NHS, which is happening before our very eyes; and will he replace the Health Secretary with somebody who will stand by and obey the law and publish in advance all contracts that are due to be let, so that the public can see how their money is being spent.

Boris: To the best of my memory, the Labour Opposition were advocating during the early stages of the crisis that we should secure PPE from, I think, a theatrical impresario who specialised in capes and gowns and a football agent who claimed to be able to get hold of masks. We went as fast as we possibly could to get PPE and those who are now denouncing us for going too fast were those who were complaining back them that we were not going fast enough.

Ruth Jones (Labour):  does he agree with me and many people across Newport West that every single penny of public money must be accounted for? If so, what is he going to say to his Health Secretary, who, according to the Court, breached his legal obligation by not publishing details within 30 days of contracts being signed? We have had two attempts at getting the Prime Minister to answer, so I am hoping it is third time lucky.

Boris: I am going to ruthlessly repeat what I said before, which is that I believe that it was absolutely right for this country to secure PPE as fast as we possibly could, just as it has been right to roll out a vaccine programme as fast as we possibly can. It was great to be in Cwmbran and see what they are doing there. That is thanks to the dynamic work of the NHS and everybody in the Department of Health and Social Care, including the Health Secretary.

Debbie Abrahams (Labour): I was really concerned about the tone of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care when he did the media round yesterday: he seemed to imply that he had done nothing wrong and that the judge was the one making a mistake. This is not how a healthy democracy works, so I repeat the questions asked by Caroline Lucas: will the Prime Minister publish all outstanding contracts, because there are outstanding contracts that have not been published; bring an end to the emergency procurement powers; and reintroduce a tendering process?

Boris: I can see that there is a concerted attempt to make a point about this issue today, but I must say that the Government made every effort to secure PPE as fast as we possibly could

Neil Coyle (Labour): The people of this country have endured so much in the past year, including personal tragedies among the highest excess death toll and job losses under the worst damage to any major economy. But they have also seen the Prime Minister’s closest adviser, Dominic Cummings, break the covid regulations, the Home Secretary break the ministerial code and now the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care break the law to hide crony contracts—all without consequences. Will the Prime Minister end this system of one rule for his Tory pals and another for the rest of us?

Boris: Contained within that question was possibly another suggestion that we could have done things differently with the procurement of PPE. All I will say is that the contracts are there on the record for everybody to see. I think most people in this country will understand that in very difficult if not desperate times last spring, we had to work as fast as we possibly could.

Neale Hanvey (SNP): Following the High Court ruling that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care acted unlawfully by failing to comply with the transparency rules, will the Prime Minister now publish the names of the companies awarded contracts that were introduced to high-priority lanes by Ministers, hon. Members, peers and officials, and set out any material, financial or fiduciary responsibility or relationship between each company and the persons responsible for that introduction to the priority lane?

Boris: I repeat the answer I have given several times: all these contracts are published in the normal way.

Janet Daby (Labour): The Prime Minister has been asked several times about how the Government procured contracts during the pandemic. My question to him is slightly different. Are there any plans for the Government to claw back any of the funds spent on pandemic contracts that have failed—for example, those that have delivered unusable or unsafe personal protective equipment, at great expense to the taxpayer?

Boris: Some 99.5% of the PPE that we have received has been of a high standard, but of course, where people have fallen down on their contracts, we will claw back the money that we have paid.

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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