CONSERVATIVE Ministers have been accused of thinking they are "above the law" by awarding coronavirus contracts to firms linked to the Tories, Labour has said.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves asked an urgent question on the matter in the House of Commons this afternoon. 

It comes after a judge ruled that Matt Hancock had acted illegally by not publishing detyails of contracts awarded under emergency legislation for coronavirus.

In a separate case, the Good Law Project is challenging the awarding of a £500,000 market esearch contract to a firm owned by friends of both Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove. 

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Ms Reeves said: "A stain has emerged with this Government’s response to the crisis. There has been an unedifying gold rush of chums and of chancers.

“£2 billion worth of contracts handed to those with close links to the Conservative Party. From the pub landlord of the Health Secretary (Matt Hancock) to the donors, the manifesto writers, the old-boys club, they’ve all had a return on their investment at all of our expense 

“The Government has been taken to court and they lost, costing taxpayers even more money."

She said that Priti Patel "once said that she wanted people to literally feel terror at the thought of committing offences [but] the Home Secretary doesn’t have to look to the streets to find lawbreakers, she only has to look across the Cabinet table."

She added: "This Government aren’t terrified of breaking the law because they think they are above the law." 


Health minister Edward Argar responded, saying: "I have to reiterate what this judgment and what this case did and didn’t do. This judgment focused on timely production, or publication, of contract notices. It did not make any judgment or consider in any way the appropriateness of the contracting process or any of the individual processes.

“In respect of her point, she alleges impropriety and inappropriate behaviour, wrong. The NAO [National Audit Office] report was absolutely clear that there was no evidence of any inappropriate behaviour and indeed, no court has found this.”

Stewart Hosie, the SNP's shadow cabinet office minister, asked when the Cabinet Office and the Prime Minister " were first made aware that failure to properly publish details of PPE contracts might be unlawful" and said that of the £15bn worth of PPE contracts "barely £3bn were properly published, and we had £252 million given to a finance company, £108 million to a confectionery supplier and £345 million to a pest control company"

He said it was a "catalogue of cronyism" that "deprioritised compliance and has ended up with the taxpayer, in some cases, buying expensive and unusable PPE."

READ MORE: Crony row: Matt Hancock's department acted illegally by failing to publish contract details

The minister replied that due to continuing legal action he was unable to go into details about the contracts mentioned. 

Wendy Chamberlain, Liberal Democrats MP for North East Fife, asked whether the Government had met the standards detailed in the Nolan principles of public life, "which include integrity, accountability and openness."

She said: "Given that it has been reported that civil servants delayed publications at the behest of No 10 special advisers, and given that we have ended up in a situation where this matter has been taken to court, does the Minister believe that the Government have met those standards?"

READ MORE: SNP MP in plea to Labour for support of Crony Bill as concerns grow over Tory contracts

Mr Argar said: " I revert back to what the judge, Mr Justice Chamberlain, said in his findings in this case: he found no evidence of a policy of deprioritisation of meeting transparency requirements on publication." 

Hannah Bardell, Livingston SNP MP, asked whether it was coincidence, incompetence, or just rank stupidity that his Government and Health Secretary awarded a £30 million contract for testing vials to the Health Secretary’s former neighbour, a former pub landlord who had no experience in this field and is now being investigated by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency?"

She said: "Surely, the Minister agrees that these breaches mean the Health Secretary must resign."

Mr Argar said he "completely and utterly" disagreed with her point, adding that on the "specific issue" of the contract "it has been made clear that neither the Health Secretary nor any other Minister had any involvement in the assessment, the due diligence, or any decisions in respect of that contract." 

The SNP's Owen Thompson asked about whether Mr Aragar would support his Crony Bill, which he is bringing forward in the next few weeks. The Bill would require ministers to give a speech in the Commons if a contract was awarded under emergency legislation to a firm with links to the minister.

He said it would mean "the public can be confident that there is no suggestion of any corruption taking root."  

Mr Argar replied: "I would rebut any suggestion that there is any corruption taking root.

"Members of this House have the ability to ask questions and the NAO has the ability to ask questions...I am aware of [Mr Thompson's] Bill, which I am sure the Government will look at in the usual way."