Tory health minister Lord Bethell faces calls to quit amid allegations he used his personal email account to discuss PPE contracts.
Labour’s Jon Ashworth told new Health Secretary Sajid Javid his minister should be “relieved of his responsibilities” following revelations some business may have been conducted in secret.
Minutes of an official Department for Health meeting, obtained by the Good Law Project, claim that he “routinely uses his personal inbox and the majority of [approvals for contracts] would have been initiated from this inbox”.
The news follows an explosive few days for the government, after Matt Hancock’s resignation in the wake of news he broke social distancing rules by kissing aide Gina Coladangelo.
It has also emerged that Mr Hancock appointed Ms Coladangelo personally and that he and Lord Bethell used private emails for government business – something Downing Street disputes.
Separately, Lord Bethell has been referred to the standards watchdog over claims he sponsored a parliamentary security pass for Ms Coladangelo, despite reports that she never worked for him, which is against the rules.
He dodged appearing at the despatch box in the Lords on Monday as the scandal rumbled on, sending Government whip Baroness Penn in his place, prompting allegations he was “in hiding”.
Mr Ashworth said to the Health Secretary in the Commons later: “Does he have confidence in this minister?
“Isn’t it time this health minister was relieved of his responsibilities as well?”
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner also pressed Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez over the issue.
She asked: “Can the minister now say from this despatch box categorically and on the record that no minister or prime minister has used or does use private email for Government business, especially when it involves spending public money?”
She said: “This morning a Government spokesperson claimed that all ministers only conduct Government business through their departmental email addresses, yet I have right here the minutes of a departmental meeting in which senior civil servants report Government contracts being approved from the minister’s private email address. Who is telling the truth?”
Ms Rayner also called for the government to refer the matter to the information watchdog.
Ms Lopez said “official devices, email accounts and communications applications” should be used for government business.
She added: “At the time at which we’re in the height of the pandemic, a huge volume of correspondence was coming to ministers via their personal email addresses, to their parliamentary email addresses, to their ministerial email addresses – I am not suggesting that there is something that we should not be looking into – my point is there were 15,000 offers of help in securing PPE that came in following the Prime Minister’s call for assistance.
“The important thing to note is that when PPE offers did come in, they went through the same eight-stage process, so no matter which way those things were communicated, they went through the same process and that should provide assurance.”