Labour has stepped up pressure to compel the government to publish documents that could show whether disgraced former Conservative MP Owen Paterson helped to secure large contracts for a healthcare firm.
Anneliese Dodds, the Labour party chair, criticised what she said was a “highly suspicious” delay in publishing the documents.
The House of Commons last month approved a motion ordering the government to publish a set of documents relating to the award of contracts worth £480m to the healthcare firm Randox. Paterson was paid more than £100,000 a year by Randox before he resigned from parliament after a lobbying scandal.
The government has said that it would take up to two months to collect and publish any documents.
Now Dodds has written to the senior clerk of the House of Commons, John Benger, seeking his advice on how to speed up the publication of the documents. She accused the government of treating parliament with contempt.
“When parliament directs the government to fulfil an obligation, the House expects action – not delay,” she wrote.
“The highly suspicious two-month delay in publishing the Randox files will leave the public wondering just what on earth ministers are hiding,” she added.
On 17 November, the House of Commons passed a motion, initiated by Labour, that requires the government to make public all correspondence and electronic communications relating to the awarding of the two contracts to Randox.
Both contracts were given to Randox to conduct Covid tests during the pandemic without other firms being allowed to submit competing bids.
The motion also requires the government to publish the minutes and notes of a meeting on 9 April last year that was attended by Paterson, Randox and a then health minister Lord Bethell. The government has yet to publish a full account of what was discussed at this meeting.
On 26 November, Sajid Javid, the health secretary, wrote to Dodds telling her that his department had started work to gather the relevant documents to comply with the Commons motion. He added that the government would respond “no later than the end of January”.
The extent of the official records relating to this meeting is unclear. Gillian Keegan, a health minister, told MPs last month that the government was at that time “unable to locate a formal note of the meeting … That doesn’t mean there isn’t one.”
Dodds said: “If the minutes … don’t actually exist, the government should come clean now – not spend the next two months pretending to look for them down the back of the sofa.”
Randox has previously said Paterson “played no role in the award of Covid contracts” to the firm.
The Department of Health and Social Care has failed for more than a year to respond to a freedom of information request from the Guardian for documents relating to the 9 April meeting. The DHSC has previously said that it was “inaccurate to accuse the department of withholding information.”
Paterson resigned last month after an official investigation found he had broken parliamentary rules when he lobbied for Randox and another firm.
The DHSC has been approached for further comment.