The House of Lords standards commissioner has launched an inquiry into Tory colleague Michelle Mone, over the PPE firm which secured £203m government contracts via the ‘VIP route’ after referring her to the Cabinet Office in May 2020.
The investigation follows a complaint by Labor peer George Foulkes on January 6, after the Guardian reported that leaked files appeared to suggest that Lady Mone and her husband, Isle of Man-based financier Douglas Barrowman, were secretly involved with the company, PPE Medpro.
Foulkes asked the commissioners to investigate whether Mone may have breached the Lords’ code of conduct by failing to declare an interest in the business and pressuring her for government contracts.
The commissioner confirmed that the investigation would focus on “alleged involvement in securing contracts for Medpro PPE, resulting in potential breaches” of three provisions of the Lords Code, which cover the requirement that peers publicly record “all relevant interests”, and prohibit them from lobbying for a business or person in which a peer “has a financial interest”.
The commissioner also said Mone would be investigated under the more general provisions of paragraph 9 of the code, which states that peers “must always act on their personal honour”; must never accept “any financial inducement as an inducement or reward for exercising parliamentary influence”; and “shall not seek to profit from membership in the chamber by accepting or agreeing to accept payment or other inducement or reward in exchange for the provision of parliamentary advice or services”.
Mone, named a Conservative peer by David Cameron in 2015 after selling an 80% stake in her lingerie company Ultimo, has always denied any “role or function” in the business, and her lawyers have said she is not “not related to PPE Medpro in any capacity”.
The possible penalties for a peer found guilty of breaching the Code of Conduct, which are determined by the Conduct Committee, range from simply having to correct a breach to the most serious penalty of expulsion from the Lords.
PPE Medpro won an £80.85m contract in May 2020 to supply face masks, followed by an £122m contract in June 2020 to supply 25m surgical gowns. Barrowman also denied being an investor, and his attorneys said he “was not personally involved in work for PPEM in connection with any PPE contracts.”
In December 2020, lawyers for Barrowman and the company also told the Guardian that: “Neither [Barrowman] nor has anyone involved in PPEM approached MPs, peers, government officials, ministers, NHS staff or other healthcare professionals as part of the government’s approach to offer to provide EAR.
The sole registered owner of the company registered in the UK is Anthony Page, who works for Barrowman’s family office at his Isle of Man financial services firm, Knox Group.
In November 2021, following a freedom of information request pursued by the Good Law Project, the government revealed that Mone had initially referred PPE Medpro to the Cabinet Office, contacting the office of Minister Theodore Agnew, his colleague curator who was in charge of purchases during the Covid pandemic. More recently, the government confirmed that Mone made this referral on May 7, 2020, five days before EPI Medpro was even set up.
The Guardian reported on January 6 that leaked files appear to suggest Mone and Barrowman were involved in PPE Medpro business. A person closely involved with PPE Medpro claimed Barrowman was “part of the financial consortium that backed” the company and was even involved in initial conversations with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
The leaked files appear to suggest the UK company is actually a subsidiary of another company named PPE Medpro Ltd, registered in the Isle of Man a day earlier. Barrowman appears to have been personally involved in setting up deals for the Isle of Man company with a London import company, Loudwater Trade and Finance, who would source and supply the PPE.
In one of the deals, PPE Medpro (Isle of Man) said it would use its “extensive network to seek order contracts with the NHS and other government bodies in the British Isles”.
From the two contracts, to supply millions of face masks and surgical gowns, the Guardian understands that PPE Medpro may have made more than £40m in gross profit. The company declined to say whether that figure was accurate.
Representatives for Mone have said she has no interest in PPE Medpro and have denied any wrongdoing.
“The reason no interest in PPE Medpro appears in Baroness Mone’s register of interests is that no such interest exists,” her lawyer said in December 2020.
Barrowman’s lawyers said the Guardian’s reporting amounted to “sticking together” and was “largely incorrect”.
Mone’s lawyers said the Guardian reporting was “entirely based on supposition and speculation and not accuracy”, adding: “She is under no obligation to tell you anything.”
Representatives for Mone did not respond to requests for comment on the commissioner’s investigation.
Foulkes told the Guardian: ‘I welcome the commissioner’s decision to investigate what appear to be breaches of the code of conduct by Baroness Mone under three provisions dealing with non-registration of interests and paid lobbying.’