Government likened to 'loo roll panic buyers' over scramble for PPE

Government minister Lord Bethell and Labour peer Lord West in the House of Lords

Government minister Lord Bethell and Labour peer Lord West in the House of Lords - Credit: Parliament Live

Boris Johnson's efforts to buy essential kits for the coronavirus outbreak has been likened to panic buyers trying to get their hands on loo rolls.

Former military top brass Lord West of Spithead claimed he understood such behaviour could be excused for those who were “ill-informed and not well educated”, but it was not acceptable for a government.

The Labour peer and former security minister launched his withering broadside after the public spending watchdog criticised the way normal standards of transparency were set aside in buying up much-needed medical kit during the Covid-19 crisis.

Referring to the watchdog’s findings at Westminster, Lord West: “This issue fills me with despair. The report itself but also that fact it that it appears the government was almost taking actions in a panic.

“Yes horrible things happen but governments shouldn’t panic. There are rules and rules should be followed.

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“One could understand an individual, who is ill-informed and not well educated, grabbing a supermarket trolley and filling it with loo rolls, that is not how government should act. There are very clear ways of behaving.”

He added: “When I was in Whitehall and wanted to procure things I had to go through several hoops. Civil service rules demanded it and also the law demanded it. The fact we were having to do things quickly was not an excuse.”

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Pressing the minister, Lord West said: “Will we be checking that civil service rules were actually complied with and that the correct actions were taken that didn’t break any of the laws of the land?”

But in an apparent sarcastic rebuke to the former commander, health minister Lord Bethell said he was “always grateful for advice from the Ministry of Defence on procurement”.

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