Matt Hancock has declined to apologise after the High Court ruled the Government unlawfully failed to publish details of billions of pounds’ worth of coronavirus-related contracts.
The Health Secretary has faced calls for greater accountability after a judge said he did not publish redacted contracts in accordance with the transparency policy.
However, Mr Hancock insisted legal cases about transparency returns were “second order” to saving lives and said his officials had been working long hours to procure PPE instead.
He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “People can make up their own view about whether I should have told my team to stop buying PPE and spend the time bringing forward those transparency returns by just over a fortnight.
“Or whether I was right to buy the PPE and get it to the front line. You tell me that that is wrong. You can’t. And the reason you can’t is because it was the right thing to do.
“Legal cases about timings of transparency returns are completely second order compared to saving lives.
“There is no health secretary in history who would have taken the view that they needed to take people off the project of buying PPE in order to ensure that nine months later the Health Secretary didn’t have a slightly bumpy interview on the Marr programme.
“It is not what it is about, Andrew (Marr), it is about doing the right thing.”
He earlier told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that he would publish what is legally required and said that on average the contracts had been published “just over a fortnight later than they should have been”.
“My officials, with my full support, spent every waking hour buying PPE so that even though we came close we never actually ran out of PPE in this country – and they did that even though the paperwork got delayed by, on average, just over a fortnight.
“That’s what the court found and I – and I think any secretary of state in my position – would absolutely back my officials in doing the right thing and saving lives.”
His comments came as shadow justice secretary David Lammy told the BBC that Mr Hancock “should publish the contracts because the court has found it unlawful”.
“He should cancel the temporary scheme that he has been using without any accountability or any transparency. He should come to Parliament on Monday and explain what he is going to do.
“It is outrageous, frankly. This is the sort of behaviour – giving contracts to your pub landlord and your best mate – that you would expect in a banana republic.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer did not call for Mr Hancock to resign in an interview with Sky