Iain Duncan Smith: Labour minister must release papers about A4E

By James Kirkup, Deputy Political Editor

Last Updated: 6:03PM BST 24/05/2012

Iain Duncan Smith has challenged former Labour ministers to open up sealed papers that could show fraud allegations against welfare-to-work providers including A4e.

The Work and Pensions Secretary has written to 11 former Labour ministers who served in his department under the last government, asking them to release their official papers.

Mr Duncan Smith made the move after the Daily Telegraph reported written evidence shown to MPs by a whistleblower alleging widespread fraud and malpractice at A4e, which holds more than £400 million of government contracts.

The DWP yesterday insisted that the allegations made by Eddie Hutchinson, a former auditor at A4e, related to incidents that took place under the previous government.

The company, which denies wrongdoing, has faced several allegations of malpractice in recent month. Eight of its employees have been arrested.

A4e is majority-owned by Emma Harrison, a former adviser on families to the Government, and ministers are concerned that allegations against it could undermine confidence in their welfare-to-work policies.

Labour has said that Mr Hutchison’s allegations raise questions about Mr Duncan Smith’s competence.

The minister has hit back by challenging Labour ministers to release papers showing what, if anything, they knew about allegations of wrongdoing at welfare-to-work companies.

Under Whitehall rules, the official papers of past ministers are sealed and not available to their successors.

Mr Duncan Smith yesterday wrote to former Labour ministers at his department, asking them to “allow release of all advice and information you received relating to fraud in the welfare to work industry while you were a minister.”

Mr Hutchison’s evidence was submitted to the Public Accounts Committee this week, but not made public after MPs decided to meet in secret to discuss it. Two other whistleblowers have also submitted evidence to the committee.

None of the submissions have been officially published by MPs yet, even though Parliamentary officials have said there is no legal obstacle to doing so.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour chairman of the committee, yesterday announced a leak inquiry into the Telegraph’s disclosure of Mr Hutchison’s evidence.

“I think all members of my committee will be extremely distressed as the evidence is very sensitive and could cause damage both to the individual who gave the evidence and the companies involved,” she said.

Chris Heaton-Harris, a Conservative member of the committee, suggested that if any MP is found to have leaked the evidence, they should be punished by the Commons and potentially suspended.

Paul Champion

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