Security of Ministers’ Offices and Communications Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

Security of Ministers’ Offices and Communications

Peter Bone Excerpts
Monday 28th June 2021

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Peter Bone Portrait Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con)
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(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office if he will make a statement on security arrangements relating to ministerial offices and communications.

Julia Lopez Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Julia Lopez)
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I appreciate your comments, Mr Speaker, about matters in relation to the House. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) for his question and for the chance to address concerns felt across the House about the security of ministerial offices and communications. These are concerns that the Government also take very seriously.

As has been the practice of successive Administrations, the Government do not generally comment on internal security matters. On the specific incident relating to the leak of footage from a security camera to the media, given the public interest in the case I can confirm that the Department of Health and Social Care has launched an investigation that is supported, as appropriate, by the Government security group based in the Cabinet Office. Until the investigation is complete, it would be inappropriate to give further details. I am sorry to hon. Members who will understandably be seeking a lot of details on this matter. It is the case, however, that robust safeguards are in place around the security of Ministers, parliamentarians and Members of devolved legislatures.

My hon. Friend may also want to ask about ministerial communications, which I am happy to go into. Government guidance is that official devices, email accounts and communications applications should be used for communicating classified information. Other forms of electronic communication may be used in the course of conducting Government business, but each Minister is responsible for ensuring that Government information is handled in a secure way. How that is done will depend on the type of information and on the specific circumstances.

Peter Bone Portrait Mr Bone
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Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question and for your comments. I thank the Minister for her response, but it seems to me that the revelations over the weekend that the Secretary of State for Health’s personal office had recording devices in it should be of national concern. If Government and parliamentary offices have recording devices in them—whether audio, visual or both—it is of the utmost concern. Since the disclosure, several Cabinet Ministers have gone on the record to say that they had no knowledge that their offices might be subject to surveillance.

It is totally unacceptable for private conversations between Ministers, civil servants, Members of Parliament and members of the public to be secretly recorded. It also brings into question whether the Wilson doctrine has been broken. Since the premiership of Harold Wilson, it has been a long-standing rule that secret recordings of Members of Parliament by the police, security services or state are outlawed, so I have a number of questions for the Minister on which I hope she will be able to be a little more forthcoming.

First, do the offices of Ministers or Members of Parliament have recording devices in them? If so, who authorised them? Who has access to the recordings? What is the purpose of the recordings? How long are they kept? Has the Wilson doctrine been broken? Are there currently any Members of Parliament under surveillance by the police, intelligence agencies or the state? What measures are taken to ensure that there are no illicit recording devices in ministerial and parliamentary offices? Are they routinely swept for those devices?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Before you answer that, Minister, I should say that you have no responsibility for the House. That is a responsibility of the House that I am looking into, but everything else is fair game.