Commons Speaker orders security review after Hancock CCTV leak

Commons Speaker orders security review after Hancock CCTV leak

June 28, 2021

Speaker tells Commons he’s ordered a review of security in Parliament as MPs question whether CCTV was put into Matt Hancock’s office ‘covertly’

  • Lindsay Hoyle told MPs he has asked officials to look at security arrangements
  • Commons Speaker said that he will ‘take any necessary steps with urgency’ 
  • Meanwhile, MPs grilled ministers on whether CCTV is in other ministerial offices 
  • Cabinet ministers have demanded an urgent sweep of their offices for cameras  

Sir Lindsay Hoyle has ordered a review of parliamentary security amid growing concerns among MPs in the wake of Matt Hancock’s resignation following the leaking of CCTV footage. 

The Commons Speaker said this afternoon that he had ‘directed senior officials to consider what implications there are for security arrangements’ in Parliament after the Whitehall leak.   

Sir Lindsay said that he will take any ‘necessary steps with urgency’ to boost security. 

Meanwhile, MPs questioned whether a camera in Mr Hancock’s private office in the Department of Health and Social Care had been placed there ‘covertly’. 

Junior Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez insisted that was not the case and her understanding was ‘it was a CCTV camera and it was not a covert device’. 

But MPs said ‘the more we go into this the more odd it gets’ as they warned it is ‘totally unacceptable for private conversations’ to be recorded. 

It came as Cabinet ministers demanded their offices be urgently swept for secret cameras after the exit of Mr Hancock. 

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said this morning that departmental offices must be a ‘safe space’ where ministers and officials can discuss sensitive material away from prying eyes.  

He warned that such footage could be used to damage national security should it fall into the hands of ‘unfriendly governments’.   

Mr Buckland said he and his Cabinet colleagues have called for checks for cameras and bugs to now be ‘conducted regularly’ in the future.

Meanwhile, MI5 is due to speak to the Cabinet Office this week to determine if it should probe the leaked video footage of Mr Hancock which showed him breaking social distancing rules by kissing an aide in his ministerial office. 

Sir Lindsay Hoyle has ordered a review of parliamentary security amid growing concerns among MPs in the wake of Matt Hancock’s resignation following the leaking of CCTV footage

MI5 is due to speak to the Cabinet Office this week to determine if it should probe the leaked video footage of Matt Hancock

Sir Lindsay stressed to MPs this afternoon that the security of Whitehall departments has nothing to do with Parliament. 

But he said the incident had prompted him to look at security arrangements on the parliamentary estate. 

He said: ‘Before we come to the next urgent question, I want to say something about the implications for the House of the apparent security breach involving the Department of Health and Social Care.

‘We do not comment on the detail of security arrangements on the floor of the House.

‘However, I want the House to be reassured that I have directed senior officials to consider what implications there are for security arrangements in the House with recent events in Whitehall and take any necessary steps with urgency.’

MPs sought answers from Ms Lopez as she was grilled on the issue of cameras in ministerial offices.

Tory MP Peter Bone said: ‘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.’

He added: ‘Several Cabinet ministers have gone on the record since this disclosure 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.’

Ms Lopex told MPs: ‘My understanding on this basis was it was a CCTV camera and it was not a covert device but there are obviously questions to answer about the way in which civil servants are vetted and they do go through stringent vetting processes and then there is a risk based approach to which departments need to be more regularly swept.’

Tory MP Jacob Young sought assurances from Ms Lopez that ‘as well as cameras, ministerial offices should not have microphones hidden in them and that any review of security will ensure that all ministerial offices are checked for these regularly’.

Lib Dem MP Jamie Stone said: ‘It occurs to me that the security camera, and I think we are accepting they are security cameras, must have been pretty covert, surely to goodness.’

He said ‘the more we go into this the more odd it gets and I think the public do deserve an absolutely open explanation as to what has happened here’. 

The Department of Health and Social Care has now disabled the camera in the secretary of state’s office. 

Officials are also said to have covered the lens with masking tape as a precaution as Mr Hancock’s replacement, Sajid Javid, takes up his new role.  

Mr Hancock was apparently unaware of the camera in his office and ministers are now calling for all ministerial offices to be swept amid mounting national security concerns.

Mr Buckland told Sky News: ‘I think that there is an important principle here about the need for ministers and civil servants who often are handling very sensitive material and information to have a safe space within which to work.

‘Now, I accept that CCTV is a factor of all our daily lives, we are probably being filmed in all sorts of places as we go about our lawful business.

‘But I do think that there is a wider issue here of concern that we should all satisfy ourselves about that there isn’t inappropriate coverage being taken of sensitive matters which could be used in a way by those who wish us ill, other unfriendly governments or other people who do not have the interests of our country at heart.’

Asked if there is CCTV in his office, Mr Buckland said: ‘I have asked that question. I don’t think so. I have never seen any camera facilities.

‘I know there is CCTV in the building for obvious security reasons but I am sure that many of my colleagues will be asking the same question and making sure that the offices are swept just in case there are unauthorised devices in there that could be a national security breach. I think that is the sensible thing to do.’

Told that it seems unbelievable that the offices of ministers are not already regularly swept for cameras and bugs, Mr Buckland replied: ‘You raise a really legitimate question and I think frankly sweeps should be conducted regularly, particularly where sensitive material is being handled.’

One minister told The Times: ‘All of us are now wondering whether much more damaging material to Britain’s national security could have been breached from another camera. We need an urgent sweep of all high-level government offices.’

The Department of Health has launched an internal probe into the leaking of the footage. 

That investigation will look at how the images were made public and when the camera was first installed, with reports suggesting it may have been there since 2017. 

Meanwhile, The Time said MI5 chiefs will speak to Cabinet Office officials this week to determine whether there has been a national security breach and whether the threshold has been reached for them to get involved. 

However, the bar for MI5 to launch a probe is high, with a security source telling the newspaper: ‘The major issue is for the people that own the cameras inside the office, and that’s the government itself.’ 

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