Angela Rayner has challenged the government over the use of personal email accounts by ministers to carry out official businesses, demanding that the minister “categorically and on the record” say that none of her colleagues do so.
Following an urgent parliamentary question concerning the leak of footage showing Matt Hancock breaking Covid rules, which resulted in his resignation on Saturday, Rayner said that “this isn’t even the biggest scandal of the day”.
“This morning, a government spokesperson claimed that all ministers only conduct government business through their departmental email addresses,” the deputy Labour leader told MPs this afternoon.
“Yet I have right here the minutes of a departmental meeting in which senior civil servants report government contracts being approved from the minister’s private email address. Who is telling the truth?”
Rayner warned that the use of personal accounts “goes well beyond any one department”, reminding parliament that the Cabinet Office had refused to answer her recent questions about the Prime Minister’s personal mobile phone.
“Can the minister now say from this despatch box categorically and on the record that no minister, or Prime Minister, has used or does use private email for government business?” she asked.
Rayner demanded that ministers to refer themselves to the information commission so that a “genuinely independent investigation can take place”. She also asked what action will be taken in cases where they have used private accounts for official businesses and what steps will be taken to prevent it happening again.
“Our country faces daily threats from hostile foreign states who have already, for example, hacked the private email account of the honourable members for North Somerset,” Rayner told the minister this afternoon.
“What advice have they taken on security of ministers private email accounts and what does it say about this government, Mr Speaker, when they will launch an inquiry into leaks of CCTV but not into their own ministers?”
Julia Lopez said that the government guidance for ministers states that official devices, email accounts and applications should be used for communicating classified information but that “other forms of electronic communication may be used in the course of conducting government business”.
The minister added: “Each minister is responsible for ensuing that government information is handled in a secure way, but how that is done will depend on the type of information and the specific circumstances.”
She also argued that at the height of the pandemic, there was a “huge volume of correspondence” was coming into various private and work addresses of ministers from individuals offering to provide personal protective equipment.
Lopez claimed that, regardless of how bids for public contracts had arrived in front of ministers, “they went through the same eight-stage process” and told parliament that this “should provide reassurance”.
Reports emerged over the weekend that the former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Conservative peer Lord Bethell had used their personal email accounts for government business, including when approving contracts paid for by taxpayers.
According to The Sunday Times, Hancock had routinely used a private account to conduct government business since March last year, meaning that the government holds no record on much of his decision making during the pandemic.