Labour calls for investigation into Hancock’s use of private email

Bobby Hellard

28 Jun, 2021

The Labour Party has called for a full investigation into the ministerial use of private email accounts for government business. 

It follows a report in The Sunday Times that suggests that former health secretary, Matt Hancock, breached government guidelines by using his personal Gmail account.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, has written to the Cabinet Secretary and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) demanding a “full-scale investigation” into what she called a “shady practice” that could “conceal vital information”. Rayner has warned that “the buck doesn’t stop with Hancock” and that the government was “rotten to its core”.

“We need to know how wide this goes and how much government business is being conducted in secret,” Rayner wrote. “This shady practice has the potential to conceal vital information of public interest and cover up the waste of taxpayers money that has been given to friends of Conservative ministers.”

The Sunday Times said it had seen documents that suggested Hancock had “routinely” used his private Gmail account to conduct government business and also claimed that the junior health minister, Lord Bethell, did the same. There are also claims the other officials within the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had breached government guidelines in this way.

Labour’s concern is that, as a result of this private email use, the government does not have a complete record of the former health secretary’s decision-making during the pandemic, which includes the procurement of PPE, set up of the Test and Trace system and the strategy for care homes. 

In a statement given to IT Pro, the UK’s Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, said: “It is an important principle of government transparency and accountability that official records are kept of key actions and decision.

“The issue of ministers and senior officials using private email accounts to conduct sensitive official business is a concerning one for the public and is one my office has advised on before. I am looking carefully at the information that has come to light over the past few days and considering what further steps may be necessary to address the concerns raised with me.”

Hancock resigned over the weekend following leaked CCTV footage from his office that shows him in an embrace with his aide Gina Coladangelo. The ICO also confirmed that it is making enquiries into the release of personal data to the media and whether a further regulatory response is warranted.

The former health secretary is also under scrutiny from the Conservative Party; when asked by the BBC if Hancock’s actions were a security issue, justice secretary Robert Buckland said: “I agree, and that’s why I think it’s important that we use the systems that we are provided with.”

In response to Buckland’s comments, Rayner tweeted: “We already know that hostile states target minister’s email accounts to access sensitive information and even blackmail Ministers. Tory ministers are putting our national security at risk by trying to hide from the public and cover up their dodgy dealings.” 

Using a personal personal account for government business is meant to be against government guidelines, but in April, MP Tom Tugendhat claimed that GCHQ had advised him that Gmail was safer than the system used in Parliament