Lord Bethell’s position as health minister is under heavy scrutiny as he faces two separate probes into the use of his personal email accounts and how he got a parliamentary pass for Matt Hancock’s lover and aide.
The Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham today revealed she is launching a formal inquiry with the possibility of criminal prosecutions into the use of private correspondence channels from within the Department of Health and Social Care.
It follows reports that Lord Bethell and former Health Secretary Matt Hancock routinely used private email accounts to discuss government business.
At the same time, the Lords Commissioner for Standards is investigating a complaint that the peer sponsored a parliamentary pass for the aide Mr Hancock was caught kissing on leaked CCTV footage.
UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham described the suggestion that ministers and senior officials used private email accounts to conduct sensitive official business as “worrying.” She said:
“It concerns the public to feel there may be a loss of transparency about decisions affecting them and their loved ones, and as the regulator of data protection and freedom of information laws, it concerns me.”
Ms Denham noted how the government’s own code of practice “sets clear standards, and emphasises the importance of ‘good records management’ in ensuring public trust and confidence, particularly following a national crisis”.
“That is why my office has launched a formal investigation which will establish if private correspondence channels have been used, and if their use led to breaches of freedom of information or data protection law. We will publish the results of that investigation in due course.”
Ms Denham stressed the use of private correspondence channels “does not in itself break freedom of information or data protection rules”