Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons on 16th March 2023.
When the rapid response unit was disbanded and what happened to the information it collected.
The rapid response unit was created in 2018 and disbanded in August 2022. It was formed as a central resource in the Government Communication Service that used publicly available information to improve Government’s ability to identify where certain narratives about our work were gaining traction online and to understand public sentiment about Government policies. On disbandment, the information collected was archived and it will be retained in line with the Cabinet Office information retention policy, which is available online.
But why has my hon. Friend refused to admit in answer to parliamentary questions that the rapid response unit collected and stored information on sitting MPs? As my subject access request has confirmed that I was one of those MPs, can he explain why the unit was using taxpayers’ money to snoop on me, who authorised this and why?
My hon. Friend is welcome to come and have a meeting with me and officials in the Cabinet Office to discuss any concerns that he has about the rapid response unit. I have asked them this morning whether there were any monitoring emails that contained his name. I have been given assurances that there were not, but I am very happy for him to come to the Department and talk through all the possible implications. The truth is that the Government have a number of media monitoring services that check what is going on. They monitor not just what MPs and peers say, but what journalists say and anything that is reported in the mainstream media. As my hon. Friend’s name has appeared in newspaper articles in connection with various stories, it is natural that it would be picked up by those monitoring services.
I do have concerns about what has been mentioned. If there are dossiers on MPs, we need to know. If someone put in for an urgent question to get to the bottom of this, I would be very tempted, because I do think it needs clarification. A Government Department holding records on MPs may be fine, but it may not be, so I do have great worries.
As I said, Mr Speaker, we have media monitoring units so that when people’s names appear in the media, be they MPs, peers or people who are not Members of either House, they will be recorded on those systems. There is nothing untoward about this, I can assure you.
Well, we will certainly find out at some point.