Tuesday 17 June 2014
Hillsborough Wikipedia Edits
As the House is aware, the LiverpoolEcho reported on 25 April 2014 that extremely unpleasant amendments to the Hillsborough and Anfield Wikipedia pages, in 2009 and 2012 respectively, had been made from Government computers. Further unacceptable edits to various other Wikipedia pages were subsequently discovered.
The Government have treated this matter with the utmost seriousness. Our position from the very start has been that the amendments made to Wikipedia are sickening. The behaviour is in complete contravention of the civil service code, and every canon of civilised conduct. It is entirely unacceptable.
On 25 April we launched immediate enquiries. Our first priority was to establish the facts and to examine the issues raised. This investigation was led by the Cabinet Office permanent secretary, Richard Heaton, who is responsible for the Government computer network. He worked closely with the director-general for propriety and ethics and her team, as well as other senior officials. He was also advised by Mr Denis Edgar-Neville, Chair of the British Computer Society Cybercrime Forensics Specialist Group and head of the Centre for Cybercrime Forensics at Canterbury Christ Church university. From the outset we consulted and involved the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham).
Mr Oliver Duggan, the journalist who wrote the story of 25 April for the LiverpoolEcho, passed the Cabinet Office information which he believed could identify who was responsible for some of the edits in question. That information has proved extremely helpful, and provided a significant investigative lead. I would like to thank him for this and for co-operating with my Department over the past weeks.
Extensive further inquiries were taken forward as a civil service disciplinary matter, involving potential breaches of the civil service code and of individual Departments’ policies on acceptable behaviour. An individual was then subject to a formal disciplinary investigation and dismissed for gross misconduct, on the grounds of responsibility for the 2012 edits. The individual in question was a young, junior administrative officer. It is a long-standing established practice that in such cases an individual’s name will not be made public.
There are substantial technical obstacles to investigating the other edits. The deletion of internet data logs in the ordinary course of business means that tracing historic edits to a particular Department, building or individual has proved extremely difficult. In the absence of other specific leads, and despite a great deal of forensic and other work, it has not been possible to identify the originators of the 2009 edit or any of the others in question.
Subject to further information or leads coming to light, the investigation into the edits is therefore concluded.
These incidents have given rise to questions about the Government secure intranet, about the way in which the internet is accessed from Government and its use recorded, and about social media policies in Departments. We will continue to encourage and enable civil servants to use the internet and social media, as essential tools enabling them to work openly and to be connected to the society they serve. But the misuse of social media is unacceptable and carries consequences. We will be reminding all civil servants of their responsibilities and updating social media guidance.
Throughout this work, Richard Heaton has been in contact with the right hon. Member for Leigh, the right Rev James Jones (the former Bishop of Liverpool), and with lawyers for the bereaved families. Richard Heaton and I have also met the members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Hillsborough disaster. I am extremely grateful to all of those people for their advice.
I would like to thank the families themselves for their patience during the weeks it has taken to bring this matter to a conclusion. I was deeply distressed that, at a time when the hearings of the Hillsborough inquests were unfolding, the civil service was brought into disrepute by these edits. No one should be in any doubt of the Government’s position regarding the Hillsborough disaster and their support for the families of the 96 victims and all those affected by the tragedy.
Prudential Regulation Authority (Annual Report)
The annual report and accounts 2013-14 of the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) has today been laid before Parliament.
The report forms an important part of the accountability mechanisms for the Prudential Regulation Authority under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and assesses the performance of the Prudential Regulation Authority over the past 12 months against its statutory objectives.
Culture, Media and Sport
The Telecommunications Council took place in Luxembourg on 6 June 2014; I represented the UK.
The first item was a progress report from the presidency on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning measures to ensure a high level of network and information security across the Union. (First Reading—EM6342/13). The Greek presidency opened this item by introducing its report on this dossier. They noted general support for a compromise agreement on this dossier and that Council agreed regarding an “improved” role for ENISA. A debate followed that centred on the issue of “operational co-operation”.
Poland began the debate by making a call for legislation that mandates the exchange of information between member states. Poland’s suggestion received support from Lithuania, Denmark, Estonia, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Luxembourg.
UK rejected this approach—stressing that the position adopted by the presidency was at the absolute limit of what they could accept—and was supported in this by France, Germany, Spain, Romania, Finland, Cyprus, Sweden, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium and Austria, with many stressing that trust could not be built by legislation.
Italy—as the incoming presidency—promised to build on the progress made by the outgoing presidency.
The Greek presidency then noted that its report already represented a compromise of the various member state positions and concluded that this position was the way forward for future work on this dossier.
The second item was a progress report on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down measures concerning the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a connected continent. (First Reading—EM13562/13 and 13555/13 + ADDs 1-2). This item began with the Greek presidency noting a series of concerns expressed by member states, but there had been some progress regarding discussions. The presidency noted the conclusion of its report, in that a potential way forward was for member states to reach agreement on those parts of the package where agreement had begun to coalesce. Commissioner Kroes’ intervention indicated a view that Council should adopt a common position in July. She also stated that most member states wished to see an end to mobile roaming charges and supported intervention on net neutrality. She also recognised Council’s concerns regarding the Commission’s spectrum proposals and again asserted that they did not represent a transfer of competency. There was no formal debate and a single intervention from Estonia supporting the progress report’s conclusions. I did not intervene.
These items were be followed by a presentation by the Commission on the latest iteration of the digital agenda scoreboard. There were no major interventions on this item.
This was followed by three items under AOB, all updates from the presidency on: the proposal for a regulation from the European Parliament and of the Council on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market. (First Reading—EM10977/12); a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on measures to reduce the costs of deploying high-speed electronic communication networks. (First Reading—EM7999/13); and a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the accessibility to public sector bodies’ websites (First Reading—EM16006/11). There were no major interventions on any of these items.
Finally, the Italian delegation informed the Council of its priorities for its forthcoming presidency before Council adjourned until the next meeting in November 2014.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
In February, I updated the House on progress in our bilateral relationship with Iran, following the appointment of non-resident chargé d’affaires in November 2013, Official Report, 24 February 2014, column 26. I said then that our decision to end formal protecting power arrangements was a sign of our increasing confidence in conducting bilateral business directly rather than through our Swedish and Omani intermediaries.
Over the past four months, we have continued to expand our bilateral engagement. British and Iranian officials have paid regular visits to one another’s capitals. This has enabled us to make a range of practical improvements to the functioning of our respective embassies. And it has allowed us to discuss a broad range of issues, including areas where we and Iran have sharply differing views.
Our two primary concerns when considering whether to reopen our embassy in Tehran have been assurance that our staff would be safe and secure, and confidence that they would be able to carry out their functions without hindrance. There has never been any doubt in my mind that we should have an embassy in Tehran if the circumstances allowed. Iran is an important country in a volatile region, and maintaining embassies around the world, even under difficult conditions, is a central pillar of the UK’s global diplomatic approach. On Saturday evening I telephoned Foreign Minister Zarif to discuss the progress we have made to date and our common interest in continuing to move forward in the UK-Iran bilateral relationship.
I have therefore now decided the circumstances are right to reopen our embassy in Tehran. There are a range of practical issues that we will need to resolve first. However it is our intention to reopen the embassy in Tehran with a small initial presence as soon as these practical arrangements have been made. I expect the Iranian Government will similarly choose to take steps to reopen their embassy in London.
Inevitably, the initial embassy presence will only able to offer a limited range of services at first. For the time being, Iranians will still need to apply in Abu Dhabi or Istanbul for visas for travel to the UK. But encouraging people to people contact is an important priority and something that I hope we will be able to make progress on as the embassy grows in size and capability over the following months.
Employment, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council will meet on 20 June in Luxembourg. The Health and Consumer Affairs part of the Council will be in the morning of 20 June.
The main agenda items will be the following:
Medical devices directive—The presidency plans a ministerial discussion on medical devices.
Council conclusions—The Council will adopt the two sets of Council conclusions on nutrition and physical activity, and on the economic crisis and health care. Departmental officials have been involved in negotiations on these texts, which are in line with UK priorities.
The Commission will present their work to improve the medical devices regulatory system before the new EU legislation is in place, and the joint vaccine procurement agreement.
The Italian delegation will also give information on the priorities for their forthcoming presidency, which will run from July until December 2014.