Anger at cybersecurity announcement

By Alex Stevenson

Lord West has been made the government’s new minister in charge of cybersecurity strategy, amid anger from the Tories over the way the appointment was announced.

Yesterday the Independent newspaper reported Gordon Brown was set to appoint Britian’s first national cybersecurity chief, prompting an angry point of order from Tory home affairs spokesman Crispin Blunt after yesterday’s prime minister’s questions.

New Speaker John Bercow, who has threatened to take disciplinary action against ministers for not informing the Commons first on major policy announcements, granted Mr Blunt an urgent question on the issue today.

David Hanson said the government had not taken any appropriate action, having tabled a written ministerial statement today in the prime minister’s name.

He insisted the story must have been leaked or an embargoed briefing had been broken.

Under the cybersecurity strategy Home Office minister David Hanson told the Commons an Office of Cyberspace Strategy and a Cyberspace Operations Centre within GCHQ would be established, alongside an ethics advisory group to deal with civil liberties issues.

“It is sad that ministers now need advice on ethics,” Mr Blunt said in reply, while Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Tom Brake added: “This strategy clearly has the potential to defend us but it could also have an impact on our civil liberties.”

Mr Hanson acknowledged a “balance” had to be struck between protecting individual liberties and wider cybersecurity issues but insisted: “This is about defending civil liberties.”

The government’s first national security strategy was published last year, with the current update published today.

Mr Blunt suggested a Conservative government would go further, however.

“We need a national security council with a dedicated staff and decision-making powers at the heart of government,” he said. “We are not there yet.”