Taylor dismisses `thought-police' fears

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The Independent Online
An allegation that Labour's database computer, Excalibur, is being used to impose "thought-police" control on MPs and others was yesterday dismissed by Ann Taylor, Leader of the Commons.

Mrs Taylor told BBC television's On the Record that Excalibur was simply an electronic library, and, as such, it could be expected to contain material on what people had said.

But it was alleged yesterday that the file on Hugh Kerr, the left-wing Labour Member of the European Parliament for Hertfordshire East and Essex West, included other material, including alleged "misdemeanours", like heckling Tony Blair during a private party reception.

Disclosure of the file provoked angry reaction from Labour MPs, and it is expected that some of them will take up the suggestion made by Mrs Taylor yesterday - that they should use the provisions of the Data Protection Act to inspect the material held on them. Mrs Taylor said that Excalibur, which was used as the heart of Labour's highly-successful rapid rebuttal work against the Tories during the election, was an electronic library.

"So if you feed any name in there, then you will get a reference sheet about what they've been saying.

"People can actually use the data protection legislation to find out what is one there about them. I don't think it's unreasonable to keep records of what we, as Members, say. Very often, we want to know ourselves what we've said on other occasions. We want to look at what other people have said.

"I presume they've got everything that I have said on the record and that's very wise because it means that if colleagues or television programmes are saying, `Ann Taylor said this on such a date', it can actually be checked.

"I think that we should all be prepared to stand by anything we have said and I don't think there is the sinister connotation."

The media have similar database libraries, though not restricted to politics and government. But if MPs find that Excalibur also contains extraneous "intelligence" input from party sources "informing" on private conversations and meetings, then the party leadership could face strong backbench criticism about a "Big Brother" system.

More potential trouble for the Labour leadership broke yesterday when the party's biggest financial backer declared that there was a ``crisis of accountability'' in the policy-making process. The GMB general union said that affiliates were being ``bounced'' into agreeing a relationship between the party and the Government.

In a document prepared for the GMB's annual conference today, Labour's National Policy Forum was said to be shrouded in secrecy, and ``bred suspicion and an atmosphere of mistrust''.

The 80-strong advisory forum had found that criticisms of policy were diluted before reaching the party's National Executive Committee and that minority opinions on the forum were not properly acknowledged, the document says.

The paper revealed that votes among forum members were resisted ``for fear of stories about splits''.

The GMB statement also argues that the consultation period over the report, "Labour into Power" - which makes recommendations over the relationship between the party and the Government - was far too short.

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