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 that everybody is talking about. I think it's important that we have things on the record and this is the modern way of keeping things on record."

During the election, Excalibur was repeatedly used to good effect to log what the Conservatives had done, and what they had said on various issues, on all occasions.

Labour briefing documents on subjects like the Conservative government's record on value added tax were definitive, reliable and highly useful - because they were able to bring together all the relevant quotes, over time, by all the relevant ministers.

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.

According to Mr Kerr's file, he signed an advertisement opposing Mr Blair's proposed changes to Clause IV of the party constitution, and he not only heckled the leader but he also heckled a senior party official during a presentation to Euro MPs on the party's election strategy.

Evidently a prickly character, the file is also reported to allege that he had a public row with Wayne David, leader of the Labour group of MEPs, over Mr Kerr's place on a European Parliament delegation to Australia.