Major and unions to meet over GCHQ

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FOR THE first time in 14 years, the occupant of Number 10 is to meet union leaders to discuss a specific and potentially embarrassing industrial issue. John Major has agreed to talks with the leaders of five Civil Service unions on Monday in an attempt to reach agreement over the 10-year ban at the GCHQ intelligence communications centre.

Some ministers and a number of senior Whitehall officials have become increasingly uneasy at the prospect of Britain being bracketed with Third World countries by the UN-sponsored International Labour Organisation because of the Government's treatment of civil servants at GCHQ.

Disclosing the Prime Minister's intentions at an Employment select committee yesterday, David Hunt, the Secretary of State, indicated that, while it was hoped an accommodation could be reached, Mr Major was unlikely to make a significant concession. 'The Government's position has not changed, we have to guard against industrial action and maintain security,' he said.

The ILO has called on the Government to meet unions in an attempt to reach agreement over GCHQ, but initial contact between union leaders and Sir Robin Butler, head of the Home Civil Service, on 10 November failed to reach a deal.