'Plans for privatised security' at GCHQ

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THE GOVERNMENT will be accused of 'breathtaking hypocrisy' today over plans which could lead to the introduction of private security guards at the top secret Government Communications Headquarters based in Cheltenham.

At a rally to mark the 10th anniversary of the ban on unions at GCHQ, union leaders will disclose that among a list of government functions to be 'market-tested' is the security division at the electronic 'listening post'.

In a speech today, Bill Brett, leader of the IPMS specialists and scientists' union, will point out that many employees of security firms are union members. He said that staff at GCHQ contacted union- backed organisations asking for advice about the plans.

'This completely destroys the security-based arguments for the ban on trade unions on GCHQ,' he said. 'GCHQ was so special that unions had to be banned on security grounds. Now the Government is so relaxed that it can contemplate using private security guards who have the right to belong to a union. What breathtaking hypocrisy.'

A spokesman for GCHQ said there were no plans at the moment to market test the security service. He said it was unlikely that the Foreign Office, which is responsible for GCHQ, would have different proposals. 'Perhaps Mr Brett has seen something out of context or misinterpreted what was there,' he said.

Further criticism will come today from the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). The organisation's general secretary, Enzo Friso, will say in a statement that the continuing ban flouts an international convention on freedom of association which Britain ratified in 1949.

Since the ban, Britain has been among the countries singled out in the ICFTU's annual surveys of violations of trade union rights, finding itself, in the words of the organisation, 'in the embarrassing company of fully-fledged dictatorships such as China, Burma or Sudan'.