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Questions are being asked about Trans Marche Link, the consortium building the Channel tunnel. A man called Larry Coleman, a trade unionists from Dover, has applied for work with TML 22 times, and has been turned down each time. He called a meeting of people who had been turned down for such work, and 100 came along. It so happens that the senior industrial relations officer of TML is a former senior employee of the Economic League. It is fair to say that TML denies any connection with the Economic League and that it does any blacklisting. It is interesting, therefore, that two men--the industrial relations officer and another manager at TML-- attended an Economic League meeting in December 1987, when TML was recruiting many men. Apparently the two were acting on their own initiative and had no authorisation. Presumably, however, management is not too upset with them as the five companies that comprise TML--Costain Group, Taylor Woodrow, Wimpey, Tarmac and Balfour Beatty--are members of the Economic League. All five contribute large funds to Conservative party funds.
The House might be interested to know who else supports the Economic League. It acknowledges that several hundred companies are members of it. Some of the more famous names that were listed by the Economic League in October 1987--the list may now be out of date
Column 411as many companies have stopped supporting the Economic League following adverse publicity--included Allied Lyons, Asda, Bass, Beecham Group, British Telecom, the Building Employers Confederation, and numerous others. Indeed, 44 major construction companies subscribed to a special services group of that organisation. The Engineering Employers Federation is a member of the Economic League, as are other well-known names such as Fisons, Esso Petroleum, General Electric Company, Ford, Glaxo Holdings, Grand Metropolitan, GKN--I am giving all these names as I want them to appear in Hansard --Guinness, Hanson, Hill Samuel Group, IBM, ICI, Kleinwort Benson Group, Lucas Industries, Nabisco Group, Nestle , Nissan, Rank Hovis McDougall, the Rover Group, RTZ Consultants, Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, Shell UK, the stock exchange --that is a surprise--Tate and Lyle, TNT, Trafalgar House, Trusthouse Forte and Vickers. I emphasise that I have picked out some well-known household names, but there are hundreds of others.
Clearly a customer for anything from beer to biscuits or a cup of coffee to a car will have to be assiduous to avoid giving a contribution to that secretive organisation, which millions of people do not know exists.
Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow) rose --
Mrs. Fyfe : Does the hon. Gentleman mind if I do not give way? I was well known for giving way frequently in Committee, but many hon. Members wish to speak in a short debate. I may give way later, but I should like to press on.
Donations to the Economic League can be large. In 1987, Lloyds Bank gave £5,600, Hawker Siddeley gave £6,700 and National Westminster Bank gave £8,960. It is not as though all those important companies received value for money. Mr. Richard Brett, who is the former north-west director of the Economic League, at a recent public meeting of the anti- blacklisting campaign revealed that of 45,000 personal records held by the Economic League, 35,000 were hopelessly inaccurate and out of date. It would seem that shareholders are not receiving much value for money.
Mr. Summerson rose --
Mrs. Fyfe : I have already replied to the hon. Gentleman. How does the Economic League get its information? Michael Noar, who is director of it, has revealed that it possesses cards on the electoral candidates of all political parties. It employs people to comb through newspapers and periodicals of the Left and Right, but mainly the Left, noting who has written a letter, who has supported who in trade union elections, who has become known as a trade unionist or political activitist and who supports apartheid, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Child Poverty Action Group and many other groups regarded as risky in the fevered imagination of this strange organisation. It does not check the accuracy of statements made in its journals. It spies on British citizens. A man called Ned Walsh was employed by it for 27 years to infiltrate pressure groups and trade unions and targeted anti-apartheid groups. He became the minutes secretary at the national executive meetings of the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs before it became Manufacturing, Science and Finance.
Column 412The Economic League even gets people to blacklist themselves. Mr. Noar has frequently said that anyone who believes that the Economic League has a file on them may write in. He does not say that it asks inquirers to give their trade union, political affiliation and a £10 cheque. The league updates the register of persons if that person happens to be on it, and if the league has never heard of him before, it certainly has after that and he is registered.
It is not as though the league's activities stop there. It does other things that have recently come to light. The leaders of the Economic League have been secretly advising the Prime Minister on anti-union law. Its director general was secretary of a small group of industrial representatives who met members of the Prime Minister's private staff in 1986 to promote harsher anti-trade union laws. The Economic League is now contemplating making up a blacklist of gays for use by life insurance companies and a list of hooligans for football clubs in expectation of the identity card scheme becoming law.
I shall briefly explain why the present law is inadequate. The Economic League, on which I have concentrated, is not the only blacklisting organisation ; it is just the best-known and biggest. There are also various employers' federations and networks of personnel officers.
This new clause is required because the Data Protection Act 1984 compels only organisations that hold information on computer to reveal its contents. If an organisation keeps a card index instead, as well as a minimal amount of information fed into a computer, it can stay within the law as presently drafted and thereby pay no heed to the legislation's intent, which was to give British citizens information about themselves. The dreadful thing about all this is that vetting organisations--for the benefit of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson), that is what the Economic League is--have the power to influence the employment prospects of thousands of people. That power far exceeds that of any Government official, even in wartime.
I should like to quote a couple of people whose views I respect in this matter. John Alderson, former chief constable of Devon and Cornwall police, has said :
"We've seen this in Europe before--unofficial organisations becoming a police force which is unaccountable. It's highly dangerous and quite improper."
Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor, authors of an excellent book on the subject, write :
"the essence of blacklisting is that people can be deprived of their livelihood, not because of their actions or even intentions, but for their beliefs in many cases suspected, not actual beliefs, even because of the views of friends and relatives."
Column 413Any Conservative Members who doubt a word of that need only read the great detail which I do not have time to give.
The two authors continue :
"In Britain the system is uniquely secretive, and the information recorded without the individual's knowledge."
Mr. Riddick rose--
Mr. Riddick : Yes, it is, Sir. I should like to point out that I am not here on behalf of the Economic League. That is absolute nonsense. The hon. Lady's speech is not related to what appears on the Amendment Paper.
"In Britain the system is uniquely secretive, and information recorded without the individual's knowledge. The victims are denied any chance to face their accusers."
It is for that reason that I call on hon. Members to end this abuse of our people's civil rights and support the new clause.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) : New clause 11 should appeal to any genuine democrats who may have found their way on to the Conservative Benches. I know from the opposition to the Official Secrets Bill that there are a few, although none of the hon. Members who put up such a principled stand are present this evening. New clause 11 also puts to the test the Government's alleged commitment to the lofty virtues of freedom and democracy, to which lip service is so often paid, but which are, in practice, treated with contempt. The issue is simple, and has been ably stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe). It cannot be right in a democracy for a person to be denied employment--in some cases for life--on the basis of information that has been secretly collected and secretly supplied--and which is often inaccurate--by sinister organisations such as the Economic League. There is no need to dwell on the Economic League because my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill has given some clear and damning evidence about the operations of that organisation, whose incompetence and untruthfulness have been amply demonstrated by many distinguished commentators and, notably, by the television programme "World in Action", one of the few remaining refuges for inquiring journalists in this country today. However, I want to quote what Mr. Richard Brett, the former regional director of the Economic League--not "one of us" because he is a former Army intelligence officer--said about the league. He described the league's central register as "chaotic", "more fiction than fact" and "highly dangerous and undemocratic". The Economic League and other organisations associated with it are now widely discredited and I am happy to note that many companies are withdrawing their subscriptions. I also hear that the skids are finally under Mr. Michael Noar, the present director, and that could not happen to a nicer person.
Mr. Summerson : I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Can he enlighten the House on a point of information? I have no idea what the Economic League is. Will the hon. Gentleman give the House a thumbnail sketch of it? In doing so, he will do better than his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe).
Mr. Mullin : It is a sinister, politically motivated organisation. I am offering a brief child's guide to it. It is funded by subscriptions from large companies and it collects intelligence--that is possibly too high a word--on individual employees, which is culled mainly from newspaper cuttings and which, in almost all cases, is unchecked. It then secretly feeds the information it has on its cards to its subscribers, which frequently results in wholly innocent persons losing their employment or not being offered employment. In some cases, I regret to say, it excludes people from employment for many years, and in one or two cases no doubt for life. I will give one example about which I know in a moment. The information used is often wholly inaccurate and that must seem wrong to anyone who is committed to democracy. I would like to think that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) shared my views on that.
This is not a Left-Right issue, because anyone could be affected by the league's activities. There are people on the hon. Gentleman's side of the political spectrum who have been denied employment on the basis of false information on the list, and I would like to think that the organisation and its activities were deprecated by all who pay lip service to the values of freedom and democracy.
Mr. Wallace : I recall reading the transcript of the Granada television programme that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Perhaps he will tell the House whether he is satisfied that the Economic League always uses legal and legitimate means to obtain information. Does he have any information to the contrary?
Mr. Mullin : As my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill said, it has infiltrated. I am not againt a bit of infiltration ; I do it myself now and again for a good cause. But it has tapped into the information gathered by MI5 and the security services. It appears also to have contacts among the police. I note with satisfaction that, since the Granada television programme, the sources have dried up and one or two policemen have been prosecuted for passing on information. Any student of the activities of those who guard all that we hold dear will know that the information on their files is a mite inaccurate in any case.
Mr. Riddick : I am aware that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) do not like the Economic League. How relevant is it to the new clause? Has the hon. Gentleman read new cause 11? It spreads the net far wider than organisations such as the Economic League. For example, if I want to employ a research assistant who had worked in the Conservative party, the new clause would stop me getting advice from the Conservative party on whether the prospective employee was a Conservative or held Conservative views, which would be fairly important when employing a research assistant. Is that the intention of the new clause?
Column 415sinister organisations, of which the Economic League is only the best known, that operate in this country. The new clause does none of the things that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
I place on record the experience of one of my constituents, whom I will not name because he recently found employment after many years of unemployment and I would not wish to do anything to jeopardise it. He was a highly qualified welding supervisor who had been in continuous employment and much in demand for many years until one day, working on a contract in Nigeria, on grounds of safety--not for any political reason--he refused to certify welds. He quickly found that his contract was ended, and, from that moment on, that all prospects of employment had ceased. His marriage broke up, he got into debt, and he spent years without work.
He cannot prove that he was blacklisted--it is extremely difficult to do so --but the suddenness with which the event that I described occurred and the fact that he could not obtain any clear reasons for the hundreds of refusals suggest that he probably was.
He heard that, on the Granada television programme, Mr. Michael Noar offered to show anyone what was contained in the Economic League's files if they wrote to him and requested him to do so. My constituent did so, to call Mr. Noar's bluff, and he has met with months of evasion. He had been asked, as my hon. Friends and others have been, for more information, the purpose of which was clearly to add to the league's files and not to provide him with any new information. He has so far not been successful in holding Mr. Noar to the pledge that he gave over a year ago.
That man's life and those of many other people have been blighted by the activities of the Economic League. The new clause is designed to put a stop to that. I look forward to that day, and I hope that the House will accept the new clause.
Mr. Riddick : If I may, Mr. Speaker, I want to raise a point of order on a matter that is important to me. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) suggested that I was speaking on behalf of the Economic League. I was doing nothing of the sort. However, the hon. Lady is sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union and she did not declare that interest at the beginning of her speech. She was clearly speaking for the Transport and General Workers Union.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : I make it clear that I speak for my constituents, but I also wear another hat in that I am chairman of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. That is an open and free organisation whose aims I believe are shared by many people in the country, including, if I am to believe her, the Prime Minister and all the Treasury Ministers, although her activities sometimes make me wonder about the veracity of that statement.
Column 416The point of the new clause is to stop insidious and secret activities being carried on, with the intent of collecting people's political affiliations for the purpose of denying them employment. Clearly, if anyone wishes to employ someone, he is entitled to check references and to ensure that that person is who he says he is. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) mentioned Ned Walsh. Ned Walsh was a member of what used to be called the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs, which is now Manufacturing, Science and Finance. He purported to be a loyal trade union member and someone who had the anti-apartheid cause at heart. He was an extremely active member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. We thought of him as one of our most valuable members. Whenever there was a job to be done, he volunteered. If there was a weekend conference, he would volunteer to work on the stalls selling the material. No matter in which part of the country we required his assistance for the mundane work at conferences and meetings, Ned Walsh was always willing to help out.
However, then we discovered that Ned Walsh's connection with the Anti- Apartheid Movement was not because he believed in its cause, but because he was being secretly employed by the Economic League to find out who were members of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and to pass that information on to the Economic League, which would then file under the members' names the fact that they were political subversives and, therefore, dangerous to employ.
I do not know any hon. Member who would defend that practice or would say that that was something that should be done in a democratic society. If it were not for such activities, I would be happy to offer to the Economic League or any other body that wanted it, for a suitable fee, the entire membership list of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, because we are not a secret organisation. It is because of the threat of political and employment reprisals against our membership that our membership list is not available. If all that was being done was that the names were being sold for a political purpose, that would be bad enough, but what else did Ned Walsh say to the Economic League about the movement's members being unsatisfactory and therefore, for various reasons, should not be employed? That is not the kind of society in which we want to live and it is a practice that should be stopped at all costs.
The Economic League is able to evade any scrutiny of its records. It says that it does not keep computerised records, but its records are all on card files, and, therefore, as I understand it, it escapes the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1984. I do not believe that any hon. Member would defend such attacks on people's basic freedom to belong to open political organisations or that membership of such organisations should be used to prevent people gaining employment. It is no use the Minister preaching the work ethic or the Prime Minister saying, "Look for a job, don't depend on the state", or the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbitt) saying, "Get on your bike and look for work" when there are organisations secretly compiling false and allegedly damaging material. What is even worse is that employers believe that to be a member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement or similar organisations makes one unfit for employment. There is a disgraceful conspiracy--
It is a damning and disgraceful conspiracy that files are collected and that organisations refuse people employment on the ground that they belong to open political organisations. I applaud those companies that have refused to renew their subscriptions or withdrawn from the Economic League, but I condemn outright those organisations that have not done so.
I do not believe that the Government have done enough to end such secrecy and infiltration. If they are not happy about the precise words of new clause 11, they should at least accept it in principle.
Mr. Clelland : For the sake of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) who has gone off to get an early place in the taxi queue, I should make it clear that the Economic League is an organisation that keeps records about an individual's trade union or political views. Therefore, it falls within the parameters of the new clause. The Economic League is an insidious and subversive organisation and, in common with my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), I condemn those companies that subscribe to it. Of those companies, I particularly mention Scottish and Newcastle Breweries. It was not slow to approach Labour Members of Parliament, the trade unions and the Labour local authorities recently in its battle against the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report. Some of us have written to that company about its subscription to the Economic League.
I draw the attention of the House to a couple of cases that Robin Thompson and Partners, the solicitors acting on behalf of my union, the Amalgamated Engineering Union, have taken up. The first example relates to Mr. X--I shall not give his name as I do not want to do the Economic League's work for it. Mr. X applied to work as a dumper driver at the site of a new prison at Thamesmead. He was puzzled as to why he had received no job offer after being told that the contractor was desperate for a driver and especially, as a local man, he seemed to be the obvious choice.
On Friday 18 July 1986, Mr. X returned to the site and spoke to a supervisor whom he had met a week earlier. The supervisor was apologetic, but told him that he could not take him on under any circumstances. Mr. X pressed him for a reason and the supervisor reluctantly told him that it was due to his
"trade union activities in the past".
Although the supervisor was evidently sympathetic, he was under clear instructions not to recruit Mr. X under any circumstances. In 1983 Mr. X applied to work as a steel erector with a company in desperate need of such workers. He had been asked for his national insurance number and his date of birth and had been told to be ready to work on the following Wednesday after his interview. On the Tuesday evening, however, the interviewer telephoned Mr. X to say that the company would not take him on as he was regarded as a "security risk". He would have been working at terminal four at London airport.
On 14 November 1988 he applied to BB and WW Erectors Ltd. for the position of a steel erector. That company was a sub-contractor to Wimpeys and Mr. X was
Column 418told that the main contractor would not on any account let him start work on the contract at the Woolwich prison site because he was "black listed". Mr. X told the solicitors that that phrase was expressly used by the company to explain its decision.
Mr. X complained to his Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) and to the data protection registrar. He confirmed- -as suggested by my hon. Friends--that, although the Economic League held no records on computer, he believed that records were kept in other ways.
As further evidence of the activities of the Economic League Lord Wedderburn, writing in "The Worker and the Law", said that it maintained a :
" Research (Screening of Labour) Department' "
He said that he had been present when managers had compared notes about information obtained about hiring from the
"local police Red Squad",
whatever that may be. Lord Wedderburn said :
"This is a serious and much ignored problem."
He went on to describe a case where a militant trade unionist gave a false name for fear of being on such a list. He was subsequently discovered and sacked. The employment appeal tribunal decided that although he had been dismissed for trade union activity it was not such activity in that employment but in the past and that, therefore, the industrial tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear the case. The Industrial Law Journal of June 1987 in an article entitled "Anti-Union Discrimination : Practice Law and Policy" reported : "The most blatant form of pre-recruitment direct discrimination is the black list. All our construction employer respondents except one admitted to having excluded both known militants and others merely suspected of militant sympathies by virtue of having worked on strike-prone sites. Similar practices are chronicled in engineering, motors, docks, shipping and even the Police and prison services. The key to pre-recruitment discrimination is screening for selection." Attention has already been drawn to the Economic League's black list following an expose in an item entitled "Boys on the Black List" in the "World in Action" on Granada television on 16 February 1987.
The solicitors who drew up the report of these events have considerable experience of cases of this sort. They conclude that all that can done is to gather evidence and report the
"result to politicians who may, eventually, have some chance of altering the law."
They add :
"Certainly, under the existing law there is nothing that we can recommend."
The House has a chance tonight to change the law. The practices to which my hon. Friends and I have referred must be outlawed if we are to call ourselves in future a free and civilised society.
Mr. Wallace : I first came across the existence of the Economic League shortly after the Granada television programme had been shown. A constituent drew my attention to the programme, which at the time I had not seen or heard about. He wondered whether the league's activities explained why he had not been able to find employment for a long time. I do not know whether he is on a list. Having been written to, I obtained a copy of the
Column 419transcript of the programme. On reading it, I was disturbed by the activities in which the league was involved.
I take the point of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) that if he wished to employ a research assistant it would not be unreasonable for him to ask Conservative Central Office whether an applicant was a member of the Conservative party. I fully accept that argument. Perhaps the clause is not as well drafted as it should be, but it has given us the opportunity to air legitimate concerns about organisations such as the Economic League. It may be legitimate to ask Conservative Central Office whether a prospective employee of a Conservative Member holds particular political views, but it is an entirely different matter when a society to which someone belongs, or legitimate trade union activities, can be used to stop someone gaining employment. I hope that the majority in a democratic society would regard that as wholly unacceptable.
We like to think that we live in an open and free society in which people can join societies such as the Anti-Apartheid Movement or take part in legitimate trade unionism without suffering any consequences apart from having to give up a great deal of time and, no doubt, a lot of money. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should be concerned that something that an individual does voluntarily causes him to lose out on employment opportunities. The clause may not be the ideal way of dealing with the problem, but I hope that the Minister will accept that there must be something wrong in society when individuals have to give a false name, as the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) said, so that they will not be black listed.
I understand that it has been admitted by the Economic League that a vast number of entries are incorrect. The result is that people cannot get jobs, and they do not have any idea why that should be so. A constituent wrote to me on this issue, and the company involved does not feature in the list which was read out by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe). The lady concerned was not cleared for security reasons, and she has no reason to believe that she has done anything to justify that. She says that there is nothing in her personal history to which such a decision can be attributed. The frustration of being in that postion is troubling her greatly. It is difficult to know how to advise a constituent with such a problem. There must be many others who, as a result of the activities of the Economic League, find themselves in equally frustrating positions. If the clause proves not to be helpful in dealing with the problem, the fact that we have had a debate upon it will be helpful. A list of companies has been read out, and many of the companies are household names. I am sure that many of them have withdrawn from the league as a result of becoming more aware of its activities. It would be extremely useful if more companies took that action. Organisations such as the Economic League would not be supplying information unless there was a demand for it.
Many shareholders of respectable companies should be alert to the organisations to which their companies are subscribing. If demand for information drifted away, the suppliers would not have a market. If that happened, we would have a society in which people could feel free to join legitimate political organisations and express political views--perhaps eccentric ones--without fearing that their future employment would be threatened.
Column 42010.45 pm
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : I have had some experience of the Economic League. Far from conforming to the picture that the Opposition have painted, it is an extremely helpful and useful source of data in the investigation of sinister Left-wing organisations. The mere fact that Labour Members and their allies in the media are going bananas about it suggests that it must be doing something right. As a Westminster city councillor I took a great interest in Left-wing organisations that masqueraded as socially conscious bodies. I wished to investigate the web of corruption in Islington and Camden councils, which I subsequently wrote about in a pamphlet called "Qualgos Just Grow" : it became a critical piece of evidence for the Widdicombe committee. The Economic League was able to give me a good deal of very useful help when I was in the process of tracing that network.
Another organisation with sinister Left-wing attributes that I am investigating is the London Food Commission, which is trying to scare the life out of our housewives and to undermine the motives of the food industry. Again I found an excellent databank of journals and magazines, which told me all about the organisation and helped me to bring it to the attention of the House and the British housewife, who has been led up the garden path.
Mrs. Wise rose --
Mrs. Gorman : Far from being the underground and sinister organisation depicted by the Left, the Economic League is dedicated to exposing the corruption and the insidious goings-on that Left-wing organisations are getting up to.
Mrs. Wise : The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) chose not to give way after she had impugned the respectability and academic worth of the London Food Commission, which is doing extremely useful work in alerting people to the dangers and drawbacks of the food that they eat. I am afraid that that is symptomatic of the Conservatives' attitude : anyone who does not agree with them is bound to be sinister.
I have seen the Economic League's entry on a certain job applicant. One of the most "iniquitous" comments on the record was that that person had been a member of the GLC. No doubt that would meet with the approval of Conservative Members, who think that anyone who is not elected to represent the Conservative party must inevitably be sinister, but some of us on the Opposition Benches consider it entirely respectable and desirable to be elected as a Labour representative to serve the public interest. We commend those academics and others who speak out in the public interest regardless of attempts by sinister organisations to blight their future employment prospects.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) on her contribution. I believe that this has been a useful airing of a dangerous and long-standing practice which goes back for generations. My grandfather was blacklisted by the Economic League. Some of us have watched it over the years, and we know how detrimental it is to the interests of ordinary people who seek simply to live a decent, law-abiding, respectable life and to earn a living while so doing.