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Monday, November 1, 1999 Published at 07:57 GMT

UK Politics

Labour defends Dobson in data row

Frank Dobson sent letters to members across London, but denies any breach of rules

Labour has attempted to quell the controversy surrounding the mayoral campaign of former health secretary Frank Dobson.

The party has insisted that no data protection rules were breached by MPs or MEPs who gave party membership lists to Mr Dobson's campaign in order to enable him to canvass support for his bid to win Labour's mayoral nomination.

The Conservatives are demanding an inquiry into the issue.

A Labour spokesman said: "Our lawyers have looked at this and are confident that no breach has taken place."

The spokesman insisted that the lists of members - who will be balloted on Labour's choice to lead the party into the mayoral elections - had not been issued to Mr Dobson by the party leadership.

"Neither Millbank nor the Greater London Labour Party have issued any membership list to any of the candidates. We have not and would not do that because it is against the rules," he said.

Archer could face shares scrutiny

The rebuttal from Labour came as Tory mayoral candidate Lord Archer faced the possibility of a new inquiry into his involvement in the purchase of Anglia TV shares five years ago while his wife was a director on the company's board.

Meanwhile, the Tories have demanded an official investigation into complaints that Mr Dobson had broken the Data Protection Act.

[ image: Ken Livingstone: The left-winger is running against Mr Dobson]
Ken Livingstone: The left-winger is running against Mr Dobson
Mr Dobson has insisted his campaign team had done nothing wrong, saying Labour MPs and MEPs "have access to the lists of members in their constituencies".

His campaign manager, Nick Raynsford MP, said he had taken legal advice on the Data Protection Act, which ensures information is used only for the purpose for which it was originally collected.

"The Labour Party's data is registered simply for use for internal political purposes and that includes political campaigning," he said.

Meanwhile Elizabeth France, the data protection registrar, has said she will begin investigating any breach of the Act once she receives a formal complaint.

Geoff Martin, the London convenor of Unison, had earlier indicated he would be lodging a complaint after having received letters from Mr Dobson.

Ms France told the BBC it was unlikely Labour had breached the criminal provisions of the legislation, although it would depend whether third parties who may have passed on the information were registered to do so.

'Does not reflect well'

[ image: Glenda Jackson: Writing to Labour's general secretary]
Glenda Jackson: Writing to Labour's general secretary
Former transport minister Glenda Jackson - who along with left-winger Ken Livingstone is running for Labour's mayoral nomination - said she would be writing to the party's general secretary, Margaret McDonagh, after her constituents received campaign letters from Mr Dobson.

"No one ever approached me, nor am I aware of anyone approaching any official of my constituency party for such lists and so I do find it somewhat odd," she told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme.

Glenda Jackson: "It does not reflect well on our party"
She made clear she did not believe Mr Dobson himself was involved in any irregular campaigning, but said: "It does not reflect well on our party."

Richard Balfe, Labour MEP for London South Inner, told the same programme that he, other London MEPs and MPs had "made help available" to Mr Dobson's campaign.

Asked if he had specifically helped Mr Dobson's team with access to the lists, he said: "Not the whole list, but certainly with some of it, yes . . . I've had lists now for 20 years as an MEP. My understanding has always been that they can be used for sending Labour Party material to members."

Mr Balfe said all the Labour London MEPs, 45 MPs and all the GLA candidates supported Mr Dobson.

"I would suggest the easiest thing to get out of this, since Glenda and Ken clearly don't have that level of support, is that the Labour Party supplies them with the lists so that they can send a letter out," he said.

'Not allowed on the pitch'

[ image: Lord Archer: Has already been the subject of two inquiries]
Lord Archer: Has already been the subject of two inquiries
Tory London spokesman Shaun Woodward insisted the "crucial issue we're looking at here is whether or not the law has been broken.

"It's quite clear by what Glenda Jackson and Ken Livingstone are indicating is that the playing field on which Frank Dobson plays is a pitch which they're not allowed to take part in at all."

He also accused Labour of a "pre-planned smear" following news that the Department of Trade and Industry was considering holding a new inquiry into Lord Archer's Anglia share deal.

Mr Woodward said Lord Archer had already been cleared by two DTI inquiries into the matter.

He rejected as "absolute nonsense" the suggestion that Lord Archer could pull out of the mayoral race.

Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer said the string of allegations and counter-allegations were "staining" the contest.

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