Brown defends record after lost data scandal

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LONDON, Nov 23 (Reuters) British Prime Minister Gordon Brown defended his record today after an opinion poll showed public confidence in the government's competence had slumped in the wake of the lost data discs scandal.

The Prime Minister hit back after a Populus poll for The Times newspaper showed the share of voters who trusted him and Chancellor Alistair Darling to handle the economy had fallen from 61 per cent to just 28 per cent since September.

It came after the government admitted computer discs containing details on 25 million people were lost in the post by Britain's tax authority, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.

The poll, taken on Wednesday night, showed almost three-quarters of voters believed the scandal of missing discs had hit their confidence in the government's ability to handle confidential data.

A further 64 per cent said it called in question ''the basic competence of the government''.

Brown defended his government's record, saying he had a good record dealing with crises such as floods, terrorism and foot and mouth.

Asked by reporters in Uganda, where he is attending a Commonwealth summit, if he was ''rattled'' by the polls, he replied: ''I feel I'm getting on with the job.

''The test is how a government deals with some of these crises that you cannot avert, but you've got to deal with, and I believe people will look at what we've done,'' he said.

''And they will see that we are dealing with these problems as best we can in a way that is competent and a way that shows we can steer a course of stability in difficult times.'' The missing discs, containing information such as people's bank details, were sent by internal mail and were not encrypted.

An investigation has been launched and the senior civil servant who headed the tax collection office has resigned over the affair, the largest data lapse in British history.

Opposition Conservative Party MPs say blame for the scandal goes higher than the 23 year-old junior civil servant so far blamed by the government for violating security rules by putting the discs in the post.

Police are continuing their search for the discs in the tax offices in Newcastle, northern England.

A majority of the 1,025 voters surveyed also said they were pessimistic about the economic outlook in the wake of a barrage of bad news including falling house prices and the Northern Rock credit crisis.

Reuters RC RN1904

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