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".--The Secretary of State shall compile and lay before Parliament annually a report on the workings of section 9 of this Act.".

Mr. Barnes: In addition to speaking to my amendments, I shall also speak in support of amendment No. 77, in the name of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), to which I have added my name.

My amendments would end the commercial sale of electoral registers. Electoral registers exist for electoral purposes. Nothing should interfere with their being able to fulfil their fundamental purpose. That is why the poll tax was wrong in using the interface between the poll tax and electoral registers. It probably deterred 1 million people from registering for the vote, especially young attainers who would have appeared on registers for the first time.

A number of people are deterred from registering by the thought that their names and addresses will be used for commercial purposes. Similarly, some people prefer their telephone numbers to be ex-directory, partly because they are unhappy about their names and addresses appearing in a public document.

The Government are seeking to accommodate the problem with a two-tier register which allows people to opt out of the edition that will be for sale for commercial purposes. The Conservative response is that those who opt out will be at a disadvantage, as commercial interests will not be able to confirm people's home addresses. If we ban the sale of registers for commercial purposes, credit agencies and others will have to find different ways to check people's addresses. That might inconvenience those commercial interests, but it will not inconvenience the electorate; nor will it deter people from registering.

I realise that charities could be placed in a difficult position unless amendment No. 77 is accepted. Charities, such as the Stroke Association, Marie Curie Cancer Care and the National Asthma Campaign, use information from electoral registers to run street collections for money or jumble. There are 50 such national charities, plus some local hospices, which collect more than £180 million a year in that way. They need street names and house numbers, but they do not need the names of individuals. For example, they need to know that in Acacia avenue,

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the odd numbers run from one to 37, and the even numbers from two to 36--that is how they base their operations.

Amendment No. 77 provides for the needs of such charities; in no way does it inhibit electoral registration, unlike the sale of registers, which may tend to deter people from placing their names on the register. There is no reason why the required information cannot be passed to charities without cost. Amendment No. 77 would work either with my amendments or with only the Government's proposals, because what is needed is the full list of addresses--not the names of individuals. I recommend upholding the sanctity of the names and addresses on electoral registers, but passing street numbers on to charities.

My amendments stress that electoral registers are established for the fundamental democratic right to vote in elections. Only if that purpose is protected should anyone outside the electoral system be allowed to have ownership or general use of the registers. The commercial use of registers deters some people from registering.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): My hon. Friend referred to the loss of names from the register after the introduction of the poll tax; he is absolutely right. However, commercial companies were using the electoral roll before the poll tax and there did not appear to be many problems. Does he agree that such use of the register was valid at that time?

Mr. Barnes: It is invalid to use the register for commercial sale at any time. I know of no research as to the number of people who refuse to register because of such commercial use; all I know is that each Member of the House will have been in touch with constituents who are not on the electoral register, and who say that the reason is because they do not want the register to be used for commercial purposes. They do not want to be inundated with material from outside organisations. When constituents tell us that they want those organisations to stop bombarding them with literature, they point out that one of the means used to target them is the electoral register.

That is an important consideration, even if it affects only a small number of constituents. The Bill is to ensure the maximum possible registration. We have introduced a rolling register in order to help with that, so we should examine carefully each deterrent to registration and try to remove it. The Government have tackled the problem by proposing two registers, one of which will be edited, with an opt-out provision. Some might argue that there should be an opt-in provision instead--that would considerably reduce the number of names in the edited register.

However, the Opposition will presumably argue strongly that the sale of registers is needed for commercial purposes, and that some constituents will be disadvantaged if their names are not included on those registers. My answer is that if we say that the commercial interests cannot have the register at all, nobody will be disadvantaged--although it could be argued that the full list will be disadvantaged--and the commercial organisations will have to discover other means by which they can contact people legitimately.

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This is a very important measure. I hope that the Government, who are part of the way towards accepting the argument, will go a stage further.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Out of courtesy, may I remind the Committee of my interest with the Institute of Sales Promotion and the incentive industry? The ISP has no interest in the Bill or this issue, but I would not want hon. Members to think that I am being uncharitable when I speak shortly about the Direct Marketing Association. The incentive industry fully understands the direct marketing industry, which is another part of the marketing world. That has helped me to appreciate the concerns expressed by a number of organisations about clause 9.

I wish to refer to amendments Nos. 37 to 43, which the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) has just mentioned. To be accurate, the amendments would need to include the deletion of line 21, as well as lines 22 to 35, but our reading of the matter is that, effectively, amendment No. 37 sends a signal to the Government to delete the concept of the opt-out box altogether. For that reason, we must tell the Minister that that is one of the clear options available to the Committee.

I appreciate entirely that the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire has a rather different purpose--to delete the commercial sale of the register. If, having listened to the arguments, we concluded that we would seek to support the amendment, it would be to indicate support for one option, which would be to delete the opt-out box altogether.

It is clear that this idea has not been thought through properly, and there has not been a proper regulatory impact assessment. That may explain why the CBI has estimated a minimum cost of £500 million to commercial organisations if the clause is implemented as drafted. That is why, in addition, many charities throughout the country--some of which the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire mentioned--have expressed serious reservations about restricting the use of the commercially available full register.

I stress that I am referring to the full register, as I understand that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), the Liberal Democrat spokesman, may suggest that his party's thinking is that only a full register should be available and that there should not be an edited version at all. That is another point of view.

We are concerned that industry has not had a proper chance for consultation. In reality, its views were canvassed only after it was clear that the working party had made a recommendation that there should be an opt-out box for consumer protection purposes, and that the Government were determined to go ahead. And many charities will find it impossible to hold house-to-house collections or to send direct mail to the many people who are likely to subscribe to them.

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Equally, the direct marketing industry will not be able to use the register to edit the data that it has obtained from other sources--that process controls the amount of unsolicited mail that consumers receive--but will send more unsolicited mail under a scatter-gun approach until it recognises that that is not a profitable way forward. It will then cease to use direct mail at all. That will have a

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serious impact on postal services. I note from business questions that, early next week, the House will be given the opportunity to debate the future of rural post offices. In its concern for the future of the Post Office and rural post offices, it must pay regard to the effect that this clause will have on them.

Industry and the Conservative party recognise that an issue must be addressed. Whatever we do in support of the amendment of the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire to send out a signal, and whatever we do with our own amendment, we recognise that there is a problem. Industry has proposed an alternative scheme with which the Minister is familiar because representatives of the Direct Marketing Association, the CBI and the Advertising Association have described it to him. It suggests that there should be no opt-out box, but that a leaflet should be prepared at industry's expense to explain all the uses to which the register might be put. That might include direct mail, financial services and its use by credit reference agencies, which is a major factor that the Government have considered.

We welcome the intimation in the letters that the Minister has sent out in the past couple of days--I presume that he will refer to them later--that the Government are persuaded that there is a legitimate credit referencing use that they would wish to continue. They have already agreed that the money laundering use could also continue. All those points could be explained in a leaflet, and the widespread and legitimate use of the register by charities and Government Departments could also continue.

The leaflet would also point out that the raw material in the electoral list would not be used as the sole basis for sending direct mail or making any contact with an individual, but would be used purely to enable those with existing mailing lists to validate the names on the lists. In other words, they would clean their lists to save unnecessary costs and to prevent individuals from receiving unsolicited mail--and those who have moved into a new house from being bombarded with unsolicited mail to former occupants. The industry recognises that that is a nuisance.

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