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Mr. Greenway: The Minister said that the Government did not object to amendment No. 21. It deals with the matter of the leaflet, as does another group of amendments that we shall come to later. I am grateful for what the Minister said about the importance of the leaflet's contents, and I hope that we will be able to debate that further in a moment.

However, will the Minister tackle the question of the organisations to which the full register will be available? The letter to Colin Lloyd, chief executive of the Direct Marketing Association, made it clear that the full register would not be available for direct marketing purposes. If that is so, many hon. Members from all parties will remain deeply unhappy.

Mr. O'Brien: During the consultations, we want to ensure that all interests are taken into account. We also want to ensure that the leaflet informs the public about the possible uses to which both the full and edited versions of the register may be used for. I am therefore happy to advise the Committee to accept amendment No. 21.

Mr. Pound: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. O'Brien: This will be the last time, as I want to make some progress.

Mr. Pound: I thank my hon. Friend. Is the opt-out to be a rollover? Will people opt out once and for ever, or will they have to do so every year, as the register is renewed? Is the leaflet to be amended every year, or will it stay the same for, say, five, 10 or 15 years?

Mr. O'Brien: People will fill in a form each year, and so, in effect, will be able not to opt out each year. The Government, with the industry, are studying how people, even though they have read the leaflet, might want to opt back in when they discover the implications of opting out. Because there will be a rolling register, we will be able to make new versions of the register available. People may choose to opt into that, thus preventing a delay until the next year.

For example, people who discover that they need credit will want to opt into the edited register. They may well be able to do that. We shall have to determine how that might be facilitated and the burden that doing so might place on electoral registration officers. I am not giving an undertaking that we will be able to do it, but we will be happy to explore, with the industry, how that might happen.

Mr. Greenway: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. O'Brien: I said that I would not give way again, but I shall do so for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Greenway: I repeat my earlier question. Will the direct marketing industry be among those for whom the full register will be available? The hon. Gentleman's letter of 12 January to the chief executive of the Direct Market Association makes it abundantly clear that the full version

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will be made available only for electoral purposes, law enforcement, crime prevention, and in connection with applications for credit. That is being interpreted as meaning that organisations involved in direct marketing and even debt recovery will not be able to have the full register.

Mr. O'Brien: We are discussing the detail of that with the industry. It is our intention that the full register shall not be completely available to the direct marketing industry. However, we are examining with the industry ways in which credit issues can be better resolved. Direct marketers will not receive the full register because that would conflict with the European Union data protection directive.

3 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way, but I have said that I want to make progress.

I see very little point to amendment No. 91. I do not think that it serves any real purpose, and it also introduces a new and undefined concept of exempt purposes. Clause 9 replaces paragraphs 10 and 11 of schedule 2 to the Representation of the People Act 1983 with four new paragraphs. Those paragraphs govern the regulations that may be made under that Act.

New paragraphs 10B(l) and 11(1) are quite clear. They allow for regulations to be made requiring or authorising electoral registration officers to supply copies of their full electoral register to specified people for specified purposes. But--this is the crucial point--we believe that the Bill is flexible enough to accommodate whatever regulations the House chooses to make. Anyone whom it is decided should be entitled to a copy of the full register will be able to receive it, and it will be possible to limit that person's use of it to prescribed purposes.

The suggestion in the amendment that access to the full register should be granted to those registered under the Data Protection Act does not take us any further forward. Anyone may be registered under that Act, and the test should be whether a person or organisation has a good case for having access to the full register rather than whether they are so registered.

I hope that, in the light of what I have said, the hon. Member for Ryedale will realise that the amendment is unnecessary and will withdraw it.

I must admit to being somewhat confused by the Liberal Democrats' amendments Nos. 77 and 78. They would substitute for the word "information" the words "personal names and addresses". It is not clear what that is intended to achieve, although I listened with care to what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) said. The only information on the register is personal and consists of names and addresses, plus ages of young people who will attain voting age during the currency of the register. That information would not be much use without their names and addresses, although I understand the point that removing the names is one way of approaching the matter.

I appreciate that some charities use untargeted mailshots and simply need to know how many households there are in a street rather than the names of the occupants.

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Direct mailings resulting from the electoral register, however worthy the originators, are one of the main sources of complaints to the Home Office and electoral administrators. We would need to be very careful not to undermine any new regime relating to access to the full electoral register by creating too many exemptions. In any event, the edited register will normally be sufficient for ascertaining how many households are in a particular location. There has been confusion on the part of charities about knowing how many people were registered. In fact, there is no reason why the edited version of the register should not say how many people are registered, without identifying their names or addresses.

Amendment No. 79 is quite simply unnecessary. As I have already explained, regulations on this matter are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The requirement to issue a declaration that regulations are "in the public interest" is therefore unnecessary. The Home Secretary would never bring forward regulations which he did not believe were in the public interest--nor, I hope, would any Home Secretary--and Parliament would not endorse them if it did not hold the same belief.

Finally, let me say that I have sympathy with the spirit behind new clause 5. The Bill will make significant improvements to our electoral procedures, and it would be quite wrong if, having introduced the changes, we sat back and ignored their operation, but that will not happen. Too many people are interested in the operation of our electoral procedures to allow problems and weaknesses to go unaddressed. The working party on electoral procedures, whose report has given birth to the Bill, is an example of the constant review process. Reference has also been made to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which published its report on electoral law and administration a year ago. That is a further illustration that our electoral procedures are the subject of continuing scrutiny.

Once new regulations governing access to the full electoral register are in place, we can expect the public and any industries which are affected to make their views known about the impact of those regulations. Political parties and electoral administrators will doubtless also have a view. If I may be so bold, I suggest that the electorate, political parties and candidates, industry and the electoral administrators will, between them, provide a far better impression of the effectiveness of our electoral procedures than a report compiled in Whitehall.

I have no doubt that hon. Members will continue to raise points of concern and, where appropriate, changes will be made to accommodate them. A good example of this is the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998. There was concern on both sides of the House about spoiler candidates, although I know that the party of the hon. Member for Hallam had particular reason to feel aggrieved, and we introduced legislation to deal with the problem.

I apologise for having spoken at such length, Mrs. Dunwoody, but it is important to deal with these crucial issues. I should like to deal with a couple of other points raised in the debate. I was asked whether the electoral register will continue to be used for dealing with issues such as money laundering checks. The full register will be available for law enforcement and crime prevention purposes, which include money laundering and

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fraud prevention checks. We have invited the financial industry to consider the best way in which to facilitate that.

We are considering the extent to which the full register will be available for financial institutions for credit reference checks, as I have already said. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) asked whether the provisions would harm the socially excluded. There is an argument that people on the margins of society would be less likely to be given credit if they were given the right to opt out of the commercially available register. As the socially excluded are the group least likely to register, we do not believe that that is the case. Indeed, the Bill will make it easier for the homeless and those who change their accommodation frequently to get on the electoral register. They are not obliged to opt out, in which case their chances of getting credit are increased. The hon. Gentleman also spoke about people not being able to obtain credit. No doubt, people will take that factor into account when they read the leaflet.

The hon. Member for Ryedale referred to the claim of the Confederation of British Industry that the changes would cost business £500 million, and asked how that could be justified. The figure of £500 million that the credit industry produced represents, by its own admission, the cost to the industry rather than to the economy as a whole. We suspect that much of the effect will be offset by displacement. A person who is refused credit when trying to buy a video recorder will go elsewhere for it or will spend the money on something else.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the extent of consultation with the credit industry during the working party. I assure him that there were many representations from charities and businesses, and they were taken fully into account during the course of the working party's deliberations.

We do not propose to make the full register available for the purposes of debt recovery. We have agreed that with the Data Protection Registrar. Her view is that to allow the register to be used for debt recovery would breach the data protection directive.

We propose that people should be able to make an informed choice. Through this measure, we are enabling them to do so. The way in which the measure will operate will give individuals some protection of their privacy and will offer some limited protection to those who may, for perfectly legitimate reasons--perhaps for their personal safety--not want their names and addresses to be widely disseminated. We believe that we have struck a balance in the legislation, which will achieve some safeguards for the industry and will ensure that individuals are taken into account, and that their privacy is not sacrificed for commercial gain. I hope that we have been able to get the balance right.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) pointed out that the legislation was complex. His view seemed to be that we were adopting the tactics of King Canute. In effect, he was almost arguing that we should give up any idea of having individual choice and privacy and not try to protect them. He suggested that that would cause--horror of horrors--some judicial reviews. As the Minister who has probably been the most judicially reviewed of all members of the Government during the

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past three years, I point out to the hon. Gentleman that judicial reviews can be properly dealt with; indeed, they can enhance the law. In relation to the distribution of the burdens of citizenship, I want to give a little more strength to the individual, rather than to the collective. As a Conservative, the hon. Gentleman might see some advantage in doing so.

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