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Mr. Oaten: Given that this year the county council and European elections are being held, as I understand it, on the same day, does that mean that the late registration processes are going to be co-ordinated?
Mr. Wills: Yes, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that they will be.
I hope that members of the Committee will be pleased to learn that where relevant citizens of the Union already have an anonymous entry on the local government electoral register, the amendment will automatically grant that person an anonymous entry on the European register for the European parliamentary elections.
A number of changes have been made to the procedure for registration officers to determine applications and objections to applications. For example, objections to a person’s registration can now be made both before and after that person’s registration. The amendment to the 2001 regulations will ensure consistency so that, as far as possible, the same procedures for registration for parliamentary and local elections apply to determinations in relation to registration by relevant citizens of the Union.
Finally, we are making a minor amendment to regulation 8 of the 2001 regulations, so that on registering a relevant citizen of the Union in the European parliamentary electoral register, the registration officer will no longer be required to send a copy of the application and declaration to the Secretary of State. Instead, the registration officer will only have to send information contained in the application and declaration, which complies with the EU directive and removes a potential burden from administrators.
I am extremely grateful that members of the Committee have borne with me while I have gone through the detail of the statutory instruments—I realise that they are somewhat technical. They are none the less important, and I hope that members of the Committee agree that it is important to go through the detail in that way. The Electoral Commission and other stakeholders, including the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Electoral Administrators, have made many helpful, useful and practical comments that we have taken into account in the final drafts of the statutory instruments before us today. We are extremely grateful to them for their contribution. The instruments are designed to ensure the successful running and proper conduct of the European parliamentary elections.
In addition, through the measures that we have made—changing definitions of qualifying officers and the evidence needed for anonymous registration—we hope to benefit people who might otherwise choose not to register to vote. On that basis, I commend the regulations to the Committee.
2.48 pm
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Bercow.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): May we have a vote on that?
Mrs. Laing: No; I am very pleased that we do not have to have a vote on that, as it is clear that the Committee is, on that particular point, utterly unanimous.
As to the issue of anonymous registration, we have discussed that in another context at other times and have gone through the need for it. The whole House appreciates that there are some cases—usually difficult and sad cases—in which it is essential to protect a person’s liberty and safety and their ability to take part in the democratic process, and these regulations are the right way to do that. What we are considering today is how to simplify that process, and we support that.
I was about to ask the Minister how many peers would be affected, but he gave me the answer before I had time to put the question. I am glad to hear that it is in the region of five. I would not for one moment argue that because only five people are affected that this is not an important regulation. The principle remains the same whether the number is five or 500. God forbid that we should have 500 peers resigning at one go. Perhaps that would be a good thing, but we can discuss that in another context. None the less, whether it is five or 500 peers, the principle is the same. Those five peers must be given the same rights as everyone else.
Mr. Wills: I was just going to invite the hon. Lady to agree with me on the principle that electoral regulations should, as far as possible, be consistent across the piece, and that is also what this SI is designed to do.
Mrs. Laing: I do, as ever on that point, agree with the Minister, but I will come to it very shortly. Consistency is an extremely important part of our system. As we examine such matters—as we do day after day, week after week in one context or another—inconsistency is often found. In my opinion, the integrity of the ballot and the validity of the system depend entirely on consistency in so far as it can be achieved. Therefore, I welcome the regulations today.
One area of concern relates to the Statistics Board. I understand that any information about the electoral process, including contributions and participation, should be made available to the Office for National Statistics and the Statistics Board. We need the statistical analysis of such matters and I totally support that. However, I have concerns about data sharing, data security and the amount of information that is now gathered by this Government about individuals in our country, and the use to which that information is put. My concern is not about the principle of the Statistics Board having access to the electoral roll, but that such information will be used for purposes other than those purposes for which it was gathered. One of the principles that I believe we should apply in the gathering and keeping of information about the individual is that, except in exceptional cases in which it is specified that it can be used for other purposes, information should not be used for purposes other than those purposes for which it was gathered. That is an important principle, which is worth exploring in relation to this enormous amount of information. We are talking about the name, address and sometimes age of every single person who is eligible to vote in this country. That comes close to a census of everybody in the whole country.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Would the hon. Lady not agree that the electoral register already provides the names and addresses of every single person in the country—or at least everyone who is on it?
Mrs. Laing: Yes, it does, but the point is that such information is now to be made available in full to the Statistics Board. I question why the board has to have the full register with a person’s age, if it is over 70 or under 18, and their full address, unless they are anonymously registered. Why does the board require the full address? Why not a postcode, so the board would know how many people live in this or that street but not the precise address? Why does it need to have the full electoral register? As a matter of principle, I will continue to ask the Minister, whenever the subjects of data sharing, data protection and data security arise, about the general principles of data use.
Mr. Oaten rose—
Chris Ruane rose—
Mrs. Laing: I will first give way to the hon. Member for Winchester and then to the hon. Gentleman. I do not want to prolong the discussion.
Mr. Oaten: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady and I also do not wish to prolong this. I should have thought that the Statistics Board already has the electoral roll, but it has to pay for it. The difference is, not whether it gets the roll, but whether it pays for it. Given that all three political parties tend to have it, I have no problem with the Statistics Board having a copy. I am much more comfortable with it having it than the Conservative party.
Mrs. Laing: It may be that I do not entirely disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s points. Indeed, I accept that the Statistics Board already has the full electoral register and that it could easily garner the whole register, even if the regulations were not passed. It might cost money, which would be wrong because one Government Department would be paying another, but I can see that it could happen. I am merely taking the opportunity to tell the Minister that I will, on every occasion when we discuss the collection of data about the individual in the UK and the way that those data are used, ask him or other Ministers how that information is to be used and whether the Government have considered the principle of data sharing, data protection and using data for the purposes for which they were gathered.
Chris Ruane: What is the hon. Lady’s rationale for thinking that this confidential information would be more secure among 300 to 350 electoral registration officers spread throughout the country, than it would be with five or 10 ONS officers in a central location?
Mrs. Laing: Well, that is a brilliant question to come from that side of the Committee. My rationale is that the Government have such a poor record of keeping data secure at every level of government, from the Home Office to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and from the Benefits Agency to almost every part of government that can be named—small, big, regional, national or international. The Government’s record of keeping information about individuals secure is absolutely abysmal. I will not lose the opportunity to—
The Chairman: Order. The hon. Lady has made her point about data security, which she is entitled to do, but we must avoid straying. I know that she will wish to avoid straying into a general Second Reading-style debate on the principles of data security. We need to narrowly focus the debate on the terms of the orders.
Mrs. Laing: Thank you, Mr. Bercow; you are totally correct. I did not wish to be drawn into the wider context. I have stated my concerns several times and I will not repeat them again. I think that the Minister has loudly and clearly heard my point.
I agree with what the Minister said about consistency on the European parliamentary elections regulations. In another context, we discussed and argued over late registration, the rolling register and so on, so the debates have been well rehearsed. I appreciate that it is essential that the regulations for the European elections should be the same as those for other elections, particularly, as the hon. Member for Winchester said, given that several types of elections will be taking place in a few months all on the same day, when it would be ludicrous not to be consistent. I thank the Minister for giving us a greater explanation of the need for the statutory instruments, which we support.
3 pm
Mr. Wills: I rise briefly to deal with the worries expressed by the hon. Member for Epping Forest about data sharing and data protection. I will not stray. I am concerned about what she said, and I am concerned primarily on her behalf. She is an adornment to the House and I hate to see her getting so wound up and agitated about something that she has no need to get wound up and agitated about. Of course the data should be used only for the purposes for which they are gathered; not to do that would be a breach of the Data Protection Act. The Government passed that Act because we believe in the security and privacy of people’s data, and putting protections in place to that end. That is why we implemented the European directive, which I am sure that the hon. Lady welcomes. It is brought into force in this country through the Data Protection Act. We have conducted reviews into data sharing to see how we balance the interests of privacy with the obvious benefits of data sharing.
On many occasions, I have heard the hon. Lady refer to the perils of data sharing—she has done so again today—but I have never heard her explain the advantages and benefits that it brings. In the real world, which most of us inhabit, we have to balance those two sometimes conflicting imperatives. The hon. Lady’s particular anxieties need not trouble her any longer. What she is worried about is already catered for under legislation. That there are penalties for breaching the protections will, I hope, reassure her. All we are doing under the statutory instrument is making a minor consequential change to the fact that the Office for National Statistics is known as the Statistics Board. It already has access to the data. We are making sure that the Statistics Board, a well respected, independent body, continues to have free access to the data in the new corporate form. That is all. There is no substantive change, apart from that. I hope that I have reassured the hon. Lady and that she will fret no more about the matter. I am sure that she has a lot else to fret about.
Mrs. Laing: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I thank him for his explanation. I am totally reassured.
Mr. Wills: On that happy note, I hope that the Committee will see fit to approve the statutory instruments.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Representation of the People (Amendment) Regulations 2009.


That the Committee has considered the draft European Parliamentary Elections (Franchise of Relevant Citizens of the Union) (Amendment) Regulations 2009.—(Mr. Wills.)
3.3 pm
Committee rose.
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