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Lord McCarthy: My Lords, the noble Lord has clearly had a much nicer experience with private mailshots than I have.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am only the recipient of private mailshots, but those concerned seem to be able to bombard my friends and myself pretty efficiently with material. Indeed, one has only to look at magazines these days. One barely sees one that is not full of inserts. I am sure that that is done very efficiently and economically.

There is no problem as far as concerns producing a single mailshot with leaflets to a standard A4 size for each of the candidates who want to make use of such a facility. We have come a long way forward from the traditional system in this country. If we take the mayoral election alone--we are agreed that that is what we are talking about--the traditional way would have been for each candidate to have his own mailshot. I must point out to the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, that the parties would have delivered that to the Post Office impeccably, as they have done for years.

We accept the Government's argument about cost. Although we are not totally convinced, we are prepared to listen to their great worries about many frivolous candidates abusing the mailshot facility. Therefore, we agree that there should be one mailshot. If we have agreed to that, which will hugely reduce all the potential costs, it seems to me that we should at least attempt to try to ensure that the material going out in that one mailshot presents the candidates as attractively as possible to the electorate of London. If they are presented attractively, I suggest that there will be a better chance that at least a few more of them may vote than would otherwise be the case.

I am not impressed by the booklet idea, with each candidate having a little bit of a page. That seems to me to be a poor solution. I do not believe that that is the only solution available. The other solution of an

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individual piece of paper produced to a standard size by each of the candidates is perfectly feasible, given modern techniques of envelope filling.

Therefore, having gone a long way forward from the traditional method of doing this to having one mailshot per candidate, I think that we can actually start to look at the new technologies to ensure that the political parties and each individual candidate can produce his or her own leaflet to a standard size. As I said, the mail order people do this every day, as do magazines; indeed, everyone seems to do it. Those concerned can actually put it together and get it to the Post Office pretty efficiently. That is the right way to proceed. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, that if we do so we will not need a covering letter from the Prime Minister. But, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, pointed out, if it had been one-man, one-vote, the covering letter from the Prime Minister would have been firmly for the losing candidate. So perhaps a covering letter from the Prime Minister for Mr Dobson might be quite a good thing. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Clause 10 [Pilot schemes]:

6 p.m.

Lord McNally moved Amendment No. 12:

    Page 13, line 12, at end insert--

("( ) In exercising his powers under subsection (1) the Secretary of State shall give particular encouragement to pilot schemes which explore the use of the internet and other new technologies in the electoral process.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, after that very stimulating debate, I wish to raise a point that I would have raised in Committee but, unfortunately, I was delayed by traffic. When Susan Kramer has the opportunity to put her excellent transport policy into practice, that is something that will no longer be available as an excuse. However, I did receive a slap on the wrist from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, for withdrawing my amendment.

It is worth spending a little time on this matter because I want to raise issues which fall on the other side of the penny to those discussed in regard to Amendment No. 9. We have just discussed how the Internet and the new technologies would be used with the register. In some ways, that debate will be the last of such debates about how paper is distributed in elections. I say that because we are moving to the age of Internet elections.

Although the Minister proudly boasted on Second Reading that this legislation would bring our electoral law into the 21st century, my view is that it is, rather belatedly, just scrambling us into the 20th century. We must take on board the massive changes in technology that will affect the way that our parties are organised and how they get their messages to the electorate. Even as we legislate, my concern is that technology is moving ahead of electoral law. I understand that the Labour Party is giving priority at present to local parties assembling e-mail addresses for future

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campaigning. It means that many electors will receive their electoral communications direct in the form of e-mail letters.

I do not know how the assembly of such databases for political parties will be affected by, or indeed how it affects, the Data Protection Act, but that is a matter worth considering. Moreover, we know how meticulous the Representation of the People Act is about candidates' expenditure. We also know that that legislation watches very carefully every envelope and stamp. However, it does not seem to me to be anywhere near gearing up to control expenditure on the new technologies. For example, how does electronic campaigning get costed if you send 20,000 e-mails to 20,000 different voters? How does the cost of setting up a website bear against that? Indeed, this is already happening. I was told today--and this may already be happening in other parties--about prospective candidates for party nominations setting up their websites and inviting party members to visit those websites to find out what wonderful chaps and lasses they are.

There is another technicality in this respect. Many Members of the other place now have their own websites, throughout which they are referred to as "Members of Parliament". I understand that some of them even have moving pictures of themselves acting as Members of Parliament. We know that the electoral law specifies that Members of Parliament must stop using the term "MP" during a general election period. Does that mean that all those websites will have to be cleared for a general election? I think we should be told about that. Further, where does broadcasting stop and start? The new technologies will allow parties to broadcast on digital television and on web television with, as far as I can see, only the vaguest guidance as to how and where it can be controlled.

The amendment proposes that we should encourage Internet experiments, perhaps at local government level, just to see how some of the technology is working. There is a case here for a Home Office working party to bring together some of the experts and some of the party campaigners who are already starting to use this technology to consider the kind of impact that it will have on our electoral law. The Home Office should consider the American experience. I understand that Mr Jesse Ventura, the Governor of Minnesota, virtually ran his campaign as an Internet campaign. Senator McCain is apparently making great advances, not least in fundraising, through using the Internet.

This is, of course, a probing amendment but it is a serious one because I fear that legislation is falling behind technology. We do not want a whole raft of complaints and challenges at the time of a general election because one or other party has broken new ground in its Internet campaigning and then the other parties cry foul and the law is unable to rule on that. A Cabinet Office document leaked to the Guardian informs us that the Government are building up their own knowledge network to communicate direct to the electorate on the Internet. We are told that a third of our population already has access to the Internet. The

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Government's ambition is for a "wired up" Britain. That kind of power in the hands of government to communicate via the Internet also poses a danger to proper, free, democratic elections in that it concentrates power both in the incumbents and in the big battalions.

As I say, this is a serious issue that merits careful study on the part of the Home Office at an early stage. It also merits involvement on the part of political parties. We need to study the American experience because invariably we find that what the Americans do in an election flows into our elections. Such a study and such initiatives would be timely. I should be interested to hear the Minister's thoughts on that. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I want very much to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the arguments that he has made. Clearly the Internet will make a great deal of difference; in fact, I am sad that the Government have chosen not to involve the Internet in their extensive advertising campaign. There is no URL there for access to better and further information; one is left with a blank statement and nowhere to go to look further. That is a great missed opportunity.

Certainly the problems which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, mentioned will arise. Frivolous candidates, for instance, will find it extremely cost effective to get involved in elections because it will cost them so little to have access to any form of dissemination of information over the Internet. There are certainly tricks that one can use to turn elections. It is cheap. Information can be made available to people privately, as it were, in short order which one cannot do through newspapers or television. It will be a difficult technique to anticipate and counter. The earlier we get involved in studying it and seeing how it can be made to serve democracy rather than avert it the better.

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