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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said, I confirm that through all the stages of the Bill I have expressed considerable support in principle for the views that lie behind his amendments. It seems important that information that is required by law to be given for particular purposes should not then be used for other purposes without the consent of those required to provide that information. In the circumstances, I can see that in Clause 9 the Government have gone some way towards solving the problem. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said, I recognise that there are still potential problems with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, I have to say that I regard that problem rather more sceptically than does the noble Lord and I do not feel that the risk is particularly serious.

As regards the text of the amendment proposed today by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway--namely, to leave out the entire clause--I feel that we shall run into serious problems. From my point of view, Clause 9 makes things better rather than worse. Without the clause there would be no way of amending the existing rules that allow publication and sale of the full register to anyone who wishes to buy it. In those circumstances, I regard Clause 9 as a move in the right direction, although perhaps not the ideal move and not the final stopping place. However, it is a great deal better than having no such provision at all.

I accept the spirit that lies behind the noble Lord's proposed amendment but I regret that I cannot agree with it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has throughout our debates on the Bill ensured that we give very careful consideration to Clause 9, which places restrictions on the availability of the electoral register. He is quite right to do so. It is an important clause and we must make sure that we strike the right balance and take account of all our obligations, in particular under the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Data Protection Directive.

In our earlier debates the noble Lord moved amendments which would have had the effect of imposing more restrictions on the availability of the register than those for which Clause 9 provides. But, on this occasion--as he has made plain--he is proposing that we should stick with existing electoral law under which the register is freely available for commercial purposes.

As I explained in our earlier debates, I do not think that the status quo is an option. It is a statutory requirement to complete the electoral registration

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form and to appear on the electoral register. A person who does not provide the necessary details may, in theory, be prosecuted.

We do not consider that a situation in which one is obliged, on pain of prosecution, to submit personal information which can then be used for completely different purposes without one's consent is acceptable. More to the point, we do not believe that this state of affairs complies with the EU Data Protection Directive. We have taken advice from the Data Protection Registrar. The noble Lord has seen copies of my officials' correspondence with her office.

Since our last debate, we have again looked at the legal issues raised by the noble Lord. I can confirm that we remain convinced that what we are proposing in Clause 9 is not in conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights.

I believe that we need to strike a balance. On the one hand, there are the data protection and privacy concerns identified by the working party on electoral procedures. On the other hand, it is a fact that a large number of commercial concerns currently make use of the electoral register. If possible, we should avoid doing undue damage to their interests.

I do not intend to weary noble Lords this afternoon with a further full explanation of how the new arrangements will work. But, in brief, electors will be able to opt out of having their names included in the version of the register that will continue to be freely available for sale--the edited register. The full register will continue to be available for local inspection in town halls and libraries. It will also be available for electoral purposes to elected representatives, political parties and candidates; and to credit reference agencies for the purpose of confirming identity in connection with credit applications.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, made a interesting point about some husbands still being able to find the addresses of their battered wives. That point was also mentioned in our earlier discussions. However, I believe that the noble Lord has missed the point that the register will be in libraries in paper form and set out by ward and street. Therefore, people need to know where the person lives in order find him or her on the register. The problem with "battering spouses" arises with CD-ROMs, through which people are reachable by name. Giving people the option to be excluded from the edited register means that they will not be included on such CD-ROMs and the easier method of finding people by a name search will not be available. People must have some idea of where the person lives in order to access that information from a paper-form register.

We cannot provide absolute protection, but the system will provide a degree of protection. Indeed, that important point was made by some noble Lords during our earlier discussions. It is an important consideration. I realise that this is a difficult matter, but we have not reached this position easily. In all honesty, we have tried to strike a balance while protecting privacy. We do not want to stymie completely the commercial use of the register, but we also recognise that the register is primarily compiled

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for electoral purposes. That is what we have tried to achieve in Clause 9. No one is saying that it is a science of perfection. Time will ultimately tell us whether or not we have got it right.

For the time being, we must assume that we have got it right and work on that principle. I hope that noble Lords will support the clause on those terms. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, made some powerful and valuable arguments in his opening remarks, but, on the basis of my response, I invite him to withdraw his amendment.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I believe that the situation boils down to this. As appears in the Official Report, the noble Lord has received advice that if we just continue with a single public register and make it available to anyone who wants to buy it, we would be in breach of the EU Data Protection Directive. We would also be at risk of being found in breach of Article 8 of the ECHR. On that advice, the Minister has reiterated that the two-register proposal under Clause 9 will be on the right side of the law.

In a thin Chamber with--I believe I can say--relatively no overt support, it would be quite unusual and, indeed, improper to seek to take the opinion of the House. However, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for his contribution, even though I could not quite understand his reasoning. If the single register were to remain in accordance with my proposals, it could not be bought or used. Therefore, I do not understand the object of the noble Lord's objection. But, be that as it may, this is not the time to reason; indeed, it is the time to seek leave to withdraw my amendment and thank my noble friend on the Front Bench for his contribution to my argument, which he was unable to support.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 2:

    Before Clause 10, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) The 1983 Act shall be amended as follows.
(2) After section 36(2B) there shall be inserted--
"(2C) Section 91 shall apply to elections under the Greater London Authority Act 1999 with such modifications as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to the other amendments tabled in my name. There are also amendments from the Government in this grouping. These amendments deal with the whole question of the free mailshot for the mayoral election. We have already dealt with this matter on a number of occasions and have discussed the issue with the Government. In the circumstances, the best thing that I can do is to introduce this as a debate about the London free mailshot and then sit down. That will

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allow the Minister to tell your Lordships what the Government have brought forward by way of an offer. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord was commendably brief. All the amendments in the group deal with the vexed question of mailshots or freepost for elections to the Greater London Authority. As the noble Lord said, the issue has been debated on a number of occasions both here and in another place. I, for one, have learnt a great deal about the direct mailing industry as a consequence. It is a very fascinating business. We have all been grateful throughout these protracted discussions and debates to the representatives from that sector who have played a part in advising us.

When we last met to discuss the matter, noble Lords will recall that there were, so to speak, two rival propositions, as reflected in the amendments standing in both my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. The two propositions were, essentially, the Government's idea of a booklet containing inserts from every mayoral candidate and the Opposition's proposal for an envelope stuffed with material produced by every mayoral candidate.

As noble Lords will appreciate, the difference between these two methods of informing the electorate is very large indeed. The difference is a staple! The Government's proposal amalgamates candidates' material into a booklet which would be delivered in an envelope. The Opposition's proposal would have separate pieces of paper being placed in the same envelope--the envelope-stuffing option, one might say.

Some people may think that this staple was not worth spending much time over; others clearly did not hold that view. A great deal of time was spent on the matter by officials from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and from the Home Office. They have listened patiently and, I hope, politely to the arguments in favour of the staple-free method of delivery--the envelope-stuffing option. So eloquent were noble Lords and their representatives that hour upon hour of debate took place in the corridors of power on the matter of this staple. Indeed, we heard about the staple from a number of different angles, in so far as you can look at a staple from many different angles.

I do not wish to be unkind in this respect because we have had a discussion about serious issues. However, the matter could perhaps have been resolved more speedily. The solution that we reached--namely, the booklet--has required movement from all sides. We have accepted that there should be an election communication for this first election and a flexible power enabling permanent arrangements to be established for future elections. We hope that the Opposition will accept our concerns about cost and the need to guard against abuse.

I believe that we now have a very satisfactory outcome. I hope that it will be welcomed by smaller parties, poorer candidates and--dare I say it?--

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independents, as well the major parties. It will give everyone in this whole exercise a level playing field from which to start. It will also provide those concerned with the opportunity to express themselves in their own way. Indeed, we may even take a certain pride in our discussions, differences and debates on the matter. Perhaps the GLA will build on the proposals in the future when it comes to consider election communications in the run-up to the 2004 election. We can all contribute to that debate too; perhaps we shall have another opportunity to exercise our minds on the question of whether or not to staple, or whether or not to stuff the envelope.

Let me now turn to the detail of the amendment and try to deal with it as quickly as I can lest I fall into the trap that has bedevilled many who have tried to wrestle with this vexed issue. Each candidate, or their agent, will submit an election address to the Greater London Returning Officer (the GLRO) covering no more than two sides of A5. The GLRO may specify certain requirements in order to be able to compile the booklet, but beyond that the candidate is free to decide what to include in those two sides and indeed whether to include any material in the booklet at all! Therefore there is a clear choice there.

To make this exercise feasible--printing 5 million copies of the booklet, inserting each copy into a pre-addressed envelope, and delivering to each elector in London before the first day of polling--we have had to set out some clear rules. One is that the booklet will be no longer than 32 pages. This means that each candidate's election address will cover two sides of the A5 booklet if fewer than 16 of the candidates standing nominated have had election addresses accepted by the GLRO by noon on 3rd April, but only one side if 16 or more have had addresses accepted. To allow for this, candidates will need to submit a second version of their election address to the GLRO covering a single side of A5.

Each candidate will need to have their election addresses approved by the Post Office before submitting them in a format to be decided by the GLRO. The addresses would need to comply with Post Office regulations similar to those that apply at general elections, but strengthened to guard against the potential of abuse. As noble Lords know, we treat the potential for abuse very seriously and are determined that the booklet should not be waylaid by unscrupulous candidates. The amendment therefore makes clear that candidates' election addresses must not contain any advertising material (other than material promoting the candidate as a candidate at the election), or any other material with a view to commercial gain.

No address may refer to any candidate standing for election to the assembly. I know that some noble Lords wanted mayoral candidates to be able to refer to assembly candidates in their election addresses. We have thought about this long and hard, taken advice, and concluded that it would be manifestly unfair to give some assembly candidates (such as those from

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parties with a mayoral candidate) an advantage over others (such as independents) who would not be mentioned.

This issue is not clear-cut and I think that there may even be different views about it on the Opposition Benches. The simple fact is that allowing mayoral candidates to refer to assembly candidates would place some assembly candidates in a better position than their opponents. That does not seem right. As I said earlier, we are trying to create a level playing field. Time is short, and we believe that it is important not to bring this election into disrepute by legislating to create an unfair contest. That may be subject to some form of challenge and we do not want to run that risk.

The GLRO will determine the form of the booklet, and set out each address alphabetically, by candidate surname. He will also include a short section in the booklet to explain its purpose, and give some background to the election itself. I can assure the House that the GLRO will consult fully on this text, and on the design and layout of the booklet (although candidates may only have a very short time to respond). The GLRO will decide the date by which candidates must submit their election addresses to him, and the format in which they should be provided--we anticipate that it will be camera-ready copy.

Each candidate who wishes to include an address in the booklet will need to contribute £10,000 towards the cost of printing. I feel certain that your Lordships will consider this fair given that candidates themselves bear the cost of printing and mailing at a parliamentary election.

For future GLA elections, the amendment provides for the Secretary of State by order to make such provision for the free delivery of election communications as he thinks fit. Before making the order, he or she will consult the mayor, assembly, and any other body he considers appropriate, such as the electoral commission when that is established.

Amendment No. 20 provides for the only realistic process to deliver an election mailing to London electors in the time available before the first election. It meets the concerns of the Government and many of the concerns of noble Lords opposite. Let us not argue further over a staple and let us make progress in terms of seeking consent to the method that I have mentioned.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, the outcome of the battle that has distracted your Lordships' House for some weeks now certainly reflects considerable credit on your Lordships' House and, in the outcome, also reflects credit on the Government, although I believe that the Government could, and should, have taken steps to remedy the situation a great deal earlier than they did.

Two weeks ago your Lordships' House decisively rejected the so-called "constitutional convention" that your Lordships' House does not reject secondary legislation, and threw out two orders that had been

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made under the Greater London Authority Act. It did so in defence of democracy. The Government recognised that their position was indefensible and did not try to raise the "Peers against the people" issue.

We had fruitful and quite lengthy negotiations. Speaking for myself I wish to thank the noble Lords, Lord Carter, Lord Whitty and Lord Bassam of Brighton, for the courteous way in which they listened to the arguments and for their willingness to take them on board. They accepted the principle of a freepost and negotiated that seriously and in good faith. I pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lord Rennard, who unfortunately is otherwise engaged this afternoon, for his knowledge of what could and could not be done technically in the time available and his persuasiveness in explaining that.

The outcome is, of course, a compromise. We obtained a freepost for the mayoral election but not a separate freepost for assembly candidates. We obtained a freepost that will be delivered to all electors and not simply to households, which would have been unacceptable for reasons which I tried to explain at Report stage. Indeed, I believe that that was the main issue that was dealt with in the negotiations.

We obtained an agreement that the format and artwork should be a matter for each candidate to decide and that there should not be a rigid formula under which each candidate would be allowed simply a text of 200 words and a passport photograph, as the Government originally proposed. We accepted that addresses should go out as part of a booklet rather than as free-standing leaflets, collated into a single delivery.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, that mayoral candidates should not be allowed to refer to assembly candidates of the same party in their freepost because I fear that if that was allowed there could be a challenge to the fairness of the election process by independent assembly candidates, who, of course, would be unable to obtain a mention in any freepost leaflet.

Overall I believe that the opposition parties achieved most of what we wanted. We have made the elections for the mayoralty of London fairer, particularly for the smaller parties and the independents. I do not include among the independents for this purpose the honourable former friend of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, Mr Ken Livingstone, who is the last person to need a freepost as no doubt he will receive plenty of publicity without it!

Rightly, the amendment leaves the Greater London Authority itself to decide what should be done in subsequent elections. We shall in due course need to consider whether the freepost should be extended to direct elections for an executive mayor outside London. That is an issue of potential importance and certainly in major cities such as Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester or Newcastle it is hard to see how there can be a fair election without it. Speaking on

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behalf of my party, we welcome very much the steps which the Government have taken to meet our objections in the matter of the London free post.

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