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Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the establishment--it was Dover YOI and is now being used to detain immigration Act detainees--be run under the detention centre estate with detention centre rules? It will not remain part of the Prison Service.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, my answer is that I hope so because it is our intention to get people out of prison. But we shall still have detention. I cannot believe that I am wrong. That is part of the process. It is not happening at present; the change has to be facilitated. We have just made the announcement. We have only just told the three Members of Parliament where changes in the estate in their constituencies are involved.
The honeymoon period has come to an end: there is only one day left of this Session. However, I hope that I have put the Government's view in context. I thank the committee. There is much work still to be done on the directive. I have no doubt that we shall return to the issue before it is finalised.
Lord Hope of Craighead: My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Perhaps I may say a particular word of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for his kind words and to the Minister for his reassuring and constructive response.
It has been interesting to listen to points raised about vouchers and reception conditions in detention. It tends to underline the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury: that in moving towards a uniform system, it would be helpful to have a debate so that we can view all the subjects in their full context. One has been drawn into a discussion on vouchers and the conditions of detention. Those issues were not covered in any detail in the report but they will be covered in future reports.
I was struck by a remark by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. He said that asylum is about an individual in an individual situation. That phrase struck the same note that we sought to strike. As a statement of principle of the way forward in dealing with applications by asylum seekers it seems about as good as one could expect. I am most grateful for all the contributions. I commend the report to the House.
The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, with permission, I shall speak also to similar regulations for Scotland and for Northern Ireland. There are some minor differences between the three sets of regulations reflecting differing electoral provisions in those parts of the Kingdom, but their effects are the same. These relatively simple regulations should not detain us long. Their purpose is perfectly plain, but I shall also explain the background to why we are discussing these regulations rather than other more comprehensive regulations about the sale and supply of the electoral register.
These regulations are made under Sections 10(4) and 201(3) of the Representation of the People Act 1983. They specify a form to be used for the annual canvass of electors that each electoral registration officer is obliged by Section 10 to conduct in his area. Electoral registration officers can use that form or one to the same effect to carry out their canvass, which takes place each year by reference to the date 15th October. The form specified is the same as the form that was previously prescribed for that purpose, except for one or two minor modifications that make it clearer or reflect changes in the law.
We need to prescribe a form this year in particular because the previous form was repealed. It had been prescribed in the Representation of the People Regulations 1986, most of which were repealed when the new 2001 regulations were introduced in February this year. Those regulations implemented a large part of the Representation of the People Act 2000, but there were some outstanding regulations still to be made to bring Section 9 into force. We had intended to introduce those regulations at this time, but, for reasons that I shall explain in a moment, we do not now intend to do so. Those regulation would have contained a new registration form that would have allowed electors to tick an opt-out box to ensure that their details did not appear on an edited register--the only one available for unrestricted sale under the proposed new regulations.
Section 9 of the Representation of the People Act 2000 gives effect to that principle by providing for an opt-out box on the registration form and for two registers--an edited one and a full one--so that electors can say whether they are content for their details to be used for purposes other than electoral ones. Regulations are needed to bring that section into force.
Since the Act was passed in March 2000, officials and previous Home Office Ministers, who until now have been responsible for the regulations, have been engaged in extensive consultations. The aim has been to find a way to make regulations that protect the personal data contained in the register while at the same time preserving the ability of law enforcers, commerce and government to carry on their legitimate and vital business. That is not an easy balance to strike. There are conflicting interests and strong differences of opinion.
When we published our draft regulations earlier this year, we received comments from a wide range of interests. The consultation shows that there remain fundamental divisions and widespread concerns over the regulations. In the light of those responses to the consultation and after receiving advice from the Electoral Commission, we decided not to proceed with the draft regulations. Instead, we intend to consult further to see whether we can resolve some of the difficulties.
The aim will be to lay a further draft before Parliament in the autumn or winter. That will mean that the introduction of the opt-out box on the registration form and the publication of the register in two forms--a full one and an edited one--will be delayed until next year. That is regrettable, but I have no doubt that it is preferable if it ensures that we introduce the new arrangements in an orderly and well planned way.
I know that some noble Lords were concerned about the timing of the regulations and felt that what was planned was being rushed. I hope that the decision meets their concerns. I stress that we have not in any way given up on our commitment to put in place measures that will protect the personal data collected from electors for electoral purposes. Further draft regulations will be produced in due course. In the mean time, we are obliged to give electoral registration officers the means to carry out their annual canvass this year by prescribing a form for them to use. The regulations do that. In effect, they restore the status quo so that the annual canvass of electors can proceed as usual this autumn. I beg to move.
I want to raise two small points, although they may be larger than I suspect. In looking at the regulations, we can see no provision for householders to be asked whether someone is a Peer of Parliament. Having no vote in parliamentary elections, do we not need to be marked appropriately on the electoral roll? If we read it correctly, the form also implies that EU citizens resident here cannot vote in elections for the European Parliament but only in those for local government. Can the Minister explain that position? Outwith those questions, we shall support the regulations tonight.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I, too, feel concern in relation to this matter. I want to raise two relatively minor points about the form of the regulations. One, concerning local government electors, has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I understand that it may be technically correct to say that the franchise for European elections may be provided by reference to local government electors. However, that is clearly unsatisfactory because it fails to make it clear to citizens of other member states of the European Union that they have a right to vote not only in local government elections but in European elections and, indeed, in elections for the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is clear that in its current state the form is misleading and that it should provide further explanation of the elections in which resident citizens of other member states are entitled to vote.
My second point is that, for the first time, the Representation of the People Act provided for the registration of homeless persons. The form appears to be wholly inappropriate to be filled in by people who are homeless. They must be canvassed in some other way. I wonder what plans, if any, the Government have for doing so.
However, the most important issue by far is the question of access to the register. I remember that I participated in some substantial debates on that matter during discussion of the Representation of the People Act. It was accepted that, for the purposes of campaigning, political parties would have access to the full register. However, it was also clear that, save for very limited and specific purposes, there should be no general access for commercial or other non-political purposes to an unedited version of the register.
I believe that this is a matter of considerable importance. People certainly expect that their names and addresses will not be made available to the general public or businesses at large. The issue has become
It is very important for the Government to proceed with the proposal. I am unhappy about the fact that we are now going to face another year in which the electoral register will not be edited when being made available for general commercial purposes, apart from the very limited circumstances in which it was agreed that it was legitimate to make it available. We are, I am afraid, unhappy about the fact that the proposal will be delayed for a further year but we hope that the Government will come forward as soon as possible with a final version of the regulations relating to the canvass of electors. That will enable us to proceed to an edited version of the register.
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