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6.15 pm

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I want to reiterate the point made by my noble friend Lord Rennard in Grand Committee when we supported the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. I quote from the Grand Committee on 6 May. My noble friend said that,

The register was never intended for that purpose and the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, has made a persuasive case for looking very seriously again at the whole purpose of the electoral register.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for his amendment and for the way in which he has changed some of the wording between Grand Committee and now. It is right to point out that the Electoral Commission states:

“While we support the intention of Amendment 74 in the name of Lord Norton of Louth, which aims to end the compilation and publication of the edited version of the electoral register, we have strong concerns about the drafting of the amendment”.

I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, will accept that when the Electoral Commission is absolutely in favour of what the Government want, I quote it; but I also try to do so when it is not. To be fair, that is exactly the comment that the commission made on this issue.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I did say in my remarks that the Electoral Commission had concerns about the drafting of the amendment. I was not trying to say that the commission was 100 per cent behind it. I think that I made that perfectly clear.

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Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord is being fair; I hope he thinks that I have been fair in response.

This amendment introduces a new clause, whereby after December 2011, Section 9 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 in relation to the edited register will no longer have effect, thus preventing any use after that date of the provisions that allow for the compilation and publication of the edited version of the electoral register. EROs would no longer compile an edited version of the register for sale to anyone for any purpose. Historical versions of the edited register, including the final version published on 1 December each year, would still be available.

We have been reminded that in July 2008, Dr Mark Walport and Mr Richard Thomas published their report, the Data Sharing Review, which made a number of recommendations to the Government. In particular, recommendation 19 called for the edited version of the register to be abolished. We indicated that we would consult on this proposal and that remains our intention.

The Government clearly understand the concerns around the sale of personal details through the supply of the edited register. As my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe stated in Grand Committee, before we can consider taking forward recommendation 19 there is a need to establish how removing the provisions would impact on the UK economy, businesses, charities and the general public. Indeed, noble Lords may be interested to hear that evidence to date indicates that a wide variety of organisations use the edited register and there could be an economic impact—even a significant economic impact—if it were no longer available for sale. For example, the direct-marketing industry has indicated that it would be hard hit if the edited register were abolished. It is worth pointing out that direct mail is worth £8.6 billion to the UK economy and accounts for 182,000 jobs.

We must not neglect the very real potential impact on charities. They are of course suffering, as are businesses, in the current economic climate. Direct mail remains a significant form of direct marketing for charities. The Institute of Fundraising has told us that it relies on the edited register for this purpose. A piece of research was carried out by nfpSynergy in 2008. Based on the responses from more than 100 charities, the level of income generated from existing donors—those acquired through direct mail—sits at around an average of 27 per cent of the charities’ total income. Charities would face poorer quality direct marketing lists and lower response rates if the edited electoral register was no longer available for sale. If charities are unable to verify addresses accurately, there is more chance of mail being addressed wrongly, which could lead to a reduction in the inclination of potential donors to donate. We think other impacts need to be taken into account.

In the absence of the edited register, direct mailing organisations may rely on out-of-date information, thus increasing the risk of wrongly addressed correspondence. Direct marketing companies may start to rely on more intrusive methods of marketing, such as cold calling. The Royal Mail benefits substantially from income from advertising mail. Out of a £7 billion

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a year turnover, £1.7 billion represents delivering and advertising mail to the Royal Mail. This might be impacted. Those are powerful arguments, particularly in the economic times we are living in.

Having said all that, we accept that there are strong principled arguments in favour of abolishing the edited register. We are sympathetic to those who argue on principle, as does the noble Lord who moved the amendment, that data collected for electoral purposes should not be sold on for commercial purposes. We are also concerned that the existence of the edited register may put some people off registering to vote. That runs contrary to our programme of work to bolster registration ahead of the introduction of individual registration. It is something we wish to consider carefully.

While we have collected some evidence to date, a full consultation would allow us to go out to a wider audience, including businesses, charities and the public. We feel that this would enable us to build up a firmer evidence base and better understand the nature of the impact of abolishing the edited register. It is our intention to conduct a consultation before the Summer Recess in order to build a firmer evidence base about the advantages and disadvantages of the edited register and to consider the way forward on the basis of the responses received.

I should like to emphasise that an amendment to this Bill is not the only legislative mechanism, in our view, by which the provisions for the edited register may be removed. The edited register exists because of provision in secondary legislation, made under paragraph 10(1) of Schedule 2 to the Representation of the People Act 1983. There is no requirement that secondary legislation should include provision about an edited register. Accordingly, our argument is that it would be possible to remove the provision for the edited register by using existing powers to amend secondary legislation, if that was deemed appropriate.

Therefore, it would be open to the Government to use this mechanism to remove the edited register if, following consultation, it became evident that that was the best way forward. That would still leave the power to create the edited register again on the statute book. Nevertheless, it might achieve the benefits that noble Lords describe and would be a more flexible approach. This would allow us to have the benefit of fully considering the outcome of the consultation before taking further steps. Notwithstanding our sympathy for the arguments against the edited register, this should be the preferred approach and proper process for making this informed policy decision about changes to our system of electoral administration. I am not making any commitments on behalf of the Government, as I would not wish to pre-empt the outcome of any consultation. I mention this solely to emphasise that this Bill may not be the only mechanism by which the provisions relating to the edited register may be amended.

I hope that those who support the amendment might give careful consideration to the impact of accepting it. I repeat that, in principle, we understand the motivation behind the amendment, but we argue that it would not be appropriate to abolish the edited register via an amendment to this Bill before we had conducted a public consultation in full. The noble

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Lord will take whatever course he thinks best. However, I hope that some of the arguments that I have tried to employ might give him some food for thought.

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have spoken. In addition to the bodies I mentioned that support abolition, there was cross-party support for it in Grand Committee. I am very grateful for this afternoon’s expression of support from my noble friends Lord Hodgson and Lord Brooke and the noble Lord, Lord Tyler.

I am grateful for the Minister’s response. It came more towards meeting the point of principle this time rather than relying solely on the practical point. I have two concerns about what he said. He has repeated the point that the Government propose to consult. They have been proposing to consult for some time. The Government could have already had the consultation exercise and got the responses by now. There does not appear to be any great urgency on the part of the Government.

That brings me to the second point. The Minister has said, quite rightly, that one could get rid of edited registers through existing legislation; the provisions are there. He said that that is the more flexible approach. My concern is that it is flexibility in favour of doing nothing; that would be my worry. I feel that there is a need for something to be locked in to ensure that there is action. I think ultimately the issue of principle is paramount.

I will reflect on what the Minister has said. However, my greatest concern is, as my noble friend Lord Hodgson said, the concern expressed by the Electoral Commission in relation to drafting. I want to reflect on that. However, I will reflect on what the Minister has said and consider whether to return to the issue at Third Reading. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 74 withdrawn.

Amendment 75 not moved.

Amendment 76

Moved by Lord Tyler

76: Clause 21, leave out Clause 21

Lord Tyler: My Lords, this is an important issue not least because, as yet, Members of the other place have had no debate on it. Those who were present at Second Reading, as well as those who have taken part in the discussions in Grand Committee, will recall that this is the question of the exclusion from the ballot paper of the candidates’ addresses. By some special arrangement, this was put to the other place without any debate, out of sequence and not in the group to which it related. I need go no further.

There is an important principle here, which is similar to the principle that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, enunciated on Monday, in relation to the amendment that we had both put before the House. This is an issue that the House of Commons should

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debate, but it will not be in a position to do so unless we pass our amendment tonight; if we do not do so, the clause will stand in the Bill undebatable.

The suggestion has been made that somehow this issue is not appropriate for your Lordships’ House because it wholly relates to Members of the other place. That is not so. It relates to all candidates who wish to stand for the other place. It is therefore perfectly appropriate for your Lordships’ House to take a view on this issue. That is the first illusion that I must seek to dispel.

There are other misunderstandings, too. It has been suggested that somehow this is an important issue to deal with because there is some sort of new security risk. Frankly, as those who have had the experience of standing as candidates will know, you do not have to put your name on the ballot paper for your address to be well known in your area by other means. If there was a security risk, no doubt the Government would come forward with some direct evidence from the police or the security services to that effect.

The Government very properly instituted a consultation process on this issue back in November, I think. We now have the response. Only two MPs—on behalf of other MPs, I should say—responded. The Electoral Commission supported the idea that there might be a change in the law. However, electoral administrators, returning officers, the Newspaper Society and, most important of all, the public have made it absolutely clear that they think that any reduction in transparency on this issue would be totally inappropriate and certainly out of favour at the present time. The only political party to make any sort of submission to the consultation process were the Liberal Democrats and we were clearly against withholding addresses in this way.

Of course, there was a vote in the other place. The Lord Chancellor and the Minister responsible for the Bill both voted against this change, which they felt was clearly inappropriate, without proper discussion and debate. The Minister said on a previous occasion that he intends there to be a free vote, rather than a whipped vote, on this proposal. I hope that that is still the case; no doubt he will be able to confirm that.

At the moment, increasing the secrecy that surrounds the political process will seem even more inappropriate than it was when we discussed these matters at Second Reading and in Grand Committee. Frankly, I believe that the public will think it pretty odd if that is introduced for the politicians who may stand for election to the other place—but not, incidentally, in relation to some of the devolved Administrations. You would think that, if there were real pressure for this to happen, it might be in Northern Ireland, where there is a reasonable case for doing this. However, so far as I am aware, there is no such pressure and there is certainly nothing in this clause to cover anyone else at any other level in the political system. I think that the public would regard this as another attempt by the political classes to protect themselves from scrutiny when that scrutiny was thought to be perfectly appropriate for everyone else. I hope that the Minister will now be rather more responsive to that concern than he was able to be prior to the consultation period. I beg to move.

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6.30 pm

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, will know that unfortunately I dissent from the position that he has taken. I ask him to forgive me because we work together very well in a number of areas of the Bill.

I did not move my amendment because I wanted to concentrate on the essence of the noble Lord’s case. This is not about risk to Members of Parliament; the issue in this case is the risk to the families of Members of Parliament. In Committee, I drew attention to two occasions: the first was when a Member of Parliament was in Paris and an incident was about to take place; and the second was the incident that took place outside the home of the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, when the police were brought in and there were subsequent prosecutions. In the latter case, there was clearly a risk to the family.

I am worried by the fact that the case put by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, seems to be based on the proposition that, because we are in public life, our families have to take into account the fact that we may be placing them at risk. He was not quite as blunt as that, but that is the implication. I want to give an example. If a person anywhere in the world were to Google the names of every single Member of Parliament—their names and addresses would be available on the internet following a general election campaign—that person would have a database that could be used against each individual Member. They could dispatch from anywhere in the world envelopes containing biological material or other dangerous agents and send them to the homes of those Members of Parliament. The mail that we receive here is screened but we all know that that is not the position with mail that goes to our homes. We are advised at every stage in our political lives to be more diligent and careful with regard to our personal arrangements because of the dangers from terrorism and I cannot believe that a political party would argue that we should not have that in mind when taking decisions on this issue. We cannot place the families of Members of Parliament in that position.

The noble Lord has said that this material is already available. Of course it is. You could have gone to my former constituency in Workington and asked on the streets, “Where does the Member of Parliament for Workington live?”, and you would probably have been told the answer within a road or two. However, when you are in some obscure country in another part of the world, you do not have access to that kind of material. When I oppose the noble Lord’s amendment, I am referring to a completely different kind of threat.

I am also concerned about the impact of international terrorism on how Members of Parliament conduct themselves in a public place—particularly in the Chamber in Parliament, where their remarks might be heavily publicised. Even though they are protected by privilege, if Members of Parliament feel constrained in any way because of the possible danger to their families that might arise out of any statements that they make in Parliament, I believe that we have a responsibility to try to remove that possibility of constraint. We must

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place Members of Parliament in a position where they feel confident that what they say will not lead to unnecessary risk to their families.

I am afraid that the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, do not really address that. I am sorry to say that, because we have worked together well on this Bill. However, this is an area where we have a fundamental difference of opinion. As I said in Committee, my views on this matter stem basically from the noble Lord’s lobby. I supported the principle of absolute transparency that he advocated until I had the conversation with my wife, to which I referred in Committee. She explained what happened in our family during the Iraqi debate in the 1990s, when I was quite involved with the Iraqi opposition.

Now is the time to change the nature of the debate in this area. I appeal to the noble Lord not to press his amendment to a vote today because I think that it sends out the wrong message. For all the goodness that lies in the libertarian values that he and his party colleagues hold, this is one area where I am afraid that too much transparency will place individual Members’ families at risk in a totally unacceptable way.

Lord Monson: My Lords, when I first read about this amendment in the press, it seemed to me a good one and well worthy of support were it to go to a Division. After all, Enoch Powell—not exactly the most uncontroversial of political figures—always insisted on having his name, private home address and telephone number published in the London telephone directory. Furthermore—this is not so widely known—while he was Member of Parliament for South Down, he always refused to carry a side-arm for personal protection against terrorist attacks, as he was legally entitled to do. Given his military background, he could have used the weapon to good effect in an emergency. However, he refused to do so because he felt that it would be insulting to his constituents, whether or not they were his supporters.

It must be conceded that that was more than 30 years ago. Perhaps the British character has changed since then and, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has just reminded us, we now have a problem with international terrorism, which hardly existed at that time. So far as the British character goes, there are some who claim that we have become collectively—not individually of course—more emotionally incontinent and much less able, and certainly much less willing, to restrain our words or actions. The rather alarming scenes outside a magistrates’ court in Devon a few days ago, when a woman was charged with paedophile offences, was perhaps indicative of this. So, on further reflection, the argument seems to be much more finely balanced, and I am now not so sure that I can support the amendment.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I spoke in favour of the amendment in Grand Committee. I remain sympathetic to it and run the risk of incurring the wrath of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I accept that the arguments are finely balanced. I believe that the link between those who seek election and the electorate should be as close as possible. The publication of home addresses is part of that.

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At the margin, as we heard in a powerful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, there are potential security risks. Yes, it is possible that people will pack packets of anthrax in Pakistan and mail them to individual Members of Parliament, so there is a risk, but it is a risk at the margin.

I am concerned about the other principle addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, which is that this measure was slipped in without any of the people in the other place having seriously debated its pros and cons. I entirely accept the argument that it is not for us in this House to lay down the terms and conditions under which people stand for election to the other place, but it is important to provide an opportunity to air all the issues, particularly in the light of the difficulties that we are facing at the present time.

The Division Lists at the end of the non-debate that took place were divided across parties; strong views were held in various parts and various parties. It will be important for us to give the other place a chance to debate the issue, to discuss the principles ab initio with tabula rasa. We would not wish to interfere in any way with that, but the debate should take place because it is such an important issue in our democratic system, particularly when that system is under strain. That is why I support the noble Lord’s amendment.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I shall be brief. At Second Reading, I intervened on the speech of my noble friend Lord Hodgson and asked whether he was including security considerations. It would not be right for me to tell your Lordships’ House what my noble friend said to me after the debate was over, but because this debate will be a quarry for any subsequent debate that may occur in the House of Commons, I will add one other consideration as someone who has been under threat. I agree that it is easy to find out where someone lives but, if he or she lives in a block of flats, for example, we are placing at risk all the people who live in that block of flats and not simply ourselves.

Lord Bates: My Lords, having listened to the contributions and having found the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, incredibly persuasive and articulate in presenting the case against this amendment, I would not want to and would be incapable of adding anything to what he said. It stands on its own merits.

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