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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations and Draft Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2002

Twelfth Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

Thursday 11 July 2002

[Mr. John Butterfill in the Chair]

Draft Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2002

9.55 am

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Yvette Cooper): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Representation of the People (Scotland) (Amendment) Regulations 2002.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the draft Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2002.

Yvette Cooper: The two sets of regulations are similar, save for some differences that reflect differing electoral provisions and institutions in Scotland. Their effect is the same, however. Similar regulations have been laid relating to Northern Ireland, but a separate Committee is considering them as they differ in some points of detail. I shall refer primarily to the England and Wales regulations, and then mention any important differences in the Scottish regulations.

The regulations are necessary to implement section 9 of the Representation of the People Act 2000. Hon. Members will be aware that that provides for two versions of the electoral registers to be compiled. One is a full register that contains, as now, the names and addresses of every elector, and the other is an edited version to contain the details of only those electors who have not suggested via an opt-out box on the registration form that they object to their details appearing on the version of the register that is available for commercial purposes.

Before I describe some of the provisions in detail, I want to set out the context and background. As hon. Members may know, we originally intended to introduce the regulations this time last year, but the general election left insufficient time in the parliamentary timetable. We have used the time since then to consult further with users of the registers, both commercial and in government, and with law enforcement interests and the public in general.

In the meantime, however, a case heard in the High Court in November found that electoral registration officers, in selling the registers to commercial concerns, as they were required to do by the existing regulations, were acting in breach of the European data protection directive. As a result, all commercial sales of the electoral registers had to cease until such time as the wishes of individual electors could be ascertained.

The regulations reflect the result of wide consultation, and the need to comply with human rights and data protection legislation. They make it clear that there will be two registers, and that the complete register will not be available for marketing companies or all and sundry who want to use it for any commercial purpose. Such organisations will be able to purchase an edited register that people will give

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their consent to be part of. The regulations permit access to the registers for specified purposes, including certain specific commercial purposes when we believe they are in a strong public interest. I shall talk about the detail of that in a moment.

Regulations 1 and 2 provide for the commencement, interpretation and extent of the regulations for England and Wales and for Scotland. Apart from the regulations that deal with access to the registers, they will take effect as from the annual canvass of electors for 15 October 2002. In England and Wales, the provisions that deal with access to the registers will come into force on 16 October 2002, or, if a register is not published on that day, on the day after the register has been published. In any event, the register has to be published by no later than 1 December 2002, and the regulations will be fully in force by then.

In Scotland, as a result of consultation with registration officers about the annual canvass and publication of the revised register, the position is different. Instead of the provisions coming into force on 16 October 2002, they will come into force on 18 November. That is the earliest date by which the Scottish registration officers thought that the revised registers would be available for publication. In any event, all registers must be published—in Scotland also—by no later than 1 December, and the comparable Scottish regulations will also be fully in force by then.

Regulations 3 to 5 and 7, and regulation 11 in Scotland, make a number of minor amendments to the previous regulations. Regulation 8 provides that any applicant for registration other than at the annual canvass must be made aware of the right to have his name omitted from an edited register and of the effect of doing so and given 21 days in which to respond with his choice. It incorporates the forms set out in the schedule to the regulations. The form prescribed for the annual canvass of households is at part 1 of the Schedule. Part 2 provides the form of words that is included in the canvass form, which must be issued to a person who applies for registration other than on a form provided by the electoral registration officer. Similar provision for Scotland is made at regulation 7 and the schedule to the Scotland regulations.

Regulations 6 and 9 to 11 make provision for the public inspection and limited copying by hand-written notes of the full register. Regulation 15 introduces the main changes by inserting part 6, ''Supply of Register Etc'', into the principal regulations. New regulations 92 to 94 place general restrictions on the sale of and access to the full registers and on the use that recipients of the register may make of the data.

The Juries Act 1974 already requires a copy of each of the English and Welsh registers to be sent to the Lord Chancellor for the summoning of juries in England and Wales and new regulation 95 prevents such copies from being used for any other purpose or for information to be disclosed. The provisions enabling the Scottish Courts Service to summon jurors in Scotland are contained in regulation 112 of the Scotland Regulations.

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New regulations 96 to 101 require the registration officer to supply free of charge and on publication a copy of the full register to the British Library, as the national library of record, and the National Library of Scotland in the case of the Scotland Regulations; the Office for National Statistics for statistical purposes; and the Electoral and Boundary Commissions in connection with their statutory duties in checking the admissibility of donations to political parties and in reviewing electoral boundaries. They restrict the use of such copies to the purposes for which they were supplied.

New regulation 102 sets out the general provisions on the supply of the full register under regulations 103 to 109. Persons or organisations falling within those regulations may request a copy of the full version of the register, any notices amending the register and the list of overseas electors, free of charge.

New regulation 103 provides for the supply of the full register to MPs, MEPs, Members of the National Assembly for Wales, local councillors, the Mayor of London and London Assembly members, and elected mayors, who may receive free of charge the parts of the register covering the areas that they represent and can use the information for all electoral purposes and for any purpose connected with their office.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Can the Parliamentary Secretary explain what the phrase ''electoral purposes'' means?

Yvette Cooper: I will try to set out some of the issues that the phrase will cover. It is relatively broad in order to include what most people understand to be electoral purposes in terms of the normal work of canvassing by political parties and so on.

First, I should like to deal with what already-elected representatives can do in the course of their duties, which is a separate issue from electoral purposes, canvassing and so on. I shall come to those matters and will be happy to take a further intervention from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) in a moment.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): The Parliamentary Secretary made reference to Greater London Authority members being able to have access to the register. As a result of the elections for the GLA—this applies also to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly—there are several top-up Members. Will top-up Members have greater rights than first-past-the-post elected Members? The logic is that a top-up Member in Greater London will be entitled to the entirety of the London register.

The Chairman: Order. It is very warm, so any hon. Member who wishes to remove their jackets have the permission of the Chair to do so; although some have already done so without the Chair's permission.

Yvette Cooper: As I understand it, hon. Members will have access to that section of the electoral role that is relevant to their duties. I shall clarify later exactly how that will affect top-up Members, but I believe that they would have access to anything relevant to those whom they represent. For example, if an hon. Member

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wanted to contact a constituent or a group of constituents about a local or national matter, he would be able to refer to the register to ascertain someone's address. He may also pass the register to his research assistant to assist with constituency matters. The registers should continue to be used as a tool in the work that representatives are elected to carry out.

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute): The Parliamentary Secretary listed the elected office holders who are entitled to copies of the register, but the Scottish regulations make no reference to Members of the Scottish Parliament. It seems that every councillor in Scotland can use the register, but not MSPs. Surely, that is a grave omission.

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The appropriate legislative vehicle to apply the provisions to MSPs and to Scottish parliamentary elections is an order made under section 12 of the Scotland Act 1998. Scotland Office officials are drafting a new order that will include those provisions, which we expect to be presented early in the next parliamentary Session.

 
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