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If I explain how the new electoral registration scheme will work, perhaps the noble Lord will feel satisfied with what we seek to do. There will still be an annual canvass conducted in the autumn but, in addition, people will be able to apply to be added to the electoral register throughout the year. This will, of course, be of particular benefit to those who move during the course of a year. That is the principle underlying a rolling register.
Once an electoral registration officer receives an application for registration he will need to consider it and decide whether it meets the prescribed requirements. If it does, he will include the name of the person concerned in the monthly list which he publishes on the 1st of every month (other than the months when the annual canvass is taking place) giving details of the additions to and deletions from his register. At the same time he will add the name of the person concerned to the register.
So the position is quite clear. There will be a monthly list. Names added and deleted will be published in that monthly list. On that basis, it should be clear to everyone how the register is working and
Lord Naseby: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask him to clarify one point. At the moment the ANC list appears, if I am correct, at the February date after the October registration. I understand that there will be, in effect, a monthly ANC list. However, is there still to be a summary at the end of the year? Otherwise, I suspect that unless everybody is fully computerised, which a number of smaller, local charities will not be, they will have to go through the whole 12 months and work off the end-year register, whereas at the moment all they have to do is take the summary form in either October or February. I cannot remember when the summary is issued.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am not quite sure that I can help the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, this afternoon on that point. My understanding is that the draft register is currently produced in December and the full register is produced in February. What we will have in December, of course, is a full register with the new system, and then additions and deletions thereto. Addressing the point that the noble Lord has raised, my belief is that the new arrangements will probably be more helpful than the current ones to those who have a concerted interest in the register, because the period to which it applies is continuous, rolling and updated, so that all the information will be there at some point during the course of the 12 months.
Lord Naseby: The question that I am asking is whether there will at any point in the year be a summary of all changes in the register, as there now is, or whether the public have to work from 12 individual returns.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My understanding is that there will not be a summary. They will have to work from the published register in December and then the updated supplementaries to it. That should provide almost up-to-the-minute accuracy. As I have said, I believe that that will be more helpful than the current arrangements.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to my noble friend of intervening. He has spared me the effort of looking in the Bill for something else that I shall not be able to find. The Minister will no doubt be able to help me. My understanding is that a list will be published on the 1st of each month, clearly with the exception of 1st December, because that is the day on which a full list will be published. However, am I not right in thinking that that will apply also to 1st November? My recollection was that only 10 of
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My understanding is that apart from the month when the annual canvass takes place and the publication of the register in its December form, there will be monthly updates and supplements to the register.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am not disputing the logic of it. I am simply trying to work out which months we are talking about. The canvass is in October, but my recollection is that there is not one on 1st November, nor would I expect there to be, quite frankly, because at that stage the main register is being redone. What I cannot remember is whether it is simply 1st November, with the publication of the full register on 1st December, or whether it is 1st October and 1st January, one or other, as well. I can see the logic of 1st October.
However, that is not quite the point that I want to make. The point is that during the months of January, February, March, April, May, June, when we know that there will be a monthly published list of additions and subtractions, it will be easy for people to see who has been put on and who has been taken off. The problem will occur in October and November, when in the 1st December register it will not be easy at all, because there will be no indication. If it is right that there should be a clear indication for nine or 10 months of the year, it would seem sensible that there should be some indication on the 1st December register of who has been added. It is not a state secret. We shall know who has been added in the rolling register as the months of January, February, March and April proceed. Therefore, it would be convenient on 1st December. If the Minister can help my memory with regard to the months when the rolling additions will be published, I will then withdraw the amendment.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: There certainly will not be a monthly update in October, and I can advise the noble Lord that neither will there be one in November. If it will help, I shall take on board the point made by the noble Lord in his argument and give it further thought between now and Report stage. I should not like to be held to that, but I shall try to be as helpful as possible.
Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the Minister and I am pleased to hear his assurance that he will look at this. He takes the point, as I am sure all your Lordships do, about new entrants on to the register. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I also speak to Amendments Nos. 12 and 20. These are technical amendments, I hope short ones, to clarify to which categories of persons under Sections 70 and 71 of the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984 the new Sections 3A (Clause 2) and 7A (Clause 5) of this Bill apply.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 ensure that under the new Section 3A (Clause 2) a disfranchisement of offenders detained in hospitals in Scotland under Section 71 of the 1984 Act applies to persons serving a prison sentence who have been removed to hospital on mental health grounds.
Amendment No. 20 ensures that the provisions in the new Section 7A about residence of persons remanded in custody apply to those persons awaiting trial who have been transferred from prison to hospital under Section 70 of the 1984 Act and to those persons who are transferred under Section 71 of the 1984 Act from prison, where they are detained under the Immigration Act 1971, to a hospital on mental health grounds. I beg to move.
Lord Jopling: May I be allowed one query on Clause 2? I cannot understand the wording on page 4, lines 12 and 13, which, as far as I can understand it, appears to go into the Welsh language. I wonder whether the Minister can help me with this. I shall not attempt to put it in the Welsh language. It refers to the "Mental y yn Health (Scotland) Act 1984". Could we have an explanation of what this is about?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord has made a perfectly respectable joke! It is undoubtedly a typographical error. I do not believe that I have ever known "Mental y yn Health". We apologise for this and we will make sure that it is accurate in the next print.
We have no problem with the principle that homeless people should be able to register. Special provision has been made and I shall deal with that later. However, understandably, we want to be sure that that special provision is tight because we want to ensure that there is no abuse of the right.
That change in the law has highlighted the point in Clause 3 to which I want to draw the Committee's attention. What is the position as regards squatters? If someone is squatting at an address, they are not legally supposed to be there. Therefore, they are doing something illegal at that address. Are they then classed as homeless or are they recognised as squatters? Do they come under the residence test or under the later clause relating to homelessness? We must get the position clear. It seems to some of us that if people are staying at an address illegally, they should not be able to register at that address as electors. If we allowed them to do so, we should be encouraging a contravention of the law.
I hope that we shall see much less of homelessness, but it is interesting that after two-and-a-half years of rhetoric all we have seen is an increase. It is not obvious to me, as I go about the streets of London or Glasgow, that there has been any great reduction in homelessness. Therefore, I am not surprised that the Government have decided to give such people a vote. I thought that they were going to remove homeless people from our streets, but trying to give them a vote suggests that they reckon they will fail in meeting that commitment.
Giving homeless people a vote is one thing, but giving people who are squatting illegally a vote on a residency qualification is entirely different. Perhaps the Minister will explain the present position. Do people in a squat have the right to be registered at that address to vote? If so, should that right continue? If they do not, should they be given that right? My amendments would ensure that squatters who are illegally resident in a house would not be able to use that residence as the basis on which they could vote. It is a simple and straightforward issue. I beg to move.
Baroness Gould of Potternewton: I have a problem with the way in which the amendment is framed. I understand that no one wants fraudulent registration, but many squatters have been on the register for many years. In a recent case in Lambeth, it took the High Court many years to determine whether the person was legally at an address.
I am particularly worried because the amendment proposes that a person who it is alleged is illegally in the premises should be unable to register or have his or her registration removed. I am not a lawyer and know little about the law, but I believe that squatting is a civil offence and I am worried that we are moving into forbidden realms.
Furthermore, I recall that, in relation to a number of people who were squatting at Greenham Common, the courts decided that they were legally entitled to register at that squat. Therefore, that is another complication which needs examining before we go down this road.
I am worried about the proposal that people who might be legally registered would be removed under the amendment. If they were found to be illegal, surely they would be evicted. The whole problem would then go away because they would no longer be living in the premises and would, unfortunately, come under the homeless category which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, believes is acceptable.
I also have a problem with Amendment No. 93. I cannot believe that anyone in our democracy is suggesting that the police should knock on doors to check whether the residents should be registered there. We would soon have cases, and quite rightly, of police harassment. I wonder whether, in tabling the amendment, the noble Lord has thought through its consequences. I am sure that he would soon be complaining that the police were not doing enough about crime because they were too busy going from door to door checking whether people should be on the electoral register. I hope that he will reconsider both amendments. Certainly, there is a case for ensuring that there is no fraud, but the amendments as they stand are not acceptable legally as well as morally, and I hope that he will withdraw them.
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