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Lord Jenkin of Roding: In the last debate, which I listened to with fascination, I exercised at this hour of the night a commendable restraint--at least I hope that my noble friends will regard it as commendable--as I did not join in. However, I was mildly perturbed by something that the noble Lord said in his response. He said that the Government were "minded" to allow the credit agencies and the banks to make use of the full register. That sounds to me as though they have not made up their mind on that matter. In another place at Third Reading the Minister said:


Lord Bassam of Brighton: Perhaps the noble Lord will give way briefly. I believe that my noble friend Lord Bach did use the word "minded", but we are absolutely clear that we intend that to be the case. Therefore, I hope that that clarifies the point.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: In that case, I have no wish to read further what was said in another place. That is a clear government intention. It then comes to the question, as he rightly said, of the regulations. In responding to the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, indicated one or two areas where the regulations would be restrictive. Amendment No. 87 refers to "Provisions specifying" and then goes on to refer to,


    "the purposes for which copies supplied to such persons under such regulations, or information contained in them, may be used whether by such persons or by employees",

and so on.

As well as precluding the two-faced councillor from using the register for his mail-order business when he has obtained it because he was a councillor, I ask the Government to make it absolutely clear that the regulations will be inclusive and will make it abundantly clear that the banks and other credit agencies will be entitled to use the information.

Considerable efforts were made to try to persuade the Home Office--and the Treasury was brought in to bat on behalf of the industries which they sponsor--that it really is in the interests not least of first borrowers that the banks and agencies should have access to check the information. It may be regrettable, but it happens to be true that the information on a registration form has always been more true than that supplied by an applicant for financial services.

The electoral register is likely to show the full and accurate name and, over a period, will provide an element of history. All that serves an essential function if credit is to be given by a building society or whatever it may be. I believe that the Government have accepted that, but I seek an assurance that the regulations will make that absolutely clear.

Lord Bach: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. I apologise for my lawyer's caution in my

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use of the expression "minded to". But my noble friend has quite rightly put the Committee right about that. That decision has been taken.

I assure the noble Lord that the regulations will be--I use his word--inclusive in the particulars to which he referred in his intervention. I hope that that assists him.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I am grateful for that. That does meet my argument.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: These amendments take us into the complex issue of who may be able to obtain the full electoral register. My noble friend Lord Jenkin has just explored one of the exceptions. I was going to say "possible exceptions", but we now know that they will be exceptions.

I do not know anything about this particular field but I have been bombarded by the most amazing amount of paper. I raise this issue because, on the face of it, it seems to be part of the problem which the Government will encounter when they start making fine distinctions.

As I understand it--no doubt I shall be corrected if I am wrong--some companies will be allowed to purchase the whole of the electoral register in order to run those credit control systems. I gather that the two companies involved are called Equifax and Experian. I have a letter here from another company called i-CD publishing. It tells me what terrific work it does, largely supplying the electoral roll via software and the Internet. I am told that the Government now heartily approve of all those things. The latter company claims that it is a competitor of the two other companies which I have mentioned. It goes further and says that it is used largely by small businesses for credit controls whereas, by implication, the other two tend to be used by big businesses, presumably because their information is not available on the Internet or by e-mail. It complains that it has never been consulted and that, on the face of it, its two competitors are to be granted a right which it has not been granted.

I simply take the letter at its face value. As I said, I do not know very much about this field. But if that is the case, I suggest to the noble Lord that the Government should do something to address that. That is the problem with moving away from the firm and high ground of my noble friend Lord Norton.

When one starts to make exceptions to the rule one must be absolutely sure that one does not favour one competitor against another and that one deals with a class of exceptions rather than individually named ones. I hope that I have made that point clear and that either tonight or some time in the next week or two we can be clear about the position as claimed by ICD Publishing.

Lord Bach: We note the point raised by the noble Lord and will consider it. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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11 p.m.

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 83:


    Page 10, line 35, leave out ("that") and insert ("the edited").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 84:


    Page 10, line 36, at end insert--


("(c) confirming that, where the exclusion of the name and address of a registered elector from the edited register is requested on behalf of that elector, the elector has consented to that request, and
(d) explaining any adverse consequences likely to flow from the exclusion of the names and addresses of registered electors from the edited register").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to the principle behind the amendment and therefore wish to move it "semi-formally".

We take the view that the various advantages which may accrue to people from opting in, or remaining opted in, should be made clear. It should also be made clear that people who opt out, or appear to have opted out, have agreed to do so.

Amendment No. 84 contains two parts. The first half requires that the opt-out form should make it clear that the person who signs it has consulted and obtained the approval of other persons in the same household. The opt-out form will be part of the canvass return circulated to everybody which has to be returned in October. For the purposes of simplicity, it will be dealt with in a single document. We believe that as only one person will sign and return it, it should contain a provision that that person has obtained the consent of any other member of the household to that person's opting out. The opt-out form should also make clear if any adverse consequences may flow from the exclusion of the name of any member of the household from the edited register.

Amendment No. 85, to which I also wish to speak, is self-evident. It is largely a probing amendment, asking what arrangements the Government have in mind to ensure that people who have opted out and then changed their minds can, within a reasonably short period of time, opt back into the edited register. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: This is perhaps the time to raise a problem mentioned briefly by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I refer to how an individual indicates that he wants to be in the full register but to opt out of the edited version.

From our previous discussions and those in another place, I understand that currently the head of the household will tick the box. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, pointed out, that does not cover the position of other people in the household. If the head of the household does not tick the box, could one other member of the household say that his rights under the Data Protection Directive and the European Convention would be infringed, and who would be infringing them? Would it be the head of the household

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for not ticking the box or the electoral returning officer for not asking the question of the person as an individual?

The interesting point, as I said at Second Reading, is that the working party said clearly at paragraph 12 that the form should be amended to include information about the purposes to which the information may be put--that is, the information if your name was on the full register--and to allow an opt-out box for each person included on the form and all commercial activities. That suggests that the working party envisaged a form with a box to be ticked by each person whose name was written down on the form. I feel that that is the proper way to do it and just asking the head of household to tick may not be the proper way.

We have gone into these arguments before, but it is likely that the head of household may not be bothered about a company checking him for his creditworthiness because he may have cards from his banks and so forth that show that he is clearly creditworthy; whereas his 20 year-old son may be in quite a different position. He may go along to buy his first car and find that his father has removed him from the edited list and therefore obtaining credit becomes a bit more difficult. Those are the problems which may arise. I shall certainly be interested to hear what the Minister thinks about the proposition that each person ought to indicate in a box whether or not they wish to be excluded from the register.


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