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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The first thing that the noble Lord should do is to find out whether the interviewer is certified as a member of the Market Research Society Interviewer Scheme. If that is the case, and if it is a genuine interview, there is no question whatever that the noble Lord and his wife will be pursued for sales purposes afterwards. Otherwise, the company and the interviewer will be slung out of the Market Research Society.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: That is certainly useful. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is here this evening. I shall still stick to my original decision not to answer any questionnaires again, unless, of course, the prize is overwhelmingly attractive.
I believe that many people are concerned about the issue. Once the Government open the door to one group, the danger will be that they will find it difficult to decide where to close the door. I have some sympathy with the Minister on the issue. He might be well advised to take up his noble friend's offer of a nice long period before anything happens.
Lord McNally: I should not move one scintilla from the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, explaining our party's position. However, I feel that this is about the only opportunity I have to confess that, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, getting his kicks by reading the electoral register, I actually like receiving junk mail. If only I had been engaged much earlier in a public relations capacity, I could have explained that the problem is the pejorative name "junk mail". If it had been called "information correspondence", it would have had a much easier ride.
One of our earlier amendments suggested that people should have the full explanation for removing themselves from the register. Perhaps it will be necessary at some stage for the Direct Marketing Association to embark on a public information campaign. Junk mail is not junk. It is an important industry. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, said, it may be necessary for the Government to give deeper thought to the full consequences of this matter. People may think that they are escaping some terrible burden, but they may also be missing some real benefits and opportunities.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall not extend the debate very much longer. Reference has been made to hole diggers and non-hole diggers and to junk mail junkies and the like. Clearly, this debate could go on for ever. In a sense, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has raised an important issue. The purpose of the amendment is to get us to extend consultation for a further six months. In practice, we shall have a longer period to consider the issue. After all, we are now consulting the industry. That is my understanding. When the draft regulations are published, there will be a further round of consultation. We do not yet have the legislation in place. So I think that we are talking about quite a long way down the road. I should have thought that we should have some continuing discussion and consultation over the next few months. For those reasons, I do not think that adding a further six months' delay on to that will take us much further.
However, Members of the Committee have made the point that this is a tricky and complex area and one in which there are many issues to be thought through. Some of those issues have already been addressed by the Working Party on Electoral Procedures. That ran from the summer of 1998. No doubt the period between now and when the regulations are finally introduced will provide us with ample time further to polish and consider exactly what we intend to do.
We think that the legislation is clear. We have a basis on which we can work to consult some more. Clearly, we need to take away some of the points that have been raised in this short debate. We will continue to do that. With that, I trust that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Norton of Louth: I shall speak briefly to this issue, although, looking at the clock, I have to say that the last train to get me back to Hull this evening left at 11.10 p.m. and, since the next one is at 6.15 a.m., I may be a little blase about how the proceedings go on. However, I felt I should speak as I had given notice of
The stand part debate on the clause allows the Minister to address the issue quite fundamentally. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish referred to me as an absolutist. I make no apologies for that. It serves certain purposes in forcing us to think back to first principles. What is the purpose of the whole exercise? The Government are proceeding on a number of assumptions about why the register is produced, the way in which it is produced, and the purpose that is served by its availability.
Earlier, I mentioned the history of the electoral register, why it came into being and why it was published. Some of those reasons may no longer have the force that they once had. There is a danger of the clause, and indeed the Bill, constituting something of a lost opportunity if we do not return to first principles and ask fundamental questions about the nature of the register and in particular, in the context in which we are presently discussing it, its availability, the access that people have to it.
So we do need to return to first principles, and I fear that the clause does not do that. It does not address the problem. I elaborated my reasons earlier and I do not intend to go over them again now. The clause raises fundamental issues and I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to respond.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord has rehearsed the arguments rather well. He has gone to the heart of the some of the arguments that are collected together in Clause 9. My noble friend Lord Bach gave a clear exposition of the Government's position. However, some of the issues raised are worthy of further consideration. We said that we would look closely at Hansard without commitment and see which further matters need greater elucidation and clarification.
We believe that the arrangements that we have set out achieve a proper balance, and we think that we can rely on the way in which we intend the clause to work. So, with all the difficulties--there is common agreement that this is a complex area--I commend the clause as drafted to the Committee.
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