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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am not sure whether this does not indicate a good start to the day. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, for tabling his amendments and for honouring what he said in Committee when he indicated at col. 958 that he had considerable sympathy with my then amendment which he said was going in the right direction. He too has gone in the right direction here.

I tabled Amendment No. 4 simply to make sure that we do not lose sight of the issue. I obviously do not propose to do anything else with my Amendment No. 4, but I welcome government Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 because they clarify the position with regard to asylum seekers who are also Commonwealth citizens. I hope to be able to continue to welcome the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, for the rest of the afternoon.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos. 2 and 3:



    Page 3, line 20, after ("section") insert--


(""qualifying Commonwealth citizen" means a Commonwealth citizen who either--
(a) is not a person who requires leave under the Immigration Act 1971 to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, or
(b) is such a person but for the time being has (or is, by virtue of any enactment, to be treated as having) any description of such leave;").

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On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Clause 6 [Notional residence: declarations of local connection]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 5:


    Page 9, line 32, at end insert--


("( ) Where a declaration of local connection made by a homeless person is delivered to the registration officer concerned during the period--
(a) beginning with the date when a vacancy occurs--
(i) in the seat for the parliamentary constituency within which the required address falls, or
(ii) in the seat for any Scottish Parliament constituency or National Assembly for Wales constituency within which it falls, and
(b) ending on the final nomination day (within the meaning of section 13B below) for the parliamentary by-election, or (as the case may be) the election under section 9 of the Scotland Act 1998 or section 8 of the Government of Wales Act 1998, held in respect of that vacancy,
the declaration must state that, during the period of three months ending on the date of the declaration, the declarant has commonly been spending a substantial part of his time (whether during the day or at night) at, or near, the required address.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment responds to other concerns that were raised both in your Lordships' House and in another place. It was suggested that there is potential for the new provisions allowing for registration by means of a declaration of local connection to be abused by people who might travel to an area where a by-election was pending, simply for the purposes of voting in that by-election.

One scenario which has been put forward is that a group of particularly politically active New Age travellers--I must say that in my experience, they are not particularly politically active, or active, for that matter, or travelled--could hear of a by-election in an area where they were not resident and could travel to and become resident in that area. As the Bill stands, it might then be possible for those people to register by means of a declaration of local connection.

As I said in Committee, it is unlikely that that scenario might occur, but the potential for abuse exists. We recognise that. I said at the time that we would look for a way to close off that possibility. The amendment would overcome the potential problem. It would require those who register by means of a declaration of local connection during a period when a by-election is pending to confirm that they have had a connection with the address which they give for registration purposes for the three months prior to the date on which the declaration is signed.

A homeless person who has been living in the area concerned for the requisite time but who has not got round to registering will be able to register, as indeed he should be able to. Carpetbaggers, if I might use that term, will not be able to make the required declaration.

It is normally perfectly obvious to all concerned when a convoy of New Age travellers has moved into an area so it will be apparent if they make a false declaration. Schedule 1(17), on page 27 of the Bill,

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makes clear that making a false statement in a declaration of local connection is a criminal offence which can be punished with a fine of up to £5,000.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, moved an amendment for a similar purpose. On hearing of my commitment to table a government amendment, the noble Lord kindly agreed to withdraw his amendment, but chided me, in the nicest possible way, that the government solution would certainly cost more than the one that he proposed. I hope that the noble Lord will find that our attempt to deal with the problem will not place an undue strain on the public purse and that he and the rest of your Lordships will support the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, once again, I rise to welcome an amendment moved by the Minister, which arose from a debate in Committee. There are usually two or three months between the date from which people know of a by-election and the by-election being held. Because of the new rolling register system, it is perfectly clear that there could be two or, indeed, three, opportunities for people to add their names to the register. It was against that background that we had an interesting debate.

I suppose for most by-elections it does not matter. However, for a by-election such as the one to be held in the Scottish parliamentary seat of Ayr where the Labour majority over Conservatives is a mere 25, I am sure your Lordships would agree that a little judicious moving around could have a significant effect on the result. I do not think that anything would help the Labour Party defending that particular seat, but we shall see what happens in mid-March.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, during the period of the three months ending on the date of the declaration, the declarant has commonly been spending a substantial part of his time at the required address. Can the Minister tell me how the registration officer will satisfy himself as to whether or not the declaration is correct?

Secondly, as your Lordships know, occasionally, for the convenience of the electorate, and the returning officer, by-elections which are due to be held in the spring tend to be held on the same day as local government elections. I wonder which would take precedent in that constituency. Would people be able to register for the local government elections without falling foul of the amendment, whereas registering for the parliamentary by-election would mean that they would have to satisfy the words of the amendment?

I fully concede that it is possible that nobody has given this matter a great deal of thought. I shall not be surprised or in any way take it amiss if the Minister tells me he will have to write to me on that issue. The issue might arise because frequently by-elections in the spring are held on the same day as local government

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elections. The two registrations might therefore come into conflict. I should be grateful for advice before the amendment is passed.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as ever, the noble Lord is imaginative in his line of questioning, for which I commend him. As regards his first point, it will be down to the electoral registration officer to undertake investigation. He or she will need to use their staff to conduct inquiries. That will, perhaps, be the way forward. We could consider in terms of guidance how the electoral registration officer would satisfy himself on this issue.

As regards the second point, I see the difficulty posed by the noble Lord. I do not have an immediate or easy solution. However, we shall consider the matter. I shall be more than happy for my busy correspondence secretary to become even busier. We shall certainly follow up the matter. Perhaps I can deal with it at Third Reading if no other satisfactory course has been followed before then. I trust that will satisfy the noble Lord.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, before calling Amendment No. 6, I must inform the House that if that amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 7 to 9 tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.

Clause 9 [Restriction on supply of information contained in register]:

Lord Campbell of Alloway moved Amendment No. 6:


    Page 11, line 13, leave out from beginning to end of line 45 on page 12 and insert--


(""10. Provisions requiring that the register prepared by virtue of this Act which shall be open to further inspection shall not be used without the consent of the person registered for any commercial purpose.
11. Provisions making it an offence punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale to contravene regulations made in pursuance of paragraph 10 above."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 6 provides that the single register shall not be used for any commercial purposes without the consent of the person registered.

In Committee, we had a short but substantial debate on the amendment, which is now shorn of its exclusion for charities. That is because I was able to take on board a most useful contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, with reference to the EU directive on direct marketing. It was accepted that this is a form of direct marketing if the register is used for commercial purposes.

We could not give the use of the full register to charities without, as the noble Lord rightly said, being in breach of that directive. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his help, which was acknowledged in Committee.

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However, the principle which I contended, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, rightly assumed, was that there would only be a single version of the register which would continue to be available for public inspection in public buildings which should not be used for any commercial purposes without the consent of the person registered. That principle was broadly supported by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, who asked how the two-tier system proposed under Clause 9 would work and whether it would be enforceable. He said that we have a long way to go in considering the issues raised by Clause 9. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, in winding-up, did not really give an answer to these questions. I shall listen with great attention to what the Minister says today.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, said that the Government had clear advice from the Data Protection Registrar that to make the full register available to anyone who wants to buy it would breach the directive and that there would be a risk of being found in breach of Article 8 of the convention. That was the extent of the advice the Government apparently received.

The Minister did not take the point that the use of the register for any purpose other than that for which it was devised, in particular for commercial purposes, without the consent of the person registered would be a breach of Article 8. I referred to a number of authorities--the Swedish case and the Netherlands case. I shall not repeat them; they are indicated in the Official Report. I urged the Minister to seek further advice--if necessary independent advice--from the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Attorney-General's Department or the Bar. I wonder whether he did so. If so, is the advice available? Again, I shall listen with great attention to what the Minister says when he winds up this debate today.

As my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish said, the ticking of the box even by the person registered--this marries to some extent with Amendments Nos. 7 and 8, as was said by the Chair--and each person registered is wholly unsatisfactory. Unless it is a general "yes" box or a general "no" box, the person registered, as my noble friend said also, should be able to tick a "no" box for selected purposes--say for credit companies, charities or any other category of unsolicited correspondence. There is an entitlement to have such selection. It does not appear that the Government have yet given their mind to that question and I shall listen with great attention to what the Minister says in that regard.

As I said in Committee, I read all the briefs which stoutly defend these commercial interests and have no need to repeat what I said then. I am not concerned with commercial interests; I am not concerned with contributions to political funds which may be made available by commercial interests with an annual income of £30 billion a year. I am concerned with what the Lord Chancellor said in relation to Article 8 of the

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convention. He said it would be the ideal vehicle to develop the right of privacy and remedies for its invasion.

Your Lordships may feel that the use of the electoral register to validate a database and not to create it--I understand that to be the case--is no answer to the objection in principle that the register should not be used for any purpose other than that for which it was devised if an invasion of privacy in breach of Article 8 is involved; in other words, if the person registered has not consented to its use for that purpose. The two registers and the Clause 9 concept are a total misconception; they are unnecessary and unacceptable; they were devised only to serve those commercial interests.

To seek to resolve this question involving database protection, Article 8 and other considerations in a Representation of the People Bill is not well advised. It should be dealt with in a separate Bill. I accept that as a matter of principle the single register could always be used on grounds of national security, the prevention of crime or the investigation of fraud on the authority of the Secretary of State. But I suggest that Clause 9 should not stand part of the Bill unless amended as proposed. I beg to move.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I rise because I have a good deal of sympathy for the objective behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, but am unable to support it because I feel it simplifies what is a complex situation. The Government's proposal for having an edited version of the register is the more effective one and the version in the amendment would cause difficulties. It would make it an offence of absolute liability for anyone to make use of the register and put them at risk of finding that somebody whom they thought had consented had not in fact done so.

On this issue I take the view that the Government have got it about right and am happy therefore with Clause 9 as it stands.


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