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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister a short question. Given that it is technically possible to put the electoral register on the Internet and, as he has indicated, prevent people downloading parts of it that are restricted, will the Minister look at this as a possible measure which might be brought in by his department in the interests of access and freedom of information?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am happy to take that point away. It is a perfectly sensible way of looking at things. I shall reflect further and write to the noble Lord if that will satisfy the point.

I hope that, given what I have said, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will feel able to withdraw his amendment. This has been a useful debate. We shall no

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doubt return in more detail to questions of e-commerce and ways in which we can use new technology to make our electoral system work more efficiently and effectively.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he answer the question that I put to him? If I buy a copy of the register, am I free to publish that on the Internet myself or am I restricted some way in its use?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, looking over my shoulder, as it were, I gather that the noble Lord can do so. I can give him that assurance.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, if that can be done, does it not blow the whole thing right open? If you can simply buy a record of everything and if my noble friend--who obviously knows how to work the Internet and I do not--can bung the information on the Internet, that blows the whole system open, does it not?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, unless I am completely wrong, I believe that we are talking about the edited version.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, that was very interesting indeed. Perhaps I should first apologise to my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil that I am being particularly agreeable this afternoon to the Government. I hope that it will continue, but it is entirely dependent on them whether it continues for the rest of the afternoon. My noble friend will recall that the position was not quite so agreeable at Committee stage. If the Government are prepared to be reasonable, I have to be reasonable--difficult as it may sometimes be, at least to take my noble friend with me on these matters.

In this debate we have explored the whole question of the move from the paper form of the electoral register to electronic forms. As the debate continued, more and more doors appeared in the wall that the Government have attempted to build around the electoral register.

I fully understood the point made by the Minister to my noble friend Lord Lucas that it would be only the edited version that my noble friend would be able to put on the Internet. The full version cannot be made publicly available--except, of course, it can be placed in libraries. There will come a stage when libraries will say that they are geared up to the electronic world and that they would like the registers in electronic form in the same way as the political parties receive them. I think that we are about to see fairly dramatic changes in the way in which the electoral register is presented and stored. I am sure that libraries would far rather have the register in electronic form than in paper form.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I take his point. I rise to correct something that I said a few moments ago. I misread the indications from the Box. Apparently it

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would not be possible to put the register on the Internet, for the simple reason that that would represent a breach of copyright. I apologise to the House for a misleading statement. It is sometimes a case of misreading the signals.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. It now appears that the edited version cannot be put on the Internet but it can be put on disk to be sold on to other people, as at least one company in the credit control world already does, especially in regard to small firms. I believe the company's name is i-cd. It sent most of us letters.

I am grateful for the assurances that political parties will be able to move away from receiving a great pile of paper registers to electronic forms, and that they will not be charged for the electronic form as they are not currently charged for the paper form.

What the debate has opened up is that perhaps some of the hoped-for walls that the Government have built round the registration system will not in fact survive the electronic age. The Home Office may well need to return to these issues sooner than it ever planned to do. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 10:


    Before Clause 10, insert the following new clause--

FREE POST FOR GREATER LONDON AUTHORITY ELECTIONS

(" .--(1) The 1983 Act shall be amended as follows.
(2) After section 36(2B) there shall be inserted--
"(2C) Section 91 shall apply to elections under the Greater London Authority Act 1999 with such modifications as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State."").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to the other amendments standing in my name. They all return to the issue of the London elections and the position regarding mailshots.

Noble Lords will remember that we had debates on this subject last week. I do not intend to go over them in any great detail. However, perhaps I may recap briefly. The issue before the House last week was whether any free mailshot would be available to anyone on the London election scene in the same way as it was made available to candidates for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly and as it has always been made available to candidates for the other place and the European Parliament.

We reached the stage last week of defeating the Government on two orders. The result has been that we have held some discussions which have not yet concluded. The amendments that I have tabled, to which the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has also attached his name, seek to provide an interim debate as to where we are with regard to this question.

I hope that my amendment goes some way to show the Government how, with agreement, we can move forward. It is a rather complex and lengthy

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amendment because it deals with many issues. The first important matter is that, rather than all the candidates for the mayoral and assembly posts each receiving a free delivery, which would be on a par with what happens in other parliaments and assemblies, the parties would get one free mailshot, as would independent candidates. That issue was raised at Committee stage. If it were only for the parties, then independent candidates for the assembly would find themselves locked out of the free mailshot.

That is what we decided to bring forward in this amendment. All the independents who stand, at whatever level, will have to face the cost of printing the leaflets for any mailshot. That will not be cheap. That was the first matter on which we were trying to go some way to meet the Government's objections. Principally, that would be for the mayoral candidate although he or she could, in the course of his leaflet, make mention of his or her friends standing for the assembly. To be honest, I do not believe that we need go further than that because in my experience the list top-up system is pretty much party-based. That is the beginning and the end of it unless there are very unusual factors like Mr Dennis Canavan, if I may mention his name without upsetting the digestive system of the governing party.

We have accepted that there would be one delivery. The question of how the delivery would be organised is also addressed in the amendment. It would be done in bundle form so that the leaflets can be delivered as one, although they would be produced separately by the parties. They would definitely be made to an agreed size and shape. They would be bundled together, not, I hope, as a booklet, which was one of the suggestions that I read about in yesterday's newspapers. It would be a package, if I may call it that, of, say, A4 sheets where each mayoral candidate has the chance to put his or her wares in front of the public.

I want to draw your Lordships' attention to certain important features of my amendment. If we are to have only one mailshot, it should certainly go to each elector. There are serious problems about households. Some may contain one person; many contain two or three people, but others, as they are defined, contain many. If it is a student hall of residence there will be many students. If it is an old folks home there will be many elderly people who would receive only one delivery for everyone. We believe that the mailshot should go to every elector.

As I said a few moments ago, a mayoral candidate should be allowed to include material on his assembly constituency colleagues. The bundling should allow for a leaflet printed by each party to an agreed size and weight so that they can all be put together.

The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats have gone some way to try to accommodate some of the Government's worries. We believe that they are excessively worried about the large number of bogus candidates who are in the election to advertise their wares. One of my colleagues in the other place called it, "The Curry House Candidate". We had elections over a very wide area for the European Parliament.

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There is no great evidence that that happens. I believe that there would be ways to prevent it. For example, the Post Office has strict regulations which it could enforce more rigorously than it has occasionally in the past what can be allowed in a freepost. If the Government felt it necessary, we could perhaps increase the deposit to make it more expensive for a frivolous candidate to stand. The Government still have time to do that. There are various ways in which we could help to allay the Government's fears about frivolous candidates.

The really important matter as regards this amendment is that we want to flag up once again at this Report stage the importance that we attach to some form of free mail for these important elections. If the Government believe that this will be a significant and new form of government, somewhere between local government and the kind of devolved legislature that we have in Scotland, then they have to accept that there will have to be some new rules. In our various negotiations I hope that we can find a way towards those new rules so that the people of London, with an electorate of over 5 million, will all be able to receive through the post a piece of paper from the mayoral candidates explaining where they stand and the advantages--no candidate ever explains the disadvantages--that they would bring to London and the disadvantages that their opponents would bring. That is a right and proper way to proceed in this important election. I hope that my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil has noted that, in order to keep this agreeable tone in our dealings with the Government, I have not mentioned Mr Ken Livingstone. I beg to move.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it states in my speaking notes that I ought to make some introductory niceties. I am grateful for the prompt: briefings are always thorough.


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