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Lord Lucas: My Lords, I do not see how there cannot be at least a one-way link. If you are trying to establish someone's identity and whether they have the right to vote, you will want to interrogate the national identity register once it is complete and compulsory. It will be a jolly good way of knowing whether someone is who they say they are and whether their claim to be allowed to vote should be taken at face value. Given that under the national identity regulations there will be enormous fines for giving false information about where you live and your main address, the national identity register will, it seems, become the main source of information for who should be on the register. It will be used by local authorities and others to pinpoint who should be on the register in their campaigns for inclusion.
On postal voting fraud, I should have thought that, when it is complete, the national identity register will be an essential source of information for drawing the attention of electoral registration officers to likely fraud, because it will be such a complete, accurate and up-to-date databaseha ha. We shall seeit is supposed to be. So the flow of information from the national identity register into CORE seems essential, although I agree with my noble friend that what exactly happens should be under parliamentary control. I share her concerns about the flow of information in the other direction. We should not share electoral information with other systems through government, except under extremely tight control.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, for raising this important issue. I will begin by responding to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. In his speech, there was
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a lot of "could", "should" and "might be". One of the critical issues that the noble Baroness rightly described in the amendment is that we should move away from "could", "should" and "might be" to being as clear as possible. I will deal with her questions as best I can and then talk about the specific details of the amendment.
The noble Baroness is right that we have the responses to the consultation. I do not yet have a definitive statement from my honourable friend Bridget Prentice, who is the Minister responsible, on whether we should be looking for a gradual implementation or going for what one might describe as a "big bang" effect, but it is worth remembering that many registers are held electronically. Noble Lords accepted in Committee that what I was describing was not at all something that removed the power from the local levelthat is the critical place where the register is heldbut something that enabled the merging of these address books, if I may describe them like that, so that it would be found more valuable for the political parties, in particular, to access.
There is no plan at this stage to go beyond that. The noble Baroness rightly raised both in Committee and in your Lordships' House today the issue of making sure that if we were to move further than thatfor example, people checking that their entry was correct onlinewe would have to tackle fraud absolutely. Indeed, she gave the figures for the concerns of the Financial Services Authority on fraud, which we take seriously. I completely accept that point. In Committee, we talked about the possibilities of CORE. I accept that we cannot move in any direction that would enable people to use it fraudulently. However, it is meant to be a tool that is useful to, for example, the political parties and the Electoral Commission. That is how we should think about it.
When it comes to how to consider the national identity register, I understand very well from having followed the debates in your Lordships' House and another place not just people's sensitivities about this database, butif I might say from my experience of other legislation in which I have been involvedthe general concern that data are protected properly. I am the Minister with responsibility for data protection, so I, too, take that matter seriously. The noble Baroness is right to say that one should not be able to use the register differently without parliamentary scrutiny. For example, if one wantedI stress "if"in the future to use the identity register to look at security checks to help to spot fraudulent or duplicate entries, one could do so only after we had followed the affirmative order procedure outlined in the Identity Cards Act as it currently stands.
I have checked through all the possibilities that I could think of in relation to how we might link up the registers. None of them could be done without the affirmative regulation procedure. I would like to take a step further, if I might, but I crave the indulgence of your Lordships' House, for I cannot do that without going back to my colleagues in the Home Office. My personal preference would be to accept the amendment, because I can see that the noble Baroness is seeking to make sure that, if we were to move in this
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direction, we would do so by using legislation appropriately. Noble Lords will know that there is further legislation that would need to come in.
I cannot do that today because I would need to go back and confirm that point with colleagues. If the noble Baroness were willing to withdraw her amendment on the basis that we would have a discussion between now and Third Reading, my commitment would be that of course she should be allowed to bring it back if she felt it appropriate and if I had not resolved the issue. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for her response and for her offer of further thought on the subject. I am bound to say that we are a long way through the process on this Bill and this issue has been around since Committee. While I always accept that the noble Baroness will do what she says she will do, I am going to try to make sure that we get this provision into the Bill. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
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