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Lord Thomson of Monifieth: Since my name appears on the Marshalled List next to the amendment to be moved later by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, and my remarks will be brief and of a general character, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if at this stage I support the arguments that the noble Lord has advanced. Like the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, I have no particular interest to declare. In the past my connection with the advertising industry was similar to that of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, in that I was one of the regulators of standards. There are very substantial issues relating to a major part of the economy of this country--the advertising and marketing industry--which need to be faced.
My noble friend Lord Goodhart put forward with admirable clarity his approach to these problems which, like the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, was based on our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. I await with interest the Government's response to the fundamental question of the legal position. Listening to my noble friend Lord Goodhart, my only doubt is that, if we are in breach of the European convention by making the register compulsory for statutory purposes and making it available beyond its immediate purpose, I am not sure how we justify drawing the line. I hope to be persuaded by the Government that our international obligations, which we must observe, give us a good deal of flexibility in making a judgment about exactly where the line is drawn. I accept that it is a very difficult balance to strike, but I am not clear as to the best compromise to be offered at the end of the day.
Perhaps I may offer one word to Members of the Committee, all of whom in one way or another are my noble friends. I believe that politicians should be cautious about becoming too rigidly self-righteous about intrusions into privacy. We now live in a world of electronic commerce, which I do not claim fully to understand. However, when it comes to junk mail and intrusions into privacy we as professional politicians who have played a part in public affairs have done our share. When first I was a candidate and a Member of Parliament for Dundee, in the pre-electronic age, we got the voters out by going around with a dinner bell. Then we moved into the electronic age. We managed to get a loudhailer and felt we were very "with it"--but, my goodness, we intruded into privacy.
Lord Norton of Louth: I take the point the noble Lord makes. However, as a teenager I remember canvassing. When one knocked on a door, one asked the elector whether he would vote for you at the election. One did not then ask, "May I sell you something?"
I suffer from the flood of junk mail through my letter box like everyone else. Much of that junk mail which causes me irritation is political, sometimes from my own party. I say that in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, who made such an excellent maiden speech recently. Much of that mail comes from pressure groups. There is a real problem to be faced.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: There is no objection if one wants it and consents to have it. Presumably one consents to have it from one's own party. However, it is when one does not consent to have it that the invasion of privacy occurs.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: With respect to the noble Lord, I am not sure that the issue is as simple as that. The register is a register. The action of the individual may safeguard him from receipt of junk mail, but it leaves the public issues still to be resolved.
I am genuinely puzzled about the Government's compromise. How will this two-tier system work? Is it enforceable? Is it practicable if one has a major statutory document such as an electoral register which is part of transparency in public life? It has to be in the public library. How will one enforce the two-tier system proposed? I do not know the answer. Should not there be a further opportunity for the Government and all those concerned to study the issue and return with more details of the final arrangements? That might help to balance these conflicting considerations.
I recognise the urgency of the Bill with regard to the pilot schemes for the coming local government elections. But the regulations that will follow the Bill have not yet been drafted. We do not know their content. Much discussion lies ahead.
In conclusion, the advertising and marketing industry is part of the modern economy. It is part of our living standards in this country. It should be regulated in the public interest. But it is an important part of our economy. I find it strange that the working party chaired by a colleague of the Minister from the Home Office--it was well represented by representatives of the political parties-- had no representatives from the marketing and advertising industry, if not as members, at least as assessors. That industry was not even offered the opportunity to give direct evidence and to submit to cross-examination. We have a long way to go in considering the issues raised by Clause 9.
My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth takes an absolutist view. I understand that. I think that he received some nods of agreement from some areas of the Committee. His absolutist view is that the register is prepared for electoral purposes and that, bar those electoral purposes and the political parties, no one else should be allowed to use it. I must say that as a cogent argument to put forward in a debate, it is not a bad place to start. I can tell my noble friend that in many ways I might be quite content to argue on his side, but there are some other pressures--and those pressures have come from other noble Lords who have spoken-- where the electoral register is used by other people for reasons which benefit not just them but the individuals whose names appear on the register. This is one of the most difficult issues.
The point made by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway was that to use the electoral register for any purpose other than the purpose for which it is mandatorily collected would in fact be a breach of the European Convention. We very clearly need to know that. The reason we need to know it very clearly is, as I said much earlier today, twice in Scotland in the last few weeks the courts have made a decision about something which people thought was a long-standing arrangement in the law of Scotland, and indeed in the second case in the law of the United Kingdom, and these long-standing arrangements are in danger of being struck down because they are in breach of the convention.
Today another issue has been raised in the press by lawyers who think that another aspect of the law of Scotland, much admired in the children's panel arrangements dealing with juvenile offenders, may well breach the European convention. When the Government embarked on bringing the European convention into domestic law, I do not believe for a moment that they thought that it might strike at any of the three legal positions at which it has struck. Put very simply, in the case of the cameras it is likely that in Scotland one could with safety drive past them at any speed, because the kernel of a conviction is that the driver has to admit to being the driver. The court has found that that is a breach of the convention; you are incriminating yourself. I therefore believe that the Government will seriously have to address this point.
Is any sale of the register a breach of the convention? I might even ask my noble friend why, if I have correctly heard his argument, a sale to a registered charity is not a breach of the convention. If a registered charity sends me something, that must surely be as great an invasion of my right to privacy as it would be in the case of anybody else sending me something.
As I listened to the debate, I was reminded once or twice of the old adage, "When in a hole, stop digging". I believe that your Lordships have just been digging this hole ever deeper. Perhaps the only person who is
I was going to talk about some of the other issues that have emerged and follow the bad example of other noble Lords who have strayed rather wide of the amendment. I shall not do so, however, because addressing this simple issue of the position of the European convention may well mean that we can shortly go home. If the noble Lord, Lord Bach, says that it may all be in contravention of the convention, we may have to start again, or perhaps we may have to stay and go through some of the other amendments. In the meantime, until we are clear about the impact of the convention rights on any use of the electoral register other than for electoral purposes, as outlined by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, we should not proceed with any of the other issues as to who else might get access to the register and who might not, which, of course, is equally to the point.
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