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Lord Campbell of Alloway : Perhaps I may ask my noble friend for clarification. Does he accept that only without the consent of the person on the register is it a breach of the convention. Secondly, does he agree in principle that in this situation Clause 9 should be recommitted so that we may have advice upon it?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: As to the latter point, after tonight's debate I can predict how things will go. The Government will be well advised to take the clause away and think carefully about it. Whether on Report they come forward with a new one which might need recommitment is entirely a different matter. If the clause were significantly different, it would need recommitment.
As regards my noble friend's first point, I concede that I may be prepared to tick the box for charities to use it, but no one else; I may be prepared to tick the box for the credit companies to use it because I may want credit, but no one else; and I may well be happy to receive junk mail because it livens up other boring mail so I shall not want to tick a box. Therefore, there may be so many options that as regards this hole we should all stop digging.
I want to make a couple of general comments and then move to what we are in danger of forgetting; that the debate stems from a single amendment dealing with charities. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, brought us back to that. First, unless the provisions of Clause 9 are enacted, the full electoral register will continue to be available to anyone who wants to buy it. The Government have clear advice from the Data Protection Registrar that that would not meet the requirements of the EU data protection directive. Secondly, we are advised that we would be at risk of being found in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which deals with privacy. I choose my words carefully; that "we would be at risk".
In Clause 9, we are trying to strike the balance between the need to respect data protection and privacy requirements and the established use of data from the electoral register for certain purposes. Under our arrangements, anyone who does not want his or her name included in the version of the register which will be freely available for sale will be able to opt out of such inclusion. Two versions of the register will be produced by electoral registration officers. As Members of the Committee know, an edited version will list only the names of those who have not exercised their opt-out right and a full version will list the names and addresses of all electors. The edited version will be available to anyone who wants to buy it, but the full version will not. However, the full version will continue to be displayed in town halls, libraries and so forth, so that it can be inspected locally.
As Members of the Committee know, we intend to provide in regulations made under Clause 9 for the full register to be made available to the police and other relevant agencies for law enforcement and crime prevention purposes; to credit reference agencies for use in connection with applications for credit; to banks to make money laundering checks; and, as at present, to Members of Parliament, local councillors and candidates at elections for electoral purposes. We believe that these arrangements will achieve something like a proper balance.
If the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, were to be accepted, there would continue to be available only a single version of the register. It would list the names of all the electors in the relevant area, but its availability would be severely limited. Only registered charities would be able to use it for commercial purposes. No edited version would be available that could be freely bought and used by others for commercial purposes.
Clearly, the noble Lord is not alone in his belief that much tighter controls should be placed on the availability of the register. Because of that feeling, the Working Party on Electoral Procedures, which has been mentioned in the course of our debate, devoted a considerable amount of time to this issue. The working party concluded--I emphasise that the conclusion was supported by all its members--that the arguments for retaining a commercially available register are strong. The Government are not persuaded that it would be right to depart from that position. None the less, the working party recommended that people should be able to opt out of being included in the version of the register that will be made available for sale. Thus, two versions will be created: a full one to be used for electoral and law enforcement purposes; and the edited version.
Clause 9 allows for regulations to be made and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, was right when he said that we are still considering exactly what form those regulations should take. I do not apologise for that; it is not an easy matter.
The Government are minded to allow the full register to be used for the purpose of establishing identity in connection with credit applications. We have established with the Data Protection Registrar that this will not breach the EU directive on data protection and it will ensure that people who decide to opt out of inclusion in the edited register will not find it more difficult to obtain credit.
Perhaps I may also stress, since this point was raised in the noble Lord's amendment, that we intend that the full register will continue to be available for public inspection in public buildings--town halls and libraries. We regard that as an important safeguard against fraud.
I should like to turn to the question of charities, a point covered by the noble Lord's amendment. Charities tend to use the electoral register for the purpose of sending out fund-raising letters. While we may applaud their motives in doing so, it would be foolish to overlook the fact that this is a form of direct marketing. The EU directive on data protection specifically refers to direct marketing. For that reason, we do not believe that we could give charities direct access to the full register without being in breach of the directive. However, it goes without saying that there is nothing to stop charities from buying and using the edited version.
That completes my remarks on behalf of the Government tonight. However, we shall look carefully at the debate and I undertake to return to the Committee with any changes. However, for the moment we feel that we have achieved about the right balance. Indeed, I am encouraged by the words of general support from the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. Nevertheless, this is an important matter and I hope that, on the basis of what I have said, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I should like not merely to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, but also to pay tribute to him for the trouble he has taken to deal with all the arguments with such care. He has produced a constructive background upon which to consider the whole matter--because it will have to be considered.
Perhaps I may say at once that I take his point about charities. I believe that he is right and that I was wrong here. However, a principle is at stake, as it is a matter of Community law that is now a part of our law, and we had better approach it rather carefully between now and the next stage of this Bill. Certainly I hope that, on behalf of the Government, the noble Lord will be prepared to entertain discussions and representations and, far more importantly, to seek advice of the highest order, not necessarily only government advice but perhaps independent advice from the Bar. This is a very important matter.
In the meantime, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, in particular my noble friends Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and Lord Norton of Louth and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. I do not believe that I shall come back to it in precisely the same form but back, inevitably, I shall come.
The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 82, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 83, 87, 88, 89 and 91. I hope that we can take this series of government amendments a little more briefly. These amendments all relate to the practicalities of the new system that the Bill aims to put in place in relation to the electoral register. Amendments Nos. 82 and 83 are purely drafting amendments.
Amendments Nos. 87 to 89 are concerned with the uses to which the full electoral register may be put. If we are to limit access to the full electoral register, clearly we need to have regulations which govern the uses to which it may be put. By way of an example, it would be quite wrong if a local councillor who also happened to run a mail order business was able to use the copy of the full register he received wearing his councillor's hat for business purposes when other mail order businesses were denied access to the full register. We believe that the Bill should make clear that regulations can be made which govern not only to whom copies of the full register may be supplied but also the purposes for which it may be used. That is the purpose of Amendments Nos. 87 to 89.
Amendment No. 91 is designed to ensure that if misuse of the register occurs because an organisation which has access to the full register has inadequate safeguards in place, the directors of that company should be liable for their negligence.