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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, I am sure that many of your Lordships have received correspondence from the charity sector. It is only fair for the Minister to make the position clear as regards charities. I think that I know what it is, but it would help those involved in the charity sector if the noble Lord placed the position on the record.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention. Our view, quite simply, is that the same argument applies to charities. Like everyone else, I admire the work done by charities but they are, after all, involved in the process of direct marketing to secure their cash position. That is understandable and it is quite right. But, however worthy they may be, they are direct marketers. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said,
Politics is all about making difficult choices and weighing up competing and equally legitimate interests and concerns. We believe that the approach we are adopting is the best way of dealing with the difficult questions that this issue raises. I believe that those on all sides of the argument recognise the difficulties that exist. I believe that the legislation gives people choice in this matter and that that is the right way to proceed. We are giving people the clear opportunity to opt out.
The most common complaints that the Home Office and electoral administrators receive are from people, such as victims of domestic violence, who fear being tracked down through the electoral register. They are keen to ensure that the electoral register is not yet another avenue through which to track them down. I believe that I made the point in Committee that that might apply also to those who suspect that they may be victims of racial aggravation, harassment and attack. Those are important considerations.
I believe that we have the balance right. I hope that I have responded to the points that have emerged during our debates on the Bill. I realise that I have strayed somewhat from the narrow terms of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, which I understand and for which I have a great deal of
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's speech explaining the Government's position on what, after all, is an important question of principle. The noble Lord said that he believes that the Government are on the right side of the law in this matter. That is rather a dicey position, like sitting rather uncomfortably on a spiky fence. I would like to know why the Minister thinks that he is on the right side and I am wrong. I have not had access to his advice--I do not expect to; it is privileged and is a matter between the Government and their advisers--but I have not heard the substance of the argument. I am still of the opinion--I am entitled to be, on the authorities that I cited in Committee--that the Government are on the wrong side of the fence.
The noble Lord said that the Government have struck the right balance in this matter and that it falls between two polar options. That may be the case, but I still think that it falls into the bear trap of Article 8. I have the impression--it is difficult always to follow in detail until one has read what has been said--that none of the questions that I identified has been answered satisfactorily.
The Minister said, quite fairly, to my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish that he was not able to clarify certain facts. That is well understood; he did not have notice of them. I have to confess that I did not give the noble Lord notice of the questions that I identified. Therefore, there is an area that still warrants clarification. In those circumstances, I ask leave to consider with great care what the noble Lord has said, and any further documents of which he might care to let me have sight, and to come back to this again at Third Reading.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I indicated that I would be more than happy to make available to the noble Lord the background correspondence which may cover some of the issues about which he is rightly concerned. I am quite happy to make available to him the fruits of that correspondence before Third Reading, if that helps him.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister, but that is not precisely what I want. I take that as read. It makes total sense and I agree with the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on that. I am really after the bear trap. What is the argument? Why am I wrong on the three authorities that I cited at Committee stage? Why are the Government advised that they are on the right side
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment addresses the question of the ticking of the box that we have discussed. We went very far along the road of agreement in Committee--indeed, the Minister was very helpful in his response to the short debate that we had--but I still have one or two problems with the issue, which have not been helped by the comments I have just heard in the debate on the previous amendment.
We then went on to discuss how exactly each member of a household would be asked whether he or she wanted the box ticked. The Minister suggested that the head of a household will need to take reasonable steps to ascertain the preferences of other members of the household. In order to do that, it seems to me that the head of the household will have to be told exactly what he or she must do. He or she must be given clear guidance--I assume on the form--that the preferences of other members of the household have to be ascertained. In other words, it will not be good enough--as it was a few years ago when I had my voting age children at home--for me to decide that I was going to be ticked, my wife was going to be ticked and all my children were going to be ticked. I shall have to say to them, "Do you want this box ticked?".
After the discussions we have had, I think that I can give my youngsters a reasonable explanation of what ticking the box would mean, but I am not sure that most heads of households will be in that position. Will some kind of indication as to exactly what ticking the box means be sent out with the forms? Hopefully, if one ticks the box it will mean less junk mail. But equally if one ticks the box, one's name and address will still be available to credit companies and to banks and so on. As we discussed in Committee, these are issues which can be quite important to one's 18, 19 and 20 year-old children when they decide perhaps to go and get their first hire purchase agreement to buy a car or a motor-bike or something like that. Perhaps a compelling argument for ticking the box is to make sure that they do not get such an agreement, but that is another matter.
It is quite important that the head of household knows exactly what is expected of him or her, and that he or she is able to communicate that to other members of the household when it comes to their deciding whether or not to tick the box. It is a pivotal issue. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bach--who I think is to reply--can take us further than the helpful comments of his noble friend in Committee. I beg to move.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I support my noble friend. It is still a difficult decision whether to agree that one's name should go forward on the register, even if one ticks the box for exclusion. If people are in a situation where those with whom they are working may one day want to find out where they live and do something nasty to them--I am thinking particularly of those working in the Prison Service or other areas where their address ought to be hard to find--they are still faced with the position, as I understand it, that they can conceal their address only by disfranchising themselves. Under the Government's proposals, such people cannot be both enfranchised and not have their name available to any member of the public who chooses to look for it in their local public library.
It is important that the implications of a decision to tick a particular box should be made clear to the person ticking the box and to the person whose box is being ticked. They may be under the illusion that ticking the box which exempts the publication of their name under some circumstances will ensure the level of protection they wish for, when in fact they will not achieve that by doing so.
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