HL Deb 14 February 2000 vol 609 cc1010-58

19A. After section 91 there shall be inserted—

"91A.—(1) At an election for the Greater London Authority held under the provisions of the 1999 Act—

  1. (a) each individual candidate for Mayor of London;
  2. (b) each individual candidate for return as a constituency member of the Greater London Assembly,

(2) Any such candidate is also, subject as mentioned in subsection (1) above, entitled to send free of any charge for postage to each person entered in the list of proxies for the appropriate election one such communication as mentioned in subsection (1) above for each appointment in respect of which that person is so entered.

(3) A person shall not be deemed to be a candidate for Mayor of London or to be a candidate for return as a constituency member unless he is shown as standing nominated in the statement of persons nominated, but until publication of that statement any person who declares himself to be such a candidate shall be entitled to exercise the right of free postage conferred by this section if he gives such security as may be required by the Post Office for the payment of postage should he not be shown as standing nominated as mentioned above.

(4) For the purposes of this section, "elector" means a person—

  1. (a) who is registered as a local government elector in an Assembly constituency for which the election is to be held in the register to be used at the election; or
  2. (b) who, pending the publication of that register appears in the electors' lists for such a register (as corrected by the registration officer) to be entitled to be so registered,
and accordingly includes a person shown in the register or electors lists as below voting age if it appears from that register or those lists that he will be of voting age on the day fixed for the poll, but not otherwise.

(5) The Post Office Regulations 1987 shall have effect in relation to an election for the Mayor of London and the London Assembly subject to the following modifications—

  1. (a) in regulation 1, the reference to "section 91 of the Representation of the People Act 1983" shall be construed as a reference to this section;
  2. 1011
  3. (b) any reference to "constituency" shall, in relation to a candidate for return as a constituency member, be construed as a reference to an Assembly constituency, and, in relation to a candidate for return as Mayor of London, be construed as a reference to the Assembly constituencies.

(6) If the area of the GLRO is situated in the area of more than one Head Postmaster, the controlling Head Postmaster for the purposes of the Post Office Regulations 1987 as applied by subsection (5) above shall be determined by the GLRO.

(7) Any communication issued under the provisions of this section by a candidate for return as a constituency member standing as the candidate of a registered political party may refer to the candidates for return as London members submitted on that registered political party's party list.

(8) For the purposes of this section—

  1. (a) "the 1999 Act" means the Greater London Authority Act 1999;
  2. (b) "Greater London Authority" means the body referred to in section 1 of the 1999 Act;
  3. (c) "Mayor of London" means the office referred to in section 2(1)(a) of the 1999 Act;
  4. (d) "London Assembly" means the Assembly referred to in section 2(1)(b) of the 1999 Act;
  5. (e) "constituency member" means a member of the London Assembly of the type referred to in section 2(2)(a) of the 1999 Act;
  6. (f) "London member" means a member of the London Assembly of the type referred to in section 2(2)(b) of the 1999 Act;
  7. (g) "Assembly constituency" has the same meaning as in section 2 of the 1999 Act;
  8. (h) "GLRO" means
    1. (i) in relation to the first ordinary election of the Greater London Authority, the person, or persons of the description, designated by order under section 3(4) of the 1999 Act as the returning officer at the elections of the Mayor of London and of the London members;
    2. (ii) in relation to any other election, the proper officer of the Greater London Authority (as defined in section 424(2) of the 1999 Act);
  9. (i) "registered political party" means a party registered under the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998;
  10. (j) "party list" means a list submitted to the GLRO in accordance with paragraph 5 of Part II of Schedule 2 to the 1999 Act on behalf of a registered political party."").

The noble Lord said: It is fair to say that this is far more than a probing amendment. It is a serious amendment in which not only I am involved; I am joined by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and—I nearly said "my noble friend", but I meant the noble Earl, Lord Russell, with whom I have sparred on many occasions. On this occasion we are speaking on the same side. If I were the Government, I should be trembling in my shoes.

The background to the amendment is of course that there are shortly to be elections in London for the mayor and the London assembly. They are significant elections; they will certainly encompass the largest electorate of any election below the level of the election to the United Kingdom Parliament. The constituencies involved are therefore extremely large. The mayor will have a mandate from an electorate in excess of 5 million. I am not entirely sure whether it is more or fewer—but it is certainly on a par with the electorate in Scotland. It is remarkably larger than the electorate in Wales or in Northern Ireland.

The Government themselves have created that structure. The elections are extremely important. They will clearly give London a voice—that is what the Government said they wanted—and the mayor will be a significant figure. In addition to the mayor, there are to be elections to the assembly of a rather limited number of candidates: 14 constituencies in London will elect one each; and 10 top-ups, which is something we are now fairly used to in Scotland and Wales. There will be three groups: the mayor, who is self standing; the 14 constituency members; and the 10 top-ups, who will be related to the 14 constituency members via the d'Hondt formula. I shall not bore the Committee by reminding your Lordships about d'Hondt. I am sure that my previous lessons on the subject have all been well learnt.

Lord McNally

Can I add d'Hondt to the list?

8.45 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

This is therefore a serious election. While the powers are certainly different, I suggest that it is on a par in democratic terms with the elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They in themselves are of course different; the Scottish Executive has far more powers than the Welsh Executive, which in turn has more powers than the Northern Ireland Assembly. They are not all the same, which goes for London too.

The mayor's responsibilities are reasonably limited, but he will be a voice for London. Knowing the way the system works, I suggest that he will be a voice on a range of issues, including those which do not come directly under his responsibility. If the Government doubt that, I invite them to take a look at what the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly are already doing. They venture occasionally into areas that are not their direct responsibility, much to the annoyance of Dr John Reid, the Secretary of State for Scotland and even more to the annoyance of his deputy, Mr Brian Wilson.

We are discussing important elections. I do not want to hear from the Minister that this is just another local government election. It clearly is not. The Government have created a structure entirely different from local authorities.

The Government are not going to allow free post in London. That seems absolutely amazing. Free post is allowed at parliamentary elections. It was allowed at the elections for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. We allowed considerable free post, because we believe that it is right and proper that every candidate is able to send one communication to each elector, or each household—it rather depends how the candidate wants to play it—in an election of the importance of Parliament, of the Scottish Parliament, of the Welsh Assembly or of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I submit that it is equally important that the candidates for mayor and those for the seats in the London assembly have the same right. It seems amazing that free post has been given in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but not to the mayor with an electorate of 5 million-odd and to the 14 constituencies, which have electorates far greater than any other in this country.

Without the free post it will be impossible for the candidates to reach all the electorate. It will certainly be grossly unfair to anyone who decides to stand in a constituency as an independent candidate without the backing of a party machine. I believe that the election expenses have been set reasonably high, but, frankly, I am told by the people who have carried out the calculation that if a political party had to pay for postage to the electorate, it would be exceeding the limit without doing anything else. The election expenses level will be swallowed up entirely if there is no free post and the parties are obliged to use the postal system.

The reason we have a free post is that we believe it right that every properly nominated candidate should be able to send one communication to the elector. If the Bill is about involving the electorate in the elections—which is, after all, what we are continually told—then surely the one thing which will encourage electors to vote will be if they receive communications from the candidates standing for election.

I look forward to the Minister's reply. At Second Reading I suggested to the House, slightly tongue-in-cheek, that it was a "Stop Ken" manoeuvre, designed to stop Ken whichever way it works. If Ken decides to stand as an independent because of the rigged ballot by the Labour Party for its candidate, he will be absolutely tied hand and foot if he cannot communicate with every elector. Frankly, he will probably manage to do it quite successfully via the media. Unless the Government propose a blanket ban on him appearing on radio and television, they may find their desires slightly frustrated.

Even if he wins the Labour nomination, I suggested that they would then tell him that they did not have enough money to fight a campaign of the kind he wanted and that they could not possibly pay for all the postage because they had a major election to fight next year and he would have to go out into the highways and byways of London to try to persuade major donors to give him a good deal of money to carry out his own postal delivery. In that way, he would be stopped. Anyone—or, rather more specifically, the Conservative candidate—would be preferable to Mr Livingstone, and would therefore win; and that would be all right. Anything to stop "our Ken".

I do not suppose that that is the reason. I cannot believe that Downing Street would be so Machiavellian as to try to use the refusal of a free postal service to stop Mr Livingstone. Can I? I am not sure. But what I do know is that it is an insult to the people of London who have been given the mayor with much trumpeting by the Government—my goodness, trumpeting from here to yonder, as they say—that this was a terrific step forward, that democratic accountability would return to this great city of London, and so on. But at the end of the day, they say, "Ah well, we are not going to go that far. We are not going to give the candidates the right to send out their election leaflets by free post".

I can assure the Committee that when it came to the Scottish parliamentary elections in the constituency of Glasgow, Govan, which is certainly not very big but it is where I live, the candidates—there were a number of them and not just from the main parties—all sent me pieces of paper, which were quite interesting, to try to encourage me to vote for them. Not only that, but the top-up candidates in each party were able to send a piece of paper extolling the virtues of voting for them with my second vote, whatever I did with my first vote. There were probably more candidates in Govan than in most other constituencies in Scotland, but there were a good many candidates at those elections. I am sure that the cost of sending all those pieces of paper in Scotland was not dissimilar to what the cost would be in London. If the Government are serious about this reform in London, they should do what they have done in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and allow a free post.

I have attached this issue to my amendment because I thought that that was a sensible way to flag up this problem. Without the Bill we shall be coming to two Prayers which I have tabled. Prayers, as Members of the Committee will know, are slightly more dramatic and "sudden death" outings. I hope that by doing it in this way, even if the Government feel that they cannot accept my amendment today, we have at least warned them that this is a matter which we take extremely seriously. They can either bring forward an amendment to the Bill at Report stage, if they do not like my amendment, or they can take away the subject of my Prayer, before they get down on their knees next week, and amend their Motion. Either way, I think that I can speak for my allies in this matter on the Liberal Democrat Benches and for my noble friends. We really do feel that we have to draw the Government up short on what we think is a major error on their part. Knowing their desire to have a large turn-out at these elections and at all other elections, they will, I hope, reconsider this matter. I trust that we shall hear from the Minister that they are seriously reconsidering it and that we can have some expectation that either via the Prayer or via amendments to the Bill a decision will be taken by the Government to allow a free post for these important elections. I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart

I have to tell the Minister that we on these Benches are four square behind the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, on this matter. There is one minor technical problem with the amendment which I shall mention simply to get it out of the way. The amendment proposes that the mailshot for the London members should be piggy-backed on to the mailshots that are sent out on behalf of the constituency members. That seems perfectly reasonable because it means that the parties will be able to send out two mailshots—one for the mayor and one for the candidates for the assembly—rather than three. We accept that three is unreasonable. But it creates the problem that, as the amendment is drafted, independent candidates to be London-wide members of the assembly will not get a free mailshot. That would be wrong.

The right to the free mailshot has applied, so far as my researches show, to all parliamentary elections at least since the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1948. It has also applied, as the noble Lord said, to the Scottish elections, the Welsh elections and the Northern Ireland elections, and to the European elections on every occasion on which European elections have been held by popular vote. It does not apply to local government elections for reasons which I shall explain in a few moments. The fact that it does not apply to local government elections provides only an extremely flimsy excuse for the Government.

The Government's first proposals in this matter were "no free mailshot" and a very high spending limit of £900,000. A mailshot costs at least £400,000. So a £900,000 limit would have made it possible to send out a mailshot, but no party other than Labour or Conservative could have afforded it—indeed, probably not the Conservative Party if the reports of the state of its finances are anything like true. What could be the reason for that? Could it be that if Mr Livingstone were running as an independent he would be unlikely to raise enough money to afford a mailshot, although the official Labour Party candidate would? That is history because the Government's present proposal is that there should be a limit of £425,000 on a candidate for mayor; £35,000 for each constituency candidate and £330,000 for individual or list candidates for London members. In effect, that means that no one can provide a mailshot. I suppose that to some extent that levels the playing field, but it is in no way an adequate answer. It is not enough to have a level playing field. We need to know why there should be a mailshot.

We need mailshots because candidates need to be able to communicate with their voters. In local elections, we do not need a free post. Wards are small. Outside the city of Birmingham, which for some historic reason has very large wards, few, if any, wards have more than 10,000 voters. It is therefore possible for a candidate in town or suburban wards to deliver addresses in person within two or three days, except perhaps in thinly populated rural areas. In London elections, it would clearly be not remotely possible for any single candidate to deliver, and it would be impossible to rely on volunteers to achieve hand delivery of a leaflet. Even if there were willing volunteers, more and more Londoners live in blocks of flats, behind locked doors and entry phones. That is true both of council and trust housing and of private housing. As someone who has canvassed in three parliamentary elections in London and in local elections in London, I can say that it is quite exceptionally difficult either to canvass or to get leaflets to people who live behind locked doors and entry phones. For a very large number of Londoners, the only information about the election which they receive is the poll card and the free mailshot. It is now being proposed that there should be no free mailshot.

This is an extremely important election. It is the first-ever direct election for the office of mayor that has been held in any city in this country. It is the first election for many years for an elected body which represents the whole of London. It is a new system of voting. The mayor will have limited but important powers. If ever there was an election where voters need information about what is going on, this is it. If we end up with a percentage turn-out for this election in the 20s or 30s, it will be a disaster for democracy.

Moreover, the Government's proposals mean that a high proportion of voters will receive only the poll card and nothing else through their door. They can, of course, read about the election in the press. But what will that tell them? It will tell them plenty about the misadventures with the truth of the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, plenty about Steven Norris's misadventures with women and plenty about Millbank's efforts to keep Ken Livingstone off the ballot. But about the issues and the other candidates, there will be nothing. Even Susan Kramer, our own excellent candidate for mayor, receives almost no publicity, and minor party candidates receive none whatever. Yet these are not fringe candidates. With the additional member system of voting that is in place, the Liberal Democrats will certainly get seats in the assembly, and it is possible, if not probable, that other parties will as well—as indeed happened in the European elections.

The Government may claim that they are worried about the abuse of freemail for advertising. That did not happen in the European elections; nor to my knowledge has it happened in any election so far. Anyway, the problem could be dealt with by means of regulations prohibiting the circulation of leaflets which amount to commercial advertising.

The refusal to provide a free post is deeply anti-democratic. There will be an election in which millions of electors will take part. It is the first election of a new body under a new electoral system. It is an election in which many electors are inaccessible to the candidates. Yet the Government propose to deny the right to the one thing that guarantees the parties a chance to state their case to every elector who is willing to read it. This a very serious issue. I must warn the Government that we shall use every possible method to obtain the right to a free mailshot, including support for the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, when he moves his Prayer next week.

9 p.m.

Earl Russell

The arrangements for informal co-operation between parties and the management of business are loosely, accurately, if incompletely, known as the usual channels. They deserve a great deal more credit than they usually receive, because when they work well there is no news. For a very large part of the time they work very well indeed. They are, of course, particularly important for any of the political rules of engagement, and above all for the rules for the conduct of democratic elections. That those rules should command general consent is a vital part of the legitimacy of our government.

One cannot, of course, always demand that everyone consents to absolutely everything. That would be to give to every party a veto on any arrangement, however unreasonably it might be exercised. But it is legitimate to expect of any democratic election that it should have the assent for its rules not only of the Government but of at least one significant opposition party, preferably including the Official Opposition.

Above all, in a democratic state it is thoroughly undesirable that it should be possible for a government to lay down the rules for the conduct of an election without the consent of any other party whatever. When that happens, we are somewhere near the top of a very slippery slope indeed.

I have made inquiries of those whose political memories are a great deal longer than mine—including the Electoral Reform Society, of which I have the honour to be presiclent—as to how many such cases there have been since the war. As the debate began, we on these Benches were still discussing whether the number of cases since the war is one or none. It is certainly a very small number.

The consultation paper for the regulations was published just before Christmas, with the consultation concluding on 4th January—itself a slightly uncomfortable timetable. It marks the concern about this issue that the timetable was met by every opposition party. At a press conference on 12th January the initial regulations were condemned by the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the Electoral Reform Society, and Charter 88. That is a startling line-up.

In response, the Government made significant concessions, which are welcome as far as they go. They reduced the mayor's proposed expenses from £975,000 to £420,000, and those of the list and constituency candidates in proportion. But in making that concession without the free post, they brought in the classic law of unintended consequence. They inadvertently shot themselves in the foot.

According to the Government's own estimate, the cost of a free post to contact each individual elector is £750,000. The cost to contact each household is £420,000—and £420,000 is now the maximum possible sum that mayoral candidates are allowed to spend. So, were they to make a postal delivery to each household, they would be able to do nothing else whatever, even paying their phone bill.

That is on a par with the classic story of Jimmy Carter's signature. In 1976, while running for President, Jimmy Carter discovered that letters from the President were not always seen or signed by the President. He was shocked to the core by that information. He delivered an election pledge that, if he were elected, every letter from the President would be personally signed by himself. Once he had been elected, his staff slowly and painfully persuaded him that fulfilling that pledge would take him precisely 24 hours a day. The Government have landed themselves in the pitfall of Jimmy Carter's signature.

I have also made inquiries about what is the greatest number of electors a candidate has had to address previously without a free post. I have put down a Question for Written Answer. It has been down for 12 days and has not yet received an Answer. If I am mistaken, no doubt the Minister will take the chance to enlighten me, but my information is that the highest number candidates have been expected to address without a free post was in the GLC elections: it was between 70,000 and 80,000. The leap from those figures to over 5 million is a fairly steep step. The idea of personally contacting 5 million electors lacks credibility. As my noble friend Lord Goodhart reminded us, in many parts of London it is extremely difficult to contact electors any other way.

The Kensington by-election of 1989, in which my noble friend was the first person to stand for Parliament as a Liberal Democrat, is still known in party circles as the "answerphone election", because that was the only way it was possible to make contact with the voters. What is more, free post puts candidates on an equality with each other. Since there is inevitably great inequality in many aspects of any election contest, that there should be one event based on equality in the political decathlon which leads to election is no more than good sense.

The Minister may reply that this is a local election and therefore there is no free post. But local elections have no deposits, whereas there are deposits here. The Green Party claims that those deposits cost it an arm and a leg. If deposits are to be introduced, the Government have already departed from the comparatively safe ground of arguing that this election is treated exactly like any normal election. They have also introduced very tight rules for nominations. Candidates must produce 10 electors from each borough in London. Therefore, one cannot do it simply on the basis of strength in some boroughs.

As my noble friend pointed out, there is plenty of room for negotiation on these points in future. However, the rules as to spending limits and deposits have been taken from national elections and the rules as to free post have been taken from local elections. These regulations are properly described as a genetically modified organism. As hybrids go, they are not particularly successful.

The Government's concerns about free post have not proved widely convincing. I have repeated them to a good many people who ask why the Government have taken this position and have been met with widespread incredulity. The result is that conspiracy theories, some of which we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, multiply round the political gossip circle. I have no idea whether any, or even all, of those conspiracy theories are false. It is perfectly possible that we are dealing simply with the Treasury refusing to authorise the spending of even the last few pence. There is nothing in the world as good as the British Treasury at spoiling the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar. But if it really is the position of the Government that they cannot afford free post, then if they could not afford to set up a Greater London authority, they should not have done it.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

Perhaps the Committee will forgive a brief intervention. I was informed by the Table that I was too late to put down my name in support of the amendment. Having heard the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, I do not believe that anyone could have put the case better. I ask the Minister whether he will defer to the traditions of this Chamber which on matters such as these are not motivated by party politics. The noble Earl made a fantastic contribution which was clearly delivered and wholly cogent and supportive of the speech of my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I ask the Minister to take this back.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

In the early 1960s I ran the organisation (if such it can be called) of the Liberal Party. I became used to fighting battles for parties which were hard done by. I believe that I, along with my colleagues, did quite well in fighting our way back. As a result, at least the Liberal and Liberal Democrat Parties were no longer under that kind of threat. However, I had personal responsibility for fighting the battle which allowed all political parties to advertise nationally. Up to that time it had been thought that that was an illegal activity. I very much regret having won the battle.

I have now moved to a party which finds itself in a worse position. Although it has very good elected representatives in Europe and the Scottish Parliament, other than myself it has no representation in Parliament. In the days when I was fighting the battles of the Liberal Party, we had at least six Members in the House of Commons. My party starts from a worse position. But we must fight for the rights of small parties, individuals and independence.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said that there was no party political point. I have detected several party political statements during the past half hour; and my remarks may well be the same. I represent a party which has a large number of voters in this country and reckons to have, on a conservative basis, at least two, if not more, members of the Greater London council when elected.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I was only suggesting that party political points can at times merge in sane consensus.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

I thank the noble Lord for that intervention—I think.

If the Government believe in democracy and believe that they are giving freedom to the people of London to choose their own government—I give them the greatest respect; it is long overdue—they must give way on this point. Other Members of the Committee have said that it is an extremely important point. It is not one on which we shall give in if we can beat the Government on it. It would be better for the reputation of the Government and of Parliament if they reconsidered the issue and returned with a provision for a more democratic election.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

I do not understand why the amendment arises now. During the course of the GLA Bill the matter was not raised. The GLA Bill clearly laid down that the GLA was an arm of local government. No one thought then that there may not be a free post, as there is not for local government. It was at that point that people should have considered trying to amend the GLA Bill to provide that it was not an arm of local government. The Government are right to treat the GLA in the same way as they treat other areas of local government.

The point was raised about whether the Government are serious about letting Londoners pick their GLA. Are we saying that the electorate do not have the freedom to pick the local authorities they want? They do not have a freepost.

We may be establishing precedents. I should like to know whether the amendment is foreseen as a precedent. Will other directly-elected mayors be an arm not of local government but of national government because they will be allowed free post? That is the suggestion. There are so many flaws in the argument put forward.

Where are all the people who have fought elections? I do not recall any candidate delivering personally every election address in local government.

Noble Lords


Baroness Gould of Potternewton

Noble Lords were unlucky that they did not have a team of people behind them. I have fought many local elections and I can honestly say that I have never had to do that on my own; I have always had a team of people. In a serious election such as the GLA there will be teams of people doing the work. The idea that the candidate for mayor will deliver everything himself or herself is ludicrous. We all know that elections are not fought that way.

I do not accept the argument that unless we have a free post the electorate will hear nothing about the candidates for the GLA or the mayor. If one analyses recent parliamentary elections, one finds that many parliamentary constituencies have stopped using the free post because they want to use a different design. It may not fit in with the Post Office requirements. Often they will use broadsheets or other documents. The idea that the free post is sacrosanct is nonsense. We have a later amendment which refers to new technology. We all know that new technology (and certainly the telephone, which is not new technology but which may be in election terms) is now used for elections almost entirely, and I am sure that it will be for the GLA election.

Lord Goodhart

Will the noble Baroness accept that one of the problems with telephone canvassing relates to the increasingly large proportion of people who are ex-directory?

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

That may well be true. I am ex-directory, but I seem to get a lot of telephone calls from many companies that somehow or other have access to my telephone number. If the noble Lord's point is accurate, why do the political parties spend so much of their time organising the use of the telephone as the main form of canvassing? It may well be that some people will be missed, but in the majority of cases they will be able to speak to the person concern.

What worries me is the question of cost. If it is the case that this might cost £15 million, do the taxpayers really want us to spend our money on having a free post? I find it ironic that this comes from the Opposition, because in 1995 I suggested that we might have a rolling register and I was told by the then government that £4 million was too much to spend on a rolling register in order to increase the number of people who participate. We are now told that it is acceptable to spend £15 million in order to put an election address through everybody's door. I do not believe that the two are comparable. I therefore question whether this is the best use of ratepayers' money. I also question why this amendment has come about now, rather than on two other occasions when it could have been raised.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I shall be very brief. I understand the argument put forward by the noble Baroness. She is a great expert in this matter. With respect, I do not wholly agree with it. That is not the question that I am putting. What on earth has it to do with this problem that this point was not taken previously—because nobody thought of it or had sufficient interest or expertise in it— or that it is taken now? If it is right, it has to be taken.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

I raised it because the GLA Bill quite clearly laid down that the GLA was an arm of local government. I am suggesting that that may well have been the appropriate time to say that it was not the arm of local government but an entity in itself and therefore was not bound by any local government rules or regulations.

Earl Russell

The noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, tells us that many candidates now do not want to use the free post. She tells us that many people nowadays like marmalade instead. I am really not a fussy man, but I do like a little free post!

The point that the noble Baroness makes about the Greater London Authority Act is, of course, perfectly valid. We should clearly have raised this matter on that occasion, but not everybody in this House knows all the Representation of the People Bill by heart. It has not for one moment occurred to anybody to whom I have spoken that the Government could possibly contemplate conducting the Greater London election without a free post.

The Greater London Authority Bill happens to be the longest Bill ever put before Parliament in the whole of its history. If we are guilty of committing one oversight in handling the longest Bill in parliamentary history, for the sake of amicable relations between the parties, that, although we confess it to be an error, is one of which I believe it would be ungenerous to take advantage.

The noble Baroness has also raised a serious point in asking how far this will go in other mayoral elections. Clearly, where we are dealing with the possibility of regional government, which is what the London election is, we have a category which is intermediate between the local and the national. Some agreed limit will have to be arrived at—I hope through the informal discussions between the usual channels which I raised at the beginning of my speech—about the numerical limit of electors which will entitle people to a free post. I do not believe that reaching agreement on that is beyond the wit of the political parties because, after all, we have a long tradition of reaching agreement on practical rules for the conduct of engagement. The question is a real one but it is not incapable of answer.

As for the immediate cost, there are plenty of ways in which we could approach the question of keeping it down. If that is what is really worrying the Government, let us sit down and talk about it. I am convinced that it is solvable.

Lord Norton of Louth

I shall be brief because many of the points have been made. For the reasons already mentioned, this is an extremely important amendment. There is a qualitative distinction to be drawn between local government and what was proposed in creating the Greater London Authority. The question is not only one of size, which is important in terms of the number of electors, but there is a qualitative point in that, structurally, it is very different. Whatever the terms of the Act, one is not creating something similar to the local government to which we are used. Therefore, the issue needs to be seen in a different light.

Literature and election addresses are circulated post free for three important reasons. The first is to ensure that electors are aware of what candidates propose to do in their name. That is extremely important. The second is that it ensures a level playing field; candidates enjoying the same facilities. That point was made extremely well by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. The third is that it raises awareness of the campaign. That point was made by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and it relates to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, as to why it is introduced at this stage.

The third reason is especially pertinent in the context of this Bill. The Long Title indicates that the purpose of the Bill is to try to get electors more interested in local government and to raise turn-out. In that context, the amendment is highly appropriate. Failing to circulate election addresses will be likely to have a detrimental affect on turn-out.

At Second Reading, I mentioned that evidence shows that campaigning acts as a stimulant to turnout. If electors are unaware of an election, it is not surprising that they fail to vote. Therefore, the more election literature that is available the better.

A fundamental point which derives from all that is that the distribution of election addresses should not be seen as a benefit to candidates, but rather as a benefit to electors. That is a crucial point and it is central to the health of the political system. Therefore, the question I ask in relation to cost is: what price democracy? If we are going to introduce this form of government, we must accept the consequences in terms of what should flow from it and the relationship between candidates and electors. That is fundamental. This is an important amendment and I hope that the Government, given the arguments that have been advanced, will accept it.

Baroness Hanham

I am conscious of the fact that the number of people who voted in the referendum on the mayor and the London authority was small and there is no evidence that that will improve in the elections on 4th May. There may be a number of reasons for that, but we are politicians and naively imagine that everyone is excited about elections. That is not known to be the case. Many people know nothing about the mayoralty, or the Greater London Authority, or what it amounts to, or why it is being introduced.

The excitement I sense around about me is not intense and there is a great risk that people will not know about the election. We may believe that they will pick up on it from the newspapers and television, but the chances are that they will not. Therefore, if it is believe that this is a good democratic innovation, everything should be done to ensure that the electorate is, first, aware that there is an election, and, secondly, that it knows who are the candidates and what they are standing for.

It is also totally naiїve to imagine that any party, however big, well resourced or replete with gangs of supporters, will be able to deliver all that information to every household. I am well aware of the doorbell problem. If I may say so, it has become much worse since 1989. If we want this election to be a success—and I imagine that this Government do want that because it was their great invention—then there should be a free post to deliver information directly to the doors of those who are going to vote.

9.30 p.m.

Lord McNally

I do not believe there are four noble Lords in any part of this House whom I respect more in terms of elections and electoral organisation than those presently clustered on the Government Front Bench. Between them, they have an immense track record for electoral involvement and participation. However, in knowing that—and I am not alone in my opinion—I am absolutely bemused at how those noble Lords can lend themselves to this course of action. Furthermore, for the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, to use that last refuge in any debate of, "The amendment is in the wrong place" and "You should have done something about it earlier", is really unforgivable.

Because we are told constantly that this House is a revising and advisory Chamber, then the service we should offer to the Minister tonight is to tell him, in case he is in any doubt—having listened to the breadth of the speeches—that the gun is loaded. This is not a party political matter. Many around the Committee believe this to be an outrage. To try to equate with local government what will be the biggest election for a single post is absurd. Those of us who have supported the Government in bringing forward a new form of regional government for London and in establishing the unique post of mayor of London are—to put it as mildly as possible—appalled that the Government should have decided to take this course.

One reason why this matter has not been raised before is because, as my noble friend Lord Russell pointed out, no one in his or her wildest nightmares could have imagined that a Labour Government would try to pull a stunt like this. I believe that the Minister should go back and think very hard about this. The whole point and thrust of the Bill is to encourage more people to participate in our democratic procedures. To pull away one of the central props, by refusing a free post, is a grievous mistake. Before they make that mistake, the Government should think hard and change their mind.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I have certainly got the message loud and clear from around the Committee tonight. Clearly this is an honest and open debate, but equally clearly it is a debate that has come rather late in the day. Although noble Lords may not like it, I am surprised that the matter has been raised as late as this.

I should like to go through in more detail all the arguments that have been rehearsed and to set out the Government's position as clearly as possible. Amendment No. 71 would amend Section 91 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 to give each mayoral and assembly constituency candidate in the Greater London Authority election the right to send an election address to every elector or every household in their respective constituencies, post free. It would also allow assembly constituency candidates of a registered political party to refer in their election mailings to candidates on that party's London-wide list. In a sense, taking into account the way in which the amendments have been phrased, that would perhaps act rather unfairly—perhaps in a discriminatory way—against the top-up list. However, that is how it has been set out before us.

I want to make it clear that the Government oppose this amendment for very good reasons. I confess that it has a superficial attraction and, as one can hear this evening, one which is sufficiently large to bind not just two but three Opposition parties together in something of an unholy alliance.

First and foremost, this is a local election. It has never been intended to be anything other than that. Section 17 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 makes that absolutely plain. Candidates at local elections do not have free mailshots. Much outrage has been expressed this evening that this is the largest ever election of its kind where there has not been—

Lord Campbell of Alloway

With great respect to the noble Lord—and I thank him for giving way—it is getting late. Can he stop reading his brief and deal with the merits of the argument on the Floor of the Committee?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am dealing with the merits of the argument. I make the point crystal clear. It was said that this is the largest election of its type without a free post. We have had Greater London elections cumulatively with the boroughs; we have had the Greater London Council; before that, we had the LCC. They did not rely on free post. They relied on local activism.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I hesitate to interrupt at this late stage. There is a tremendous difference. I was fighting elections under the old GLC system. One did not have to cover the whole of London in trying to support a candidate and now one does. That is the difference. I believe it has been said that there will be 5 million voters. How will one get a message to 5 million voters by the old-fashioned methods? I do not believe that it can be done.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

The point is the size of the electorate. In order to secure control of the Greater London Council one had to appeal to an electorate city-wide. That was the case and we all understand that. That is the point that I am trying to make here. All those local elections take place without free mailshots. I believe that the point about the precedent issue is very important. Are noble Lords saying that in future, perhaps as the mayoral system develops in other major conurbations, we should make those accessible to free post? If they are, they are signing a very large blank cheque indeed. Is that where they are coming from on this argument?

Earl Russell

If that is not the position, there will be widespread doubt whether any further mayoral elections should be created at all.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Bassam of Brighton

The noble Earl makes a point. However, the Local Government Bill is trying to encourage the development of local mayoral systems across the United. Kingdom. I believe—I am sure that this is a widely shared belief—that that is a very valid way forward. However, I cannot believe that this evening Members of the Committee are saying simply that they want to see free post everywhere for that type of local government. If that is the case, I should like very much to see—

Lord Campbell of Alloway

What about answering the argument on the Floor of the Committee?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am taking us through the arguments. These are important issues. They are relevant to the debate that we are having this evening.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Does the noble Lord not appreciate that there is an enormous difference between candidates in an election with an electorate, even in parliamentary terms, of 70,000 or 80,000 and most local electorates where there will be considerably fewer than that, and an election where the electorate is over 5 million? There is a huge difference. They cannot be compared. It is not a good argument to continue to tell us that they can be compared.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I believe that there is reasonable comparison. When local government elections are held throughout the UK, they involve very large electorates. Those elections are fought on party tickets as this election will be.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Yes, the whole area may contain large electorates, but the area is divided up into several little wards where each ward has a candidate. With regard to the mayoral elections, we are talking of a ward—a constituency—of 5 million-odd electors. I suggest to the noble Lord that there is a difference of considerable magnitude.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am not here to give a lecture on electoral organisation but I suggest to the noble Lord that ward-based systems and constituency-wide organisations are the mechanisms by which the literature is delivered and by which the arguments are put across. That is where the campaigning and canvassing takes place.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

If that is the Minister's argument, why was it not good enough for the Northern Irish Assembly, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the United Kingdom Parliament and the European Parliament? Why not?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Because, quite simply, those are national elections. That is the basis on which the arrangements were put in place for those elections.

I want to turn to the basic economics of the amendments. We propose that mayoral candidates should pay a deposit of £10,000. Under these amendments, for that outlay, they will be able to demand a free London-wide mailing to every elector in London. That is worth £0.75 million to be paid for by the taxpayer. That is what these amendments provide.

The potential and scope for abuse are enormous. For a £10,000 deposit, a sharp business person wishing to make use of the system could secure London-wide publicity for his particular cause, obsession or business. That is for just £10,000 as a form of deposit.

Lord Goodhart

Does the Minister not agree that in addition to that £10,000 deposit, it would cost something like £100,000 to print the leaflets?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am sure that anybody who has commercial sense will make the best possible arrangements to secure value for money. But the point I make is that there is scope for abuse. I believe that Members of the Committee understand that and have accepted in the debate that there may be scope for abuse.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I have been an agent as well as a candidate. The Post Office requires to see the content of the leaflet before it will accept it.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

That may well be the case but it is not allowed to vet it. The point is simply that the Post Office cannot vet the leaflet. It may well wish to see the leaflet but it certainly cannot vet its content or order it out of court, as it were.

The election for the London mayor is an extremely high profile event. I am sure that we all accept that.

Lord Rennard

The Post Office is under a statutory duty to vet the entire content of the leaflet. It is part of the Post Office's elections regulations that the leaflet must conform entirely with the election and with no other matter. Furthermore, will the Minister tell us how many candidates abused the system in that way during last year's European elections when exactly the same rights existed as are proposed for the London elections?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

The noble Lord makes a fair point. But the point which I make is that there is accepted scope for abuse. If Members of the Committee cannot accept that point, then they are ignoring a very important issue indeed.

Let us suppose that 20 people decide to stand for mayor and use their right to have a free mailshot to every elector. That is not beyond the realms of possibility. I am told that there have already been some 20 expressions of interest. I have made a simple and short list of the number of parties which could potentially put up a candidate for mayor. My list has 12 parties on it. I am told that more than 12 parties participated in the Scottish parliamentary and Welsh Assembly elections last year.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I shall not ever intervene in this debate again. Perhaps I may most respectfully ask the noble Lord if it would not be wise to take this back because it is a serious matter and then it can all be considered in the light of what has been said.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I appreciate what the noble Lord has just said: that we are in Committee and that, therefore, interventions are entirely appropriate. But the noble Lord has now intervened three times in my noble friend's speech and on each occasion he has not contributed to the debate but has sought to speed up my noble friend's reply. Would it not be better for the Committee to allow my noble friend to reply to the debate?

9.45 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Perhaps we may return to the important issue of economics. I do not believe that anybody would want to get away from that fact. If just 20 candidates were to stand, we would be talking about a sum of £15 million. If 40 people were to stand, we would be talking of £30 million. There are then the constituency candidates for whom a deposit of £1000 can obtain a free mailing in their constituency. In a flash, a sum equivalent to the entire budget of the GLA would be swallowed up.

Perhaps we should remind ourselves that the first year budget for the GLA will be around £35 million. What would it be swallowed up for? It would not be for one new bus or one new train system; nor for the police or any of the vital functions of the mayor and the assembly. It would pay for leaflets through letterboxes. Can we honestly say that free mailshots for candidates would be the top priority of Londoners for expenditure of this order when so much else needs to be done with limited public funds.

Local elections do not have free mailings. The media will be covering this event in the minutest detail. There was reference to the "Stop Ken" campaign. This is not about a "Stop Ken" campaign. That is utter nonsense. I suspect that Ken Livingstone has had more publicity than any of the other candidates are likely to get throughout the run of the election. I really cannot accept that as a serious argument.

There is another point to be made. It would have been open to Members of the Committee to table amendments of this kind to the Greater London Authority Bill. As has been said forcibly, no one chose to do so. That was the appropriate time to make such amendments. There are plenty of additional matters we might have included in the Bill. Governments always have lists of things they would like to do if they have the right vehicle for them. However, nobody tabled an amendment of this kind.

Members of the Opposition should exercise restraint in this matter. They are encouraging the Government of the day to spend £30 to £35 million, maybe more, on a blank cheque to underwrite to all political parties and all others who wish to participate in this election, so that they can get a free post. We do not feel that that would be public expenditure in the best of public interest. We believe that the risk of abuse, coupled with the fact that these are local elections under local rules, would set a dangerous precedent for outside London. I urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Earl Russell

Before the Minister sits down, I wonder whether I might ask him a question to which he might possibly say yes. Would he undertake to consult the Electoral Reform Society, which has some expertise in these matters, about the ways of limiting or control the abuse he fears?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Clearly we shall take advice from all quarters. No doubt the Electoral Reform Society will provide such advice if it believes that the arguments can be substantiated. I have no doubt that if we had had earlier notice of this issue we could have come up with systems which begin to curb abuse. No doubt there are other ways in which to curb expenditure. However, those are matters of detail. It is too late in the day in this run of arguments to go into such areas.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

On this occasion I cannot thank the Minister for his reply. I became increasingly amazed at the arguments. Perhaps the one that amazes me most is that somehow it is too late in the day to do anything.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, said to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that this should have been an amendment in the Greater London Authority Bill. I have not had time to skip through the Scotland Act but I do not believe there is mention of the freepost in Scotland. I could not be absolutely sure. I have tried to whip through it and I am pretty certain there is not. That provision came later in regulations. The same is true of Wales. I am not in a position to say one way or another about Northern Ireland. However, if the same precedent was formed, it came in regulations.

The regulations have only just appeared. The fact that the Government had set their face against a freepost really only become apparent—

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. This comes back to the question of what is a local election and what is a general election. The election of assemblies and parliaments are general elections. Does the noble Lord accept that these are local elections and those are general elections?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I thought I had answered that.

Earl Russell

I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. Would the Minister agree that the Government cannot stand on the platform that this is simply a local election until they cease to require deposits?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

The noble Earl makes a good point. I was simply going to say that we have been round this course many times this evening. This election is not a local election as we have understood them in this country up till now. It cannot be considered as such. I know the noble Lord dismisses it, but the scale of magnitude of the electorate for the election of one person is out of proportion to anything else in this country. There may be a few elections in England breaking 100,000 voters, but nowhere is there anything of the scale of 5 million. The Government created the Greater London Authority, which is a hit more than a local authority and a bit less, I accept, than a parliament; but it is certainly not just a local authority.

My point was that, until these orders were laid, we did not know for certain that the Government were going to follow this course of action. We therefore took this opportunity to bring this matter forward. The Minister should be pleased; at least it is not next week when two Prayers are tabled and the Government are faced with a precipice because the rules of the House are inflexible on secondary legislation—that is not my fault. This is a flexible way forward for us to approach this issue. I proposed this as one way of dealing with the matter. I shall be happy to listen to any other proposals the Government have in order to save some of the money that they seem so worried about spending. They should have thought about that when they started off on the course of having a mayor for London with all the trumpeting that went with it.

That is my first point. It is also an answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I want to get this on the record. Is the noble Lord saying that a blank cheque for these elections of perhaps £30 million or £40 million is entirely justified as a form of public expenditure when not one penny of that will contribute to the improvement of the police service, transport service or highway services in the capital?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I do not like to go over old arguments but the whole operation of electing a mayor will cost money. I am sure that that too can be translated into buses and the Underground service and so forth. The noble Lord willed having an authority over Greater London and willed having a mayor; he must face up to the consequences.

In relation to the £20 million or £30 million, it will not take long for noble Lords to suggest ways in which the expenditure could be controlled, if that was necessary. I was going to leave this point, but, as the Minister keeps coming back to it, I should remind him that we had European elections, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, reminded me—I had forgotten about them—and they had a freepost system. Scotland and Wales are two easily defined areas. Anybody who wanted to have a free mail shot to every house in Scotland could easily have nominated himself or herself for the European Parliament and got on with it. As far as I recollect, that simply did not happen. There were two or three more political parties, but what is wrong with that? That is called democracy. Nobody abused the mail shot for the European elections in those large constituencies. If I am wrong, the noble Lord will no doubt tell me so.

This idea that 20 or 30 candidates are going to stand for mayor, half of them to advertise their restaurant or whatever it may be, is really cloud cuckoo land. The Government will have to do a good deal better than that. I hope we shall not hear any more of that argument. We are talking about the situation which will occur in London with legitimate candidates. If the Government feel that we are going to be flooded with candidates who are not genuine, then let us look at increasing the number of people who have to sign nomination papers—it is already quite formidable in comparison with local government elections. The deposit also is infinitely more than the deposit required for local government elections. So the Government are not making this a local government election; it is more than that.

The arguments have all been made. My noble friend Lady Hanham made one I had not thought about. She reminded us about the low turn-out in the referendum on the London issue. Frankly, it is valid to ask, given that low turn-out, are we looking at a low turn-out in these mayoral elections? This Bill is supposed to encourage people to vote. That is totally inconsistent with saying that there cannot be a freepost system operating in these elections.

I am not sure if we have made any progress; I do not believe we have. But I hope that we have made this much progress. Members of the Committee on this side of the Chamber are serious about this issue. Even when we read tomorrow what the Minister says, I doubt that we shall be in the least convinced.

I could be convinced about going for a compromise in order to find some middle ground, if that does not sound too much like consensus politics. But I am certainly not going to accept the suggestion that we can have absolutely no movement in this matter. I recommend to the Government that they start serious negotiations about some form of movement in this respect before I have to stand up and address this Chamber regarding the Prayers, where, as I said earlier, the situation is a good deal more dramatic than just amendments to a Bill, which can either be agreed or not agreed here and either accepted or not accepted in the other place.

However, for the moment, and in the hope that the messages are being heard loud and clear by the Home Secretary and by the Prime Minister, I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 72: Page 25, line 20, at end insert—

("Evidence of registration

After section 180 insert—

"Evidence by certificate of electoral registration.

180A. The certificate of a registration officer that any person is or is not, or was or was not at any particular time, duly registered in one of the officer's registers in respect of any address shall be sufficient evidence of the facts stated in it; and a document purporting to be such a certificate shall be received in evidence and presumed to be such a certificate unless the contrary is proved." ").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Registration: overseas electors]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 73: Page 28, line 37, leave out from ("where") to ("to") in line 38 and insert ("the entitlement of such a person").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 74 to 76: Page 29, line 27, leave out ("and Part I of the principal Act"). Page 29, leave out lines 32 to 43 and insert ("that he was not resident in the United Kingdom on the relevant date."). Page 31, leave out lines 40 to 44.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Registration: local elections in Northern Ireland]:

[Amendment No. 77 not moved.]

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 78 to 80: Page 32, line 24, leave out (", 13 and 13A") and insert ("and 13 to 13B"). Page 32. line 30, at end insert— ("( ) After the entry relating to section 62 insert— Section 180A (evidence by certificate of electoral registration)." "). Page 33. line 9, leave out ("time,").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 9 [Restriction on supply of information contained in register]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Turner of Camden)

I have to tell Members of the Committee that, if the following amendment, Amendment No. 81, is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 82 to 91 inclusive.

10 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway moved Amendment No. 81: Page 10. line 22, leave out from beginning to end of line 27 on page 11 and insert— (""10. Provisions requiring that the register prepared by virtue of this Act which shall be open to further inspection shall not be used without the consent of the person registered for any commercial purpose other than by a registered charity. 11. Provisions making it an offence punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale to contravene regulations made in pursuance of paragraph 10 above."").

The noble Lord said: Many noble Lords—indeed, many people throughout this country—think that the commercial use of the register designed for other purposes without the consent of each person registered is not only an inexcusable invasion of personal privacy but also an unwelcome and virtually uncontrolled nuisance.

As noble Lords probably know, there is no substantive domestic law that protects privacy as such. Members of the Committee may not wish to hear from any lawyer talking about law at this hour of night, but I am afraid that we cannot ignore Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is now assimilated as part of our law.

The prediction of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in the course of the debate on the Human Rights Act was that Article 8 of the convention would be the ideal vehicle to develop the right of privacy and remedies for its invasion. I shall not go into detail, but, broadly, in the case against Sweden—I can give references if any noble Lord wishes me to do so—it was held that personal data, albeit in another context, was of fundamental importance to the right of respect for private life.

In another case against Spain it was held, again in another context, that the state had not struck a fair balance between the interests of the state and those of the rights of respect for privacy and family life. I make no personal criticism at all of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, in this regard—I hope that he will accept that—as the noble Lord relies on the advice of his department. However, it is not understood how on that advice he could have certified that the provisions of Clause 9 of this Bill were assuredly compatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I do not suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, knew much more about the matter than I before I started looking into it a few days ago.

However, when one looks into the matter, it is formidable. As an interim step it is suggested that at the conclusion of this debate on Clause 9 the clause should be recommitted so that this matter may be referred to the committee which advises the Chamber on these matters. If do not know whether that committee has been set up yet; it should have been. At the moment, lawyers such as myself have to look things up and seek to advise the Chamber. That is not, frankly, satisfactory; certainly in my case.

As I say, this is a serious matter. A certificate has been given. I tell the Committee in all seriousness and quite objectively, in a purely professional and not political capacity, that I reckon that the certificate should not have been given. Where do we go from there? Without effective advice it seems unreasonable that the Committee should say that the clause should not stand part of the Bill. In my respectful submission, it would be preferable that this clause should be recommitted.

The Committee is dealing with a difficult question. We do not sit as if we were an appellate committee of the Chamber, with its evolving system of jurisprudence to resolve judicially whether, as a matter of construction, Clause 9 is, or could well be, in contravention of Article 8. I must point out to the Committee that—as was said in the Netherlands case, which is the final authority I have consulted—there may be positive obligations on the state to adopt measures designed to secure respect for privacy and family life, albeit, again, in another context.

I have read the CBI brief, the DMA brief—I have them all here—and the WWAB Collins Group brief, all of which stoutly defend their commercial interests, as one would reasonably and fairly expect. But in none of those briefs, in none of those papers, in none of the Notes on Clauses—and that is far more important—is there any reference to the incidence of Article 8 of this convention which, under the Human Rights Act, is assimilated as part of our domestic law. The arguments in these briefing papers are understood but, with respect to them, not accepted.

But let me for a moment consider the arguments on the assumption that they are accepted—but, most assuredly, that cannot be so without the consent of all persons on the register. A single tick in a box by someone who wishes to receive all the material cannot be appropriate to bind him to, not surrender, but invasion of his privacy.

I shall say no more other than to ask the Government to take this matter back, to take further advice—if possible, from across departments: from the Lord Chancellor's Department, from the Attorney-General's Department, from any other independent source, even from the Bar—and to give it serious consideration; otherwise the clause should not stand part of the Bill.

Lord Goodhart

I can go some of the way, but not the whole way, with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I use the occasion of this amendment to speak rather broadly on the whole subject of Clause 9. That will save me from having to raise the issues again when we come to later amendments, including those tabled in my name.

These are difficult and contentious issues which have given rise to differences of opinion within my own party as well as within other parties. It is a case where disclosure of names and addresses is required by law. It is required for clearly legitimate purposes connected with elections. That information is needed in order that polling cards can be sent out, and staff in polling stations can issue ballots and check off the names of voters. It is also needed so that candidates can communicate with the voters.

In recent years, the register has been used for other purposes, particularly commercial ones. This is a relatively recent development which has arisen since the register was published in electronic form. Previously, the copying of printed registers was something which was clearly not worth the effort. Commercial purposes for which registers have been used include credit checking, the identifying of targets for junk mail and the cleaning and up-dating of commercial data bases. Also, there are a number of non-commercial uses, such as use by private detectives, police checks on whether the names and addresses given by suspects are accurate, and charity fund raising.

Anyone can buy a complete United Kingdom register on CD ROM and there is no control over the purpose for which that can be used. It could be used, for example, by a racist organisation to identify everyone on the register who had one of a number of common Asian surnames. The basic principle of data protection is that information collected for one purpose should not be used for another purpose without the consent of the data's subject. Furthermore, I agree in part with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, that there is a serious problem under Article 8 of the European Convention on the respect for private life. The provision is clearly in breach of Article 8(1), unless it can be justified under Article 8(2). Unless there is an edited register, there may be serious problems. Unrestricted publication of the register is not in accordance with those basic principles.

The restrictions proposed by the Government have been subject to intensive lobbying campaigns. The lobbyists put forward a number of effective points: access to the edited register alone makes it much more difficult to carry out credit checks; it is more difficult for commercial organisations to keep their databases up to date—which it is in the general public interest to do; and it is more difficult for charities to send out appeals. The Government have accepted the argument for credit check access to the full register. On other issues, the Government, rightly, have not given way.

It is true that it is in the interests of mail-order companies to keep their databases up to date. That reduces the number of misdirected mailshots, which is in a sense in the public interest. But modern technology increases the amount that other people may know about us to an enormous extent—something unimaginable a generation ago. The economic benefits of organisations having access to the full register are not sufficient to outweigh the right of anyone to say, "I don't want my name and address to go on a CD-ROM or on the Internet and to be accessible to anyone, simply because my name is on the electoral register".

We accept that the edited register should be opt-out rather than opt-in. We have tabled amendments to ensure that the attention of anyone thinking of signing an opt-out form is drawn to the possible adverse consequences. We have tabled an amendment to try to ensure that other members of a household consent to an opt-out given in their name. We want to ensure that those who opt out may opt back in as easily as possible. But the case which is made for allowing the full register to be used for non-electoral purposes, even for charities, must be a strong one. If I do not want to be on a charity mailing list, I believe that it is my right not to be on a charity mailing list.

A case has been made out for credit checking. A further case has made out for some police purposes. There may be other limited cases where controlled access to a full register is desirable. But there should be no general widening of access to the full register. On that issue, the Government have broadly got it right.

Lord Borrie

I should like to comment on the amendment. I have tabled an amendment myself, which stands also in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, and Lord Naseby. It may be convenient if I follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, in giving broad views on Clause 9. I should start by saying that, although I do not have any business interests in the area of direct marketing, I am the independent chairman of the Direct Marketing Authority—a body with a majority of independent members which determines complaints against direct marketers for any breaches of their self-regulatory code. My reason for tabling an amendment and intervening in the debate on Clause 9 is that through that activity I have acquired some knowledge of the industry.

I was unable to take part in the Second Reading debate, but I read it in Hansard with particular interest because I was struck by what appeared to be a degree of discrepancy between the objectives of the clause as stated by the Minister and the actual proposal in the clause to restrict the availability of the register. For example, at col. 14 of the Official Report of 31st January, the Minister said that there was particular concern for victims of domestic violence and about the problem of stalking. Yet, as the noble Lord, who is, I hope, departing only for a moment, himself said a little further on in the same column, the full register will be available for inspection in public libraries. I could not see anything in the Government's proposals that would thwart the determined stalker or former husband desirous of seeking out his ex-wife from checking up on her in the public library.

I then thought about the Government's objective of ensuring that the maximum number of eligible people should register to vote. It was said that restricting the availability of the full register would encourage people to register, yet the Government produced no evidence to show that the present wide availability of the full register—not only present but over many years in recent times—is a factor deterring individuals from seeking registration.

Coming more closely to the matter of direct mail, it was said that people are fed up with junk mail and that the tiresome receipt of junk mail would be significantly reduced if traders no longer had access to the full electoral register. There are several answers to that point. Few direct marketers use the electoral register to draw up their marketing lists. What they do is draw up, or purchase from those who commercially draw them up, purchase lists, often carefully targeted at people with known interests and likely purchasing intentions, but they use the electoral register to verify and to validate people's addresses. In other words, they use the electoral register to validate their own database, not to create it. That is surely in the public interest. It reduces the likelihood of people receiving unintended and unwanted mail and, for example, mail being sent to people who are no longer alive. In any case, it is reasonably well known—Members of the Committee will have seen this in post offices up and down the country—that people who do not want junk mail, either of a general or a particular kind which they find a nuisance, can use the mail preference service, which is a self-regulatory organisation, to get rid of that material which they do not want. There is also a telephone preference service and even a fax preference service.

The Direct Marketing Association, which is the trade association to which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, referred, has been in touch with the Home Office over a long period about its concerns regarding Clause 9 as it stands. The association believes that the clause could put severe restraints on a form of trading which is competitive, well regulated and, most important of all, is found to be extremely convenient and helpful to millions of our fellow citizens. The industry has an annual revenue of some £30 billion.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

I am obliged to the noble Lord. He will know as well as I that there is no reference in our domestic law to Article 8 of the convention or the right to privacy.

Lord Borrie

The noble Lord is correct. I was about to come to the specific point of his amendment. If I was speaking more broadly, it was because I was following the precedent set by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, which seemed to be a good precedent. The rather more technical amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, if may call it that without disrespect, happened to come before the more substantive amendments as to whether Clause 9 is good or should be changed. I imagined that those who sent briefing had taken as read the certificate referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, that the Human Rights Act, and therefore the European Convention on Human Rights, including Article 8, are being adhered to and that there is nothing in this clause or the rest of the Bill to go against it.

The point to which I was referring when the noble Lord intervened was that to deprive industry of the facility of validating its lists of prospective customers would appear to be damaging not only to the industry—that may not matter—but also to the public who benefit from the checks on names against addresses which the electoral register provides.

It would be helpful to have an indication from the Government, bearing in mind the concession referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, during the passage of the Bill in the House of Commons, that the full register would be available to check credit. It will be available to credit reference agencies, banks and so on. I should have thought that that would be very helpful to customers, because if those checks cannot be made, a decision may be made which is adverse to a customer, who would not receive the credit that he or she might otherwise. Surely the Government and Members of the Committee would disapprove of that because it would give rise to the possibility of social exclusion. So I am glad that the Government have made that change.

I am interested to know whether they will make other concessions. For example, it is of interest to millions of customers who purchase via direct mailing throughout the country that their names can be validated by an examination of the full register. It seems to me that that is in no way damaging to anyone's privacy. It seems to be most helpful to customers if that can be done. I shall refer to the specific purposes of my amendment when we reach that.

Lord Norton of Louth

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway made some telling points in relation to Clause 9, as did the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I agree with a great deal of what was said. At Second Reading, I outlined my concerns about the provisions of the clause. Like other speakers, I shall combine my comments on my noble friend's amendment with comments on the clause generally. The two come together quite well.

At Second Reading, I indicated that I had a principled objection to the sale of the register, and that remains. I am completely unconvinced by the briefing that we have received, and I am afraid that I remain totally unconvinced by the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, which do not address the objection on principle.

Registration is required by Act of Parliament. It is a fundamental requirement of our democracy. There is no provision for opting out. Voting is not compulsory, but registration is. The statutory requirement to register must be balanced against the right to privacy. When I register, I do so in order to qualify to vote. My name appears on the register for that purpose alone.

A case can be made for political parties to have access to the register, under licence, for the purpose of campaigning. That flows from the nature of the electoral process. It is related to the exercise of the vote. That is fine. I also accept that the register may be used on a confidential basis, according to clear guidance, for the purpose of combating crime. I can see that electors may authorise other bodies to check the names on the register.

However, that is probably as far as I would go. When I register to vote, I do not register for the purpose of allowing anyone who obtains access to the register to solicit me for commercial, or indeed any non-electoral, purposes. I concede that purchasing the register may be invaluable to commercial firms and charities. But the usefulness of access does not establish a right of access. I have a fundamental principled objection to the sale of the register—full-stop.

The Government recognise the problem and have sought to address it by drawing a distinction between an edited register and a full one. I object to the sale of any register. Although the issue is a difficult one, the way forward must be based on very limited access to the register. At a later stage I may raise fundamental issues about the publication of and access to the register. We must look at the register in terms of limited access if we are to address some of the fundamental problems of privacy. It is not just a case of having an opt-out for commercial firms; one must protect one's privacy from other dangers as well. The distinction between an edited and a full register does not deal with those dangers.

I have great sympathy with the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. While it is an improvement on what exists now, and to that extent I support it, I should like it to go further. Therefore, I believe that this clause should be withdrawn and we should return to the matter later.

For the reasons that we have heard, the status quo is not an option in order to comply with the requirements of data protection and so there must be a change. However, I am not persuaded that the manner in which the clause addresses the problem is the way forward. The Government have made a real attempt to deal with the problem, but I believe that the method that they have adopted does not tackle the nub of it. My solution would be more radical, with very strong emphasis on the right of privacy. I suggest that the Government take this away and come back with a completely new clause.

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.

10.30 p.m.

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?"

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

I take the noble Lord's point. I am not dogmatic about where the line is drawn. I simply believe that we should be a little cautious about how rigid we are.

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.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Noble Lords have ranged rather wider than the amendment. The speech of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway was very germane to the whole argument.

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 on safe ground is my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, who says that we should not have a hole here at all, which is quite a safe position to be in.

I look at the submission from the Data Protection Register. This is a summary of a submission in August 1998 to the Home Office Working Party, which states: The existing arrangements whereby the register is sold without restriction for non-electoral purposes should be discontinued". There does not appear to be any qualification there about giving it to some but not to others, giving it to charities but not to others. This is a very difficult area. It does go on to say: Individuals' details should not be sold on unless they have signified agreement either generally or for specific purposes". We will come to the question of whether or not a tick in a box is a general agreement or an agreement for specific purposes. This is an extraordinarily difficult proposition.

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.

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.

Lord Bach

We have had a fascinating discussion and it is meant as a compliment when I say that many heavyweight Members of this House have taken part. It has given the Government food for thought. My response will not be long, but I hope that it will be clear. Obviously, we shall need to look carefully at what has been said and consider it. I do not say that we shall change our minds, but we need to reconsider the matter carefully. When one hears arguments carefully put on both sides, it behoves government to re-examine the issue.

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.

10.45 p.m.

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 Lo rd 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.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 82: Page 10. line 32, leave out ("both the full register and the edited register may") and inert ("the full register and the edited register may each").

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.

I hope that the Committee will agree that these are worthwhile amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

In the last debate, which I listened to with fascination, I exercised at this hour of the night a commendable restraint—at least I hope that my noble friends will regard it as commendable—as I did not join in. However, I was mildly perturbed by something that the noble Lord said in his response. He said that the Government were "minded" to allow the credit agencies and the banks to make use of the full register. That sounds to me as though they have not made up their mind on that matter. In another place at Third Reading the Minister said: we believe that the full register should be available to credit and finance companies for the purpose of establishing identity in connection with credit applications".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/1/00; col. 889.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Perhaps the noble Lord will give way briefly. I believe that my noble friend Lord Bach did use the word "minded", but we are absolutely clear that we intend that to be the case. Therefore, I hope that that clarifies the point.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

In that case, I have no wish to read further what was said in another place. That is a clear government intention. It then comes to the question, as he rightly said, of the regulations. In responding to the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, indicated one or two areas where the regulations would be restrictive. Amendment No. 87 refers to "Provisions specifying" and then goes on to refer to, the purposes for which copies supplied to such persons under such regulations, or information contained in them, may be used whether by such persons or by employees", and so on.

As well as precluding the two-faced councillor from using the register for his mail-order business when he has obtained it because he was a councillor, I ask the Government to make it absolutely clear that the regulations will be inclusive and will make it abundantly clear that the banks and other credit agencies will be entitled to use the information.

Considerable efforts were made to try to persuade the Home Office—and the Treasury was brought Jul to bat on behalf of the industries which they sponsor—that it really is in the interests not least of first borrowers that the banks and agencies should have access to check the information. It may be regrettable, but it happens to be true that the information on a registration form has always been more true than that supplied by an applicant for financial services.

The electoral register is likely to show the full and accurate name and, over a period, will provide an element of history. All that serves an essential function if credit is to be given by a building society or whatever it may be. I believe that the Government have accepted that, but I seek an assurance that the regulations will make that absolutely clear.

Lord Bach

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. I apologise for my lawyer's caution in my use of the expression "minded to". But my noble friend has quite rightly put the Committee right about that. That decision has been taken.

I assure the noble Lord that the regulations will be—I use his word—inclusive in the particulars to which he referred in his intervention. I hope that that assists him.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

I am grateful for that. That does meet my argument.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

These amendments take us into the complex issue of who may be able to obtain the full electoral register. My noble friend Lord Jenkin has just explored one of the exceptions. I was going to say "possible exceptions", but we now know that they will be exceptions.

I do not know anything about this particular field but I have been bombarded by the most amazing amount of paper. I raise this issue because, on the face of it, it seems to be part of the problem which the Government will encounter when they start making fine distinctions.

As I understand it—no doubt I shall be corrected if I am wrong—some companies will be allowed to purchase the whole of the electoral register in order to run those credit control systems. I gather that the two companies involved are called Equifax and Experian. I have a letter here from another company called i-CD publishing. It tells me what terrific work it does, largely supplying the electoral roll via software and the Internet. I am told that the Government now heartily approve of all those things. The latter company claims that it is a competitor of the two other companies which I have mentioned. It goes further and says that it is used largely by small businesses for credit controls whereas, by implication, the other two tend to be used by big businesses, presumably because their information is not available on the Internet or by e-mail. It complains that it has never been consulted and that, on the face of it, Its two competitors are to be granted a right which it has not been granted.

I simply take the letter at its face value. As I said, I do not know very much about this field. But if that is the case, I suggest to the noble Lord that the Government should do something to address that. That is the problem with moving away from the firm and high ground of my noble friend Lord Norton.

When one starts to make exceptions to the rule one must be absolutely sure that one does not favour one competitor against another and that one deals with a class of exceptions rather than individually named ones. I hope that I have made that point clear and that either tonight or some time in the next week or two we can be clear about the position as claimed by ICD Publishing.

Lord Bach

We note the point raised by the noble Lord and will consider it. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

11 p.m.

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 83: Page 10, line 35. leave out ("that") and insert ("the edited").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 84: Page 10, line 36, at end insert—

  1. ("(c) confirming that, where the exclusion of the name and address of a registered elector from the edited register is requested on behalf of that elector, the elector has consented to that request, and
  2. (d) explaining any adverse consequences likely to flow from the exclusion of the names and addresses of registered electors from the edited register").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to the principle behind the amendment and therefore wish to move it "semi-formally".

We take the view that the various advantages which may accrue to people from opting in, or remaining opted in, should be made clear. It should also be made clear that people who opt out, or appear to have opted out, have agreed to do so.

Amendment No. 84 contains two parts. The first half requires that the opt-out form should make it clear that the person who signs it has consulted and obtained the approval of other persons in the same household. The opt-out form will be part of the canvass return circulated to everybody which has to be returned in October. For the purposes of simplicity, it will be dealt with in a single document. We believe that as only one person will sign and return it, it should contain a provision that that person has obtained the consent of any other member of the household to that person's opting out. The opt-out form should also make clear if any adverse consequences may flow from the exclusion of the name of any member of the household from the edited register.

Amendment No. 85, to which I also wish to speak, is self-evident. It is largely a probing amendment, asking what arrangements the Government have in mind to ensure that people who have opted out and then changed their minds can, within a reasonably short period of time, opt back into the edited register. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

This is perhaps the time to raise a problem mentioned briefly by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I refer to how an individual indicates that he wants to be in the full register but to opt out of the edited version.

From our previous discussions and those in another place, I understand that currently the head of the household will tick the box. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, pointed out, that does not cover the position of other people in the household. If the head of the household does not tick the box, could one other member of the household say that his rights under the Data Protection Directive and the European Convention would be infringed, and who would be infringing them? Would it be the head of the household for not ticking the box or the electoral returning officer for not asking the question of the person as an individual?

The interesting point, as I said at Second Reading, is that the working party said clearly at paragraph 12 that the form should be amended to include information about the purposes to which the information may be put—that is, the information if your name was on the full register—and to allow an opt-out box for each person included on the form and all commercial activities. That suggests that the working party envisaged a form with a box to be ticked by each person whose name was written down on the form. I feel that that is the proper way to do it and just asking the head of household to tick may not be the proper way.

We have gone into these arguments before, but it is likely that the head of household may not be bothered about a company checking him for his creditworthiness because he may have cards from his banks and so forth that show that he is clearly creditworthy; whereas his 20 year-old son may be in quite a different position. He may go along to buy his first car and find that his father has removed him from the edited list and therefore obtaining credit becomes a bit more difficult. Those are the problems which may arise. I shall certainly be interested to hear what the Minister thinks about the proposition that each person ought to indicate in a box whether or not they wish to be excluded from the register.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

This is a useful amendment in a number of senses, in that it focuses on how the opt-out box will work. I hope my comments cover the concerns raised in this short debate and I will just run through the points we wish to make on this issue.

It is a long-standing feature of our electoral registration arrangements that the electoral registration form is completed by the head of the household. Though that may sound more than a touch paternalistic and old-fashioned, there are good reasons for continuing with this arrangement. First, it significantly reduces the burdens of bureaucracy and the amount of paperwork which electoral registration officers have to process. Secondly, registration officers have no way of knowing when new people move into a household or when children reach voting age. The present arrangement makes the head of the household (who may in practice be any member of it) responsible for ensuring that all eligible people are on the electoral register.

More importantly, without this arrangement very few of our young people would appear on the electoral register. It is regrettable that so few young people would be bothered to take the initiative to register as electors if left to their own devices but it is certainly not a fact we can ignore. It is, rather, a fact of life. So I hope the Committee will understand why we must preserve the present arrangement under which the electoral registration form is completed by the head of the household.

However, in future there will be an additional element to the registration form. Next to the name of each elector will be a box that will need to be ticked if that person wishes to opt out of inclusion in the edited register. That is a significant development. We consulted the Data Protection Registrar on the scheme we envisage. She supports it and sees no ECHR implication in it which would cause us any distress. Once there is an opt-out box, the head of a household will need to take reasonable steps to ascertain the preferences of the other members of the household. In the overwhelming majority of cases that would simply involve asking them. But we recognise that there will be cases where that is not possible. What we envisage, for example, in a student hall of residence is that, the warden might put up a notice saying that he or she intends to send back the electoral registration form in three weeks' time and that any resident who wished to exercise the right to opt-out should make contact within that period.

Any head of household who deliberately recorded the preferences of another member of the household falsely would be guilty of the offence of providing false information on the electoral registration form. Quite simply, I cannot see how this can be made to work in any other way without introducing a system of individual registration, which, for the reasons I have already given, would be unsatisfactory.

I am not sure how the first part of Amendment No. 84 would work without introducing either individual legislation or creating a whole new layer of paperwork and bureaucracy. Also, we believe that the second part of Amendment No. 84 is unnecessary. If noble Lords look at line 30 on page 10, they will see that there is already provision for explaining to the electorate the uses for which the full and edited register can be put. We want the electorate to be able to make an informed choice as to whether to exercise the right to opt out and we want to ensure that they have all the necessary information to enable them to make that choice.

We have already said that we are happy to work with the industries that currently make use of the electoral register to try to help to settle the content of the explanatory material that is made available to electors. We shall, of course, continue to consult them and to discuss such matters with them.

As regards Amendment No. 85, we believe that this would probably be superfluous. It will be open to anyone in respect of whom the box was wrongly ticked, or for whom the box was not ticked although he may have wanted it to be, to apply to the registration officer for a correction to be made. That is a very simple procedure in itself. We believe that that negates the need for Amendment No. 85, as drafted. In the light of those fairly clear explanations, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Goodhart

On the basis of what the Minister said, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 85 not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 86: Page 10, line 41, after ("copies") insert ("(or copies on disk or in electronic format)").

The noble Lord said: I believe that I can deal with this amendment very quickly. I mentioned earlier that the Government are very keen to change us all on to the airwaves—e-mail, Webs and goodness knows what else. Indeed, we are shortly to have a Bill on e-commerce to help us on our merry way into this new world. As I understand it, the electoral roll is already supplied in electronic and computer-oriented forms. Many political parties find that most useful. However, we want to be sure that that practice will continue and that, in addition, the addendum—the rolling register—is also supplied in that form. That is my question both fairly and simply put. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply, although not by e-mail! I beg to move.

Lord Rennard

Amendment No. 90 has been grouped with the noble Lord's amendment. Like Amendment No. 86, it is an important amendment. If I may say so, this is a rather more important debate than the one we had earlier about whether or not to remove the words "for example" from the Bill. The amendment deals with a very practical situation regarding the format of the provision of the electoral register and, in particular, making it free to the parties where it is provided in electronic format.

At present, someone who satisfies an electoral registration officer that he requires a copy of the electoral register in connection with someone's parliamentary candidature is entitled to free printed copies of it. However, if that copy of the register is required on disk or tape, a charge is made for the supply. I believe that to be something of an anomaly; it also represents a tax on democracy. Moreover, it is bad practice when we consider the environmental consequences.

Four paper copies of the register are generally supplied free to a political party when it is first published in February. In addition, a Member serving in another place is entitled to a free paper copy and each local councillor is entitled to a free paper copy for the ward that he or she represents. Local election candidates are also entitled to a free paper copy and a parliamentary candidate is entitled, once nominated, to two further free paper copies. This may mean that a political party can effectively claim at least six paper copies of the register in any one year, and sometimes many more.

A typical constituency register on paper may be printed on about 1,500 sheets of paper. So supplying one party with six copies of it may mean 9,000 sheets of paper, or about six kilograms in weight. That is a huge amount of paper, which is printed and sometimes packaged and posted at considerable expense. We heard much in more controversial debates this evening about the costs to the public purse. This is a way in which I believe that savings to the public purse could be made. All of these paper copies are provided free of charge to each of the political parties.

However, the supply of the register in computer format attracts a charge to the party, even though it could be provided on a computer disk for as little as, say, 50p or by e-mail at virtually no cost. The charge to political parties for the register in computer format is currently £1.80 per 1,000 names, or about £120 per constituency. Once supplied, however, in electronic format, a party will not generally demand so many paper copies. Perhaps only one is required in order to check the electronic version. Therefore the tax on the provision of the register in electronic format is, I think, unfair if the principle of making the paper lists of voters free to the political parties or potential candidates is accepted. It is, of course, a tax on democracy. In my short time in this Chamber I have heard much from noble Lords about our commitment to democratic principles.

I believe that there is also growing concern about the environment. Changes elsewhere in this Bill may mean that many more paper copies of the register have to be printed in future. Presumably entitlement to printed copies of a rolling register, regularly updated, will be broadly similar to the present rules. A register updated every month would have to be available in printed format, as is the present annual register. It would not, I think, be satisfactory simply to publish a list of additions and deletions each month. So the amount of paper produced, copying or printing costs and clerical work involved could increase considerably.

Alternatively, an updated disk could be supplied free to those entitled to free paper copies. The parties should be given the register in suitable computer format free of charge in return for expecting no more than one copy of the printed register. This would not cost much, if it costs anything at all. Indeed, it may well even result in savings when all the costs of producing and distributing paper copies are taken into account, and it would be welcomed by those concerned with the environmental impact of the present system.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I can confirm that this is a green Government in the environmental sense at least. I shall deal briefly with the amendments, not least because I am extremely sympathetic to them. As Members of the Committee have said, MPs, councillors and local political parties are entitled to receive paper copies of the register free of charge, but they must pay if they want it in electronic form. This distinction apparently derives from a time when not every register was produced on computer and when provision of data in electronic format was significantly more expensive than provision in paper form. Fortunately technology has moved forward apace and that is no longer the case.

We believe that a computer disk will be even cheaper in the future. We see no reason why those entitled to a free copy of the electoral register should not receive it in the form which is most convenient to them. This is sad for me as I like reading pieces of paper. I have spent many happy hours reading an electoral register. For some that may be a sad experience, but for me it has often been a great thrill to check it annually to see whether old friends are still in place and so on.

Therefore we are keen to take this matter forward in discussion with both political parties and electoral administrators. We believe that much progress can be made. We do not believe that an amendment to the Bill is needed for this purpose, as the existing regulation-making powers are, in our view, sufficiently flexible. I believe that that is probably a more efficient way for us to make progress. We are happy to have more discussion. We invite parties to offer their views on this matter. However, we believe that there should be free access to the register in an electronic form.

As regards the points made about the need constantly to update the rolling register, these are well understood. There is no doubt that we can also include ways of making that accessible in electronic form. I trust that with those assurances noble Lords opposite in both parties will feel able to withdraw their amendments.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

I thank my noble friend for his comments, which are welcome. When the discussions take place with the electoral registration office and the political parties, will there be discussion on compatibility because there are certain problems relating to the rolling register being compatible with the original register that is produced? I hope that that forms part of the discussion.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am more than happy to give a clear assurance on that point.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

That was a satisfactory reply. No doubt these matters will be set out perfectly clearly in the regulations, including the subject of compatibility. I think that all of us who have spoken to the amendment are satisfied with the reply. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 87 to 89: Page 11, line 2, at end insert— ("( ) Provisions specifying, in relation to any description of persons prescribed by regulations made in pursuance of subparagraph (1)(a) above, the purposes for which copies supplied to such persons under such regulations, or information contained in them, may be used whether by such persons or by employees or other persons authorised by them in accordance with regulations to have access to such copies or information contained in them."). Page 11, leave out line 19 and insert ("any purposes specified in such regulations or (as the case may be) for which the copies have been supplied in accordance with any such provision."). Page 11, line 19, at end insert— ("()Provisions imposing, in relation to persons—

  1. (a) to whom copies of the full register have been supplied, or information contained in such copies has been disclosed, in accordance with regulations made in pursuance of this paragraph. or
  2. 1054
  3. (b) who otherwise have access to such copies or information.
prohibitions or restrictions corresponding to those which may be imposed by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) above. ( ) Provisions imposing, in relation to persons involved in the preparation of the full register, prohibitions with respect to supplying copies of the full register and disclosing information contained in it.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 90 not moved.]

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 91: Page 11, line 27, at end insert ("or

  1. (b) where such a contravention has occurred on the part of a person in the employment, or otherwise under the direction or control, of a company or other organisation, for —
    1. (i) a director of the company, or
    2. (ii) a person concerned with the management of the organisation,

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Borrie moved Amendment No. 92: Page 11, line 27, at end insert— ( ) After paragraph 13 (offences and supplemental matters) there shall be inserted— 13A. Regulations making provisions under paragraphs 10, 11 and 13 above may not be made until six months after the date on which the Representation of the People Act 2000 receives Royal Assent."").

The noble Lord said: I need not detain the Committee long in dealing with this amendment. I gave a number of views during the debate on the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and I was delighted to have the strong support of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, in expressing my concern about the adverse effects of Clause 9 on legitimate businesses and their customers and the restriction on the availability of the full register for a number of purposes.

It must be recognised that the Government have made concessions. During the debate in the House of Commons the points which have been repeated here today were made in relation to credit reference agencies, banks and others who want to use the electoral register to check on people's creditworthiness and it has been said that if that was not permitted, a great number of people would feel socially excluded and would be disadvantaged. I am glad that that concession has been made.

The amendment seeks to give the Government more time for consultation. They have not adequately dealt with all the various problems and possibilities, many of which have been adverted to in earlier parts of the debate today. Legal points were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights and there are legal problems in relation to the EU directive on data protection. While I listened closely to the carefully drafted remarks of my noble friend Lord Bach on that matter—I shall read them even more closely—I have no doubt that it would repay the Government to inquire even further into whether they have the right balance in legal terms as to what can and cannot be permitted under those pieces of legislation. I ask the Government to use the period of time for consultation before making the regulations to look not only at the law but also at what is desirable.

The direct marketing industry and its customers will still be dissatisfied that the Government have not conceded that they will be allowed the use of the full register in order to check on the correctness of people's addresses against the names they hold. That is extremely useful for customers to ensure that they are not on lists they do not want to be on, and it saves a lot of money, time and trouble for the industry to strike people's names off if they do not match the addresses on the electoral register.

Verification and validation is an extremely useful exercise for many businesses engaged in mailshots, in selling goods off air or off screen and through e-mail and so on. I am sure that the Government will freely admit that these kinds of trading are increasing—the Government are introducing legislation to deal further with e-commerce—and are important and of significance to millions of customers in this country. It would be a pity if, as a kind of by-product of the Government's good intentions in Clause 9, a lot of people are deprived of the benefits of better devised marketing lists than would otherwise exist if full access to the electoral register is not permitted. In the light of those considerations, I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart

I shall be brief. No doubt access to the full electoral register is extremely valuable to direct marketing organisations. It seems unlikely that access to that list is likely to be detrimental to ordinary electors. Nevertheless, it seems that there is no overwhelming public interest in allowing direct marketing organisations to have access to an unedited full register. In those circumstances, the individual elector may say, "I do not wish this information—which I am required by law to provide—to be used for any purpose other than that for which it is collected". I do not see any overwhelming reason to justify going back from that basic principle.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I shall briefly intervene. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has the good sense of giving the Government some time. As I suggested earlier, the debate on the Bill looks like not only the Government, but all of us, digging a hole, where we keep on digging instead of stopping to ask whether this is the right place to dig the hole, or indeed, as my noble friend Lord Norton suggested, whether we want the hole at all.

An enormous number of people have written to us on the subject across a wide range of groups which use the register: the Direct Marketing Association; the Association of British Insurers; British bankers; charities that write in disgust; the WWAV Rapp Collins Group; and the ICD group that I mentioned earlier. All those groups have written because they believe that they have a legitimate and arguable use of the full register. I am not going to come down on one side or the other of that argument, but it seems that when the Government start cherry picking and saying, "This use is okay; that use isn't", they will need time to think through clearly what they are doing.

If the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, is correct and many organisations use the full register to clean their existing lists obtained from other sources, we may in fact be increasing the amount of unwanted mail that people receive, especially for households which receive mail addressed to someone who is dead and off the register. I gather that one of the ways in which such lists are drawn up is via the answers to the questionnaires that one is occasionally asked to fill in in shopping malls and going in and out of the airport. Whether I decide to give some answers depends on the approach to me and whether I am in a hurry. Usually I am told that I shall win some great prize. My wife gives me a row three or four months later when I say, "Why are we getting this piece of mail?" I know now that I should not answer any questionnaires from anyone. That is bad news for the marketing industry, of which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was once a distinguished member, but I am afraid—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The first thing that the noble Lord should do is to find out whether the interviewer is certified as a member of the Market Research Society Interviewer Scheme. If that is the case, and if it is a genuine interview, there is no question whatever that the noble Lord and his wife will be pursued for sales purposes afterwards. Otherwise, the company and the interviewer will be slung out of the Market Research Society.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

That is certainly useful. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is here this evening. I shall still stick to my original decision not to answer any questionnaires again, unless, of course, the prize is overwhelmingly attractive.

I believe that many people are concerned about the issue. Once the Government open the door to one group, the danger will be that they will find it difficult to decide where to close the door. I have some sympathy with the Minister on the issue. He might be well advised to take up his noble friend's offer of a nice long period before anything happens.

Lord McNally

I should not move one scintilla from the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, explaining our party's position. However, I feel that this is about the only opportunity I have to confess that, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, getting his kicks by reading the electoral register, I actually like receiving junk mail. If only I had been engaged much earlier in a public relations capacity, I could have explained that the problem is the pejorative name "junk mail". If it had been called "information correspondence", it would have had a much easier ride.

One of our earlier amendments suggested that people should have the full explanation for removing themselves from the register. Perhaps it will be necessary at some stage for the Direct Marketing Association to embark on a public information campaign. Junk mail is not junk. It is an important industry. As the noble Lord, Lord 'Mackay, said, it may be necessary for the Government to give deeper thought to the full consequences of this matter. People may think that they are escaping some terrible burden, but they may also be missing some real benefits and opportunities.

11.30 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I shall not extend the debate very much longer. Reference has been made to hole diggers and non-hole diggers and to junk mail junkies and the like. Clearly, this debate could go on for ever. In a sense, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has raised an important issue. The purpose of the amendment is to get us to extend consultation for a further six months. In practice, we shall have a longer period to consider the issue. After all, we are now consulting the industry. That is my understanding. When the draft regulations are published, there will be a further round of consultation. We do not yet have the legislation in place. So I think that we are talking about quite a long way down the road. I should have thought that we should have some continuing discussion and consultation over the next few months. For those reasons, I do not think that adding a further six months' delay on to that will take us much further.

However, Members of the Committee have made the point that this is a tricky and complex area and one in which there are many issues to be thought through. Some of those issues have already been addressed by the Working Party on Electoral Procedures. That ran from the summer of 1998. No doubt the period between now and when the regulations are finally introduced will provide us with ample time further to polish and consider exactly what we intend to do.

We think that the legislation is clear. We have a basis on which we can work to consult some more. Clearly, we need to take away some of the points that have been raised in this short debate. We will continue to do that. With that, I trust that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Borrie

Assuming that the Minister uses the word "considers" to include "will listen to representations"—I am sure he does—I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 9, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Norton of Louth

I shall speak briefly to this issue, although, looking at the clock, I have to say that the last train to get me back to Hull this evening left at 11.10 p.m. and, since the next one is at.6.15 a.m., I may be a little blasé about how the proceedings go on. However, I felt I should speak as I had given notice of my intention to oppose the Question, That Clause 9 shall stand part of the Bill. I elaborated the reasons for that during the debate on the amendment of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. The Minister in responding focused principally on that amendment.

The stand part debate on the clause allows the Minister to address the issue quite fundamentally. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish referred to me as an absolutist. I make no apologies for that. It serves certain purposes in forcing us to think back to first principles. What is the purpose of the whole exercise? The Government are proceeding on a number of assumptions about why the register is produced, the way in which it is produced, and the purpose that is served by its availability.

Earlier, I mentioned the history of the electoral register, why it came into being and why it was published. Some of those reasons may no longer have the force that they once had. There is a danger of the clause, and indeed the Bill, constituting something of a lost opportunity if we do not return to first principles and ask fundamental questions about the nature of the register and in particular, in the context in which we are presently discussing it, its availability, the access that people have to it.

So we do need to return to first principles, and I fear that the clause does not do that. It does not address the problem. I elaborated my reasons earlier and I do not intend to go over them again now. The clause raises fundamental issues and I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to respond.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

The noble Lord has rehearsed the arguments rather well. He has gone to the heart of the some of the arguments that are collected together in Clause 9. My noble friend Lord Bach gave a clear exposition of the Government's position. However, some of the issues raised are worthy of further consideration. We said that we would look closely at Hansard without commitment and see which further matters need greater elucidation and clarification.

We believe that the arrangements that we have set out achieve a proper balance, and we think that we can rely on the way in which we intend the clause to work. So, with all the difficulties—there is common agreement that this is a complex area—I commend the clause as drafted to the Committee.

Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Bach

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at twenty-three minutes before midnight.