We have had Report stage this week of the Political Parties and Elections Bill. On Monday, I had a good day: the Government introduced an amendment regarding the Electoral Commission to meet a point I raised in Grand Committee. They also provided an assurance in response to another of my amendments.
Yesterday was more problematic: I returned to the issue of the edited version of the electoral register. This, as some readers may recall, is something about which I have strong views. Registering to vote is a core part of the democratic process. Requiring electors to decide, as part of that process, whether they wish to have their names excluded from an edited version of the register, which is to be sold ‘to any person for any purpose’, undermines the integrity of that process. Compounding the problem is that it is an opt-out rather than an opt-in requirement (so we cannot be sure that inclusion in the edited register is the product of informed consent) and is sold at no profit – rather the reverse – to local councils. In other words, those who buy it (junk mail companies for example) are being subsidised from public funds.
Compiling the edited version also imposes a significant burden on electoral registration officers, even though it has nothing to do with their core task. Their work will increase substantially as we move to individual registration.
I have sought to abolish the edited version of the register. I am in good company. The Association of Electoral Administrators, the Electoral Commission, and the Information Commissioner also support bringing it to an end.
I moved an amendment at committee stage to get rid of it. The minister resisted, largely on practical grounds: it may harm the businesses that utilise it. I returned to the issue at Report stage yesterday. The debate can be read here. I got some cross-party support, but the minister again resisted it. This time, though, he expressed sympathy with the arguments against maintaining the register, but again argued the need to consult before making a move to get rid of the register.
It was, he said, the Government’s intention to consult on the matter before the Summer recess. Given that consultations are normally expected to last twelve weeks, and the recess is less than five weeks away, I am not sure how this is going to be achieved effectively. Nonetheless, there now seems to be some movement and I intend to pursue the issue until we eventually get rid of the edited register. When the consultation gets under way, do feel free to submit your views.