European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill
Lord Filkin (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs; Labour)
My Lords, there has been an extremely interesting debate on this amendment. We know why it is an issue. Strong representations were made by political parties in the other place that a marked register should be distributed during the period of the election campaign. That was in part for a party political reason but also for a good reason, that reason being that by so doing it was more likely that more people would be encouraged, assisted and persuaded to vote. The problem for the political parties is the fact that you can lobby and take someone to the polling station, but that does not necessarily mean that they will vote for you as a consequence. Nevertheless, there is a good intent which goes beyond party politics that sits beneath this and since this issue is above all about trying to increase the electorate's participation in elections it is in alignment with that central thrust.
What is interesting in what the noble Lord, Lord Norton, advanced is the question of ECHR compliance. I want to reflect on that point; I do not want to busk at the Dispatch Box on it. But if it were thought that the right to privacy might be infringed, one could well see that what was given as the advice on all-postal balloting would apply also; in other words, that it was balanced by the wider benefit of increasing the electoral turnover. Perhaps I may reflect on that and send a letter to the noble Lord before Third Reading, with a copy, as usual, to the Opposition Front Benches. Clearly, if we think that it is compliant I shall just set out in the letter why we consider it to be so.
The second issue raised by the noble Lord is whether, if there is a risk of infringement of privacy, there is a way around that which does not frustrate the legitimate ambition of the political parties to have a marked register. Essentially he asked whether it would be possible to have an opt-out at the time of the register which would replicate that which takes place outside a polling station; that is, when someone is asked "What is your name and have you voted?", for the person to be able to say, "No, I shan't tell you".
The noble Lord is right that it would be impossible to do that in time for the June election. However, perhaps we should reflect on that without implying that we shall concede the point. I believe that was the nub of the point raised; namely, whether there is a way which does not frustrate the ability of political parties to affect turn-out but which allows an elector to have privacy.For the reasons I have given, apart from promising to send the noble Lord a letter before Third Reading, I do not believe that we should accept the amendment. As stated by the noble Lords, Lord Rennard and Lord Greaves, there is a good reason for the marked register being issued to political parties. I believe that that outweighs the other interests advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Norton. With that explanation, I hope that he will be minded to withdraw the amendment.