Committee (11th Day) (Continued)

Part of Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 19th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour 9:15 pm, 19th January 2011

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, is splitting hairs. There is a principle behind the amendment, which my noble friend is saying is that the register is incomplete and there must be some way of adding to it those groups of people who should be on it but who are not for all sorts of reasons. In trying to identify them, socio-economic data based on the profile of any particular constituency should be taken into account. That is a perfectly reasonable argument, but the noble Lord is splitting hairs on whether the Electoral Commission is equipped to carry out that function.

This is a particularly important case. It goes to the heart of many of the amendments that we have moved and dealt with over the past few weeks and no doubt will deal with over the next few weeks as well, which is that the register is inaccurate and that population is important. Therefore we have to find a formula for establishing what the population is in any given constituency in the United Kingdom.

I have been following the debates on the question of the census. Last weekend I had the pleasure of reading a report from the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. I suspect that Ministers have not read it. Indeed, I would ask the noble Lord whether he has actually ever read it. It is impossible to consider this legislation without reading this report because it repeatedly draws attention to all the concerns that were expressed, and in some areas it does so in greater detail than the report produced by our own Constitution Committee in the House of Lords did.

I refer to a particular section in which the Minister responsible for the Bill in the House of Commons was asked questions by Ms Catherine McKinnell on the census. At the end of the quotation, I ask the Minister to note what I am asking for because it would be helpful to have the answer set out. I will read out what is unhelpful to my case and what is helpful. On the 2011 census, Mr Harper said:

"There are two difficulties with using Census data. The first is that Census data is of population and does not look at whether people are eligible to vote, and of course many people who live in the UK are not citizens and are not eligible to vote for various reasons. The second difficulty relates to the level of detail of the information collected in the time available. Clearly, Electoral Registration Officers are able to access Census data and use it, but Census data at the individual level that could be used to track whether actual people exist, so that they could be approached, is not published at that level of detail, but it is aggregated".

When it is aggregated, I presume that there must be some data behind the aggregation. I wonder what those data are. They may not be published, but I wonder whether they are available.

Mr Harper goes on to say in his reply:

"Therefore, with regard to electoral administrators using it as a source to identify people who exist in an area and who are not registered, they can look at overall number and make some assumptions, but it does not really give them the detail to drill down".

That is based on the aggregated data. Again, what is the material behind those aggregated data? He then says-and this is where my noble friend Lord Maxton has become involved in the debate, unless we are talking about other matters here:

"There are other data sets that might be more helpful in that regard that we are going to pilot in 2011", to which the noble Lord has referred.

"There is no bar on them using the data that is published."

Can we have a list of all those sources of data? I have seen references in various documents to bits and pieces of data, but I have not seen an aggregate list of all the additional sources of data that can be taken into account by registration officers when they carry out their functions.

I am also trying to establish whether there is some way in which those additional data can also be used by the Boundary Commission in carrying out its work, or are those additional data somehow excluded because of the fact that we seem to be confined to the use of data that were drawn up in 2010? We should have a very clear statement as to what actual data the Boundary Commission can take into account when it draws up its reports on individual constituencies.

I have always presumed that when the Barnett formula was established, the allocations for Scotland took into account the data that my noble friend is referring to, but perhaps I misunderstand how the Barnett formula is calculated. I also understand that some areas of local government finance are also influenced by socio-economic data at the local level. Is that not the data source that my noble friend Lord Lipsey is referring to? Is it the kind of source that my noble friend is referring to? I do not know. Perhaps the Minister might be able to clarify whether that could be the source of the additional information that my noble friend would seek to include in the information that is necessary to draw up the boundaries.