Electoral Registration — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:36 pm on 12th January 2012.

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Photo of Lord Reid of Cardowan Lord Reid of Cardowan Labour 1:36 pm, 12th January 2012

My Lords, I would like to make two brief comments in the gap: one about the short term and one about the medium to longer term. In the short term, the Government have found themselves in a problem largely because they are trying to row in two directions at the same time. I agree with the short-term measures to patch up the electoral registration system and the voting system that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, mentioned earlier on. They are sensible if we are going to stick with the present system. However, to do it in the context of the introduction of legislation which is going to have a counterbalancing and opposite effect seems to be completely non-productive. We have a plus and a minus, and I cannot see how, in the context of the present legislation, even the introduction of the advantageous advances mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, would compensate for that.

It is really about the medium and longer term that I want to speak. When I read and listen to these debates, the elephant in the room has been ridden by every other component in our society, such as retail trade, financing trade and social networks. It is electronic communication. It seems to me absolutely inconceivable that we can be planning for a future without three elements using modern information technology: first, individual registration; secondly, ease of access to voting; and, thirdly and very importantly because the first and second require the volunteering of information, the protection of information should it be lost or stolen or otherwise accessed by others.

I know the controversy that surrounded this, but it was precisely that third element that lay behind voluntary ID cards. That is because online registration is now prevalent for bank accounts and necessary to receive benefits. The amount of information that one supplies to the Government which is sitting there in huge data banks will be added to by any form of electoral registration, particularly if national insurance numbers are added. That electronic information, just like paper information, is going to be lost or stolen. When and if it is lost or stolen, it is not an argument against biometrically protected ID cards. It is an argument for having biometric identification, because in those circumstances, no one can access that information. No one can go into your bank account unless they happen to have your five fingers and your iris. It is precisely about the protection of the individual.

Therefore, I would suggest that at least some serious consideration is given to online registration and the introduction in the medium to longer term of some form of identification that protects the individual's identity through their iris and fingerprints. I do not entirely agree with my good and noble friend Lord Maxton; I have never been in favour of compulsory ID cards. However, I am in favour of compulsory registration. I believe that the future is having an ID card in your pocket. I have one and it was massively convenient in allowing me to walk into France and Germany without a passport, giving inviolable proof of my identity to anyone, unlike every smart card in my pocket.