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Edited Electoral Register

Volume 501: debated on Tuesday 24 November 2009

I am today publishing the consultation paper on the future of the Edited Register (CP 46/09).

In October 2007 the Prime Minister announced that he had asked Dr. Mark Walport, the director of the Wellcome Trust and Richard Thomas the then Information Commissioner, to undertake an independent review of the framework for the use of personal information in the public and private sectors.

Their final report was published as the Data Sharing Review on 11 July 2008 and recommended various specific measures that the authors considered needed to be taken to increase public trust and confidence in the handling and processing of personal data by both the public and private sectors. The Government have already taken on board many of the review’s recommendations, including, for example, strengthening the powers and penalties available to the Information Commissioner.

Recommendation 19 of the report covered the edited version of the electoral register which, since 2002, has been available for sale to anyone for any purpose. People are free to opt-out of inclusion in the Edited Register if they so wish. Nevertheless, the Data Sharing Review recommended that the Government should remove the provision allowing the sale of the edited electoral register and that it should therefore be abolished.

The report’s authors argued that it sends a poor message to the public that personal information collected for something as vital as participation in the democratic process could be sold on to “anyone for any purpose” and that the sale of the Edited Register may deter some people from registering to vote at all.

The Government take the issues of data protection, the privacy of citizens and democratic engagement, including electoral registration, very seriously. It is for these reasons that the Government committed, in their response to the Data Sharing Review, to consult on the future of the Edited Register. However, abolition of the Edited Register could have an impact on those businesses, charities and others that currently use it. The Government therefore do not wish to make a final decision to act until they have considered carefully the available evidence about the potential impact of abolition.

It is hoped that the consultation I am publishing today will elicit detailed evidence and information from a wide range of sources on the potential impact of abolition, which will help to inform future policy decisions about the Edited Register. The wide range of options proposed in the consultation paper provides a variety of potential approaches to the future of the Edited Register and the Government invite views on all of them.

The consultation will run for a period of three months and closes on 23 February 2010.

A copy of the consultation paper and impact assessment has been placed in the Library of the House.