The following announcement was written by the Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations:
The Council of Irish Genealogical Organisations (CIGO) has discovered that out of the blue, and only eight years after it was first created, the British government is proposing to abolish the publicly available UK Edited Electoral Register. While access to the Full Electoral Register is limited to purposes relating to elections, crime detection and fraud prevention, the Edited Electoral Register (which anyone can opt out of) is open to all. When completing the yearly application form to be entered onto the annual electoral register each UK citizen can choose whether or not to be included in the publicly available Edited Electoral Register.
In October 2007, Gordon Brown, the UK Prime Minster, commissioned Dr Mark Walport and Richard Thomas “to undertake an independent review of the use of personal information in the public and private sector”. Amongst a number of recommendations is one that the Edited Electoral Register should cease to be commercially available and if this proposal is carried that it should be abolished as it would no longer serve any purpose.
The UK Justice Minister, Michael Wills, has admitted that “there are strong opinions on the future of the Edited Register and before considering any changes we need to further understand the impact that this may have on different groups of people. The Government has noted Dr. Mark Walport and Richard Thomas's recommendation that the Edited Register should be abolished. But we also recognise that the edited version of the electoral register acts as a comprehensive list of names and addresses of use to businesses, organisations and individuals.” The UK government has launched a period of consultation which they say “will help us consider the potential impact of the changes proposed.” The Ministry of Justice Press Office say that the consultation “aims to build a firmer evidence base about the advantages and disadvantages of the edited version of the electoral register and the impact of any changes made to it.” And that “views and evidence are invited from the public and other stakeholders about how they could be affected by its abolition.. On the basis of the evidence gathered, the government will consider a range of options for the future of the Edited Register including abolition, changing the process by which individuals are included on it, or improving public awareness of it.”
However, the consultation seeks views on six proposed options, none of which includes ‘no change’ which might suggest that the abolition of the Edited Electoral Register in one form or another is a foregone conclusion. The six proposals are:
- abolish the Edited Register as soon as practicable.
- set a timescale or trigger point for abolition of the Edited Register.
- abolish the Edited Register as soon as practicable, but consider extending access to the full electoral register.
- retain the Edited Register, but impose restrictions in legislation on who can purchase it and for what purposes.
- replace the current provision on the Edited Register which enables electors to 'opt out' of being on it by ticking a box with an 'opt in' option.
- improve guidance for the public about the Edited Register.
For genealogists, it looks as if the last of the six options would be the best to plump for, “improve guidance for the public about the Edited Register”. More information about this issue and how to submit your views can be found on the Ministry of Justice website. The period of consultation closes on Tuesday, 23rd February 2010. This issue is urgent and CIGO cannot impress enough that a clear message should be sent to the UK Justice Minister, Michael Wills, that genealogists continue to require unfettered access to the UK Edited Electoral Register.