Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The secret second home register

As BBC Radio Cornwall's Graham Smith has reported, Cornwall Council has compiled a register of second homes in Cornwall but is refusing to make this information public.

I can certainly see why it would be good to have this information in the open to use to help prevent electoral fraud. I can also understand why it might be seen as a burglar's charter. On balance, I agree with the Council's decision (also backed by the Information Commissioner) to keep it secret.

But that is not the end of the matter.

There is nothing to prevent the Council from using the information itself to make sure that the electoral register is clean and above board. As I blogged before, the Government believes that the current law on the rights of second home owners registering to vote is clear enough and they are not prepared to legislate on the issue.

If that is the case then I think it is perfectly reasonable for Cornwall Council to adopt a new policy on second home registrants following the advice of the Electoral Commission. The new policy would be that if anyone sought to register to vote from any property listed as a second home then they would be required to prove that this was, in fact, their main or joint main residence and was not a home maintained simply for recreational purposes.

In other words, if a person is a student or lives in two places for work reasons, it may be that one of their homes is registered as a 'second home' but they would be allowed to register to vote in each. But is one property is a holiday home - whether they use it for one week or five months of the year - then they should not be allowed to register.

I will be asking the Council's Electoral Review Panel to consider this proposition when it meets later this month.

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