According to officers, the letter wasn't sent over the summer because they wanted to wait until MPs returned from their summer holidays. I don't believe that this excuse stacks up. For a start, Parliament didn't go into recess until some three weeks after the decision to send the letter was taken. And anyway, just because MPs are on holidy doesn't mean that the whole Government grinds to a halt. Nick Clegg (the minister responsible) was clearly on duty for the majority of the summer and, even if he wasn't, I would trust civil servants to keep it safe until he returned.
If the letter had been sent earlier then it is possible that legal clarity could have been given by an amendment to the voting reform bill currently going through Parliament. However that opportunity has now passed.
In my letter (copied below) I have been careful to stick to the position that what is needed is clarity in the law - whatever side of the fence the Government chooses to come down on.
As soon as I get a reply, I'll post it here.
It was good to catch up at conference. I hope that you enjoyed your trip to New York. I write in my capacity as the Vice Chair of Cornwall Council's Electoral Review Panel to ask you to consider clarifying the law over the rights of second home owners to register to vote in the UK.
This is an issue of some considerable concern in Cornwall where as many as 10% of all properties are used as 'second homes' and, should all those who use them choose to register to vote from these addresses then Council, Parliamentary and other elections could be significantly affected by people who spend as little as one week a year in the local area.
The law at present is confusing both for electoral registration officers and for electors. The Electoral Commission publishes guidance on its website which seems clear enough - that a person may register to vote at a second home only if they can be said to be resident there full-time, that certain people (such as students) can genuinely have two full-time addresses but that purely recreational second homes are unlikely to count.
However, this clarity is not backed up in law. Indeed, the law is a morass of often contradictory statements. There appears to be little in law to assist electoral registration officers to consider whether or not to allow registration in individual cases and so refusals to register are very few and far between.
I am therefore writing to you in your capacity as minister responsible for constitutional affairs to ask for legal clarity to be given in the form of statutory guidance. My personal view is that no second home registration should be allowed save for genuine two homers - students and so on. However, even if you decide that some other should be the law, I believe that it would be in the interests of all electoral registration officers and public confidence in elections if the law was clarified.
I would be happy to meet with you or one of your colleagues to discuss this issue at your convenience.
With best wishes
Vice Chair, Electoral Review Panel, Cornwall Council