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Should MPs’ and candidates’ addresses be private?

I’ve been meaning to post on this for a while. The Register reported:

Members of Parliament have voted themselves the right to withhold their names and addresses from publication. Candidates at Parliamentary elections will get the same right.

This is perhaps less surprising than it ought to have been. Last May, the High Court ruled in a Freedom of Information case that MPs’ addresses should be public information. British citizens ought to be able to check on MP expense claims, or to monitor the living arrangements of individuals such as the Home Secretary.

In July, the government used an order in the House to overturn this, arguing that some personal information – particularly that relating to addresses and travel information – should be withheld from publication on the grounds of national security, and also the possibility that MPs would be harassed.

In October, Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest East raised the matter in the Commons. He praised the Leader of the House, Harriet Harman MP, for her “decisive intervention” in respect of the High Court case.

He pointed out that the High Court’s “dangerous decision” to allow addresses to be revealed was based on the fact they were published every four or five years anyway and asked: “Can we now consider closing this loophole?”

There are a number of points one can make about this:

  • Anyone wishing to harass an MP merely has to wait for them at the House of Commons or their constituency office.
  • In order to vote this country’s elections, I have to register my details in the publicly accessible electoral roll, as does anyone (including MPs) who wishes to vote in an election. If MPs addresses are to be kept secret, why not voters? Surely this is equivalent to me hiding my address from my employer?
  • Contrast the attitude here with requirements on members of the public to register their details in numerous government databases, accessible to numerous public officials, and often run very insecurely, in legislation that these same MPs have voted for.
  • If the MP’s address is secret, how are voters to know if the MP is lying about living locally?

But there is a further issue. The MPs didn’t even debate the measure:

Second, and more worrying, was the way in which this measure was introduced into the House on Monday, as an amendment, with no debate permitted, to the Political Parties and Elections Bill.

No matter how desirable a new law, it might be thought that a debate about its desirability would be even more desirable.

In vain, backbench MP David Heath raised a point of Order as to “whether there is any precedent for taking a Division on a completely undebated new clause, which falls in a later group that we have not yet reached, which is in the hands of Back Benchers from an opposition party and which has not even been moved”.

Mindful of her responsibility to the House, and the weight of centuries of democratic tradition weighing down on her shoulder, Deputy Speaker, Silvia Neal replied: “I have made a decision, and given my ruling and the reasons why this vote has been taken. I have nothing further to add.”

If they’re not going subject legislation to scrutiny, and they wish to hide from the public, then I say sack the lot of them, for they serve no useful purpose.

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