BUSINESS QUESTION – MPs' HOME ADDRESSES – 26 June 2008
Dr Julian Lewis: May I ask the Leader of the House to clarify a little more the procedures that we can expect in the various debates to do with Members' own concerns on Thursday?
First, it has been proposed that MPs' private addresses should not be published. In no small part thanks to the robust support exhibited by the Leader and the Shadow Leader of the House, it is clear that that proposal will be carried overwhelmingly. Indeed, there is a danger that it may not come to a vote at all. Given that one of the purposes is to express on the record the strength of feeling in the House, can arrangements be made to ensure that, one way or another, a vote is held on the matter? In that way, Mr. Speaker will be able to gauge how many hon. Members feel strongly that our private addresses should not be disclosed.
That is a rather simple matter, but my second question has to do with the much more complex issue of the additional cost allowance for hon. Members' second homes. Is the Leader of the House satisfied that enough time has been allocated for us to debate all the complexities involved? For example, one might want to raise the hypothetical situation that would arise if there were a change of Government. In that case, certain Opposition Members would become Ministers and therefore have to spend many more nights in London than previously. As a result, they might fall foul of the rules that say that their main home must be the one in which they spend most nights.
Unless we get rid of the wretched allowance system, those are the sort of complexities that we will need to consider next week. I am not happy that we will have enough time.
[The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The hon. Gentleman will be able to raise those points in the debate. If he wants clarification before then on the detail of the Members Estimate Committee report – on what it intends and what lies behind it, but is perhaps not explicit in it – he should get it from the House authorities. The hon. Gentleman has time to do that before the debate next Thursday; there is plenty of time, as the report came out yesterday.
The hon. Gentleman said that a vote would assist the Speaker and everybody else to understand the strength of feeling about the privacy of Members' addresses – and about the protection of democracy in this House, so that Members can speak up without fear or favour and without looking over their shoulders. All the hon. Members who have signed his Early-Day Motion have contributed to that understanding, and no doubt signatures can still be put on it. It is important for there to be an opportunity for a formal motion of the House.
If no one votes against a motion, that is not because people do not feel strongly about it, but because there is unanimous support for it. I am sure that we will not need to debate it at huge length next Thursday, because there is a fair degree of unanimity across the board. Even some of the usual suspects, who can usually be counted on to be on the other side of the argument, are on the side of the hon. Gentleman's Early-Day Motion.]