BUSINESS QUESTION – MPS' HOME ADDRESSES – 5 June 2008
Tony Lloyd: May I remind the Leader of the House that a number of our colleagues have suffered various forms of harassment, some of it from constituents, and have been stalked? Given the concern of many Members in all parts of the House about the possibility of Members' private addresses being put in the public domain, would the Leader of the House be able to consult the police and others about whether that is a wise move?
The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The House authorities have consulted the police and the security services. As the House will know, following a Freedom of Information request the question of whether the private London addresses of 14 Members should be put in the public domain will be subject to case-by-case consideration in the context of security issues involving those individuals.
I know that there is concern in all parts of the House about two aspects of this matter. The first is the personal security of Members. The second, which I consider even more important, is the need for Members to feel absolutely confident that they can speak in the House on difficult issues without fearing that, when they leave the Chamber having spoken about what they believe in, they will have to look over their shoulders because their addresses are in the public domain. In that regard, the House authorities are seeking legal advice on whether or not the Freedom of Information Act provides an opportunity for the House to defend Members' right to speak without having to look over their shoulders thereafter. …
Dr Julian Lewis: Since I last raised the question of the judges' dangerous decision that MPs' home addresses should all be published, the number of signatories to Early-Day Motion 1620 has risen from 77 to 159.
[That this House believes that the home address of any hon. or Rt. hon. Member should not be published if he or she objects to publication on grounds of privacy or personal security.]
Every party in the House, including independent and minority parties, is well represented among those signatories. May we therefore have a debate on this topic, preferably with a vote at the end? That would enable me to lay before the House interesting facts such as that the Information Commissioner has gone out of his way to tell me that he never wanted the addresses to be published in the first place, that this was added by the appeal tribunal and the judges, and that I have just received a letter from the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Michael Wills) – the Minister with responsibility for Freedom of Information – in response to my Freedom of Information request for the publication of judges' home addresses. In it, he says that he is refusing the request because
“High Court Judges, whilst certainly public figures, are entitled to a private life and levels of privacy that accord with this...It is my view that routinely to disclose the personal addresses of judges would breach their privacy and would be unfair.” [Laughter]
Unfortunately, he does not say anything about security, which ought to be the overriding consideration in both cases.
Ms Harman: I commend the hon. Gentleman on his Early-Day Motion, which I would indeed sign were protocol not there to prevent me from doing so. The point that he makes about judges is that it is right that their home addresses are not published because they need to mete out justice without fear or favour when they sit in court. I would think that something of the same argument applies to Members of this House. Our addresses should not be published so that we are able to speak freely on democratic issues of importance in this House without looking over our shoulders.
[For developments at Harriet Harman's own home, three days later, click here.]