CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

MPs' & CANDIDATES' HOME ADDRESSES: THE FINAL HURDLE

Political Parties & Elections Bill

House of Lords – 17 June 2009

Amendment 76: Moved by Lord Tyler [Liberal Democrat] ... [To] leave out Clause 21

 

[SPEECHES IN FAVOUR OF THE 'LEWIS AMENDMENT' – CLAUSE 21 OF THE BILL:]

Lord Campbell-Savours [Labour]: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, will know that unfortunately I dissent from the position that he has taken. I ask him to forgive me because we work together very well in a number of areas of the Bill.

I did not move my amendment because I wanted to concentrate on the essence of the noble Lord’s case. This is not about risk to Members of Parliament; the issue in this case is the risk to the families of Members of Parliament. In Committee, I drew attention to two occasions: the first was when a Member of Parliament was in Paris and an incident was about to take place; and the second was the incident that took place outside the home of the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, when the police were brought in and there were subsequent prosecutions. In the latter case, there was clearly a risk to the family.

I am worried by the fact that the case put by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, seems to be based on the proposition that, because we are in public life, our families have to take into account the fact that we may be placing them at risk. He was not quite as blunt as that, but that is the implication. I want to give an example. If a person anywhere in the world were to Google the names of every single Member of Parliament – their names and addresses would be available on the internet following a general election campaign – that person would have a database that could be used against each individual Member. They could dispatch from anywhere in the world envelopes containing biological material or other dangerous agents and send them to the homes of those Members of Parliament. The mail that we receive here is screened but we all know that that is not the position with mail that goes to our homes. We are advised at every stage in our political lives to be more diligent and careful with regard to our personal arrangements because of the dangers from terrorism and I cannot believe that a political party would argue that we should not have that in mind when taking decisions on this issue. We cannot place the families of Members of Parliament in that position.

The noble Lord has said that this material is already available. Of course it is. You could have gone to my former constituency in Workington and asked on the streets: "Where does the Member of Parliament for Workington live?", and you would probably have been told the answer within a road or two. However, when you are in some obscure country in another part of the world, you do not have access to that kind of material. When I oppose the noble Lord’s amendment, I am referring to a completely different kind of threat.

I am also concerned about the impact of international terrorism on how Members of Parliament conduct themselves in a public place – particularly in the Chamber in Parliament, where their remarks might be heavily publicised. Even though they are protected by privilege, if Members of Parliament feel constrained in any way because of the possible danger to their families that might arise out of any statements that they make in Parliament, I believe that we have a responsibility to try to remove that possibility of constraint. We must place Members of Parliament in a position where they feel confident that what they say will not lead to unnecessary risk to their families.

I am afraid that the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, do not really address that. I am sorry to say that, because we have worked together well on this Bill. However, this is an area where we have a fundamental difference of opinion. As I said in Committee, my views on this matter stem basically from the noble Lord’s lobby. I supported the principle of absolute transparency that he advocated until I had the conversation with my wife, to which I referred in Committee. She explained what happened in our family during the Iraqi debate in the 1990s, when I was quite involved with the Iraqi opposition.

Now is the time to change the nature of the debate in this area. I appeal to the noble Lord not to press his amendment to a vote today because I think that it sends out the wrong message. For all the goodness that lies in the libertarian values that he and his party colleagues hold, this is one area where I am afraid that too much transparency will place individual Members’ families at risk in a totally unacceptable way.

Lord Monson: My Lords, when I first read about this amendment in the press, it seemed to me a good one and well worthy of support were it to go to a Division. After all, Enoch Powell – not exactly the most uncontroversial of political figures – always insisted on having his name, private home address and telephone number published in the London telephone directory. Furthermore – this is not so widely known – while he was Member of Parliament for South Down, he always refused to carry a side-arm for personal protection against terrorist attacks, as he was legally entitled to do. Given his military background, he could have used the weapon to good effect in an emergency. However, he refused to do so because he felt that it would be insulting to his constituents, whether or not they were his supporters.

It must be conceded that that was more than 30 years ago. Perhaps the British character has changed since then and, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has just reminded us, we now have a problem with international terrorism, which hardly existed at that time. So far as the British character goes, there are some who claim that we have become collectively – not individually of course – more emotionally incontinent and much less able, and certainly much less willing, to restrain our words or actions. The rather alarming scenes outside a magistrates’ court in Devon a few days ago, when a woman was charged with paedophile offences, was perhaps indicative of this. So, on further reflection, the argument seems to be much more finely balanced, and I am now not so sure that I can support the amendment. ...

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I shall be brief. At Second Reading, I intervened on the speech of my noble friend Lord Hodgson and asked whether he was including security considerations. It would not be right for me to tell your Lordships’ House what my noble friend said to me after the debate was over, but because this debate will be a quarry for any subsequent debate that may occur in the House of Commons, I will add one other consideration as someone who has been under threat. I agree that it is easy to find out where someone lives but, if he or she lives in a block of flats, for example, we are placing at risk all the people who live in that block of flats and not simply ourselves.

Lord Bates [Opposition Spokesman]: My Lords, having listened to the contributions and having found the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, incredibly persuasive and articulate in presenting the case against this amendment, I would not want to and would be incapable of adding anything to what he said. It stands on its own merits.

I will make one brief point on a technicality: the question whether the other place had an opportunity to consider this measure. That is at the heart of our position. There was a vote in the other place. The result was that 235 Members voted in its favour and 176 voted against it. That was a matter of a free vote on the part of the government party and the Conservatives. It was, sadly, the subject of a three-line Whip on the part of the Liberal Democrats. None the less, the Whip was voted against by several of their Members. The argument presented is that the matter was not discussed, but Members of the other place had seen the amendment in the name of my honourable friend Julian Lewis. The debate had continued; most people had an opinion on it and they expressed it in the most important place: in the Division Lobby. As the elected House, they expressed their opinion on a matter that impacts them; it does not impact us in this House.

Our position is that, if that view was taken in the other place and it was the settled view of that House, it would be wrong for us in this place to seek to overturn that from a procedural point of view, not to mention the qualitative and security arguments that have been presented so forcefully in this debate from many sides. Members on our Benches would have a free vote again in any Division, but I hope that we will allow the House of Commons to determine the terms on which they stand for election and respect that.

[THE LABOUR GOVERNMENT’S VIEW:]

Lord Tunnicliffe [Government Spokesman]: My Lords, Clause 21 removes the requirements on candidates to provide their full address on statements of persons nominated and the ballot paper at UK parliamentary elections. The clause was inserted into the Bill following an amendment that was tabled by the honourable Member for New Forest East, Dr Lewis, and accepted by the other place at Report following a free vote. The clause provides that, at a parliamentary election, candidates’ full home addresses will no longer appear on the nomination paper but will instead be supplied to the returning officer on a separate home address form. A home address form enables candidates to choose whether their full home addresses will be included on the electoral documents available to the public. That is the statement of persons nominated on the ballot paper. Should a candidate prefer that their full home address not be made public, these documents will instead identify the constituency in which the candidate has an address.

The Government issued a consultation paper on 26 November 2008. From the 65 responses to the consultation, it was clear that there are strongly held views for and against changing the legislation. Broadly speaking, a majority of politicians who responded and the Electoral Commission favoured change, while administrators, returning officers and the majority of responses from the public did not. Those in favour argued that the candidate and their families faced more ordinary risks to their safety and security, which warranted the need for their home addresses to be removed from the public domain. By contrast, those against the idea argued that the interest of accountability and free expression of democracy would not be served by allowing candidates to make it more difficult for the public to find out information about them.

As a result of the responses to the consultation and the importance of the issue, we took the view that the matter would be for the other place and not for the Government to decide on – hence there was a free vote on the issue. That allowed those who were elected to make a decision on their behaviour during elections and on the information that should be made available to the public. I reiterate that the Government take no position on the merits of Clause 21 and that the inclusion of the clause in the Bill is not government policy. The Government will therefore allow a free vote on Amendment 76. ...

6.51 pm Division on Amendment 76 Contents 57; Not-Contents 129. Amendment 76 disagreed.