By Ben Padley
Press Association – 4 March 2009
The controversial decision to let MPs vote to allow election candidates to keep their home addresses secret was sanctioned personally by Commons Speaker Michael Martin, he said today. It was 'right and fitting' that parliamentary candidates could keep their addresses from the public as all MPs became candidates during a General Election, he ruled.
Mr Martin was referring to the ruling last night by one of his deputies, Sylvia Heal, to allow a vote on an amendment by Tory Julian Lewis without debate. Mr Lewis forced a vote on his measure by raising a point of order which she agreed to, despite strong protests from Liberal Democrats and some Labour backbenchers.
Today Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes said in a point of order:
'I make no complaint about the discretion of the chair to use that power ... but I would ask for your guidance as to when that power can be used'.
Mr Martin ruled:
'Let me put it on the record in case there is any doubt. The Deputy Speaker was acting under my instructions and I used the powers that this House gave me to allow a vote to take place on that matter.
'I don't need to give any reasons why but I do expect honourable Members to use some logic. It was only a few weeks ago that a Statutory Instrument was put through in this House that allowed Members to have their address kept private and therefore there was a debate on that matter. Therefore when that came up I considered right and fitting that it should be that parliamentary candidates could have that privacy. After all, as soon as a General Election is called every honourable Member of this House becomes a parliamentary candidate so that's simple.'
Under the amendment to the Political Parties and Elections Bill carried last night by MPs, a candidate will be allowed to sign a statement 'that he requires the home address not to be made public'. Any candidate who did so would be required to state the constituency within which the home address is located – or the country if the property is outside the UK. Under current rules, the candidate's full address is included on election nomination forms.
The vote was a fresh victory for Mr Lewis who last year successfully campaigned for MPs' home addresses to be exempted from the Freedom of Information Act.
[NOTE: For what happened in the House of Lords, click here.]