Southern Daily Echo – 4 March 2009
A Hampshire MP has won the backing of the House of Commons for measures to allow election candidates to keep their home addresses secret. New Forest East MP Julian Lewis launched his bid to end the requirement for candidates to reveal where they live in order to protect politicians from terrorists and angry voters.
In a key vote, a majority of MPs supported Mr Lewis's amendment to the Political Parties and Elections Bill that would bring the change about. The measure, which will now go to the House of Lords for further consideration, would allow candidates at a General Election 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.
The vote represents a fresh victory for Mr Lewis, who last year successfully campaigned for MPs' home addresses to be exempted from the Freedom of Information Act. The MP said that the requirement to reveal the home address of a candidate was an 'anachronism' that dated back to a time when party affiliation could not be declared on a nomination form.
Asked whether the move was an attempt to cover up information, he said:
'It is a bid to attempt to hide the home addresses of individuals and their families from the attention of obsessives, criminals, nut-cases and terrorists. That's what it is.
He said it would not have taken much effort, under the current regime, to find out the home addresses of all 646 MPs.
'One a list of 646 home addressses had been compilted and published on the Internet – and it was only a matter of time – then any vicious hoaxer would be sending 646 letter-bombs, 646 packets of ordure or 646 packets of white powder – which could just be washing-powder but was purporting to be anthrax – to every elected MP.'
'You could imagine that if half-a-dozen letter-bombs went off in MPs' family homes, everybody would have turned round and said "Maybe that Lewis fellow was right after all".'
The decision by Deputy Speaker Sylvia Heal to allow a vote on Mr Lewis's amendment without debate led to strong protests from the Liberal Democrats and some Labour backbenchers. Romsey MP Sandra Gidley, a Lib-Dem, said changing the disclosure rules would be a 'paranoid overreaction'. She said:
'The vast majority of us (sic) have no objections to having our constituency addresses published. People get to know where you live and my name is in the phone-book. There is a lot of information already in the public domain and you can't be part of the community if you want to keep the details of your very presence in the community under wraps.'
[NOTE 1: For a relevant later development, click here.]
[NOTE 2: For what happened in the House of Lords, click here.]