Memorandum submitted by Mr Peter Hooper (PPE 06)

 

 

Re: Possible amendment to Bill at present in Committee

 

 

1. Pre-amble:

 

During the 1st Reading of the Bill, Julian Lewis MP raised the possibility of an amendment to prevent MPs' and candidate's home addresses being published for Parliamentary elections.

Subsequently Dr Lewis again raised the matter during Commons questions to The Leader of the House, M/s Harriet Harman, who replied that the matter was under consideration by the Ministry of Justice.

 

Since that time I have repeatedly tried to establish from the Ministry of Justice whether they intended to hold any form of Public Consultation into the matter - but without success.

 

I now suspect that a late amendment on the subject will be introduced, without prior public consultation, for consideration by the Committee at its very last meeting on Thursday 20th November.

 

I would like to point out that the concealment of candidate's addresses did not form part of the Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry into Party Funding, or the Committee on Standards in Public Life's Review of the Electoral Commission (11th Inquiry) - to both of which I made written submissions.

 

Also Mr Hayden Phillips, in his Interim Report, refused to consider the matter of candidate's accommodation - despite the fact I had written to him on the subject.

 

Finally there were two short consultations by the Standards & Privileges Committee (responsible for the MPs' Register of Interests) and the MEC (Review of MPs' Allowances), neither of which made any mention of overturning (by Order and without Public Consultation) decisions of the Information Commissioner and The High Court of Justice.

 

2. Background:

 

In recent years the Windsor CC Seat has been represented by a succession of "Strangers" ie people who when selected were not resident in the Constituency.

 

In my lifetime I have watched these comings and goings with some amusement, frustration and increasing annoyance; so much so - I stood as an candidate in the 2005 General Election.

 

Starting as a political virgin, my observations and experiences have led me to believe that the electoral system is already far too heavily weighed in favour of party candidates and against anyone wishing to stand as a local Independent Candidate.

 

In my opinion MPs in Westminster, on behalf of their party candidates, are making unfair rules on how elections can be held, whilst being protected from the British public by police armed with sub-machine guns, parliamentary privilege and increasingly the concealment from voters as to where they actually live with their families.

 

3. Observations & Comments:

 

a) Party Candidates from outside the Constituency will be asked by the local selection committee if they will set up their family home in the constituency if selected / elected. Their assurances on the matter will be recorded in the local papers, and in my opinion used as a form of advertising by and for the candidate.

I understand that a number of candidates were excluded from the Windsor Conservative 2005 short list because the selection committee did not believe that they would actually make their family home in the constituency if selected.

 

b) A party candidate may rent accommodation in the constituency, summon the local papers to record / advertise their coming, and claim they have "moved" to the constituency.

In my opinion this is misleading if they keep their main home elsewhere, do not regularly live in the rented property and use it mainly as an expensive advertisement solely in support of their election campaign.

The rental cost of a 2 bedroom flat in central Windsor is about 1,500 per month; so for a 12 month rental this could total 18,000 and for a 24 month rental 36,000 - this is considerably more than the candidate's permitted election expenses.

 

c) The funding mechanism of such rented accommodation, for advertising purposes, is shrouded in mystery.

The political parties have never made public their funding arrangements for renting these properties, despite the fact that they are claiming ever increasing funds from the taxpayer to support their election campaigns.

While I have no doubt some rich party candidates can well afford rent a property and leave it (mainly) empty, who is paying for party candidates of more modest means ?

After Mr Hayden Phillips opened his Inter-Party Talks on The Funding of Political Parties to public comment, I did write to him raising the subject of candidates accommodation costs - however in his Interim Report he excluded the matter from consideration).

 

d) After being elected, MPs can and do set up home outside the constituency, whilst going to extraordinary lengths to conceal from the voters where they really live with their families.

In my opinion the MPs' Register of Interests run by the Standards & Privileges Committee is a waste of time, as any accommodation occupied by MPs or their families does not have to be registered in any form.

 

e) A sitting MP can misrepresent &/or give misleading information in correspondence to constituents or other public bodies as to where they actually live. One way to do this is to infer on Commons headed paper that they live in one place - while actually living with their families elsewhere.

 

f) In newspaper interviews and newspaper columns an MP can claim to reside in a constituency for party electioneering purposes, while actually living with their families elsewhere.

Surely it would be far more honest that if an MP lived with his family outside the constituency, he told his constituents so and did not mislead them on the subject ?

g) Anyway what do the words "moved", "move to","reside" etc. actually mean.

If you stay a night in a friends home, have you moved there?

If you spend a night in a hotel, do you reside there?

Perhaps the political parties could ask the Plain English Society for advice on the matter as I see on the w4mp website that The Plain English MP Awards are to be held on 17.11.08

 

h) Even when a sitting MP does not require a 2nd home in the Constituency, they can be enticed by the Additional Cost Allowance to purchase one for electioneering purposes - as they seek re-election.

 

Here in Windsor I have never seen any evidence that any of our recent MPs have actually needed a second home to conduct Westminster business on our behalf; particularly as we are only 23 miles from central London.

Furthermore in the present recession, I believe it would be profligate of an MP to use the ACA to purchase or rent a second home simply so they can claim to reside in the constituency in preparation for the forthcoming General Election.

 

i) In my opinion election candidates (and sitting MPs) can and do misrepresent to voters as to which of their various properties is their main family home; is it their Westminster home, their constituency home or any other other home they may own ?

 

 

 

Conclusions:

 

A) The misleading of voters as to where candidates / MPs actually live with their families for unfair electoral advantage is a disgrace and should be stopped immediately.

 

B) The Committee on Standards in Public Life should be asked to investigate the funding of accommodation rented by party candidates for electoral advertising purposes.

Not only should they look at the sources of the funding, but also comment on whether they think the present arrangements are fair to other candidates in a Parliamentary Election.

 

C) The Bill Committee should take note of the fact that not only did Barack Obama raise his election funds without relying on central government support, but his family home (up to now) has been in Chicago - 633 miles from the US Senate.

I saw on TV his family home, his local Chicken Diner, his local Convenience Store, where he plays ball and his children going to a local school !

 

D) So why cannot Westminster MPs be more open and honest about where they really live with their families ?

The Americans would never put up with the Westminster style concealment of how and where their public taxes were being spent or where their Senators / Representatives really live with their families !

 

November 2008