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What I am saying is that it is not just a question of evidence of a threat; it is whether the families of Members of Parliament feel that, when their spouses, fathers, mothers or whatever get up in Parliament and speak on a controversial issue, they are creating a sense of insecurity within that household.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I accept everything that the noble Lord has said and the serious nature of the allegations and points that he is making, but he is making points about Members of Parliament, not about candidates. The question is: does the appearance of the candidates address at election time increase the danger to him sufficiently to justify the distancing from the electorate? The noble Lord is making extremely serious points, which I entirely support, but they are about Members of Parliament carrying out their dutiesfor which they will certainly be well known in their constituencyas the noble Lord did in his day.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I was coming to that, because there is a direct connection. I go almost all the way with Mr Lewis in the House of Commons, but I would slightly change his proposal, because problems arise. The connection is that if the address of a Member of Parliament is freely available, that can invite irresponsible elements to take irresponsible action. I know that it is often possible by whatever means to identify the information from other sources but, in the world of multimedia, where computerised information can fly around the world, there is no reason why when a ballot paper or a nomination paper is published the address of a candidate who subsequently becomes a Member of Parliament cannot be winged around the world and transmitted to people who for all sorts of reasons might want to organise some campaign within the United Kingdom against that Member. That is the connection.
What would I do about it? I understand that the proposal is simply to put just the name of the constituency, as against putting your full address, if that is what you want to do. Until my conversation with my wife about what happened in the 1990s, I, obviously, always put my full name and address on the nomination papers, which were published. My address was in Keswick, which is where I have spent most of life since 1955. But I do not think that that is enough. More is needed. I would argue that you should put the constituency and the county. Therefore, when I was the Member for Workington, the nomination paper would state, Workington in the county of Cumbria or Penrith and The Border in the county of Cumbria. Some constituencies have very obscure names. The other day, I mentioned Erewash to Mr Lewis. Who knows where Erewash is? That is insufficient. There are other obscure names of constituencies. One has to give a little more information.
We have to take into account another problem. Let us say that a candidate who stood against me in Workington put Workington constituency and nothing else, and I had filled in my Keswick address. People would imagine that the candidate who put Workington constituency lived in Workington and that I lived miles away in Keswick in the heart of the leafy Lake District. To some extent that would misrepresent the position, which might be the case for the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, whose constituency was Truro.
Lord Campbell-Savours: I am sorry; I thought that it was Truro. Anyhow, let us say that the Member for Truro might live in a town outside Truro. Simply writing the constituency might mislead the public on the location of where that candidate actually lived. It is important to put the county name and, in the case of the Member who puts his full address, the constituency name should also go down.
In the 1990s, in my election, let us say that the wording for the Conservative candidate, if he did not want to reveal his full address, would have been, Workington constituency in the county of Cumbria. In my case, it would have said, Workington constituency, followed by my full address. In other words, as regards the constituency, each candidate would have to identify where they lived, even where one of the candidates set out the exact location. That is a compromise, but I do not want to see this provision meddled with.
I know that the noble Lord feels aggrieved that this proposal was not moved in the House of Commons. I have tried to find out what happened, but no one could give me any accurate information. The reality is that it was voted on. Parliament has decided down that end. I hope that it goes through and, if possible, that the Government will amend it in the way that I have suggested. I hope that they are prepared to do so. I wholeheartedly support the proposition.
Lord Greaves: I disagree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and I find myself aligning myself with my local MP yet again, who I think objected vociferously about the fact that his amendment
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There is a real problem. This is an extraordinary and rather ridiculous proposal. If individual politicians require protection, individual politicians should get protection to the extent that they require it. There is no doubt about that. Pretending that they can hide where they live is nonsense. It is precisely because we live in the age of the internet, with information winging its way around, that if you want to find out where somebody lives you can find out pretty quickly nowadays. It is usually, though not always, fairly accurate. If you want to find any piece of information about anybody, you can find it fairly quickly on this astonishing internet that we have now, so I do not think that politicians can hide.
This risks turning politicians into a cosseted class and it is not on. We are talking about politicians, including candidates, and not only elected representatives, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, says. How far will we go? Why only Members of the Westminster Parliament? Why not Members of the Scottish Parliament, Members of the Welsh Assembly and Members of the European Parliament? Why not councillors? I have recently taken part in a discussion forum on the internetas some of us waste our time doing nowadaysabout whether councillors should have their home addresses put on the council website. I feel very strongly that we should. It is astonishing to me that anyone could think that I could do my job as a councillor without people knowing where I live. I have spent perhaps 45 years putting out leaflets that tell people where I live, giving them my telephone number and, now, giving them my e-mail addresses. I do it because, to be an active elected representative in a democratic system, where you live and how people can get in touch with you are absolutely fundamental. It is part of what we do all the time, so I find it astonishing that any candidates would want to hide their addresses.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Does the noble Lord think that there are circumstances in which a Member of Parliament might feel restrained or inhibited in what they said because they felt that they would be exposing their family to risk because of the availability of their address in the public domain? Does the noble Lord think that that might ever be a consideration, or does he think that it would never happen?
Lord Greaves: It might enter the consideration of any elected politician or, indeed, anyone seeking election. Yes, it is part and parcel of the downside of the society that we live in now. There are certainly more people around now who might want to go for a person or
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Lord Campbell-Savours: If the noble Lord feels that that is the case, does he not think that sometimes a Member of Parliament may feel that they have a duty to their family to ensure, as best they can, that their address is not in the public domain?
Lord Greaves: I might consider it as a matter of principle if I thought that it was practical. As I have said, if I want to find out where a Member of Parliament lives, I can do so. If I want to find out where the chairman of a big company lives, I can do so. It is not secret information and it is not possible to keep it secret in the modern world. In a practical sense, I do not think that it works.
As a matter of principle, those of us who take part in active politics, to a greater or lesser extent, accept the risks of doing so. It may affect our families and other people connected to us. I do not know how many people in this Room can say that they have never had undesirable people threaten to do nasty things to them. I have certainly had threats to remove my kneecaps. A couple of years ago there was a banner headline in the local paper when a former BNP candidate was being prosecuted for having a large number of explosives in his house. He lived about a mile away from me then and the headline, from his wife, was, He wanted to kill Tony Blair and Lord Greaves. I did not quite understand this extraordinary combination of people, but there it was. It was all reported in court in Manchester and no doubt this man was a threat.
We all know what happenednot for political reasons, but because someone was mentally illto my noble friend Lord Jones of Cheltenham. His assistant, a local councillor, was killed at one of his surgeries. Yes, there is always a risk if you take part in public life, and the risk may be higher than it used to be, but it is a risk that we have to accept. If there are people who believe that they need protection, that protection should be provided whether or not they are government Ministers; a proper risk assessment should take place and, if they need the protection, they should get it. There is no doubt about that.
My final point is that I cannot imagine a circumstance in which most parliamentary candidates or any other candidates would want to hide their addresses. Most of them, even if their main residence is not in the constituency, get another residence therea pied-Ã -terre, a flat or somethingand then put that address on their nomination paper for the parliamentary election. It is certainly somewhere where they live for a time and they are certainly living there during the election campaign. I do not think that candidates would want to hide their addresses and I have to say that opposition candidates would make a point of complaining, This person will not tell us where he lives. You can imagine the populist leaflets that people such as my noble friend Lord Rennard and I might put out in such circumstances: Who is this man? Where does he live? Is it true that he comes from the south of England or Tristan de Cunha or somewhere?I was going to say
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Lord Henley: The only reason why I brought up carpetbaggers was that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, described this as a carpetbaggers charter. He is in the same party, I think, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves.
Lord Greaves: My noble friend Lord Tyler was never a carpetbagger. I once voted for my noble friend Lord Tyler in an election for the presidency of the Oxford Union. In those days, he came from Cornwall and I came from the north of England. He did not win, but there we go.
Lord Bates: We have taken a position on this clause in that it has been debated and decided on in the other place. There was a vote of 235 to 176 in favour of the new clause, which was, therefore, passed. Given that that happened in the Chamber of the elected House and that it relates particularly to that House, it would be unwise of us to seek to reverse it here.
Lord Bates: Perhaps the noble Lord would let me make a little progress. There will be a point at which he can come in, but I want to cover the points that have been made. But perhaps I should take his intervention now.
Lord Tyler: I have just two points. The first is that the clause was not debated in the other House; I think that noble Lords recognise that. Secondly, the provision does not relate only to the other House, because all parliamentary candidates are not Members of the House of Commons when they stand.
Lord Bates: Well, my understanding is that this was certainly debated at Second Reading and at Third Reading. I want to touch on the key issues. The mechanism by which this came aboutthe way in which the House of Commons works in its proceduresmay not be as elegant as the mechanism in your Lordships House, but none the less you can take the view that Dr Julian Lewis was fleet of foot. He was alert and aware of the rules and the opportunity that he had to introduce this clause. He rose and caught the Speakers eye at the right time, he made his point and the Speaker ruled in his favour. Therefore the clause stood.
I offer three points as key elements of the debate, as I see it. First, candidates who are applying for election to the other place may not necessarily know where they will end up. They may stand as candidates, be elected to represent a constituency, reveal their home address and then be posted to the Northern Ireland Office or to a defence post. The relevant amendment does not propose that no candidate can disclose their address; it simply says that people can disclose their full address if they wishvoters at the polling station will give that due weightor they can withhold it if they feel that disclosing it puts them at risk.
Secondly, it could be suggested that such a process somehow represents a denial of local democracy. A candidates place of origin is often a material point of debate in by-elections and general elections. One can envisage publicity being given to such statements as, I am a local person. I have lived in the local town all my life. My children attend school locally.
My third point relates particularly to the Liberal Democrats, who tabled the relevant amendment but failed to recognise that we regarded this as a matter of conscience. The Government and the Official Opposition allowed their Members a free vote on the matter, whereas the Liberal Democrats applied a three-line Whip, which I understand was defied by six Members.
However, there is another aspect to political debate. This may not apply to the Liberal Democrats but, as regards some of the other parties, people are voting for the local candidate and for a national Government. We need to bear in mind that material fact.
I heard the remarks of my noble friend Lord Hodgson and recognise his expertise and knowledge in this area, but the Conservative Front Bench believes that this decision should be taken in the other place and that the other place has the authority and right to do so.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: I shall speak briefly, as powerful speeches have already been made on this issue. As someone who stood as a candidate for election to another place on nine occasions and was elected, it seems to me that awareness of my address would not have enhanced the probability of my becoming the victim of a terrorist attack or of my family vicariously running the risks that we have discussed. It seems to me that there is in this country a somewhat paranoid response to terrorism and that threats are being disproportionately represented. That is not to say that threats do not exist. Every day we see on our monitor that this place faces severe threats. However, if we respond to every possibility of such threats by curtailing information and the accessibility of those in public life, we diminish our democracy.
As a spokesman for some years on Northern Ireland, I well recall being subjected to threats. I remember being told that I had to assume a name when I stayed at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, which seemed preposterous, although even more preposterous was that the then leader of my party, the now noble Lord, Lord Owen, was also told to assume a name, when his face was one of the most familiar in the British Isles.
Those sorts of responses seem suitable for acting on when a particular individual is subject to a particular threat, but I cannot see that we should regard everyone
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I hope that the other place will debate this issue. It is not something to be shuffled through. I am not making any comments about procedures in another place, although I think that my noble friend Lord Tyler is entirely right to draw attention to the oddity of what happened. However, it is important enough, as this affects the rights not only of candidates for Parliament but of voters. This should not be done without discussion in the elected House. It is right that we should enable that discussion to take place in future by indicating that we are not content with this clause as it stands.
Lord Tunnicliffe: I am not going to comment on procedural matters in the other place. Clause 17 removes the requirement on candidates to provide their full address on election documents, including ballot papers, at UK parliamentary elections. This clause was inserted into the Bill following an amendment tabled by the honourable Member for New Forest East, Dr Julian Lewis, and accepted by the other place on Report. The clause provides that at a parliamentary election, should a candidate prefer that their full home address is not made public, the statement of persons nominated and the ballot paper at an election will instead identify the constituency within which their address is situated.
Changing the requirement for the home addresses of candidates to appear on nomination and ballot papers represents a significant change to the electoral process. That is why the Government indicated last autumn, when an amendment was first tabled on this matter in the other place, that we could not simply lend our support to such an amendment. Instead, it was our firm view that we should hold a public consultation on the matter to test the strength of feeling on the issue. The Government issued a consultation paper on 26 November 2008 and made it clear that they had not formed a view that change was needed, but were consulting to test the arguments on both sides. From the 65 responses received to the consultation, it was clear that there are strongly held views both for and against changing the legislation. Broadly speaking, the majority of the politicians who responded and the Electoral Commission favoured change, while administrators, returning officers and the majority of the responses from the public did not. Those in favour argue that candidates and their families face a higher risk to their safety and security, which warrants a need for their home addresses to be removed from the public domain.
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 the Government to decide on. Hence, there was a free vote on the issue, which allowed those who were elected to make a decision on their behaviour during elections and on the information which should be made available to the public. We see our role here as facilitating a full
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Lord Tyler: This has been a very full debate and I do not want to detain the Committee, but at the outset I must make an apology to the Committee. I inadvertently referred to candidates generally in referring to Clause 17. I want to make it absolutely clear that Clause 17 refers only to parliamentary candidates. As my noble friend Lord Greaves pointed out, candidates for some of the devolved Assemblies might be in a much more difficult situation. Imagine an Assemblyman in Stormont. He or she might very well feel that the provision was cosseting parliamentary candidates for Westminster in a totally unreasonable way.
It is also true, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said, that the clause does not meet his requirements. It is defective in precisely the way he pointed out with its reference to constituencies rather than to the general area or county, which might well be more appropriate. That reference is in new section (5)(b), which states that the home address form,
The point I want to make, and the one which the Minister has just made, is that we have had a debate here, but so far there has not been a full debate in the House of Commons. The only way we can facilitate thatI take precisely the point made by the Minister a few moments agois by rejecting the clause when we come to Report in our House, your Lordships House, so that there will have to be a debate in the Commons. Until that happens, all the points that have been made this afternoon simply hang in the air; they have not been given opportunity for expression in the place that we all agree should be where the decision is made. This is an important issue. We are reversing the transparency agreed in 1872 in the Ballot Act. I take very seriously the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. In that sense it is a big decision, not for parliamentarians and not even for parliamentary candidates, but for the public. We are reversing something that has been our established practice for a considerable number of yearsI cannot do the calculation, is it 130 or 137 years?
I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, but everything he has said this afternoon must take him to vote against the inclusion of the clause when we reach Report, otherwise there
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