UK Liberty

MPs’ addresses

Posted in accountability, freedom of information, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on May 23, 2008

Recently in the Commons:

I hesitate to take up the House’s time by further referring to the issue of Members’ private home addresses being published, but this is one of the few opportunities available to me to develop the argument, which I shall do in detail.

Every hon. Member has a few special skills, some of which are more valuable than others. I have very few special skills, one of which is particularly rarefied—I have an understanding of the way in which extremists’ minds work. Were I an extremist, I would be cheering on the freedom of information campaigners who are urging, for misguided reasons, that the private home addresses of Members of this House should be made public in an easily accessible form.

I don’t know of any freedom of information campaigners who are urging that private home addresses of MPs be made public. As far as I am aware none of them care about addresses in themselves.

The first issue about addresses is that they shouldn’t be used to prevent the disclosure of MPs’ expenses; the second is that the system as it stands means we need some way of determining what is spent on the primary home and what is spent on the secondary home.

Read the judgement:

None of this is intended to suggest that the disclosure of an individual’s private address under FOIA does not require justification. In the present case, however, there was a legitimate public interest well capable of providing such justification. Thus, for example, there is evidence which suggests that one MP claimed ACA for a property which did not exist, and yet further evidence may demonstrate that on occasions MPs claiming ACA were letting out the accommodation procured from the ACA allowance.

The court and the Tribunal were as one:

Having closely examined the privacy issue, not only as it related to the MPs claiming ACA, but also to anyone living with them, the Tribunal concluded that “the ACA system is so deeply flawed, the shortfall in accountability is so substantial, and the necessity of full disclosure so convincingly established, that only the most pressing privacy needs should in our view be permitted to prevail“. It may be that the system will be revised, and subject to much more robust checking to ensure, for example, that the addresses to which ACA relates do in fact exist, and that the claims for them are within the scheme and not excessive. If so, the case for specific disclosure of such addresses may be rather less powerful.

We recognise that if the arrangements for oversight and control of the ACA system were to change, then the issues of the privacy and security of MPs and their families might lead to a different conclusion to the one reached by the Tribunal. The Tribunal was required to act on the evidence available to it, and make its judgment accordingly. If the question were to arise again, the Commissioner, and if necessary the Tribunal, again, would have to make whatever decision was appropriate in the light of changed circumstances. Equally we cannot interfere with the Tribunal’s decision on the basis of what the appropriate outcome might be if the Tribunal were not addressing the deeply flawed system which the Tribunal believed had “so convincingly established” the necessity of full disclosure which included the addresses to which the ACA forms applied.

Seems eminently reasonable.

Perhaps concern about their addresses will influence MPs such as Julian Lewis to improve the ACA system.

Julian Lewis has “put in freedom of information requests asking for the private home addresses of High Court judges in general”. What is the point?  They have a strong claim for privacy based on security, as do many MPs.

(see also BBC)

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