Tory MP defends call to remove e-mail link

Image caption,
Dominic Raab says blanket e-mails make it hard to prioritise his efforts

A Tory MP has defended asking for an e-mail link to him to be removed from a campaign group's website, arguing he has only "finite time and resources".

Dominic Raab claims that 38 Degrees is encouraging people to "deluge" his in-box with "cloned messages".

The MP for Esher and Walton in Surrey has referred the matter to the Information Commissioner's Office.

But 38 Degrees is refusing to remove the postform link from its website, saying it is "in the public domain".

Among its causes, the group is campaigning in favour of bringing in the alternative vote (AV) system to Westminster elections and for action to prevent climate change.

On its website, visitors are asked to contact their local MP via a postform, with the message they write sent to the MP's e-mail account. The actual e-mail address is not published.

On his blog, Mr Raab writes: "MPs get hundreds of e-mails and letters from constituents. I try to answer every one in reasonable time. But, MPs have finite time and resources, and I also want to prioritise those in the greatest need."

'Write to me'

He adds: "All of this takes time and energy. You have to prioritise. One of the things I found as an MP, is that every lobby group puts you on their e-mail distribution list - or an automated system that sends out cloned messages from members of the public who access it.

"I ask for my e-mail address to be removed from such systems and encourage constituents to contact me direct. Otherwise, my e-mail inbox gets deluged by lobby group e-mails - and that detracts time and effort from dealing with the many constituents who raise problems or issues."

Mr Raab does not display his e-mail address on Parliament's website.

On his blog, he says: "I hold regular surgeries. I send out a monthly bulletin to anyone who signs up.

"I actively encourage constituents (on my blog and website) to write to me, comment on my blog, e-mail my association, telephone my office or book a surgery appointment."

He has referred 38 Degrees' continued use of the form to the Information Commissioner's Office, arguing that the group is acting unreasonably.

'Part of the job'

But 38 Degrees argues that, since the MP's e-mail address is taxpayer-funded and in the public domain, "he has no grounds to report us".

Executive director David Babbs told the BBC: "We have spoken to the Information Commissioner and they've told us what we are doing is fine. We asked if we should take the form down and they said no."

He added: "We have worked out that, since he became an MP, Mr Raab has received about two e-mails a day on average via our supporters.

"We've never had this sort of response from any other MP. Even when they don't agree with our stance, most MPs recognised that this is part of their job.

"At a time when the government is making more services available online, for one MP to say we've got to go to the post office to buy some stamps to contact him is unusual."

The group is conducting a poll of its supporters in Esher and Walton to find out their opinion on the matter.

The Information Commissioner's Office said that if an e-mail address was in the public domain it would not take any action.

It would, however, become involved if a personal address, such as on Hotmail or Google Mail, was given out.

Mr Raab, an international lawyer and a blackbelt in karate, became an MP at the election earlier this year.

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