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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 10:45 GMT
Should politicians be required to disclose personal information?
Prime Minister Tony Blair has refused to tell MPs whether his baby son, Leo, has been given the controversial MMR vaccine.
On Saturday he hit out at newspaper speculation into whether Leo had been inoculated for measles, mumps and rubella, though he hinted that he had had the jab.
Some parents have expressed their concerns about the safety of the vaccine and demanded their children be able to receive each vaccine separately.
Conservative MP Julie Kirkbride said she understood why Mr Blair wanted to keep details of his children's healthcare private. But with the government mounting a campaign for children to receive the vaccine, she argued that there was a legitimate public interest in the issue.
Do you think politicians should be forced to reveal personal information about their families? Or is the prime minister entitled to protect the privacy of his family?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
There is nothing personal about the question, it is simply a question of do they agree with government policy and are not being hypocrites.
But New Labour's response to anything where they are found out is to browbeat, denigrate or abuse.
Like do they all use the NHS, inner city comprehensive schools, public transport, etc.
Who says MMR is not safe? Yes, there is a rise in autism, which I have never heard the government deny - but there is no scientific link between MMR and autism. The way we all live our lives has changed dramatically and therefore the rise in autism could be related to any number of things. As to public officials releasing details of their children's medical history, shame on you. Somebody's got to look after that child's rights to privacy. I hope Mr Blair continues with his policy! The media and opposition politicians are playing on the fears of scared parents to sell more papers and score cheap political points. I think it's disgusting.
Politicians should practice what they preach. Since there is so little trust in what politicians say these days, the prime minister should at least inform the country whether his youngest son has had the MMR or single vaccinations, particularly since a choice of vaccination type appears not to be available to the average person.
Dougie Lawson, UK
Tony Blair and any other MPs have chosen public life, not only for themselves but also their families, as all too often they wheel out the wife and kids. Tony and Cherie, as has been mentioned, have wheeled out the little Blairs too many times to play the privacy card. Tony needs to sort his priorities first - you can't make political capital from your family one day, then shy away the next when something is amiss or not palatable. Tony, be a man, a leader, clear up the mess you've caused, tell us the truth!
Personally I am not interested in whether Tony Blair has given Baby Leo the MMR jab. What I am interested in is if the prime minister has followed his own advice and given one of his offspring the combined MMR jab, and if not why should anyone else follow the official advice?
Wayne Anthony-Cole, UK
Nobody voted for Leo, he holds no official position. There is no reason on earth to somehow expect Tony Blair to start giving out the confidential medical records of his family.
What do the media vultures want to see? A repeat of the pathetic exercises of the past where health minister's children have eaten beefburgers on camera to show how safe British Beef is?
It seems clear that many media organisations are bent on proving MMR is dangerous (or at least sensationalising it), obviously they are having to spend money to do that, why not put that money into an independent enquiry? They could put their money where their mouths are and actually do something for the public good for once.
We elect MP's to represent our electorates on their ability to bring benefits to the nation through Parliament. I would be the last person to ask an MP and not a medical specialist about MMR.
Alan Cameron, Scotland
The position taken by government ministers on this beggars belief. I listened to another one this morning on the Today programme ducking the simplest of questions. Can you imagine groups of ordinary parents discussing this matter in a playground refusing to inform each other of their own decisions? No, neither can I. Ministers hiding behind the cloak of "private matters" on this issue should be ashamed of themselves.
If I were the Prime Minister, I would choose not to tell others about my family. In my opinion, the public should pay more attention to government policy rather than personal affairs.
Normally children shouldn't be used for political gain (though the Blairs in the past haven't appeared to adhere to this). However, this isn't about Leo per sae, it's about the choice his parents made which could be seriously conflicting with Tony's official line.
It is astounding that people are worried about MMR vaccine, since such a vaccine has been common in the United States for many years with little if any negative side effects. The US is not known for its lax regulatory approval for vaccines. Perhaps this is a political, rather than medical or scientific issue; certain individuals may be using the concerns of parents for personal political gain.
Mark Dowe, Scotland, UK
Leo's parents will make the decision on whether or not he will take the vaccine. As one of those who is now urging the rest of us to accept MMR then I think we are justified in hearing if Blair practices what he preaches. On the other hand he has shown blind faith in science before - promising nuclear electricity, genetically modified crops and other things I'm not prepared to accept - so I'm not sure we should really trust his judgement anyway.
Surely the public has a right to be spared having to hear every last sordid detail of the private affairs of those in public office.
Under no circumstances should MPs discuss the lives of their children. They are in the public eye but their children did not choose to be so. Everyone has a right to privacy, regardless of the job of the parent. The MPs who have publicly discussed their children should be ashamed of themselves for invading the privacy of those they should be protecting, their own families.
The personal life of an individual should not be brought out in public just because he or she is in politics. As long as they are delivering what they are supposed to, personal life should not come in the way.
It's obvious that Tony Blair can't be trusted on the issue of vaccinations. Whatever the feelings about John Gummer feeding his daughter a burger during the BSE crisis, at least he put his money where his (daughter's) mouth was! Mr Blair was happy enough to flaunt Leo to the cameras and talk about Leo's sleeping patterns and eating habits when everything in the garden was rosy, so it's just too late for him to squawk about his children's health. I just wonder what else the long-suffering public can't trust him on. Putting it mildly, I trust Blair about as much as I'd trust Dracula to behave himself in a blood bank.
Forcing politicians to disclose personal information. Great, what's next - political debates about what brand of condoms MPs use?
As a parent facing the problem of whether to opt (privately) for separate vaccines or the single MMR jab, I am inclined to infer that those politicians and ministers who claim the right of privacy for their children are the ones who have opted for the separate vaccines.
The reason being that we are not talking about sensitive information here, unless of course they have not opted for the MMR jab. We are talking about a vaccine.
Should politicians be forced to disclose personal information about themselves? Certainly, if it is relevant. But about their children? I really don't think so.
We have voted for our representatives in parliament for their abilities to run the country. Why do we think we therefore have the right to know everything about how they run their own lives? We voted Blair in to run the country - what makes us think he is qualified to make decisions on complex medical issues. It would be much more revealing to ask the experts in the relevant fields what they would do. In this instance perhaps we should be asking whether the children of the head of the BMA have had these vaccines.
Of what possible benefit can it be to the public at large for politicians to reveal personal information about their families?
First of all everyone wants politicians to be more like "ordinary people", whatever that means, and then in the next breath suggest that they should tell all and sundry every piece of personal information about their families. Would you reveal every bit of information about your family? Have we really got such pointless and boring lives that we want to concern ourselves with other people's personal details?
Politicians should be allowed their 'human right' to privacy just like anyone else. On the other hand, they should be required to disclose as early as "reasonably possible" anything about their private lives that may influence their role in elected office, and a failure to disclose this kind of information should result in the most severe financial and possibly other penalties.
No more feeble excuses that the planning permission granted to the councillor's partner was completely independent of the fact that the other was an elected official; no more free trips for the kids on a friendly cruise line; no more under-the-table promises of non-exec directorships of telecoms giants after privatisation.
Look at it from the point of view of his family. Why should their personal details be divulged just because of the job their father has? You wouldn't publish the criminal record of all people whose father was a policeman would you?
Tony Blair has a right to keep quiet just as long as he doesn't try to use Leo for political gain in other ways. You have only to think back to the Gummer / burger incident to realise that asking politicians to play politics with their own children is a very bad idea indeed.
What makes anyone think that Tony Blair's Press Secretary (as he is the one who would announce the information) would tell the truth about Leo anyway. The year 2001 has been about 'lies, damned lies and spin' all the way through. I couldn't care less about Leo. What I want is a government that can run things and not destroy everything it touches. (The Dome, Wembley, London's Athletic Stadium, the NHS, the railways, and the farm industry etc.) But the awful truth is that the other two main parties would probably be just as bad.
This all smacks of government opposition by any means possible, because the official one is so useless. To accuse Tony Blair of "using" his children when it suits him is just disingenuous; he simply does what he can to balance the demands of the media with his natural instincts as a proud and protective father. The irony is that the nature of this "opposition" is such that it would suit many to disbelieve government ministers whatever they said about MMR and their children. As somebody else has already said, it would be far more interesting to know what the scientists are doing where their children are concerned.
I agree that privacy and free choice should be respected, BUT ... hundreds of alleged 'autism from MMR' cases have to come to light, and given that this is such an important issue for those involved, if the PM's son did not receive these jabs (all at once) due to the PM knowing something that we don't - or being advised against it, then he must tell the UK. It is totally hypocritical and almost 'dictatorial' to urge the population to do one thing, then do something totally different based on what some argue to be firm evidence. C'mon Tony, first the Dome, now this ... don't you like the British public??
If personal information regards whether a certain politician, his partner or children have financial interests in various private companies, they should be forced to disclose it - no matter how big or small the interest. But when it comes to medical matters it's ridiculous to say that the public have a right to know. It might sound innocent enough to demand to know whether Leo Blair has been given a controversial vaccine, but it would set a bad precedent. What happens when a PM's child is diagnosed with STDs or other "shameful" diseases?
Martin - please point us to the evidence that the combined MMR jab is not safe. Studies have shown this not to be true.
Of course he should disclose what he does if he's trying to say what we should do.... don't good leaders lead by example ?
I think that Martin, UK, is spreading a great misconception that the MMR vaccine is unsafe. As far as I'm aware, most scientifically rigorous studies have shown that there is no direct link between MMR and autism - with the studies claiming that there is some correlation now widely discredited. As with all medical studies of this nature, where the mechanism that causes autism (even if such a thing exists) is
not understood, a heavy reliance is placed on statistics which
then rely on some accompanying interpretation. This is where all the
problems begin. Is there a real risk of a child developing autism
after an MMR injection? Probably not - as the studies suggest. Is
there a known and real risk of a child developing a life-threatening
illness from not receiving MMR? Certainly yes.
If it is involved with policy, yes.
If Tony Blair goes around saying the MMR jab is perfectly safe, but won't let his son have it, then he's a great big hypocrite.
For once I am on the side of Mr Blair. The private medical details of any child should never be a matter for the public no matter who the parents are.
Leo wasn't born to be used as a political football. Politicians on both sides of the house should be able to make their point without having to sink as low as using children to make their opinion or question heard.
Peter Robinson, England
It's not a case of being forced to disclose information. With this issue, it's a question of leadership by example. If the government wants to promote the MMR vaccine then it should do everything in its power to push it, which includes the prime minister assuring us that his child had had the vaccine. Of course, if Leo hasn't had it, then we have to ask why not? If the prime minister has seen fit not to allow his son to have it then surely we should all have grave doubts about whether any child should have it. Go on Tony, show us the way.
They should be forced to disclose the personal details of their families. However they should perhaps recognise that such openness will result in positive public sentiment towards them.
To be honest I personally am not interested in whether Leo Blair has been given the vaccine or not. What I am interested in is receiving the correct information about the subject to make my own decision on what is and isn't safe.
We all know that the combined MMR jab is not safe - it is purely for financial and administrative reasons why it is forced upon us. I say yes - name and shame the government hypocrites. Force them to declare personal interests where it conflicts with government policy.
23 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blair speaks out on MMR furore
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