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Intimidation in Public Life

Volume 633: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2017

Today, I welcome the publication of the report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life on its review of the intimidation of parliamentary candidates.

I would like to place on record my thanks to the Committee for its thorough consideration of these issues. In July, I asked the Committee to undertake this review into the issue of abuse and intimidation experienced by parliamentary candidates, including those who stood in the 2017 general election campaign. The issue was highlighted by those across the political spectrum. While robust debate is fundamental in an open democracy, threats to candidates and property go well beyond that which should be regarded as acceptable by those in public life, and abuse will not be tolerated.

The Committee has consulted widely and members of both Houses, from across all parties, were invited to contribute. Today’s report addresses the roles of the main actors—in social media, the law, policing and prosecution, and political parties—and proposes a package of recommendations for both immediate and longer-term action. We will be giving full and thorough consideration to its recommendations. The Government plan to issue a response to the review in due course. This House may also wish to debate and consider the Committee’s recommendations.

The Committee’s report provides a body of evidence showing the extent and seriousness of the problem. It considers the risks to freedom of speech, diversity, and debate and to our representative democracy if action is not taken. We need to protect our freedom of speech and the vitality of our political system, and the freedom and diversity of participation in that system, as well as ensuring the integrity of the democratic process.

The report finds that intimidation is not a new phenomenon, but its scale and intensity, which has been accelerated by social media, is a serious issue.

It is not just politicians who have experienced unwarranted abuse—it has included journalists and other prominent figures in public life. Everyone deserves to be treated with tolerance and respect, and the British liberties of freedom of speech and freedom of association must always operate within the law. All those in public life need to demonstrate their opposition to intimidation and call it out, and report it when they see it. We must all work together to combat this issue.

Copies of the report have been laid in the Journal Office, the Printed Paper Office and deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.