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Intimidation in Public Life

Volume 656: debated on Wednesday 13 March 2019

The increasing prevalence of intimidation in public life can seriously damage our democracy, as we have already just discussed. The Government are taking a range of actions to tackle this problem, including a consultation on a new electoral offence of intimidating candidates and campaigners.

I thank the Minister very much for that reply. She may have seen the “Exposure” programme broadcast last week, which captured the abuse and threats of death that I have faced, that my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) has faced, and that my former right hon. Friend—still a friend—the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), has faced. There was also an excellent response from the Speaker to a point of order that I raised on the matter. Does the Minister agree that the systematic intimidation of MPs in this place on the way they vote should be a real concern to anybody interested in our democracy?

Yes, I do agree. The Government have therefore been working closely with the parliamentary security team, the police, administrators and others, because tackling this issue requires action from everyone. It also goes wider than just Members of Parliament. For example, we are helping candidates at the local elections this year to be safer with their home addresses.

10. Will the Minister commit to conducting a Mueller-style public inquiry into the alleged electoral fraud that has been committed in electronic campaigning by, for example, the leave campaign and potentially Arron Banks, who is being investigated by the National Crime Agency? (909769)

The right hon. Gentleman is of course concerned about the implications for intimidation, to which I am sure the question relates.

The right hon. Gentleman should know that the Government cannot have such an inquiry because the agencies investigating are independent, and rightly so. I can reassure the House that we have seen no evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes, and that is as we would wish it to be.

Topical Questions

Last week, the Minister for the Constitution, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), updated the House on the actions we are taking to tackle the inexcusable intimidation of people in public life. We have legislated so that candidates in local elections have the choice to remove their home addresses from ballot papers. We have consulted on a new electoral offence of intimidatory behaviour. It is vital that everyone in the House works together to prevent such behaviour and address this worrying trend.

My constituents rightly care about the security of their ballots. May I ask for Crawley to be considered for a future voter ID pilot?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We will be looking carefully at the evaluations from the 2018 pilots and—when they come forward in a few months—the 2019 pilots to help inform our next steps and to shape how the final policy will look when introduced. We can benefit from close collaboration with local authorities, and we would welcome the involvement of Crawley as we progress.

There have been reports that the Conservative party is preparing to take part in the upcoming European elections. The Opposition have heard that on Monday, there was a telephone conference between the Cabinet Office and regional returning officers, who would run such an election, during which preparations for European elections were discussed. Are the Government saying one thing in public and another in private?

As I said to the hon. Lady’s colleague earlier, she should not believe every rumour she reads in a newspaper or on Twitter. It is simply not true.

T4. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the arbitrary 15-year rule that prevents Britons abroad from voting in UK elections. Will she recommit the Government to supporting the private Member’s Bill of our hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), when it comes back to the House next week? (909778)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that point. The Government continue to support that Bill and think it is the right thing to do.

T2. On Sunday, the BBC reported that Interserve is likely to go into administration on Friday. What steps is the Minister taking to protect jobs and pensions, should Interserve collapse? (909776)

As the hon. Lady would expect, we keep under review the situation in relation to all our strategic suppliers. I assure her that we take appropriate contingency measures in respect of every strategic supplier.

T5. Can the Minister tell us what discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on delivering more public services online? (909779)

To date, we have already delivered almost 800 services online on In addition, I regularly engage with ministerial colleagues, principally through the digital implementation task force, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

T3. The Government claim that they have lifted the pay cap and declared austerity over, but it seems that this does not apply to their own employees. The lack of consultation on the civil service pay guide is just shameful. When will the Minister make it his policy to return to national pay bargaining? (909777)

This Government do not support national pay bargaining. It has been a step forward that we tailor pay to the needs of each individual Department. But I engage with all trade unions as we set the overall delegated framework that applies to pay grades below the senior civil service.

T7. I welcome the announcement from the Cabinet Office on reforming the way that Government contracts are awarded so that they consider social impacts. Has my hon. Friend made an assessment of the effect of these changes on social enterprises? (909782)

My hon. Friend rightly raises the issue of social enterprises. That is why, earlier this week, I made an announcement that we would be consulting on how to allow social enterprises to bid for a range of Government contracts and set out a clear framework for them to do so. I am confident that we will be able to unlock the opportunities of the over 100,000 social enterprises we have in this country.

T6. Should private sector companies delivering public sector contracts be subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000? [R] (909781)

We had a lengthy Westminster Hall debate on this last week. We are considering the Information Commissioner’s report on it, but we think that we are already supplying a lot of transparency on information and that that is adequate.