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Points of Order

Volume 613: debated on Thursday 14 July 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a matter of record that, in recent weeks, there has been a significant escalation in misogynistic abuse and threats of violence, and those have been aimed disproportionately towards female MPs on both sides of the House. It is apparent that this abuse is completely out of hand now, with many Members fearful for their and their staff’s safety, to the point where a number of Members have told me they are worried about their personal health. As we all know, this comes just four weeks to the day after our dear colleague was murdered. This cannot be allowed to continue. Could you advise the House what action it can take to make it clear that this behaviour will not be tolerated from any party and that all perpetrators will be punished appropriately?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, to whose point of order I will, in a moment, respond in very truncated terms, but the Leader of the House is signalling a desire to contribute, and it is important that we should hear from the right hon. Gentleman.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May I say first that I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady? A lot of work is taking place on measures to improve the security of right hon. and hon. Members. There is a project group looking in detail at what lessons can be learned from the tragic events of a few weeks ago. Next week, the Commission will consider improvements to the approach we take. Included in that approach will, I hope, be a greater opportunity for individual Members to raise concerns about their safety and to have those concerns acted on. Would everyone in the House please be reassured that you, myself, the Chairman of Ways and Means, and House officials are very mindful of the need for us to step up the security that is available to Members of Parliament and the service we provide to watch over their safety?

I am extremely grateful to the Leader of the House for saying what he has said. Traditionally, we do not discuss security on the Floor of the House, for very good reasons. That said, the Leader of the House has just pointed out the extent of the work that is taking place behind the scenes, and it is only right that Members should know that what the right hon. Gentleman has said about co-operation between senior colleagues is, of course, absolutely pertinent and on the money.

The Leader of the House, I and the Chairman of Ways and Means are in regular discussion about these matters and, indeed, co-operated only a matter of a few days ago in putting together a letter to register our concerns and constructive proposals—that letter being to another senior colleague. It is also true, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, that these matters will be broached at the meeting of the House of Commons Commission on Monday. By definition, I cannot elaborate, because the discussion is to be had, but it is important that Members know that we are not in any way hermetically sealed from the rest of our colleagues; we share and take very seriously these concerns. Moreover, those of us who are quite fortunate in our living accommodation are very conscious of those who are not, to whom we have a very particular sense of responsibility.

So far as the hon. Lady is concerned today, I just make the point that if any individual Member has particular personal concerns as of now, the best course of action is to approach the parliamentary security director for his best advice. He is immensely experienced and better placed at a practical level to give guidance than any of us laypersons could be. I hope that that is helpful, but doubtless there will be further updates in due course.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. If I may, Sir, I would just like to thank you, the Leader of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) for their contributions, which were very reassuring.

May I seek your guidance about the rules of this place as they refer to the language we use when referring to each other? We call each other honourable Members, and the underlying assumption is that we act honourably and honestly. However, in business questions, my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) raised the question of claims being made during the referendum campaign that we now believe to be palpably untrue. If I were to accuse a specific hon. Member of making those statements knowingly, you would instruct me to withdraw those comments, and if I refused, you would instruct me to leave this place. Nevertheless, I and other hon. Members believe that claims were made that were false, and I am looking for a mechanism by which to call out those Members we believe knowingly made them. Is there a mechanism within the rules of the House whereby I can make suggestions without falling foul of the rules, which, of course, we all hold dear?

There are procedures available for that purpose—procedures with which some very experienced Members of the House are well familiar. I think that for now my best advice to the hon. Gentleman is that he should go to the Table Office, where the staff will be very well able to point him to the approach or mechanism that might enable him to pursue his objective. It would be a profitable visit for the hon. Gentleman, and it would consume—he will know the whereabouts of the office in question—very little energy.