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Intimidation of People in Public Life

Volume 646: debated on Wednesday 12 September 2018

2. What assessment he has made of trends in the level of intimidation experienced by people in public life. (906829)

Intimidation can do real damage to our democracy and has no part to play in healthy debate. The Minister with responsibility for the constitution, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), has launched a consultation on a new electoral offence of intimidating candidates and campaigners. I encourage anyone who has experienced this sort of unacceptable intimidation to respond and to take part in that consultation.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that those who seek to interfere with the course of an election through criminal intimidation should face electoral sanction?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. He is absolutely right. An electoral offence has a higher tariff. It is right that we are clear that our democracy is precious and important. We must do everything we can to protect robust debate with respect.

Does the Minister agree that more work needs to be done in tackling social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter? Does he think that the Government should not just introduce voluntary charters to govern social media platforms but look at legislation, because too many Members of this House, the devolved institutions and councillors, and indeed candidates and activists, are facing unparalleled levels of abuse through social media platforms? That cannot be allowed to continue.

The hon. Gentleman makes the very good point that this should not be allowed to continue. We must look at all options on how we can ensure that. We have said we want to work with those companies and platforms to ensure they see proper debate but with respect. I encourage the hon. Gentleman’s party to adopt, as the Conservative party has, a respect pledge to behave properly in the social media world.

Earlier this year, all the Conservative councillors on Desborough Town Council resigned in protest at the abuse, harassment and intimidation suffered by the Conservative female chair of the council. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, when he reviews standards of conduct in public life, that applies not just to elections but to serving councillors during their term of office?

My hon. Friend highlights a worrying problem that we are seeing across public life: people are seeing this kind of abuse. It was raised at last week’s Prime Minister’s questions. We all have a duty to stand up against this. The criminal bar on this is in place all year around. We are looking at elections as a separate issue in the consultation, but he is right: we all have a duty to call this out to ensure that people can have proper debate and fulfil their public duty with confidence that it will be respected.