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Offence of Sending Letters etc. with Intent to Cause Distress or Anxiety

Part of Orders of the Day — Malicious Communications Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:38 am on 8th July 1988.

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Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking 9:38 am, 8th July 1988

Like other hon. Members, I was not privileged to take part in earlier stages of the Bill. Nevertheless, I am very interested in what is happening and what might happen when the Bill becomes law, as I hope it will. I very much welcome the Bill and applaud the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) for introducing it.

We are now considering the narrow point of the penalties. Having thought about this for some time, I think that level 3 at £400, is about right. All the talk about levels reminds me of a department store. One arrives at level 3 and then goes up to level 4. When my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) referred to Harrods, I really felt that I was in a department store—[Interruption.] I hope that I may continue my speech without this dialogue taking place on the Benches before me.

All the discussion this morning has concerned malicious communications which might come from stockbrokers or very well-off people. From my constituency experience, I believe that the majority of malicious communications come from poorer people. I am not knocking or defending those people.

I do not want to stray into too many generalities, but I want to refer to some examples. Very often poison-pen letters and malicious communications arise from neighbourhood problems involving feelings of harassment. For example, a person in one house may feel harassed and pressured by someone living next door or in the flat above. I am sure that I need not remind hon. Members on both sides of the House about this. They need only look in their post-bags or go to their surgeries this evening to find cases where people complain bitterly that they have come to the end of their tether because of the problems caused by a neighbour. I can see hon. Members nodding in agreement.

10.15 am.

We would hope that those problems would not normally result in a poison-pen letter of malicious communication, but it occasionally does. I have met constituents who are the persecuted and I have also met the persecutors. I have met people who have received malicious communications and poison-pen letters stemming from the difficulties and friction caused by neighbourhood problems.

We must watch out for another point when we are considering the level of fine. I do not want to see people driven to desperation by the problems that they face in their daily lives then subjected to a fine of £ 1,000 or £2,000.