Public Life: Intimidation

Oral Answers to Questions — Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th May 2018.

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Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland 12:00 am, 16th May 2018

What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of intimidation faced by people in public life.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis Minister without Portfolio , Party Chair, Conservative Party

The trend of increased intimidation can seriously damage our democracy. That is why we will be consulting on recommendations made by the Committee on Standards in Public Life to undertake legislative changes, for example, to remove candidates’ addresses from ballot papers and create an electoral offence of intimidating candidates. An electoral offence will reflect our view that elections and candidates need to be better protected.

Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He will be aware of incidents designed to intimidate people from being involved in public life, including a recent incident where a brick was thrown through a Conservative candidate’s window in Liverpool. Does he agree that it is vital that all involved in public life seek to encourage a culture of respect and tackle those who seek to intimidate people?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis Minister without Portfolio , Party Chair, Conservative Party

Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. That was a shocking incident, which I hope all of us on both sides of the House would find abhorrent. The candidate had her one-year-old daughter in the room when the brick was thrown. That is a salutary lesson to us all. Such conduct deters people from participating in politics. That is why we have to look at removing the requirement on local addresses, but we also need leadership from the top. That is why we have introduced a respect code, which I hope the Labour party will eventually follow.

Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Labour, Clwyd South

People who intimidate those in public life are thugs, wherever they are on the political spectrum. Can the Minister tell us what he proposes to do about the Daily Mail calling several of his colleagues “traitors” when they spoke up with their views on Brexit?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis Minister without Portfolio , Party Chair, Conservative Party

As I have said in the House in the past, we should all be prepared to have good, strong and robust debate, but it should and must be done with respect.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the increasing intolerance and intimidation of people who put themselves forward for public office is deterring many people from doing so?

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis Minister without Portfolio , Party Chair, Conservative Party

My right hon. Friend has great experience, and he is absolutely right that we have to crack down on that kind of behaviour and make it clear that we must allow debate with respect, so that people want to and feel confident to get involved in politics. I just hope the Labour party will get its house in order and bring in a respect code as well.