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Point of Order

– in the House of Commons at 11:15 am on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 11:15 am, 16th January 2020

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last Friday a constituent of mine was convicted of harassment of me at Lincoln magistrates court, following a number of episodes of correspondence by email and social media, some of which were frightening or threatening. I am enormously grateful to Lincolnshire police, and particularly to the special branch officer—I will not name them—who has been a great support to me.

Following this man’s conviction, the court put in place a restraining order to prevent him having any further contact with me, directly or indirectly or via a third party. However, when the order was drafted, the court said that it had to have a way for him to continue to contact me, which has been put in place through Royal Mail to the House of Commons. That was only on Friday, and he has already contacted me through that mechanism to my association and called me a liar on social media.

I appreciate that you have long been concerned with the safety of Members of Parliament, which is why I am asking for your advice now. Given that there is no legal requirement for Members to respond to constituents’ correspondence, other than our own public service and common decency, I am not sure why the court felt that it was unable completely to restrict this man’s ability to correspond with me. Given that the number of people convicted in this way is thankfully very small, I wonder whether you could consider making available an alternative point of contact in the House for those convicted of harassing their MP, so that they can request assistance with those matters that only an MP can deal with, such as a referral to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, so that Members subject to such harassment do not need to have further contact with those who have harassed them.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons

I will not be taking further points of order, but I took this one because it is exceptional and relates to a security matter. What I will say is that Members should not have to put up with intimidation or bullying. The fact that the hon. Lady has had to go through the courts shows just how bad and how serious the issue is. Members have the right not to have to see or respond to someone who has been bullying or intimidating them. I think these are very exceptional circumstances. I do not want other Members to suffer in the same way, but there are legal implications, so I will take the matter away and get back to the hon. Lady. However, nobody in this Chamber should have to suffer harassment or threats of violence, so there is a wider significance. The hon. Lady has asked me a question, and I ask her please to give me time and I will get back to her. It is very important, and I am fully supportive of all Members, but I want to make sure that we get this right. I obviously cannot comment on the court’s decision at this stage.