Intimidation in Public Life — [Sir Gary Streeter in the Chair]

Part of Secondary School Standards: East Cleveland – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 21st May 2019.

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Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart Conservative, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire 2:30 pm, 21st May 2019

The hon. Gentleman has more experience in this field than most, and I agree with him. We are ultimately attempting to avoid a situation where the gene pool from which our political representatives is drawn gets smaller and smaller Whether that is for local authorities, a devolved Parliament or this Parliament, if we do not address this intimidation soon, for the reasons he points out, we will attract fewer and fewer people, and arguably the standard we expect of our politicians will go down and down and the frustration of our electorate will go up and up. We therefore must deal with it now. It is not one for the slow burner, because whether we like it or not we could face a very angry electorate within months. I mentioned the Jo Cox Foundation, and I do not need to remind the House why it was created. We do not want to find ourselves in a position that gets anywhere close to the reason why that was set up.

The Government are taking a welcome step in the form of the Online Harms White Paper. I do not want to get into the detail of the relevance of that; we are all aware of it, and there is a huge responsibility on social media companies to play their part in ensuring that democratic engagement can continue without people feeling they are driven off social media or off the political stage altogether. The White Paper is a welcome step forward, and we hope it will be converted into legislation sooner rather than later. I heard a rumour—it must have been inaccurate—the other day that part of the reason we have not moved faster is down to insufficient parliamentary time. I do not know whether hon. Members agree, but I think we could possibly squeeze it in somewhere over the next few weeks.

We simply cannot allow this thuggish behaviour to intimidate the democratic rights of our voters, and we cannot allow the culture of fear to deter good people from stepping on to any political stage, whatever it might be. I leave the last words to the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Lord Evans, who is the former head of the security services and therefore some expert on the corrosive impact of such behaviour on democracy. He said:

“If the decisions MPs make start to be altered as a result of threats and intimidation, that amounts to subversion of the democratic system and would be a dark day for our country.”

I agree with him implicitly.