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

Part of Secondary School Standards: East Cleveland – in Westminster Hall at 3:08 pm on 21st May 2019.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 3:08 pm, 21st May 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I congratulate my hon. Friend Simon Hart on bringing this debate to the Chamber. It is a pleasure to follow Helen Jones, who made some important comments.

A lot of people have raised the subject of intimidation in connection with the UK, but I would like to raise it from an international perspective. It is absolutely essential that MPs have a role in foreign affairs; it is essential that we play that role. I have taken a stand against Russia, for example, that has not led to any intimidation yet, but I have also taken a stand in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has led to intimidation and a series of more than 30 emails threatening me with death. The conversations that generated them started with a UK boy, who was clearly pro-Palestinian, asking me what I made of the Israeli bombs falling on Palestine. I replied, “What do you make of the Palestinian bombs falling on Israel?” For that I was put on a death list and my name was not taken off it. When I told the Serjeant at Arms, I was told to queue up with the 180 other MPs who had received death threats, which goes to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire made about our needing to make sure that our own system here for dealing with such issues takes them seriously and provides a good service for MPs.

In contrast was the reaction of my own chief constable, who told me that she would give the case to a chief inspector who normally dealt with these things, and if he saw something there, he would take further action. I said no more about it to my family. I went away, forgot it and got on with my work, but at 2 o’clock in the morning my house had a panic alarm installed by the police and I was given a telephone number that I could ring from my mobile or my home address that would scramble a helicopter from the local base and set in train a response unit from the Thames Valley headquarters in Kidlington. If I dialled it now, of course, it would take two days for the response unit to reach us, which would probably be too late, so I suppose there is a small mercy in that.

The death threat was supposed to intimidate me into taking a position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on which I had actually taken a very even view throughout. It made me want to go out to the region to see what was happening. I have now been out to the region 10 times in the past seven years to see for myself what is happening, and I have had discussions on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to be able to take the matter forward.

The really frightening thing has been mentioned by others. I run my office in a large and long constituency on the basis that it does not have a physical location. It has a PO box, an email address and a telephone number, and that immediately put at risk my staff who work there. In fact, it is somebody’s house and it is possible to find out from the PO box address where the house is. To find that my staff were equally threatened was a stage too far.

The intimidation did not work and there is a very good reason why it did not work, apart from my own attitude to it. I do not think that such intimidation should ever work. We all have to stand up and make sure that our voices are heard. We need to stand up to bullies wherever they come from and make sure that we are true to ourselves and to our own intelligence and logic in assessing such situations.