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

Part of Secondary School Standards: East Cleveland – in Westminster Hall at 3:38 pm on 21st May 2019.

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Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs 3:38 pm, 21st May 2019

The hon. Gentleman is right that parliamentarians should expect to be held to a higher standard than ordinary party members. That is why I am planning to follow up with my party the issues raised in the debate—particularly those raised by my hon. Friend Helen Jones. I am happy to look into cases raised by any Member who takes part in the debate.

On the electoral consequences, I look forward to hearing from the Minister about his recent announcement about barring people from running for office if they have been found guilty of intimidating or abusive behaviour. The Government moved away from their initial proposal to create a new, specific offence in either the general criminal law or electoral law, which we and various legal commentators would support. Instead, as set out in the recent consultation paper, “Protecting the Debate: Intimidation, Influence and Information”, the Cabinet Office indicated that a conviction for the prescribed offence of violence or intimidation committed in the context of an election would be treated as a “corrupt practice” for the purpose of imposing penalties such as disqualification from seeking elected office.

The Opposition agree that electoral law should deal with the consequences of this kind of serious misconduct. However, it is widely accepted that comprehensive reform of electoral law is needed, and that grafting these new provisions on to the existing outdated, inadequate and inconsistent body of law on electoral misconduct would simply compound the problems associated with the law as its stands; an hon. Member raised the complexity of electoral law and how difficult it is for the police to take action during tight election periods. I am sure the Minister agrees that the very fact that the Government propose to treat intimidation as a form of “corrupt practice” underlines the archaic nature of the terminology used in current electoral law.

It is a matter of concern that the Government have still not responded to the Law Commission’s 2016 joint interim report, which calls for the introduction of a single legal framework for UK elections. Will the Minister inform the House when his Department intends to respond to that important report? The Law Commission recommended that all electoral offences, including “undue influence”, should be reviewed, redrafted and set out in a single set of provisions applying to all elections. Labour supports that proposal, as simpler and more modern provisions would secure greater compliance among campaigners, the public, the police and prosecution services. Appropriate electoral sanctions for violent, threatening and intimidatory conduct in the course of election activity should be addressed as part of that wider package of reforms.

It is important that the police have the resources to make sure that the law is upheld. Many parliamentarians have told me that investigations have been cut short because of a lack of police resources; indeed, I have CCTV footage of people vandalising my office, and I can identify one of them, but the police are not pursuing it. What actions does the Minister think the Government should take to make sure that the police have the resources to ensure that the law is upheld?