In July 2017, the Prime Minister asked the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life to undertake a review into the issue of abuse and intimidation experienced by Parliamentary candidates, including those who stood in the 2017 General Election campaign. Concerns were highlighted by those across the political spectrum. The Committee published a comprehensive report in December.
The Government would like to thank the Committee of Standards in Public Life again for their considered and thorough report. The Prime Minister has today announced some initial measures based on the Committee’s findings and the Government will be publishing a substantive response in due course.
As the Prime Minister notes today, in public life, and increasingly in private conversations too, it is becoming harder and harder to conduct any political discussion, on any issue, without it descending into tribalism and rancour. Social media and digital communication – which in themselves can and should be forces for good in our democracy – are being exploited and abused, often anonymously. British democracy has always been robust and oppositional. But a line is crossed when disagreement descends into intimidation.
Individuals standing for elected office
It cannot be right that people looking to participate in our democracy are subject to abuse and intimidation for doing so. The Government will therefore consult in due course on the introduction of a new offence in electoral law on intimidating candidates and campaigners. We also propose to remove the requirement for candidates for local government to include their home addresses on ballot papers, if they do not wish to do so. This extends the protection already offered to parliamentary candidates.
We want users to be better informed about how reported social media content is dealt with. We will establish a new Annual Internet Safety Transparency Report, to improve our understanding of the offensive content being reported, how social media companies are responding to complaints, and what content is being removed.
The Prime Minister has today called on social media companies to set out how they will respond to the recommendations in the report, and we have been encouraged by the positive response we have seen thus far. It is welcome that social media companies have agreed to take forward the recommendation for a ‘pop up’ social media reporting team for election campaigns and they will actively provide advice and support to Parliamentary candidates.
The report has a number of recommendations for political parties, which they will wish to consider carefully. The Prime Minister has noted that the Conservative Party is putting in place a new code of conduct for members and supporters that puts respect and decency at its core. The Prime Minister is encouraging the leaders of other parties to follow this example.
Law, police and prosecutors
The Committee made a number of recommendations for national police leadership bodies, including the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing, on devolved operational policing matters. Both the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College will be responding to the Committee’s report separately, but we are pleased to confirm that they will implement each of the recommendations in the report that refer to them.
Some of these issues touch on devolved matters, and the UK Government will liaise with our colleagues in the Devolved Administrations accordingly.
A more detailed response will be published by the Government in due course. Ministers would welcome further feedback from Parliamentary colleagues, and the House may wish to debate and consider these matters further.
I have placed in the Library a copy of the Prime Minister’s speech from today.