Watchdog Calls For New Laws To Stamp Out Bullying Of MPs

A watchdog has called for new laws to be put in place to stamp out bullying of MPs and Parliamentary candidates.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life has published a report on intimidation and harassment faced by those working in the public eye, including a package of recommendations on how the government can tackle the issue.

The independent watchdog wants Theresa May to bring forward new legislation to shift the liability of illegal online content towards social media companies, and put more pressure on them to take down offensive material more quickly.

It also wants the prime minister to consult on the introduction of a new offence in electoral law of intimidating Parliamentary candidates and party campaigners, and for political parties to work together to develop a jointly-enforcable code of conduct on intimidatory behaviour by December next year.

Committee chair Lord Paul Bew said: “This level of vile and threatening behaviour, albeit by a minority of people, against those standing for public office is unacceptable in a healthy democracy.

“We cannot get to a point where people are put off standing, retreat from debate, and even fear for their lives as a result of their engagement in politics.

“This is not about protecting elites or stifling debate, it is about ensuring we have a vigorous democracy in which participants engage in a responsible way which recognises others’ rights to participate and to hold different points of view.”

Internet troll Joshua Bonehill-Paine, 24, was convicted of the racially-aggravated harassment of Labour MP Luciana Berger last year, while several other MPs have reported incidents of abuse and intimidation.

Conservative Anna Soubry said her office had made complaints to the police after she received threats over her stance on Brexit, while her backbench colleague Sarah Wollaston had a coffin left outside her constituency office by protesters.

Thank you Ben, beyond belief that local activists sadly including @TotnesLabour with Front Bench endorsement, thought it just fine to leave a ‘coffin’ waiting for me outside my surgery on Saturday. I found it deeply offensive & upsetting but presume that was the intention

December 5, 2017
Outside of government, the watchdog has also called on the National Police Chiefs Council to ensure local police forces across the country have sufficient training to enable them to properly investigate offences committed through social media and online

Lord Bew added: “The increasing scale and intensity of this issue demands a serious response. We are not alone in believing that more must be done to combat online behaviour in particular and we have been persuaded that the time has come for the government to legislate to shift the liability for illegal content online towards social media companies, and to consult on the introduction of a new electoral offence.

“We believe that the parties themselves must show greater leadership. They must call out members who engage in this appalling behaviour, and make sure appropriate sanctions are imposed swiftly and consistently.”

The former Bloody Sunday Inquiry adviser said political parties and their leaders must recognise they have a “duty of care” towards their candidates, members and supporters.

“We have heard evidence that intimidatory behaviour can stem from of our current political culture, with low levels of trust in politicians and a feeling of frustration and alienation by some people,” he added.

“Against that backdrop, it is down to all in public life to play their part in restoring and protecting our public political culture by setting a tone which respects the right of every individual to participate and does not, however inadvertently, open a door to intimidation.

“Many of the recommendations we are making today are not limited solely to election periods, but will have wider relevance across our public life.”