Press release

Intimidation in Public Life: Committee publishes report

The independent Committee on Standards in Public Life today published its report on intimidation in public life.

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The independent Committee, which advises the Prime Minister on standards of conduct across public life, has made a package of recommendations to address the threats and intimidation experienced by Parliamentary candidates and others. The recommendations include:

  • Government should bring forward legislation to shift the liability of illegal content online towards social media companies.

  • Social media companies must ensure they are able to make decisions quickly and consistently on the takedown of intimidatory content online

  • Government should consult on the introduction of a new offence in electoral law of intimidating Parliamentary candidates and party campaigners.

  • The political parties must work together to develop a joint code of conduct on intimidatory behaviour during election campaigns by December 2018. The code should be jointly enforced by the political parties.

  • The National Police Chiefs Council should ensure that local police forces have sufficient training to enable them to effectively investigate offences committed through social media.

Lord Bew, Chair of the Committee, 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.

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. They have an important duty of care to their candidates, members and supporters. Intimidation takes place across the political spectrum, both in terms of those engaging in and those receiving intimidation. The leadership of political parties must recognise this.

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. 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.

Notes to Editors

  1. Interview requests and media enquiries should go to Maggie O’Boyle on 07880 740627.

  2. The independent Committee on Standards in Public Life advises the Prime Minister on ethical standards across the whole of public life in the UK. It monitors and reports on issues relating to the standards of conduct of all public office holders.
  3. On July 17 the Prime Minister asked the Committee to conduct a review of the intimidation experienced by Parliamentary candidates at the 2017 General Election.
  4. The Committee’s terms of reference for this review were set out in July.

  5. The Committee published a call for evidence, and invited submissions from anyone with an interest in these issues. The Committee contacted campaigning organisations, political parties and social media companies as part of the evidence gathering process. Transcripts of public meetings and evidence are available online.

  6. The current members of the Committee are: Lord (Paul) Bew, Chairman, Rt Hon Dame Margaret Beckett DBE MP (Labour), Sheila Drew Smith OBE, Simon Hart MP (Conservative), Dr Jane Martin CBE, Jane Ramsey, Monisha Shah and Rt Hon Lord (Andrew) Stunell OBE (Liberal Democrat).

  7. You can follow the Committee on twitter @PublicStandards.
Published 13 December 2017