POINT OF ORDER – INTIMIDATION OF MPs AND THEIR NEIGHBOURS – 8 September 2014
Mr Charles Walker: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Over the weekend, my surgeries were picketed by an individual in dispute with the Courts Service. I recognise the right to protest, but the use of a loud-hailer made it almost impossible to hold a conversation with those visiting my surgeries. The protest also extended to my home and, more worryingly, those of my patient and generous neighbours, which resulted in multiple calls being made to the police throughout Saturday and Sunday. The protester made it clear to my neighbours that unless I succeeded, as their MP, in changing the law to his liking, he would mount a sustained campaign against them. These threats caused great distress. Protest is one thing, but it is intolerable to try to coerce an MP to act in a particular way under the threat of his neighbours and constituents being harassed, disrupted and distressed. To paraphrase a US President – I think it was Truman or Roosevelt – "Your right to throw a punch ends where the nose of another constituent begins."
Mr Speaker: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman both for his point of order and his courtesy in tipping me off yesterday about his desire to raise it. I think the whole House will have been shocked to hear the hon. Gentleman’s account of the distress and disruption to which he, his family and his neighbours have been subjected. Let me, perhaps – I hope on behalf of the House – make the situation clear beyond doubt: however strongly any individual feels about a particular cause or campaign, each and every Member of this House has a right to go about his or her legitimate business without intimidation or harassment, or fear thereof. Moreover, it is quite unacceptable for any individual to threaten continuing such harassment if the Member fails to seek to bring about the particular change in the law that that member of the public seeks. That simply will not do. I think I can say that the whole House will be behind the hon. Gentleman on this matter, and I hope he will be good enough to keep me informed of the developing circumstances. We wish him, his family and his neighbours well.
Dr Julian Lewis: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May I remind the House that in 2009 [actually 2008–09] we had an intense debate on the security of Members’ home addresses, in which the then Labour Leader of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), rightly said that MPs must be able to do their jobs without fear or favour and without having to look fearfully over their shoulders. What disturbs me, from what little I know about this incident, is that the police appear reluctant to intervene. If that is so, is it not absolutely disgraceful?
Mr Speaker: I cannot comment on that because I do not know whether it is true or not. I think I had better reserve judgment on that point –
Mr Charles Walker rose –
Mr Speaker: Order. I will come back to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. The hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and I will have known each other for 30 years next month, and I say in all courtesy to him that when first he proposed, in the interest of all colleagues, to bring about a change in the law on the subject of home addresses, I do not mind admitting that I did not think his chances of securing such a change were very good. I should have known better than to predict failure, however, because his mission was successful. I have a feeling that the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) wants to get in again.
Mr Walker: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May I just make it perfectly clear that the Hertfordshire Constabulary has been simply wonderful in its dealings with me? I wholly accept the first part of the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), but Hertfordshire Constabulary has been absolutely brilliant. It has supported me and my neighbours, and I have nothing but admiration for it.
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that further point of order.
Dr Lewis: And I am happy to withdraw what I said.
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that.