MPs who launch “excessive” personal attacks on Twitter could be investigated by Parliament’s standards watchdog under a package of measures to clean up Westminster.
Under the proposed changes, MPs would face a probe if they engage in “unreasonable” attacks online, verbally or in writing in a way that risks bringing Parliament into disrepute.
The proposal has been put forward by the Commons committee on standards as part of its review into the MPs’ code of conduct, which has come under intense scrutiny in the wake of the recent Owen Paterson case and wider allegations of sleaze.
In its report, published on Monday, the committee revealed that Kathryn Stone, the commissioner for Standards, had received hundreds of complaints concerning alleged “misuse” of social media by MPs since April 2020.
However, it stressed that the measure was aimed at curbing abusive content rather than curtailing MPs’ free speech, and would bring Westminster in line with the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies.
Alongside this, the report recommends that MPs should be required to abide by a new principle of “respect”, requiring them to demonstrate “anti-discriminatory attitudes and behaviours through the promotion of anti-racism, inclusion and diversity”.
However, the committee noted that the proposal divided opinion among MPs who were asked to share their views, with one dismissing it as “just trying to be woke”, another as “nonsense”, and a third as a threat to the “cut and thrust” of open debate.
It added that the principle, if adopted, would therefore sit within the code rather than becoming an eighth addition to the seven Nolan principles of public life.
Amid wider concerns over second jobs and lobbying, the committee has also recommended an “outright ban” on MPs providing paid parliamentary advice, consultancy or strategic services, echoing the calls of Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer.
If approved, the suite of measures would require all MPs with outside roles to hold a contract with their employer which would specify that they cannot use the position to lobby on the company’s behalf or provide advice on how to do so.
The plans would also seek to clarify a “grey area” in the rules whereby MPs are able to cite a “serious wrong” or public interest exemption in order to raise certain issues with public officials or ministers.
The exemption has fallen under the spotlight after Mr Paterson cited the exemption to argue he was not guilty of lobbying when he repeatedly contacted the Food Standards Agency on behalf of two companies he was paid by as a consultant.