Written by the MP for Folkestone and Hythe, Kent
Last Friday, like so many others, I was stunned to learn the news of the murder of my parliamentary colleague David Amess.
On Monday of this week, I attended the memorial service for members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords at St Margaret’s Church in Westminster, to mark David’s great contribution to public life.
The service was also attended by my predecessor Michael Howard, who was first elected to Parliament in 1983, the same year as David Amess.
David Amess was a hardworking MP and a good-humored colleague it was a pleasure to know him.
He had friends all over the House of Commons, regardless of his political affiliation, and he will be sadly missed by MPs and everyone who works at the Palace of Westminster.
His murder shocked us all and dealt a terrible blow to his family. It was also an attack on our very democratic system, toppling a member of Parliament as he worked with the people in his constituency, seeking to help them and represent their concerns.
I have taken advice from the Kent Police on the safety precautions that are taken around my surgeries and am satisfied that we are following the latest guidelines. I intend to continue with face-to-face surgery meetings for voters who wish, as well as other public engagements.
The murder of David Amess has once again highlighted the abuse and death threats that many parliamentarians regularly receive. However, MPs are not the only targets of hate speech.
Over the past few weeks, I chaired the Special Joint Committee on the Government’s Online Safety Bill and we have heard testimonies from victims of abuse and from those advocating for new laws to make the government safer. ‘Internet a safer space.
We have heard constant complaints that racist, homophobic and misogynistic rhetoric on social media normalizes this language and encourages others to behave in the same way.
If we allow social media platforms to allow this vile talk by not suppressing it, then we make it more likely that the behaviors of people in the real world will be influenced by what they see online.
I have long campaigned for the creation of a regulatory body with the power to set standards for the removal of harmful content from social media. Time and time again, we have found that large social media companies have failed to eliminate illegal content and other forms of hate speech and extremism.
The Online Safety Bill proposes to create such a system in which companies would be fined massive amounts of up to 10% of their global revenues for breaching the code.
The bill will also create responsibilities for social media companies not to promote harmful content through their recommendation tools.
These are important and long overdue reforms. The joint committee that I chair will produce a report to the government in December making recommendations for the final version of the bill, which will be presented to parliament in the new year.