Kim Leadbeater – 2022 Speech on Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules

The speech made by Kim Leadbeater, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, in the House of Commons on 12 December 2022.

Despite the late hour, it is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. I rise to speak briefly on the motion today and to speak in favour of amendments (a) and (b).

Members from across the House will understand my personal interest in ensuring our politics and our political discourse are conducted with transparency, respect and civility and are free from the dangerous toxicity we have seen in recent years. I believe we all have a responsibility in this regard, but, sadly, we have seen behaviour in this Chamber and outside that is clearly unacceptable, and we must raise the bar. That is why I am pleased to see us acting to strengthen the code of conduct, which I wholeheartedly support.

We in this House have a sincere duty and obligation to adhere to the highest standards of public life and to set an example of what robust, passionate, healthy debate and discussion in our country looks like. If we cannot demonstrate appropriate values, attitudes and behaviours and find a way to behave with civility and to show respect despite our many differences of opinion and perspective, how can we expect others to do so, and how can we expect them to respect us?

We have seen multiple examples of how the language, tone and behaviour of Members in this House trickles down to wider society both online and offline. It trickles down and creates an unhealthy and dangerous climate and a culture of abuse and intimidation. It trickles down and it puts good people off entering public life, whatever their political persuasion, when we should be working to open politics up to people from every background, creating a welcoming, tolerant and safe environment—one that strengthens our democracy, not damages it.

But this has to start with all of us. Stamping out the type of unacceptable behaviour we have seen in recent times and increasing transparency will undoubtedly help to reduce the toxicity that has spread across our public discourse and help to stop the unfortunate narrative that we in this place are “all the same” or “all in it for ourselves” with little regard for the public interest.

We in here know that the vast majority of Members are in this place to make a difference to their community and their country, with the public interest at heart. But if the public do not see that unacceptable behaviour in public life is effectively and rapidly stamped out, they will be disengaged, breeding suspicion and, at worst, driving people to the extremes.

I believe we have a clear responsibility to stop this happening. I am therefore pleased that we are strengthening our code of conduct today. I believe we can and should go further and therefore also support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), which I believe will bring much-needed further transparency and higher standards in public life.