MPs could be banned from launching “unreasonable and excessive” personal attacks against members of the public on social media.
The rule change, which is still subject to confirmation, has been recommended by parliament’s sleaze watchdog in a bid to raise MPs’ standards of public conduct.
In a draft report released on Monday the Standards Committee says it should become “an investigable breach of the Code for a Member to subject anyone to unreasonable and excessive personal attack in any medium”.
The committee’s report says it is “concerned that the new world of communications created by social media has created a situation in which personal attacks and abusive content directed at individuals can be widely disseminated in a way which may not break the law but which, in extreme cases, can be regarded as disreputable.
In order to protect MPs’ free speech, the committee says a “member’s views and opinions should continue to be excluded from investigation under the code”.
And The Independent understands that any personal attacks would have to be simultaneously both unreasonable and excessive in order to qualify as a breach of the rules.
But they added: “Tweets and other social-media comments by Members are not ‘proceedings in Parliament” and are not protected by parliamentary privilege under Article IX.
“Nor is the House of Commons itself precluded by Article IX from taking disciplinary action against its own Members, including in respect of conduct in proceedings, if it thinks fit.”
The rule change recommended by parliament’s Standards Committee would be subject to approval by a vote in parliament. The government is expected to accept the committee’s recommendations – though it does not always do so.
A number of MPs have been criticised for using social media to make personal attacks in the past. In 2013 culture secretary Nadine Dorries was criticised for telling a journalist she would “nail your balls to the floor” with “your own front teeth”.
It comes after the independent commissioner for standards Kathryn Stone told the committee she “would like to see Parliament introduce such a rule in relation to the written and spoken word as well as to the use of social media”.
The recommendation in the report is one of a number around the subject of sleaze and second jobs.