A former minister called for face-to-face meetings to be suspended pending a security review after long-serving MP Sir David was fatally stabbed on Friday while meeting constituents at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea near Southend.
But Priti Patel said it is possible to strike a balance between the safety of MPs and carrying out the democratic process in-person, as she urged elected representatives not to be “cowed” by those threatening to “stop us from functioning”.
Ms Patel, who laid flowers at the site of Sir David’s killing alongside the Prime Minister, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle on Saturday morning, told broadcasters: “We are open to surgeries, doing our job. We will continue to do that.
“That is why there are measures under way right now – I convened meetings yesterday, I’ve been with the Speaker of the House, and with the police and our security services to make sure that all measures are being put in place for the security of MPs so that they can carry on with their duties as elected democratic members.”
Her comments come after Tobias Ellwood, a former Tory defence minister, said physical meetings with voters should be paused while MPs await the result of the Home Secretary’s call for police forces to review security arrangements.
Local police forces are contacting every MP to discuss their personal safety and the security of any events they plan to attend.
The chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, who was hailed as a hero for his attempts to save the life of Pc Keith Palmer during the Westminster terror attack, tweeted: “MP engagement with the public… is a vital part of our work – our accessibility with the public.
“But understandable huge anxiety among MPs now.
“Until the Home Secretary’s review of MP security is complete I would recommend a temporary pause in face-to-face meetings.”
MP engagement with the public:
This is a vital part of our work -our accessibility with the public.
But understandable huge anxiety amongst MPs now.
Until the Home Secretary’s review of MP security is complete I would recommend a temporary PAUSE in face to face meetings. pic.twitter.com/TUgf5zYTQP
— Tobias Ellwood MP (@Tobias_Ellwood) October 16, 2021
But former Cabinet minister David Davis said suspending public meetings with MPs would be “a terrible reflection of what David stood for”.
He told Sky News: “Sure, we should be cautious, maybe we should do things to ensure the people who come to see us are bona fide, but I think actually pausing it would be a bad idea.
“It would be a terrible reflection of what David stood for – David himself was the ultimate constituency MP.”
Meanwhile, the longest continuously serving female MP, Harriet Harman said she would be writing to the Prime Minister urging him to back a Speaker’s Conference to look into what needs to change to ensure parliamentarians are safe in their constituencies.
Speaking to the BBC, the veteran Labour politician said: “We cannot have the death of an MP being a price worth paying for our democracy.”
She added: “I don’t think anybody wants to go to a situation where the police are vetting individual constituents who come and see us, but I’m sure there is a safer way to go about our business.
“That’s why I’m proposing we have a Speaker’s Conference, which is something that happens only once every 10 years or so where there is a major issue for Parliament and our democracy, and the Speaker brings together the parties and the authorities and comes up with recommendations.
“Since Jo Cox’s tragic killing, we’ve had changes in our home security, we’ve had changes in security in Parliament, but we haven’t looked at the issue of how we go about that important business in our constituency, but do it in a safe way – and I think we must do that now.”
Conservative MP Kevin Foster, who represents Torbay, said it is “not practical” to have airport-style security at MPs’ surgeries.
“Inevitably some have asked what this means for accessibility of residents to MPs, but conducting constituency surgeries is a core part of the role, being accessible to those who may need your urgent help, hence David was doing his,” he said.
“It is simply not practical to have airport-style security, which we sadly need to have at the Houses of Parliament, when out and about in the community you represent, including in the church halls I use for some of my surgeries.
“My team do have to deal with a small number who believe they are entitled to abuse them when doing their jobs but have received excellent support from our local policing teams in response.”
Defence minister James Heappey, the Conservative MP for Wells, said: “We sit in libraries, churches and community centres hoping to help constituents who need us.
“Tweaks to security might be necessary but nothing can fundamentally change: those surgeries are foundations on which service as MP is delivered.”
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