Sunday, January 23, 2022
HomeCommentColumnistsHarriet Harman: ‘I don’t want to retreat behind bullet proof glass’

Harriet Harman: ‘I don’t want to retreat behind bullet proof glass’

When longstanding Southend MP Sir David Amess was murdered at his advice surgery it was a tragedy for his wife and family. But it was also an attack on our democracy.

The only reason he was attacked was because he was an elected member of the House of Commons and he was killed when he was doing his job.

The shock for us was compounded by the fact that this was the second MP to be murdered in their constituency in the last five years. In 2016 Jo Cox, the new MP for Batley and Spen in Yorkshire was shot.

It is a distinct and important feature of our democracy that MPs do not swish about in armoured cars. We walk about our constituency, we take public transport.

MPs who come on visits from other countries are astonished about how accessible we are. But it’s part of our pact with our voters, that they will vote for us but when we go up to Parliament we will stay in contact with them. This is important not just for local people, who need to know that we are listening to them and understand their concerns. But it’s important to us MPs too, to hear first hand what’s going on and see for ourselves.

Just last week I went to a pensioners meeting in Camberwell and met with tenants representatives in Walworth. As always, I was visible publicly and had no security. I want to be able to continue to do that and don’t want to retreat behind bullet proof glass.

But we can’t just say that we’ll carry on as if nothing has happened. It cannot be an occupational hazard for an MP that you might get killed. We cannot say that two murdered MPs is just a price worth paying for our democracy.

We need to ensure that MPs are as safe as we can possibly be. After Jo Cox’s murder MPs were given more security in our homes. And protection in and around the House of Commons was massively upgraded. But the problem of how we go about our work mingling with our constituents in a safe way has not been solved.

The problem is not just advice surgeries, it’s community meetings and walkabouts. The question of how  we ensure we can continue to do all this safely cannot be left to the police, or to Government, though they need to play their part.  It’s a matter for Parliament itself. That’s why I’ve proposed that we have a Speaker’s Conference. This is a rarely used mechanism which allows the Speaker to bring the political parties together and include the Government and agencies to consider and then make proposals for change.

This is a serious issue which needs detailed consideration and sensible action. We must neither have a knee-jerk overreaction or just carry on with business as usual.

Last time I proposed a Speaker’s Conference after Jo Cox’s murder it was blocked by the Government. I hope this time they agree.

Ultimately it’s for each and every one of us as MPs to decide how we do our work. But it would really assist if we could have a well-considered set of proposals from a Speaker’s Conference which we could all put into effect.


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