Tobias Ellwood urges MPs to end face-to-face meetings with public

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<span>Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

The former Conservative minister Tobias Ellwood has urged his fellow MPs to stop offering face-to-face meetings with constituents following the fatal stabbing of Sir David Amess.

Ellwood, who attempted to save the life of PC Keith Palmer after a terror attack on Westminster in 2017, told BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight: “I would recommend that no MP has a direct surgery until you can move to Zoom.

“There are other ways. You can actually achieve an awful lot over the telephone, you can get things moving far faster than having to wait for the surgery date as well.”

He also tweeted: “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.”

However, Kevin Buck, deputy chair of the Southend West constituency association, said he was against moving MPs’ surgery meetings to Zoom.

Buck said he did not believe Amess would have wanted meetings to go online, nor would he have wanted extra protection such as metal detectors and a police presence at talks with constituents.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I don’t think he would have approved, I personally don’t approve really, I know we have to take our own personal safety very seriously, but I enjoy, as Sir David did, meeting the people.

“That’s why we do this, so that we can lead the people and help the people and I don’t want to do that from behind a TV screen or from behind the glass screen or a security box because then we’ve lost.”

The Labour MP Harriet Harman said she would be writing to the prime minister asking him to back a Speaker’s conference to review the safety of parliamentarians in their constituencies.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether the issue of MP safety had worsened since her election in 1982, Harman said: “Yes, it absolutely has. I think that, while we anguish about this dreadful loss, we can’t just assert that nothing should change.

“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.

“We cannot have the death of an MP being a price worth paying for our democracy.”

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