Security of Elected Representatives

– in the House of Commons am 12:49 pm ar 29 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 12:49, 29 Chwefror 2024

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the security of elected representatives.

This House brings together our nation. People from every part of the United Kingdom and from every background are represented here to debate, to argue, to challenge and to find the best course for our country to take. That is the way it should be, because this House does not belong to any one community or interest group; it belongs to every citizen from every corner of the kingdom. The decisions we take affect not just the lives of our friends, our neighbours and our community, but every community, and every community’s voice—even those we disagree with—must be properly represented. That principle is at the heart of who we are as a country and as a democracy. Our democracy works only if those who elect us are free to choose the individual they wish, and if that individual—the one they have chosen—has the freedom to say what they think.

In recent days, we have seen those principles waver, and the strain of rising community tensions is beginning to show. Instead of debate and accountability, we have seen intimidation and threats. Members of this House have told me that they feel they have to vote a certain way not because it is the right thing for their communities or even because the majority in their community wishes it, but because a few—a threatening few—have made their voices heard, and made them fear for their safety and the safety of their families. Even this House—the House that has persevered through fire and through war—has been pressured into changing the way we debate. We all understand why. The assassinations of our friends Jo Cox and Sir David Amess have affected us all. We know that there are extremists out there, and the truth is clear: the danger is real. We also know that bending to the threat of violence and intimidation is wrong. It does not just betray those who sent us; it encourages those who, through us, are bullying them.

Last Wednesday, demonstrators threatened to force Parliament to “lock its doors”. What these thugs were actually asking us to do was to put our constituents second, and to bow to those who were shouting loudest. That is more than a threat to us. It is a threat to the very democratic principles and values that define who we are as a country. Let me be absolutely clear: they must fail. If we were to stumble or to succumb to these pressures, we would not just see this House diminished; our communities across the country would suffer. Some things are more important than any of us as individuals.

The pressures have always existed, but since the 7 October attacks on Israel, they have spiked, along with a dramatic rise in antisemitism, accompanied by demonstrations that have caused profound distress and fear in the Jewish community and beyond. We are seeing a darkness return to our streets.

British Muslims also face threats. Islamist extremists call other Muslims apostates unless they are willing to destroy the society that has given everyone, including the many expressions of Islam practised here today, the freedom to worship as they choose. Far-right extremists are joining them in claiming that Islam has no place in Britain. Both claim that Britain is a divided nation, not a United Kingdom. Both are wrong.

This Government reject that agenda of isolation and fear. We will ensure that all voices in our democracy are heard. We are ensuring that those who have been elected to serve their community are able to do so without fear. That is why we are committing an additional £31 million to protect the democratic process and our elected representatives. This funding will primarily support MPs, councillors, police and crime commissioners and Mayors. The Operation Bridger network, which already provides police support to MPs, will be expanded so that all elected representatives and candidates have a dedicated, named police officer to contact on security matters, where needed. Forces around the country will be able to draw on a new fund to deliver additional patrols, so they will be better able to respond to heightened community tensions. Working closely with Parliament and the police, we will provide access to private security for Members who face the highest risk.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Policing Minister and I met senior policing leaders to discuss these issues. Together, the Home Office, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the College of Policing, with input from the Crown Prosecution Service, have agreed a new defending democracy policing protocol. It contains seven key commitments to implement minimum standards of policing at events, to prevent intimidatory protest at homes, and to ensure protests at party offices, town halls, Parliaments or other democratic venues do not inhibit the democratic process. PCCs and chief constables have been asked to report back on the implementation of these measures by April.

Before I finish, may I pay tribute to our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which keep us safe at all times? This additional funding will help them support us in undertaking our democratic duty.

I take the safety and security of all Members of this House extremely seriously, as I know do you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and Mr Speaker. The truth is that there are some things that transcend political dividing lines. There are principles that are so fundamental—so sacred, even—that we must all of us guard them against all threats, regardless of party allegiance. Defending our democracy is at the core of who we are as a nation. It is the living expression of the concepts of freedom of thought and freedom of speech. As we legislate and debate, as we argue and criticise, we must be robust. We must continue to test ideas and each other to serve the British people best. We must challenge each other, and remember that this is not just about us. We are only the temporary guardians of liberties that we have inherited. Today, it is our turn to defend them. This is our watch, and it is for us to rise above the fray and to say, with total clarity, that we will not be cowed, we will not be silenced and we will not be bullied. The people we are privileged to represent deserve nothing less. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security) 12:58, 29 Chwefror 2024

I thank the Minister for his statement and for advance sight of it. I join him in expressing our gratitude to all those who work to keep us safe. Our democracy is strong, but we can never stand for threats or attempts to intimidate. We cannot and will not allow a minority to pose security threats, or allow racial hatred to ever go unchallenged or to undermine our democracy.

Let me say to the Minister at the outset that we welcome the £31 million of additional funding. We recognise the extremely difficult situation faced by Members of this House, with all of us the target of intimidation and threats of violence, especially women. We must not forget that that targeting also extends to local councillors, Mayors, police and crime commissioners, Members of a devolved Parliament and an Assembly, and of course candidates. Nobody in this House needs any reminding of the terrible price we have paid in recent years and the loss of much-loved colleagues. We must ensure that this additional resource is focused in the right place and at the right time, and that long-term arrangements are in place to provide those who step forward to serve as elected representatives and their families with the reassurance they deserve to do their vital work without fear or favour.

Those arrangements must also ensure that others are not dissuaded from stepping forward to serve, because the threat is undermining the core principles of our representative democracy. Our country must return to a state of affairs where the only fear that politicians ever feel is from the ballot box. Although we absolutely respect the fundamental freedom to legitimate peaceful protest—it is a core democratic right—if that freedom is used to intimidate, harass or harm MPs and other representatives, including outside their home, safeguards must be put in place to protect them and our wider democratic system.

Such protective measures are now essential, but we also need to look at the underlying causes. What is it about our society that has changed that allows some to think that they can intimidate and threaten MPs and other elected representatives with impunity? What are the roots of this poison? It is hard not to see a connection between the increasingly polarised and acrimonious debate that has flourished online, particularly on social media, and the greater threat of physical harm in the real world. We also need to focus on the deeper roots of division that fuel this danger, not least by exercising good judgment in what we say. Words have consequences.

I would be grateful if the Minister answered a few questions. Is the £31 million a one-off uplift, or will it be made available on a recurring basis? How does that relate to Scotland and Northern Ireland? In this general election year, all Members standing for re-election will become candidates again for the short campaign. Can he give an assurance that all who need additional protection will continue to get it? Will he also give an assurance that work is under way to ensure that Operation Bridger is configured and resourced to provide appropriate support locally, not least to our councillors?

Recent protests, alongside threats to and intimidation of politicians, have also raised the issue of what is defined as hateful extremism. The Government have not yet brought forward a definition, but that would be helpful in countering threats and intimidation. Can the Minister say when the Government or the Levelling Up Secretary will bring forward a definition, and outline when the Government will bring forward an updated counter-extremism strategy?

The defending democracy taskforce set up by the Security Minister in November 2022 is an important operational mechanism for co-ordinating activity across Government to protect and bolster our democratic system and institutions. Given the proximity to the general election, perhaps now is the time to look at how we can bring this work together on a cross-party basis. We all have a shared interest in ensuring that elections can be contested in a way that not just defends but strengthens our democracy.

Protecting our democracy and those who serve as elected representatives is mission critical. We must ensure that all who step forward to serve as democratically elected politicians are properly protected, and that the sovereignty of our democratic processes are not undermined. We on this side of the House will work with the Minister and the Government to do everything we can to make sure that is the case.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

May I say how pleased I am to be working with my very good friend Dan Jarvis, who I have known for a lot longer than either of us has been in this place? The questions he asks are important, and the tone in which he approaches this subject is even more so, and I am hugely grateful for the spirit of co-operation with which he has approached not just today’s statement but the work he has put in before today, and indeed with which Holly Lynch approached it before him.

Turning to the questions, the £31 million is this year’s allocation, but there are consequences that will flow into other years. I will not give the hon. Gentleman a figure because that is variable; as he will appreciate, we are almost through the current financial year, and the consequences will depend on what is drawn down and what is required.

The hon. Gentleman’s question about Scotland and Northern Ireland is of course entirely valid. Let me be clear: the security of the democratic process in the United Kingdom is not a devolved matter; it is down to this Government, and it is my responsibility and this Government’s responsibility to make sure that elections in the United Kingdom are free and fair. Of course, we must have a huge amount of co-operation with other Parliaments and Governments inside the United Kingdom; with, in some cases, returning officers and councils; and with Ministers in Holyrood—and Stormont, now that it has, thank God, returned to operating. This area is a sovereign responsibility, for the simple reason that it is about the national security of the United Kingdom.

The hon. Gentleman raised an important point about parliamentary candidates. He is right that when the election is called, there will be no more MPs, and any rights and privileges that we enjoy as Members of this House will immediately cease. The Government are looking at ways of maintaining the security requirements necessary to ensure that those who wish to stand as candidates again can do so, free from fear and from the threat of violence.

The hon. Gentleman’s question about counter-extremism is important, and I would like first to pay tribute to William Shawcross for his work on updating the Prevent review, and to Robin Simcox, whose work on the counter-extremism strategy has been so important. This is about countering extremism in many different forms. I mentioned that we must be clear that Islamist violence and threats are primarily a threat to the Muslim community in the United Kingdom. The number of friends of mine in the Muslim community whom some have tried to silence, because my friends’ version of Islam does not tie in with that of thugs and loudmouths who claim to speak on behalf of others, is remarkable. We must champion all voices in this country, and that includes all Muslim voices—there isn’t a single one; there are many. As for the definition, there is an existing definition, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, and work is ongoing to see how that could or should be updated. I am afraid that I do not have an update for him now, but I will certainly bring one forward as soon as I have it.

As for the cross-party nature of the defending democracy taskforce, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I am looking at it now, although I think he will be the first to admit that the work has been very cross-party to date.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

It has been an honour to listen both to the Opposition spokesman, Dan Jarvis, and my right hon. Friend the Minister. I stand with three shields behind me: one for Airey Neave, assassinated in 1979; one for Robert Bradford, killed in his constituency surgery; and one for Ian Gow, who was blown up a week after the IRA killed Sister Catherine Dunne, a Roman Catholic Sister of Mercy, by mistake, and they thought, rightly, that by killing Ian Gow they would wipe that atrocity off the news. There are also other shields behind the Speaker’s Chair.

On average, one MP is killed every seven years. We are not the only ones exposed to risk; there is also the psychiatric social worker, the emergency blue-light responder, people fishing at sea, those working in a permanent way on the railways, and the like—so we should not think that we are the only people who need to have our safety looked at.

I hope the police will understand that those who need the most protection should get the most protection, and those of us who are not at much risk should not get too much money or attention given to us. There should be a risk-based analysis, so more is given to those who often speak up bravely, or those who, often because they are women or from ethnic minorities, get more attention from the thugs and extremists than is given to someone like me. Our constituents will understand, too, that candidates standing for election with us, who get the same attention as us, should get the same kind of protection as us.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I thank the Father of the House for his kind words. He is absolutely right. I remember hearing as a child about the murder of Airey Neave, and it marked me then, and it marks me now, that somebody with such a record of service to our country during the second world war, when he escaped from Colditz, and who shaped one of our great political parties, had their life ended by the brutality and violence of a small group of murderous individuals whose agenda was not even shared by the majority in their own community, let alone the majority in the country. That is one of the most striking examples of anti-democratic forces in our country winning; they silenced a hero who had served our country for many decades. I appreciate very much my hon. Friend’s comments.

I hope right hon. and hon. Members will forgive me, but I will not go into the details of for whom and how security allocations will be made. If Members require a private briefing on how that is achieved, I am sure that I can arrange something, but the reality is that we will focus on those most at risk, to ensure that those who have credible threats against them are supported. My hon. Friend the Father of the House highlighted sad cases. A colleague of ours who has a seat in this House— I hope she will be returned at the next election—has to wear a stab vest to constituency surgeries. She is threatened by a nationalist movement in her seat. Supporters of hers have been silenced by threats of violence and intimidation. She rightly raised with me this morning the issue of hustings; her opponents will call her any number of names if she fails to attend them. The reality is that the threats against her are credible and real. We are working with the police to make sure that they are mitigated, so that she can carry out her responsibilities, not just to herself, but to constituents who may or may not wish to send her here. We must give them the chance to choose, and not allow a few threatening individuals to prevent her electors having that choice.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. When David Amess was murdered, one of the hardest things I have ever had to do was explain it to my children before they saw it on the news, or before one of their friends spoke to them about it. They were too young when Jo Cox was murdered for me to have that conversation with them. It is the reality of life that this sits on our shoulders as MPs. Last time I had to give a statement to the police about somebody’s behaviour, I asked to do it at the police station, rather than my house, so that my children would not be aware that I was giving a statement to the police.

The Minister talks about the importance of democratic representation, and it is important. So are the measures that he has put in place, but it is also important to realise that some people do not stand for Parliament because of the fear. They do not even get to the point of being candidates, because they are so scared about the risk, not just of serious threats or death, but of the abuse that people receive as a result of being involved in the democratic processes.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister. One is about the assessment of the number and severity of threats to MPs from far-right extremists, versus Islamic extremists. One of my colleagues asked me to raise that with him. If the Minister has any information on the numbers, that would be helpful. I welcome the focus on candidates and councillors, and I appreciate his comments on policing of this issue being reserved, but if he expects Police Scotland to carry out some of this work, there needs to be funding for that. How he intends to ensure that there is—whether through the Scottish Parliament or not—is clearly for him, but can he give some reassurance that the forces expected to carry out that work will be funded appropriately, either from the centre or from the devolved Parliaments?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

May I likewise thank the hon. Lady for the approach that she and many Members of her party have taken? She is right about Police Scotland funding. Any extra requirements, and the Op Bridger network, which applies, as she knows, across the whole United Kingdom, will be funded centrally to ensure that Members of this House get the same support. Police Scotland will have access to the same funding as other forces across the United Kingdom.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about candidates. The message has to be clear from us. We have seen a level of threats of violence towards Members of this House and elected individuals, including various Mayors, across the United Kingdom in recent years, but this job is still a huge privilege. We need to put it clearly: many of us realise the privilege of serving our constituents, and having our voices heard here and, as a result, around the world. That is a huge privilege and a rare honour for anyone to achieve, and it is worth striving for. It is one of the best ways that any of us, whatever our opinions, can serve our communities and help to make this country and, I hope, our world a better place. It is true that there are threats, and we are organising, as the hon. Lady recognises, extremely carefully to mitigate and reduce them, so that anybody can stand for election free from fear. I urge people who feel that they have something to offer our country to put themselves forward, to test their ideas in debate and at election, and to come and serve our country here on the green Benches.

On the hon. Lady’s question about balance, if she will forgive me, I will not go into the details, but I can assure her that I am not particularly bothered whether someone’s fascism comes from some weird form of nationalist extremism, or religious extremism, or political extremism of any kind—I don’t really care. If you threaten Members of this House, threaten democracy and threaten the British people, we will go after you. We will get you, and you will be detained.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is about defending democracy, but I am very concerned when we start talking about risk. The shadow spokesman, Dan Jarvis spoke about having to have the right protections in the right place at the right time. We know that women, people of colour and LGBTQ Members will be at most risk, but none of us could have predicted that a man who was most famous for campaigning to make Southend a city, and Jo Cox, who spoke in her maiden speech about our having more in common, would be the individuals targeted. I urge some caution, particularly when it comes to hustings and to the involvement of weird conspiracy theorists in politics who openly incite division, whether out on the street, in our constituency surgeries or in this House. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] We need to make sure that we have protections against them as well. There is the question.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My right hon. Friend has made her point extremely clear, and it is one I would support.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

May I echo the comments of Caroline Nokes? I do not think this is a partisan issue, and it is important to recognise that in the culture we now have, it is not about the issues either. The Minister talked about recent events, but many of us have been living with this problem for years, particularly my colleagues who are women of colour.

May I ask the Minister two specific questions, which I ask as somebody who does not want to live in a gilded cage? I want to go out and debate with people. I enjoy robust discussion, as he knows. I enjoy talking to my constituents, and I do not want to be asked to have a travel plan to go to my local park or my local pub or to be cut off from the people I am privileged to serve. At the moment, the approach we are taking suggests that it is all about the individual. I was told by the police that because I was a Back Bencher, my family were not covered, yet my family have been persistently targeted by people trying to intimidate me, from both left and right. Can he clarify whether there will be an understanding in the protection offered about our families in the analysis of risk? Many of the people being put off are not people who look like the people here.

Secondly, the Minister knows I am concerned about 527 groups—the organisations that often promote violence and hatred and incite campaigning which are not registered as charities and perhaps not abiding by the laws on imprints that many of us would recognise, yet increasingly part of British politics. Many of us have been warning for several years about these organisations. Will he now take that threat seriously, because it is undermining democracy?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I thank the hon. Lady. May I be clear that her family, if threatened, are covered? There is no question about that. The programme is based on the threats faced, not what position the hon. Lady may or may not hold in her own party; that is not one of the considerations.

May I also be clear that this £31 million is additional? It does not replace or undermine the work already ongoing in various ways. The hon. Lady will understand that all of us—every citizen of the United Kingdom—are covered by security infrastructure that includes everything from cyber-protection to intelligence agencies and staff who are helping us to stay safe. Many of the actions taken will come from warnings or investigations that have nothing to do with the area that I have just covered. What I was just talking about was the additional security requirements for protecting our democracy from today’s threats. As to her point about 527 groups, I am aware of that—she has raised it with me—and I take it very seriously.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Ceidwadwyr, Basingstoke

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. He has made it clear that this is not only about security and policing and that we need to look for new ways to tackle what is fuelling anti-democratic abuse, which many hon. and right hon. Members are facing in their day-to-day work. Too often, that culture is developing online. Will he consider my call for a Committee of this House to monitor the effectiveness of the Online Safety Act 2023 and to make recommendations to Government on ways that we can tackle this issue and many others that start online? Surely we need to tackle that cultural change as well as the important issues that he has raised.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

My right hon. Friend has raised many interesting points about the Online Safety Act over recent months, and indeed years. As it has just passed and is only beginning to come into force, I hope she will forgive me for not making any commitments immediately. However, her points are certainly important, and I will look at them.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Llafur, Brent Central

I thank the Minister for his statement. If I heard correctly, he said that the Government have not quite got a definition of anti-Muslim hate. I wonder if that could urgently be rectified. The post of independent adviser on Islamophobia has been vacant for over a year, but the Government are in desperate need of one.

I thank hon. Members for acknowledging the hate crime against women of colour. May I just mention my hon. Friend Zarah Sultana, who has had an obscene amount of hate levelled at her, and my hon. Friend Apsana Begum, the first hijab-wearing MP? The abuse they have faced is terrible.

MI5 and the Intelligence and Security Committee have stated that extreme right-wing terrorism is sadly here to stay, with the threat fuelled in part by racism. MI5 has said that teenagers as young as 13 are joining in extremist activity, often online. Last week, the Minister in the other place revealed that the Government are

“not intending to publish a hate crime strategy”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 February 2024;
Vol. 836, c. 599.]

despite the last one being four years out of date. With the Community Security Trust report stating that there has been a rise in antisemitic abuse and a 300% rise in Islamophobia, why are the Government abandoning their work on hate crime?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I thank the hon. Lady for the question. We are not abandoning our work on hate crime. May I just cover some of those issues in order?

First, I was talking about a definition of extremism, not of anti-Muslim hate, in response to the question from Dan Jarvis. The Government are absolutely clear that racism in all its forms, including anti-Muslim hatred, is absolutely wrong, and there is no question about that. The only area of discussion has to be about how we deal with it, not whether we recognise it. We do recognise it.

As the hon. Lady recognises, hate crime in this country is sadly rising, and there are individuals who have faced the force of that from various different areas. Very sadly, many in the Muslim community, as she is aware, feel that hatred not from outside the community but from within it—from those who are trying to preach an extremist message of Islam that is not accepted within the Muslim community, let alone in other parts of the country.

We must be absolutely clear that this country protects someone’s status for who they are and not for what they happen to believe. There is freedom of belief and freedom of religious expression, which also means the freedom not to believe or to believe differently from one’s family or community. Those things are also protected.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Ceidwadwyr, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

I am grateful for the support that I have had from Police Scotland, and it is a matter of considerable regret to me that officers have had to attend my recent surgeries, as well as those of my hon. Friend John Lamont. I am conscious that the last time I spoke in Parliament on policing issues was to highlight the lack of police in the south of Scotland, where they operate with minimum numbers. My concern is that the police attending demonstrations and the events I am involved in are displaced from attending and supporting the constituents for whom I am here to speak. I fully agree with everything the Minister said, but will he assure us that the deployment of resources to protect us and protect democracy does not displace resources from protecting our constituents, the very people we are here to serve?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. It will surprise nobody in the House that he quite correctly raised the fact that we must not put ourselves above our constituents. That is not what the statement is about. We are making sure that our constituents’ voices are defended and that their values, their expressions and the choices they make are able to stand. That is all we are doing. He is absolutely right that we would not take away from the protection of our wider society to protect those elected to serve it—what we are doing is part of the same thing.

As my right hon. Friend knows, we are also increasing police numbers. Sadly, in Scotland, that has not yet followed.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I thank the Minister for his statement and for the letter he sent to Members. I have been grateful to get clarity from the Dispatch Box in relation to myself as a Scottish MP. It would be nice to get a letter sent to all Scottish MPs that appreciates the complexity, because the seven points of the defending democracy protocol continually mention England and Wales, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing. I am sure that all the required engagement and connections are in place, but such a letter would give us an increased degree of confidence.

My questions are on two things. The Minister said he was looking at what can be provided during the election period, when we are no longer MPs. From a risk assessment perspective, my ask is that social media monitoring continues—I hope that would be one of the more cost- effective measures—so that we can see risks that we were not expecting.

On the point made by Stella Creasy, I do not want to live in a gilded cage either. I also associate myself with the remarks made by Mike Freer: we need to ensure that we are not preventing MPs from being close to their constituents while tackling the root problems. I would be grateful for the Minister giving us an update on that.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I thank the hon. Lady for the feedback on that letter. I will ensure that that clarity is given. This statement absolutely applies to whole of the United Kingdom, as I have said, but I will ensure that I clarify that. Social media monitoring will not end at the election. Indeed, it is provided not just by the House, but, as the hon. Lady knows, by other elements of the Government. As to the wider challenges, this is an area where we are continuing to work. I would appreciate—this is an unusual and perhaps reckless thing to say at the Dispatch Box—feedback from all Members on the effect they see of these policies operating in their constituencies.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Llafur, Hayes and Harlington

If the security services are advising that this £30 million is needed, I welcome that if it keeps our Members safe. The Minister has referred to the national demonstrations. May I say, as someone who has had to learn lessons over the years about the nature of statements I have made, that we must be careful about how we use words in relation to those demonstrations? I have been on virtually every one of them, and, just as the police reported to the Home Affairs Committee, they have been overwhelmingly peaceful. The people I have walked with are members of the Jewish community. Where signs—they have been appalling —have been identified, the police, working with the stewards of those demonstrations, have dealt with them effectively and, yes, prosecuted people. I am pleased with that. We must be careful in our language, because I would not want distorted language to lead to conclusions such as that we should restrict the right to protests. We should be proud of the people of our country because, as a result of their concerns about human suffering, they have come out on to the streets in such large numbers to urge that that suffering is ended.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I am enormously proud of the British people. I have always been proud to be British and I will remain so until the day I die. This is the most remarkable country. My grandfather came here just over 100 years ago as a student. His family followed, fleeing the persecution and murder that sadly engulfed Europe for those horrific years of fascism. This country has given protection, security and safety not just to me but to millions like me. Not only has it enabled us to prosper and thrive, but it has afforded me the huge honour of representing the community that I love, and has allowed me to speak on behalf of His Majesty as his Minister here at the Dispatch Box. This is an amazing country, and I am deeply proud to serve it.

Let me touch on some of those protests. I was very measured in my language, and I was careful in the way that I put it because many good people protest on every side of every debate. There are always people who rightly raise concerns about aspects of foreign policy over which we may or may not have influence. Many of us have raised personal concerns about the horrific treatment of over 100 hostages who are still held, even now, in tunnels by a terrorist group who murdered their families in a surprise attack 120 or 150 days ago. Many of us have showed our horror at that. Others, sadly, have chosen to march with some who have shown signs of hate and racism. Others have chosen to stay silent when they have seen those signs. Others, completely by chance, find themselves photographed in front of signs of the deepest, most hateful antisemitism that we have seen on our streets since the Cable Street marches of almost a century ago. Is it not a strange quirk of fate how the same people are accidentally photographed in front of the same signs on a regular basis? What poor, poor luck they must have.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the Minister for his statement which, rightly, looks at the security of elected representatives. He referred to hustings; in practice, how does he feel that would work? Thinking back to my election in 2019, there were nine hustings in my constituency alone. I managed to go to eight; I was nearly keeling over by the ninth. They will be happening right across the country, and rightly so, because our constituents must be able to come to us and ask what our policies are.

I also want to mention the staff members who support us. None of us would do our jobs as elected representatives —including councillors, elected Mayors and MPs—without the support of our staff. Will there be any support for staff members?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I am sure that no one in this House would judge the hon. Lady for missing one hustings out of nine. We are all in the process of training and strengthening up to get ready for whatever comes. She is absolutely right about staff members. Many of them will be affected in different ways. She will understand that I will not prescribe a single policy for hustings or for staff members because her seat—wonderful as it is—is not the same as mine or those of other hon. Members. Everyone’s seat is different and everyone’s staff work in differently ways, quite rightly, to serve their communities. It would not be right for me to prescribe that. However, the funding is available to the police—for her, it is the Metropolitan police—in order to support her in whatever way is most appropriate. It will require some judgment and perhaps some wider information and additional support. If changes are required, I would be grateful if she could let me know.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I served on the House of Commons Commission for three years, with you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that the security of Members of Parliament is essential for this House. Last week, precedent and convention were turned on their head, because concerns were expressed about the safety of some Members. There was a real sense that because we did that, mob rule has somehow prevailed. If that is the case, it will only encourage those who seek to disrupt our proceedings. Can the Minister assure me and the rest of the House that, although security of Members is essential and paramount, we will never again change the democratic practices of this House to satisfy the concerns and demands of a mob?

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I thank the hon. Member for his comments. They remind me of those famous words of Speaker Lenthall: “I have neither eyes to see nor voice to speak, save that as given to me by this House”, in answer to King Charles—an earlier, less beloved sovereign of this Kingdom. When he spoke, he was rightly rejecting all force except that of the sovereignty of the British people, who have chosen their representation here, to have any voice in this place. In rejecting that outside force, he was rejecting the King. Now, thank God, we have a wonderful King whose voice is only munificence and light. We need to reject the mob. It is an outside power and it is unacceptable that it should have a voice in here. That silences the legitimate voice of our constituents and our country, and it must never be tolerated.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care)

I have not spoken about my own personal security before, and I hope it will become apparent to the Minister why I need to do so today. I have been subject to serious threats, including death threats. I have been offered police support and protection. At one stage, we had to ensure that our teenage daughter was physically escorted to and from sixth form college, and she was not allowed off campus at break times. I have one live police investigation into harassment, one pending Crown court case into death threats, and I have physical security at my house, some of which I really did not want.

The security of MPs and their families is a serious matter, and it is not appropriate for it to become a political football. The Minister will therefore understand, I hope, my gut-wrenching anxiety and dismay when Tameside Conservative Councillor Liam Billington sought to politicise the physical measures at my house. Indeed, that was amplified by his Tory party chairman on social media. That is not acceptable. I hope that it does not happen to any other Member of this House.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Let me be very clear. Security for a Member, whether at home, police protection or whatever it happens to be, is not a luxury or a benefit. It is a burden and an intrusion into their personal life that is essential for the conduct of our democracy in our country. It is not something that any of us would choose— I certainly would not. It is deeply disturbing that anyone’s children should be targeted or threatened, and I hope the whole House will be clear and speak as one that no one should ever be criticised for having security and protection. I am sure that others outside will have heard that.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Llafur, Cwm Cynon

MPs must be safe to express their views. As we have heard from hon. Members on both sides, they face real threats, intimidation and abuse. That must be condemned at all times. But at a time of heightened tension, the Prime Minister’s talk of mob rule and some of the Minister’s comments today in relation to legitimate, peaceful protests, dangerously distort those events for political reasons, and detract from real risks. This morning, the Met’s former chief super- intendent, Dal Babu, made similar comments when he challenged unhelpful language, saying that there is a level of frustration, but we are in a democracy and the overwhelming majority of people at protests are peaceful. Do we not have a duty, as my right hon. Friend John McDonnell said, to speak very carefully, address real concerns and not abuse events in that way? We must protect MPs, but we must also ensure that the public’s right to peaceful protest is protected.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I am slightly surprised by the hon. Lady’s comments. My prime duty to this House, and to those who elected me to serve them here, is to be honest. There is no point in lying to them or deceiving you, Madam Deputy Speaker. There is absolutely no point in spreading untruths, leading to an outcome that would not serve us well. All I have done today is speak truthfully about the nature of the protests we have seen and repeat the words of some of those who organised those protests: that they would have us lock our doors, that they would close this Parliament, that they would silence our voices and that they would end our democratic processes. That is what they are advocating. If she does not like the truth, maybe she should stop supporting them.