'We must not surrender': Minister slaps down calls to return to hybrid voting to combat threats

27 February 2024, 10:31 | Updated: 27 February 2024, 11:00

A row has broken out about whether to return to hybrid voting
A row has broken out about whether to return to hybrid voting. Picture: Getty
Natasha Clark

By Natasha Clark

Calls to return to hybrid voting in Parliament have been slapped down by MPs today.

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Senior Labour MP Harriet Harman last night told LBC's Tonight With Andrew Marr that MPs should not feel under such huge pressure to change their vote.

The Camberwell MP and 'mother of the House' called for MPs to "go back to hybrid again" in a bid to combat some of the threats some were facing.

The Middle East war has heightened tensions in the UK - with last week's Commons vote sparking more protests on the streets.

Last week saw chaotic scenes as MPs descended into farce over voting on a ceasefire in Gaza.

But this morning MPs have said that going back to a virtual situation - like used during Covid - would be giving in to those who try to intimidate MPs.

Cabinet minister Alex Burghart said: "This would be to give in to those who threaten us.

Read more: Three female MPs issued with 'taxpayer-funded bodyguards and cars' amid growing safety concerns

Read more: Palestine protest leader 'wanted Parliament to have to lock its doors', as fears grow for MP's safety

"It would be entirely wrong to vacate our premises because of intimidation.

"Improve security for MPs, prevent demonstrators from threatening them etc but we must not surrender the Houses of Parliament to them."

And Tory MP Simon Clarke, a former Cabinet Minister, added: "The answer is not - and cannot be - for MPs to hide away from our own Parliament. It is for us to address the threats that prompt the fear that Harriet refers to.

"Robust policing, reform of our anti-extremism policies, an end to the pervasive culture of denial about the problem."

It comes amid reports the Treasury is considering a £15million package for MPs security, to help them pay for bodyguards.

At least three MPs are said to have been given extra protection since last week.

Ms Harman warned how some MPs during the Brexit debates were saying they were going to "stay home" due to fears for their safety, saying things like: "I'm not going to go down to Parliament because there's too many threats."

Ms Harman noted the murder of Sir David Amess and Minister Mike Freer whose office was subject to an arson attack.

MPs have faced increased threats in recent years, which have been heightened by the recent debates in the Commons about the Israel/Gaza conflict.

Some have faced intimidation and had people shout at them in the street.

Harriet Harman suggests a 'hybrid' model for MPs

Ms Harman told Andrew Marr: "This is not snowflakery - these are real issues of concern.

"One of the things I think could come out of a Speaker's Conference is an agreement that actually we could go back to hybrid again.

"Sometimes MPs could speak in the Chamber, sometimes they could speak from their constituency.

"They could sometimes vote through the division lobbies, or they could sometimes vote online.

"I think we've got a process now that we experimented with during Covid, which we could actually bring that back in. And that's something I would propose to a Speaker's Conference, so if somebody feels particularly under pressure, they can still participate in the Commons, but not in a way that makes them feel vulnerable.

"What we've got to do is balance that we've got to make sure we make MP safe.

"We've got to make sure people can demonstrate and have freedom of speech and we've got to look at what the security services are saying and what the free speech supporters are saying and bring it all together so that we can have good debate in Parliament and MPs can be confident that they can speak up and vote in the way they want without looking over their shoulder."

Labour front-bencher Lisa Nandy said at the weekend that "many, may MPs" have been threatened and harassed in the street thanks to the tensions in Gaza and Israel.

Shadow international development secretary Ms Nandy said "many MPs" will have been in touch with the Speaker to express "concerns about their safety" in recent weeks.

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