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MPs need protection from violence, says Bishop of Norwich

08 March 2024

Alamy

A group of Metropolitan Police officers in Parliament Square, Westminster, in January 2022

A group of Metropolitan Police officers in Parliament Square, Westminster, in January 2022

AT A time of rising community tensions, it is vital that MPs be protected from intimidation and threats of violence, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, has said.

Bishop Usher was speaking in the House of Lords on Thursday of last week in response to a government statement on the security of elected representatives.

The government statement, made in the House of Commons by the Minister for Security, Tom Tugendhat, spoke of “rising community tensions” in recent weeks.

“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 that the majority in their communities want it, but because a few — a violent few — have made them fear for their safety, and the safety of their families.”

The murders of the MPs Jo Cox (News, 24 June 2016) and Sir David Amess (News, 22 October 2021) had affected all MPs, the statement said. “We know that there are extremists out there, and the truth is clear: the danger is real.”

Since the 7 October attacks on Israel, pressures facing MPs had “spiked”, the statement said, “along with a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism”. British Muslims also faced threats from far-Right extremists, it said.

The Government was committing an additional £31 million “to protect the democratic processes and our elected representatives”.

Responding to the statement, Bishop Usher told peers that this protection for MPs was “vital, because this is a period of time of immense concern”. The impact on women, and women of UKME heritage, was “deeply troubling”, he said, “as is the abuse suffered by Muslim and Jewish colleagues”.

Bishop Usher also said that parliamentarians needed to use language with care, “to be careful that we do not incite further trouble. We need to learn that art, which is seemingly fast being lost from our society, of disagreeing agreeably. So I ask how, in the work of government, that sense of mirroring and modelling disagreeing agreeably might be lived out all the more. Given the ignorance around many other faith communities, how might priority be given to religious literacy across education and within our public institutions?”

Responding for the Government, Lord Sharpe said: “We have been seeking the views and perspectives of experts in this field, which, I hope, would include the Rt Revd prelate, to explore how religious hatred is experienced across all British communities. But it seems self-evident that one of the ways to combat this sort of ill-advised and poorly informed hatred is to educate and improve general understanding of the issues under discussion.”

Speaking outside Downing Street last Friday, the Prime Minister spoke of “a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality. . .

“What started as protests on our streets, has descended into intimidation, threats, and planned acts of violence. . . MPs do not feel safe in their homes. Longstanding parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns.”

In an interview with The Spectator this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that “more can be done legally” to protect MPs from abuse and harassment, such as “rigorous prosecution of threats, rigorous prosecution of abusive use of social media. Members of both Houses of Parliament being very careful about language and not accepting hate speech.”

He said that he had “heard [hate speech] in the last few weeks . . . both between members and towards the Church, by members of parliament, saying the Church is colluding with evil. And we certainly — particularly bishops who are women — have had an enormous increase over the last year or two in abusive language.” He carried an alarm because of threats against him, the magazine reported.

Read more on this story in this week’s Leader comment

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