People's backgrounds may be screened before they are allowed to meet with their MPs

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Home Secretary Priti Patel speaking at the Conservative Party Conference earlier htis month - AP
Home Secretary Priti Patel speaking at the Conservative Party Conference earlier htis month - AP

Constituents who book in meetings with their MPs could have their backgrounds checked under proposals being considered to improve safety after the death of Sir David Amess.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, floated the idea in broadcast interviews on Sunday. She is conducting a review with the parliamentary authorities into MPs’ safety following the attack.

Having an individual request a meeting with an MP rather than turn up unprompted at open surgeries would allow their details to be checked against terror watch lists.

Other databases, such as lists of known criminals and the electoral roll, could also in theory be cross-referenced, with the latter revealing if the person seeking a meeting does not live in the constituency.

It is one of a number of changes being considered after Sir David died following a stabbing attack that took place as he met constituents in his Southend West parliamentary seat.

MP Mark Francois and his wife laid flowers in tribute to his friend Sir David Amess on Sunday - Eastnews Press Agency
MP Mark Francois and his wife laid flowers in tribute to his friend Sir David Amess on Sunday - Eastnews Press Agency

Other ideas include getting police officers to attend constituency meetings, airport-style security to check voters before they enter and MPs being urged not to meet voters alone.

Political leaders and parliamentarians are attempting to balance the historic availability of MPs to constituents with the need to better protect them from potential attack.

Gordon Brown, the former prime minister, on Sunday said security for MPs and councillors should be strengthened, but added: “This is an attack on our democracy, so the answer cannot be less democracy.”

Sir David’s office had published online the time and address of his meeting on Friday - the site where he was attacked - as many MPs do to allow constituents to bring their concerns.

There are no blanket rules about constituents booking meetings with their MP in advance or those details being checked against national databases.

Ms Patel said during an appearance on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “There are ways in which we can do things differently, clearly around surgeries.”

She listed examples, including: “Moving from publicising appointments to pre-booking appointments. Making sure that appointments are checked thoroughly, that the backgrounds on individuals are checked.”

It is unclear how quickly such checks would be carried out or who would conduct them if such an approach were adopted. Consideration of the idea is in its early stages.

There have been calls for police officers to attend constituency events more regularly given that both Sir David and Jo Cox, the Labour MP killed in 2016, were attacked around the time of such meetings.

There are already provisions for MPs to request police protection, according to parliamentary sources who stress that part of the challenge is convincing MPs to put in place such measures.

The 650 MPs are given a high degree of independence in running their offices, meaning that issuing blanket rules on issues like security is complex.

Police or private security staff

There is also some frustration within the parliamentary leadership at police forces for taking differing approaches to the need to regularly attend constituency meetings.

It is understood MPs could be encouraged to hire private security staff for their constituency meetings, with the cost claimed back on expenses, rather than using the police.

Another idea being considered is whether airport-style security, such as metal detectors, should be used at meetings between MPs and their constituents.

Ms Patel suggested on Sunday that such an approach should be considered. A metal detector may have picked up that Sir David’s attacker was carrying a knife.

Ms Patel also stressed the importance of MPs “making sure you’re not on your own” for their constituency meetings as she discussed ways to improve their safety.

Changes to guidance for MPs about how to approach constituency events and the money available to them to improve security could be announced later this week.

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