Speaker urges MPs to wear face coverings amid worries over numbers isolating
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The Commons Speaker has pleaded with MPs to continue wearing face coverings and “not push the limits for the sake of it” following the easing of restrictions in England.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle told the chamber he was “very worried” after a “large number” people were contacted to isolate, with Deputy Speaker Dame Rosie Winterton among those unable to attend.
Health minister Edward Argar was also understood to be self-isolating – as well as Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak – after coming into contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for Covid-19.
Unions representing staff based in Parliament have previously written to the Speaker to push him to reconsider guidance for post-July 19, in which politicians will be encouraged to wear a mask but will not be mandated to have one on.
It is compulsory, however, for staff on the estate to continue to have to wear a covering.
In reply to the unions, Sir Lindsay last week said there was “no meaningful way” for him to force MPs to wear a face covering from Monday.
Sir Lindsay, making a statement at the start of proceedings on Monday, said: “With the increasing infection levels in the community and people having to isolate, I strongly advise that everyone on the estate should wear face coverings when moving around, assessing catering venues and in the areas they consider crowded, including the chamber.
“We have four sitting days before the House rises.
“I really want us to behave safely, responsibly, during these few days.
“None of us wants to risk taking Covid back to our families, staff or constituents and I’m sure we will want everyone working on the estate to feel safe and secure, and to ensure the business of this House continues.
“I’ve got to say we’ve certainly got a large number of people that have been contacted so I’m very worried about the outcome.
“Four days to go, I want us all to have a good break and enjoy our holidays so hopefully we will take it seriously and not push the limits for the sake of it.”
Most MPs in the sparsely attended chamber were wearing masks at the start of Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government questions.
Conservatives Dr Ben Spencer (Runnymede and Weybridge), Lee Anderson (Ashfield) and Jacob Young (Redcar) were among those not wearing a face covering in the questions session or the urgent question that followed.
The FDA, which represents civil servants, has vowed to write to the Speaker, party whips and leaders with the details of any MPs who refuse to wear a face covering without a valid exemption.
FDA general secretary Dave Penman said in a statement: “Although we expect most MPs will want to do the right thing to protect others, some have already taken to social media to boast that they will refuse to follow the guidance of the (House of Commons Commission) and will not wear a mask.
“Such an egregious act puts the health of all those working on the estate at risk, and yet those members will face no sanction or consequences for their reckless behaviour.
“What message does this send?
“A safe working environment is not a choice, it is an obligation.
“I urge the Speaker and the House of Commons Commission, before it is too late, to issue further instructions to House staff, as the unions have suggested, that they must withdraw from those situations where a member refuses to wear a face covering.
“I also call on all MPs to continue to wear a face covering to protect their colleagues and the staff they so rely on.”
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