My Lords, I would like to make a short personal statement. This is the second major public health crisis I have experienced. The AIDS crisis of 1986/87 when I was Health Secretary was the first and it presented a particular set of circumstances. But it was fought on the basis of expert medical advice from the public health experts at the Department of Health. I followed the advice that I was given. I might say in the face of some opposition, and we had more success than many other nations in preventing deaths. We can, and should, learn valuable lessons from the past.
My strong view from my own experience, is that the best course to take in the present crisis is to follow the clear direction of Public Health England who have issued specific advice about social distancing for those over 70 and for those with specific underlying health conditions. This is not only for their own good - or should I say our own good - but for the benefit of those in our National Health Service who are working so incredibly hard in the current circumstances. And perhaps I could say (softly) that some of us are not just over 70 but over 80!
So reluctantly, I will be withdrawing from the House for the time being but thanks to modern technology, I will still be in close contact with my Office, deciding Private Notice Questions and continuing my duties as Lord Speaker. In effect I will be doing what thousands of people are now doing: ‘working from home’. My Woolsack duties will be carried out by some of my excellent deputies who will be further strengthened in numbers.
As for the situation more generally, my advice remains that no-one should consider it is their duty to be here in present circumstances. As Parliamentarians we have a duty to show leadership and heed the clear advice of the public health experts. I would ask that everyone continues to reflect on their own situation in the light of that advice, for their own good and for the broader public interest.
Lastly may I personally thank everyone for their co-operation over the last weeks.
Previous statements from the Lord Speaker on Covid-19
Tuesday 17 March
My Lords, yesterday I made a statement about Parliament’s response to the spread of Covid-19. Yesterday evening the Government issued new advice and it is right that we respond by taking further action here in Westminster. As the Prime Minister has stated, we are now all involved in national fightback against the virus. Parliament will continue to sit – that is important - but the way we operate will have to change.
In addition to the measures we announced last week about official travel and access to the Parliamentary Estate:
- Non-essential access to the Parliamentary Estate for non-passholders will now cease;
- Access to the public galleries and side galleries of both Chambers will now be restricted for use by Members only;
- Non-passholders will not be admitted to observe select committee proceedings but witnesses will still be able to attend;
- Democratic access tours arranged by Members will be cancelled and no further bookings will be taken;
- The Parliamentary Education Centre will close, educational and school visits will cease and no further visits will be arranged; and
- There will be certain changes to the catering provision on the Parliamentary Estate and further details will be communicated by the Administration later today.
Copies of my letter with details of these new arrangements are available in the Printed Paper Office.
Mr Speaker and I, together with our Commissions, will keep the arrangements under constant review and I would like to thank you once again for your continued co-operation
Could I add this: the Government have also issued specific advice about social distancing for those over 70 and those with specific underlying health conditions. Obviously, this has particular implications for members of this House. I would like to emphasise one point - that no-one should consider it is their duty to be here in these circumstances.
As Parliamentarians we also have a duty to show leadership and heed the advice of the public health experts. In my view, Public Health England, the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser are serving our nation well. I would ask that everyone now reflects on their own situation in the light of their advice and the broader public interest.
Monday 16 March
My Lords, I would like to make a short statement about Parliament’s response to Covid-19. I co-authored a letter with Mr Speaker on this subject and circulated it to all Noble Lords on Friday.
As we all know, the nation is facing an extremely challenging set of circumstances. The spread of Covid-19 has already begun to have widespread implications for the way the country is run and on individuals’ lives. Parliament is no different.
Mr Speaker and I are resolved that Parliament should, insofar as possible, continue to fulfil its important constitutional duties but it is our duty to take proportionate and reasonable measures to reduce the risk to those who work on the Parliamentary Estate and those who have to visit.
It is in this spirit that we have decided to implement a number of restrictions relating to overseas travel and visitor access. These steps have been developed in conjunction with Public Health England and reflect the Government’s current approach.
- All passholders should refrain from bringing non-passholders on to the Estate unless they here for Parliamentary business.
- No banqueting or commercial tour bookings will be accepted; existing bookings have been cancelled; and refunds will be issued.
- No mass lobbies will be allowed.
- APPGs are asked not to invite non-passholding guests on to the Estate.
These restrictions are effective from today and the copies of the letter with details of the restrictions are available in the Printed Paper Office. Should you have specific queries, please do feel free to speak with the Clerk of the Parliaments; his Office will be able to provide advice or direct you to the appropriate person or department.
I would like to thank you all Noble Lords for their co-operation.
My Lords, as you would expect, Mr Speaker and I, together with our Commissions, will continue to keep the situation under constant review, and I will make further statements as necessary.
Parliamentary officials are receiving daily briefings from Public Health England and are holding daily planning meetings to manage the situation in accordance with that advice.
We have been reassured that our current response is reasonable and proportionate.
Parliamentary authorities are keeping the situation under constant review, and are being updated according to the best medical advice.
Further information about the coronavirus pandemic can be found on the official government coronavirus website.