Update from UK Parliament on coronavirus

15 April 2020

With the nation currently facing extremely challenging circumstances due to coronavirus (COVID-19), steps have been taken to allow Parliament to continue to fulfil its important constitutional duties. 

Easter Recess dates

The House of Commons and the House of Lords have agreed to rise early for Easter Recess. Both Houses rose on Wednesday 25 March and will return on Tuesday 21 April.

When the House of Lords returns from recess, there will be changes to sittings. Read more.

Suspension of Westminster Hall debates

Following a motion approved in the House of Commons Chamber on 19 March 2020, there will be no further debates held in Westminster Hall – with effect from Friday 20 March.

The Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, had earlier referred to the suspension of sittings in Westminster Hall during the Business Questions. These restrictions will remain in place until the House otherwise orders.

Steps taken to preserve the operation of Parliament

In line with the latest Government advice and guidance from Public Health England, all visitor access to the Parliamentary Estate will stop from Tuesday 17 March. Access will be restricted to passholders and those on essential Parliamentary business.

This decision, consistent with the latest Government advice, has been taken by the Speakers of both Houses, in consultation with Public Health England. The steps are supported by the Clerks of both Houses and Parliamentary authorities.

The viewing galleries, used by visitors to watch proceedings in the Chambers, will be closed and democratic access tours of Parliament will cease, along with commercial tours. The Education Centre will be closed and school tours will also pause.

MPs, Peers, Parliamentary staff and other members of the Parliamentary community will continue to be able to work on the Estate where necessary, but are being strongly encouraged to work from home where possible.

In reference to access restrictions placed on Parliament last Friday, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle and the Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler said:

"We are resolved that Parliament should, insofar as possible, continue to fulfil its important constitutional duties of passing legislation, holding Government to account and, crucially, representing the views of the people of the United Kingdom and making their voice heard. 

"In order to preserve the operation of Parliament, 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. 

"We are clear that now is the time to be pragmatic; everyone in the country is being asked to strike a balance and it is right that we do the same. 

"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."

Access to the Parliamentary Estate

The access measures include: 

  • All non-essential access to both Houses will stop from Tuesday 17 March.
  • There will be no access to the public gallery.
  • The Education Centre will be closed and school visits will cease from Tuesday 17 March.
  • Members tours for constituents will be stopped.
  • No new banqueting bookings will be accepted. Existing bookings taking place from Monday onwards are to be cancelled but deposits will be refunded. 
  • No new commercial tour bookings will be accepted. Existing bookings taking place from Monday 16 March onwards are to be cancelled. Refunds will be given for bookings in an initial cancellation period up to the end of June 2020. This cancellation period is being kept under review.
  • Members of the public wishing to enter the Parliamentary Estate solely to view Westminster Hall will not be admitted.
  • Mass lobbies (which usually take place in Westminster Hall or in the larger committee rooms) will not be facilitated during the period.
  • Members of the public will not be admitted to committee meetings

Parliamentary travel

The World Health Organization (WHO) has now declared a coronavirus pandemic and the virus is now circulating in many countries. We advise against inward and outward parliamentary travel to certain countries and regions as specified by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For further information see: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

We strongly discourage parliamentary travel to other countries, and ask Members, committees, APPGs, and partner organisations to assess the risk of visits on a case-by-case basis, taking into account whether any delegates fall within vulnerable groups.

Parliamentary travel covers a wide range of activities and includes:

  • Official delegations – hosting of visiting Parliamentarians and officials from overseas jurisdictions and official travel by the Speakers and other office holders abroad.
  • Interparliamentary Groups – there are four Interparliamentary Groups (IPGs). Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA-UK); British Group Interparliamentary Union (BGIPU); British American Parliamentary Group (BAPG); British Irish Parliamentary Assembly
  • Parliamentary Assemblies (delegations to) – delegations of Members of both Houses are appointed, by the Government, as delegates to three Parliamentary assemblies. 
  • Select Committees – official and informal travel by select committees. 
  • APPG – Travel organised by members of APPGs.

Further information

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 here: https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response

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