The House of Commons refused to take any action after disabled members of staff, MPs and peers raised concerns about their safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed.
Members of the ParliAble network lodged the complaint in early October after it emerged that a Scottish MP had travelled to Westminster while experiencing COVID-19 symptoms*.
The complaint has only emerged through a freedom of information request by Disability News Service (DNS), which was submitted after three MPs accused colleagues of risking the lives of disabled parliamentarians and House of Commons staff by flouting COVID-19 safety measures.
DNS had asked the House of Commons authorities how many complaints had been lodged about the failure of MPs to obey COVID rules during the pandemic, for example by breaching rules on social distancing.
In its response, the House of Commons information rights and information security service said there had been 33 complaints between 2 April and 2 November.
Of those, 14 complaints were made by MPs, with another 13 from members of the public, and four from House of Commons staff.
The complaint from ParliAble was lodged on 2 October, and related to an MP “attending Estate with Covid-19 and the safety of disabled staff on the Parliamentary Estate”.
ParliAble – a network set up to support disabled MPs and peers, their disabled staff, and disabled staff of both the House of Commons and House of Lords – called in its complaint for the so-called “hybrid” parliament to be extended.
This is believed to refer to the need to allow more MPs to work from home during the pandemic, and to vote and take part in debates virtually.
But in response to the complaint, the Commons authorities merely explained the existing “safety protocols” to ParliAble, and told it to raise the issue with the leader of the Commons, the Conservative minister Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Rees-Mogg has been repeatedly criticised for failing to allow shielding or self-isolating MPs to carry out more of their parliamentary duties virtually.
It is not clear whether ParliAble passed on its concerns to Rees-Mogg.
The freedom of information response also details how members of parliament have made a string of complaints about fellow MPs, including their failure to wear face masks, the lack of social distancing in the Commons “tea room” and elsewhere in parliament, and the COVID-related risks caused by having to vote in person.
Several complaints made by members of the public related to the lack of social distancing by MPs in the Commons chamber, which appear to have been witnessed during television coverage.
Another complaint came from a member of House of Commons staff, who said an MP had breached social distancing rules while voting, while another staff member complained about an MP who appears to have held a “gathering” on a riverside terrace, and a third complained about an MP’s lack of social distancing when approaching Commons staff.
This week, Rees-Mogg’s office said it did not believe it had heard from ParliAble.
Asked if Rees-Mogg was concerned about the other complaints made about the actions of some MPs during the pandemic, a spokesperson declined to comment.
Asked if it shared the concerns of ParliAble, and those in the other complaints, and whether the authorities believed enough had been done to protect the safety of disabled staff and MPs on the parliamentary estate, a House of Commons spokesperson declined to answer.
But she said in a statement: “The priority is always to ensure that Parliament remains a COVID-secure environment for all who work here and, importantly, that Members of both Houses can continue to carry out their parliamentary duties.
“Both Houses intend to ensure that the latest rules, where relevant, are reflected within the Parliamentary Estate.”
ParliAble had not responded to a request to comment by noon today (Thursday).
*The SNP’s Margaret Ferrier had travelled from Glasgow to Westminster by train while awaiting a coronavirus test result, after developing symptoms, and then made the trip back to Scotland by train after she received notification of a positive result
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