MPs are risking the lives of disabled parliamentarians and House of Commons staff – and those with long-term health conditions – by flouting COVID-19 safety measures, three MPs have revealed.
The trio – Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper, Labour’s Rachael Maskell and the SNP’s Dr Philippa Whitford – were giving evidence to the procedure committee this month as part of its ongoing inquiry into how the House of Commons operates during the pandemic.
Two of them – Cooper and Whitford – have long-term health conditions themselves.
Whitford, who has rheumatoid arthritis and is at “very high risk” from the virus, told the committee: “I have observed it remotely and then seen it when I was down [at Westminster], and I was quite shocked at things that were happening outside the chamber, particularly in voting queues, with people not socially distancing.
“I have been mocked because I wore a mask and face covering.
“Staff have told me that if they are saying, ‘It is one way,’ or, ‘Can you move along?’ people were rude to them.”
The Central Ayrshire MP, who spent 33 years as an NHS surgeon, added: “You become infectious a couple of days before you get symptoms, and there are people who will be carrying it and spreading it with no symptoms whatsoever, so every single person, whether staff or MP, should be behaving as if they are carrying it with regards to the people around them.”
Daisy Cooper, who has Crohn’s disease, said she was frustrated with MPs in the main Commons chamber who have “tried to brush past and climb over each other, breathing on each other in the process”.
But she said she was even more concerned with what happens away from the television cameras.
She said that “the second they walk through a door at either end [of the Commons chamber], there tends to be bunching together of people, slappings on the back, people not wearing masks, maybe not using the hand sanitisers, and people huddling together in corners to have private discussions.
“These things should not be happening in Parliament.”
Maskell, who has a degree in physiotherapy, said she and many others had been “deeply concerned” about what they had observed.
She said she had seen MPs both inside and outside the main chamber every day “not socially distancing and not covering their faces”.
Maskell, who worked in respiratory medicine for 20 years, told the committee: “You may not have a risk yourself and, therefore, feel you don’t have to cover your face, but actually you are putting somebody else’s life in danger.”
She also suggested that MPs were risking the health of the speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who has type one diabetes, by gathering around the speaker’s chair to talk to him.
Maskell said she waits until “the very last minute” to vote, but that the process was still “completely unsafe”.
She said: “I fear, if somebody had the infection here, how it could spread.”
She added: “Quite frankly, if we are telling a nation to keep themselves safe and to follow strict guidance, we have to model it here.
“It is incredibly disappointing consistently seeing the rules set for the nation being broken in parliament.”
Maskell told Disability News Service (DNS) this week: “I am deeply concerned about this. Anyone could be a vector of infection and could pass infection to others.
“I believe all MPs should wear face coverings and observe social distancing, and that this should not be advised, but enforced.
“I further believe that virtual proceedings should be instituted so MPs can participate remotely.” (see separate story)
A spokesperson for the Speaker’s Office told DNS in a statement: “The Speaker and House of Commons Commission [which is responsible for the administration and services of the House of Commons] take seriously the safety and wellbeing of all on the Parliamentary Estate.
“The measures in place continue to be reviewed and updated, to ensure that the UK Parliament remains a COVID-19 secure workplace and in line with Public Health England guidance.”
*For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
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