Stripped back House of Commons meets for PMQs as MPs are told not to attend unless they are asking a question as Parliament tries to stop spread of coronavirus in Westminster
- MPs told not to attend Prime Minister’s Questions unless they had a question
- Those who did attend told to make sure they sit far apart from colleagues
- Parliament has banned visitors but is still up and running despite coronavirus
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
A stripped back House of Commons met at lunchtime today for PMQs as MPs were told to stay away unless they were asking a question in a desperate bid to stop the spread of coronavirus in Westminster.
Parliament attempted to set an example to the nation as MPs were told to comply with the government’s social distancing recommendations as best they could.
Those who did attend were asked to make sure they sat as far away as possible from their colleagues.
The move to limit the number of MPs in the Commons chamber came after Boris Johnson told the nation to avoid all non-essential social contact.
Parliamentary authorities and the government are adamant that the Commons and the House of Lords must continue to function during the crisis.
But today’s edition of PMQs – likely to be the last one featuring Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader as he prepares to step down on April 4 – illustrated the growing impact of coronavirus on daily life in the heart of British democracy.
MPs were told not to attend PMQs today unless they were going to ask a question as parliament continued to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak
Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said the decision to reduce the number of MPs in the chamber had been taken to ensure ‘maximum safety’
An estimated two dozen MPs are now in self-isolation after either coming into contact with someone with coronavirus or after developing symptoms.
Speaking before PMQs got under way, Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said viewers would notice attendance was ‘significantly below the normal numbers’.
He said the number of MPs will be limited during debates going forward in order to promote ‘maximum safety’.
Addressing a sparsely populated Commons chamber, Mr Johnson started the session by praising NHS staff ‘for the way they are coping in this extremely difficult time’.
The PM reiterated his repeated vow to ‘do whatever it takes’ in the weeks and months ahead to help the NHS and wider society endure the impact of coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn praised Parliament for the ‘responsible approach’ taken regarding the number of MPs taking part in proceedings.
He also welcomed the fact MPs were ‘sitting a suitable distance apart to avoid cross fertilisation of this horrible disease’.
A statement sent to Tory MPs by deputy chief whip Stuart Andrew before Parliament sat today said: ‘In order to ensure that we follow the advice being given to the public, it has been decided that only people on the Order Paper should be in the Chamber for both Northern Ireland and Prime Minister’s Questions.
‘We respectfully ask you to adhere to this message.’
A similar message was also sent to to Labour MPs by the party’s whips.
It said: ‘The Government are trying to avoid crowding the chamber at question time on the Conservative side.
‘Can we do the same. If you are not on the order paper or seeking to get called could you please not come into the chamber.
‘If you are in the chamber could you please space yourselves out.
‘This applies to the frontbench and backbenches. Thank you for your cooperation.’
The decision to limit access in the Commons prompted one MP to tell HuffPost: ‘That’s it. We might as well go home.
‘No point being here to just walk around the corridors.’
Parliament has taken steps to limit the number of people on the estate by banning visitors earlier this week.
Boris Johnson attended the Commons to answer MPs’ questions this afternoon as the coronavirus outbreak continues to rock the country
All non-essential access to the Palace of Wetminster has been halted with only passholders and people on ‘essential Parliamentary business’ now be allowed in.
Meanwhile, MPs and members of the House of Lords who are over the age of 70 or those with underlying health problems have been urged to heed government advice and consider staying at home.
A spokesman for the UK Parliament said in a statement issued on Monday: ‘In line with the latest government advice and guidance from Public Health England, all visitor access to the Parliamentary Estate will stop from tomorrow.
‘Access will be restricted to passholders and those on essential Parliamentary business.
‘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.’