Coronavirus: Speaker announces alcohol ban on Parliamentary estate as part of new social distancing measures
Sir Lindsay Hoyle warned divisions could now take up to 40 minutes under new procedures (Parliament TV)
Alcohol is to be banned from sale in Parliament and new voting procedures brought in as part of measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus.
Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle made the announcement after MPs demanded social distancing measures be put in place to protect them and their staff.
PoliticsHome also understand that calls are growing for Parliament to begin its Easter recess a week early and not return until 21 April as a result of the outbreak.
In a Commons statement, Sir Lindsay said: “Parliament as a whole continues to follow the latest advice relating to Covid-19, including advising members and staff to work remotely where possible and limiting all but essential access to the parliamentary estate.
“I remind members and those watching our proceedings that steps have been taken to preserve social distancing in the chamber.
“As a result attendance will be more limited than usual, but that does not curtail the commitment of honourable members to fulfil their parliamentary duties."
He the possibility of video conferences for select committee meetings will be looked into “as a matter of priority” during Easter recess.
The Speaker also confirmed that alcohol sales on the Parliamentary estate had been halted as of Friday until further notice, and that only a limited number of food outlets would remain open.
On new voting procedures, Sir Lindsay said: “The entry of members will be staggered with entry at three times for three alphabetical groups.
“Members will be able to record their names at any desk. A division may take between 30 and 40 minutes to be conducted this way.”
He also cautioned MPs against asking unnecessary questions of Government departments which were “working incredibly hard to respond to the current crisis”.
All these measures would remain under “constant review” he added, and a full inquiry into Parliament’s operations during the pandemic would be commissioned once the situation improved.
His statement comes after a group of Labour MPs wrote to the Commons Speaker on Monday with a series of urgent recommendations on how the House should operate during the outbreak.
Some of the group’s suggestions, such as video conferencing and changes to divisions, were included in the Speaker’s statement.
But further proposed measures such as remote voting and limits on who could enter the Commons chamber were not implemented.