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Mon, 6 April 2020

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Parliament's public galleries closed as Speakers move to shield MPs and peers from coronavirus

Parliament's public galleries closed as Speakers move to shield MPs and peers from coronavirus

Viewing galleries in both chambers will be shut.

2 min read

Parliament's public galleries have been closed and MPs are being urged to work from home in a bid to limit the impact of the coronavirus on Britain's democratic institutions.

Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle and Lord Speaker Lord Fowler announced the fresh curbs to "preserve the operation of Parliament" as the disease spreads through Britain.

Viewing galleries in both chambers, which allow the public to watch proceedings, will be shut while all tours of Parliament will be cancelled, Westminster authorities confirmed.

MPs, peers, their staff and other workers on the parliamentary estate have been told they can "continue to be able to work on the Estate where necessary" - but they are being "strongly encouraged to work from home where possible".

Sir Lindsay and 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."

They added: "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."

The move marks a significant stepping up of Parliament's response to the coronavirus outbreak.

At the weekend MPs and peers were told to avoid bringing those without parliamentary passes onto the estate.

It comes after a second MP, Labour's Kate Osborne, confirmed she had been diagnosed with coronavirus after a period of self-isolation.

Ms Osborne said: "I will continue to self isolate until I have fought off the illness."

That follows the separate diagnosis of health minister Nadine Dorries, whose 84-year-old mother has also been told she has the illness.

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