MPs have a responsibility to continue wearing face coverings to protect parliamentary staff
House staff have been mandated to wear face coverings and willingly do so to protect their colleagues and friends. Why won’t so many of our elected MPs do the same to protect the health of their colleagues and the staff on whom they so rely?
Do I need to wear a mask? Should I wear a mask? Two questions that we have all asked endlessly during the pandemic, and the answers have become ever more complicated following the lifting of restrictions over the summer. The law says I don’t have to, but the guidance says maybe I should.
Should I wear it in a crowded space? What about if I come into regular contact with a particular group of people?
Our members in the House of Commons are dedicated parliamentary staff who have been working tirelessly since the pandemic started in early 2020. Some have continued attending the workplace throughout, where there has been no other option due to the nature of their role. Others have worked just as diligently from their newly set up offices around their homes to ensure that our democratic processes could continue.
As the country has opened up more and more, cases of Covid-19 have risen over the past few months. During this time, the FDA has been discussing with the House authorities what measures can be put into place to protect our members. As a result of the employer’s own risk assessment, it has been mandated that all parliamentary staff should wear masks whilst on the estate.
Given the nature of the physical environment in Parliament and the poor ventilation, this has been done to protect the health and wellbeing of others and to help mitigate and reduce transmission.
Strangely, however, this does not extend to MPs. The Speaker has indicated that they should, but as they don’t have a contract of employment, so the argument goes, they cannot be mandated.
Some [MPs] may be exempt, and that is fine, but others undoubtedly use it as an exercise in political posturing
Many MPs continue to wear masks as they recognise the benefit this can have in keeping their colleagues and staff safe, but an equally large number have refused to do so. Of course, some may be exempt, and that is fine, but others undoubtedly use it as an exercise in political posturing.
This is purely an issue about the health and the wellbeing of others, it is entirely unhelpful to reduce it to a joke or another culture wars issue. It is about protecting the health of all those that Parliament relies on to remain open and conduct its business.
It is also about showing responsibility, respect for others and leadership. What example does this set to their colleagues or members of the public watching them on the TV screen? This is not the moment for any form of petty posturing from senior politicians.
Interestingly an MP may not be called in a debate, and can even be removed from the chamber, if they are wearing inappropriate dress – some have been scolded by the Speaker on this very point. Yet, despite numerous arguments and debates, no answer can be found as to who can instruct MPs, who are not exempt, to wear a face covering.
Is it the Speaker, the Prime Minister or the Leader of the House? Someone needs to take ownership and responsibility, and it is clear that the refusal to adhere to this guidance is more prevalent on the government benches.
Recently, some MPs who have been sat in a packed chamber have tested positive, meaning others may now be at risk. They may come in to contact with our members, who may then also be at risk themselves and for onward transmission to their colleagues, friends and family. The risk is exacerbated in an historic building with narrow corridors and poor ventilation.
House staff have been mandated to wear face coverings and willingly do so to protect their colleagues and friends. Why won’t so many of our elected MPs do the same to protect the health of their colleagues and the staff on whom they so rely? It is surely a matter of respect and common courtesy.
Parliament isn’t just the home of British democracy, it is a workplace, and our members remain very concerned about the risks posed to their health and safety. FDA members are dedicated and committed to keeping Parliament going, they just want to ensure their workplace remains a safe place.
My simple ask for all MPs is to show leadership, continue to wear a face covering, and do your bit to protect all parliamentary staff.
Jawad Raza is the FDA’s National Officer for the House of Commons.
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