MPs should stay out of Parliament for now, but remain positive
It is time for Parliament to lead by example and stay home, writes Speaker Lindsay Hoyle | UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
With constituencies often many hundreds of miles from London, MPs have the potential to be the ultimate super-spreaders and put everyone we come into contact with at risk. For now, we must meet virtually.
Normally the first day back at work in the House of Commons after the Christmas recess is like a big reunion for MPs.
While on the face of it many Members are political foes; underneath they are friends who share a kinship in the unique work that they do and enjoy each other’s company.
However, this year is different due to the pandemic. Instead of welcoming MPs physically back to work on the parliamentary estate, I am – as the Speaker – urging them to work from home.
As MPs, with constituencies often many hundreds of miles from London, we have the potential to be the ultimate super-spreaders. By travelling down to Westminster on planes and trains, we encounter lots of people, spend some time in the Commons – only to do it all again on the return journey, putting at risk all those who come into contact with us.
In addition, for every person who comes on to the estate, we need more security, police, catering, clerks and others to provide services for them and to keep the buildings open. Suddenly the risk is not just to one person, but to the lives of many others.
As all four nations of the UK enter lockdown, with stay-at-home orders now becoming law and the closure of schools to most pupils, it makes sense that we lead by example and move to the most virtual House of Commons possible.
Colleagues will be able to contribute virtually to more types of business in the Chamber than ever before
After all, we have the technology – thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of our amazing House staff – to allow MPs to Zoom into proceedings from the comfort of their own homes, without putting anyone at risk of catching this awful virus.
From Monday 11 January, under a new scheme for virtual participation, colleagues will be able to contribute virtually to more types of business in the Chamber than ever before.
While the practice of the House has changed significantly since April last year to ensure business continues, it also begs the question about what elements of this new way of working, if any, the House will decide to retain beyond the pandemic.
I am struck by the regular conversations I have (virtually of course) with my counterparts around the world, that many legislatures want to use the changes they have had to make in such difficult circumstances as an opportunity to review the way they work – whether to reinforce valued long-standing practices, to tweak them or retain new ones.
So, my New Year message to colleagues is two-fold: For now, please, Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. By working together, we will enable business and scrutiny to continue while ensuring the health and wellbeing of all those in the wider parliamentary community.
Secondly, stay positive. Try to look beyond this difficult period to a time when Covid restrictions are lifted and our parliamentary village can be together again.
We have done this. We can do this. And we will, one day soon, meet – physically – again.
Lindsay Hoyle is MP for Chorley and Speaker of the House of Commons