House of Commons – PA Images via Getty Images
Staff working in parliament should be able to remove themselves from any situation where MPs refuse to wear masks, Commons authorities have been told.
HuffPost UK revealed in July that mask-wearing in parliament is compulsory staff, but optional for MPs.
When the Commons was recalled last week, MPs packed into the chamber, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder for the first time since social distancing rules were introduced at the start of the pandemic.
Some were wearing face coverings as they sat for the hours-long session, but many, including Boris Johnson, were not.
Now two unions representing staff who work in parliament, Prospect and the FDA, have said MPs failing to observe the rules that the government still recommend for other workplaces could lead to “clusters of infections” in Westminster.
Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA, said: “MPs not only have a duty of care to staff working in the House of Commons, they also have an important leadership role, both in parliament and the country.
“We urge them to set an example by continuing to wear masks in order to protect the staff on whom they rely.
He added: “House staff have gone to extraordinary lengths over the last eighteen months to keep parliament functioning through the pandemic.
“The very least they deserve is to be able to work in an environment that is as safe as possible, and we will fully support any members of staff who remove themselves from situations where their health and safety is put at risk.”
Mike Clancy, the general secretary of Prospect, added: “A year and a half into this pandemic and elements of the government and MPs still haven’t learned the lesson that masks and social distancing help to prevent the spread of Covid.
“We now have the ludicrous situation where staff are mandated to abide by rules that MPs can choose to ignore.
“Sadly, many MPs seem to think that it is beholden on them to pretend that the pandemic is over and everything is well when infection numbers are telling a different story.
“The bottom line is that if we don’t protect Commons staff then not only is their health at risk but so is the continued normal functioning of parliament.”
“The Commons Commission must make clear to staff that if they find themselves in close proximity to an MP without a mask then they are at full liberty to remove themselves.”
Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) which advises the Government, said the fact it was mostly Tory MPs who chose not to wear a mask in the chamber was a concern.
He told Times Radio: “There seems to be an increasing political polarisation.
“From the scenes in the Commons, with the Conservatives not wearing masks and, on the Labour benches, everyone wearing masks, I think that just illustrates very starkly the politicisation of this issue, which really should not be a political topic.”
He added: “I think what was evident in those crowded conditions in the House of Commons, clearly fell into the guidance which is being given by the Government, which is that you should wear masks in crowded spaces.”
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