Coronavirus: Visitor restriction system introduced to keep Parliament open

Parliament will limit visitor access to both the House of Commons and House of Lords in a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The increased steps, which come into force on Monday March 16, are designed to keep normal parliament operations running despite the rising number of Covid-19 cases.

MPs, Peers, parliamentary staff and other members of the Parliamentary community will continue to be able to work on the Estate where necessary.

There will be limited visitor access and the introduction of overseas travel restrictions.

It comes as May's local and mayoral elections were postponed for a year.

The new restrictions imposed by parliament include:

  • No new banqueting bookings will be accepted. Existing bookings taking place from Monday onwards are to be cancelled but deposits will be refunded.

  • No new commercial tour bookings will be accepted. Existing bookings taking place from Monday onwards are to be cancelled but tickets will be refunded. Members of the public wishing to enter the Parliamentary Estate solely to view Westminster Hall will not be admitted.

  • Mass lobbies (which usually take place in Westminster Hall or in the larger committee rooms) will not be facilitated during the period.

  • In order to limit numbers, All Party Parliamentary Groupss are not to invite non-passholding guests on to the Parliamentary Estate.

  • All pass holders, including Members, are discouraged from bringing non-passholding guests on to the Parliamentary Estate who are visiting for non-Parliamentary business-related purposes or for social purposes.

In a statement, The Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, and the Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, said: "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."

The May 7 elections have been postponed for a year. Credit: PA

Earlier on Friday, the May 7 elections have been posted for a year because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Government said on Friday that the Prime Minister has delayed the local, mayoral and police and crime commission elections until May 2021.

Boris Johnson made the decision over concerns that voters would be heading to polling stations during the height of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Both the Electoral Commission and the Labour Party had called on the PM to take action in delaying the votes.

A Government spokeswoman said: "We will bring forward legislation to postpone local, mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections until May next year.

"We will also work with the devolved administrations to ensure that they have the necessary powers to do the same."

Ministers had appeared to be pushing on with plans to hold the vote after the Electoral Commission polling watchdog recommended the delay.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, was the frontrunner in this year's polls. Credit: PA

Chief executive Bob Posner called for a delay until the autumn, in a letter to the Government which was later backed by Labour.

Mr Posner highlighted "real risks" over voter turnout and safety, as well as candidates' ability to campaign.

The PM's move is the most significant delay to polling since then-prime minister Tony Blair suspended the local and general elections in 2001 over the foot and mouth outbreak.

Votes were due to be held in about 118 councils across England, while Londoners were to choose their mayor.

The Association of Electoral Administrators, which represents election chiefs, had warned there may not be enough staff to keep all polling stations open due to sickness or self-isolation.

The local elections and four mayoral elections will now take place in 2021. Credit: PA

The move comes as Scotland recorded its first fatality related to the virus, and the number of cases in the UK rose to 798 - the largest day-on-day increase in the country since the start of the outbreak.

Mayors will get an extra year of their terms guaranteed.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted: "The Government has taken the decision to postpone the May elections for a year.

"I will continue to work with the Government and experts to help London manage coronavirus over the weeks and months ahead.

"I will always do everything in my power to stand up for London."

London mayoral candidate Rory Stewart tweeted: "The right decision. We should now move more rapidly to close gatherings, and schools; extend the isolation period; and restrict non-essential visits to care homes (who have few back up options for patients if they have to close.)"

ITV News political correspondent Paul Brand tweeted: "May’s local elections have been postponed for a year. #coronavirus is even affecting the functioning of our democracy."

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know