Coronavirus: Lord Speaker to work from home

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Lord FowlerImage source, Getty Images

The Lord Speaker has announced that he is "reluctantly" withdrawing from the House of Lords and will work from home.

Lord Fowler, who is 83, says he is following government advice that people over 70 should take precaution during the coronavirus outbreak.

He said no peer should consider it was their duty to be present.

The government is advising that those in vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, should follow social distancing measures for 12 weeks.

The measure is expected to slow the spread of infection and keep the number of critically ill patients within NHS capacity.

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In a statement in the House of Lords, Lord Fowler said that this was the "second major public health crisis I have experienced," having been health secretary during the Aids crisis in the 1980s.

"It was fought on the basis of expert medical advice from the public health experts at the Department of Health...and we had more success than many other nations in preventing deaths.

"We can, and should, learn valuable lessons from the past," he said.

He urged other MPs and peers to follow advice.

"As for the situation more generally, my advice remains that no-one should consider it is their duty to be here in present circumstances. As parliamentarians we have a duty to show leadership and heed the clear advice of the public health experts."

The Lord Speaker confirmed he would continue to work while away from the chamber, including deciding on private notice questions every day.

Politicians are hoping to keep Parliament running while minimising risks. At Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions, only MPs actually asking questions were present in the Commons.

Next Monday, the government's emergency coronavirus bill is expected to be "nodded through" - passed without MPs having to vote by walking through division lobbies together.

Tuesday's scheduled Commons business includes a debate on the Windrush Compensation Scheme. and Prime Minister's Questions is expected to keep its usual Wednesday slot.