Westminster has been told to ‘keep calm and carry on’ despite reports parliament could be shut down for five months over the coronavirus outbreak.
Raising a report that parliament could be shut until September, Labour former cabinet minister Lord Adonis said: “This would be regarded as a very bad move I think on behalf of almost all members of the House and send a really terrible signal to the country about the way that we are treating the crisis that we face as a country.”
Pointing out that parliament had sat through wartime and the deadly Spanish flu pandemic of 1918/19, he added: “Surely the best advice we can give ourselves and to take ourselves is to keep calm and carry on.”
He was supported by Labour peer Lord Blunkett, who was home secretary at the time of the 9/11 terror attacks.
He said: “The one thing we have got to avoid is alarming people.
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“I can’t think of anything that would alarm the nation, damage both individuals and our economy more, than Parliament failing to sit because of the coronavirus.
“We want a sensible, rational balanced approach, which the government so far has been achieving.”
Labour leader in the Lords Baroness Smith of Basildon said: “If any action is to be taken in restricting access to Parliament or in any way restricting our work, it should only be taken on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and with the approval of parliament.
“If at any point the virus leads to any restriction of how parliament works, the government needs to put in place plans to ensure that democracy can continue.”
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Newby said: “It’s very important that parliament sets an example to the nation.
“If it were the case that the coronavirus was so devastating that we had to close down every organisation, which involved bringing several hundred people together, this would absolutely devastate the economic and social life of the nation.
“So far there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that that would be necessary for the rest of the nation and for parliament to appear to be taking the lead almost in wishing to hide away is a very, very bad signal to the rest of the country.”
Tory Lords Chief Whip Lord Ashton of Hyde told peers the government was “concerned that democracy should continue”.
He said: “There are no plans to close parliament down.
“I do agree that parliament has proved itself to be very resilient over the centuries and years and there is no reason to think at the moment that shutting parliament will be either necessary or helpful.
“Our approach will be guided by the latest scientific and medical advice. We will take all necessary measures to deal with this outbreak.”
Lord Ashton added: “We are concerned that democracy should continue. After all, we have a large democratic mandate that we wish to fulfil.”