Plans are under way for MPs to be allowed to drink outside on the parliamentary estate again within a week, after sales of alcohol were stopped there in line with restrictions on hospitality under England’s old coronavirus tier system.
After the reopening of beer gardens on 12 April, a seated outdoor area is being earmarked between Portcullis House, where many MPs’ offices are, and the Derby Gate entrance to parliament.
The space would be accessible to MPs and up to three guests, as well as journalists who are members of the press gallery or lobby. However, other parliamentary pass-holders would be able to use the area only on Thursdays and Fridays.
Multiple sources told the Guardian the proposal for the site was endorsed by the Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. His spokesperson declined to comment.
It will be discussed at a meeting of senior MPs on the administration committee and House of Commons commission next Monday.
Tory backbencher Charles Walker, who chairs the administration committee, said the scheme was “part of a phased return of house facilities”.
He said: “Where we can, we want to mirror, in good time, the government’s roadmap back to normality. Offering a limited outdoor table service, perhaps as early as next week, will put us on the same footing as those venues that started providing hospitality this past Monday.
“We are looking forward to getting things back to normal across the house but that is going to take a bit of time. So reopening will most likely be phased.”
Another source revealed a tent had been considered for the area, but later said fences were more likely to be used to mark it out instead.
There is particular hesitancy among some in the Commons given what they describe as “hypocrisy” and “conflict” between messaging from parliamentary authorities seeming to dissuade workers from returning to the estate, compared with the incentive that being able to socialise outdoor with colleagues could provide.
An insider said some senior officials seemed to be “having a meltdown” over the proposal, claiming: “The optics are awful.”
The sale of alcohol in parliament has been a particularly controversial topic since coronavirus restrictions were introduced. There are many bars dotted around the estate, but they closed when the pandemic broke out.
Some hospitality venues in the Palace of Westminster began selling alcohol again when lockdown ended, but then authorities decided they should follow the same 10pm curfew rule that was introduced for other businesses selling alcohol late last year.