Why did few MPs attend a debate on health worker pay?

26th Jun 2020

Claim

Only a handful of MPs turned up to debate a pay rise for health and social care workers.

Conclusion

Correct. This debate related to a petition, and these debates are generally sparsely attended.

The online resource for nurses, Nursing Notes, has shared a photo of a sparsely populated House of Commons, claiming it shows low attendance for a debate on increasing pay for health and social care workers.

The gathering pictured was a debate led by the Petitions Committee, a group of backbench MPs from across the house, which considers petitions made to parliament. An e-petition calling for an increase to NHS workers’ pay received over 100,000 signatures and therefore was eligible for debate, along with other petitions “relating to the recognition and reward of health and social care workers”. 

It’s important to note that petition debates do not directly lead to any outcome. For example, MPs are not asked to vote on anything. However, the publicity they generate can play a part in changing laws, such as when the government introduced a tax on sugar in soft drinks in March 2016, after a petition debate on the matter the previous November.

The full debate on increasing pay for health workers can be seen here. Generally, the committee debates are not attended by many extra MPs, though a government minister is always present to answer questions. They are also generally not held in the Commons Chamber but in Westminster Hall.

Because of the pandemic debates in the Commons Chamber, where this debate took place, have been limited to 50 MPs at most. MPs who have self-certified as being unable to attend Westminster are also allowed to participate remotely.