Tory MPs do not need to wear masks in the Commons because they are not “strangers”, the Health Secretary has said.

Sajid Javid said the Government’s advice was that people should consider wearing face coverings when they were gathered in a crowded space with people they did not normally mix with.

He said a photograph of the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, showing ministers around the table with their faces uncovered, was consistent with that advice.

Labour benches in the Commons
Labour benches in the Commons (UK Parliament/Roger Harris/PA)

“What we said is that people should consider wearing masks in crowded places when they are with strangers, when they are with people they are not normally spending time with,” he told Sky News.

Asked about Conservative MPs who were not wearing masks when he made his statement in the Commons, he said: “They are not strangers. Conservative backbenchers, whether they are in Parliament, in the chamber itself or other meeting rooms – you have to take measures that are appropriate for the prevalence of Covid at the time.”

Since Parliament resumed full sittings there has been a stark difference between the number of MPs wearing masks on the Opposition benches and on the Conservative side of the House.

During his Commons statement on Tuesday, Mr Javid was heckled by Opposition MPs pointing out his unmasked colleagues as he suggested people should wear a face covering in “crowded, enclosed spaces where you can come into contact with people that you don’t normally meet”.

Boris Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings branded the Health Secretary “trainwreck Saj” for suggesting that “MPs dont (sic) need masks cos ‘theyre (sic) not strangers'”.

The former No 10 adviser, who argued for tighter lockdown measures in autumn 2020, mocked the Government’s Plan B policy of extra restrictions only coming in when the situation was already “out of control”.