UK MPs vote to resume Parliament virtually via Zoom

The fledgeling video conferencing platform will power ‘hybrid’ sessions despite privacy and security concerns

MPs have been agreed on plans to allow the House of Commons to resume during lockdown using services provided by video conferencing platform Zoom.

The House of Commons officially resumed on 21 April to debate a motion that facilitated ‘hybrid proceedings’, allowing debates to be held in the chamber as well as online using video conferencing technology

Until 12 May, the House of Commons will be held from 2:30pm on Mondays and 11:30am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with MPs able to participate virtually. The first virtual Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) is expected to take place at midday today.

Under the landmark proposals, 50 MPs will be allowed in the House of Commons so long as they observe strict social distancing guidelines. Up to 120 MPs, in addition, will be allowed to participate remotely during the ‘hybrid’ proceedings.

Video conferencing, and particularly Zoom, has become far more significant to business continuity in recent weeks in light of the strict government lockdown measures. Organisations have been forced to adopt mass remote working processes and practices, and adopt new technologies in a very short space of time.

Parliament is no different, and the House of Commons has jumped on the Zoom bandwagon alongside hundreds of thousands of other organisations, despite the widespread security concerns among official bodies.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD), for example, has reportedly banned its staff from using Zoom while officials investigate the security implications of the platform. This is in addition to the US Senate and Germany’s Foreign Office.  

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Several glaring privacy and security gaps come to light in the last few weeks, with the FBI, for example, warning users of the rise of ‘Zoom-bombing’, in which hackers invade private meetings unannounced. The company has, however, begun taking steps to rectify these issues by pausing all platform development to instead focus on releasing security fixes.

The House of Lords, meanwhile, has opted to resume using Microsoft Teams, with these parliamentary sessions not broadcast during an initial two-week trial period, unlike the House of Commons, which will air on TV as normal.

Setting up virtual parliament cost £148,793 and will cost £369,267 per month to run, according to a House of Commons memo seen by the Times.

IT Pro approached the Parliamentary Digital Service (PDS) for further details around how the standards and processes were established.

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