Virtual House of Lords sittings will not be broadcast live | Politics

Virtual hearings of the House of Lords will not be televised after the upper house of parliament decided to use a Microsoft video-conferencing programme rather than Zoom.

Some peers said the decision to run parliament in this manner was “unacceptable”, after it emerged that sessions will effectively be held in private for an initial two-week period.

While the House of Commons was using Zoom and broadcasting proceedings live, the Lords has been equipped with Microsoft Teams, with peers blaming technical limitations for the decision.

The Lords’ Conservative chief whip, Lord Hyde, said the upper house would only use Zoom when it is was secure, raising questions over why the Commons was able to roll out use of the programme to 650 MPs.

He said that the public would be able to follow proceedings in the Lords by reading Hansard, the official written record of what is said in the chamber, which is available online within a few hours of a debate finishing. Television broadcasters are also understood to have raised concerns about the lack of footage.

Labour’s Lord Adonis led the criticism in the chamber as a handful of peers observing social-distancing rules returned in person after the Easter recess. He said: “It will not be possible for the public to observe what’s going on, which is a breach of all precedent in terms of parliamentary proceedings and is a matter of very great concern.”

He added:“If we were using Zoom, as the House of Commons is, then it would be possible to broadcast proceedings. If that is the case, what is the mechanism by which broadcasting will be possible within a fortnight’s time, presuming that is the intention? For anything other than a very short period of time while technical difficulties are sorted out it is absolutely unacceptable that the proceedings of this house are not broadcast.”

Lord Hyde agreed that it would have been “nice” if the Lords was able to broadcast its virtual proceedings but the Commons was the immediate focus of parliament’s digital capabilities.

“There is only limited amount of resource that the parliamentary digital service has got and they are, I think it’s fair to say, concentrating on the House of Commons and they are able to broadcast. I think it’s reasonable that in the absence of as many resources that we want that we should focus on the elected house.”

The Commons speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, told the BBC that the new technology was a trial for both houses and it would be interesting to see “which system works best”. Lord Fowler added that they were going to look at moving to Zoom in the coming days.

Peers have also come under fire for reports that members are keen to claim their £323 daily allowance while they are logging into virtual parliamentary sessions.

The Lords’ speaker, Lord Fowler, told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the daily stipend was being considered and acknowledged the “pretty strong argument” for a reduced fee while they do not need to leave their homes.

Virtual working arrangements for parliament also bring new challenges. Labour’s Valerie Vaz told the Commons that MPs would be expected to wear formal clothes while appearing on camera, with one key clarification: “The dress code will only apply to the top half.”

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