back to article House of Commons agrees to allow Zoom app in Parliament, British MPs will still have to dress smartly

The House of Commons today approved so-called "hybrid sessions" – MPs participating in Parliament in person and via video conferencing – marking arguably the biggest change in British parliamentary procedure in centuries. The changes, which are designed to allow a continuity of parliamentary business during the coronavirus …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The thought of

    [insert prominent male MP name here] in an itsy teeny weeny bikini being zoombombed into the session just brought a smile to my face.

    i'm sure that there will be a lot of people tuning in just to see if something happens. Interesting times.

    1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      Re: The thought of

      Borat in a Thongkini(TM) brandishing a life sized rubber Clydesdale dong & chasing fat, hairy, naked MP's around the room is now on a Porntube channel thanks to Rule 34.

      You're welcome!

      *Steals the MindBleach & runs howling in laughter from the room*

  2. Andy Non Silver badge

    "a glimpse of Michael Gove in a leopard onesie"

    Where's the mind bleach?

    1. The humble print monkey

      Re: "a glimpse of Michael Gove in a leopard onesie"

      In a cold receptacle, to my right.

      Over on the graun, there’s an article saying the Lords won’t be broadcast, as Teams won’t let it, and explaining that the houses only have a finite IT resource. If ever there were a PR opportunity for M$.

      1. MatthewSt

        Re: "a glimpse of Michael Gove in a leopard onesie"

        Someone hasn't read the instructions then... https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/teams-live-events/what-are-teams-live-events

        Not only that, but surely someone could just invite teams@bbc.co.uk to the call, and they could broadcast it from whatever device is watching it

      2. Smooth Newt Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: "a glimpse of Michael Gove in a leopard onesie"

        Over on the graun, there’s an article saying the Lords won’t be broadcast, as Teams won’t let it, and explaining that the houses only have a finite IT resource.

        I'm sure no-one in the House of Lords will object, provided they still get their £323 a day attendance allowance.

        On the back of this, I expect Lords attendance will rocket. A big benefit is that there won't be all that tiresome travelling and then having to doze off on an uncomfortable bench in the chamber, as they'll presumably receive their money just for logging in for two minutes on the route between breakfast and going for a snooze by the swimming pool.

        1. Andy 68

          Re: "a glimpse of Michael Gove in a leopard onesie"

          Have an upvote - I think there are good members of the upper house, but I suspect what you say holds true for a significant number of them

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: "a glimpse of Michael Gove in a leopard onesie"

      There's no chance of catching Rees-Mogg appearing in a onesie unless it is a one piece suit of Parliamentarian armour.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Alert

        Re: "a glimpse of Michael Gove in a leopard onesie"

        @Chris G "one piece suit of Parliamentarian armour."

        @Rees-Mogg "Thanks to modern technology, even I have moved past 1349"

        ...to the fifteenth century and will be sporting a codpiece

        1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

          Re: "a glimpse of Michael Gove in a leopard onesie"

          On his head?

    3. macjules Silver badge

      Re: "a glimpse of Michael Gove in a leopard onesie"

      "Would the honourable member either put himself on mute or stick the gag back in his mouth please. Either that or please request Mistress Correction to stop whipping him for a few minutes"

  3. chivo243 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Cue response to the gauntlet

    Hacking to begin in 3 , 2, 1... Start your engines!

  4. ratfox Silver badge
    WTF?

    Why Zoom? Aren't there any solutions that are not actually known to be unsafe? Doesn't the UK government have any professional system for video conferencing?

    1. Someone Else Silver badge

      Follow the money....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I love how you used "professional" and "government" in the same sentence without irony.

    3. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Pint

      I'm betting you will see Zoom sponsoring the open bar at the next Labour and Conservative party conferences...

    4. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      Well "professional" video conferencing I have used in the past have always been room to room solutions. Every feed is displayed on the screen at once, I imagine it won't scale up especially when sending video from every feed to everyone.

      1. Cederic Silver badge

        Modern video conference solutions allow individuals to join, rather than requiring people to gather in rooms, and as that does indeed change the number of feeds involved they generally offer the ability to hide some or all feeds.

        Usually they'll be configured to share a document in a main window and show video of the speaker alongside it. If it's a presentation that may be all you get.

        For Parliament a change to put the current speaking MP (can't call them the Speaker, as that's Sir Lindsay) in the main window would be sensible.

        In either situation you could show thumbnail sized video for each other attendee but that tends to only work for meetings with 5-6 people in.

        1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

          Yeah we use BlueJeans Room Solutions and its easy enough (As long as the screen is on and users click the link in their diary), just to clarify I would consider this an Internet Video Conference Solution where as "Professional" would be the older style solution using something like Cisco UC over a WAN to dedicated equipment. I suppose I really should call it Legacy.

          I do wonder if the screens dotted around parliment would have groups of 9 users on seperate sessions. Suppose we will soon find out.

          1. EnviableOne Silver badge

            Dont use cisco UC its expensive hard to configure and relies on Call Manager.

            Webex is the toool for this job 1000 participants is childsplay, and 15 to a screen in grid view.

            with webex, the speaker could control the entire house remotley

    5. Cederic Silver badge

      I did write to the House of Commons regarding this. Their reply stated, "The National Cyber Security Centre has advised that, for public Parliamentary proceedings, it would consider using Zoom is appropriate, if the installation and the use of the service is carefully managed."

      While I personally disagree I lack the professional credentials to challenge the National Cyber Security Centre, so I accepted that response and didn't push further.

      1. Peter X

        I can accept it as a stop-gap solution, but I'm concerned that there's an issue of "record" here. If someone asserts that the Rt. Hon. So&so said X-Y-Z on a given date, and the Rt. Hon. So&so disputes that they said anything of the sort... how can anyone prove otherwise?

        Surely we need something with *real* end-to-end security, and something where the central server isn't outside the UK.

        1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

          there's an issue of "record" here.

          I don't know for sure but I would have expected Hansard to be recording everything as they usually do, as they used to do before we had audio or video feeds from parliament.

          1. Cederic Silver badge

            Hansard is indeed continuing to capture the debate:

            https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-04-22/debates/ECA737FF-6432-42BE-94DE-958E6956C6E7/Engagements

            Note the [V] denoting someone speaking via a remote video link. Nice.

    6. macjules Silver badge
      Coat

      Well, there's Google Hangouts, Teams and WebEx, all of which are available to MP's. Webex has a limit of 200 joiners, so no idea why they could not use that. Google Hangouts can have 150 but only 25 are allowed to use video at any one time.

      Don't know why anyone has not invented an HD large-audience video conferencing suite yet. Just think, you could call it COVIDEO-19

      1. IGotOut Silver badge
        Mushroom

        "HD large-audience video conferencing suite yet."

        Bandwidth.

        Of course if the House if Commerce wasn't full of spoilt little bratts, you could easily use a broadcast method, switching to each person speaking at one time, that way bandwidth use would be negligible. But instead we have bunch of point scoring , jeering children. Sorry my mistake, kids would never be allowed to act like those bunch of mindless morons.

        1. EnviableOne Silver badge

          if you have a decent implementation of SVC and a semi-decent media multiplexer, you can keep the bandwidth down.

          there are several solutions that they could use for kit on site, but for rapid deployment why they didnt go with Webex I don't know.

      2. ibmalone Silver badge

        Used this yesterday. We only had about 30 participants, but £15/month gets 250 participants, and enterprise is up to 3000. https://www.gotomeeting.com/en-gb/meeting/pricing-ma?_ga=2.157288506.1668597996.1587555440-274591193.1587461609

        1. GlenP Silver badge

          We've used GotoMeeting for several years and have expanded out licensing in the current situation.

          It was the best solution I found of several tried/

  5. Someone Else Silver badge

    How long till this gets hacked?

    Indeed.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: How long till this gets hacked?

      Putin will be making a guest appearance during one of the debates

  6. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Why Zoom? Why not Skype or Team or Facetime or GoTo or CyberLink or Meet or many others.

    As a public organisation they shouldn't be locking in to a particular application, they should be using a system where the participants can use whatever system they wish to chose to connect. We are long long past the time of "I've got a Brooks line for local calls and a Bell line for long distance". And the WHOLE POINT of the internet from DAY ZERO was that it is irrelevant what the client end user system is.

    1. Julz Silver badge

      Unfortunately, after day one, several companies (you all know who they are) realised that there was money in them there hills as long as you locked your patsiescustomers into your platform and even better, onto your own private 'internet'.

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      While that's a lovely idea, are there actually any such applications that actually allow you to do this? When even Skype and Skype For Business don't work together, how likely is it for programs made by completely different companies to do so? And whatever your views on the competence of the UK government, expecting them to produce and implement a global videoconferencing standard and get all of MS, Apple, Facebook and others to start using it on a timescale of a couple of weeks during a global crisis would be a little unreasonable. However you think the internet and videocalls should work, right now people have to deal with how they actually do work. Zoom may or may not be the best choice, but picking a single system to run things on was certainly the only sensible choice.

      1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

        Doesnt help Skype to Business can't do video calls with Consumer Skype, only text (Havent tried voice).

    3. genghis_uk

      There is a lot of space on the Register dedicated to the ineptitude of British politicians when it comes to IT so to expect a system that is anything more than basic is probably a bit of a stretch. The MPs will have to set this up at home - no IT to come and do it for them so Zoom is probably not an unreasonable choice.

      It obviously matters if someone zoombombs but otherwise the link does not have to be particularly secure as this is open parliament. It is more worrying that they were using it for cabinet meetings but, hey, if it provides some transparency in government... ;)

      1. ibmalone Silver badge

        Quite a lot of these things will now run in a browser, though I've found chrome/chromium works better than firefox (I suppose they're all developing for that). Jitsi and the gotomeeting people I posted above being examples, no need to install another binary. Of course you might not be able to use a tropical island background, but I think that might be an up-side.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Thanks to modern technology, even I have moved past 1349," added Rees-Mogg

    Yep, he can wank to ankle shots over the internet now.

    1. Stork Silver badge

      Re: "Thanks to modern technology, even I have moved past 1349," added Rees-Mogg

      I thought he had staff for that

  8. Test Man

    I thought Parliament was using an Office 365 tenant package?

    If so, why aren't they using Teams?

    1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      Probably lucky they aren't using the Hangout app, someone first used it passed it around and the rest is history with their outsourced IT thinking they have dodged a bullet by not having to support it.

      Does Teams support any room equipment though like BlueJeans does?

      1. Test Man

        So they'd rather go with an untrusted system instead of the system that they are already paying for via a contract that already had approval?

        1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

          It doesn't surprise me in the slightest, since it happens all the time here (Multi Nation Corp owned company).

    2. EnviableOne Silver badge

      teams has a limit of 4 participants per view, shortly increasing to 9

      if you are going to get a representative mix of parliment, its just not enough, zoom or webex can support 25/30 per screen and also have much better interoperability with non-microsoft products

  9. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    IT Angle

    Costs...

    "The initial cost of development has already been endorsed by the House of Commons Commission costing

    £148,793. The running costs for maintaining this system are estimated at £369,267 per month"

    https://www.parliament.uk/documents/documents/Hybrid-Scrutiny-Proceedings-Motion-Financial-Consequences-Memorandum-(20-April-2020).pdf

    1. Flak
      FAIL

      Re: Costs...

      Excuse me... £369,267 per month?

      That is absolutely staggering. For 650 parliamentarians, meaning that would be £568.10 for every MP every month.

      Someone should have checked the Zoom website and their pricing plans - the UK government has been had! https://zoom.us/pricing

      I am sure they will include in the above costs: new laptops, new echo cancelling conference phones, new broadband connections, new..., new..., new...

      Very prudent!

      1. MatthewSt

        Re: Costs...

        Maybe that's the pricing tier that doesn't sell the meeting recordings on

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          Re: Costs...

          The meetings will be streamed on parliamentlive.tv, so that isn’t an issue.

          1. MatthewSt

            Re: Costs...

            Parliamentlive.tv ??? In this day and age of "trust" the url, when they have *.parliament.uk at their sole disposal, they've gone with a .tv domain?

      2. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: Costs...

        If you use FaceTime, for that £568.10 a month you could get everyone in parliament a new iPhone, locked down properly, and an unlimited data plan, and give Johnson some money for a pole dancer. In the first month. The second month it's just the data plan.

      3. Cederic Silver badge

        Re: Costs...

        No, the new laptops, broadband, etc will be covered by the £10k increase in expenses MPs were allocated a month ago.

        It had bloody better be.

        The £370k/month probably includes third party resources for capturing, editing and converting the Zoom video into an appropriate format for archival (and putting on the Parliament website), streaming it live, making it available to the Media, and, if we're lucky, securing the damn thing.

        If nothing else, instead of storing 6 hours times a dozen cameras worth of footage each day, they're now adding another 6 hours of up to 120 more cameras. That's an additional terabyte a day, plus backups, capacity for editing, etc.

        It does still feel extremely high though.

      4. Smooth Newt Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Costs...

        That is absolutely staggering. For 650 parliamentarians, meaning that would be £568.10 for every MP every month.

        Like many large organizations, Parliament routinely negotiates special corporate rates with its suppliers.

    2. EnviableOne Silver badge

      Re: Costs...

      thats not even for 650, thats only 120 participants, and 50 in the house, bet its the 50 man room system for the house thats the most expensive factor.

  10. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    They may have to be well-dressed but are they allowed to recline and if so do they have to do so on a bench upholstered in green?

    1. Steve 114

      Protest

      RM's 'reclining event' was a protest against the then Speaker, who richly deserved protests. Posture was no doubt chosen so as not to break any unwritten rules, but to make the protest conspicuous. It will, of course, forever be recalled out-of-context.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Protest

        As I recall the contest for the previous Speakership was between Bercow and Ress-Mogg. I think the right man won.

  11. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Joke

    No opportunity for grabbing the Mace

    "Hoyle stated that members taking part in person would be at "no advantage" to those participating from afar"

    Well, the Members who are present in the chamber do have the opportunity to grab the Mace.

    https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/mace-parliament-john-mcdonnell-oliver-cromwell-michael-heseltine-189666

    "The aisle that divides the government and opposition MPs in the House of Commons measures 3.96 metres2 Osmans, which is, according to tradition, the length of two swords. Violence has never died out."

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/lack-of-order-bringing-the-house-down-7440159.html

    1. Natalie Gritpants Jr

      Re: No opportunity for grabbing the Mace

      Two swords? Surely you only need one sword length for safety between the two sides.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: No opportunity for grabbing the Mace

        And Members are supposed to not bring their swords into the chamber. Arrangements are made for them to leave them: https://historyofparliamentblog.wordpress.com/2020/02/05/on-swords-and-pink-ribbon/

      2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: No opportunity for grabbing the Mace

        (arm's length) reach? ...which would make it about another sword length?

  12. gerdesj Silver badge
    Gimp

    Jitsi

    Jitsi is easy to set up. The firm managed set up the JRS website for furloughing staff in a few weeks. Surely a decent self hosted video conf app is possible when it is already available and been around for over a decade.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Jitsi

      Sure, let's do that?

      From jitsi blog;

      Currently you cannot create a meeting with 200 "people. We have a hard limit of 75 participants, but even more than 35, the experience will suffer."

      Again another poster coming up a solution that doesn't work.

      You are talking huge processing power and bandwidth for video, even voice will batter a server for that many.

  13. pintofbitter

    That will pi** them off having to work for 6 hours a week now !

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Having to *go* to work. FTFY

      Or at least put on a shirt and make sure the headboard isn’t in sight.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How soon before ...

    ... High Chancellor Johnson's Stormtroopers go out, round up MP's, lock them up, and replace their remote attendences in the Commons with compliant Deep Fake versions of them?

    1. Circadian
      Gimp

      Re: How soon before ...

      With the current crop of non-entities in parliament, how would a “deep fake” be any different from “ordinary fake” currently on offer?

  15. Mike 137 Silver badge

    The triumph of marketing over common sense

    Given the recent public exposure of both its insecurity and its weasel T&Cs (e.g. TLS is apparently end to end encryption), nobody should be considering zoom for any sensitive conferencing, particularly at the price stated. However I know of another organisation that conferences with people at Secret and Top Secret clearance that also uses zoom.

    1. not.known@this.address Silver badge

      Re: The triumph of marketing over common sense

      Who said it's sensitive material they're discussing in these sessions? This is for the House of Commons, where everything SHOULD be in the Public Domain. *We* elect *them*, they don't have any particular right or entitlement to be there other than at the sufferance of the Voters and anything that lets us see what they really get up to - as against what is reported - is a good thing.

      Kinda hard to claim the media is biased against you if everyone can see you getting up to something that might not quite be in the public's best interest.

      1. IGotOut Silver badge

        Re: The triumph of marketing over common sense

        Considering its broadcast on TV, on the internet and you can walk in, I'm not sure how less secret you could make these sessions.

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          Re: The triumph of marketing over common sense

          Yes, the public can watch the sessions live, and they even provide instructions on how to do it. The security issue is ensuring they don't interrupt proceedings by shouting 5G conspiracy theories etc.

  16. Sirius Lee

    If some jokers hacked in and started making wierd noises would we notice the difference?

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Yes, the general intelligence and maturity level would be wildly increased if a bunch of teenage skiddies got in.

    2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      The biggest risk would probably be the subversive hack designed to provoke outrage, like a well timed "let them die", "paid too much" or "should be privatised".

  17. Flywheel Silver badge

    Worrying reaction from some MPs on BBC News last night

    The BBC dutifully reported the new Parliamentary facilty on the News last night and naturally featured a number of comments from a random selection of MPs. Most were okay with it, but there were a worrying number with "no computer knowledge" that seemed to be genuinely frightened of using video. The classic one though was the MP who "had only just managed to work out how to send SMS TXT messages". We're doomed!

    1. ibmalone Silver badge

      Re: Worrying reaction from some MPs on BBC News last night

      DUP MP Jim Shannon, who must have flown over to deliver that important message. https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2020-04-21a.3.2&s=speaker%3A13864#g18.0

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Worrying reaction from some MPs on BBC News last night

        The DUP is the leading party of the 17th century.

        1. EnviableOne Silver badge

          Re: Worrying reaction from some MPs on BBC News last night

          still 300 years aheam of JRM

  18. mj.jam

    Capped at 120?

    Zoom has plans going up to 1000 participants. For the amount they are paying, they could get meetings large enough to get everybody in.

    It isn't as if they need everybody to be able to host 1000 people at a time. They can get a single Pro license and extend that to 1000 participants.

    Even H.323 allowed for cascading of conference bridges, so the 120 limit feels more like they only have to work 1 day in 5.

  19. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble? Silver badge

    Excellent

    Now they can attend Parliament remotely as it were, this means there is no longer a need for every MP to have a tax payer funded second home in London, doesn't it? They can all live and remain in their constituencies, just as they should.

    "In his speech, Rees-Mogg affirmed this change would be temporary, and would not represent a fundamental reworking of Parliamentary protocol. The new rules will remain in place until May 12, unless an extension is deemed necessary."

    Well, shit.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Excellent

      No, but they need a broadband connection based in London, even if they live in Aberdeen.

      Apparently their partner's company provides exactly this service for only £2000 / month.

  20. Sebastian Brosig

    Maybe they should stay in London (or some other place when Palace of Westminster gets the builders in) but really they should have a kind of "MP Hostel", a barracks in a relatively cheap neighbourhood, where each gets a room, complete with shuttle bus to cart them into work. Should be cheaper than funding each MP's own pad inc. duck house etc.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Believe it or not, some countries actually do that.

      1. ibmalone Silver badge

        Looking at this idea, I can't really see much of a downside. Probably cheaper than paying them enough to have a second residence, easier for new MPs who aren't wealthy enough to have one.

  21. not.known@this.address Silver badge

    Does anyone watch the Daily Briefings?

    They can't run a simple two-way with three ministers in a big room and one journalist somewhere else without the sound and video links playing up - why should we expect them to be able to manage a mass conference between the Palace of Westminster and all the other locations where the other MPs happen to be at the time?

  22. Refugee from Windows
    Thumb Up

    Get it right

    The MP's log in and sit in front of their cameras. The Speaker sits in front of his monitor to see who's there, and use the chat box to say you wish to comment. Then selects those to comment...

    Now that's the up side sorted, the down side is using the BBC Parliament Channel, that's how they are seen. Best brush hair (as appropriate) and not be wearing their giraffe onesy. They can scroll the names of those MPs who are actually logged on, and use facial recognition software to make sure that they've just left their Spitting Image puppet in front of the webcam.

    Boris is still on his sick note, so shouldn't be working anyway.

    That's how it should work, however I doubt if the honourable members would put up with it for long.

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