On 21st April 2020 the House of Lords began to sit virtually for the first time, using online facilities to enable its procedures to continue during the period of social distancing caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The House of Commons also combined virtual and physical proceedings, with some MPs present and others using technology to participate.
In the Commons Chamber physical proceedings began as usual with prayers, read in person by the Speaker’s Chaplain. In the House of Lords the Bishop of Newcastle, Rt Revd Christine Hardman, began the first ever virtual sitting by reading prayers for those taking part in online proceedings, using a modified form of the usual Prayers for Parliament. She did so in her capacity as duty bishop for the week.
She was subsequently interviewed by Premier Christian Radio, and the article from their website is reproduced below:
Bishop leads first virtual prayers for House of Lords
To open the House of Lords’ first virtual sitting, prayers have been led by Rt Rev Christine Hardman from her home in Newcastle.
It’s all change in the red chamber: the Lords’ speaker, Lord Norman Fowler, presided over questions from his home in the Isle of Wight, peers submitted questions via video call programme Microsoft Teams and Rt Rev Christine Hardman, the Bishop of Newcastle, prayed in front of many former politicians and experts over video call. Speaking to Premier after the morning rehearsal, she said: “I was always down to be duty bishop this week, which means it’s my privilege to open the day with prayer…I’m saying a prayer that the technology will work well.”
Speaking of the rehearsal, she said: “It’s quite clear that there’s a big learning curve for all of us…it went fairly well but some important technical hitches were ironed out.”
One such mistake was that it seemed those who were invited to participate and speak should have been given one invite, and those just watching given another – but these were apparently mixed up in the practice.
Bishop Christine explained that before the House of Lords can work completely remotely, it must be agreed to in person. The chamber therefore met physically at 1pm with a few people present and the virtual sitting began at 3pm, which began with the Bishop of Newcastle.
Bishop Christine prayed: “Keep us, Good Lord, under the shadow of your mercy, in this time of uncertainty and distress, sustain and support the anxious and fearful and lift up all who are brought low, that we may rejoice in your comfort, knowing that nothing can separate us from your love. In Christ Jesus Our Lord, Amen.”
She explained what her hope was: “My prayer for the week is that we will be able to feel a real sense of our need of God’s wisdom as we continue with our work to the best of our ability.”