Liberal Democrats

The Weekly Whip - Lords edition!

There are 87 Liberal Democrat peers that sit in the House of Lords.  They scrutinise the detail of legislation and improve it; they take part in debates on a whole range of issues; and they question and hold to account government ministers. 

By Humphrey Amos, Feb 26, 2021 7:02

Palace of Westminster.

For more up to date information from the Lib Dem Lords, follow us on twitter: @LibDemLords

Here’s what our peers got up to this week.

Monday 22nd February

Each day in the Lords begins with four oral questions to the Government on different topics. Dee Doocey took the Government to task for often taking many weeks, or even months, to answer Written Questions submitted by peers. They are a critical tool for parliamentarians, she said, and government departments are working in a way that is detrimental for others trying to hold ministers to account.

During an Urgent Question about the donation of surplus COVID vaccine to low-income countries, Jeremy Purvis pushed on help to strengthen health systems in developing countries. The Minister suggested this was a key priority - but then said the reduction in the aid budget meant there were challenges ahead - showing that the Tory Ministers can’t actually be trusted to strengthen health systems in developing countries.

Lindsay Northover reminded the Minister that significant money from the Official Development Assistance budget to Oxford gave the UK a head start in the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and called the cutting of the ODA funding short-sighted.

Later on in the day, during a statement on building safety, Kath Pinnock pushed the Government to work more quickly to remove unsafe cladding from building, and criticised the narrow focus on cladding when the Grenfell tragedy, and the inquiry surrounding it, is demonstrating that building safety failings go far beyond the issue of cladding.

Tuesday 23rd February

During Oral Questions on balancing biodiversity in the UK with the planting of new trees, Kate Parminter asked the Government to introduce a national nature service to tackle carbon, build biodiversity and create green jobs.

The Trade Bill, a major piece of post-Brexit legislation which will govern how we do trade deals with countries in the future, returned to the Lords once again on Tuesday for the continuation of what is known as ‘Ping Pong’ – the stage at which the handful of remaining areas of disagreement between the two Houses go back and forth until there is agreement.

Our lead on this piece of legislation is Jeremy Purvis.

There is one outstanding issue – how the Government treats potential trade deals with countries who are accused of committing crimes against humanity and genocide.

And this week, we defeated the Government again on this issue - which will make it legally and politically harder for the Government to make trade agreements with countries that have committed crimes against humanity and genocide.

The issue will now return once again to the Commons, where the Government will have to defend making trade deals with countries like this if it wants to overturn the House of Lords.

Wednesday 24th February

Joan Walmsley asked a question about the progress of the vaccine rollout and why house-bound individuals are being left off the priority list…

…whilst Claire Tyler pushed on making vaccine uptake for care home staff a condition of employment…

….and Judith Jolly pushed on why some adults with learning difficulties have yet to receive their first jab. The Minister doesn’t seem to know.

Everything comes back to the environment and the world we live in, and Sue Miller asked an important question about the relationship that is emerging between pandemics and environmental degradation…

…whilst Shas Sheehan focused on educating the young.

Easy to make a joke about, but public loos are necessary for people who are pregnant and those with medical conditions who require regular access to a loo - to allow them to go out to restaurants, shops and participate in public life. But the number of public loos in the UK is decreasing. The Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill had its Committee Stage (main debating stage) in the Lords, introducing a 100% mandatory business rates relief for all public loos, with the aim of stemming the number that are having to close. A number of our peers are involved, including Jenny Randerson and Kath Pinnock, and they welcomed the Bill, albeit quite late after the first promise of this in the 2018 Budget.

Thursday 25th February

An unexpected beginning to proceedings today – the Lord Speaker, Norman Fowler, announced his resignation from the role. His last day will be the end of April, four months earlier than his term expires. We will be putting up a serious Lib Dem candidate and want a good contest and election without any stitch ups between the two larger parties!

Paul Tyler asked what is being done to help eligible voters who cannot vote in person in the local elections in May because of the pandemic. He asked why political leaflets delivered by volunteers are a COVID hazard, but leaflets delivered by commercial companies are not.

During a question on the climate change priorities of councils, Jonny Oates urged the Minister to learn from previous mistakes and recognise the need for long term investment over short term patching up measures.

The Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill was fast-tracked through the Lords to ensure that the Attorney General can go on paid maternity leave without needing to resign. The Second Reading was earlier on in the week, and the remaining stages happened later on Thursday. A number of important issues were debated and discussed, led on our benches by Liz Barker, Sal Brinton and Meral Hussein-Ece, all connected with improving maternity and paternity leave options. Given the narrow scope of the bill, and the need for speed, these issues could not be developed but will be returned to in future legislation.

In a sign of the Government’s weakness, they accepted amendments that changed the wording in the Bill from ‘people’ who are pregnant to ‘mothers’ who are pregnant. There is a significant minority of peers in the Lords, particularly Tory peers, who play into the hands of the anti-trans lobby – we are agreed that we need to fight for equality and recognition for all, including trans men who are pregnant.

And finally…

Jonny Oates and Paul Tyler, along with his wife, Nicky, have started the Give One Get One scheme where people can donate to COVAX once they have had their jab to help ensure the world’s poorest can access vaccines regardless of their ability to pay. Here is Floella Benjamin promoting the scheme.

NEXT WEEK…

The Counter-Terrorism Bill starts its Report Stage (meaning votes); David Chidgey leads a debate on the promotion of anti-slavery projects throughout the Commonwealth; William Wallace asks about our relationship with the new American government; and Sarah Ludford asks about the programme and timetable for refugee resettlements in the UK.

What to keep on reading? Catch up on what's been happening in the other place (what we call the Commons!) here:

The Commons Weekly Whip

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