Back to business in the Lords

by Angela Smith

After the extended Whitsun recess, the new parliamentary session gets well and truly underway this week for those of us on the red benches, with three Second Readings of new Bills, Labour-led debates on the floor of the House and the continuing scrutiny of government through the Lords daily question time and secondary legislation debates in committee.

First up of the Second Readings is the Financial Services Bill, debated later today, and attracting Labour’s many economic experts.  It will be an opportunity for the minister, Lord Sassoon to once again, to wide derision from our benches, try to lay all the blame of the country’s economic woes at the door of the last government. Unless of course, he’s keeping up with current Tory thinking, which now seems to have shifted the blame onto the Eurozone.

Local Government Finance and Civil Aviation are the other Second Readings in the Lords this week, tomorrow and Wednesday respectively.  Both bills will excite wider interest, but the increasingly pressured financial environment in which many of our local authorities now operate has the potential for the council funding Bill to become the most high profile piece of legislation this side of the summer. Labour are also fortunate in that not much gets past our Lords lead on the issue, Bill MacKenzie.

For those unfamiliar with the Lords, some of the best speeches in the main chamber can take place on Thursdays when the political parties choose the issue to debate. And this week will see a day of Labour-led debates. Maggie Jones will lead on the contribution schools can make to young people’s well-being and social needs. Expect some very knowledgeable, constructive speeches.

Andrew Adonis’s debate on the same day will be more politically charged.  With youth unemployment soaring to shocking levels he will draw attention to the social consequences of the government’s inability to effectively tackle this problem.  And I’ve no doubt that he and Labour colleagues will provide some answers that ministers would do well to listen to.

Away from the floor of the House what happens in Grand Committee, usually in the Moses Room (where most secondary legislation is debated), is rarely reported. Sometimes this is understandable, given how technical the detail can get. But there are often hidden gems of interest.  This Wednesday, Phil Hunt, our deputy leader who has recently taken over the health brief will seek to ensure the new GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups do not disadvantage those NHS trusts committed to research when handing out contracts.  The UK is a leader in health R&D and Labour are pressing the government to ensure that both the public and private sectors make a contribution to essential research.

Last but not least will be the wide variety of question-led debates happening in the Lords this week.  Unlike MPs, Peers don’t have specific days for each department, but at the start of business from Monday through to Thursday, four previously agreed questions provide a series of 7 minute mini-debates in the main chamber.

So look out today for Margaret Wheeler, who will be holding the government to account on its plans for adult social care and Ray Collins, who will be seeking answers  on the costs and setting up of HealthWatch organisations. Later in the week, Maggie Jones will raise the issue of nutritional standards in school meals.

One question that will spark interest will come from cross-bencher Earl Clancarty, who asked before the recess whether the government would consider the proposed cap on charitable donations.  As his question finally comes up, it’s perhaps also worth asking whether anyone could have guessed that ministers would announce yet another u-turn while the Commons was in recess!

Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon is a Deputy Chief Whip for Labour in the House of Lords

To keep up to date with Labour’s activities in the Lords, visit or follow @LabourLordsUK

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