Welcome back to Liberal Democrat Voice’s coverage of the House of Lords. Or not, as the case may be, because, as you read this, they haven’t gone away yet. Confused? You see, this column covers the programme for the two weeks to come, and they’re not sitting next week, as they take a short recess to draw breath. But I digress (I’ve obviously spent too much time with some the Conservative backbenchers)…
Refreshed and relaxed after the break, the Lords returns to an increasingly hectic programme of Bills. Days 3 and 4 of the Report Stage of the Health and Social Care Bill are the first opportunities for Government defeats on 27 and 29 February, assuming of course that the whole sorry shambles hasn’t been withdrawn ‘for further consultation’. Something to note is the number of amendments co-sponsored by the Minister, Earl Howe, and various Liberal Democrat Peers. Nevertheless, don’t expect this to be over any time soon, as there are still, at the time of writing, 301 amendments to be considered.
As (relatively) light relief, 28 February sees Day 4 of the Committee Stage of the Scotland Bill. The Earl of Caithness continues his single-handed efforts to retain the outlying islands for the Queen with an amendment to allow an opt-out from independence for Orkney and Shetland, whilst there are a raft of amendments attempting to clarify or muddy the waters on various taxation and criminal justice issues, depending on your view on devolution or independence. The most audacious amendment, perhaps, is Amendment 74, proposed by Scotland’s oldest friend, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean;
Insert the following new Clause—
“Imposition of surcharges
The Secretary of State shall, by statutory instrument, make regulations requiring any Scottish Minister or member of the Scottish Parliament to pay a surcharge in the event of that person spending or causing to be spent public funds in excess of the amount that person is entitled to spend or cause to be spent by statute.”
Clearly, he doesn’t trust in the tribunes of the people. I wonder if he would have felt bound to such a principle when he was an MP and a Minister?
1 March sees the annual debate on International Women’s Day. This is traditionally an opportunity to raise some of those issues that seldom get much air time, and probably for Navnit Dholakia to remind the Bishops that they could do with a few women there. But do read the debate afterwards, as the issues raised, and the quality of the interventions, will make it well worth the effort.
28 February has become Liberal Democrat Day, at least as far as Oral Questions are concerned, with Kishwer Falkner questioning the UK view on the role and future of the Middle East Quartet (I’m told that Tony Blair isn’t its lead violinist), Paul Tyler on the impact of the new standards regime in English local government and Roger Roberts raising Welsh devolution (and why should the Scots have all the fun?). The following day, Floella Benjamin returns to a persistent theme of her time in the Lords thus far, seeking to uncover what efforts are being made to maintain and secure our relationships with the Caribbean nations.
The various Committees are quiet or, perhaps more accurately, mostly in private session as they work on their various reports. However, the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill continues to grind on, and 27 February sees it take evidence from some bloke called Nick Clegg, as well as Mark Harper, the Minister for Constitutional Reform. As Nick has been somewhat critical of the Lords of late, this perhaps offers him a opportunity to deliver a late Valentine…