Coming up in the Lords… 23 January – 2 February

It has become abundantly clear since the Christmas break that most of the Parliamentary excitement, apart from that curiosity known as Prime Minister’s Questions, is going to come from the Lords until Easter, and the coming fortnight will be no exception.

Days 5 and 6 of the Report Stage of the Welfare Reform Bill will take place on January 23rd and 25th, with the Third Reading scheduled, perhaps optimistically for 31st January. It’s always dangerous to guess exactly how much progress will be made on Day 4, taking place today, but with the Government having sustained four defeats already, and amidst assertions that Nick Clegg will be supporting Liberal Democrats Peers in seeking further concessions, expect to see close scrutiny of the proposed benefit cap (Part 5 of the Bill).

We also have Days 5, 6 and 7 of the Committee Stage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill on 24 and 30 January, and 1 February. Eduardo Reyes, from the Law Society Gazette, will be writing for Liberal Democrat Voice on this subject next week, and with both Lord Carlile and Lord Phillips of Sudbury indicating that, without significant concessions on access to legal aid, they are considering voting against the Government at Report Stage, it will be interesting to see what concessions emerge from the (ironically) Liberal Democrat Minister, Lord McNally.

The final major piece of legislation, starting its Committee Stage in the Lords, is the Scotland Bill, to be shepherded through the House by Lord Wallace of Tankerness. Yes, another Liberal Democrat Minister, and another likely punchup, with Conservative Peer, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, the last Scottish Secretary under John Major, attempting to put as many barriers in the way of the Scottish Parliament exercising its power to raise tax rates as he can. Meanwhile, Lord Barnett, the originator of the now rather controversial Barnett Formula, is seeking to oblige the Government to abolish it and replace it with a needs assessment, rather than the population based assessment that currently exists.

Finally, as far as legislation is concerned, 27 January sees the Second Reading of the Public Services (Social Value) Bill, a Private Members Bill from the Commons, originally moved there by Chris White, the Conservative MP for Warwick and Leamington, and to be taken on in the Lords by Lord Newby. Again, he will be writing for Liberal Democrat Voice in advance of the Second Reading of this Bill, which seeks to require public authorities to have regard to economic, social and environmental well-being in connection with public services contracts.

Last, but not least, there will be Oral Questions from Lord Lee of Trafford on the timetable for withdrawal of United Kingdom forces from Afghanistan, and Baroness Floella Benjamin on the impact of increasing the rate of Air Passenger Duty (23rd). Frustratingly, whilst the Oral Questions for the following week have been announced, the names of those asking the questions have been carefully omitted. We’ll try to do better next time…

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  • Why no mention of this evening’s DLA reform debate?

  • I am curious as to how 450 or so Lords manage to vote on the welfare bill when there was only 50 or so that bothered to turn up to the chamber and listen to the debate in the first place.

    How and why these people think they are entitled to make such decisions which will have huge detrimental effects on millions of disabled people of this country without even bothering to listen to reasoned arguments is beyond me.

    I thought after last weeks votes in the Lords over ESA that there was maybe some glimmer of hope for this country, democracy and a sense of fairness and to do the right thing. How things can change in just a week.

    Shame on Liberal Democrats in the HOL

  • WokStation – the conference motion concerned the WCA and ESA.

    It would be good, though, if one of our peers could describe the significance of the concessions made by Lord Freud this evening – I understand that they’re major, but I’d like to know that the Lib Dem peers have confidence in the concessions to deliver a fair reform of DLA. Otherwise I shall be deeply disappointed.

  • Tony Dawson 17th Jan '12 - 9:14pm

    Can I be alone here in being just a tad concerned that (a) the non-elected House is being asserted as being more interesting to watch than a House of elected MPs who, presumably,are overwhelmingly docile followers of the Executive and (b) these Lords appear likely to follow a more rational and intelligent decision path than that adopted by the people’s house? It’s a good job the Lib Dems are not in government?

  • This is depressing, too:
    “The failure to amend the bill [tonight, on DLA] is likely to embolden the cabinet which agreed at its weekly meeting on Monday to overturn the triple defeat it suffered last Wednesday, when peers rejected plans on proposed benefit cuts in the welfare reform bill.” (Guardian)

    Even if Lord Freud made concessions, a better rebellion tonight would have increased the chances of the ESA amendments sticking.

    But apparently no one cares, because we’re a Serious Party of Government. We’re not supposed to start differentiating until later in the year.

  • I’m saddened to think that what you refer to as ‘parliamentary excitement’ is going to have such devastating effects on the lives of so many of the most vulnerable people in this country.

    Why do the Lib Dems care more so much more about their standing with the Tories than they care about the desperate plight of those with disabilities and poor health?

    Where exactly does the Lib Dem social conscience reside?

  • @Mark Valladares

    500,000 sick and disabled people stand to lose the benefits which currently allow them to survive. Try explaining to them what the ‘assumptions of the opponents’ are.

    Seriously, I’ll ask again, why do Lib Dems care so much more about their standing with the Tories than they do about the plight of the sick and disabled?

  • Well done Lib Dems! attacking the most vulnerable in society, to save a few pennies which will be spent on such precious projects as buying the queen a yacht. I predict hundreds if not thousands of sick and disabled people taking their lives over the disgraceful changes planned.

  • Mark – an article from Lord German would be great, thanks – one that goes into detail on the concessions and our confidence in them to deliver a just system that works.

    And yes, I realised later that this must have been a two-parter! I think it was just the timing of its publication, plus what feels like something of a lack of interest in the party in the disability benefit changes, that gave me a feeling of disconnect. But it’s helpful, thanks.

  • Sue Marsh has the detail now on the concessions made by Lord Freud – here:

    They do in fact look considerable, the main ones seemingly being 1) that the assessment procedure for the PIP will have to be approved by both houses of parliament (and not by secondary legislation, which was the case when ESA was introduced), and 2) that the PIP will be rolled out **gradually** with checks and reviews at every stage, rather than the earlier-envisaged “big bang” rollout in April 2013. Lots more detail on Sue’s blog.

  • Mark, I agree wholeheartedly with Geoffrey Payne.

    This isue affects the livelyhood and perhaps even the lives of some of the most vulnerable in society. How can such concerns be exaggerated? A ‘pilot’, to more fully assess the impact of such a major change, was defeated by just 16 votes…..
    (Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said, I just don’t believe there has been time to analyse who will lose out … with the threshold only being published yesterday it is impossible to look in detail at who will lose out. Without it, it is almost impossible to have an informed debate about this part of the bill.)

    I am unable to find the lists of peers voting but this bill was passed, to our shame, with the support of ‘our’ peers….

  • Tony Greaves 18th Jan '12 - 4:15pm

    “They do in fact look considerable, the main ones seemingly being 1) that the assessment procedure for the PIP will have to be approved by both houses of parliament (and not by secondary legislation, which was the case when ESA was introduced),”

    As I understand it ( was not there yesterday but have read what was said) what this means is this. There are two main types of secondary legislation (which is statutory instruments – orders and regulations – made under the provisions of an Act of Parliament).

    There are “negative” instruments which are tabled by the government and automatically come into effect after a period of time /unless/ a peer tables a motion which requires s debate. (Not sure how the Commons procdure works but there is some kind of sifting procedure.

    I understand that the concession is to make these regulations “affirmative” instruments. This means that they must be debated – in the Commons usually by a select committee, I think – in the Lords by the whole House though this is often in Grand Committee (debate in a commitee room but any peer can take part).

    The downside is that there is a convention that the Lords very rarely divide (vote) on a SI so while the affirmative procedure is an improvement it is not (in my view) a big step forward.

    Also Statutory Instruments are tabled on a “take it or leave it” basis – they cannot be amended.

    Tony Greaves

  • Thanks, Tony – not that great, then, unless we suddenly find enough courage to push for a “leave it” if need be…

  • Glad to see the Barnett formula being looked at again (posting from North East)

  • re the ESA / DLA to PIP debacle, there is an excellent posting from “diary of a benefit scrounger” which is saying that although votes were not won, there are significant concessions.
    I’ve summarised these as follows, no doubt someone will tell be if I hav misunderstood:
    Although there were no significant votes actually won to make a difference to the Welfare Benefit proposals – the result of all the noise made was that significant concessions were made by Lord Freud when he summed up the debate. There will have to be a proper consultation on the details of how assessments are done, with organisations representing disabled people over 15 weeks, and the resulting way forward will have to be agreed by both the House of Lords and Commons. Also the new proposed Personal Independence Plan assessments will first of all be trialled to make sure the systems work before being used on real people. The change will be brought in very gradually, so that any problems can be ironed out before taken further.
    All those angry and upset about what is happening about ESA (employment support allowance) will be interested to know that Lord MacKenzie, Labour Lord, said “I have some responsibility for having introduced the employment and support allowance so I cannot claim any such accolade. It is clear that the assessment process has not been working and has caused… distress to too many disabled people”.

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