From our Lords Correspondent: 9-11 October – as the summer draws to a close, a young Peer’s thoughts turn to Brexit…

Yes, it’s back, as the end of the Peer show returns to a Parliamentary chamber near you. And this time, I’m going to try to produce a column every week…

The ninety-eight strong Liberal Democrat group returned to battle this week, having shrunk by one more just before the Summer Recess. Ronnie Fearn, after two terms as the MP for Southport, and seventeen years in the Lords, retired under the terms of the 2014 House of Lords Reform Act on 11 July at the age of eighty-seven. No doubt the wear and tear of the commute down to London was a factor in that, and we thank him for his service over twenty-six years as a Parliamentarian.

Tuesday was dominated by the Second Reading of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which I’ll be covering separately later in the day.

Lindsay Northover questioned the Government on the horrifying disappearance of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who is alleged to have been murdered by Saudi agents in their embassy in Istanbul. She asked what action would be taken if the Saudi government failed to give appropriate assurances regarding his status and that of other critics of the Saudi regime, a point emphasised also by Meral Ece.

Cathy Bakewell called for a review of advice to prevent cross-contamination of food in the light of the recent Pret A Manger deaths.

There was a Statement on the progress in negotiations to leave the European Union and the Government’s planning for no deal. William Wallace replied from our benches, as he noted yesterday.

On Wednesday, Celia Thomas asked what action the Government are taking to improve Personal Independence Payment assessments in the light of the number of successful appeals – 71% of appeals against DWP decisions were successful in 2016/17. The response suggested that much is happening, some of it sensible – those on the highest awards, with needs that will not change or will deteriorate, will now get an ongoing award – but much is aspirational. Given the justifiable suspicion amongst claimants that the assessment system is gamed to exclude eligible claimants, much will need to be done to reassure.

The Tenant Fees Bill received its Second Reading, with Olly Grender indicating that our primary aim is to ensure that there are no loopholes to be exploited by unscrupulous lettings agencies that have tenants with no choice but to use them. As she noted;

Shelter states that over the past five years alone tenants have paid more than £678 million in unfair fees, so when the landlords suggest that the legislation will cost them £82 million, I would look at it in that context.

Paul Strasburger offered some thoughts as a landlord and as a shareholder in a small letting agency in Bath, noting why a six-week deposit had become the norm, and the potential risks in terms of driving smaller landlords out of the private rental sector.

David Chidgey raised the issue of recent Government changes in Sudan on Thursday, noting that despite international pressure, the genocide in Darfur continues.

Liz Barker noted with concern that increasing numbers of GP practices are neither providing access to contraception nor referring patients on elsewhere, and was told by the Minister that, as part of the current renegotiation of the GP contract, this was being addressed.

Business ended for the week with debates on the effect of Brexit on the Good Friday Agreement, on employee shareholding and participation in corporate governance and on the effect of Brexit on the arts.

In the first of those debates, John Alderdice gave a powerful speech highlighting the complex sets of relationships that are balanced by the Agreement, and the risks that might arise from upsetting the delicate balance required to maintain them, whilst Angie Harris noted the woeful under-resourcing of various agencies in Northern Ireland were a hard border to be reintroduced.

Tony Greaves replayed some of the Liberal Party’s greatest hits on worker participation in what he termed “industrial democracy”, highlighting the Party’s historic commitment to this over many decades. In turn, Sharon Bowles suggested that;

The dividend of employee ownership is summarised as three things: driving productivity and performance, especially of SME and family businesses; rooting jobs in regional economies and providing resilience, especially at the succession stage; and sharing wealth and influence more equally among all employees.

The coming week sees little in the way of legislation debated, presumably because the Commons is struggling to pass much in the way of paving legislation for Brexit. The usual series of Oral Questions and Short Debates will occupy the House, but how much longer can this go on?

* Mark Valladares is a slightly bemused but quietly impressed observer of happenings in the House of Lords, and wishes that more people took a similar interest…

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