House of Lords questions: Young mental health, the post-Brexit Promised Land and the interloper in the dining room

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House of Lords “Oral questions” don’t get a lot of publicity. However, they happen every weekday when the House is in session. All the seats tend to be full – most of the peers are “on parade”. Some pithy debates do take place.

It is very easy to dismiss the House of Lords but it is one half of our bicameral parliamentary system and has a lot of influence. There is a form of civility in the Lords which does not come over in the Commons during its more active sessions (e.g. PMQs). There is reasonably intelligent debate and some passion. There is also collegiate teamwork. There is very little intervention from the Lord Speaker.

At yesterday’s “Oral questions” there was a row. I know this because after it had all taken place someone said to me “There was a row, apparently”. Well, I have no idea whatsoever how anyone knew there was a row. I can only assume that one of the peers raised one eyebrow or another one waved a finger in the air for half a second. Goodness knows how anyone can tell when there is a row. It is all a bit like the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone park. There is steam rising, there is the odd puddle of mud bubbling, but the last time it properly erupted was 631,000 years ago.

Yes, all cheap shots – I know. Sorry.

Our Liberal Democrat team in the Lords work very hard. Half of yesterday’s Oral Questions came from Liberal Democrat peers – and half of today’s questions will come from Lib Dems also (from Baronesses Miller and Bonham-Carter).

Young Mental Health

Baroness Tyler asked the government what is their most recent assessment of access to treatment in Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services. After the usual “additional £1.4 billion available” ministerial reply, Claire Tyler said:

Last week, Action for Children reported that one in three young people now have mental health issues. It also estimated that only a quarter of those who need help are currently able to access treatment from NHS services; this is quite often because they are not considered “ill enough”. I am particularly concerned by the often non-existent provision of crisis care for ​young people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts, self-harming, or just desperately needing help, often in the evening or at weekends—certainly outside of nine-to-five office hours. Could the Minister say whether setting up 24/7 crisis care provision for children, young people and their families will be a key priority for the Government in the forthcoming NHS long-term plan?

Our Baroness Parminter chipped in with this:

My Lords, have the Government made an assessment of the number of children and young people referred to community eating disorder services? Given that anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disease, how many of those referrals do not go on to get treatment?

Then our Roger Roberts asked:

My Lords, what consideration is being given to refugee children who come with tremendous trauma from the camps in Dunkirk and Calais? Is any consideration given to them and the threat that when they reach the age of 18, their status changes and they can face deportation? Can we not do something to relieve that anxiety?

You can read the full exchange here on this worrying subject.

Post-Brexit Promised Land

We then went to this question from our Paul Strasburger:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether their forecasts for the next ten years show a better outcome for the United Kingdom economy if the United Kingdom were to remain in the European Union than if it were to leave.

I have to say that the government minister, Lord Bates, made quite a good fist of answering this question. Given the desperate hand he was dealt, he was almost quite convincing in keeping up his optimistic whistling while most of the House growled:

The world is changing. Some 90% of the growth that will happen over the next 10 years will be outside the European Union. Six of our largest trading partners are in the EU, including Germany, France and the Netherlands, but the United States is No. 1, China is growing very significantly and there is Switzerland too. This is a great country in which to invest and trade. That is why we have the largest stock of foreign direct investment and why our exports and employment continue to grow, and I expect that to go on happening once a deal is reached.

This caused a great deal of furrowed brows and growling from the peers. I think this must have been the “row”.

The interloper in the dining room

Our Baroness Northover won one of the “duking it out” micro-second Mexican stand-offs to be the next questioner by sheer authority transmitted through her confident voice and body posture. She was therefore able to ask:

My Lords, has the Minister noted the 40% increase in religious hate crimes in the United Kingdom between 2017 and 2018? In that context, does he feel it appropriate that Tommy Robinson was entertained in the Lords by a Member of this House?

This refers to a well-publicised visit which the Sun headlined as “Tommy Robinson walks free from court and straight to a boozy lunch at the House of Lords”.

The minister, Lord Ahmad, replied very forthrightly:

On the second point, I do not think that it is right. We need to take a long hard look at ourselves as a House, and I am sure that the House authorities have been alerted to the presence of the said individual. The views he expresses are not just appalling for the community he targets—we are all, rightly, appalled. It is important that we review our procedures to ensure that individuals such as Tommy Robinson do not enter the heart of democracy. I am minded, however, to defer that to the House authorities.

There are considerations of free speech, free association and free movement here. But it cannot surely be right to put House of Lords’ staff in the position of having to serve someone who has abused them (that is, people of their race or religion) in speeches.

You can criticise the House of Lords until the cows come home. It should be immediately replaced with an elected chamber. But while we wait for change, the peers do an excellent job. They just shouldn’t be there in that form.

You can read all yesterday’s House of Lords Oral Question activity here.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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