Tony Greaves writes: A week to remember in the Lords

Oh what a week that was!

Liberal Democrat peers can hold up their heads in some pride after a remarkable week in the Lords in which the Government suffered a massive defeat on the Internal Market Bill, three issues were ping-ponged back to the Commons, and Liberal Democrats fought the battles while the Labour Party disgraced themselves by abstaining on several vital motions.

There’s a pattern. Since the August recess the government have been defeated in the Lords no fewer than 17 times. But they’ve won eleven votes and on all but one of those the Labour Party sat on their hands. Of course they have a right to whip their members as they decide – or as instructed by their party bosses in the House of Commons. But when, as this week, they have already gone through the lobby at an earlier stage of a Bill, questions must asked about their courage and determination to oppose the Government on matters of principle.

In these strange times, we don’t queue through the division lobbies – a foolish practice we leave to the Commons. The Lords is meeting as a Hybrid House, centred on the Chamber where up to 30 peers can sit at any time, suitably distanced from each other. Other members ask questions and speak, visible on the monitors strung around the balconies. But everyone votes via their computers and devices on a natty little app called PeerHub. 

The first vote of the week on Monday was on the Second Reading of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, the measure that the Government itself admits could mean breaking international law. The Lords customarily do not vote on the Second Reading of Bills, holding that the government of the day has the right to have its legislation scrutinised by the Upper House. 

But Lord Judge moved an amendment to add at the end of the motion to give the Bill a Second Reading “but that this House regrets that Part 5 of the bill contains provisions which, if enacted, would undermine the rule of law and damage the reputation of the United Kingdom.” Lord Judge is Convenor of the Crossbenches – 181 peers who sit as Independents – and a former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. (And yes his family name really is Judge).His amendment was passed by 395 votes to 169, a massive 226 vote majority. As often happens the Liberal Democrat group had the highest percentage turnout (91%). And 39 Conservatives voted against the Government. On its own this vote has no legal effect but it threatens the government with a very difficult time as the Bill starts its detailed scrutiny in the coming week.

On Tuesday we played Ping-Pong with the Agriculture Bill. Ping-Pong is the technical term for the final stages of a Government Bill when it is sent back and forth between the Lords and the Commons until both Houses agree the exact wording. In this case the Lords had passed a series of amendments before sending the Bill back to the Commons, which promptly reversed them.

The Lords did vote to insist on two of its changes on Labour amendments on the crucial issues of food standards and trade, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats voting together with a sufficient number of Crossbenchers and others. There was a further issue proposed by the backbencher and former Labour Minister Lord (Larry) Whitty – limiting the use of pesticides close to housing and public building and places such as schools and health facilities. Sadly the Labour party abstained and the vote was lost by 260 to 158 with only 11 of the 177 Labour peers voting.

Worse was to come the next day at the Ping-Pong back from the Commons of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. Some of the worst effects of Brexit are on EU citizens in the UK and British citizens who live in other European countries. Crucial Liberal Democrat-led amendments inserted earlier into the Bill in the Lords had given EU citizens with Settled Status the right to a physical document giving proof of that status, when requested, instead of just a digital confirmation on the Home Office website.

This has been the top call from EU citizens living here, supported by campaign groups such as the the 3 million and In Limbo, to underpin their rights of residence, work and access to goods and services of all kinds in accordance with the promises given by the likes of Johnson and Gove before the referendum. The Commons took out the Lords amendment. Liberal Democrat Jonny Oates moved to put it back in. Labour said they agreed but whipped their members to abstain! It was lost by 237 to 166 with just seven of the 177 Labour peers voting with us.

The other amendment was proposed by Sally Hamwee; it was again removed by the Commons; and Sally moved to put it back in. This was to keep the present rights for British citizens who live in the EU to bring their close non-British relatives to this country should they wish to return here. Many have been shocked to find that this may not be possible. The Government say they must be treated the same as British citizens who live in other parts of the world, but the Brits in Europe are having their existing rights removed. The Labour Party again said they agree with us but again were told to abstain. Sally’s motion was lost by 254 to 168. 16 Labour peers had the backbone to vote with the Liberal Democrats and 67 others. The Labour leadership again showed themselves to be lacking both backbone and guts on such issues of principle and support for people in potential distress.

And so – a week to remember. Liberal Democrats can have pride in our team and our spokespeople. But the feebleness of the Labour party leaves a sour taste. For us these are battles that have not yet been lost, and we will continue to work with the campaign groups to persuade the Government even at this late hour.

 

 

* Tony Greaves is a backbench Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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15 Comments

  • suzanne fletcher 25th Oct '20 - 12:37pm

    I am immensely proud of how our Peers have worked hard and voted on the Immigration Bill ( other issues too, but this is the one followed closely).
    Even though it was expected, gutted when all their amendments were voted down on Monday.
    Here is our write up of the what our Lords did. https://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1903 ( tweet/share etc please).

  • John Marriott 25th Oct '20 - 6:33pm

    Glad to see that a few members of the Upper House are Actually pulling their weight. However, I still favour abolition!

  • Nonconformistradcial 25th Oct '20 - 8:11pm

    @John Marriott
    I’ll say more or less what I said in another LDV thread recently. We need checks and balances and hence we need a second chamber.

  • Denis Loretto 26th Oct '20 - 8:41am

    I see little mystery about the behaviour of the Labour peers. Their party is shocked by the piercing of the “red wall” by the Tories, fear that a big factor is brexit and do not want to be seen as supporting anything which could be interpreted as pursuing an anti-brexit or even a brexit-modification path.

  • Great article. I suspect Lisa Nandy as shadow foreign secretary is a large part of the problem. As Mark Pack reminded us in a recent podcast, Labour was almost entirely opposed to joining the EU in the 70’s and Ted Heath only got it through parliament with Liberal Support. Nandy and Corbyn, who campaigned to stay in without enthusiasm in 2016 are part of that old Labour tradition of seeing little good in the EU and not Much bothered about the things that Tony Greaves writes about.

  • @ John Kelly ” I suspect Lisa Nandy as shadow foreign secretary is a large part of the problem”.

    The Lib Dem claim is to be an ‘evidence based party’, Mr Kelly, but where is your evidence…… about the grand daughter of a former Liberal Party MP and Chief whip ?

    You can’t have read this report in ‘The Independent’ earlier this year :

    “Our future lies with Europe’: Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy calls for close ties with EU. The Labour Party should be ready to tear up Boris Johnson deal and seek better access to single market’, says MP for Wigan, Lisa Nandy.”

    Andrew Woodcock, Political Editor, Saturday 08 February 2020.

  • @David Raw – Lisa Nandy would have been too young to even know about the EU in the early 70’s and I have no idea how much influence Frank Byers would have had on his granddaughter years later. Throughout the many votes in Parliament last year to try and get a customs union or single market access post-Brexit it was the group of Labour MP’s led by her who always seemed to sabotage them. Or is my memory incorrect?

  • In our Council Chamber if we are abstaining and we are allowed to make a speech by the Labour-Tory whips (who regularly join to prevent us speaking) we say why we are abstaining or at the very least why we are not voting for the motion. Is the problem that Labour don’t explain their behaviour or that they do and it’s not the real reason?

  • john oundle 26th Oct '20 - 6:51pm

    @John Kelly

    You are right, Nandy kept on saying she would vote for this or that Brexit policy,but when this or that became a reality she always found an excuse not to support it.

    Nandy is a classic example what Tony Benn described as a weathercock MP.

    .

  • Tony Greaves 26th Oct '20 - 8:03pm

    I didn’t add what happened on the Thursday (due to shortage of space). The Lords were debating a rather sneaky ” statutory instrument” – which means secondary legislation (regulations) where the Minister has the power to “lay down the law” in accordance with powers given in an Act of Parliament. They require a positive vote by each House but are not amendable. Called ” Citizens’ Rights (Application Deadline and Temporary Protection) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020″, these regulations have th\e purpose of maintaining the rights of EU citizens up to the last date for applying for Settled Status (end of next June) and until their application is dealt with, during what is (not very happily) known as the “grace period”. The problem is that there are parts of the new regs which for a series of technical reasons may well mean that they do not do that and some people are likely to fall foul of the rules and get neither grace nor favour, just a Home Office notice to get out.

    The Lords do a a rather better job than the Commons in scrutinising these regs but only very rarely vote them down. On Thursday Sally Hamwee moved a “fatal motion” that “this House declines to approve the draft Regulations because the so-called ‘grace period’ of six months from 1 January 2021 for applications to the EU Settlement Scheme does not replicate the provisions which apply during the implementation period”. If passed the Government would have had to go back and redraft the regulations. The Labour spokesman Lord Rosser said he basically agreed with the Liberals but Labour were going to abstain and later move a wimpish “motion of regret” which has no actual effect on what happens. Sally’s Liberal Democrat motion was defeated by 266 to 120 with just one Labour peer (Andrew Adonis) joining 80 Liberal Democrats and a bevy of non-party peers.

  • John Marriott 27th Oct '20 - 8:51am

    @Nonconformistetc.
    Yes, abolition of the House of Lords as currently constituted and its replacement with a Senate, whose representatives are nominated, not directly elected, by the Governments of Wales, NI, Scotland and the six/seven English Regional Assemblies. “What regional assemblies?” you may ask. Well, I’m ahead of you because I would plump for a Federal UK first and divide England, with 80% of the U.K. population, up into largely self governing regions. The Senate would monitor the legislation coming through the U.K. Federal Parliament, comprising members elected from the nations and regions of the U.K., which would have responsibilities similar to those of the German Federal Parliament, such as, Foreign Affairs, Defence, International Trade, Environmental Protection etc.

  • Richard Underhill 31st Oct '20 - 11:26am

    Denis Loretto 26th Oct ’20 – 8:41am
    Yes but listen to the Today Programme today.
    Charles Clarke is on about Labour’s problems.
    We can agree with what Tim Farron said
    “I do know Jeremy Corbyn, when Labour was in power.
    He was often in the same as lobby as us.”

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