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"Hugely Complex" Legislation Is Causing A Backlog Of Bills In The Lords


3 min read

Peers are urgently working against the clock to scrutinise legislation before the end of the current parliamentary session, with an unusual number of “hugely complex” bills causing a backlog in the House of Lords.

The number of amendments to be considered to existing legislation, plus other newer bills being thrown into the mix, such as those on Brexit and small boats, have all contributed to “everything getting incredibly behind,” one peer told PoliticsHome

Among the legislation making its way through the Lords are two especially hefty bills. This includes the Online Safety Bill, which seeks to introduce complex new laws to protect people on the internet. There is also the Levelling Up And Regeneration Bill which has been described as a “Christmas tree” bill as a result of hundreds of amendments aimed at improving towns across the UK.

“There is a growing backlog, and in a sense it’s inevitable,” Lord Don Foster of Bath said. 

“Everything is getting incredibly behind, and then you add the further complexity that some of the bills are hugely complex.”

The Liberal Democrat peer pointed to Michael Gove's levelling up legislation as key to delays, because its wide-ranging objectives make it especially open to a significant number of amendments. 

“There are very many bills like Christmas Tree Bills, where it’s perfectly possible to move amendments that dangle further baubles on to the Christmas tree," he explained.  

“A very good example of that is the Levelling Up Bill, which really opens up the possibilities for almost anything to be moved as an amendment.” 

Last month, PoliticsHome reported that members of the Lords had proposed more than 500 changes to the Levelling Up Bill as it started to make its way through committee stage. 

There were suggestions that the legislation had become a “mish-mash” of various policy areas that resembled “three bills in one”.

A Lords source suggested to PoliticsHome that the “unwieldy” Levelling Up Bill may take the longest to clear between now and the autumn, with the Report Stage – which must take place before a final Lords reading – not expected until the summer months. 

Lord Foster also believed that it can be “extraordinarily difficult for a government and for the business managers of that government to timetable everything so it works” in the Lords, and that the emergence of new legislation and government priorities can also cause hold-ups. 

“You have one further complication which is ‘events dear boy, events’ where things emerge – for example we’ve had the issue around the Northern Ireland Protocol," he explained. 

“Having carefully planned well in advance what might be a timetable that works, events come along and things get totally screwed up.” 

Downing Street confirmed in December that this parliamentary session will now run beyond the summer months when it would usually be expected to conclude. 

The government whips office in the Lords declined to comment.

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