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Lord Berkeley: Lords Diary

Lord Berkeley: Lords Diary


4 min read

Travelling from Bryher in the Isles of Scilly where I live involves a walk along the beach to Anneka’s Quay, a boat to Tresco, a helicopter to Penzance, a short ride on my electric Brompton bicycle to the station and then a train to London and bike again to the Lords. Eight hours if the weather allows flying.

In the summer, the Scillonian ferry operates but, at other times, it is helicopter or fixed wing with minimal navigation aids since the UK left Galileo and European Geostationary Navigation Overlay service (EGNOS), so that we can have our own Great British satellite system (subject to timing and funding of course).

But long travel times with good wi-fi allows a catch-up on slots for topical, starred, private notice questions and other business that has a deadline to put one’s name down or speak.

As one of the few civil engineers in the Lords, I tend to focus my Lords work on infrastructure, be it rail, road, air or cycling and walking, water and maritime issues, trying to challenge or support government by written or oral questions and through all-party groups. There are many options for following these up, including regret motions for secondary legislation.

On a visit to Nottingham last week with our Lords Built Environment Committee, I found that I could take my folding bike on the trains and tram, but not on the electric bus. Similarly, the Lords fire and safety people decided to ban electric bikes and scooters (but not, presumably, wheelchairs) from entering the building since they might set it alight. Two train companies tried likewise, but in the end, after meetings and a starred question, common sense has prevailed. Someone must surely devise a safe lithium-ion battery before all cars should operate with them in 10 years’ time.

Being ‘selected’ to sit on a hybrid bill committee is often seen as a punishment

I continue to challenge HS2 financially, with ministers regularly in denial about out-turn costs and programmes but, equally importantly, whether the project does what it says on the tin – and whether it delivers the political outcome that they appear to want and the costs are a sensible use of taxpayers’ money. The long development and construction time for some projects often means that the original reason for building something has long since changed as a result of policies such as net-zero carbon or levelling up. And what many politicians and the public forget is: can the desired outcome be delivered by smaller changes or by leaving things as they are?

Lords Question time is always an opportunity to learn something new about the subject or those speaking on it, and sometimes to ask ministers in the nicest possible way if they would mind answering the question! Covid, and now the Ukraine war, has provided more opportunities to debate these issues and for ministers to realise that they can get more support from the House if they are proactive in their responses.

We are still voting electronically, which is challenging for some when their mobiles don’t work or there is no signal, and I look forward to the new version using our security passes, which might speed up the process and possibly reduce human error.

This week I have meetings with House authorities and clerks about hybrid bills for new railways – whether they are the best use of time and resources, whether the process is fair on all parties including petitioners, and what alternatives for obtaining permissions for major projects are available. This applies to Members’ time – a serious issue particularly in the Commons where being “selected” to sit on a hybrid bill committee is often seen as a punishment!

The best thing in the last few weeks has been the ability to meet colleagues and visitors in person – Zoom or Teams meetings are fine in some circumstances but there is nothing like a quick word in the corridor. Long may this continue. 

Lord Berkeley is a Labour peer

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