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Lords Diary: Steve Bassam

3 min read

After a long haul quizzing a ‘Truckers Tax’, and ploughing through UK poverty stats, government gets its just deserts as Lord Bassam’s free school meals motion passes

Tricky Grand Committee session on the beautifully described Haulage Permits and Trailers Bill. Another make it up as you go along Brexit Bill. At its heart is a Truckers Tax. A plan to charge haulage companies for permits to drive on EU roads should The PM fail to get an exit deal.

Like most who voted ‘Remain’, I see unintended consequences of Brexit everywhere. Most haven’t yet spotted this one. We spend most of our time quizzing a likeable minister, Baroness Sugg, who doesn’t deserve this level of nonsense but can’t give us answers to reasonable questions. I predict gridlock at our ports and some haulage firms struggling if this new bureaucracy ever comes to pass.

I’ve recently tabled lots of written parliamentary questions. Sometimes they illuminate an issue, sometimes they illicit bland responses. My favourites are those I get back from my favourite cycling baronet, George Young. I don’t know who writes his replies but they certainly know how to obfuscate over any thorny issues, especially Carillion.

I’ve also intervened on a statement on the continuing misery that is the fallout from the Grenfell Tower disaster. This time, it turns out the fire doors weren’t up to standard and Lord Bourne (another decent minister) has to try and explain that all is ok, really. I suggest that government should circulate and alert local councils to the door type, and he tells me they hadn’t but will do. I later discover that Kensington and Chelsea have £14m unused capital receipts from council house sales – why didn’t they use some of that to fund better fire protection for Grenfell residents?

Most sessions on the EU Withdrawal Bill are starting to feel like Groundhog Day, as we sit in the chamber listening to Lord Callanan trot out his voodoo Brexit theme tunes while many us worry about what it will mean for the real world.

I get cross one evening as some of my amendments to the Bill are scheduled as last business and I hear the government wants to run through the night. This is not sensible. The average age of the House is 66, you can’t debate properly at midnight, and have an inclusive Parliament that only involves those who live close by. I head home while the whips haggle, only to find my amendments left over for another day.

I’ve been doing my bit for Alfie Dingley, the six-year-old boy who badly needs medicinal cannabis to help manage his epilepsy. The family are long standing friends. The Home Office should just do it. So this week we trudged up Downing Street with a petition that is cordially received, and a photo op with Alfie and family.

My motion on free school meals, seeking a pause in the introduction of new regulations, gets an airing. I write a speech working around a confusion of poverty stats, poverty traps, personal experience and a sense of a government that has given up on aspiration and a sense of fairness. A good debate generally but there were few useful answers from the hapless Lord Agnew.

Top speeches from Baronesses Sherlock, Walmsley and Lister plus Lord Watson. I get fact check challenged by Lord Patten of Wincanton and end up reminding fellow peers that four of the five Tories who spoke went to public schools. I wager there weren’t too many free school meals taken there. We win by seven votes – phew! The reaction on social media is ecstatic, with praise from our Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner. Now to make the government have a rethink. 

Lord Bassam of Brighton is a Labour peer

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Read the most recent article written by Lord Bassam of Brighton - No-deal Brexit poses a real risk of disrupting the Covid vaccine supply chain


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