Lords Gallery: the key action in the Upper Chamber this week
Gary Connor looks at ahead to this week’s agenda in the Upper Chamber
EU Withdrawal Bill
In a further acknowledgement that scrutiny of the flagship Brexit bill is taking longer than the government might have wanted, an extra day of Committee has been added, taking the number up to 11, while 11:00am starts have been scheduled each Wednesday until the House rises for Easter to make up the time. If all runs to plan, this week should see amendments relating to transport and aviation matters. Two others to look out for; Amendment 121 from Lord Collins of Highbury (L) on the international arrangements to be renegotiated post-Brexit, and 142 from Lord Monks (L) on giving the government a negotiating mandate. Monks’ amendment has support from Lib Dem and Conservative backbench peers.
Baroness Meacher (CB) has a question on Monday on whether ministers plan to reclassify cannabis. The issue has come to prominence again after the case of Alfie Dingley made headlines in recent weeks. The five-year-old had been treated in the Netherlands with cannabis-based medication, leading to a dramatic reduction in the number of seizures he suffered. Meacher tells The House she finds it “extraordinary” that the government is resisting reclassification, arguing that there is “irrefutable evidence cannabis has medicinal qualities”. She adds that the change could have huge potential for NHS savings by giving relief to patients who suffer with lifelong pain, easing pressure on GPs and hospital beds.
Smart Meters Bill
On Tuesday afternoon peers will debate the general principles of the Smart Meters Bill, which comes to the Lords after completing its Commons stages last month. It extends ministerial powers on the regulation and licensing of smart meters and gives new powers to Ofgem to modify industry codes. Over 8.5m smart meters are operating in the UK at the moment, with the government pledging that every household in the UK will be offered a one by 2020. During the bill’s passage through the Commons, Labour agreed with the aims of the bill, but questioned whether this target could be met.
Access to the Prime Minister
The Conservative’s annual Black and White fundraising ball prompts a question from Lord Storey (LD) on Wednesday. At the event, a donor reportedly paid £55,000 to spend a day with Theresa May, with another pledging a large sum for dinner with Gavin Williamson. “It’s really tacky” says Storey, arguing that it demeans the office of the Prime Minister. He points out to us that peers aren’t even allowed to donate “tea on the terrace” as a charity prize, and questions how government ministers can offer their time in exchange for party donations. He’s planning to press the government on strengthening the ministerial code to prohibit “personal access”.
Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill
The line-by-line scrutiny of the government’s Brexit contingency measure takes place away from the main chamber on Tuesday. The amendments to be debated have yet to be finalised, though we hear some of the areas likely to be on the agenda include the progress made in Brexit talks on international road transport, and the government’s assessment of the costs of an international permit scheme. Several amendments have also been tabled by Lord Bassam of Brighton (L), one of which calls for the government to negotiate continued UK participation in the EU’s Community Licence arrangements as part of a withdrawal agreement.