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By Baroness Smith of Llanfaes
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Unusual Channels

Illustration by Tracy Worrall

3 min read

In a new occasional column on the ways of slippery whips, clever clerks and other denizens of the legislative machine, Salma Shah highlights key things to watch out for buried in the business of the House. This month: a look at the Other Place

Running out of steam

After a mammoth session last year and many carry-over bills, the exhausted peers are still churning through the legislation of three successive prime ministers. One member of the Lords is sanguine about the grind, acknowledging the upper chamber’s expertise and capacity to improve legislation. They will continue to get through the business as best they can. 
It will be a slog.

Rishi Keir
Image by: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

While the King has spoken about his Government’s priorities, with over 20 bills on the list it is likely to be an unpredictable session. Experienced members of the Lords already have one eye closely tracking any possible emergency legislation to emerge. With an election in sight, the Government will be signalling through bills what they’re all about, so expect more on Rwanda and even strike action. The independently minded peers don’t have a tendency to make things easy, mind, so “wash-up” will be a tough negotiation. 
Perhaps the government is looking for a scrap on some of these issues? Setting yourself up against unelected peers is a very 2019 vibe.

New blood

The Lords is full to the brim, but fresh blood is on its way. If you’ve placed your bets on a Labour victory then this is the last of this iteration of the Lords chamber before it starts to take on more of the Labour contours of the Commons.

Image by: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

But Labour planners must be wary. It takes time to get prospective peers through the nominations process. Even after a Labour victory, the Conservatives and crossbenchers will still be a force. Keir Starmer may have to woo more Tories beyond those on the electoral map to get anything done in his first term.

The Lords is full to the brim, but fresh blood is on its way


If you’ve been following the festive honours transfer window, you may have noticed Liz Truss was finally able to award her supporters with seats in the legislature. For those who were a little bemused at her list of peerages, last week was an important one.  
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee began taking oral evidence for its inquiry into the membership of the House of Lords. The process could prove eye-opening when it examines the arrangements for appointments to the Lords.

Lord S
Lord Scriven | Image courtesy of UK Parliament

With parliamentary time so short, it’s heartening to see Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven using his private members bill to disestablish the Church of England. Happily, he introduced the bill on 6 December – during advent. 
The bishops may breathe easy: they probably won’t be chucked out of the Lords soon given the unlikelihood of the bill’s passing. Indeed, it was notable that at first reading the Lord Speaker mistakenly called the bill for the “not contents” even though a first reading is always passed whether their lordships approve or not. 
Perhaps that unpopularity stems from the dismay their Lordships feel not only at the bill but, as one Chamber veteran tells me, at the absence of a tie. Lord Scriven has rarely been seen wearing one.
One hopes the Lords have had a restful Christmas. They won’t get much of a break now the House has returned.

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Read the most recent article written by Salma Shah - Unusual channels