House of Lords summer roundup
27 July 2021 (updated on 27 July 2021)
Catch up on a packed start to the 2021-22 session in the House of Lords.
The Queen’s Speech took place at the State Opening of Parliament on 11 May. The speech set out the government’s agenda for Parliament’s working year.
After this, members got straight back to work shaping legislation, checking and challenging the government’s actions and investigating public policy in its committees. This began with a five-day debate on the content of the speech, with Lord McFall of Alcluith presiding on the woolsack for the first time since his election as Lord Speaker.
Members use their expertise to consider the implications of draft laws and propose changes. They negotiate and discuss changes with the government to ensure each bill is as effective as it can be. Bills that have started their journey through the House of Lords this session include:
So far, the House of Lords has considered more than 300 proposed changes to the bill over eight days of line by line scrutiny at committee stage. Areas of discussion have included:
- monitoring marine environments and increasing marine biodiversity
- protection of national parks, forests and ancient woodland
- water quality standards and improving treatment of wastewater
- reducing plastic usage and banning its export
- improving air quality.
Further scrutiny and changes will take place at Report Stage, which is due to begin on 6 September.
Members have raised several issues with the bill, including its drafting and the proposed composition of the Animal Sentience Committee that the new law would create. The House has also proposed changes on topics including medical science and better welfare for certain marine life such as crabs and lobsters.
Members have conducted four days of line by line scrutiny of the bill, proposing changes on areas including lifelong loan entitlements, local skills improvement plans, employer representative bodies and funding for technical qualifications.
Members welcomed this new bill to expand the Dormant Assets Scheme and give more money to good causes. Members also raised concerns at the number of government amendments to the bill that were made during detailed scrutiny at committee stage, and warned the government must give greater clarity on the purpose of the changes before report stage begins.
Members have carried out extensive scrutiny, completing further examination (report stage) of the bill on Tuesday 20 July. The House voted to require landlords inform tenants renegotiating leases of upcoming changes until the provisions in the bill become law.
The House of Lords considers secondary legislation, law created by ministers (or other bodies) under powers given to them by an Act of Parliament. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee reports each week on areas of policy or guidance and raises issues for the attention of the House when considering whether to approve regulations.
Members have raised concerns on new regulations in the chamber through ‘motions to regret’. Recently, the House of Lords voted to put on record its concerns regarding new regulations on mandatory vaccinations for care home staff. The motion to regret stated that operational guidance would not be available until after the new regulations come into force and that an assessment on the impact on care homes has not been published.
Earlier in July, the House also voted to record concerns that new regulations to extend pavement licenses did not take into account the benefits of smoke-free licenses. Members also called on the government to reconsider new planning rules, voting to put on record concerns that rules remove the voice of local communities and that changes have been made with insufficient scrutiny.
Scrutiny of the power to make secondary legislation also happens regularly. The Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee considers the government's proposals in new bills for ministerial power to make regulations and issue reports.
Checking government action and questioning policy
Members check and challenge government action at the start of each sitting day in oral questions to the government. There are also further chances to press the government for action in urgent ‘Private Notice Questions’, which are granted by the Lord Speaker. So far in this session, there have been more than 150 questions and Private Notice Questions.
Recent Private Notice Questions have seen members press government on tackling racism in sport, education recovery following the pandemic, the G7 tax plan and overseas aid. Catch up with livestreams of recent questions in our Twitter moment.
Members also regularly debate government policy and propose changes in debates and questions for short debate. Recent debate topics have included:
- The Dunlop Review into UK government Union capability
- women’s health
- social care
- the UK foreign aid programme
- UK trade with Ghana and Cameroon, and concerns regarding Cameroon’s human rights record
- UK tourism after the COVID-19 pandemic
- reforming the Child Maintenance Service
- building housing on flood plains
- human rights in India
Work in committees
Committees investigate public policy, proposed laws and government activity. The House of Lords extensive work in committees so far in this session has included:
- A new report from the European Affairs Committee into the rights of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, warning that some vulnerable and elderly citizens are at risk of losing their rights.
- A report by the Communications and Digital Committee calling for more government action to ensure freedom of expression online is maintained.
- The Economic Affairs Committee questioned whether the Bank of England is addicted to quantitative easing in its new report on the practice.
- The Environment and Climate Change Committee has written to the Environment Secretary setting out what it believes the government should do to make COP15 a success and to combat the loss of biodiversity.
- The Built Environment Committee launched inquiries into demand for housing in the UK and the fare reforms proposed by the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail.
- The Lords Constitution Committee published reports on the use and scrutiny of emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic, warning that new laws had not been subject to adequate checks. The committee also reported on the pandemic’s impact on Parliament and on revision of the Cabinet Manual.
- The Lords COVID-19 Committee called on the government to look again at its proposals for digital life beyond the pandemic and began investigating the impact of the pandemic on towns and cities.
- The International Relations and Defence Committee completed collecting evidence for its inquiry into the UK’s security and trade relationship with China, hearing from ministers, academics, trade experts, and the last Governor of Hong Kong.
- The International Agreements Committee continues to invite submissions on UK-Australia trade plans and the UK’s joining the CPTPP.
- The Justice and Home Affairs Committee launched a new inquiry into technologies in law enforcement.
- The National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee completed collecting evidence for its inquiry, and is due to report in the autumn.
- The Public Services Committee continued to investigate levelling up, calling for government to refocus its plans, and the role of public services in addressing child vulnerability.
- The Lords Risk Assessment and Risk Planning Committee heard from chief scientific advisors, authors and minsters as part of its inquiry into UK resilience planning.
- The Lords Science and Technology Committee has warned that actions taken by the government does not align with its ambition to achieve net zero emissions, nor do they take advantage of opportunities presented by batteries and fuel cells for the UK’s research and manufacturing sectors.
- The Common Frameworks Committee invited contributions to its ongoing inquiry into the UK’s Common Frameworks programme, asking how it could be reviewed and improved in the future.
- The Youth Unemployment Committee continued its investigation into creating and protecting jobs for young people.
The House of Lords also debated previous committee reports in the chamber, including:
- the Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment Committee report, which highlighted failures in the UK's food system, putting the health of the population, and of the planet, at risk
- the Economic Affairs Sub-Committee report HMRC powers and treating taxpayers fairly.
Return to business
The House of Lords returns to business on Monday 6 September. Most members will contribute in person following the ending of hybrid proceedings, though some members with long-term disabilities will continue to be able to participate remotely.