Highlights from the 2019-21 session in the Lords
7 May 2021
The 2019-2021 session of Parliament ran from 20 December 2019 to 29 April 2021. The House of Lords met for more than 1,750 hours in the chamber and grand committee, examining 59 bills and asking over 900 questions. It also published more than 200 committee reports.
In 2019-21, the House of Lords scrutinised and revised 59 bills, asking government and the House of Commons to think again on issues such as trade with countries accused of genocide, making threats to share intimate images an offence and protecting food standards.
Checking and challenging government action
Members held government to account, scrutinising government decision and actions throughout the session with more than 900 oral questions and Private Notice Questions (urgent questions) put to ministers since December 2019.
House of Lords committees published more than 200 reports in 2019-21, making recommendations on healthy ageing, rebuilding trust in democratic systems in a digital age, reforming Universal Credit, and banning loot boxes.
The House of Lords adapted quickly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and implemented online voting and hybrid proceedings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a packed session, it also launched a new podcast, paid tributes following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh and elected a new Lord Speaker, Lord McFall of Alcluith following Lord Fowler’s standing down at the end of the session.
Read on for more highlights from the session.
During this session of Parliament, the House of Lords has considered 59 bills. Members use their expertise to consider the implications of these draft laws and propose changes. They negotiate and discuss changes with the government to ensure each bill is as effective as it can be. In this session, the House of Lords has persuaded the government to make changes on several issues:
- The government and House of Commons listened to Lords concerns regarding the Agriculture Bill and the standard of food imports. As a result, the government agreed to report to Parliament on all new free trade agreements and their consistency with UK protections.
- The government compromised following calls from across the House of Lords for greater action against states accused of genocide in the Trade Bill, changing the draft law to include greater parliamentary scrutiny.
- House of Lords members successfully campaigned to make non-fatal strangulation and threats to release intimate images offences under the Domestic Abuse Bill. The House also agreed to government compromises to conduct reviews of child contact centres and the sharing of migrant victim data, plus a commitment to publish a strategy for prosecution and management of abusers and stalkers following proposed Lords changes to the bill.
- The House of Lords convinced the government to ensure accusations of torture or genocide are not subject to the presumption against prosecution after five years provided by the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill.
The role of the House of Lords in these bills
Speaking at the conclusion of the Trade Bill, Lord Grimstone of Boscobel, Minister for Industrial Strategy, said:
‘It is a testament to this House that we have been able to have these debates, and noble Lords should be proud of the improvements they have made to the bill… In some areas, the bill is not recognisable from the one that we started with. In particular, I believe that we have demonstrated through our words and actions during the passage of the bill that trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights… there are no circumstances in which the bill would have contained those guarantees were it not for the sustained and passionate representations that members on all sides of this chamber have made over recent months.’
Consideration of House of Commons amendments to the Trade Bill, 23 March 2021. Read the full transcript in Lords Hansard.
At the conclusion of the Domestic Abuse Bill, Baroness Williams of Trafford, Home Office Minister, said:
‘As a House of Lords, we have come a long way with this Bill. We have revised it for the better. The Government have acquiesced to virtually all that noble Lords have asked in order to make this the excellent Bill that it now is.’
Consideration of House of Commons changes to the Domestic Abuse Bill, 27 April 2021. Read the full transcript in Lords Hansard.
The Lords also considered secondary legislation, law created by ministers (or other bodies) under powers given to them by an Act of Parliament, during the session. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee checked 1,227 statutory instruments, meeting 52 times and publishing 54 reports, and raising issues for the attention of the House when considering whether to approve regulations.
House of Lords committees investigate broad, long-term issues of importance to the UK. They make recommendations to government and report their findings for anyone to read. Highlights of committee work in this session include:
- The Gambling Industry Committee issued its report, calling for increased action to tackle gambling-related harm, including the banning of loot boxes.
- Among several inquiries, the Science and Technology Committee made recommendations to the government on actions to improve health in old age.
- The Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee warned that democracy was under threat from a ‘pandemic of misinformation’ and made recommendations to tackle it in its report.
- The Lords Communications and Digital Committee considered the future of journalism in a digital age, making recommendations to urgently create the Digital Markets Unit and introduce a news bargaining code.
- The Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee warned that the UK’s food system is failing and called on government to ensure a healthy, sustainable diet is accessible for everyone.
- The Economic Affairs Committee called for substantial reform of Universal Credit to protect the most vulnerable, alongside inquiries into COVID-19 and employment, and quantitative easing.
- The European Union Committee continued to scrutinise the progress of Brexit, and published five reports on the future relationship between the UK and the EU following the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
- The Lords International Relations and Defence Committee warned of the impact of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan before peace talks conclude in a new report, and began investigating the UK’s relationship with China among other inquiries.
- The Constitution Committee continued to scrutinise draft legislation including rapid scrutiny of the UK Internal Market Bill to warn that proposed sections may violate the rule of law, and issued a report into the impact of COVID-19 on courts and tribunals in England and Wales.
The newly formed Public Services Committee published its first report into lessons from the coronavirus pandemic, finding ‘remarkable innovations’ were made to meet the challenge but also identifying key weaknesses in delivery.
The House of Lords also appointed a new committee to investigate the long-term implications of the pandemic. In April, the Lords COVID-19 Committee released a new report on the future of our on- and offline lives, calling for government to prevent future inequalities, particularly in health and employment, following the pandemic.
The House also appointed new committees to investigate youth unemployment; sport and recreation policy; common frameworks; environment and climate change; industry and regulators; international agreements; European affairs and the Northern Ireland Protocol; risk planning; and the built environment.
- See a full list of committees
- See a full list of publications from both Houses of Parliament in the 2019-21 session
Members debate public policy and issues of importance to the UK. Debates allow members to put their expertise to good use by drawing the government’s attention to concerns. Debates in this session of Parliament included the UK's role in empowering women in the recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Coronavirus Act powers one year on, and the Dasgupta Report and the economic value of biodiversity. Members also debated topics such as the role of the armed forces and the risk of evictions due to COVID-19 related poverty in short debates throughout the session.
New session of Parliament
State Opening, the formal start of a new session of Parliament, will take place on 11 May. Following State Opening, the House of Lords will return to work revising legislation, scrutinising the work of government, and investigating key issues of the day.
Agriculture, animals, food and rural affairs
Asylum, immigration and nationality
Business, industry and consumers
Communities and families
Crime, civil law, justice and rights
Culture, media and sport
Economy and finance
Employment and training
Energy and environment
Health services and medicine
Housing and planning
- Parliament, government and politics
Science and technology