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New policy developments come thick and fast

16 October 2015

Richard Messingham anticipates a highly active legislative period between now and Christmas now that parliament has returned, and provides an overview of the activity around the Immigration Bill.


Now that parliament has returned and we are in full swing for the upcoming legislative period, a number of highly anticipated policy developments have started coming through. Between now and Christmas, we can expect a highly active legislative period.

On Tuesday, the Immigration Bill cleared its first parliamentary hurdle with a second reading, despite opposition from Labour, Lib Dem and SNP MPs. MPs gave the Immigration Bill a second reading by a margin of 49, after Labour's bid to block it was rejected by 40 votes. The Bill proposes a new offence of illegal working and requires landlords to carry out checks on prospective tenants. The Bill will now proceed to Committee stage later this month.

On Wednesday evening, the House of Lords discussed a motion of regret on criminal courts charge. The motion was tabled by the shadow justice minister, Lord Beecham, who had been briefed by the Law Society. Despite this, the Statutory Instrument implementing the charge came into effect in April. The vote came to 132-100 to oppose the court charges, to which the Ministry of Justice will have to respond.

Home secretary Theresa May is to put the Labour peer who chaired the intelligence watchdog during the Iraq war in charge of scrutinising the Investigatory Powers Bill. Baroness (Ann) Taylor, who was a security minister in the last Labour government and sits on the board of defence company Thales, was approached by the home secretary last week and has accepted the job of chairing a joint committee on the Bill.

The prime minister pledged to put his shopping list of demands for his in/out EU referendum on paper within weeks after previously declining to do so. The prime minister is to write a letter to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council who chairs EU summits, detailing the changes he hopes to obtain in the EU, before putting the outcome to a referendum by the end of 2017 on whether the UK should remain in the EU.

Monday 12 October

Consultation response - proposals to close Hammersmith County Court

Andy Slaughter MP, Labour shadow minister for justice, has published his response to the Ministry of Justice's consultation on court closures and mergers. Mr Slaughter has voiced his concerns about the overall court closure programme, which he outlined in responding to the House of Commons debate on Courts and Tribunal Services (England and Wales) on 17 September. The consultation response is limited to his concerns as a local Member of Parliament for the Hammersmith constituency and the direct impact of the proposed closure of Hammersmith County Court on his constituents.

Read the full response

House of Commons written answer - Rt Hon Sir Edward Garnier MP - criminal court charges

Sir Edward Garnier (Conservative, Harborough)

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what representations he has received on the continuance of the criminal courts; and if he will make a statement.

Andrew Selous (Conservative, parliamentary under-secretary of state for justice)

I have received clarification that the Honourable and Learned member was referring to the Criminal Courts Charge. To date my department has received representations from the magistracy, defence practitioners, the Law Society and the Bar Council. It is important that this change, which has been approved by parliament to make sure our justice system is fair and that those who offend pay their way, is given time to bed in. This will allow us to form an appropriate view. The government will be reviewing the provisions in due course.

Tuesday 13 October

Home secretary Teresa May to appoint Labour peer to review Investigatory Powers Bill

Theresa May is to put the Labour peer who chaired the intelligence watchdog during the Iraq war in charge of scrutinising her controversial surveillance legislation. Ann Taylor, who was a security minister in the last Labour government and sits on the board of defence company Thales, was approached by the home secretary last week and has accepted the job of chairing a joint committee on the Investigatory Powers Bill.

Read the full article

Bar Council releases press release warning peers of dangers of criminal court charges

The Bar Council warned peers about the dangers of the highly controversial criminal courts charges, ahead of Wednesday's Lords debate. Those charged with offences face automatic fees of up to £1,200 if they plead not guilty for a Crown Court trial, but they are charged less if they plead guilty. The Bar Council has said that innocent people are being incentivised to plead guilty.

Read the full press release

Think tank Liberty lists reasons to oppose the Immigration Bill 2015

Liberty, the human rights organisations headed by the former human rights barrister Shami Chakrabarti, has listed its grievances with the Immigration Bill, which was given its second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Read the full press release

Commons second reading - Immigration Bill

The Immigration Bill would establish a balanced and sustainable immigration system, MPs heard today. Moving the second reading of the Immigration Bill, home secretary Theresa May declared the government's aim to build a 'balanced and sustainable' immigration system that effectively can manage net migration.

Establishing the context of the Bill, Ms May argued that if the government was to ensure that public services were protected 'from abuse' and tackle the illegal labour market where vulnerable people were often exploited, then further reform is needed.

See the full transcript

Lords second reading - European Union Referendum Bill

The European referendum would give British people 'the final say' on 'an issue on which we have not directly consulted the people for more than 40 years', peers heard today. Moving the second reading of the European Union Referendum Bill, foreign office minister Baroness Anelay of St Johns explained that the Bill would enable a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union before the end of 2017. She added that the government was 'committed to negotiating a new settlement for the United Kingdom in Europe' to meet modern challenges and address people's concerns. The Bill was based on existing legislation, she said, in particular the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

See the full transcript

Wednesday 14 October

House of Commons written answer - Conor McGinn - court closures

Conor McGinn (Labour, St Helens North)

To ask the secretary of state for justice what assessment criteria are used to determine court closures.

Mr Shailesh Vara (Conservative, parliamentary under-secretary of state for justice)

The estate principles used to determine which buildings were included in the consultation document.

Thursday 15 October

MPs debate the Justice Committee's report on the impact of changes to civil legal aid

Responding to a debate on civil legal aid, human rights minister Dominic Raab noted that the Ministry of Justice had spent £1.6bn on legal aid last year, which he said amounted to a quarter of the Ministry's budget. He suggested that if more money was to be spent on legal aid, was it to come from the schools or health budget. Changes had been contentious, he noted, and the exceptional funding scheme was subject to continuing litigation. The National Audit Office, he said, looked at the matter and reported that additional costs were 'relatively small compared with the gross figures'. Responding to calls for a review into legal aid to be brought forward, Mr Raab said that it would not be the case, as the government wanted to 'gauge the long-term direction of the reforms'.

See the full transcript

Lords debate the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 (Criminal Courts Charge) Regulations 2015

Peers debated the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 (Criminal Courts Charge) Regulations 2015, with the House of Lords rejecting the government's criminal courts charge. The motion to "regret" was tabled by the shadow justice minister, Lord Beecham, who had previously been briefed by the Law Society. Despite this, the Statutory Instrument implementing the charge came into effect in April. The vote came to 132-100 to oppose the court charges, in which the Ministry of Justice will have to respond.

See the full transcript

House of Commons oral questions - Philip Hollobone - Human Rights Act

Mr Philip Hollobone (Conservative, Kettering)

When my constituents say, 'Philip, we voted Conservative because we wanted to get rid of the Human Rights Act, when is it going to happen?' what should I tell them?

Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP (the attorney general)

My hon. Friend can tell his constituents, as we should all tell our constituents, that manifesto promises matter, and this government intend to honour its manifesto. Of course, a manifesto does not all have to be delivered in the first six months of government. We will seek to do so as soon as possible. I know that the justice secretary and his colleagues are working very hard on bringing forward proposals.

Friday 16 October

House of Commons written answer - Debbie Abrahams - Human Rights Act

Debbie Abrahams (Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth)

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what progress the government has made on developing proposals for reform of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Dominic Raab (parliamentary under-secretary of state for justice)

This government will fully consult on our proposals this session, before introducing legislation for a British Bill of Rights. Further details will be announced in due course.

House of Commons written answer - Ben Howlett - Magistrates' Courts Buildings

Ben Howlett (Conservative, Bath)

To ask the secretary of state for justice how many of the magistrates' courts which closed in the last five years were sold within 12 months of closure; how many such courts remain unsold; and what the average period is between closure and receipt of funds on sale.

Shailesh Vara (parliamentary under-secretary of state)

It has not been possible to answer this question in the time allowed. I will write to the honourable member in due course.

Home Affairs Committee: press announcement: oral evidence session announced

The Home Affairs Committee has announced the date for its next oral evidence session on immigration - Tuesday 20th October, in the Grimond Room, Portcullis House.

Witnesses to include:

  • Neil Carberry, director, Employment, Skills & Public Services, CBI
  • Howard Catton, head of policy and international, Royal College of Nursing
  • Verity O'Keefe, employment and skills policy adviser, EEF, the manufacturers' organisation
  • Professor Sir David Metcalf CBE, chair, Migration Advisory Committee
  • Tim Harrison, head of secretariat, Migration Advisory Committee
  • Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, minister for immigration, and Home Office official(s)

Tags: justice | politics | Westminster weekly update | Parliament | courts

About the author

Richard Messingham is head of public affairs at the Law Society. He and his team are responsible for supporting the president and CEO to manage the Society's relationships with Parliamentarians, Ministers, civil servants and other major stakeholders of direct relevance to solicitors.
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