Westminster update: MPs reject key amendments to Illegal Migration Bill

Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.
The palace of Westminster in the evening.
Photograph: Thomas Riebesehl

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What you need to know

1. Illegal Migration Bill: MPs reject key amendments

Government supporters in the House of Commons refused to accept any Lords amendments to the Illegal Migration Bill when it returned to the Commons on Tuesday 11 July for its first round of parliamentary ping pong.

Though the government had experienced several defeats in the House of Lords only last week, the reverse was true on Tuesday, where the government were successful in all 18 divisions. This was the most back-to-back votes in this parliament.

This is not to say that the government did not have to make concessions, however.

With 15 of their own backbenchers voting against the government’s alternative amendments on detaining unaccompanied children, the Home Office was pushed to moderate the Bill’s provisions by including protections for children and pregnant women, and removing the Bill's retrospective effect in several areas.

The legislation subsequently returned to the Lords for another round of ping-pong late on Wednesday 12 July.

The Lords proposed alternative amendments on:

  • compliance with international law
  • interim measures
  • the indefinite nature of the duty to remove asylum seekers

They backed down on modern slavery protections and limits on the Home Secretary’s detention powers.

The Bill goes back to the Commons on Monday, and will bounce back between the two houses over the subsequent days until either one side backs down or a consensus can be reached.

2. Victims and Prisoners Bill: MPrs raise Law Society concerns with parole changes

The Victims and Prisoners Bill continued its committee stage, with MPs examining the Bill’s changes to the parole system.

Shadow justice minister, Ellie Reeves quoted our view that the Bill’s changes to parole could lead to fewer prisoners serving fixed sentences being released on licence and instead being released automatically without supervision when their sentence ends.

She also firmly criticised clauses in the Bill giving the secretary of state powers to intervene in parole cases involving serious offences like murder. Reeves said these could make parole decisions vulnerable to public or party opinion. An amendment seeking to address this was proposed by Labour, but ultimately not pushed to a vote.

MPs also debated clauses in the Bill to disapply section three of the Human Rights Act, which provides that legislation should be interpreted compatibly with human rights as far as possible.

Labour echoed our concerns about the plans to disapply section three and quoted our view that the provision is unclear and may lead to increased litigation.

The Bill has now completed its committee stage and will return to Parliament after the summer recess.

3. Attorney General gives speech on the rule of law

The Attorney General, Victoria Prentis, gave a speech on Monday 10 July at the Institute for Government on ‘The Rule of Law and Effective Government’.

Prentis spoke of her respect for the courts and practitioners, detailing that her legal background means she is a lawyer first and a politician second.

She also took issue with negative rhetoric aimed at lawyers, detailing that it is wrong to assume lawyers are the same as their clients.

During her speech, she highlighted that while there is disagreement on whether international law obligations form part of the rule of law, she agrees with the view of Lord Bingham that they do.

Most notably, she made the case that whether international obligations are part of the rule of law or not, the government must comply with them and ensuring compliance is part of the Attorney General’s job. An interesting point in the context of the Illegal Migration Bill, which we have warned may not be compliant with our international obligations.

Asked to comment on ouster clauses and retrospective provisions in legislation, she declined to address these specifically, but noted there are areas of law which are beyond judicial oversight. She also explained that retrospective provisions always go before the law officers for advice, and that they are not something they approve lightly.

The Attorney General’s office and the government will seek to interrogate rigorously the policy justifications for any retrospectivity.

Coming up:

We will be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries:

Illegal Migration Bill: the Commons will consider the Lords amendments on 17 July.

Victims and Prisoners Bill will next go to report stage in the Commons, on a date still to be confirmed.

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill will start consideration of Lords amendments on a date yet to be confirmed.

National Security Act received royal Assent on 11 July.

Powers of Attorney Bill will have its third reading in the Lords, date to be confirmed.

Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill will have its report stage in the Commons, date to be confirmed.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will have its third reading at a date yet to be confirmed.

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