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Our early advice drop-in session at Parliament and Brexit

28 February 2018

On Tuesday 27 February 2018 we hosted parliamentarians at a drop-in event on our early advice campaign. Our campaign calls on the Government to provide legal aid for early advice in housing and family cases. 

The event was a great success, with 25 MPs and staff in attendance. Attendees included 5 members of the Justice Select Committee including the chair of the committee, Bob Neill MP, the Shadow Lord Chancellor, Richard Burgon MP, the former Conservative Party leader the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP, and prominent Labour MP David Lammy. You can write to your MP in support of our campaign.

The business for this week in Parliament includes the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which will continue its Committee Stage in the Lords on Monday and Wednesday, and there will be a Select Committee evidence session on the progress of the UK’s negotiations on EU withdrawal on Tuesday.

The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill began its Committee Stage in the Commons on Tuesday following its second reading in the Commons last Tuesday. In the House of Lords, there will be an EU Justice Committee oral evidence session on enforcement and dispute resolution following Brexit, and an oral question on rebuilding the lives of people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, tabled by Lord Goddard of Stockport. 

Last week saw the Government further outline its position on Brexit, with a speech from Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis MP on Tuesday, while the EU (Withdrawal) Bill had its first of ten days of Committee Stage in the House of Lords on Wednesday.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee held a session on Wednesday on the Private Rented Sector, focusing on tenant’s rights and Karen Buck MP’s Private Members Bill, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill.

This week in Parliament

Monday 26 February

House of Commons

  • Home Office Questions

House of Lords

  • Committee Stage (Day 2) – European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Tuesday 27 February

House of Commons

  • Committee Stage – Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [Lords]
  • Oral Evidence Session – Exiting the European Union Select Committee on the progress of the UK’s negotiations on EU withdrawal
  • Oral Evidence Session – Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Global Britain

House of Lords

  • Oral Evidence Session - EU Justice Sub-Committee inquiry on Brexit: enforcement and dispute resolution
  • Oral Question – Rebuilding the lives of people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire (Lord Goddard of Stockport)

Wednesday 28 February

House of Lords

  • Committee Stage (Day 3) – European Union (Withdrawal) Bill


Last week in Parliament

Tuesday 20 February

House of Commons

Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [Lords] Second Reading

The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill was debated at Second Reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday 20 February. The first day of Committee Stage will be held on Tuesday 27 February. The Law Society briefed a number of MPs before Second Reading.

Closing the debate for the Government yesterday, Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan MP outlined several key principles in the legislation:

  • Delegated powers: The Bill does not change the existing approach where ministers implement sanctions and anti-money laundering regulations by using delegated powers through secondary legislation. Duncan added that future parliaments would have even greater oversight of sanctions, with votes needed in both Houses when the UK acts outside the requirements of the UN.
  • Creating criminal offences: Referencing the concerns of Alison Thewliss MP (SNP) and others, Sir Alan said he was confident these would be addressed before Report Stage and that the Government was working on amendments they hoped would be accepted by both MPs and peers. He added that the Government had been talking to Lord Judge, and that his peer colleagues did not disagree that breaches of sanctions should be criminal offences.
  • Procedure: Duncan said the Government believed it had the right balance of affirmative and negative resolutions. Regulations that implement UN regimes will be made under the negative procedure; regulations that do not implement UN sanctions regimes will be made under the made-affirmative procedure. ​

Other key points from the debate included:

  • Beneficial ownership: Duncan reiterated that the Government hoped to work with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and other partners to establish registers of beneficial ownership as a global standard, so companies or people could not simply shift from one regime to another and hide their assets. He added that the Government would work consensually with overseas territories on this issue rather than imposing legislation, and that territories with significant financial centres had each committed to holding central or equivalent registers of company beneficial ownership and to making information held on those registers available to UK law enforcement and tax authorities.
  • Magnitsky clauses: Shadow Foreign Office Minister Helen Goodman MP (Labour) said the Opposition would be tabling a clause that would enable sanctions to be made in order to prevent or respond to gross human rights violations around the world, and that such provisions had already been adopted in the US and Canada. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson MP responded that this measure was already in the Bill given clause 1(2) made it clear that sanctions can be imposed to promote human rights. Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell also spoke in favour of such an amendment, explaining that the Magnitsky Act passed in the US in 2012, freezes the assets and bans the visas of human rights violators from around the world. Mitchell pointed out that every person on the US State Department’s Magnitsky list of human rights abusers, was currently freely able to travel to the UK.
  • Tax avoidance and evasion:Labour MPs Bambos Charalambous, Alex Norris and Dame Margaret Hodge made references to the role of the overseas territories as alleged ‘tax havens.’ Dr Rupa Huq MP (Labour) said that while the principle of the Bill was good, it did not go far enough, adding: ‘The Paradise papers and Panama papers shone a light on a murky world of international finance and taxation working for the benefit of those with access to vast wealth and an army of lawyers - for the few, not the many - when ordinary citizens just want a fair and transparent financial system.’

House of Lords

Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill Second Reading

The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday 20 February. The Bill has already passed through the House of Commons.

In introducing the Bill, Lords Transport Spokesperson Baroness Sugg said that:

    • the technology forms an ‘important part of the ‘future of mobility’ grand challenge’ set out in the Government’s Industrial Strategy white paper.
    • the framework will place a first-instance liability on insurers so that they can pay out to victims and, where they can, recover costs from the liable party.
    • she accepted that there were ethical challenges associated with this technology.
  • Product liability and lawyers: Lord Campbell-Savours (Labour) raised concerns over product liability, saying the current approach to liability as set out in the Bill will ‘turn into a legal nightmare’ and called it a ‘lawyer’s dream, with different legal jurisdictions internationally drawing up different protocols, law, appeal arrangements and perhaps even immunities.’
    • He particularly noted Clause 3(2) which states: “The insurer or owner of an automated vehicle is not liable under section 2 to the person in charge of the vehicle where the accident that it caused was wholly due to the person’s negligence in allowing the vehicle to begin driving itself when it was not appropriate to do so”. He said the phrasing is expansive and lawyers will profit.
    • He also noted Clause 2(2)(d) which states that: “Where … an accident is caused by an automated vehicle when driving itself” … and, “a person suffers damage as a result of the accident”. He questioned whether it was made clear which car’s insurer will be liable for the damage.
    • On duty, he said lawyers will argue that in the case of the driverless car, the software manufacturer, or the vehicle manufacturer, stands in the front line of responsibility in both accidental damage, injury and perhaps ‘the unimaginable circumstance’ of the Road Traffic Act’s penalty fine payments.
  • Definitions: The Earl of Selborne (Conservative) said the ‘lack of adequate definitions in the Bill seems to be a hostage to fortune so far as legal fees are concerned’. He said the Bill does not make clear exactly what a driverless car is. He noted that different iterations of autonomous car (levels 3-5, as outlined by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) might meet the definition of a car which in certain situations is capable of safely driving itself, although he noted we are some years off level 5 cars. He called on these issues to be rectified at Committee Stage.
  • In response to the debate, Baroness Sugg noted:
    • Regulation: The Law Commission is undertaking a three-year programme to review the regulatory framework for road-based automated vehicles with a view to enable their safe deployment. Its task is to provide recommendations for a legal framework which can remain effective in the face of vehicles that may no longer require a human driver, and its work will be part of a national conversation on this important ​future technology. It will also look at areas such as civil and criminal liability frameworks as they apply in the context of automated vehicles, product liability, sellers’ liability, the law of negligence and criminal sanctions et cetera.
    • Definitions: She will discuss the ‘complex legal arguments’ relating to definitions ahead of Committee Stage with Lord Campbell-Savours, Lord Selbourne and Lord Borwick(Conservative).

Wednesday 21 February

House of Commons

Westminster Hall Debate on Alternatives to a no-deal outcome in negotiations with the EU

On Wednesday, Antoinette Sandbach MP (Conservative), held a Westminster Hall debate on alternatives to a no deal Brexit.

Sandbach focused her speech on the concerns around trading with the EU on world trade organisations (WTO) terms. She specifically mentioned “service industries such as legal services” and noted that a failure to strike a deal could cost us about 75,000 jobs and £10 billion in tax revenue.

She suggested that re-joining the European Economic Area/European Free Trade Association would be preserve the UK’s prosperity and provide an answer to many of the questions that ministers are looking at. In response to the debate, Minister for Exiting the EU, Suella Fernandes MP said:

  • Alternatives, such as EFTA and the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement, are not outcomes that the UK is pursuing. She reiterated that the UK is looking for an ambitious economic partnership
  • She said this relationship will be underpinned by high standards and a practical approach to regulation, that ensures continued trade and prosperity between the UK and the EU, based on mutual recognition.
  • The Minister outlined four reasons that the UK Government will not seek membership of the EFTA agreement:
    1. Decision making - Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein effectively participate in the EU single market by virtue of the EEA agreement. That would not deliver more direct control over decisions affecting the UK, nor would it deliver control over migration, which is a key aspect of our leaving the EU.
    1. Free trade agreements -The UK’s global trading nation goes beyond the scope of EFTA’s existing free trade agreements with third countries. EFTA’s FTAs are not suited to the size and type of the economy in Britain.
    1. Free movement - Membership of EFTA means accepting free movement between EFTA member countries, as the EFTA convention provides for free movement of EFTA nationals. 
    1. Change the membership of EFTA - The UK’s participation in EFTA would fundamentally change the nature of that group. The EFTA states have a combined population of 14 million people, compared with our population of 65 million. The EFTA bloc’s combined GDP in 2015 was around £710 billion, in comparison with the UK’s £1.9 trillion.

Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee session on the Private Rented Sector

On Wednesday the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee took oral evidence on two separate inquiries regarding the private rented sector and the Draft Fees Tenants Bill. This was the fourth evidence session as part of separate inquiries into the private rented sector and the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Tenant Fees Bill. The witnesses for the session were:

  • First session witnesses - Andy Fisher, Head of Housing, Health and Communities, Boston Borough Council; Councillor Robert Lawton, Cabinet Member for Housing, Bournemouth Borough Council; Councillor Clare Salier, Cabinet Member for Housing, London Borough of Wandsworth.
  • Second session witnesses were - Melanie Rees, Head of Policy, Chartered Institute of Housing; Tamara Sandoul; Policy Manager, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health; Alison Farrar, Lead Officer, Chartered Trading Standards Institute.

Highlights from the session include:

  • Legal aid and Karen Buck’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill - In response to a question from Liz Twist MP (Labour) on how the Bill could be improved from the point of view of local authorities, Andy Fisher welcomed the Bill but was concerned about the ability, advice, advocacy and support that will be available for tenants to actually seek redress themselves. He said in his experience, there are not ‘going to be flocks of tenants in a position to secure the independent legal advice’ to bring claims and cases.
  • Melanie Rees said the Chartered Institute of Housing also welcomed the Bill and said broadening landlords’ responsibilities to include structural defects as well the general state of repair is important. She went on to say that many councils are stretched, it ‘gives some tenants a faster option, while bearing in mind that access to legal representation is difficult, with limits on legal aid.’
  • Reporting landlords –Cllr Lawton said that vulnerable people will not report landlords to report conditions in which they are renting and said they may suffer the consequences, such as eviction, noting that it is difficult for them to gain legal advice. Cllr Salier echoed this concern and added that vulnerable tenants often do not realise that they can contact the council and raise concerns.

House of Lords

First day of Committee Stage in the Lords of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill

On Wednesday, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill had its first day of Committee Stage in the Lords. In this session the Lords considered clause 1, which repeals the European Communities Act.

The Law Society has been working with the Bar Council to table an amendment to clause 6 of the Bill on jurisdiction of CJEU following Brexit. As a similar amendment has been tabled by Lord Foulkes (Labour), we are now supporting this amendment and have asked former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge (Crossbencher) to speak on our areas of concern.

We have also been working with Shadow Opposition Brexit Spokesperson, Baroness Hayter (Labour). We have briefed her on two amendments on mutual recognition of qualifications and insolvency law. We have also asked her table to probing amendments on mutual recognition of judgments and rights of audience at EU courts. Although these amendments will not go to a vote, if tabled they will be an opportunity to hear the Government’s view on these issues.

Key points – day 1

  • The Bill progresses unamended after all amendments covered were either withdrawn or not moved.
  • Peers spent a significant proportion of time debating continued membership of the Single Market and Customs Union, and while there was cross-party support for this, there were also a number of peers who spoke out against such amendments as going against the result of the referendum and the Conservative manifesto.
  • Peers are grouping amendments by theme but did not finish discussing Clause 1 in this session. This clause is one of the least controversial clauses in the Bill, so Peers can be expected to spend a significant amount of time scrutinising the more controversial clauses.

Main issues discussed in day 1

  • Single Market and Customs Union: Peers covered off various packages of amendments that related to membership of the Single Market and Customs Union, including amendments that would require the Government to have negotiating objectives to ensure continued participation in the Single Market and Customs Union, amendments that would require the Government to report on the economic impact of withdrawal and that would prevent the UK diverging from the frameworks that underpin the Single Market and Customs Union. Responding on behalf of the Government, Lord Callanan said that this debate is not relevant to the Bill. On forcing continued membership of the EU or Customs Union, Callanan said that this is not something unilaterally that the UK could do even if it was minded to do so, and on mandating the Government to take a particular negotiating position, Callanan said that this would undermine the essential certainty that the Bill is required to create as they raise both constitutional and practical questions. On publishing various reports, he said that the Government would publish appropriate analysis when Parliament votes on the final deal, but that the reports and timetables suggested were arbitrary. The lead amendment was subsequently withdrawn by Lord Wigley (Plaid Cymru).
  • EEA membership: Peers also covered amendments related to EEA membership. On that point specifically, Callanan said that the Government’s position remains that Article 127 does not need to be triggered for the agreement to cease to have effect, and that the Government will not publish its legal advice on this.
  • Exit day: Lord Adonis (Labour) spoke to his amendments on the exit day specified in the Bill, saying that these were probing amendments, but that he hoped to start a debate in Committee and into Report Stage on whether this is the appropriate piece of legislation for setting the date of departure. Responding, Callanan said that Clause 14, which allows Ministers to alter the exit day, can only be used if the Article 50 period is to be extended – it cannot be used to prevent the UK leaving the EU. He added that the Government does not expect to use this power, but that specifying the exit day in this Bill is the right thing to do to provide certainty to businesses and individuals. He also gave assurance that any change of date would be subject to the affirmative procedure and that the normal timescale for this would apply. Lord Adonis subsequently withdrew his amendments.
  • Legislative consent motions: Lord Foulkes (Labour) spoke to his amendment 5 that would require legislative consent to be obtained from the Devolved Administrations before the European Communities Act can be repealed. Responding, Callanan said that it remains the Government’s priority to make a positive consent in favour of legislative consent from the Scottish and Welsh Governments, but that it is not right for one part of the UK to hold a veto over the decision taken in the referendum by the whole of the UK. He added that the Government will table amendments to Clause 11 before the Lords consider this in Committee. Lord Foulkes withdrew his amendment, but Peers will return to the issue of devolution when they debate Clause 11 of the Bill.

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