Westminster update: government defeats remaining Lords amendments on 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: government defeats remaining Lords amendments

The Illegal Migration Bill is set to become law after the government defeated a second round of amendments from the House of Lords on Monday 17 July.

The unelected House did not push for a third round of amendments.

It became clear early in the second round of ping pong that peers would not be successful in their attempts to change parts of the bill when immigration minister Robert Jenrick opened the debate in the Commons by telling MPs there would be no more compromises from the government.

Following the debate, which went on into the early hours of Tuesday morning, peers conceded and the bill passed.

Later that morning, the United Nations (UN) released an unusual critical statement about the bill’s incompatibility with the rule of law and the UK’s international obligations.

Volker Turk, UN high commissioner for human rights, said the bill “sets a worrying precedent for dismantling asylum-related obligations that other countries, including in Europe, may be tempted to follow”.

Filippo Grandi, UN refugee head, said, “this new legislation significantly erodes the legal framework that has protected so many, exposing refugees to grave risks in breach of international law".

While we remain concerned about several of the bill’s provisions, and had pushed hard to amend several clauses, the Lords were successful in convincing the government to:

  • introduce new sections on legal aid, and
  • open up a government consultation into legal aid fees

2. Justice Select Committee: lord chancellor praises Law Society president

Alex Chalk, the lord chancellor, praised our president Lubna Shuja for the “brilliant work” she has done to foster opportunities for solicitors in India during an appearance before the Justice Select Committee on Tuesday 18 July.

The lord chancellor also acknowledged he would like to resolve the ongoing issues on implementation of the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid and would be meeting with Lubna to discuss it this week.

We had a positive meeting with the lord chancellor and hope to resolve the impasse around getting the funding the criminal legal aid system needs, without further intervention from the court following our judicial review application.

Conservative MP James Daly highlighted our projection that the number of duty solicitors is going to drop by over 600 by 2027 and asked why this was the case.

The lord chancellor said he was working to address the things under his control.

He pointed to increasing funding for criminal legal aid and highlighted his respect for criminal legal aid solicitors and barristers.

You can raise the duty solicitor projections with your MP using our quick tool.

MPs also raised the ongoing review of civil legal aid and asked whether it would be considering fee uplifts.

The lord chancellor noted that the review would look at the structure of fee schemes, rather than the levels themselves.

His ambition for the review was for civil legal aid work to be remunerative and the review would build evidence for the next government spending review.

3. Russia Sanctions Regulation: new restrictions on legal services debated

On Wednesday 19 July, the recently implemented regulations preventing English- and Welsh-qualified lawyers from giving advice on commercial activities involving Russian clients had debates in both Houses of Parliament.

The regulations, while admirable in their objective, have led to widespread concern from the Law Society and our members.

We have been working closely with the MoJ to share our concerns, calling for:

  • a general licence
  • further guidance
  • the amendment of the regulations

We are making steady progress and the debates this week reflect the government’s willingness to engage with us on this issue.

In the Commons, the minister for the FCDO Anne Marie Trevelyan (Conservative) was pressed by Sir Bob Neill (Conservative), Sir Chris Bryant (Labour) and Drew Hendry (SNP) to heed our advice and listen to the recommendations of the legal sector.

She took on board the points made in our briefing that there will be significant unintended consequences, resulting in a greater negative impact for UK business than Russian business.

She stressed that a general licence would be available in the "very near future" and noted that she was open to amending the regulations

Sir Bob pressed the minister to meet with us to discuss this further and she agreed with Sir Bob that a meeting would support the government to “make the scheme as effective as possible”.

There was a similar mood in the Lords, with cross-party peers referencing our briefing note.

Lord Purvis (Liberal Democrat) and Lord Collins (Labour) highlighted “that the issue is perhaps of a more substantial and complex need rather than requiring a sticking-plaster solution”.

In response, the government minister in the Lords, Lord Ahmed (Conservative) reiterated that:

"colleagues in the MoJ are working with the Law Society of England and Wales to organise round tables with leading sanctions lawyers, as well as holding confidential discussions directly with firms. The MoJ is engaged in regular dialogue with representative bodies, and this has allowed the government to identify key areas of concern.”

The Commons has now broken for recess, and the Lords session ends next Wednesday.

Despite the long parliamentary break for summer, we will be continuing to push both government and officials for progress on this issue.

Coming up

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

If you made it this far...

Get involved with our campaign to prevent the collapse of our criminal justice system.

We’re asking you to write to your MP using our quick and easy tool to help us protect the justice system.

The right to a solicitor when accused of a crime is something that should never be compromised. But since 2017, the number of duty solicitors providing representation at police stations has fallen by 1,446 (26%).

Our new research, highlighted by the BBC, shows that if this trend continues, a further 618 will disappear by 2027 (11%).

We want as many people as possible to write to their MP to highlight our research and to call on them to raise this issue in Parliament and with ministers.