Westminster update: Illegal Migration Bill passes Commons despite united opposition

Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall
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What you need to know

1. Illegal Migration Bill passes Commons despite united opposition

While the Illegal Migration Bill secured sufficient votes to pass its remaining stage in the House of Commons on Wednesday (26 April), the vote count was tighter than might have been expected, at 289 to 230. This owed to all opposition parties unanimously voting ‘no’, and an absence of 67 Conservative MPs.

The report stage saw the government table an amendment which will allow it to ignore an interim measure from the European Court of Human Rights – a key demand from MPs on the right of the Conservative party, who have been campaigning for the UK to adhere less strictly to Strasbourg’s jurisprudence.

MPs on both sides of the House were concerned about the amendment, with Joanna Cherry, chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, stating that it “effectively introduces a presumption that the UK government will breach international law when interim measures are handed down by the court in Strasbourg”.

Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Cox said that the amendment was “in effect asking the House to give legislative sanction to at least the possibility that a minister of the Crown will deliberately disobey this country’s international law obligations”. He was joined by fellow Conservative MP David Simmonds, who said “it does seem to me concerning that the bill envisages that the only circumstances in which such an interim measure would be relevant is where the home secretary considers it to be so. The default position is that we will always ignore our international law commitments unless we choose to follow them”.

Members on both sides of the House were also disappointed by the government’s lack of serious consideration on how the bill might affect victims of modern slavery or people trafficking. Former prime minister Theresa May stated that the government’s provisions do not go nearly far enough in their support for victims.

Read our briefing for MPs

2. Economic Crime Bill: peers debate new regulatory objective

Peers debated amendments to the Economic Crime Bill relating to the new regulatory objective for legal services as the bill continued its committee stage in the House of Lords on Tuesday (25 April).

Crossbench peer Lord Etherton introduced two amendments on the definition of economic crime and the width of the objective, and highlighted the Law Society’s support for them.

Lord Etherton’s first amendment would have redrawn the list of offences that define economic crime, removing areas like theft, while adding others like fraud and breaching sanctions. Lord Etherton noted this was more in line with the government’s intention for the legislation. However, the government pushed back against this, with Lord Bellamy arguing it would introduce loopholes into the bill by reducing the scope of the definition.

Turning to his second amendment, Lord Etherton argued the provisions relating to the new regulatory objective are “far too wide”. He argued it is not confined to the conduct of a lawyer and would turn the regulator into a “general enforcer” of the law. Lord Etherton was also concerned about legal professional privilege, noting that the bill does not make clear that the proposed legislation on economic crime does not trump legal professional privilege where that applies.

Lord Bellamy highlighted the government’s support for protecting legal professional privilege and argued that limiting the scope to legal activity “would risk creating loopholes” so it is “appropriate” for a regulatory objective to be broadly drawn in the first instance, and it is for regulators to choose how they approach promoting those objectives in line the Legal Services Act.

Neither amendment was pushed to a vote. Amendments on Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) were also debated, but the government said it would bring forward legislation on SLAPPs at another time. The bill will continue its committee stage over the coming weeks.

3. Government to rethink Retained EU Law Bill

The Law Society has welcomed an apparent rethink by the government on the Retained EU Law Bill, saying the change of course will be good for business.

Media reports this week suggest that the government will publish a list of 800 pieces of retained EU law that it will remove from the UK statute book, far fewer than the 4,000 initially caught by the provisions of the bill.

Law Society of England and Wales vice president Nick Emmerson said: “We are relieved the government has listened to the Law Society and others who have called for a rethink of this legislation.

“While we wait to see which pieces of legislation will be set for removal, it is a positive step for business certainty that the government will provide much-needed clarity on the future of individual aspects of retained EU law. Government should publish the full, exhaustive list of every piece of legislation at risk without delay.

“The speed at which government had intended to complete this review was a recipe for bad law-making and, coupled with the bypassing of parliamentary scrutiny and stakeholder consultation, would have created a period of damaging uncertainty.”

4. Policing minister speaks at Law Society

The Policing Minister, Chris Philp, made a series of announcements aimed at freeing up police time in a speech delivered at the Law Society’s Hall on Chancery Lane on Thursday 13 April.

Speaking to an audience of senior police officers, Police and Crime Commissioners and policing groups such as the College of Policing, Police Federation and the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), the Minister announced reductions in reporting requirements for police officers, plans to avoid police officers having to respond to mental health emergencies, and a scheme to speed up cases and bring charges quicker

Coming up

The House of Commons joins the Lords in recess for the party conference season next week. The House of Lords will return on 11 October, while the Commons will return on 18 October.

When parliament returns, the Law Society will be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries.

Illegal Migration Bill

The bill will have its second reading in the Lords on 10 May. 

Retained EU Law Bill

The bill will have it report stage in the Lords on a date to be confirmed.

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill

The bill will continue its committee stage in the Lords on 9 May.  

National Security Bill

The bill will have its consideration of Lords amendments on 3 May.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

The bill will have its second reading in the Commons on a date to be confirmed. 

Powers of Attorney Bill

The bill will continue its committee stage in the House of Commons on 19 October.

Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill

The bill will begin its committee stage in the House of Commons on 10 May.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill

The bill will begin its committee stage in the House of Lords on 3 May.

If you made it this far...

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64% of surveyed lawyers said overall access to justice for civil and criminal matters has worsened over the past 10 years. Nearly two-thirds of all respondents cited the reduction in the areas covered by legal aid as amongst the biggest barriers to people accessing justice in England and Wales.

Read the survey results

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