Westminster update: Law Society gives evidence to Lords EU Services Sub-Committee

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1. Law Society head of international gives evidence to Lords EU Services Sub-Committee

Last Thursday, our head of international, Mickael Laurans, appeared before the Lords EU Services Sub-Committee, giving evidence as part of their short inquiry into future UK-EU relations: trade in services.

In his opening statement, Mickael said the areas of greatest concern for the legal services sector were reservations, mobility, MRPQ and lack of civil judicial co-operation measures, and that this state of affairs reflected a significant step down from access and co-operation before the end of transition. He observed, however, that businesses were pleased and relieved there is an agreement considering the alterative, and that we appreciate the focus on legal services.

Lord Sharkey (Liberal Democrat) asked about national reservations and the practical impact of these, and whether there were any individual reservations that were particularly relevant.

Mickael said that they represent largely what is expected/fair for the TCA, but that some states have not permitted UK lawyers to practice or establish.

He picked on the example of Germany and FIFO as a positive development, saying this is explicitly permitted rather than quietly tolerated as is the norm. He reiterated that this is still a significant step down from the single market, losing access to the two Lawyers Directives and the MRPQ Directive.

Baroness Couttie (Conservative) asked about recognition of qualifications, and the practical likelihood of measures being implemented.

Mickael said for legal services said the agreement reflects the Canadian model, and three years after the EU-Canada deal had been struck there has been no MRPQ agreement between professional bodies, so he is not optimistic about the likelihood of profession-to-profession deals being made in the short-term. He said recognition of professional qualifications is vital to EU law-heavy practice areas because of LPP and rights of audience.

There are currently two routes to qualification for UK lawyers, besides lawyers having to go back to university. Mickael observed the government tried to move away from the Canada model in negotiations, but that the EU was not receptive. Tickel added that Footnote 23 of the agreement says that the MRPQ model can be superseded by another UK-EU agreement.

Lord Bruce asked about remote communications and legal services. Mickael said that our members are fortunate in that what they advise on – the law of England and Wales – is a choice governing law of contract. He said there are some areas in the EU that UK lawyers will not be able to reach via establishment or FIFO, but that there is a growing trend of remote advice due to the pandemic.

He observed that large international firms have been able to adapt better to national reservations, but that this has required restructuring and requalification. He revealed that the subject of most queries addressed from members to us is mobility.

Watch the Lords EU Services Sub-Committee session

2. Lords consider Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

Last Tuesday, the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill had its first day of committee stage in the House of Lords. We briefed peers ahead of the debate, highlighting our concerns regarding safeguards on the use of Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) and polygraph testing.

Lord Thomas of Gresford (Liberal Democrat) and the shadow attorney general Lord Falconer of Thoroton expressed concerns regarding the use of polygraph testing.

Lord Falconer asked what advice the government has sought from police forces in England and Wales regarding these provisions, and questioned whether police forces would be confident in using polygraphs.

Lord Thomas questioned why the government is not planning a pilot scheme for the introduction of polygraph testing, as they are currently doing through the Domestic Abuse Bill.

In response, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (justice minister) argued there is no need for a pilot scheme, as polygraphs are already in use in connection with sexual offences. He also noted that police forces are already using polygraphs in these cases.

The key clauses of interest to us were not covered during this debate, and will instead be covered in a future committee stage sitting.

Read the transcript of the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill debate

3. Environment Bill begins report stage in the Commons

Last Tuesday, the House of Commons held the first day of report stage for the Environment Bill. Ahead of the debate we briefed MPs on our key concerns, chiefly relating to the independence of the proposed Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) and its enforcement powers.

Several MPs reflected concerns raised by us regarding clause 24 of the Bill, which would threaten the OEP’s independence by allowing the government to provide guidance on how it should exercise its enforcement function, and called for it to be removed from the Bill.

Responding for the government, Rebecca Pow (environment, food and rural affairs minister) argued that the clause provides an important power to the secretary of state to address ambiguities in the OEP’s enforcement function. Amendment 23, which aimed to remove clause 24 from the Bill, was ultimately defeated.

Tim Farron (Liberal Democrat) also raised concerns that the Bill does not empower the OEP to impose fines on public authorities, as was the case under the European Commission. This reflected concerns raised by us regarding the need for the OEP to have proper enforcement powers.

Before the debate, the government moved a carry-over motion which will allow the Bill to continue its passage through to the next session of Parliament, expected to begin in May. The next stage of the debate will be the second day of report stage and third reading, before it proceeds to the House of Lords.

Read the transcript of the Environment Bill debate

4. Law Society mentioned during Domestic Abuse Bill committee stage

Last Wednesday, the Domestic Abuse Bill had its second day of Committee Stage in the House of Lords.

Baroness Meacher (cross-bench) referenced our briefing in relation to the importance of access to long-term support for victims of domestic abuse.

The third day of committee stage is due to take place on Monday 1 February.

Read the Domestic Abuse Bill transcript

5. New parliamentary group holds first evidence session on trade governance

Last Tuesday, the new Trade and Export Promotion All Party Parliamentary Group, chaired by Gary Sambrook MP (Conservative), held its first evidence session, with an appearance from trade minister Ranil Jayawardena MP.

Sambrook said the intention of the session was to look at trade governance, and Lord Waverly added that further sessions would focus on trade finance and trade promotion. Attendees included parliamentarians, trade bodies, chambers of commerce, consumer bodies, ambassadors, and high commissioners and businesses.

Jayawardena spoke about how trade has been vital to Britain for the duration of its existence, and that the government’s intention was to make sure that UK trade is not just "fit for purpose, but truly world class" and that the first step in achieving this is to reform trade governance.

He noted that in the last two years 63 deals have been negotiated with different countries (and with the EU), covering £900 billion of trade. He said that the Strategic Trade Advisory Group (STAG) has been revived as part of the government’s engagement work. This is accompanied by seven Trade Advisory Groups (TAGs) which will support this endeavour.

Baroness Mobarik (Conservative) asked about inclusivity, and how it can be ensured that benefits of trade deals are felt by all, including industries that are often ‘left out.’ The minister said national consultations have served well in the past, and that he will be looking to use these again, and that he is hopeful that the TAGs will also be important.

The Trade Union Congress asked about human rights commitments in trade agreements, and what is done when partners did not uphold these commitments. She referenced Columbia and said the clauses on labour standards and human rights in the UK-Andean agreement was not being upheld.

The minister pointed to the work of the Trade Union Advisory Group. He said UK trade should not come at the expense of our values, and that the DIT works with the FCDO on rights.

Coming up next week

On Monday, cladding and building safety will be discussed for the Opposition Day debate. The Petitions Committee will hold an e-petition session on stamp duty land tax relief during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Justice and attorney general questions will take place on Tuesday and Thursday respectively.

In the Lords, the Domestic Abuse Bill will continue in committee stage on Monday and Thursday. The National Security and Investment Bill will have its second reading on Thursday. The EU Services Sub-Committee will hear evidence on Future UK-EU relations - trade in services.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights will hold an oral evidence session on the government's Independent Human Rights Act review on Wednesday.

View all upcoming parliamentary business

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