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Westminster update: Private International Law Bill passes Commons second reading

Your weekly update from our public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.

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Five things you need to know

1. Private International Law Bill passes Commons second reading

Last Wednesday, the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons. We were mentioned twice by Sir Bob Neill MP, the chair of the Justice Select Committee.

Neill argued that acceding to the Lugano Convention would be a step forward. He acknowledged there was debate in the Lords on sequencing of Lugano and the Hague 2019 Convention, but said that he was “persuaded by the evidence that we have heard over the years and the arguments made by the Law Society of England and Wales…that the more important thing is not to have any gap in the recognition and enforcement of judgments and recognition of international public clauses.” He went on to say that this is why “the Law Society favours pressing ahead with entry to Lugano as soon as we can” and restating his agreement.

Neill asked lord chancellor Robert Buckland MP for assurances that the government regard Lugano as one of their highest priorities in ongoing negotiations.

Buckland responded that the government place “a very high premium upon the importance of accession to Lugano” and that he personally has engaged in “direct discussions with counterparts at the Commission and other member states of the EU.”

Conservative, Labour and the SNP spokespeople all supported the importance of civil-judicial co-operation and the implementation of the 1996, 2005 and 2007 Hague Conventions via the Bill.

In response to a question from Neill, Buckland spoke to the importance of having a workaround for the ‘Italian torpedo’ (a delaying tactic used to prevent swift resolution of disputes via issuing proceedings in a jurisdiction that will not accept control) and said accession to Lugano would be the beginning of the co-operation necessary for this.

The Bill will now be examined in Committee, with dates not yet set. Officials have suggested that the Bill may be considered in Committee of the Whole House (so all MPs can speak rather than a smaller group forming a bill committee) rather than through public bill committee. If this approach is taken the Bill would not have a report stage and could receive royal assent very soon after this the committee stage takes place.

Read the debate

Read our briefing

2. Urgent question on channel crossings

Last Tuesday, immigration and courts minister Chris Philp MP made a statement on channel crossings in small boats as a response to an urgent question put by shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds MP.

Dehenna Davison MP (Conservative) asked the minister whether he believes “the Home Office’s efforts to facilitate legitimate and legal returns of illegal migrants are too often being frustrated by activist lawyers putting in last-minute challenges, happy to see taxpayers’ money wasted in such a manner.” This echoes language used in a Home Office video published last week, which was swiftly removed from public access after widespread critique spearheaded by us.

In response, Philp said that a planned deportation flight was cancelled last week “as a result of the lodging of a large number of last-minute claims, which left no time for them to be properly considered prior to the flight.” He went on to say that “it is likely that many of those claims were intentionally lodged at the last minute,” seemingly implying the claims were vexatious in nature.

Alan Brown MP (SNP) referred to the video, saying that “that Trumpian language like that and other comments in the Chamber today risk stoking further divisions and tensions.” He asked whether the minister would “apologise for demonising both asylum seekers and lawyers acting on their behalf in saying that they were trying to “undermine” the rule of law.”

Philp did not fully engage with the question, saying only that “there are loopholes in our legal system at the moment that are frequently exploited, and this Government are determined to close them.”

Margaret Ferrier MP (SNP) asked the minister to join her in "paying tribute to human rights and migration lawyers, who do an essential job in upholding the rule of law and preventing the Home Office from breaking its international obligations under human rights and refugee conventions.”

In response, Philp said that he did not believe that the Home Office breaches its human rights obligations. He argued that the department “suffer[s] rom a large number of very late legal challenges—often repeated legal challenges, brought sequentially on ever shifting grounds—and we are working as hard as we possibly can to make sure that our laws are properly and fairly applied."

Read the transcript

3. International trade questions

Last Thursday, international trade secretary Liz Truss MP and ministers in her department answered questions from MPs.

In answer to a question on her engagement with business, Truss said that last week she had announced the creation of 11 new trade advisory groups to “ensure that trade benefits the whole of the UK.” One of these covers professional advisory services. She went on to announce that the Department for International Trade (DIT) will shortly be announce other new trade advisory groups, as well as “groups consulting civil society and the trade unions.” She did not give a date for this, but said that people “will not have to wait much longer.”

In answer to a question on exporters and pandemic recovery, export minister Graham Stuart MP said DIT is “working closely with business to develop a new export strategy, deliver bounce-back plans for key sectors, sign free trade agreements with countries covering 80% of our trade, strengthen our regional teams to level up exporting success and challenge market access barriers whenever and wherever in the world they are found.”

On UK-Japan, Stuart said the negotiating teams had reached “consensus on the major elements” and that the UK is “optimistic about reaching an agreement in the coming weeks,” with both sides being committed to a deal coming into force by the end of the year.

On trade agreements other than with the government’s key targets (the US, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand), Jayawardena said government will “weigh up a multitude of considerations and…will be looking closely at the progress…on market access improvements in the months ahead.” He went on to say that productive discussions had already been had with India, the Gulf Co-operation Council, and Mercosur, and that regular ministerial discussions on trade were being held with Brazil.

Read the transcript

4. Lords discuss UK-EU negotiations and services

Last Wednesday, an oral question was asked in the Lords, enquiring as to what progress has been made on a UK-EU trade deal in respect of non-financial services.

Cabinet Office minister Lord True said that in some areas the EU has been “unable to match our ambition” and that UK negotiators have agreed to use the EU’s services proposal as the starting point for a text-based negotiation.

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Baroness Ludford observed that services represents over 80% of the UK economy and 30 million jobs, as well as nearly half of UK exports with a trade surplus with the EU. She said that lawyers, and other services professions, depend on the ability to move freely to work, and asked “what real hope can the Government, who are rejoicing in ending free movement, genuinely offer these professionals regarding their ability to continue to earn a living from the mobility of working in the EU?”

Lord True responded that the people of the UK voted to leave the single market, and that the government had tabled proposals in some of the areas Baroness Ludford referred to.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Conservative) observed that the withdrawal agreement does not protect the rights of representation of UK trademark and design professionals in the European Union Intellectual Property Office, while it does protect the rights of EEA professionals to work in the UK for an extended period. She asked what plans government had to make these arrangements reciprocal.

Lord True answered that “the Government are committed to protecting IP to a very high level and are proposing a chapter in the free trade agreement based on precedence to reflect this.”

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Labour) asked about the impact of any adequacy agreement on personal data if a future trade deal with the US includes Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act. Lord True said he would write in response.

Read the transcript

5. Lord chancellor gives statement on judicial review panel

Last Tuesday, the lord chancellor delivered a written statement to Parliament on the establishment of an Independent Review of Administrative Law to “provide the government with expert advice on potential reform of judicial review.”

He stated that the panel would be tasked with addressing four key issues:

  • whether judicial review should be codified in law
  • whether certain executive decisions should be made non-justiciable
  • which grounds and remedies should be available in justiciable claims
  • procedural reforms to judicial review, such as around timings, appeals and ‘standing’

He stated that the panel would report to the government later this year, and the government’s response – including any proposals for legislative reform – would be considered by both the lord chancellor and the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

The lord chancellor finished by outlining the members of the panel:

  • Lord Faulks QC (chair)
  • Professor Carol Harlow QC
  • Vikram Sachdeva QC
  • Professor Alan Page
  • Celina Colquhoun
  • Nick McBride

Read the statement in full

Coming up this week

The Commons Home Affairs committee will receive oral evidence on channel crossings, migration and asylum-seeking routes, and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee will hear from chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove MP.

In the Lords, the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill will have its third sitting of committee stage, and the Trade Bill will receive its second reading.

If you made it this far

Read our press release in response to a video posted on the Home Office twitter feed criticising "activist lawyers", which was subsequently taken down.

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