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Westminster update: Lords adopt our Environment Bill recommendations
Your weekly update from our 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. Law Society recommendations on Environment Bill adopted by Lords
The House of Lords passed two amendments to the Environment Bill which we had called for during the report stage debate that took place on Wednesday 8 September.
Amendment 24 aimed to safeguard the independence of the new Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) in two ways:
- taking away the secretary of state’s sole authority to make appointments to the OEP by requiring them to obtain the consent of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Environmental Audit select committees for such appointments
- removing the secretary of state’s ability to issue guidance to the OEP on the exercise of its enforcement function
The amendment was introduced by Lord Krebs (Crossbench), who argued that “the OEP is not, in my view, sufficiently independent of Ministers for us to be confident that it will be able to do what it has been set up to do”.
Although the minister, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, claimed he was “confident that our current position will set the OEP up to be genuinely independent and effective”, the amendment was pushed to a vote and passed by 180 votes to 151.
Amendment 27 aimed to address our key concern regarding the remedies available to the court in environmental review cases.
The amendment sought to remove from the bill a presumption that the court should not provide a remedy if doing so would “(a) be likely to cause substantial hardship to, or substantially prejudice the rights of, any person other than the authority, or (b) be detrimental to good administration” – a presumption which Lord Anderson of Ipswich (Crossbench) described as “unique… in our law”.
The minister responded by arguing that judicial discretion would not be enough to ensure that third parties’ rights are protected in such cases.
However, on division the amendment was passed by 153 votes to 143.
Report stage continues next week, after which the amended bill will have its third reading before returning to the House of Commons for consideration of the Lords’ amendments.
2. Peers debate raising the judicial retirement age
Tuesday 7 September saw the Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill have its second reading in the House of Lords.
The bill will raise the mandatory retirement age of the judiciary from 70 to 75. It will also make a number of changes to public sector and judicial pensions following a series of legal cases and challenges.
We oppose the increase of the judicial retirement age to 75.
We would prefer to see the age increased to 72, an alternative option proposed in the government’s consultation.
We're concerned that raising the age to 75 will adversely affect judicial diversity, at a time when only limited progress is being made to increase the diversity of judges.
During the debate, Lord Etherton (Crossbench) and Baroness Kramer (Liberal Democrat) echoed our arguments and said that raising the retirement age to 75 could have serious consequences for diversity by keeping a less diverse cohort in place for longer.
Baroness Kramer added that the senior judiciary should reflect wider society and called on the government to make better efforts to consult more broadly, rather than speaking to the “usual suspects”.
Closing the debate, government whip Viscount Younger of Leckie noted the government is committed to increasing the diversity of the judiciary and acknowledged the change could potentially affect diversity.
However, he argued that by raising the mandatory retirement age, the judiciary may attract a diverse range of applicants later in their careers.
The bill will now move to its committee stage and we'll continue to engage with peers on the legislation.
3. Government questioned on return of asylum seekers
On Monday 6 September, Lord Liddle (Labour), a former special adviser on Europe to Tony Blair, asked an oral question in the House of Lords on EU bilateral agreements regarding return of asylum seekers.
The Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford responded for the government, saying discussions are ongoing with EU member states and third countries. She said it would be “inappropriate to disclose the nature of those talks”.
Lord Liddle followed up, arguing that such an answer indicated that very little progress has been made.
He went on to ask whether the absence of such agreements make “the government’s plan to legislate to make all unauthorised arrivals on UK shores illegal not only unjust and possibly in breach of our international legal obligations but completely unsustainable?”
The minister emphatically stated that “everything [the government is] doing complies with all our international obligations, including the refugee convention” and argued the finer points of article 31.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Labour) raised the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ comments on the new plan for immigration, and breach of the 1951 convention.
The minister did not address these comments beyond reiterating the belief that there was no breach of international obligations.
Parliament returned from the summer recess on Monday 6 September.
We'll be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries:
- Judicial Review and Courts Bill – introduced to the House of Commons on Wednesday 21 July, the date of its second reading is yet to be announced
- Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – second reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday 14 September. Read our briefing for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
- Environment Bill – began its report stage in the House of Lords on Monday 6 September, and this will continue on Monday 13 and Wednesday 15 September
- Professional Qualifications Bill – the date of the bill's House of Lords report stage is yet to be confirmed. Read our briefing on the Professional Qualifications Bill
- Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill – third reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday 14 September
- Building Safety Bill – continues its committee stage in the House of Commons on 14 September
- Nationality and Borders Bill – House of Commons second reading on Monday 19 and Tuesday 20 July. The date for its committee stage is yet to be confirmed. Read our briefing on the Nationality and Borders Bill
- Public Service Pension and Judicial Offices Bill – second reading on Tuesday 7 September. The date for its committee stage is yet to be confirmed
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