Westminster weekly: Lord Chancellor gives statement

Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.

Palace of Westminster

One thing you need to do

This week the Law Society has called on the Government to take urgent action to prevent EU citizens being stripped of essential rights on 30 June. Read our thoughts on the UK's settlement scheme for EU citizens.

Five things you need to know

1. Lord Chancellor gives statement on the rape review

On Monday 21 June, the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, gave an oral statement to the House of Commons on the end-to-end rape review published by the Government last week. The Lord Chancellor began by noting the extensive decline in prosecutions of rape cases and that the review had been commissioned to address this in 2019. 

The review will introduce joint decision making guidance for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and police to encourage a culture change. Further training on trauma will be developed, with a framework for a new operating model that can be adopted by the police to be introduced in the next 24 months.

Additionally, the Government will improve the speed at which victims' phones are examined and ensure temporary replacements are available. The Government will publish progress updates, including scorecards on victim engagement, every six months. Its key target is to achieve 2016 levels of rape cases reaching court by the end of this Parliament. 

Responding on behalf of Labour, the Shadow Lord Chancellor, David Lammy, called for more funding to support victims and for the Government’s target to be met within the year, instead of by the end of this Parliament.

The Law Society welcomed commitments within the rape review that improvements to the system would not come at the expense of a fair trial for defendants but noted that extra funding must be made available to the justice system alongside it.

Read the statement

Read the Law Society’s response to the review

2. Opposition hold debate on planning reforms

On Monday 21 June, Labour held an opposition day debate on local involvement in planning decisions. Steve Reed, the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, opened the debate by criticising the Government’s proposals for reforming the planning system, as set out in a recent white paper.

He said, “under the Conservatives’ proposals, planning decisions will be taken away from democratically elected local councils and handed to development boards appointed by Ministers in Whitehall”. In addition, he argued that under the new plans, residents living in areas zoned for growth would not have the right to object to individual planning applications.

Christopher Pincher, the Minister for Housing, responded by saying the planning reforms will address the failings of the English planning system, which “was conceived almost three quarters of a century ago and which many accept is now too slow, too difficult to navigate and too off-putting for the broad mass of communities”.

He argued the proposals would make the system quicker, easier to understand and more transparent and would help tackle the current housing crisis.  He also argued that the new system would give communities a “clearer voice when it can make a real difference in the planning process” and criticised the limited engagement of local populations under the current planning system.

During the debate, Helen Hayes, Darren Jones and Ruth Cadbury (all Labour) all echoed the Law Society’s calls for any planning reforms to be net zero compatible.

Read the transcript

3. MPs debate the CPTPP as negotiations open

On Thursday 24 June, MPs debated the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Formal accession negotiations with the trading bloc (made up of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam) began on Tuesday 22 June.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said that the “CPTPP enables us to have much deeper trading relationships, particularly in areas of UK strength such as digital, data and services.” She went on to say that it would help cement the UK’s status as a centre for services and digital, as more trade shifts to the Asia and Pacific regions.

Chair of the International Trade Committee Angus MacNeill raised the issue of patent attorneys and the European patent convention (EPC). He argued that if CPTPP accession were to damage UK patent attorneys’ ability to access the EPC (as some have predicted would happen), then “it would just about negate everything from the CPTPP.”

Speaking for the opposition, Shadow International Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry called into question the difficulty of negotiations when the CPTPP is essentially a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ deal.

Read the Law Society’s evidence on CPTPP to the Lords International Agreements Committee (PDF 96 KB)

4. Environment bill begins Lords committee stage

This week the Environment bill had the first and second sittings of its House of Lords committee stage on Monday 21 June and Wednesday 23 June.

The Law Society’s concerns with the bill focus on two issues: the need for the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) to be fully independent of the Government and the need for the OEP to have adequate enforcement powers.

On Monday, the Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith said the Bill would enable the OEP to “undertake enforcement action against a public body’s breach of an environmental law that protects the natural environment”.

On Wednesday, peers debated an amendment which would have required the Secretary of State to seek advice from the OEP on whom to consult before setting environmental targets. Baroness Parminter (Liberal Democrat) argued the amendment would prevent the Government from having “undue discretion” to decide who they should seek advice from. Goldsmith responded by noting the concern that it could be difficult for the OEP “to act impartially when investigating complaints regarding target-setting if the OEP advised on the experts used to set those targets”.

The amendment was ultimately not moved.

Read the transcript for Monday

Read the transcript for Wednesday 

5. Professional Qualifications Bill continues in Committee

On Tuesday 22 June the Professional Qualifications bill continued its House of Lords committee stage.

Baroness Hayter, Deputy Leader of the Labour Lords, criticised the speed at which the legislation was drafted and claimed it was having to be corrected or quickly revised to add recognised supervisory bodies. She quoted the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (an organisation now included on the face of the Bill, when previously it had not been):

“[I]t feels like government seem to be rushing through this legislation without having thought through the detail of the Bill and its consequences, and parliamentarians are now having to try and fix this. For the list of regulators and professions affected by this Bill to have changed so substantially while the legislation is being scrutinised … does not help give certainty on such an important and wide-ranging legislative measure.”

She noted that the list of regulators includes the Law Society, despite the SRA being an established legal entity. The SRA have said they would support being named on the face of the bill.

Read the Law Society’s briefing on the bill

Coming up 

The Law Society will be working closely with MPs and peers and contributing to a number of upcoming bills, debates and inquiries in Parliament. In the coming weeks we will be focusing on the following:

The Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill: The bill has just completed its House of Commons committee stage and will be having its report stage on 5 July. We will be briefing key MPs ahead of the next debate and we have submitted written evidence to the Public Bill Committee.

Read our briefing for the bill's committee stage

Environment Bill: The next sitting of the bill’s House of Lords committee stage will take place on Monday 28 June. The Law Society has briefed peers on our key concerns with the bill.

Professional Qualifications Bill: The next stage of the bill will be its House of Lords report stage, the date of which is has not yet been confirmed. 

Read our briefing on the bill

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill: The Law Society will be preparing briefs for the House of Lords report stage, the date of which is yet to be confirmed, and is working with peers to bring forward amendments.

Inquiries: The Law Society will be submitting written evidence the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry into co-habiting couples by the deadline of 4 July.  

The Law Society will also be briefing MPs participating in the upcoming Justice and Attorney General oral questions which are taking place on Tuesday 29 June and Thursday 1 July respectively.

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