Westminster Update – 16th March

Round-up of events in UK Parliament for week commencing 10th March

Anti-Social Behaviour Bill

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill returned to the House of Lords on Tuesday 11 March for consideration of Commons’ amendments, where their Lordships discussed compensation for miscarriages of justice. Lord Pannick (Crossbench), sought to reinstate an amendment, rejected by the Commons, to adjust the requirements, awarding compensation in cases where evidence ‘is so undermined that no conviction should be based on it’. It was taken to a vote with members voting 214 in favour and 253 against.

The Bill has now completed its passage through Parliament and is expected to receive royal assent and become law on Thursday 20 March.

Wind Turbines in the South West

One of our earliest posts concerned problems in Devon associated with the church’s proposed installation of small wind turbines in three parishes; insensitive handling of local consultations by the church played into the hands of a strong anti-turbine lobby, and the Diocese was forced to withdraw its plans.

On 12 March 2014, Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con) secured a Westminster Hall debate on Planning Policy and Wind Turbines (South-West) in which the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Kris Hopkins) stated

“We are determined to give communities a greater say over the proposals that affect them. On 17 December [2013], the planning regulations were changed to make pre-application consultation with local communities compulsory. …  We now have a pre-application consultation period, which is really important as it will ensure that nothing is sprung on communities; they will have an opportunity to voice their concerns clearly. That will also allow the developer to understand the level of support, or lack thereof, for an individual application. That consultation is required in a development with more than two wind turbines, or if the height of a turbine exceeds 15 metres”

HC Hansard 12 Mar 2014, Vol 577 Col 163WH

This would have required the Diocese to engage with the communities involved [1], which may now benefit from the fivefold increase in the value of community benefit packages funded by wind farms developers, announced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change last year.

Mitochondrial Transfer

The Westminster Hall debate on mitochondrial transfer, also on 12 March, was sub-titled “Three-Parent Children”, an emotive and even more inappropriate description than “Three-person IVF”: see our earlier postThis was an opportunity for MPs to rehearse some of the arguments that are likely to be put forward in the recently published consultation by the Department of Health, Mitochondrial Donation, due to close on 21 May. Two statements require clarification: the criticism of the  POSTnote entitled “Preventing Mitochondrial Disease which was said to speak of “people who oppose this as simply being in a pro-life camp” [2]; and the statement that “Article 3(2) [European Union Charter of Fundamental Human Rights] refers to the “prohibition of eugenic practices, in particular those aiming at the selection of persons” … [this technique] is eugenics, so it would be in contravention of the Charter of Fundamental Rights”[3].

With regard to the former, the POSTnote states:

“Pro-life groups and some academics suggest that allowing changes to one component of the germ line (mtDNA) will make it more difficult to continue to oppose changes to the other (nDNA)”,

and for the latter, the European Commission’s legal explanation of Article 3  Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU states:

“1. The principles of Article 3 of the Charter are already included in the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, adopted by the Council of Europe (ETS 164 and additional Protocol ETS 168). The Charter does not set out to depart from those principles, and therefore prohibits only reproductive cloning. Thus is does not in any way prevent the legislature from prohibiting other forms of cloning.

2. The reference to eugenic practices, in particular those aiming at the selection of persons, relates to possible situations in which selection programmes are organized and implemented, involving campaigns for sterilization, forced pregnancy, compulsory ethnic marriage among others, all acts deemed to be international crimes in the Statute of the International Criminal Court adopted in Rome on 17 July 1998 (see its Article 7(1)(g)).”

For the government, Jane Ellison, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, confirmed that that the regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure and there will be every chance to return to the issue and to debate it in full on the Floor of the House

Events scheduled for week commencing 17th March

The full parliamentary schedule for the week is available here and the summary by the BBC’s Mark D’Arcy is here. Debates of relevance to law and religion include:

Monday 17 March

In the afternoon, the House of Lords will debate day 5 of the Committee Stage of the Immigration Bill including clauses relating to the referral and investigation of proposed marriages and civil partnerships; and sham marriages and civil partnership.

The Explanatory Notes [of 3 February 2014] for these clauses within Part 4:  Marriage and Civil Partnership of the Bill state:

“27. Sham marriages (or marriages of convenience) and sham civil partnerships – where the marriage or civil partnership is contracted for immigration advantage by a couple who are not in a genuine relationship – pose a significant threat to UK immigration control. The Home Office estimates that roughly 4,000 to 10,000 applications a year to stay in the UK, under the Immigration Rules or the Immigration (EEA) Regulations SI 2006/1003 (as amended), are made on the basis of a sham marriage or civil partnership. Since 1999, changes to primary legislation and to the Immigration Rules have been introduced in an attempt to prevent abuse by those prepared to enter into a sham marriage or civil partnership as a means to stay in the UK. However, the government considers that further legislative changes are required to tackle this problem.

28. In 2011 the government consulted [1] on proposed reforms to family migration including measures to tackle sham marriages. The Bill extends and amends the marriage and civil partnership notice process to better enable the Home Office to identify and investigate suspected sham marriages and civil partnerships as a basis for taking enforcement and other immigration action under existing powers in cases established as sham.

29. The Bill will change the procedures for giving notice of marriage and civil partnership in England and Wales, in order to provide for a new referral and investigation scheme for proposed marriages and civil partnerships involving a non-EEA national subject to immigration control. It provides an enabling power to allow the scheme to be extended to Scotland and Northern Ireland by order. It also extends the powers for information to be shared by and with registration officials for the purpose of tackling sham marriages and civil partnerships and related abuse. The government has published additional background information on this measure.

Wednesday 19 March

This has been scheduled as day 6 for further debate of the Immigration Bill: an amendment to strike out the powers on deprivation of citizenship is to be tabled by Lord Pannick (CB), Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws (Lab) and others.

Thursday 20 March

There will be a Westminster Hall debate (1.30 – 4.30pm) on “the contribution of women to the Ordained Ministry of the Church of England”. Mark D’Arcy suggests that this may prove to be an exercise in keeping up the pressure for the appointment of women bishops.  However, once the House of Bishops’ strategy for reconsideration of women in the episcopate had been set in motion early in 2013, MPs’ posturing (EDM, Private Member’s Bills, and Westminster Hall debates) did little to accelerate the process further.  All 13 diocesan synods votes to date have supported the motion to progress the legislation, and the process appears to be progressing without the involvement of parliamentarians.

 [1] Although only two wind turbines were proposed at each of the sites: East Anstey, Chittlehampton and Black Torrington, they were 25m in height (i.e.to the tip of the blade).

[2] R Flello, Stoke-on-Trent South, (Lab)] 12 Mar 2014 : Col 170WHF.

[3] J Rees-Mogg, North East Somerset, (Con), 12 Mar 2014 : Col 168WH.

[4] Sham Marriage and Civil Partnerships: Background information, published November 2013, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/immigration-bill-part-4-marriage-and-civil-partnership .

2 thoughts on “Westminster Update – 16th March

  1. Pingback: Religion and law round up – 16th March | Law & Religion UK

  2. Pingback: MPs debate “Three-person IVF” (again) | Law & Religion UK

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