by Alexandra Cardenas
Alexandra Cardenas discusses the points of interest relevant to the legal sector that were mentioned in the Queen’s speech.
This morning the Queen delivered her annual speech to Parliament outlining the government’s legislative agenda for 2016-17.
The speech has to be interpreted in the context of the looming EU referendum which has distracted the government, and practically bought Parliament to halt. It has also shone a light on the government’s small majority in the House of Commons and lack of majority in the House of Lords, meaning they have had to make a number of compromises to push through Bills at the end of the last 2015-16 session.
The prime minister aimed to use the Queen’s speech as an opportunity to get back on track and show that he is still focused on governing the country. There were some initial headlines on “life chances” and delivering security but the coverage seems to be dominated by the lack of a Sovereignty Bill which was likely withdrawn to appease his Conservative colleagues campaigning to leave the EU.
In the speech, the government introduced 21 new Bills but many of them were policies which were previously announced. The prime minister is likely to be cautious to introduce controversial measures at such a fragile time within the Conservative Party. These Bills included a re-announcement of the government’s intention to publish a Bill of Rights but we are unlikely to see any detail until after the EU referendum.
The most relevant bills for the legal sector are highlighted below, including policies on tax evasion and modernisation of the courts.
Key legislative announcements
1. Better Markets Bill – Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
The Bill aims to open up markets, boost competition, give consumers more powers and choice and make economic regulators work better. The Bill will introduce measures to:
• Give competition authorities more powers to tackle anti-competitive behaviour
• Improve the landscape for economic regulation
• Help businesses by simplifying regulatory processes and removing unnecessary requirements
• Speed up decision making for competition investigations
• Encourage consumers to switch providers and get a better deal
2. Bill of Rights – Ministry of Justice
The government re-announced the Bill of Rights and reiterated:
• The benefits of the Bill to protect fundamental human rights, while preventing abuse of the system and misuse of human rights laws.
• The Bill will introduce rights that are based on the European Convention on Human Rights and also taking into account our Common Law tradition.
A consultation on the proposals will be published in due course.
3. Children and Social Work Bill – Department of Education
The Bill aims to ensure that children can be adopted by new families without delay, improve the standard of social work, and provide opportunities for young people in care in England. It will introduce:
• Changes to the considerations that courts must take into account in adoption decisions, such as the child’s need for stability up to the age of 18.
• A ‘Care Leavers Covenant’ which introduces a statutory duty for local authorities to publish the services and standards of treatment for care leavers.
• A new system for regulating social workers and a specialist regulator.
• Support for innovation in children’s social care by allowing local authorities to pilot new innovative approaches.
4. Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill – Home Office
The Bill aims to prevent radicalisation, tackle extremism in all forms and promote community integration. It will introduce:
• A new civil order regime to restrict extremist activity (with consultation)
• Powers to intervene in intensive unregulated education settings which teach hate and divide communities. This will be done through the Disclosure and Barring Service
• Measures to close loopholes so Ofcom can continue to protect consumers who watch internet-streamed TV content from outside the EU on Freeview
There will also be a consultation on powers to enable the government to intervene where councils fail to tackle extremism. It will also consider the need for further legislative measures following Louise Casey’s review into integration.
5. Criminal Finances Bill – Home Office
The Bill will introduce measures to tackle corruption, money laundering and tax evasion, including:
• The introduction of a criminal offence for corporations who fail to stop their staff facilitating tax evasion
• Measures to improve the operation of Suspicious Activity Reports regime
• Measures to target entities that carry out money laundering instead of individual transactions
• New powers for the National Crime Agency
• Measures to improve the ability of law enforcement agencies and courts to recover criminal assets.
6. Modern Transport Bill – Department for Transport
The Bill aims to ensure the UK is at the forefront of technology for new forms of transport. It will introduce:
• Legislation that will put the UK at the forefront of safe technology in the autonomous vehicles industry, such as drones and space planes
• Measures for appropriate insurance to be available to support autonomous and driverless vehicles
• Measures to encourage potential investors in modern transport
7. Digital Economy Bill – Department for Culture, Media and Sport
The Bill aims to make the UK a world leader in the digital economy and create the right for every household to access high speed broadband. Measures will include:
• Powers to introduce a new Broadband Universal Service Obligation
• A new Electronic Communications Code
• Simpler planning rules for building broadband infrastructure
8. Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill – Department for Communities and Local Government
The Bill will introduce the following measures:
• Legislation to enable the privatisation of Land Registry
• Measures to ensure that pre-commencement planning conditions are only imposed by local planning authorities where they are absolutely necessary
• Measures to make compulsory purchase order process clearer, fairer and faster and include the context within which compensation is negotiated
• The National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory basis
9. Prison and Courts Reform Bill – Ministry of Justice
The Bill will cover the following:
• Measures to modernise the Courts and Tribunals service to reduce delay
• Reform prisons focusing on education, security and healthcare of prisoners
• A requirement to produce statistics on prisoners
10. Wales Bill – Wales Office
Following a draft Bill and extensive consultation by the Welsh Select Committee, the government committed to ‘rethink the Bill’. The following measures will be part of it:
• A new reserved powers model for Welsh devolution, including a list of policies that remain reserved to Westminster
• Powers devolved to Welsh ministers over consenting for all onshore wind in Wales and up to 350 megawatts for all other onshore and offshore energy projects
• Powers devolved to the Assembly over areas such as ports, taxi regulation, the registration of bus services, speed limits and sewerage services in Wales
• The devolution of licensing for onshore oil and gas exploration to Wales, enabling the Assembly to decide whether exploration for shale oil and gas takes place in Wales
• Provisions to place the Assembly and Welsh Government on a statutory footing and enshrine the legislative consent process in law
• Devolving control over the Assembly’s own affairs, including what it should be called, its size, and the electoral system used to elect its members
• Repeal of the requirement for a referendum before a proportion of income tax is devolved.
In addition, there were also two Law Commission Bills announced:
• Draft Law of Property Bill – Ministry of Justice: the government will bring forward proposals to respond to the recommendations of the Law Commission’s report on “Making land work: easements, covenants and profits á prendre (2011)” to simplify the law around land ownership.
• Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill – Department for Business, Innovation and Skills: the Bill will deliver the Law Commission’s detailed recommendations for reform of Intellectual Property on the unjustified threats of infringement proceedings for patents, trade markets and design rights. The Bill will also introduce measures to negotiate fairly over IP disputes.
Carry over bills
The government also committed to carrying over the following Bills:
• Investigatory Powers Bill
• Policing and Crime Bill
• High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill
About the author
Alexandra Cardenas is the public affairs manager at the Law Society. She is a solicitor admitted to practice in England, Wales and Colombia, with a wide range of experience in public affairs, project management, speechwriting, parliamentary procedure and policy development in law, justice, health care, and human rights.