The Queen’s speech from a legal perspective

queen

 

Her Majesty the Queen delivered her 63rd Queen’s Speech from the throne in the House of Lords on 18 May 2016. The upcoming EU referendum has dominated the Government’s agenda so far this year, but this has not stopped the Government from proposing 21 new Bills. Below are 10 of the Bills most relevant to the legal sector, which include among them proposals for a new UK Bill of Rights, modernisation of the courts, and social reform.

Better Markets Bill

The Bill aims to open up markets, boost competition, give consumers more powers and choice, and make economic regulators work better. Further measures include:

  • Giving competition authorities more powers to tackle anti-competitive behaviour
  • Improving the landscape for economic regulation
  • Helping businesses by simplifying regulatory processes and removing unnecessary requirements
  • Speeding up decision making for competition investigations
  • Encouraging consumers to switch providers and get a better deal

 

UK Bill of Rights

The Government re-announced its commitment to a UK Bill of Rights after it was omitted from the last Queen’s speech. The Bill of Rights’ aims are:

  • To protect fundamental human rights, while preventing both abuse of the system and misuse of human rights laws.
  • To introduce rights that are based on the European Convention on Human Rights and also take into account our common law.

The proposal for a UK Bill of Rights will be subject to consultation in due course.

 

Children and Social Work Bill

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. Further measures include:

  • 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.

 

Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill

The Bill aims to prevent radicalisation, tackle all forms of extremism, and promote community integration. Other measures include:

  • A new civil order regime to restrict extremist activity (subject to consultation)
  • Powers to intervene in unregulated education settings which seek to teach hate and divide communities. This will be done through the Disclosure and Barring Service
  • Closing 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.

 

Criminal Finances Bill

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
  • Improving 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.

 

Modern Transport Bill

The Bill aims to ensure the UK remains competitive in technology for new forms of transport. Further measures include:

  • Legislation that will put the UK at the forefront of safe technology in the driverless vehicles industry
  • Measures for appropriate insurance to be available to support driverless vehicles
  • Measures to encourage potential investors in modern transport

 

Digital Economy Bill

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. Further measures will include:

  • Powers to introduce a new Broadband Universal Service Obligation
  • A new Electronic Communications Code
  • Simpler planning rules for building new broadband infrastructure

 

Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill

  • Legislation to enable the privatisation of the Land Registry
  • Measures to ensure that pre-commencement planning conditions are only imposed by local planning authorities where absolutely necessary
  • Measures to make compulsory purchase order process clearer, fairer and faster, and to include the context within which compensation is negotiated
  • The National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory basis

 

Prison and Courts Reform Bill

  • Measures to modernise Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to reduce delay
  • Reform prisons focusing on education, security and healthcare of prisoners
  • A requirement to produce statistics on prisoners

 

A Wales Bill

This Bill is being put forward following a consultation by the Welsh Select Committee. The Bill is expected to include the following measures:

  • A new reserved powers model for Welsh devolution, including a list of policies that remain reserved to the Westminster parliament.
  • Powers devolved to Welsh ministers over consenting for all onshore wind farms in Wales and up to 350 megawatts for all other onshore and offshore energy projects
  • Powers devolved to the Welsh 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 Welsh Assembly to decide whether exploration for shale oil and gas takes place in Wales
  • Provisions to place the Welsh Assembly and Welsh Government on a statutory footing and enshrine the legislative consent process in law
  • Devolving control over the Welsh 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.

 

The Government was also committed to carrying over the following Bills:

  • Investigatory Powers Bill
  • Policing and Crime Bill
  • High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill

It remains to be seen just how many of these proposed bills will get through. We are unlikely to see any further detail until after the EU referendum in June. The current Conservative Government has a slender majority in the House of Commons and no majority in the House of Lords. The Government has also made a number of compromises and reversals in policy relating to tax credits, fox hunting, court changes, and cuts to the police. From a legal perspective, Bills of interest will be proposals for a Bill of Rights, which seeks to do away with the Human Rights Act, and proposed court changes.  The controversial Investigatory Powers Bill which is making its way through parliament is also likely to generate fierce debate about individuals’ right to privacy when using the internet and phone.

 

What happens next?

When the Queen finishes her speech and leaves the House of Lords, a new parliamentary session begins and Parliament gets back to work. Members of both Houses debate the content of the speech and agree an ‘Address in Reply to Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech’. Each House continues the debate over the planned legislative programme for several days, looking at different subject areas. The Queen’s Speech is voted on by the House of Commons, but no vote is taken in the House of Lords.

10 June 2016

Alex Hinds

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