The Queen’s Speech today is the second is as many months. The intervening election last week makes it dramatically different from that in October in that it sets out a full legislative programme of a-now-majority Government. Brexit looms large, with the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill arguably the flagship bill. Around forty other bills are mentioned in the official background papers which run to over 150 pages. Several of interest are highlighted in the body of this piece.
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill was first out of the blocks and was described by Her Majesty as “legislation designed to ensure the United Kingdom’s exit … from the European Union on 31 January”. The transition or implementation period thereafter and in which future trading arrangements are to be agreed with the EU27 will end on 31 December 2020. The Bill could remove the possibility of this being extended. It has already been suggested the Bill could be debated for the first time on Friday 20 December.
Various sector-specific bills are listed, including legislation on trade, fisheries, agriculture, immigration & social security and on financial services. The clear aim of this suite of bills is, as it were, to take back control of these areas on leaving the EU. The last of these, for example, aims to “ensure that the UK maintains its world-leading regulatory standards and remains open to international markets after we leave the EU.” Interestingly, the material refers to building on extensive secondary legislation under the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 to ensure the effective function of retained EU law to support the financial services sector.
A Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill is to be brought forward. This is described as dealing largely with three Hague conventions on cross border disputes involving child protection, commercial contracts, or family maintenance. At first sight therefore it would not appear to impact the post-Brexit rules for cross-border civil claims generally (accident claims and the like) which have already been set out in the Withdrawal Agreement and a small number of Statutory Instruments.
A significant number of Bills relate to health and social care. Other sections of the Speech and the legislative programme relate to infrastructure matters, to environmental issues and to strengthening the UK’s devolution settlement. None of those are covered here.
A Building Safety Bill is aimed at introducing new and enhanced safety regimes for buildings and construction products. The roots of this legislation are the Grenfell Tower fire and the Hackitt review of building safety. In addition a Fire Safety Bill is planned in response to phase 1 of the Grenfell inquiry.
In the justice sphere, civil matters take something of a back seat (as ever). With the reforms of the Civil Liability Act 2018 still working through, it seems unlikely to expect any relevant primary legislation in the short to medium term. The legislative emphasis now is on criminal justice, sentencing reform and on the setting up of a Royal Commission on the Criminal Justice Process. There is also to be a new Commission on Constitution, Democracy and Rights. This seems to be a medium term project at the very least, given that “further announcements shall be made in due course” and in any event it is to benefit from the vast remit of examining “the broader aspects of the constitution in depth and develop proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates”.
The Fixed Term Parliaments Act is to be repealed and the speech provides confirmation of the long-expected change to the Human Rights Act to protect services personnel from “the threat of vexatious litigation”.
Two pieces of legislation deal with travel sector issues. The first will cover airline insolvency in general and is aimed at further protecting passengers and improving repatriation arrangements. The second is a more tightly-drawn bill which will permit the government to make taxpayer-funded payments to customers of Thomas Cook who suffered life-changing injuries, illness or loss of life for which Thomas Cook companies would have been liable under civil law. Notice that the language used here is carefully framed so as to make provision only for serious cases – as was the case with the Ministerial Statement about this back in early November.
The background material provided today by the Government may be found via this link. The programme set out in the Queen’s Speech will be debated in Parliament over the next few sitting days and it will be passed, given the size of the new administration’s majority. The various specific measures will then emerge over the early part of next year, but well before that the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill will complete its passage through Parliament prior to the UK’s EU exit date of 31 January 2020.
Director of Policy & Government Affairs