Queen's Speech 2015: a guide for commercial lawyers

The Queen has just delivered the 64th speech of her government (the 62nd that she has delivered in person) at the State Opening of Parliament.

The speech set out the government’s legislative programme for the new parliamentary session.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iKAKoigl4Y

These are the bills that impact on commercial lawyers in particular (with our initial comments):

Enterprise Bill

Under this Bill, the government intends to set up a Small Business Conciliation Service to help settle disputes between small and large businesses, especially over late payment practices. This is likely to follow a model used in Australia.

The Bill will also look to extend and simplify the concept of ‘primary authority’, which was established under the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008. This scheme allows a business to get advice on regulation from a single local council. This advice must then be respected by all other councils.

There will also be provisions in the Bill the aim of which will be reduce red tape (perhaps along the lines of the Red Tape Challenge?). More regulators will be covered by this initiative.

EU Referendum Bill.

The government will be looking to:

renegotiate the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union’ and ‘pursue reform of the European Union for the benefit of all member states.

The United Kingdom has been a member of the European Union since 1 January 1973. In the last referendum, in 1975, the question was, ‘do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?’ This Bill will set terms of a new ‘in-out’ referendum before the end of 2017. The franchise for the referendum will be based on the General Election franchise, plus members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar.

Given the amount of laws that emanate from Europe, particularly in the field of consumer law, this Bill and the result of the subsequent referendum could be a game-changer for commercial lawyers. Not only will we be watching carefully, it is clear that others in the EU will be doing the same:

'Great Britain and the European Union at the heart of the Queen's Speech':

https://twitter.com/lemondefr/status/603485263571120128

Investigatory Powers Bill

The government is looking to ‘modernise the law’ on communications data. The government states that the legislation will:

address ongoing capability gaps that are severely degrading the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies ability to combat terrorism and other serious crime.

A previous draft Bill, the Communications Data Bill, was dropped by the then coalition government in April 2013, after a highly critical Joint Committee report and the smaller party in the coalition government calling it ‘unworkable’. The challenge will be to draft a Bill that satisfies the police and security services and also civil libertarians.

Devolution

The speech mentioned the need for a ‘strong and lasting constitutional settlement’. Bills will be introduced so that the Scottish Parliament will become, one of the most

powerful devolved parliaments in the world, with considerable new powers over taxation (including income tax) and spending’.

Wales will get a new reserved powers model and receive further powers.

There will be no English Parliament but there are to be English votes for English laws through changes to the standing orders of Parliament. The government noted that:

these changes will create fairer procedures to ensure that decisions affecting England, or England and Wales, can be taken only with the consent of the majority of Members of Parliament representing constituencies in those parts of our United Kingdom.

Other Bills and matters of interest:

  • National Insurance Contributions Bill/Finance Bill: a Bill will be introduced so that there are no rises in income tax, VAT or national Insurance contributions in the next five years. This is the government’s so-called ‘tax lock commitment’.
  • Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill/ High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill: there will be elected metro mayors and the government will continue to legislation for a high speed rail links.
  • As for the Human Rights Act 1998, the government is going to launch a consultation on introducing a British Bill of Rights. However, there was no Bill in the Queen's Speech.

Before the speech, the Prime Minister reiterated that the government, ‘has a mandate from the British people, a clear manifesto and the instruction to deliver’. The challenge of the new government, of course, will be to deliver its manifesto and these commitments with a majority of 12 MPs.

So what do you think? A busy schedule? Or a typical Queen's Speech? Do let us have your thoughts.

Area of Interest