The Queen’s Speech 2022: setting the UK Government agenda

The scale of the legislative programme announced in this year’s Speech was striking. In setting out the government’s agenda and economic plans for the next session, we consider those areas that matter most to business.

For the first time, Prince Charles opened parliament on 10 May 2022. A total of 38 bills were included, compared to fewer than 30 in 2017, in the wake of Brexit and for a two-year programme.

The overarching themes were to cut EU red-tape in the post-Brexit era, deliver on levelling up and improve national safety and security. Here, we provide a summary of 16 of the bills under these themes.

Levelling up and recovery

The flagship levelling up agenda was mentioned early on in the speech, leading to the introduction of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. Whether such reform will help reduce regional inequality is likely to prove politically contentious. COVID-19 recovery was tied to levelling up with plans to support the NHS and reform social care being advanced.

We welcome the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, especially in regard to increased community involvement in redevelopment projects. However, it remains to be seen whether the Bill will fulfil the levelling up vision without the tools to resolve the persistent labour and skills shortages across the construction sector.

Paul Lowe, Partner, London

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Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill

  • Aims to improve the planning system to give communities a louder voice, making sure developments are green and are accompanied by new infrastructure and affordable housing. Many of the proposed measures will require secondary legislation, so much of the Bill sets out the changes at a high level.
  • Will lay the foundations for England to have the opportunity to benefit from a devolution deal by 2030.
  • Will place a duty on the government to set levelling up missions and produce an annual report updating the country on the delivery of these missions.

Transport Bill

  • Intends to “improve transport across the United Kingdom, delivering safer, cleaner services and enabling more innovations”.
  • Will provide a new body, Great British Railways, with the powers it needs to act as the single national leader of the railways.
  • Features legislation to allow self-driving and remotely-operated vehicles and vessels, as well as supporting the rollout of more electric vehicles charge points as part of the transition from petrol and diesel models.

Following the Queen’s Speech, the UK Government confirmed that e-scooter legislation would form part of the new Transport Bill, in order to create a new vehicle category for these low speed, zero-emission vehicles. It is encouraging that the government recognises that new rules are needed to improve safety and crack down on illegal use. While there is clearly a balance to be struck between unlocking innovation in this area and regulating use – safety must appear front and centre.

Ian Davies, Partner, Birmingham

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The post-Brexit landscape

The narrative has moved from ‘get Brexit done’ to making the most out of the post-Brexit landscape. The flagship Brexit Freedoms Bill will play a key part in government demonstrating its commitment to its 2019 manifesto, ahead of the next general election.

It is clear that the government wants to maximise post-Brexit freedoms. We can expect to see certain areas where the UK Government will seek to create its own legislative framework, for example in product safety. For all sectors – including insurance - scrutiny is imperative with designing and legislating for some of the UK’s follow-on regimes.

Deborah Newberry, Corporate Affairs Director, London

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Brexit Freedoms Bill

  • Comes on the back of the government’s 100-page ‘Benefits of Brexit’ paper earlier this year and will form part of a cross-government drive to cut £1 billion of red tape for businesses and improve regulation.
  • Will seek to end the special status of EU law and ensure that it can be more easily amended or removed. This will mean government can make changes without the need for full parliamentary scrutiny.

Financial Services and Markets Bill

  • Builds on the Financial Services Act 2021 which was the first step in amending the UK’s regulatory regime, post-Brexit.
  • Will revoke EU law on financial services and replace it with regulation designed specifically for the UK to cut red tape and ensure a greater focus on growth and international competitiveness.
  • Is likely to address the outcome of one or more other government reviews of UK financial regulation, including the Solvency II consultation, which is currently considering improvements to the prudential regime for UK insurers and reinsurers.
  • Will also enable the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) to require banks to reimburse victims of authorised push payment (APP) scam losses. The government hopes that this Bill will ultimately support individuals’ confidence in financial services.

Data Reform Bill

  • Seeks to protect UK citizens’ personal data, while enabling public bodies to share data to improve the delivery of services.
  • Aims to design a more flexible, outcomes-focused approach to data protection that helps create a culture of data protection, rather than ‘tick box’ exercises.
  • Will simplify the rules around research to cement the UK’s position as a science and technology superpower.
  • It is likely to lead to reform (or repeal) of the Data Protection Act 2018 and the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which the government considers creates “burdens on businesses with little benefit to citizens”.

Procurement Bill

  • Sets out the vision for a faster, fairer and more effective public procurement regime, following on from the Green Paper on procurement reform and the consultation response published in December 2021.
  • Will require buyers to have regard to the government’s priorities for public procurement, as set out in the National Procurement Policy Statement.
  • Will establish a single digital platform for supplier registration, as well as new, clearer arrangements for how contracting authorities can buy at pace if necessary will be introduced.

Bill of Rights

  • Reflects a long-standing Conservative Party policy to repeal and replace the Human Right Act (HRA).
  • Will “restore the balance of power between the legislature and the courts”. It follows the consultation on ‘Human Rights Act Reform: a Modern Bill of Rights’ earlier this year.
  • Will be key in establishing the primacy of UK case law, clarifying there is no requirement to follow the Strasbourg case law.

Electronic Trade Documents Bill

  • Follows the Law Commission’s consultation and draft legislation in setting out the proposals for law reform concerning 'electronic trade documents'.
  • Aims to “put electronic trade documents on the same legal footing as paper documents, removing the need for wasteful paperwork and needless bureaucracy. This will enable businesses to move from paper-based to digital-based transactions when buying and selling internationally. This will help business efficiency and support economic growth”.

Safety and security

Making the UK a safer place (from online safety to public safety) was a key theme of the 2022 Queen’s Speech. The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill will tackle economic crime and the Online Safety Bill, which was carried over from the 2021/22 parliamentary session, aims to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.

With an estimated 75 billion connected devices being in existence globally by 2025, the introduction of the PSTI is an important and necessary step in the UK’s commitment to improving the cybersecurity of consumer products; complementing other key initiatives that aim to protect the data, privacy and safety of individuals and organisations.

Sarah-Jane Dobson, Partner, London

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Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill (PSTI) (carried over)

  • Aims to protect consumer connectable devices, such as smart TVs and internet-connectable cameras, from cyber-attacks.
  • Complements other key initiatives that aim to protect the data, privacy and safety of individuals and organisations, including the government’s recent consultation on proposals for legislative changes to improve the UK’s cyber resilience and the Online Safety Bill.
  • Empowers the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to specify product requirements, such as a ban on universal default passwords that are easy to guess, ensure compliance with minimal requirements and exercise enforcement functions.
  • Will also accelerate the rollout of broadband in the coming years, to enable faster and more reliable connectivity for more of the population. By 2025, the government is aiming for a minimum of 85% gigabit-capable coverage.

Online Safety Bill (carried over)

  • Seen as one of the most far-reaching attempts to date to regulate online content.
  • Aims to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online, while also defending freedom of speech.
  • Failure to comply will result in substantial fines (of up to £18 million or 10% of a company's annual global revenue) from Ofcom as regulator or, in extreme circumstances, company directors and senior managers facing prosecution.
  • It is expected to have a lengthy passage through parliament.

The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill

  • Follows the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 which was fast-tracked through parliament following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Aims to crack down on kleptocrats, criminals and terrorists who abuse the UK’s open economy and drive 'dirty money' out of the UK.
  • Will also introduce reforms to the remit and powers of Companies House.

Modern Slavery Bill

  • Will strengthen the requirements on companies with an annual turnover of over £36 million to publish an annual statement on the steps they are taking to prevent modern slavery.

Draft bills

Five draft bills were issued to enable consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny before possibly being formally introduced to parliament: the Draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, Draft Victims Bill, Draft Protect Duty Bill, Draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill and Draft Audit Reform Bill.

Draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill

  • Seeks to create a new pro-competition regime for digital markets and the largest digital firms.
  • Aims to ensure that businesses across the economy that rely on ‘must have’ and powerful tech firms can succeed without having to comply with unfair terms.
  • Will tackle subscription traps by requiring businesses to provide clearer information to consumers and to send reminders before a contract auto-renews.
  • Will grant the Competition and Markets Authority additional powers.

Draft Victims Bill

  • Published on 25 May 2022, it aims to put victims at the heart of the justice system.
  • Will be sent to the Justice Select Committee for its pre-legislative scrutiny.

Draft Audit Reform Bill

  • Aims to revamp the UK’s audit and corporate reporting regime so to protect and promote the interests of investors, other users of corporate reporting and the general public.
  • Seeks to improve the quality of audit and boost resilience competition and choice in the audit market.
  • Establishes a new statutory regulator to replace the Financial Reporting Council.
  • Will reform the practice of insolvency practitioners to strengthen corporate governance of firms in or approaching insolvency.

Draft Protect Duty Bill

  • Aims to introduce new security requirements for certain public locations and venues, with the goal of protecting people from terrorist attacks.
  • Follows on from a consultation last year where 70% of the respondents agreed there should be additional measures to protect the public from terror attacks.

Comment

It is encouraging to see the UK Government set out its commitment to reform those areas which underpin public safety – including with regard to auditing, terrorism and online harms. The reforms designed to enable the UK to capitalise on the post-Brexit era come as little surprise as the government will remain determined to deliver on the Brexit dividend it promised. Whether we see a wholesale change away from EU legislation waits to be seen.

However, uncertainty remains in some areas as to the detail and timing of bills, including the draft bills. And it wasn’t just the Queen who was missing from the Queen’s Speech. The Employment Bill did not feature on the agenda despite being under discussion since 2019 to address working conditions and pay in factories and warehouses. Nevertheless, for those bills that do not feature in the 2022/23 parliamentary sessions, they should at least be trailed via consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny which will at least allow discussion.

Overall, with a general election likely in May 2024, the Prime Minister has at most two years to deliver on his promises. He therefore faces a race against time to deliver an ambitious programme.

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