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UK government unveils details of key reforms in Queen’s Speech

Out-Law Analysis | 10 May 2022 | 4:36 pm | 5 min. read

The UK government has unveiled a raft of legislative reforms it plans to make over the course of the next parliamentary session, after the state opening of parliament earlier today.

Scott Wright, public policy expert at Pinsent Masons, said the Queen’s Speech “presented an opportunity for ministers to reclaim the narrative after a challenging few months, and demonstrate their willingness to ‘get on with the day job’”.

Public order and protest

A new Public Order Bill will create a new criminal offence aimed at protest groups that interfere “with key national infrastructure". Demonstrators found guilty of obstructing operations at locations such as airports, railways and printing presses face a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison.

The proposed Bill would also make it illegal to obstruct major transport works such as HS2.

Energy security

The government also announced an Energy Security Bill to enable ministers to design a more secure, “homegrown energy system” that is “cleaner and more affordable”. The Bill will introduce new business models for Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (CCUS) transport and storage, low carbon hydrogen and industrial carbon capture to encourage the development of low-carbon technologies. Ministers also hope to reduce the risk of fuel supply disruption by giving government the power to give directions and financial assistance to major firms in the fuel sector.

The Bill will also extend the energy price cap, which prevents suppliers from overcharging consumers, and provide support for increased investment in the consumer market for electric heat pumps. Ofgem will be appointed as the new regulator for heat networks and oversee a large-scale hydrogen heating trial by 2026.

The Bill will establish a new Future System Operator to provide strategic oversight across electricity and gas systems and will manage the “safe and cost-effective clean-up” of the UK's legacy nuclear sites.

Infrastructure bank

The government set out how it planned to create a UK infrastructure bank with powers to lend directly to local authorities and the Northern Ireland Executive. The UK Infrastructure Bank Bill will endow the bank with £22bn to help grow the economy and support the transition to net zero by 2050. The bank is expected to partner with the private sector, unlocking a further £18bn of additional infrastructure investment.

Repealing retained EU law

The Queen’s Speech also included details of the proposed Brexit Freedoms Bill, which strengthen ministers’ ability to amend, repeal or replace the large amounts of EU law still retained in UK statutes by reducing the need to always use primary legislation to do so.

The government said the Bill would help modernise the UK’s “approach to making regulations, improving the nimbleness and competitiveness of the UK economy whilst maintaining high standards.”

Public procurement reform

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government has announced plans for a new Procurement Bill to introduce clearer arrangements for how contracting authorities can buy at pace if necessary to protect life or health, public order or safety, with strengthened safeguards for transparency. Ministers also hope the Bill will help to tackle unacceptable behaviour and poor performance through new exclusion rules and giving buyers the tools they need to properly take account of a bidder’s past performance.

The Procurement Bill is also intended to provide tailored rules to better suit defence and security procurement and reform the Single Source Contract Regulations to ensure the government pays fair prices on single source defence contracts.

Financial services regulation

The new Financial Services and Markets Bill, announced in today’s Queen’s Speech contains a raft of reforms that the Treasury said would cut red tape while maintaining high regulatory standards.

The Bill will enable the Payment Systems Regulator to require banks to reimburse authorised push payment (APP) scam losses, totalling hundreds of millions of pounds each year, to victims that were defrauded through no fault of their own.

It will also introduce additional protections for those investing or using financial products and ensure the continued availability of cash withdrawal and deposit facilities across the UK. The Bill, once passed, will revoke retained EU law on financial services and replace it UK-specific legislation, including reforms to the Solvency II regime that governs the regulation of insurers.

Data protection reform

The government will introduce a Data Reform Bill intended to ensure that UK citizens’ personal data is protected to a “gold standard” while “enabling public bodies to share data to improve the delivery of services”. The Bill will strengthen regulations to improve the everyday lives of people in the UK, including by enabling data to be shared more efficiently between public bodies.

The Bill will help ministers design a “more flexible, outcomes-focused” approach to data protection that encourages a culture of data protection and avoids “tick box” exercises.

Economic crime

Amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, the government announced plans to “crack down on the kleptocrats, criminals and terrorists” who abuse the UK’s open economy and society and improve the UK's reputation as a place where “legitimate businesses can grow”.

The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill will broaden the powers given to the Registrar of Companies, including new powers to check, remove or decline information submitted to - or already on - the Company Register. The Bill will introduce identity verification for people who manage, own and control companies and other UK registered entities, improving the accuracy of Companies House data and support business decisions and law enforcement investigations.

The Bill will also give Companies House more effective investigation and enforcement powers and tackle the abuse of limited partnerships - including Scottish Limited Partnerships - by strengthening transparency requirements. Officials will be able to seize and recover crypto assets, which are the principal medium used for ransomware, more quickly and easily under the terms of the Bill.

New Bill of Rights

The Queen’s Speech included details of the planned new Bill of Rights, aimed at restoring the balance of power been the legislature and the courts. The Bill will establish the primacy of UK case law over European Court of Human Rights (‘Strasbourg Court’) case law - and clarify that UK Courts cannot interpret rights in a more expansive manner than the Strasbourg Court.

The Bill will also “guarantee” that spurious cases do not undermine public confidence in human rights so that courts can “focus on genuine and credible human rights claims”. The responsibility to demonstrate a significant disadvantage before a human rights claim can be heard in court will be placed on the claimant.

It will also change the way that damages can be awarded in human rights claims, including by ensuring that the courts consider the behaviour of the claimant when considering making an award.

‘Levelling up’

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will change planning rules in England and create a new model of combined authority, known as the ‘County Deal’, to overhaul powers given to local leaders. The government said the reform would join up services and provide transparent decision making.

 

The Bill will also give new powers to local authorities to bring empty premises back into use and instigate rental auctions of vacant commercial properties in town centres and on high streets. A digitised system will improve neighbourhood planning and make local plans easier to find, understand and engage with. The Bill will also limit speculative development by making it easier for local authorities to approve local plans.