This blog gives an overview of the Queen’s Speech 2022. It focuses on the legislation which the UK Government will introduce over the session which is likely to have a significant impact in Scotland.
The priority of the UK Government over the next session was stated as being “to grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living for families”.
What is the Queen’s Speech?
The State Opening of Parliament marks the beginning of the UK Parliament’s parliamentary session. At the UK Parliament sessions are a year long and start and end in the spring. At the State Opening the Monarch formally opens Parliament and outlines the Government’s proposed policies and legislation for the coming session in a speech.
This year’s State Opening was notable given the absence of Her Majesty the Queen. It is only the third time that the Queen has missed the State Opening in her 70 year reign and the first time in 59 years that the Queen has not given the Queen’s Speech. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales made the speech in the Queen’s absence, accompanied by His Royal Highness Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge and Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cornwall.
How does what is announced in the Queen’s Speech relate to Scotland?
Not all of the Bills announced will extend to Scotland although a number of them are expected to contain provisions that will apply to Scotland. In some cases this is because the proposed legislation relates to a reserved matter (e.g. trade). In other cases, where the legislation relates to a devolved matter, the UK Government has indicated that the territorial extent of some provisions of the Bill will extend to Scotland.
The UK Parliament retains authority to legislate on any issue, whether devolved or not. However, the Sewel Convention means that the UK Parliament does not normally legislate on devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. This Convention was put on a statutory footing by the Scotland Act 2016. You can read more about legislative consent in a SPICe blog on the issue.
Were any Bills carried over from the last parliamentary session?
A UK Parliament Bill that has not received Royal Assent by the end of a parliamentary session falls. A Government Bill can, however, be preserved if a UK Government Minister tables a motion known as a “carry-over motion”. A carried-over Bill restarts in the session at whatever stage it had reached in the preceding session.
Some Bills have been carried over from the last parliamentary session. The Online Safety Bill and Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill contain provisions that are expected to apply across the UK.
What draft legislation was announced?
The Queen’s Speech set out details of 38 draft Bills. A full breakdown of the draft Bills outlined in the Queen’s Speech can be found on the UK Government website.
The remainder of this blog considers the most high profile Bills, including the Bill of Rights, the Energy Security Bill and those which relate to the UK Government’s commitment to legislation for domestic arrangements following the UK’s exit from the EU.
A Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act 1998?
A headline Bill was the Bill of Rights which intends to “restore the balance of power between the legislature and the courts”. The UK Government has frequently discussed reform of elements of human rights law. The UK Government consultation on the issue opened in December 2021. Its proposal is to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 with a Bill of Rights. The Consultation notes that “The Bill of Rights will continue to respect the UK’s international obligations as a party to the Convention” (I.e., the European Convention on Human Rights). It also outlines the UK Government’s position that the “system must strike the proper balance of rights and responsibilities, individual liberty and the public interest, rigorous judicial interpretation, and respect for the authority of elected law-makers”.
The UK Government briefing notes on the Queen’s Speech describe four main elements of the Bill.
- establish primacy of UK case law, clarify there is no requirement to follow the Strasbourg case law, and make clear that UK Courts cannot interpret rights in a more expansive manner than the Strasbourg Court.
- introduce measures to ensure that UK courts cannot “alter legislation contrary to its ordinary meaning and constraining the ability of the UK courts to impose ‘positive obligations’ on our public services without proper democratic oversight”;
- place responsibility on claimants to “demonstrate significant disadvantage” before human rights claims can be heard in courts; and
- change how damages can be awarded in human rights claims, including to require courts to consider the behaviour of the claimant.
What Bills are linked to EU exit?
Brexit Freedoms Bill
The Bill was first announced in January 2022 following the beginning of two reviews of retained EU law last autumn. It was a manifesto commitment of the Conservative Party in 2019 to end the supremacy of European law. The party argued that this would allow the UK to be “free to craft legislation and regulations that maintain high standards but which work best for the UK.”
In the Queen’s Speech the Bill was set in the context of economic growth and “lightening the regulatory burden” on UK businesses.
The briefing notes published by the UK Government on the context of the Queen’s Speech state that the Bill’s purpose is to “Fulfil the manifesto commitment to end the supremacy of European law and seize the benefits of Brexit by ensuring regulation fits the needs of the UK, which in turn will enable economic growth.” The main provisions of the Bill will be to:
- create new powers to amend, repeal or replace retained EU law and reduce the need to always use primary legislation to do so;
- remove the supremacy of retained EU law as it still applies in the UK; and
- clarify the status of retained EU law in domestic law.
There has been little detail to date on the UK Government’s review of retained EU law. The UK Government’s briefing notes for the Queen’s Speech detail that “The Government’s review of retained EU law has, to date, identified over 1,400 pieces of EU-derived law that have been transferred into UK law.”
It is notable that the UK Government argues that “Much of this law was also imposed and changed with minimal parliamentary scrutiny in the past” whilst seeming to suggest that the Bill will provide extensive powers to Ministers to amend, repeal and replace laws which fall into the category of retained EU law by secondary legislation.
Financial Services and Markets Bill
This Bill also relates to retained EU law. The Bill will, the UK Government states, “revoke retained EU law on financial services” and replace it with “an approach to regulation that is designed for the UK”.
The Bill will also update the objectives of the financial services regulators to “ensure a greater focus on growth and international competitiveness” as well as reform the rules that regulate the UK’s capital markets in order to promote investment. In addition, the proposed legislation will introduce “additional protections for those investing or using financial products, to make it safer and support the victims of scams”.
Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill
The UK Government referred to its ability to deliver its own independent trade policy. Despite, the UK Government having already negotiated free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand, these agreements are not yet in force.
The Queen’s Speech announced the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill to address some of the legislative changes required before these agreements can be fully implemented. The UK Government briefing note states that the Bill will “Provide a power to make changes to UK procurement regulations to implement the obligations in the Government Procurement chapters of the Australia and New Zealand Free Trade Agreements.”
The trade agreements remove all tariffs on trade in goods between the UK and Australia, as well as the UK and New Zealand, respectively.
Data Reform Bill
The Queen’s Speech also proposed to reform the way data is handled in the UK in light of EU exit. The Data Reform Bill will seek to “create a world class data rights regime that will allow us to create a new pro-growth and trusted UK data protection framework that reduces burdens on businesses, boosts the economy, helps scientists to innovate and improves the lives of people in the UK.”
In essence the Bill will amend GDPR which is the EU law on data handling. The law was retained in domestic law after EU exit. It is anticipated that the legislation would simplify data protection legislation.
What other Bills are likely to be introduced?
A number of Bills not relating to the UK’s exit from the EU were also outlined, including a UK-wide Transport Bill “to modernise rail services and improve reliability for passengers”; a Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill “to promote competition, strengthen consumer rights and protect households and businesses” and a UK Infrastructure Bank Bill to “establish the UK Infrastructure Bank in legislation, with objectives to support economic growth and the delivery of net zero.”
A Media Bill was also announced. This legislation would enact the privatisation of Channel 4 and provide Ofcom with more powers to regulate streaming services.
A Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill will also be introduced. The Bill will allow people nearing the end of their life to get fast-tracked access to three key disability benefits. The legislation will propose a change to the definition of terminal illness in existing legislation by changing it to having 12 months to live rather than the current six months.
The Government also committed to introducing a National Security Bill “to support the security services and help them protect the United Kingdom”. This is in line with a commitment made in the Conservative Party manifesto 2019.
What about energy?
An Energy Security Bill was announced in line with the UK Government’s commitments to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 and become net zero by 2050. The UK Government Briefing Notes indicate that the Bill intends to:
- Introduce business models for Carbon Capture Usage and Storage transport and storage.
- Reduce the risk of fuel supply disruption by giving the UK Government powers to give directions to, require information from, and provide financial assistance to core fuel sector businesses to ensure resilience and continuity of fuel supply.
- Support industry to invest in growing the consumer market for electric heat pumps by providing for a new market standard and trading scheme.
- Appoint Ofgem as the new regulator for heat networks.
- Extend the energy price cap.
- Enable the first large-scale hydrogen heating trial.
- Introduce competition in Britain’s onshore electricity networks.
- Create a new regulatory environment for fusion energy.
- Establish a new Future System Operator, providing strategic oversight across electricity and gas systems.
- Facilitate the safe, and cost-effective clean-up of the UK’s legacy nuclear sites.
The UK Government’s Briefing Notes state that the Bill will “deliver the commitments in the British Energy Security Strategy and the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution to build a more secure, homegrown energy system that is cleaner and more affordable.”
Courtney Aitken, Annie Bosse and Sarah McKay – SPICe Research