United Kingdom

Queens Speech 2014 ushers in final year of legislation before election


This morning Queen Elizabeth II delivered her ‘Queen’s Speech 2014’ in which she outlined the legislative programme for this the last year of the UK Parliament before going to the polls next May.

With MPs getting an extra week’s holiday because of the lack of legislation being presented to them, this speech attempted to make things more interesting. The opposition Labour Party had accused the coalition government, made up of the senior partner Conservative Party and junior partner Liberal Democrat Party, of being a ‘zombie government’.

Although eleven bills are to be presented to parliament, with a further three already trailed, much of the legislation looks thin. There is a Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill and an Infrastructure Bill as well as a Bill reforming pensions all of which are likely to impact on business.

You can read the full Queen’s Speech 2014 here.

The government briefing on the various bills as published on the government website is as follows:

1. Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to build a stronger economy by supporting small businesses as they compete, and ensure they aren’t disadvantaged by those that don’t play by the rules.

The main elements of the Bill are to:

• make it easier for small businesses to access finance; improve payment practices between small businesses and their customers; provide small firms with fair access to the £230 billion spent each year in the form of public procurement contracts and increase the availability and sources of finance for businesses that want to invest
• ensure that the red tape that affects small businesses is frequently reviewed to ensure regulations are either cut or remain effective, and to place that requirement into law
• strengthen the reputation of the UK as a trusted and fair place to do business, by increasing transparency around who owns and controls UK companies with a register of beneficial ownership, strengthen rules on director disqualifications and remove unnecessary costs from insolvency law
• strengthen UK employment law by tackling National Minimum Wage abuses and cracking down on abuse in zero hours contracts
• make it easier for small businesses to expand overseas
• bring fairness to the sole traders and small businesses that run 20,000 or so tied pubs across England and Wales, with a new Statutory Code and independent Adjudicator to ensure that publicans who are tied to a pub owning company are treated fairly
• make some childcare regulations more flexible to meet the needs of working families
• stop highly paid public sector employees keeping redundancy payments when they come back to the same part of the public sector within a short period of time

2. National Insurance Contributions Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to protect public revenues by tackling avoidance and also helping hardworking taxpayers by simplifying the collection of Class 2 National Insurance Contributions (NICs) paid by the self-employed.

2.1 Simplifying NICs paid by the self-employed

The Bill would:

• simplify the collection of NICs for the self-employed, who currently have to navigate 2 different processes for 2 separate classes of NICs
• move the collection of Class 2 NICs into Self Assessment, so that it could be collected alongside Class 4 NICs, with effect from 6 April 2016 (for the 2015 to 2016 tax year onwards)

2.2 Follower notices and accelerated payments in avoidance cases

The Bill would allow:

• HMRC to issue a notice to taxpayers who had used avoidance schemes that had failed before the courts in another party’s litigation (“a follower notice”)
• the follower notice to set out HMRC’s view that the judicial decision also determined these taxpayers’ cases and that they should therefore settle their cases
• HMRC to seek an accelerated payment of the NICs in dispute where a follower notice had been issued and the taxpayer had decided not to settle the dispute
• accelerated payments also to be sought from taxpayers involved in schemes that had to be disclosed under the Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Schemes (DOTAS) rules (as applied to NICs), and under the General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR) (also as applied to NICs) where the Advisory Panel had given its opinion that the arrangements were not reasonable

2.3 High-risk promoters of avoidance schemes

The Bill would:

• mirror the tax provisions in the current Finance Bill, allowing HMRC to issue conduct notices to promoters of tax avoidance schemes and to monitor promoters who breached a conduct notice
• mean that monitored promoters would be subject to new information powers and penalties, which will also apply to intermediaries that continued to represent them after the monitoring began
• mean that clients of monitored promoters would be subject to certain obligations (which would have a penalty for non-compliance) and extended time limits for assessments

2.4 Targeted Anti Avoidance Rule

The Bill would introduce a Targeted Anti Avoidance Rule to tackle avoidance involving offshore employment intermediaries and employment intermediaries facilitating false self-employment. The rule would focus on whether arrangements have been set up to avoid or to pay less NICs.

3. Infrastructure Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to bolster investment in infrastructure by allowing stable long term funding, delivering better value for money and relieving unnecessary administrative pressures. The Bill would increase transparency of information provision and improve planning processes, allowing us to get Britain building for our future and compete in the global race.

3.1 Roads

The Bill would turn the Highways Agency into a government-owned company, with the stable, long term funding needed to plan ahead. It would create units within Passenger Focus and the Office of Rail Regulation to represent the interests of road users and to monitor the company’s performance.

3.2 Invasive non-native species

The Bill would allow for Species Control Orders to control the invasive, non-native species that pose serious threats to biodiversity, the water environment and infrastructure.

3.3 Nationally significant infrastructure projects

The Bill would:

• simplify the process for making changes to Development Consent Orders (DCO) by speeding up non-material changes to a DCO, and allowing simplified processes for material changes
• allow the Examining Authority to be appointed immediately after an application has been accepted and for the panel to comprise 2 inspectors, speeding up the process and saving money

3.4 Deemed discharge for certain planning conditions

The Bill would allow certain types of planning conditions to be discharged upon application if a local planning authority has not notified the developer of their decision within a prescribed time period, reducing unnecessary delay and costs.

3.5 Public sector land assets

The Bill would:

• permit land to be transferred directly from arms-length bodies to the Homes and Communities Agency, reducing bureaucracy and managing land more effectively
• ensure that future purchasers of land owned by the Homes and Communities Agency and the Greater London Authority will be able to develop and use land without being affected by easements and other rights and restrictions suspended by the Agency

3.6 Land Registry

The Bill would transfer statutory responsibility for the local land charges register and delivery of local land charges searches to the Land Registry, supporting the delivery of digital services, and extend Land Registry’s powers to enable it to provide information and register services relating to land and other property.

3.7 Energy

Subject to consultation, this Bill would support the development of gas and oil from shale and geothermal energy by clarifying and streamlining the underground access regime. The government is currently running a full consultation on this policy and the legislation is entirely dependent on the outcome of that consultation.

Sir Ian Wood’s independent report estimates that full and rapid implementation will deliver at least 3 to 4 billion barrels of oil equivalent more than would otherwise be recovered over the next 20 years, bringing over £200 billion additional value to the UK economy. The government accepted Wood’s recommendations in full in February 2014, and is introducing measures in this Bill to put the principle of maximising economic recovery of petroleum in the UK into statute.

The government will also introduce a levy, making power so that the costs of funding a larger, better resourced regulator can be paid for by industry rather than by the taxpayer as is currently the case.

Clauses will be introduced later in the session to set up a new super agency for the North Sea, with a duty to support the government and industry in maximising economic recovery from this important resource.

3.8 New homes built to a zero carbon standard

The government is committed to implementing a zero carbon standard for new homes from 2016. But it is not always technically feasible or cost effective for house builders to mitigate all emissions on-site.

The government would set a minimum energy performance standard through the building regulations. The remainder of the zero carbon target can be met through cost effective off-site carbon abatement measures – known as ‘allowable solutions’. These provide an optional, cost-effective and flexible means for house builders to meet the zero carbon homes standard, as an alternative to increased on-site energy efficiency measures or renewable energy (such as solar panels). Small sites, which are most commonly developed by small scale house builders, will be exempt. The definition of a small site will be consulted on shortly, and set out in regulation.

The Zero Carbon Home standard will be set at Level 5 of the Code for Sustainable Homes, but the legislation will allow developers to build to Level 4 as long as they offset through the allowable solutions scheme to achieve Code 5.

Energy efficiency requirements for homes are set in the Building Regulations 2010 and are made under powers in the Building Act 1984. But there are insufficient powers in the Building Act to introduce off-site allowable solutions, so the government will now bring forward enabling powers for this.

4. Pensions Tax Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the changes to the pension tax rules as announced at Budget, which would help people get on by giving them greater freedom and choice over how to access their defined contribution pension savings.

The main elements of the Bill are:

• introducing a new tax framework that removes restrictions to the way individuals can access their defined contribution pension savings, and allows them to access their savings subject to their marginal tax rate
• removing the previous restrictions the government placed on how people are able to access their money, and give individuals the freedom and choice to access their pension as they see fit
• introducing anti-avoidance provisions, to prevent individuals taking advantage of the new flexible arrangements for tax avoidance purposes

5. Private Pensions Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to provide wider choice, with Defined Ambition pensions encouraging greater risk sharing between parties and allowing savers to have greater certainty about their retirement savings.

5.1 General changes to Pensions legislation

The Bill would:

• make provisions for a new legislative framework in relation to the different categories of pension schemes. It would establish 3 mutually exclusive definitions for scheme type based on degrees of certainty in the benefits that schemes offer to members
• define schemes in terms of the type of ‘pensions promise’ they offer to the individual as they are paying in. A scheme would be categorised as a Defined Benefit (DB) scheme, a Defined Ambition (shared risk pension scheme) scheme or a Defined Contribution (DC) scheme, corresponding to the different types of promise – full promise about retirement income, a promise on part of the pot or income or offering no promise at all

5.2 Collective benefits

The Bill would enable ‘Collective schemes’ that pool risk between members and potentially allow for greater stability around pension outcomes. It would also contain a number of measures relating to the valuation and reporting requirements for collective schemes.

5.3 Rationale

Defined Contribution pensions – where individual scheme members bear the risks of longevity, inflation and investment returns – currently dominate the UK pensions market.

Defined Benefit pensions – where the employer bears the risks by promising a pension usually related to salary – are in decline.

Defined Contribution pensions can be the right product for many savers, but outcomes will be less certain and more volatile than those with Defined Benefit Pensions.

The Bill is needed to encourage new Defined Ambition pensions, in the middle space between Defined Contribution and Defined Benefit pensions that share more of the risk between parties.

5.4 Budget

The Budget announced new flexibilities for members of Defined Contribution schemes. To help people make decisions that best suit their needs everyone with DC pensions will be offered free and impartial guidance via a guidance guarantee, on the range of options available to them at retirement. This Bill will legislate so that all individuals with a Defined Contribution pension in the UK approaching retirement will be offered guidance.

Depending on the outcome of the HM Treasury Freedom and Choice in pensions consultation, the Bill would allow the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to either bring forward legislation to implement a ban on all transfers out of private sector DB schemes or not.

It would also allow us to bring forward legislation to ban transfers out of unfunded public sector DB schemes as announced in the Budget.

6. Childcare Payments Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to introduce a new scheme that will support working families by giving support equivalent to basic rate tax relief on money spent on childcare, up to a maximum of £2,000 per year for each child.

The scheme would be operated by HMRC and introduced in autumn 2015.

6.1 Support for childcare payments

The Bill would entitle those with responsibilities for a child to access government support with their childcare costs in the form of effective tax relief. For every £8 that a parent pays for childcare, the government will contribute £2.

The value of government support would be capped at a maximum of £2,000 per child each year, although there will be no restriction on the number of children for whom support would be available.

The scheme would repeal an existing government system that currently provides financial assistance for parents with their childcare costs, known as Employer-Supported Childcare, or ESC. This is operated on a voluntary basis by an employer through the tax and payroll systems. It is not available to the self-employed or those on a minimum wage.

Tax-Free Childcare will be launched in autumn 2015 and rolled out to all eligible families with children under 12 within the first year of the scheme’s operation, instead of just to under 5 in the first year. This will deliver support to around 1.9 million working families within the first year.

6.2 Eligibility rules

The Bill would set out the conditions that a parent must meet in order to qualify for government top-up payments:

• the person is at least 16 years old
• the person normally lives with and is responsible for the child (whether or not they are the child’s biological or legal parent)
• the person lives or works in the UK
• the person, and their partner if they have one, is in paid work, either as an employee or self-employed, and must earn more than the amount earned working 8 hours a week at National Minimum Wage (there are grace periods for those setting up a small business)
• the person’s income, and that of their partner if they have one, does not exceed the level at which they become liable to pay income tax at the additional rate (currently £150,000 per year)
• the person, and their partner if they have one, is not claiming Universal Credit, or receiving other publicly-funded support for their childcare costs

6.3 Compliance and penalties

The Bill would introduce suitable penalties to ensure that the new scheme is not open to fraud and abuse, together with appropriate mechanisms for reviews and appeals where such penalties have been imposed.

7. Modern Slavery Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to create a fairer society by providing law enforcement with stronger tools to stamp out modern slavery, ensure slave drivers receive suitably severe punishments and enhance protection of and support for victims.

7.1 Offences

The Bill would:

• consolidate and simplify existing modern slavery offences into one Act to provide clarity and focus when prosecuting slave drivers and traffickers
• increase the maximum sentence available for offenders to life imprisonment, with those who have a previous conviction for a serious sexual or violent offence facing an automatic life sentence
• ensure that perpetrators convicted of slavery or trafficking face the toughest asset confiscation regime
• give the courts new powers to order perpetrators of slavery and trafficking to pay financial redress to their victims

7.2 Prevention and Risk Orders

The Bill would introduce:

• Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders to restrict the activity of individuals who have been convicted of modern slavery offences, where they pose a risk of causing harm
• Slavery and Trafficking Risk Orders, to restrict the activity of individuals who have not been convicted of a modern slavery offence, where they pose a risk of causing harm

7.3 Anti-slavery Commissioner

The Bill would create a new Anti-Slavery Commissioner to ensure law enforcement is doing all it can to tackle this crime.

7.4 Protection of Victims

The Bill would:

• create a statutory defence for victims of modern slavery so that those who are forced to commit an offence are not treated as criminals by the criminal justice system; the defence will not apply to serious sexual and violent offences
• extend special measures so that all victims of modern slavery are supported through the criminal justice process
• provide statutory guidance on victim identification and victim services
• provide an enabling power for child advocates to support child victims of trafficking
• create a statutory duty for public bodies including the police, local authorities and immigration personnel to notify the National Crime Agency about potential victims of modern slavery

7.5 Law enforcement powers at sea

The Bill would close loopholes which prevent the police and Border Force being able to act where it is suspected that human trafficking or forced labour is taking place on board vessels at sea.

8. Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to create peace of mind by reassuring those who are acting for the benefit of society, demonstrating a generally responsible approach towards protecting the safety of others or intervening in an emergency, that the courts will consider the context of their actions in the event that something goes wrong and they are sued for negligence or breach of statutory duty.

In any negligence/breach of statutory duty claim that is brought where the court is determining the steps a defendant should have taken to meet the applicable standard of care, it would be required to consider whether:

• the alleged negligence/breach of duty occurred when the defendant was acting for the benefit of society or any of its members (clause 2)
• in carrying out the activity in the course of which the negligence/breach of statutory duty occurred, the defendant had demonstrated a generally responsible approach towards protecting the safety or other interests of others (clause 3)
• the alleged negligence/breach of duty occurred when the defendant took heroic action by intervening in an emergency to assist an individual in danger and without regard to his own safety or other interests (clause 4)

The Bill does not tell the court what conclusion it should reach and does not prevent a person from being found negligent if the circumstances of the case warrant it. However, it would send a strong signal to the courts to ensure that they consider, in all cases, the wider context of the defendant’s actions prior to reaching a conclusion on liability.

9. Service Complaints Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to improve and strengthen the Service complaints system and enable payments to be made to charities and other organisations that support our Armed Forces across the United Kingdom.

9.1 Reform of the Service complaints system

The existing Service Complaints Commissioner would become an Ombudsman and be given increased powers which would strengthen the way complaints are handled.

The new powers would include:

• the ability to investigate whether an individual complaint has been handled properly during the internal process
• the power to recommend action to the Defence Council to put matters right
• the power to overturn, at the outset, a decision by the chain of command to exclude a complaint

• 9.2 Financial payments to organisations that support our Armed Forces

The Bill includes a power to make payments to charities and other organisations that support our armed forces across the United Kingdom.

We want to be able to continue to make payments to organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – without this power our ability to do that will be limited.

10. Serious Crime Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to create peace of mind for all that live here by building on current criminal and civil law to ensure we can continue to effectively and relentlessly pursue, disrupt and bring to justice serious and organised criminals, guard against the threat of terrorism and protect vulnerable women and children.

The Bill would:

• improve our ability to recover criminal assets by amending the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002
• extend the scope of Serious Crime Prevention Orders and gang injunctions
• create a new offence targeting people who knowingly participate in an organised crime group
• create a new offence of possessing ‘paedophilic manuals’
• amend the Computer Misuse Act 1990 to ensure sentences for attacks on computer systems fully reflect the damage they cause
• establish new powers to seize, detain and destroy chemical substances suspected of being used as cutting agents for illegal drugs
• clarify the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to make it explicit that cruelty which is likely to cause psychological harm to a child is an offence
• extend the extra-territorial reach of the offences in the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 so that they apply to habitual as well as permanent UK residents
• allow people suspected of committing an offence overseas under sections 5 (acts preparatory to terrorism) or 6 (training for terrorism) of the Terrorism Act 2006 to be prosecuted in the UK

11. Recall of MPs Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to fill a gap in the regulatory oversight of MPs by allowing voters to trigger a by-election where an MP is found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing and has had a petition calling for a by-election signed by 10% of his or her constituents.

The Bill would establish a recall mechanism giving constituents the opportunity to sign a petition to trigger a by-election if either:

• an MP is convicted in the UK of an offence and receives a custodial sentence of 12 months or less (for more than 12 months an MP is automatically expelled)
• the House of Commons resolves that an MP should face a recall petition

A recall petition would be successful if signed by at least 10% of the registered voters in the constituency over an 8 week period. The recall mechanism would add to the House’s own suite of disciplinary measures and would give constituents a say over their MPs conduct.

The proposals are for recall of members of Parliament, and would not apply to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or Northern Ireland Assembly.

12. Wales Bill

In November 2013 the government accepted almost all of the recommendations made by the Commission on Devolution in Wales in its first report. The Wales Bill provides the legislative framework to implement these new financial powers.

It also includes changes to the electoral arrangements for the Assembly, following a government consultation in 2012. The Bill was introduced in the last session following pre-legislative scrutiny by the Welsh Affairs Committee.

The Wales Bill:

• devolves stamp duty land tax and landfill tax to Wales, enabling the Assembly to replace them with new taxes specific to Wales
• allows further taxes to be devolved, with the agreement of Parliament and the Assembly
• provides for a referendum in Wales on whether an element of income tax should be devolved
• allows the Assembly, subject to a vote in favour in a referendum, to set a Welsh rate for the purpose of calculating the rates of income tax to be paid by Welsh taxpayers
• grants new powers for Welsh ministers to borrow to fund capital expenditure, and extends the circumstances in which they can borrow in the short term to manage fluctuations in tax revenues
• gives the Assembly the power to decide the procedure for scrutinising and authorising the Welsh government’s tax and spending plans

This Bill devolves a significant package of tax and borrowing powers to Wales, giving the National Assembly of Wales and the Welsh government more levers and incentives to boost economic growth.

13. Governance of National Parks (England) and the Broads draft Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to enable the composition of National Parks’ authorities and the Broads Authority to be broadened in the future, by an order of the Secretary of State. The main purpose of the draft Bill would be to provide for the holding of local elections to the authorities.

13.1 Direct elections

The draft Bill would enable direct elections to be held in English National Parks and the Broads, by an order of the Secretary of State.

The draft Bill would, for the first time, and when the Secretary of State so provides, enable eligible residents of the Parks to directly elect some of the Authority members responsible for running their Park and taking planning decisions. The same would apply in the Broads.

13.2 Amending the political balance requirement on local authority appointees

The draft Bill would also allow local authorities to depart from the political balance rule if they appoint 3 or more members to the Park (or Broads) Authority, where doing so would allow them to appoint a representative of a ward within the Park/Broads.

13.3 Allowing a wider range of parish representation

The draft Bill would also allow parish councils to select their representatives to a Park Authority more widely. Currently they must select a parish councillor or Meeting Chairperson. They would be enabled to include anyone eligible to stand as a parish councillor, if the Park Authority requests it, and the Secretary of State so provides.

14. Draft Riot (Damages) Act Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to reform the existing Riot (Damages) Act, improving and modernising the way compensation is paid to individuals and businesses who experience losses or damage to property during riots.

The main elements of the Bill are subject to consultation.

14.1 Vehicle compensation

The Bill would provide limited coverage for vehicles, where the owner only has third party insurance.

14.2 Replacement value

The Bill would change compensation from an indemnity basis (replacing old items with old items) to a replacement value basis (replacing items with an equivalent new item).

14.3 Capping payments

The Bill would place a cap on payments to very large businesses and their insurers.

14.4 Riot Claims Bureau

The Bill would establish a Riot Claims Bureau to handle claims, unifying the way claims are dealt with following any future rioting.

14.5 Application periods

The Bill would extend the application period to give claimants the time needed to gather evidence of damage and rioting.

15. Draft Protection of Charities Bill

The purpose of the draft Bill is to create a fairer society by better protecting charities in England and Wales from abuse and equipping the Charity Commission to tackle abuse more effectively and efficiently.

We have consulted on a number of changes to charities, trustees, the Charity Commission and the Charity Tribunal. We are currently analysing responses to the consultation and once we have carefully considered the merits of proposals we will legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The main benefits of the proposals would be:

• protecting charities from abuse by people who present a known risk
• making it easier for the Charity Commission to take robust action against individuals and charities in cases of abuse
• supporting public trust and confidence in the effective regulation of charities

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