The Queen’s Speech 2016

Legal Experts React To Government’s Plans For Year Ahead

18.05.2016

Kate Rawlings, Press Officer | 0114 274 4238

The Queen has made a raft of announcements regarding the government‘s legislation for the year ahead, during her speech at the State Opening of Parliament, at the Place of Westminster.

A team of legal experts from law firm Irwin Mitchell were on standby to analyse what new Bills featured in the Queen’s Speech and comment on what they mean for individuals, families and businesses.

Children And Social Work Bill (England only)

During her speech, the Queen announced the Children and Social Work Bill (England only) which featured plans to speed up adoption procedures.

Family law expert Rebecca Harling, from Thomas Eggar, part of the Irwin Mitchell Group said: “Although there have been some improvements, the adoption process in the UK is still long and complicated and this often leads to vulnerable children spending too much time in care. 

“Adopters also feel unsupported and undervalued and there are not enough of them.  It is good that the Government is trying to remedy the flaws in the process, speed up adoptions and provide more support and assistance for adoptive families. 

“The child’s best interests must always be paramount and if that means adoption out of the family, then that should be pursued without delay”.

Pensions Bill

The Queen also announced plans to offer better protection for people paying into multi-employer pension schemes known as Master Trusts.

Meanwhile pensions expert at Irwin Mitchell, Penny Cogher, welcomed the announcements but said  more needs to be done.

Expert Opinion
“The Government is still playing catch up with its pension reforms. Master Trusts, those group Defined Contribution (DC) arrangements holding the pension savings for potentially tens of thousands of individuals, have been highlighted as being pension arrangements ripe for the next scandal, so steps to try to head this off at the pass are welcome.

“However, with so much change going on in the world of pensions, there is always more protection to be put in place as those changes are worked through. The concept of the professional trustee, held out as a safeguard for the Master Trusts, is completely unregulated and I believe it is an area where the Government should also legislate swiftly to avoid future pension scandals.”
Penny Cogher, Partner

Criminal Finances Bill

Following David Cameron’s announcements during the anti-corruption summit this month, the Queen also outlined tough measures against tax evasion and money laundering.

Sarah Wallace, Head of Regulatory & Criminal Investigations at Irwin Mitchell, said businesses would have to ensure they had adequate procedures in place to make sure they were taking all the necessary steps to stop their staff facilitating tax evasion.

Expert Opinion
“The new offence, which is similar to the Bribery Act corporate offence, may make it easier for companies to be prosecuted as the prosecutions do not need to show that directors or senior officials were involved in the criminal activity. Although there are defences, this new offence will place a greater burden on companies and they will need to reassess their due diligence and risk assessments on what prevention procedures, policies and guidance is required.”

Commenting on plans to refocus the Suspicious Activity Reports regime on tackling systemic money laundering, she added: “We have a raft of draconian laws already in place to combat financial crime and money laundering, although it is harder to prosecute companies rather than individuals.

“For the Government’s tough anti-money laundering stance to be really effective, they have to commit adequate resources to the law enforcement agencies who have the responsibility to investigate and prosecute efficiently and effectively.

“Unexplained wealth orders (UWO) propose new civil powers that supporters believe may be a quicker and more cost effective tool to seize assets that are suspected as being derived from the proceeds of crime. The difference with UWOs though is that the burden will be on the asset owner to prove a legitimate source of the wealth.”
Sarah Wallace, Partner

Local Growth And Jobs Bill

Plans for local authorities to keep 100 per cent of business rates, were laid out.

Real estate specialist at Irwin Mitchell, Roy Beckett, praised the plans.

Expert Opinion
“Reform to Business Rates isn’t surprising but it’s of course very welcome as it has the potential to allow Local Authorities to invest in much needed infrastructure - something which we know businesses want in order to boost their local economy.

“This Bill could play a big role in supporting the Government’s flagship Northern Powerhouse plan and I look forward to seeing what the framework for delivery will be as real action is required sooner rather than later.”
Roy Beckett, Partner

Education For All Bill

Following the recent Government U-turn on their previous pledge to force all schools to convert to academies, the Queen announced there would be new powers to convert under-performing schools in "unviable" local authorities to academies.

She added that there would be a goal of making every school an academy but no compulsion to do so and that Head teachers, not councils, would be responsible for school improvement.

Partner and education expert at Irwin Mitchell, Laurence Gavin said there was a question mark over whether academy heads and trustee boards would be able to cope with growing responsibility placed on them by the government.

Expert Opinion
“The Government has recognised reality in stepping back from compulsory academy conversions, although it is interesting to see it increasing control over under-performers.

“Also with school improvement responsibility moving from councils we are seeing the shape of a more diverse school sector emerging. There are bound to be failures and successes of this strategy but the sense is that we are in a risk management phase now, with the challenges around academy independence becoming clearer. The question will be whether academy heads and trustee boards are able to cope with the growing responsibility.”
Laurence Gavin, Partner

Neighbourhood Planning And Infrastructure Bill (England and Wales)

Head of Planning for the Irwin Mitchell Group, Carl Dyer, gave a cautious but sceptical welcome to the housing and infrastructure announcements made at Westminster Palace today.

He said: "The Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill contains some useful provisions. At the micro level, councils currently make excessive use of pre-commencement conditions, often in circumstances where they are unnecessary. We regularly see consents with more than a dozen such conditions. Since each must be signed off before a lawful start can be made, the developer is at the mercy of the least efficient council or stakeholder officer determining any one of the applications to discharge the conditions. But we will need to see the legislation to see if it will be effective.

It is difficult to get excited about a “National Infrastructure Commission”. At the end of the day, the level of infrastructure we invest in (and whether the nation can afford to do it, or not to do it) is essentially a political decision. We have seen with the on-going, and still unresolved, debate over South East airport capacity that kicking the can down the street to an independent body – however well qualified - only delays the date of that political decision.”