As Parliament starts the Easter recess, the legislative programme is looking ragged, bearing the marks of three Prime Ministers’ very different decisions. The decision to significantly extend the current session until late autumn could mean a very limited fourth session cut short by a General Election in 2024. It also places huge pressure on the Government to come up with a programme that appeals to the ordinary citizen; a challenge after so many years in government, when good ideas should have already been acted on and what is usually left are the measures that haven’t previously made the cut or proved complicated. The Renters Reform Bill and football governance legislation will though help tick this box.
Since the Queen’s Speech in May 2022, roughly half the programme announced has reached or is close to reaching the statute books. Measures include the Financial Services and Markets Bill, National Security Bill, Public Order Bill, Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, Procurement Bill, the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Act, and UK Infrastructure Bank Act.
However, an equal number of bills have been introduced and not progressed, suffered ‘stops and starts’, travelled very slowly, or failed to materialise. Some of this is due to political turmoil and changing political priorities. The death of the Queen, the absence of an executive in Northern Ireland, the energy crisis and strikes have also contributed, necessitating a lot of unexpected legislation taking time from other bills.
The decision to extend the session was therefore part necessity and part strategic. It bought time for negotiations with the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol and for the introduction and passage of the Illegal Migration Bill. It has however come at a price. Other bills are travelling slower, and departments are taking up all the slack in the programme.
Major bills such as the Energy Bill, Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, and Online Safety Bill have taken a lot longer than originally intended, encouraging MPs, Peers and campaign groups to table amendments to add ‘one more thing’. While they will become law with the overall policy intact it has been messier than needed.
Other bills appear to simply be losing out to more urgent measures. The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, Electronic Trade Documents Bill, and Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill are all off by months. Others have simply never appeared, such as the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions, Higher Education, and Non-Domestic Rating Bills.
And then there are those that have been abandoned: the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill has served its purpose; Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill is beset by tricky amendments on trail hunting and religious slaughter; the Bill of Rights has not been revived; and the Schools Bill, rushed in with policy work still underway, is dead.
Other bills have been pushed back to the fourth session including the Media Bill, Renters Reform Bill and Transport Bill (some question marks remain on the latter), or are belatedly being introduced as carry-over bills, and will complete their passage in 2024 over the course of two sessions, rather than 2023 as originally planned. These include the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, and the new version of the twice-introduced Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.
All of which presents a challenge for the fourth session: time is being stolen for existing measures, and departments’ bad habits already evident may undermine what is achieved. It is entirely possible that we will have a 2024 summer General Election and if that happens there may be at best only six months of legislative time. With the Media Bill, Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill and Data Bill already allocated time, alongside recently confirmed legislation on Renters Reforms and football governance, there’s not much capacity. Final decisions on the programme were due to be made this month and there is now a very high bar for new proposals. Businesses seeking to shape approved legislation need to engage now.
This blog was written by Specialist Partner Nikki da Costa. Previously, Nikki was Director of Legislative Affairs in No 10 for two Prime Ministers – Theresa May and Boris Johnson.
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