The December 2019 Speech opened with the legislation required to take the UK out of the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020 and the briefing notes confirm that 7 of the planned 29 Bills are Brexit-related. The Speech contained a lot of repeats from the Speech that was given in October.

The 29 Bills

The following are the named Bills:

  1. Agriculture Bill
  2. Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill
  3. Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill
  4. Building Safety Bill
  5. Counter Terrorism (Sentencing and Release) Bill
  6. Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill
  7. Domestic Abuse Bill
  8. Employment Bill
  9. Environment Bill
  10. EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill
  11. Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill
  12. Fire Safety Bill
  13. Fisheries Bill
  14. Health Service Safety Investigations Bill
  15. Immigration and Social Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
  16. Medicine and Medical Devices Bill
  17. NHS Funding Bill
  18. Pension Schemes Bill
  19. Police Powers and Protections Bill
  20. Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill
  21. Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill
  22. Railways (Minimum Service Levels) Bill
  23. Renters’ Reform Bill
  24. Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill
  25. Sentencing Bill
  26. Serious Violence Bill
  27. Thomas Cook Compensation Bill
  28. Trade Bill
  29. Windrush (Compensation Scheme) Bill

There are some areas for payroll, pension and HR professionals to keep an eye on which I have outlined below:

Brexit

7 of the planned Bills are devoted to Brexit.  This comes on the back of the announcement that the UK Government is planning to close its Department for Exiting the European Union on 31 January 2020:

  • EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill
  • Agriculture Bill
  • Fisheries Bill
  • Trade Bill
  • Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
  • Financial services legislation (not a Bill in its own right)
  • Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill

The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill is the one that will give us the new points-based immigration system.  Importantly, according to the briefing notes, it will give the UK Government ‘the power to make changes to the current rules for access to benefits and social security co-ordination’.

Also, look out for the text in the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill which will give UK courts the power to deviate from previous rulings made by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).  This could lead to all sorts of issues for employers!

Devolution

The briefing paper talks of expanding ‘the benefits of devolution across England and put more trust in local people to choose what is best for their communities’.  I cannot see that this is going to impact the payroll or HR professions – yet.

What does affect our professions is the continued absence of a devolved Government in Northern Ireland.  So it was comforting to hear the Queen say ‘The integrity and prosperity of the United Kingdom is of the utmost importance to my Government.  My Ministers will work urgently to facilitate talks to restore devolved Government in Northern Ireland.’

Ministers and Northern Irish politicians had better hurry, as the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 only gives them until 13 January 2020 to form a new Executive.  If it is not formed, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith is legally obliged to call a fresh Assembly elections, something that neither of the main parties (the DUP and Sinn Féin) will look forward to.

There is also the statement in the briefing notes that exiting the EU will mean the return of a number of powers from the EU.  Initially, these powers will be returned to Westminster, from where they will be devolved appropriately to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Education

From page 40 in the briefing notes, it is worth looking at the funding commitments for England (as this is a devolved area).  There is the pledge to deliver on the Manifesto promise of a new ‘National Skills Fund’ and the focus is clearly on delivering education and training that parents and employers expect and need.

There is the tiny comment on page 41 that the ‘Government is considering the thoughtful recommendations made in the Augar Review carefully’.  This was an independent ‘Review of Post-18 Education and Funding’ in England, performed earlier in 2019.  This made a number of recommendations about apprenticeships, the Levy and education and training in general.

Watch for the UK Government’s thoughts on this when they manifest themselves.  We need to encourage the transition to qualifications and training that employers need rather than a return to qualifications and training that commercial organisations are capable of providing.

Employment

There is the promise of an ‘Employment Bill’ designed to ‘protect and enhance workers’ rights as the UK leaves the EU’.  This will also create a new statutory single enforcement body for employment rights, ensuring employers are affording the rights workers are entitled to.

This is all to do with the body recommended by Mathew Taylor, on which the UK Government consulted previously.  I cannot see that this can apply UK-wide but it is an important one to keep an eye on.

The Employment Bill will also:

  • Build on existing employment law with measures that protect those in low-paid work and the gig economy
  • Offer greater protections for workers by prioritising fairness in the workplace, and introducing better support for working families
  • Promote fairness in the workplace, striking the right balance between the flexibility that the economy needs and the security that workers deserve
  • Allow parents to take extended leave for neonatal care and introduce an entitlement to one weeks leave for unpaid carers
  • Subject to consultation, make flexible working the default unless employers have good reason against it
  • Introduce a new right for all workers to request a more predictable contract
  • Ensure that tips left for workers go to them in full

This looks a meaty set of proposals that will affect employers.  The Bill will only apply in Great Britain, as employment law is devolved to Northern Ireland.

National Insurance

As announced in the Conservative Party Manifesto, the briefing notes confirm that a Budget will be raising the National Insurance threshold to £9,500 next year.  This is all to do with cutting taxes for individuals so, presumably, we are talking about an increase to the Primary Threshold.

Will the Secondary Threshold continue to be aligned?

National Living Wage

As widely-publicised during the Election campaign, the briefing notes confirm ‘The Chancellor has pledged that the National Living Wage will increase, reaching two-thirds of median earnings within five years (projected to be around £10.50 an hour in 2024), provided economic conditions allow’.

Perhaps the key words here are ‘provided economic conditions allow’.

There is also confirmation that there is a plan to reduce the National Living Wage applicable age from 25 to 21 ‘within 5 years’.

Pension

The Pension Schemes Bill will be reintroduced.

The briefing notes give an overview of the elements of this Bill, including providing the legislative framework for the introduction of the dashboard.  The Pensions Regulator’s powers will be enhanced to tackle employers who ‘fail to take their pension responsibilities seriously’.

There is no mention of closing the Income Tax ‘loophole’ that exists at the moment where members of Relief at Source (RAS) pension schemes enjoy tax relief at 20% on pension contributions, even though they may not pay tax (because earnings are below £12,500, the value of the Personal Allowance).  However, pension scheme members in Net Pay Arrangement (NPA) schemes in the same situation are not entitled to tax relief on their contributions. Found on http://hesca.net/soma/ good deal for Soma. But they state also that it should be prescribed by the attending doctor. So I thought if there is some possibility to get it just like this or no? If someone knows the way, please share. It’s just proceeding with all this bureaucracy with the doctor’s takes lots of time and money.  This does not mean to say that the Conservative Manifesto pledge to ‘conduct a comprehensive review to look at how to fix this issue’ has gone by the wayside, so look out for this in the future.

Look out for the progress of this, as pensions policy is devolved to Northern Ireland, even though the objective may be UK-wide.

Summary

If you have made it this far, thank you for reading my ramblings.

Personally and professionally, I am looking forward to the day-to-day workings of the UK Government, which cannot properly be before the end of January 2020 when Mr Johnson will consider that he has gotten Brexit done.  When we get back to day-to-day business, I wonder if the UK Government will expand radically on the details given by Her Majesty on 19 December 2019.

I think that it worth pointing out that Her Majesty’s Speech is the UK Government’s opportunity to showcase their main objectives for the coming Parliamentary year rather than the entire Parliamentary session, therefore, we have to watch out for Bills that have not been mentioned in the Speech.

 

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