44: The Queen’s Speech 2022 – how will it affect charities?
On 10 May 2022, the Queen’s Speech was delivered, setting out the legislative agenda for the next Parliamentary session. The Speech and the background briefing notes set out some detail of 33 Bills to be taken forward (some carried over from the previous session) as well as five draft Bills. What does the Government’s proposed agenda mean for charities?
What isn’t there?
An immediate takeaway from the list of Bills (and draft Bills), of which a helpful ‘at-a-glance’ list is available on the BBC website, is that there is nothing aimed specifically at helping with the cost of living crisis. In some ways, this is not surprising – this was the Queen’s Speech not a Budget – but charities at the coalface of increasing demands will be looking to the Government to offset immediate concerns, while charities more generally will be worrying about a potential downturn in voluntary income, as the public’s discretionary spend diminishes.
Also missing was an Employment Bill. One had been announced in the 2019 Queen’s Speech – to ‘enhance workers’ rights, support flexible working, extend unpaid carers’ entitlement to leave and ensure workers keep their hard earned tips’ – but it has yet to be introduced.
What Bills might have a greater impact on charities?
With 33 Bills announced, there are a lot to choose from, but there are some which immediately stand out.
Changing how we deal with Companies House
The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill will, among other things, implement the reforms to corporate transparency and Companies House which have been the subject of a number of consultations in recent years (see previous blogs here and here for details) and February 2022’s White Paper publication.
The Bill will be important for charities which are established as companies or which have a company within their structure (eg a trading subsidiary company or a corporate director). It will make significant changes to how we interact with Companies House and the role of the Companies Registrar, changing it into more of a regulator with powers to match. The Bill is expected to introduce new ID verification requirements for those who manage, own and control companies and other UK registered entities and to bring in new regulatory and enforcement powers for the Companies Registrar.
The Bill is also expected to implement a ban of corporate directors, subject to some exceptions. In consultation, it was proposed that only companies, not other legal forms, would be excepted from the ban. Importantly, following consultation responses (including from this firm), the White Paper provides that the Government will ensure that other corporate legal forms, such as CIOs, will be permitted within the exception.
The Bill will also, as its name suggests, have a wider focus across measures to combat economic crime, including, for example, to create new powers to seize and recover more quickly and easily crypto assets which may be used as ransomware.
The Levelling up and Regeneration Bill is a key part of this Government’s agenda. The Bill follows a weighty White Paper published in February 2022 (after some delay). Potentially, given the breadth of the levelling up aims, the Bill could affect charities working across multiple aspects of communities across the UK, including education, health, employment assistance and housing.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill has been published, along with its Explanatory Notes. Much of the Bill is aimed at more local devolution and local planning powers, as well as powers for local authorities to address empty properties and commercial premises on the high street and empty second homes in their area.
The Bill may, of course, change during its passage (and some provisions are currently placeholders for more detailed policy) but, at this stage, it is difficult to discern the likely impact for charities. For now, it is probably a case of ‘watch this space’ regarding this Bill.
Also to watch in the area of ‘levelling up’ is a new Schools Bill. It proposes to facilitate more schools joining multi-academy trusts, and promises to change the National Funding Formula for more consistent school funding and improvements in safeguarding and monitoring of children not in school.
The Procurement Bill was originally announced in the 2021 Queen’s Speech but was not brought forward until now. The Bill promises to make public procurement ‘more accessible for new entrants such as small businesses and voluntary, charitable and social enterprises, enabling them to compete for public contracts’.
A Brexit Freedoms Bill is also due, aimed at making it easier to repeal or amend retained EU law and to clarify the status of retained EU law in UK domestic law ‘to reflect the fact that much of it became law without going through full democratic scrutiny in the UK Parliament’.
Another post-Brexit Bill, which we can expect to affect us all, is the Data Reform Bill. This follows a consultation in 2021 and proposes to create a ‘world class data rights regime’, which promises to ‘modernise’ the Information Commissioner’s Office, ‘give citizens and small businesses more control of their data’ and create a ‘data protection framework that is focused on privacy outcomes rather than box-ticking’, among other things.
Human rights, freedoms and protections
A number of human rights charities, as well as lawyers’ groups, have already expressed concerns over the proposed Bill of Rights which is expected to amend or replace the Human Rights Act 1998. Among other things, it is stated to ‘end the abuse of the human rights framework and restore some common sense to our justice system’.
The Public Order Bill is already raising concerns among charities and civil society groups. It is aimed at giving police more powers to tackle Extinction Rebellion/HS2-style protests. Among other things, the Bill re-introduces wider protest-related stop and search powers which attracted criticism and were removed from (what is now) the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 in the previous parliamentary session.
Changes are also announced under the Media Bill for public service broadcasters and to change the costs position for publishers in libel and privacy cases.
The Modern Slavery Bill will bring in recommendations to strengthen current modern slavery legislation.
Universities and students’ unions will already be watching the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which has been carried over from the previous session and promises to impose new duties upon universities and students’ unions designed to secure lawful freedom of speech. It would also give new rights of redress for staff, students and visiting speakers if they suffer loss as a result of a breach of the new duties.
There has already been much comment in the press on the Conversion Therapy Bill, with criticism from some charities after the Government announced that the Bill will extend to sexual orientation but not transgender people. The background notes reference ‘strengthening the case for [individuals found guilty of conversion therapy offences] to be disqualified from holding a senior role in a charity’, so it seems that the provisions for automatic and/or discretionary disqualification from charity trusteeship in the Charities Act 2011 will be amended to include new offences under this Bill.
The picture for animal welfare is mixed. The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill is being carried over into the new session, but the Animals Abroad Bill, which was originally set to ban imports of hunting trophies, fur and foie gras, has yet to appear.
The Non-Domestic Rating Bill is stated to ‘review and create a fairer, more accurate business rates system, meaning businesses will have the confidence they are paying the right tax’. After a fundamental review of business rates in England only recently, this is not another review. Instead, this Bill will implement proposals which have been the subject of recent technical consultations arising out of that fundamental review.
Those proposals include more frequent business rates revaluations and introducing new reliefs designed to incentivise improvements to properties and, in particular, low carbon heat networks. Charities which are ratepayers should be aware that the changes will introduce new duties on ratepayers, such as to notify certain changes to the rating authority within specified time periods, with penalties for non-compliance, so that will be something to look out for.
A Social Housing Regulation Bill is due to increase social housing tenants’ rights and enhance their ability to hold their landlords to account (addressing concerns arising from the Grenfell Tower tragedy). Improvements to the private rental market are promised in the Renters Reform Bill.
What about the draft Bills?
In the run-up to the Queen’s Speech, there was some debate over whether the Government would be bringing forward its proposed audit reforms, designed to address recent high profile corporate collapses, such as Carillion, which have raised concern over standards of corporate governance and the role of auditors. The Government has announced a Draft Audit Reform Bill, rather than a Bill, and states that it will publish ‘shortly’ a response to its 2021 White Paper.
That White Paper had included proposals that the largest charities would be included in the definition of ‘public interest entities’, potentially imposing additional regulatory and reporting requirements and personal liability. The Charity Commission did not support that proposal in its response to the White Paper and others, such as the Charity Finance Group, raised concerns. It is not clear from the details released so far whether the Government has listened to the sector’s concerns.
A Draft Protect Duty Bill is expected following the consultation in 2021 on introducing duties on those in control of certain public venues and locations to consider the threat from terrorism. Charities had raised concerns in response to the consultation about the possible adverse impact for them if they were made subject to the proposed duty. We will have to see the detail in the Draft Bill to see how the Government may have refined its proposals in light of the consultation responses.
Draft Bills were also announced in relation to Mental Health Act reform and a Victims Bill, as well as a Draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.
The new Parliamentary agenda represents another full schedule and there will be much for charities to follow. As well as those Bills which will impact on the specific areas of operations of charities across the sector and concerns over how some Bills may affect charities’ ability to hold Government to account, for charities generally there will be concerns over whether new provisions, such as the Companies House reforms, will introduce new demands on charity resources just as the cost of living crisis reaches melting-point.
Charities will, of course, already need to adjust to the implementation of the Charities Act 2022, which is due to start implementation in Autumn 2022. Although we can expect a bit of bedding in to be needed with each implementation round, hopefully there is comfort to be had in knowing that the Charities Act is designed to save charities time and money in the long run.