The Queen’s Speech: 19 December 2019

The Queen’s speech on 19 December focussed, as expected, on the delivery of a number of Conservative party manifesto commitments, led by action to leave the European Union by 31 January, to support the National Health Service and to address issues of crime prevention.

There are a number of other measures announced addressing other manifesto commitments, but the main governance-related commitment, the intention to reform insolvency rules to provide customers and suppliers with more protection, and to legislate to protect the assets in company pension schemes, was not specifically mentioned, although there is a commitment to legislation on airline insolvency to address issues arising from the collapse of Thomas Cook.

This does not mean that the proposals will not be carried forward: the Queen’s speech identifies Government priorities rather than providing a complete statement of all legislation. That said, there are a number of measures mentioned in the more detailed background briefing notes which are of interest.

One of these derives from the statement in the Queen’s speech that “Measures will be brought forward to encourage flexible working, to introduce the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers..." The background briefing describes an Employment Bill which will address a number of issues around workers’ rights, including the creation of a new, single enforcement body to deal with cases of poor treatment. It will also encourage flexible working and, “subject to consultation, the Bill will make flexible working the default unless employers have good reason not to”. There is also a commitment to establish “a new £1 billion fund to help create more high quality childcare”. Put together these proposals start to address some of the socio-economic issues underlying the problem of diversity in the boardroom and the boardroom pipeline, as well as the gender pay gap.

Other legislation mentioned in the briefing document includes a commitment to “clamp down on late payment more broadly and strengthen the powers of the Small Business Commissioner to support small businesses that are exploited by their larger partners” and the development of “proposals on company audit and corporate reporting, including a stronger regulator with all the powers necessary to reform the sector. These proposals aim to improve public trust in business, following the three independent reviews commissioned in 2018. It will also help workers employed by a large company in future to know how resilient it is”.

Finally, there is an interesting section on boycotts by public institutions, with a commitment to stopping “public institutions from imposing their own approach or views about international relations, through preventing boycotts, divestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries and those who trade with them”.

The text of Her Majesty’s speech can be found here.

The briefing paper can be found here

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