Parliamentary Recess: What has it achieved so far this session?
The 2019 General Election Parliament has faced tumultuous challenges in its first months. With the summer recess beginning, we look back at the priorities and achievements of the political year so far.
Given the current global situation, it can be hard to fathom that the last General Election happened fewer than eight months ago. Such have been the challenges facing legislatures as a result of coronavirus, that the sheer volume of effort that has gone in can be lost. Below are just a few of the key priorities that have taken up Parliament’s time since it returned from the General Election.
Setting up scrutiny
One of the first challenges for Parliamentarians of all kinds was to once again set up the appropriate scrutiny apparatus, to allow for opposition and for Parliamentarians to effectively scrutinise Government again. This has taken many forms and been an ongoing process throughout the year so far.
Select committees were amongst the first to be set up: groupings of MPs shadowing government departments which launch inquiries and question the behaviour of government departments. Elections for the Chairs of these groups took place in January, with former Conservative leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt (Health) and Yvette Cooper (Home Affairs Committee) amongst the highest profile chairs. (Much) more recently, the Intelligence and Security Committee was reformed, to be chaired by Dr Julian Lewis. The leadership and first actions of this last committee grabbed headlines from day one, with a surprise Chair and the release of the much-anticipated report into Russian interference in British elections.
More informal groupings of MPs and Peers have also formed throughout the year, with a wide range of All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) reforming following the election.
The opposition have also got in on the act, with a new Leader of the Opposition, Shadow Cabinet and Shadow Ministers coming to the fore in the first months of the year. Sir Keir Starmer has made headway in the polls since his election, but still faces significant challenges to making Labour an electoral force.
In our start of the year client alert, one of the main things on the wish list was for political debate to focus on something other than Brexit. But for the first month that remained all that was on the menu, with Britain’s exit from the European Union (and entry into a transition period) secured on 31 January 2020. As the months have gone on, attention has turned to a trade deal between the UK and the EU, but at time of writing progress is still slow, with the spectre of no-deal at the end of the transition period present again.
The dominant force on everyone’s agenda this year has of course been the COVID-19 pandemic, which has changed lives globally and mounted a terrible toll, both human and economic. As can be expected, political energy has focused predominantly on this area since the pandemic began to take hold. From the Chancellor’s March Budget being reshaped so that it was almost exclusively about COVID-19, to several new economic statements and an incredibly long policy list, there is no doubt where the focus has been. Although there are signs that this has begun to change as the world adapts to the reality of COVID-19, and tries to progress forward to a “new normal”, political energy has certainly been centred around tackling the pandemic as much as possible.
With focus so understandably elsewhere at the current time there has been little scope for the insurance industry’s 2020 wish list to come to fruition. Indeed, on whiplash reform the only update has come in the form of two delays to the proposed date for legislation, with the Government confirming recently that April 2021 will be the implementation date and that phase 2 can’t be looked at until this point.
There is also still no sign of fixed recoverable costs coming forward, as the Ministry of Justice spent much of the year battling to re-open the courts system after lockdown, to ensure that its key function continued to be operational.
With Parliament on recess until the first week of September, we now wait and see how the political agenda develops in the latter part of the year. Will all attention continue to be pulled away from all things insurance? Or will there be a chance for legislative life to move back towards normality?