Parliamentary report: Private International Law Bill receives royal assent

Your weekly update from our public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.

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One thing you need to do

At the end of the transition period, the EU lawyer's directives and EU laws will no longer apply. There will be significant changes for individual solicitors and firms, whether an agreement is reached on the UK-EU future relationship or not.

Solicitors and firms should act now to prepare for the end of the transition period – we’ve put together guidance on how you and your firm can prepare for 31 December.

Five things you need to know

1. Private International Law Bill receives royal assent

The Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill received royal assent and entered the statute book on Monday 14 December. It was first tabled in the House of Lords in February 2020.

During its passage through Parliament, the Law Society achieved a government commitment to implement the Hague Convention 2000 in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, after appropriate consultation. This came about through cooperation with Lord Wallace of Tankerness and other interested parties on an amendment which was backed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The Law Society was also mentioned by spokespeople from Labour and the Liberal Democrats, as well as the Justice Select Committee chair, regarding the importance of the Lugano convention.

2. Internal Market Bill receives royal assent

The UK Internal Market Bill received royal assent on Thursday 17 December, after the House of Lords agreed to the latest round of Commons amendments on Wednesday 16 December.

The Bill, which was the cause of much contention as it contained powers allowing ministers to breach international law (and because of its perceived encroachment on devolved governments), was subject to a swift journey through the Houses of Parliament.

The elements of the Bill which jeopardised the international rule of law were removed last week, due to a decision by the UK-EU Joint Committee addressing outstanding issues relevant to the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The Law Society has campaigned against the now-removed clauses since the Bill was first published, and our campaign actions saw over 5,000 solicitors and members of the public write to their MP conveying our concerns. These concerns were also raised in the Commons by spokespeople for the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, and by former prime minister Theresa May.

3. CMA publishes report on legal services sector

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published a report on its review of the legal services market in England and Wales, assessing the implementation and impact of the 2016 recommendations.

The report acknowledges solicitors have worked hard to implement the rules, and indicates that regulators should look to build on what is already in place rather than mandating new requirements. President David Greene said: “We’ve had very constructive engagement with the CMA during this review, they have clearly listened to us and recognise the progress made by law firms.”

Read the report

Read our press release

4. Government extends coronavirus support schemes

On Thursday 17 December the Treasury announced extensions to key coronavirus support schemes, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough scheme) and business support loans.

The furlough scheme will now remain in place until the end of April 2021, an extension on the previous planned end date of the end of March.

The government has confirmed it will pay 80% of the wages of furloughed employees until the end of April. The Treasury had previously announced that it would review the scheme in January to assess whether employers could be asked to make a contribution to furloughed employees’ wages, but today’s announcement confirms that review will no longer take place and employers will not be required to contribute to wages for hours not worked.

The Treasury has announced that the Budget, due to take place on 3 March 2021, will outline a successor loan scheme that will replace the furlough scheme. The timings of the Budget and the end of the furlough scheme will ensure businesses are able to make plans for the end of the furlough scheme ahead of the 45 day redundancy consultation period.

Meanwhile deadlines for businesses seeking to apply for the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme have been extended until the end of March 2021. Previously these schemes had been due to close at the end of January.

Read the full announcement

5. Parliament approves wrongful trading suspension

This week Parliament approved the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 (Coronavirus) (Suspension of Liability for Wrongful Trading and Extension of the Relevant Period) Regulations 2020.

These regulations renew the suspension of wrongful trading liabilities for company directors, which was first implemented following the passing of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 but expired on 30 September 2020. The regulations will revive this suspension between 26 November 2020 and 30 April 2021.

During the Delegated Legislation Committee debate in the Commons on Monday, the BEIS Minister, Paul Scully, explained that in light of increased coronavirus restrictions across the country it has become necessary to reimplement this suspension and provide directors with the reassurance that they can continue to trade during this period. He noted that the 30 April expiry date would be kept under review and that it would be brought forward if the suspension is no longer needed.

The shadow minister Lucy Powell responded by expressing the Opposition’s support for the measures.

Read the transcript of the Delegated Legislation Committee debate

Read the transcript of the Lords debate

Read the regulations

Coming up next week

Parliament closed for recess on Thursday 17 December. However, MPs and peers may be recalled to vote on a possible trade deal between the UK and EU before the end of the year. Parliament is officially scheduled to return on Tuesday 5 January 2021.

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