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Westminster update: government publish coronavirus roadmap
Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.
One thing you need to do
We welcomed plans to resume jury trials this month, but reassert the utmost importance of safety.
Five things you need to know
1. Government publish roadmap; ease lockdown measures
Following his address to the nation on Sunday 10 May, the prime minister unveiled the government’s roadmap document ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’ on Monday 11 May.
The document outlines the current situation, the government’s aims, their approach through a phased recovery, and a roadmap to lift restrictions step-by-step. Fourteen supporting programmes are also outlined in the document, which focus on the fight against the virus, communication and governance.
The key points in the document are:
- Objective – the government’s aim is to return life to as close to normal as possible, for as many people as possible, as fast and fairly as possible – in a way that avoids a new epidemic and minimises lives lost, while maximising health, economic and social outcomes.
- Phasing – As the UK exits phase one of the government’s response, where the government has sought to contain, delay, research and mitigate, it will move through two further phases. We are now moving into Phase Two, which will include three steps. The first step, commencing last Wednesday, includes advice to continue to work from home where you can, avoiding public transport wherever possible, wearing face-coverings in enclosed spaces, allowing people spend time in public spaces and increased exercise allowed, and restrictions on those arriving from international travel. Further steps will see some return for early years settings and schools, non-essential retail, sporting events behind closed doors, hospitality and leisure facilities.
- Safety in the workplace – The government will publish COVID-19 Secure guidelines, which will provide guidance on how to ensure safety in the workplace. (Subsequently published)
- Financial support – the government acknowledges that it will need to wind down the economic support measures while people are eased back to work.
2. Guidance for safely returning to work published
Last Monday evening, the government published guidance for employers to help them get their businesses back up and running and workplaces operating safely. The guidance was developed in consultation with large employers, unions, and industry leaders.
We've provided a summary of the guidance on our website, as a practical framework for law firms and sole practitioners on returning to the office.
The guidance applies to businesses currently open, and covers eight workplace settings which are allowed to be open, from outdoor environments and construction sites to factories and takeaways.
They focus on the following practical steps:
- conduct a risk assessment
- develop a risk mitigation plan
- identify which staff members need to be on-site
- look after your staff who are on-site and working from home
- put in place measures for social distancing at work
- adapt workstations, common areas and visitors/contractors protocols
- PPE and face coverings
- keep communicating with your staff
3. Furlough scheme extended
The chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak announced last Tuesday that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough scheme) will continue until the end of October.
Workers will continue to receive 80% of their current salary up to £2,500, and new flexibility will be introduced in August to allow workers to return part-time.
We welcomed the announcement. “The extension of the Job Retention Scheme will come as a big help for firms, particularly small ones," said Simon Davis, president of the Law Society of England and Wales.
“All the signs are that emerging from lockdown is likely to be a slow process. The furlough scheme is a necessary support for firms as they seek to retain employees in the hope work returns."
4. Housing market restarts with new guidance
Last Wednesday the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick MP, provided new guidance to the housing sector following the easing of some restrictions on house viewing and the completion of housing purchases.
He gave a statement in the House of Commons outlining the steps the government is taking to reopen the housing market and the housebuilding industry. In his statement he said:
- over 450,000 sales have been stuck in the system, unable to be progressed, while a substantial number of rentals have not gone ahead
- every month, 300,000 tenancies come up for renewal, a proportion of which result in people moving home
- the government is lifting the temporary freeze on home-moving with immediate effect, meaning that, as long as they are not shielding or self-isolating, anyone can move home at any time and for any reason
- every element of the buying and selling process is now back in business, as long as it can be done safely
- estate agent offices can now reopen, removal companies can return to business, surveyors, conveyancers and valuers can go back to work, and show homes on sites can reopen
- as these businesses reopen they will need to adapt their practices – for instance, with virtual viewings where possible and cleaning thoroughly after viewings and when moving
- all parties involved in home buying and selling should prioritise agreeing amicable arrangements to change move dates for self-isolating individuals
- the government is today launching a safe working charter with the Home Builders Federation
- the planning system must be able to operate safely and efficiently during this time, which means making more use of digital technology
- he is asking the Planning Inspectorate to make all hearings virtual within weeks
Following the statement in Parliament, we provided updated guidance along with the government.
5. Private International Law Bill progresses
The first sitting of committee stage for the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill occurred in the House of Lords last Wednesday. We briefed before the debate, and saw several of our arguments raised during the debate. All clauses remain unamended as of the close of sitting, but several Lords stated they will seek to be more forceful with their amendments at report stage.
Lord Mance (Crossbencher) criticised the Government’s focus on Lugano over the Brussels Recast. Justice minister and Scottish advocate-general Lord Keen argued that, since Brussels Ia and IIa are not international conventions but EU instruments relying on membership, it would not be feasible to be a part of them. He went on to say that the government hopes to advance the scope and efficiency of Lugano once a member, to bring it up to a more even level with the Recast.
The speakers were largely united in their criticism of Clause 2, which permits broad delegated powers allowing private international law treaties and related matters to be implemented by secondary legislation. Shadow attorney general Lord Falconer spoke on the amendments he had tabled to Clause 2 of the Bill. These would restrict the power allowing a minister to change the law to reflect an international treaty on private international law via regulations to the Lugano Convention only.
Lord Falconer argued the Bill should contain no delegation of powers pertaining to legal aid, and that any such provision should be done under specific legal aid regulation. Lord Keen responded that there are “circumstances in which a private international law agreement could contain specific legal aid provisions,” particularly in the field of family law.
Coming up this week
On Monday 18 May the chancellor of the exchequer faced questions from MPs in the House of Commons. Meanwhile, in the House of Lords, there was an oral question on privacy concerns regarding the NHSx tracing app.
The Trade Bill will receive its Second Reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday 19 May.
Thursday 21 May will see a debate in the House of Lords on the contribution made by business and wider private sector in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Lord Chief Justice will give evidence to the Justice Select Committee on Friday 22 May regarding the impact of coronavirus on the courts system.