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Expert Witness Blog

Was Queen’s Speech legislation distracted by referendum?

Everything stops for the Queen’s Speech. The State opening of Parliament has now fixed itself in May or early June, following the passing into law of the Fixed Term Parliament Act in 2011. That earlier timing – the event used to be later in the year unless there had been a General Election – still catches this writer on the hop.

One of the measures outlined by Her Majesty was the reform of the tax system for small donations to charity.

This will make it easier for smaller charities to claim back the tax on donations. The change comes as a welcome relief for the charity sector, which endured a bumpy ride last year – one commentator remarked after the Budget that the sector could be relieved if only because it wasn’t mentioned!

Nevertheless, legacy giving continues to form a major backbone of charities’ funding, with more organisations than ever mentioned in wills. That is according to research by Smee and Ford, the authoritative voice on the sector. Many of the extra names mentioned last year figured for the first time in a legatee’s wishes.

What is continuing to frustrate lawyers, charities and anyone else who has had to deal with the administration of an estate is the continuing number of people who do not leave a will at all. With the recent sustained rocketing of house prices, even a modestly-off person can leave a substantial asset.

Assets left behind nowadays that didn’t even feature just a few years ago are the ‘digital legacy’. Not only does that apply to the passwords and codes needed to access online bank accounts and the like, but it also involves our digital identity. What happens to our photographs, music collections and even our Facebook account? The need for a will becomes ever more pressing.

Another measure included in the Queen’s Speech was the privatisation of the Land Registry. That measure has come under fire even from the government’s own Competition and Markets Authority, which paints a pessimistic picture of a private company unable to resist the temptation to ‘weaken competition to its own commercial products, despite the best efforts of oversight bodies to regulate prices and impose safeguards’. It is incredible that the possibility of that conflict of interest did not occur to the government when it embarked on that course of action.

Also announced on 18 May was the Criminal Finances Bill, which creates an offence on the part of companies of failure to stop staff from facilitating tax evasion. That element of the Bill also came under fire from quarters where the government might expect support. Putting the onus on companies to know everything their employees are up to would prove ‘unworkable’, according to some. The opposition, on the other hand, can complain the measures don’t go far enough.

What seems to be the common thread in all the criticism of this year’s Queen’s Speech legislation is that it seems to be drafted in a hurry and not thought through. Could it have something to do with the fact that the PM and a number of his colleagues are a little distracted by the upcoming referendum?

By the time the next issue of Your Expert Witness is being compiled we will know whether or not the whole European legal framework will still apply to UK law in the future.