Our policy committees have had a busy month analysing and responding to proposed changes in the law. We do this to positively influence the creation of a fairer and more just society through our active engagement with the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments, Parliaments, wider stakeholders and our membership.
You can read more about some of the month's highlights below:
A number of the Society’s policy committees considered the second phase of this consultation, including the Consumer and Mental Health & Disability Law Sub-committees. This phase of the consultation focused on passenger services and public transport.
The committees supported the proposal that Highly Automated Road Passenger Services (HARPS) should be subject to a single national system of operator licensing, and suggested that such a system be compatible with any reformed regulatory system for non-bus vehicle transport and take account of developments and collaborations in neighbouring countries.
They agreed that there should be a national scheme of basic safety standards for operating a HARPS, just as currently exists for vehicles. Further, they supported HARPS operators having a legal duty to insure and supervise vehicles and report accidents. It was not considered appropriate to grant exemptions for community of other services which would otherwise be within the scope of HARPS operating licensing, as the licensing is intended to guard the safety of passengers and where there is a risk of injury or death, exemptions should not be applied.
The Society issued a briefing ahead of the second reading in the House of Commons. It welcomed the recognition given by DEFRA to the importance of engaging with the devolved administrations and legislatures. Also welcome was the desire for fairness and protection from unfair trading practices which is supported by the Bill. However, the importance of the principle of freedom of contract and party autonomy being given sufficient recognition was stressed by the Society. It viewed the focus on effective competition law positively and hoped that this will provide legal clarity in the longer term, although recognised that there may be some questions to be dealt with at the outset.
The Society issued suggested amendments with effects and reasons to the Public Bill Committee, followed by written evidence. The written evidence highlighted the significant issue raised in the Bill concerning the power granted to the Secretary of State to decide on the distribution of the overall amount of domestic support between England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The Society observed that the content and shape of an ultimate common framework in this area will be very important. It considers it essential that the Secretary of State be under obligation to consult on the terms of regulations to be made and expects the Secretary of State to make a statement in the House of Commons prior to such regulations being laid.
The Mental Health & Disability Sub-committee agreed with the challenges outlined in the consultation that children with a disability face in the transition to adulthood. It also noted several other challenges posed, such as the fact that the arrangements put in place by a children’s hearing terminate automatically at the age of 18, which can result in significant detriment if not adequately planned for in advance.
The sub-committee put forward their view that children and young people with a disability should have a statutory right to a transitions plan, with robust provisions in place to ensure that the plan is prepared and implemented.
The sub-committee was pleased to note that the consultation document takes into account the wider cost of inaction, in comparison to the costs of implementation. It commented that a narrow view of the costs of a proposal can be inappropriate where there would be overall benefit to the public purse. It also stated the view that there should be express provision to ensure that all rights accorded by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are implemented in relation to each person who has a transition plan.
The Society issued a briefing ahead of the second reading of the Fisheries Bill, having previously responded to DEFRA’s paper Sustainable fisheries for future generations in July 2018.
The briefing highlighted that fishing opportunities are a particularly important issue for Scotland, commenting that in 2018, landings by Scottish vessels contributed to 58% of the value and 64% of the tonnage of all landings by UK vessels. As such, it stated the crucial importance that Scotland’s fishing interests are protected along with those of the other jurisdictions, particularly in recognising that positive changes to the UK fisheries’ position is likely to adversely impact the European fishing fleet and/or impact on trade negotiations, including tariffs.
The briefing referenced Michel Barnier’s statement given at the presentation of the Commission’s proposal for a Council recommendation on directives for the negotiation of a new partnership with the UK, in which he said: “our free trade agreement must include an agreement on fisheries. This agreement should provide for continued reciprocal access to markets, and to waters, with stable quota shares.”.