Some of parliament’s most influential MPs have called on the government to prioritise progress with key pieces of legislation that have yet to complete their progress into law – or in some cases even receive a first reading.
In a letter to House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, Liaison Committee chair Sir Bernard Jenkin set out six pieces of legislation seen as a primary concern. Among them is the environment bill, which will address governance gaps following the end of the EU transition period last month.
Jenkin, whose panel comprises the chairs of all of parliament’s select committees, said the sentencing bill announced in the last Queen’s speech of 2019 now appeared likely to touch on all the Ministry of Justice’s major policy areas – making its timing also “increasingly important”.
He added that ministers’ plans for a new UK research-funding agency, modelled on the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, had yet to result in firm proposals despite being included in the last two Queen’s speeches.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy today announced a name for the body – the Advanced Research and Invention Agency – and said its aim was for Aria to be “fully operational by 2022”. However it did not provide answers to issues raised by the Science and Technology Committee last week.
Jenkin acknowledged that dealing with the coronavirus emergency had introduced new challenges to the government’s agenda, as set out in the last Queen’s speech.
But he said select committee chairs wanted to highlight “a number of proposals” that still needed to be brought forward or required further action.
"The government’s programme has been understandably impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
“But now that this is closer to being under control, we would urge the government to deliver on its commitments to and demands from select committees on other vitally important legislation which committees are keen to see brought forward.”
While Jenkin said the government should make completing the passage of the environment bill a priority, his list also included the introduction to parliament of the draft building safety bill, a new employment bill, and the passage of the animal welfare (sentencing) bill.
He added that ministers should also consider the recommendations of a joint committee of MPs and peers who probed the draft health service safety investigations body bill in 2018 as part of their work on the recently-announced white paper on NHS reform.
The white paper includes proposals to put the Healthcare Safety Investigations Branch on a statutory footing. The earlier bill did not progress beyond its second reading in the House of Lords in October 2019.
A government spokesman said significant progress to deliver ministers’ legislative programme for this parliament had already been made, including the legislation needed to get Brexit done and complete the transition period.
“The Queen's speech will outline the legislative programme for the next session in the usual way,” he said.
“The government welcomes scrutiny from select committees and will bring forward its legislative commitments when parliamentary time allows.”
This story was updated at 14:45 on 19 February 2021 to include a government response