The Arbitration Bill doesn’t make the wash-up

The fate of the planned reforms of the Arbitration Act 1996 will have to await the outcome of the UK general election as the Arbitration Bill was not included as part of the UK’s legislative wash-up prior to Parliament’s prorogation.

The announcement, on 22 May, by the UK Government that a general election would be held on 4 July had an immediate effect on its ongoing legislative programme. In particular, as Parliament must be dissolved 25 working days before the election, the setting of a date necessarily triggered a foreshortening of the time in which any remaining bills before Parliament can be passed into law.

That legislative window (known as the wash-up) then ends either when Parliament is prorogued in preparation for dissolution, or dissolved (whichever takes place first). When the date of the election was set, it was also announced that Parliament would be prorogued at close of business on Friday 24 May: leaving a wash-up period of 2 days (i.e. 23 and 24 May).

During the wash-up there is necessarily a selection of bills whose progress can be accelerated contingent upon issues such as their progress and remaining time. The Arbitration Bill, which had recently been amended in Committee and was awaiting its Report Stage in the House of Lords, was not included in those; so it was not one of the bills that received Royal Assent shortly before Parliament’s prorogation on the evening of Friday 24 May.  

The issue, as discussed in debates in the House of Lords on other civil justice legislation/instruments during the wash-up period (click here and here) appears to have been that the Bill both originated in the House of Lords and had not completed its passage through that House (so had yet to be introduced to the House of Commons in any form). Thus, as a matter of constitutional convention, it appears to have been ineligible for accelerated treatment in the wash-up.

The technical consequence of a bill remaining unpassed at the end of wash-up is that it is “lost/falls.” That is, it will be up to the next government (following the general election), to decide whether it wants to enact the reforms embodied by the bill and, if it does, the legislative process would need to be started from scratch.

Be that as it may, given the apolitical nature of the Arbitration Bill, and the amount of scrutiny it received up until now, it might be regarded by an incoming administration as “ready to go.” On such a basis, in one of the aforesaid debates (see that of 24 May, at the second link of the two above) a number of Lords used the opportunity to advocate for a swift reintroduction of the Bill in the new Parliament after the election. The UK arbitration community will be watching closely to see what happens next.