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From trade union law to the ‘snoopers charter’ – a guide to the Queen’s Speech

From trade union law to the ‘snoopers charter’ – a guide to the Queen’s Speech

🕔27.May 2015

The Queen’s Speech for the new majority Conservative Government takes place today. Below is a glimpse of the main measures Her Majesty is expected to outline. In these parts, there will be particular interest in the Cities Devolution Bill, writes Paul Dale

Enterprise Bill

The Government has said it will include an Enterprise Bill as part of its first Queen’s Speech.

Announcements on the Bill have focused on the top line pledge to cut red tape for business by at least £10 billion in the five years of this Parliament, and the target will extend to independent regulators for the first time, bodies like the Financial Conduct Authority and Ofgem.

The Bill will create a Small Business Conciliation Service to help settle disputes between small and large businesses. This domestic legislation will also feed into the debate around reform of the regulation imposed from the European Union.

Employment and Trade Union Bill

A key plank of the party’s manifesto was tackling a long-standing issue, on the radar of many Conservatives – reform of trade union law. Business Secretary Sajid Javid in one of his first interviews after the election said there are to be “significant changes” to strike laws under the new Government.

The Tory manifesto included a pledge that any strike affecting health, transport, fire services or schools will need to be backed by 40 per cent of eligible union members. Strikes would also only be allowed following a ballot in which at least half the workforce have voted. The Government will also lift restrictions on the use of agency staff to replace striking workers.

This is likely to be one of the most fiercely fought pieces of legislation in this Parliament, with Labour and Scottish MPs lining up to fight to the end.

Housing and Planning

Housing played a key role in the General Election campaign and the Conservatives made it clear that if they were to enter government again it would not be business as usual. The party has committed itself to putting communities at the heart of the planning process with brownfield land a key focus for development, safeguarding the Green Belt and expanding their Right to Buy policy to cover housing associations.

The Conservatives spent a great deal of time and energy pushing forward their plans to extend Right to Buy during the election campaign, The main concern for the sector, particularly housing associations, will be the Conservatives’ commitment to match their Right to Buy extension with a concerted effort to support housebuilding to neutralise any impact a sell off of stock may have on housing supply.

Cities Devolution Bill

George Osborne has said the Government intends to “hand power from the centre to cities” to give greater control over local transport, housing, skills and healthcare. Osborne suggested the Government would give cities the levers they needed to grow their local economy and make sure local people kept the rewards.

The bill will pave the way for elected metro mayors who work with local councils, as demonstrated in the Greater Manchester pilot scheme. English cities prepared to work in a combined authority set up under a metro mayor would receive powers over housing, transport, planning and policing—in a step to introduce “a radical new model of city government”, according to Mr Osborne.

The Chancellor added: “It means by the end of this year the legal framework will be set so that any city can proceed to implement a mayoral devolution deal.”

Planning

Speaking to their core vote, the Conservatives pledged to “ensure local people have more control over planning and protect in the green belt” ahead of the General Election, and it is clear that they will be pushing forward with this in their first Queen’s Speech.

Plans are being drawn up to extend the opportunities for communities to become more involved in local planning decisions – in particular on the issue of windfarms.

Other aspects which we can expect to see in the coming weeks and months with regards to the establishment of their £1 billion Brownfield Fund to stimulate development on brownfield land as well as a further extension to the coalition’s starter homes.

British Bill of Rights

The Conservatives have long wished to scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act (HRA) and introduce a British Bill of Rights, thus curtailing the role of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), so that foreign criminals could be more easily deported from Britain.

As stated in their GeneralEelection manifesto the aim is to break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and make the UK’s Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK.

The Conservatives couldn’t act in the last Parliament on bringing forward legislation that would abolish the act because their Liberal Democrats coalition partners were strongly committed to the European Convention of Human Rights.

The new Justice Secretary Michael Gove has now been tasked to lead and deliver on the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to repeal the Human Rights Act, although he may believe more work is required which would see him bringing forward the legislation later in the Parliament.

Scotland Bill

Powers to be granted to the Scottish parliament would include the ability to set income tax rate bands, increased borrowing powers, control over some benefits, including the personal independence payment, and the housing aspect of universal credit, alongside additional powers relating to onshore oil and gas extraction and air passenger duty.

The Government have claimed that the Bill would enable the Scottish Parliament to become “one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world,” although the Unionist parties in the last Parliament were broadly supportive of the Bill, but the changed dynamic in the Commons with many more SNP MPs may see pressure to devolve further powers.

Education Bill

Nicky Morgan’s first announcement since being reappointed as Education Secretary has been a bold promise to tackle both “coasting” and “failing” schools through legislation.

The primary focus of the Education Bill is to permit schools deemed by Ofsted to be requiring improvement to be subject to intervention. This intervention would take the form of replacing the school’s leadership and turning it into an academy. Mrs Morgan confirmed that Regional Schools Commissioners would be able to bring in new leadership “from day one”.

Alongside the Conservative’s vision to increase the number of academies and expand academy chains, the party has pledged to open an additional 500 free schools during the 2015-2020 Parliament. Other pledges around providing 30 hours of free childcare to working parents for three and four year olds and “building excellence” in the early years sector, are also likely to be included in the Bill.

EU Referendum Bill

David Cameron’s majority negates the need for any wrangling with UKIP, and his political momentum and an empowering mandate may even see a referendum brought forward to late 2015 or May 2016, rather than 2017. Doing so would allay the fear of uncertainty, something Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has warned against.

The detail of the Bill, whenever it does appear, will be key. It would appear non-British EU citizens living and working in the UK , along with 16 and 17 year olds will not get the vote. Will the result of the referendum be legally binding?

Plans for a referendum will encounter huge opposition in the Lords, as the Government has no majority there. However given the Conservative’s democratic mandate on this issue, peers are unlikely to fully derail the Government’s plans.

Counter Terrorism Bill

David Cameron has confirmed that legislation including plans for extremism disruption orders designed to restrict those trying to radicalise young people, will be included in the Queen’s Speech. The Prime Minister told the National Security Council the new measures will give police powers to go to the High Court to request orders to prevent “harmful activities” of individuals who pose a “threat to the functioning of democracy.”

These measures will focus on reducing the presence of those who incite hatred against gender, race or religion on social media and in print and would give the police powers to apply to the high court for an order to limit the “harmful activities” of an extremist individual.

The definition of harmful is to include a risk of public disorder, a risk of harassment, alarm or distress or creating a “threat to the functioning of democracy”. Individuals suspected of disseminating inflammatory material will be subject to a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit any publications to websites, in print or on social media, to the police in advance. The Bill will also contain plans for banning orders for extremist organisations which seek to undermine democracy or use hate speech in public places, but it will fall short of banning on the grounds of provoking hatred. Added powers given to the police will also allow them to close premises where they believe extremists are being given a platform to influence others.

The Bill will also include new immigration rules and extremism disruption orders. The Charity Commission will additionally see its power to root out charities which siphon off funds for extremist activities strengthened.

Communications Data Bill

Better known as the “Snoopers Charter”, the Draft Communications Data Bill featured in the previous government’s agenda, but was foiled by the Liberal Democrat’s withdrawal of support. Anticipated to legislate for British internet service providers to keep an increased amount of data on their customers, and to make that information available to the government and security services, it is billed by Home Secretary Theresa May as a means of maintaining the “capabilities for our law enforcement agencies such that they can continue to do the excellent job, day in and day out, of keeping us safe and secure.”

In the Conservative manifesto, the motivation for the expected Bill was clear: “To keep up to date the ability of the police and security services to access communications data – the who, where, when and how of a communication, but not its content, and to maintain the ability of the authorities to intercept the content of suspects’ communication, while continuing to strengthen oversight of the use of these powers.”

Tax Lock Bill

During the election campaign the Conservative Party pledged to introduce a law preventing any rise in income tax, VAT or national insurance. This could be set out within the Queen’s Speech, however it would be unsurprising if the Government chose not to legislate on this or incorporate it into the new Finance Bill.

Hunting Legislation

The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable, as Oscar Wilde put it. Whilst the issue may not take the form of a Bill, the Conservative manifesto promised a free Commons vote on repealing the highly contentious Hunting Act; with Health Minister Jeremy Hunt confirming after the election that this pledge would come to fruition now the party had secured a parliamentary majority.

Senior party members, including former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, have called for the Government to include the commitment in the Queen’s Speech and pro-hunting MPs are hopeful that the vote will take place within the next 12 months.

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