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The Queen’s coming – have an official EU holiday

The Queen’s coming – have an official EU holiday

🕔18.May 2016

The Queen’s Speech takes place today and is expected to outline legislation ranging from counter-terror measures and prisons reform to a Schools Bill. Paul Dale and Kevin Johnson preview the legislative programme for the second year of the Conservative government.  

Delivered as part of the State Opening of Parliament, the speech marks the formal start of the parliamentary year and is the only regular occasion when the three constituent parts of Parliament – the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons – meet.

The speech is written by the Government and contains an outline of its policies and proposed legislation for the new parliamentary session.  Whilst some are quickly introduced, other Bills may not be formally published until several months later. Or at all.

Following the speech, each House continues the debate over the planned legislative programme for several days, looking at different subject areas. The Queen’s Speech is voted on by the Commons, but no vote is taken in the Lords.

Here is our round-up of legislation that may feature in the Queen’s Speech. Try to enjoy the day. It’s probably the last one before 23 June where the EU referendum debate will not grab the headlines….

Planning Bill

With the establishment of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), the Government have made it clear in a consultation in January that they need to legislate to require the commission to lay National Infrastructure Assessments before Parliament and for the Government to respond to them. The consultation proposes creating the NIC as a non-departmental public body. Legislation will also be needed to set out the commissions’ primary duties and continual funding. The proposals could be included in a wider “Planning Bill” to address some other issues raised in the most recent budget. Most prominent of these is further reform of Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO). The Government wish to make the process “clearer, fairer and quicker”. In addition, plans were announced for legislation to “make it easier for local authorities to work together to create new garden towns.”

Land Registry

There were indications during the Autumn Statement 2015 that upon completion of the consultation process on 26 May 2016, there would be a Privatisation of Land Registry Bill. The Bill would take the Land Registry out of in public ownership from 2017, as proceeds from privatisation could be used to pay down debt or enable investment for the benefit of the taxpayer. It could further support the Land Registry to be run more efficiently and effectively controlled through contracts with private sector operators. There have already been opposing statements outlining the risk of potential negative impacts on public trust, impartiality, service quality, fees and access to data.

Digital Economy Bill

Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, hinted the Bill would include measures on the electronic communications code which governs access to masts and has a significant effect on the cost of maintaining infrastructure.

With dissatisfaction growing over broadband connection speeds, Vaizey also revealed a universal service obligation would be part of a Digital Economy Bill. This would provide the public with the right to request a 10Mbps connection.

It is likely that the Bill will be part of a broader Digital Strategy which Mr Vaizey first announced in December of 2015. Looking ahead over the next five years, it will aim to ensure the UK takes full advantage of digital transformation, providing means to apply new technologies to day-to-day life, the economy and government.

Higher Education Bill

The Government published a Higher Education Green Paper for consultation in November 2015, setting out plans to increase access to higher education for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, establish a new Office for Students to promote the student interest, and create a new single gateway for entry.

It also proposed measures to address teaching quality by introducing a new Teaching Excellence Framework to identify and incentivise the highest quality teaching within higher education. High scores would then permit universities to increase undergraduate fees.

There has been speculation that large companies such as Apple, Google and Pearson will be able to offer cut-price degrees to students.

Schools Bill

Continuing the Conservative Party programme of educational reform, the Government published a Schools White Paper, ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ in March this year. In light of this, it is thought that the Queen’s Speech will include legislation on policy commitments made within the White Paper.

Perhaps the most contentious and widely commented upon aspect of the Schools White Paper is the commitment to make every school an academy by 2022, although Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has been forced by political opposition in the Conservative party to row back and accept that top-performing schools won’t have to convert to academies if they do not want to do so.

Buses Bill

First announced in the 2015 Queen’s, the Buses Bill was designed to complement the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016. Transport minister Andrew Jones explained in February the forthcoming Bill would allow local authorities new choices and include open data.

The Government would remove the requirement of a quality partnership scheme to always involve new infrastructure, with the introduction of new partnerships to allow local authorities and bus operators to agree their own standards for services in their own area.

Modern Transport Bill

Following the 2015 election, the Department for Transport Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam published the department’s Individual Performance Objectives for 2015-16. This includes bringing in the “Modern Transport Bill” to prepare the future transport system by ensuring that the Government planned ahead and respond effectively. How much this aligns with continued ambitions to introduce the Buses Bill this session remains unclear with the two department Bills a feasible prospect in the months ahead.

Homelessness Bill

Homelessness featured strongly in this year’s Budget, with £100 million committed to combat rough sleeping by delivering low cost accommodation for those in hostels and refuges, plus a further £10 million to help prevent homelessness in the first place.

The Government is being urged to go further. An expert group comprising representatives from the National Housing Federation, Shelter, Homeless Link, Crisis and others published proposals for a new English law, which would require councils to prevent more people from becoming homeless in the first instance.

The proposed legislation would:

  • Place a stronger duty on local authorities to help to prevent homelessness for all eligible applicants regardless of priority need status, local connection or intentionality.
  • Extend the definition of threatened with homelessness from 28 to 56 days to provide local authorities with more flexibility to tackle homelessness at a much earlier stage.
  • Place a new relief duty on local authorities requiring them to take reasonable steps to help to secure accommodation for all eligible homeless households who have a local connection.

Adoption Bill

In January 2016 the Government announced plans to change adoption law so courts and councils always pursue adoption when it was in a child’s interest in addition to providing support for all adoptive families. In March 2016 the Department of Education outlined proposed changes to the Children Act 1989 in Adoption – a vision for chance. The publication committed the Government to producing legislation to “radically redesign the whole adoptive system” including new regional service models in addition to voluntary adoption agencies. The new legislation will look to place quality and stability of care at the heart of the process with ongoing support for adoptive families provided throughout childhood. The move came as part of the Government’s commitment to giving children the best start in life with the change to focus on putting children with their new families as soon as possible.

Counter-Extremism Bill

The Bill forms part of the Counter-Extremism strategy, which was launched in October 2015 and outlines four ‘pillars’: to tackle extremism ideology; support debates in faith communities fighting extremism, pursuing radicalisers and building more cohesive communities.

Proposals are expected to include closing down premises being used for extremism purposes, banning organisations, and extending laws so employers will be able to find out if applicants have extremist backgrounds. There are also thought to be plans to allow Ofcom to block “unacceptable extremist material” from being aired.

The main measures are expected to include:

  • Banning orders against extremist organisations that undermine democracy or use hate speech in public places.
  • New Extremism Disruption Orders to prevent people from radicalising young people.
  • Restricted access to premises where extremists seek to influence others.
  • Allow the Charity Commission to remove charities that use funds to further extremism and terrorism.
  • Restrictions on immigration for extremists.

Votes for Life Bill

This Bill will scrap the 15-year rule that sees British expats lose their votes in UK and European parliamentary elections once they have been out of the country for that length of time.

The rule affects around one million of the five million British citizens overseas and the UK is one of only five EU countries to introduce such a measure. The Bill would also make it easier for overseas electors to cast their votes in time to be counted, avoiding the situation in 2015 when thousands of votes were sent out too late to be counted during the General Election.

The Bill featured in the Queen’s Speech in 2015, but was not introduced in the 2015 Parliament.

Labour MPs are likely to claim that votes for life largely benefits the Conservative party, arguing that the majority of retired expats are Tory voters.

Missing Persons Assets Bill

This Bill would look to change the legal status of the transfer of possessions and assets of missing persons by allowing guardians appointed by a court to act as caretakers in the interest of the missing persons.

The Conservatives want to change the current law that does not allow for control of a missing person’s assets to be transferred until proof of death has been found.

During a recent debate the Commons heard of the difficulty faced by families of missing people in protecting the interest of the person and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab confirmed introducing legislation to make this easier was a priority for the Government.

The Bill is expected to put in place a judicial and supervisory structure to ensure the best interests of the missing person and their family are protected.

The charity Missing People has supported the idea pointing to current cases where problems for family or friends can be caused by banks and insurance companies unwilling to discuss with the family while the missing person is not present.

Cyber Security Bill

Given the movement towards the greater use of technology in business, finance and government, the Government is thought to be preparing a Bill to tackle the problems faced with ensuring security of assets and data. The Government is also looking to compliment the measures within the upcoming Digital Economy Bill with actions to tackle the soaring crime rate due to online offences.

The Bill will allow the Government to implement its cyber security strategy and defend the national interest in a treacherous security environment heightened by global technological advancement.

Tax Offence Bill

The recent revelations around the Panama Papers has provided extra incentive for the Government to actively tackle aggressive tax avoidance and tax evasion.

Increased tax collection revenue has become an important tool for rebalancing the books and it is thought that the Government is set to bring forward a Bill to tackle the issues head on. The Government has come under pressure following the reorganisation of HMRC and the fear that reduced resources would hinder efforts to tackle avoidance and evasion.

Financial Conduct Authority

Following the Royal Assent of the Bank of England and Financial Services Bill Economic Secretary Harriett Baldwin committed to introduce a future bill on provisions which had held up its progress. Some MPs, including prominent Treasury Select Committee members had been keen to see restrictions on the tenure of senior management within the Financial Conduct Authority. Baldwin committed to make a change to the legislation governing appointments to the Financial Conduct Authority CEO to make the appointee subject to a fixed, renewable five-year term. She stated that she had been advised it was not suitable to include in the Bill in this Parliament. Despite this she did make provisions relating to the appointment and the role of parliament in scrutinizing it.

Public Services Ombudsman Bill

Originally announced in the 2015 Queen’s Speech, the Public Services Ombudsman Bill will seek to combine several existing roles to create a more effective service for public complaints. Initially combining the roles of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the Health Ombudsman and the Local Government Ombudsman, the Government intend to reform and modernise the Ombudsman sector to provide a “more effective and accessible” final tier of public sector complaints. The Housing Ombudsman may also be absorbed into this new role.

Healthcare Safety Bill

The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) was established at the beginning of April following Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s commitment to create an NHS that “learnt from its mistakes”.

Hunt wants the Branch to create a safe space for those being investigated to give comprehensive and candid contributions to investigations and protection to whistleblowers.

Energy Bill

In January 2016 the Department of Energy and Climate Change published a draft Energy Bill covering proposals on supply and switching, smart meters and competitive tendering for onshore electricity transmission. Energy secretary Amber Rudd stated that the primary focus of the Bill would be to increase competition in the energy market and keep costs down for consumers.

Part one of the draft bill, relating to the roll out of smart meters, would see the Secretary of State’s power to amend licences and industry codes extended until 1 November 2023 instead of 1 November 2018 as it currently stands.

Part two would give Ofgem the power to modify industry codes for five years including enabling customers to settle bills on a half hourly basis via a central data registration point.

Part three would give Ofgem the power to award onshore transmission, and distribution licences on a competitive basis on the grounds that “nearly a quarter of the average household electricity bill in 2014 was made up of the cost of transporting electricity.”

Prisons Reform Bill

Michael Gove has moved ahead with his reforming zeal since his appointment as Secretary of State for Justice. Gove commissioned a review into the Youth Justice system, and then announced a review into education of adult prisoners all before party conferences in October 2015.

He explained that reform was needed to achieve more social justice “for the vulnerable and voiceless”, children in care, mentally ill people, poorly educated people and finally victims of crime.

A Prisons Reform Bill is likely to include:

  • Plans to allow prison governors in six pilot sites to create reform prisons.
  • Measures to secure greater accountability through the publication of league tables for reoffending rates, qualifications secured by prisoners, figures on improving literacy and employability, and hours out of cell and purposeful activity.
  • Measures to work with network operators to block phone signals to prisons. GPS tracking to allow controlled release for purposeful activity, family visits and employment and ‘increase security’ within prisons to stem the trafficking of drugs
  • Proposals redevelop old prison sites and further plans for modernisation of the existing estate
  • Proposals for young offenders’ institutions to be turned into secure academies, to aid rehabilitation through education.

Pension Protection Bill

Following the introduction of auto-enrolment there has been some discussion of a new bill to protect workers’ savings. Pensions Minister Ros Altmann has said that Master Trust schemes are being relied upon but only five have a kitemark and smaller schemes could struggle to survive, putting savings at risk. This Bill would in some ways be a reaction by Government of the surprisingly high number of schemes which had been set up in response to the auto-enrolment system.

If you want to know more about the Queen’s Speech or wish to track and influence specific legislation, please contact Kevin Johnson, kevin.johnson@rjfpa.com.

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