Weber Shandwick’s public affairs team looks ahead at what might be in next week’s Queen’s Speech .
As the Conservatives get the chance to carry out their manifesto commitments unencumbered by coalition partners, Weber Shandwick’s public affairs team highlights which pieces of legislation the new Government is expected to announce in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday 27 May.
This was the Queen’s Speech that nobody was expecting. Almost every commentator was anticipating politicians being in the midst of coalition negotiations. Now the concept of the manifesto and the mandate has returned with a vengeance and the Conservatives will be expecting to implement most of their manifesto over the next five years.
Ministers know that acting early is the key to delivering a mandate, making this by far the most important Queen’s Speech of this Parliament. Political capital is now at its peak, in the afterglow of a convincing election victory that confounded Cameron’s critics. It’s best to make hay now while the Parliamentary party remains enthused and the majority hasn’t been dented by any reshuffles or rows.
The Queen’s Speech offers new Ministers a real opportunity to make a quick impact on their departments and on politics as a whole and to set the agenda for the next few years. The Bills set out in this Queen’s Speech are a crucial indication of the government’s priorities and will play an important role in setting the tone and priorities for the remainder of this government.
Some hallmarks of a purely Tory government are very likely to be in the Speech. Paving legislation for an EU referendum bill; reforms to trade unions; legislation to introduce a British Bill of Rights and English Votes for English Laws (EVEL); and the long cherished boundary reforms are all likely to be included next week. Two of the big Conservative announcements during the election campaign are also likely to be included – a Bill to make most tax rises illegal during this Parliament and legislation to extent Right to Buy.
Other Bills are likely to stray further from traditional Tory territory. The Northern Powerhouse, in particular, is a concept that senior Tories, especially the Chancellor, have embraced with enthusiasm. They see it as a way of both rebalancing the economy and making incursions deeper into traditional Labour territory.
Senior Conservatives understand that now is a crucial time to dictate the political agenda for the rest of the Parliament. Labour are distracted by post-election soul searching and their already highly eventful leadership election. Liberal Democrats are still shell-shocked after their decimation and UKIP have cheerfully entered into a brutal civil war following their failure to translate votes into seats on 7 May. The SNP are the only other party with their tails up and they will be expecting some kind of ‘offer to Scotland’ expanding on promises made before the election as part of the Queen’s Speech.
The manifesto and briefings since the election mean that we know what the Government focus will be and their priorities for legislation to be included in the Queen’s Speech. In this briefing, Weber Shandwick’s public affairs experts consider what each piece of legislation will mean for you and your business.
David Skelton, Head of Public Affairs, Weber Shandwick
The cross-party Smith Commission was established to propose further devolution following the independence referendum. The SNP has made it clear that they see its proposals as the floor rather than the ceiling for the transfer of new powers to Scotland. Their position has been strengthened by leading Labour and Conservative figures in Scotland stating that the results of the General Election has overtaken its conclusions.
Following his meeting with the First Minster last week, the Prime Minister made it clear that he was open to amendments to the current plans for legislation. He also made it clear that he was open to further transfers of power.
Whilst the fall in oil revenues has led the SNP to downplay their calls for full control over tax raising and spending, they are likely to use any signs intransigence from the Government over their current demands as a platform to strengthen the case for independence.
There are concerns, about what further devolution could mean for the functioning of the UK internal market and further devolution to Scotland is likely to require a more fundamental rethinking of how power is distributed across the UK.
English Votes for English Laws
As greater devolution is implemented to Scotland following the independence referendum and the electoral success of the SNP, the government intends to give English MPs the power of veto over English-only matters.
Specific proposal drawn up before the election includes:
- A change parliamentary procedures so that the detail of legislation affecting only England or England and Wales will be considered by a Committee made up of only English or English and Welsh MPs.
- Legislation relating only to England or England and Wales must receive a consent motion by a Grand Committee made up of all English MPs, or all English and Welsh MPs.
- Consent to taxation and spending that affects England to English MPs will be given by English MPs.
The Conservative manifesto committed to implementing the second Silk Report, a package of measures to deliver further powers to the Welsh Assembly including powers over ports and energy, sewerage and taxi and bus regulation. However, it remains to be seen whether the package will be made more radical given the process of devolving more power to Scotland. A point of contention has been the ‘funding floor’ which would protect Welsh relative funding – the manifesto implied this would only take place after a referendum on income tax powers had been called and the Welsh Conservatives quickly had to clarify that the introduction of a funding floor was not contingent on such a referendum.
Expect also to see devolution over the Assembly and local government electoral system including the number of constituencies, their boundaries and the Assembly name – should it wish to call itself a Welsh Parliament – as well as voting age.
Legislation to introduce a boundary review
The previous Coalition Government committed itself to pass legislation to implement a boundary review which would equalise the size of constituencies and reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. The Bill became one of the first casualties of Coalition disharmony when the Liberal Democrats voted against the legislation. Now that the Conservatives have a majority, implementing boundary changes will be a priority.
It is expected that the Government will go ahead with equalisation, but not the reduction in the number of MP. This should reduce the risk of opposition from Conservative backbenchers and make the legislation much easier to pass. More equal seat sizes would make the already very difficult task that the Labour Party has in recovering from defeat much harder.
European Referendum Bill
Delivering a referendum is a key priority for the party. The Prime Minster has made it clear that he would prefer to hold the referendum as soon as possible to use the political capital that he has gained from his election win both in Westminster and in other European capitals.
Ahead of the General Election the Liberal Democrats seemed increasingly willing to accept the case for a referendum if they had ended up in another coalition with the Conservative Party. It will be interesting to see what position they will take when legislation is voted on again especially as two candidates for the Labour leadership, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall now support an early referendum.
Legislation to prevent the Government from increasing, income tax, National Insurance or VAT
In the midst of the campaign the Conservatives sought to underline their promises not to increase tax by promising legislation to prevent the next Government from increasing the rate of income tax, VAT or national insurance. It is ironic that in the run up to the 2010 General Election Alistair Darling promised to legislate to ensure that a future Labour Government would meet debt reduction targets were dismissed by Osborne as “vacuous and irrelevant”.
Depending on your point of view, pledge to introduce legislation limiting the Government’s scope to increase tax, shows significant confidence in the health of the UK economy over the next five years or a reckless disregard of the risks we face.
The new Business Secretary Sajid Javid has made it clear that he sees increasing the productivity of British Business as one of his primary tasks. As well as continuing investment in science and infrastructure, the Government have signalled that reducing red tape will be one of their key priorities. To deliver this they have announced that they will include an Enterprise Bill as part of the Queen’s Speech.
The top line pledge is to cut red tape for business by at least £10 billion in this Parliament. It is expected that the target will extend to independent regulators such as the Financial Conduct Authority and Ofgem. The Bill will also include measures to support small business, such as the creation of a Small Business Conciliation Service.
Whilst opposition parties are expected to agree with the general thrust of the approach to reducing burdens on businesses, there will be arguments about how targets applying to independent regulators will affect their independence and impact their duty to protect consumers. The Government have announced that they will consult business about content of the Bill and how regulation can be effectively reduced.
Education and Childcare Bill
An Education Bill will be focused on ensuring that schools deemed by Ofsted to be requiring improvement will face having the school’s leadership replaced and being turned into an academy. Regional Schools Commissioners would be given the role of intervening in “coasting schools” the definition of exactly which schools will face intervention is unclear.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has made it clear that the Government will continue with the direction of reforms started by Michael Gove in terms of the expansion of academies and the creation of free schools, but she has ruled out more radical changes, such as allowing profit making bodies to run free schools.
Government policies to help working families, 30 hours of free childcare for three and four year olds, and “building excellence” in the early years’ sector, are also likely to be included.
Trade Union Reform
Sajid Javid, the new Business Secretary, has made it clear he is not afraid of a head-to-head fight with the unions in delivering the Conservative ambition to reform trade unions – including most radically in legislating to ensure that there is at least a 50% turnout for a ballot to be valid and, for strikes affecting key public services such as health, transport, fire and education, at least 40% of those entitled to take part would need to be in favour of strike action.
The Government also intends to repeal the ban on employers hiring agency workers to cover for striking employees. Whilst the new thresholds have been supported by business groups, trade unions have made it clear that they will work together to oppose the changes. Critics have highlighted that if a 40% threshold be applied to a General Election, the Conservatives would not be in Government.
Cities Devolution Bill
Last week the Chancellor George Osborne set out plans for this Bill, building on the Northern Powerhouse proposals and the Devo Manc deal which saw the city of Manchester awarded significant new powers.
Osborne has signalled that this Bill will go further, saying that English cities will get new powers over housing, policing, transport and planning – essentially along the current London model. Agreements look set to be developed on an individual city basis, with no one-size fits all model to consider.
There is a clear trade-off for cities to consider – the Chancellor has made it clear that only those cities who agree to move to have a city mayor will be rewarded with the widest powers.
City devolution poses a challenge for Labour, it has become a Conservative flagship policy which has been enthusiastically supported by the mostly Labour run local authorities who will gain from devolution
Housing and Planning Bill
The flagship policy expected in this Bill is the extension of the Right to Buy to 1.3 million housing association tenants. Extending the right to buy to housing associations will be a controversial move as, unlike local authorities, housing associations are independent charities and their property doesn’t belong to the state.
Also expected in this Bill will be the creation of a new London Land Commission “with a mandate to identify and release all surplus brownfield land owned by the public sector”, alongside greater measures to protect the Green Belt.
Meanwhile local authorities will be required to have a register of available land for development and ensure that 90 per cent of brownfield sites have planning permission for housing by 2020. Separately the manifesto pledged the creation of a £1 billion “brownfield regeneration fund” designed to unlock the construction of homes.
Legislation will also give local planning authorities the power to reject applications for new on-shore wind farms.
Policing and Sentencing Bill
The Home Secretary has said that a new bill will be introduced to to ban the use of police cells as so-called ‘places of safety’ to detain any children with mental health problems.
It will also reduce the current 72-hour maximum period of detention for the purposes of a medical assessment for adults, so that police cells are only used as a place of safety for adults if the person’s behaviour cannot be safely managed by other means.
However, alongside the ‘softer’ policy on mental health, we might expect to see something on the use of ‘sharp, short’ sentences in police cells for prolific offenders ‘to change their behaviour’.
Human Rights Bill
High-profile cases, in particular the deportation of Abu Qatada and voting rights for prisoners, has driven Conservative opposition to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Conservative Party manifesto committed to the withdrawal of the Human Rights Act, passed in 1998 as one of the centre pieces of the newly elected Blair government’s programme of constitutional reform. This will be replaced by a British Bill of Rights, cutting the link to the court in Strasbourg and making the Supreme Court the ultimate arbitrator of human rights in the UK.
In the last Parliament, Cameron created a commission to look at a Bill of Rights. It failed to reach an agreement when it reported in 2012, although a majority of the Commission believed that the articles of a new Bill of Rights should broadly follow the ECHR. However, the idea is not without critics on both sides of the House with senior Conservative figures including Dominic Grieve and David Davis at odds with Cameron’s plan.
Communications Data Bill
One of the more contentious Bills in the Queen’s Speech will be the Communications Data Bill, which will require internet service providers to retain data about their customers, and to make that information available to the Government and security services.
The Bill had been repeatedly blocked by the Liberal Democrats in Coalition, with Nick Clegg warning that, even in the face of terrorist attacks such as at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the powers in the Bill ‘would undermine the very freedoms we cherish’.
And within industry, the Internet Services Providers’ Association has warned that restricting the use of encrypted communication ‘further risks undermining the UK’s status as a good and safe place to do business’.
Although the Bill will likely be contested by the more libertarian-minded within the Conservatives themselves, it is unclear the extent to which a Labour Party in the throes of a leadership contest would oppose the Bill outright. Especially one positioned as vital for combatting terrorism in the Digital Age.
Legislation to implement the Government’s anti-extremism strategy
The Government’s proposed anti-extremism strategy, which will see the introduction of new legislation to restrict the activity of those who seek to radicalise people, as well as powers to close premises, including mosques, where extremists seek to influence others. Charities will be come under greater scrutiny about funding, and the broadcast regulator Ofcom will be have new powers to act against channels showing ‘extremist’ content.
As with the Communications Data Bill, this is likely to face opposition from across the political spectrum. Indeed, Brother Watch points out that Dominic Raab, now Minister for Civil Liberties at the Ministry of Justice, was highly critical of the proposals when speaking as a backbencher last October.