The Queen’s Speech next Monday will set out the Government’s legislative programme for the next Parliamentary session. Given the likelihood of a general election in the very near future the programme is unlikely to change our statute book. Indeed the vast majority, if not all, of the Bills announced by Her Majesty will probably not get to their first parliamentary reading.
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has been accused of using the Queen’s Speech as “party political broadcast”, while Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn has called it “a cynical stunt”. Queen Speeches have always been political and certainly through the Blair, Brown and Cameron years, when they went further than purely legislative measures and were often used to rejuvenate short term political fortunes. Still it feels different this time around, but we are currently living in a political environment with the temperature dial turned right up.
So yes the Queen’s Speech will mark the starting point for the next General Election if not literally, certainly in the mood music, which currently feels more ‘Death metal’ than Mozart. And yes, it will not lead to significant or even any changes in the law, for now at least.
Still the current Government has a number of significant legislative proposals which it has committed to and knowing about them might give some indication on the Conservative Party’s manifesto at the soon to be expected election. So, here is a round up.
First, a number of pieces of legislation introduced in the last session will be ‘carried over’ into the next session including enabling the Commonwealth Games in 2022 (taking place in Birmingham), enabling the West Midlands to Crewe section of HS2, legislation which will consolidate sentencing law and the recent Domestic Abuse Bill. They will resume at the parliamentary stage they reached at prorogation.
Whatever happens between now and the 31 October, and even beyond on Brexit, there will still be legislative consequences and requirements: deal or no deal.
A number of Brexit related Bills introduced in the last session on international trade agreements, on financial services, and agriculture and fisheries, failed to complete their progress through both houses of parliament. And if a deal is struck with the EU then a further Withdrawal Bill will be required to authorise and enable its implementation.
In October 2018, the then Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans to ban restaurants making deductions from staff tips “at the earliest opportunity”, following a consultation on the issue.
In July the government published proposals and committed to legislation to provide legal protections to Armed Forces personnel and veterans serving abroad, against the threat of prosecution for alleged historic offences.
The Ministry of Defence also intend to legislate for a new compensation scheme for death or injuries sustained by service personnel in combat, to avoid lengthy claims in the courts.
The Department for Education have been consulting on proposed legislation governing home education including a new register of children who are home educated and a new duty on local authorities to support home educated families.
The Government is committed to ending the 15-year limit for British citizens living overseas for voting in UK Parliamentary elections and introduce ‘votes for life’. It was part of the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto. The Government assisted a private members bill, but it did not progress beyond its Commons’ stages and stood adjourned in March.
Environment, food & agriculture
An Agriculture Bill enabling stability for farmers as the UK exits from the EU Common Agriculture Policy failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the end of session. The new Secretary of State has said that she hoped to reintroduce the Bill "soon" and to make progress on it as soon as possible after Parliament returns.
A draft Environment bill setting out a comprehensive legal framework for environmental improvement including on air quality and the protection and enhancement of landscapes was the subject of pre-legislative parliamentary scrutiny earlier in the year. An update from the Government in July says it is considering how to respond to the recommendations made by two Parliamentary Select Committees including by strengthening proposals for green governance, reinforcing the independence and accountability of the Office for Environmental Protection.
The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill introduced in June, but fell at prorogation, sought to increase the maximum penalty for the most serious animal cruelty offences. Supporters of the bill want to see it reintroduced in the next session.
According to press reports NHS bosses have been calling for a NHS Integrated Care Bill in the next Parliamentary session to make it easier for different parts of the health service to work together. This may require certain parts of Andrew Lansley’s 2012 NHS reforms to be dismantled around competitive tendering requirements. Certainly proposals have been produced by the NHS however there are no statements from the Department of Health confirming any legislative intentions.
What might be more concrete is that Health Minister Nadine Norris has indicated that legislation which will establish the Health Service Safety Investigatory Body as an independent statutory body with legal powers to conduct investigations, will be in the next Queens Speech. A draft bill was published two years ago which was scrutinised by a joint committee of the Commons and the Lords.
Housing and Planning
The Government is committed to a number of housing reforms which require primary legislation on leasehold reform, regulating the private rented sector, and broader consumer redress, and to address the weaknesses exposed by the Grenfell Tower fire.
Leasehold and common hold reform to prohibit new residential long leases and restrict ground rents in new established leases (to a peppercorn value) and making buying a freehold or extending a lease easier and cheaper. Both the Law Commission and the Government have been consulting on changes to the law in this area, with the Government committing to legislation as soon as possible.
Statutory regulation of letting and managing agents, enforced by an independent regulator, requiring all landlords to be members of a redress scheme and the abolition of ‘no fault’ evictions (subject to a current consultation). A Government commissioned working group advising on new regulatory framework for property agents reported in June.
In addition, the government is also committed (and consulted on) to bring forward consumer redress on a broader front, for example compelling freeholders of leasehold properties to join a redress scheme, and developers of new-build homes to belong to a New Homes Ombudsman and the possible creation of a dedicated housing court.
Legislation to strengthen the existing mobile (park) homes legislation has been longed-promised. A Government response to external review sets out proposals to strengthen the existing legislation including improving residents’ rights and giving local authorities more enforcement powers to tackle rogue site owners.
Legislation is certainly expected in the next session for regulating the safety of high rise buildings in response to the weaknesses exposed by the Grenfell Tower fire. The Government consulted on a range of measures earlier in the summer including on the scope of a new regime and the roles and responsibilities of different parties, enforcement, sanctions and compliance measures which is likely to include a new national building safety regulator. Policy decisions are expected sometime in the autumn with Ministers saying that they will legislate at the earliest opportunity.
We may also see new legislation to speed-up change of use of retail properties to other uses, notably housing and office accommodation in order to keep high streets vibrant. The same consultation also proposed making permanent two-time limited permitted development rights enabling change of use from storage or distribution to residential use and larger single storey rear extensions to houses. Ministers confirmed in March that they intend to legislate on these proposals.
Primary legislation intending to repeal free movement of EEA nationals and associated rights has recently been confirmed (as part of no deal Brexit planning) after some doubts had been expressed over the summer whether legislation will be taken forward. An earlier piece of legislation stalled after committee stage in March this year.
The Home Office is preparing legislation to replace the arrangements for the European Arrest Warrant and for an Espionage Bill which might include reforming the law of treason.
We can expect legislation on sentencing reform to implement the recent announcement that would require serious offenders to serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison and subject rather than the current automatic half-way release. It is unclear whether this will require primary legislation. If it does, a justice bill may also contain measures for a statutory professional regulatory framework across the probation system, which was announced in May.
Legislative provisions to facilitate greater use of electronic court and tribunal proceedings just failed (not for the first time) to complete its legislative progress in the last session and was not subject to a carry-over motion, meaning that if these or similar proposals are to be resurrected, a Bill will have to begin afresh.
Another bill which did not complete its passage in the last session was the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill which sought to introduce ‘no fault’ divorce to reduce unnecessary conflict between couples.
We may see legislation to support the review of local government funding (the 'fair funding review') and the move which will see local authorities retain three-quarters of their business rate income. These developments have been postponed to 2021-22, but to keep to this timetable, legislation will be needed in the next session.
Two pieces of local government legislation fell as a result of prorogation, first bringing forward the next business rate revaluation in England to April 2021 and the second fulfilling a commitment to exempt public toilets from business rates could reappear in the coming session.
Further legislation will be needed in the next session to provide the financial authorisations and appropriations to enable the budgets for Northern Ireland departments to be set in the absence of a fully-functioning Executive and Assembly.
Given a recent ministerial statement we could see legislation on historical abuse cases in the Provence.
Almost three years ago a draft bill was published which proposed to merge the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and the Local Government Ombudsman into a single Public Service Ombudsman. This was the subjected to a pre-scrutiny session by the MHCLG Select Committee in March 2017. The Government said in May 2018 that the draft Bill “will be progressed as and when a legislative opportunity arises.”
There are potentially a range of transport legislative measures including the powers required for the West Midlands to Crewe section of HS2 legislation which is being carried over from the last session. The Oakervee Review of the HS2 project due to report in the autumn may impact on that legislation.
The Government's Rail Review which will report this autumn may lead to legislation following on from a White Paper setting out its long-term aspirations for reform of the sector, particularly if new statutory bodies are to be created or involve changes in responsibilities.
We may see legislation on taxis and private hire. A 2018 Government review proposed wholesale reform. The previous Transport Secretary indicated that the Government would not go that far but told the Transport Select Committee in July that legislation is being prepared to tackle cross-border hiring and other specific issues.
The current Transport Secretary told the House of Commons that he was looking to legislate in the next session to make changes to insolvency rules for airlines in light of the collapse of Thomas Cook and Monarch Airlines. This would allow UK airlines to trade in administration so that passengers can be repatriated using the airline’s own aircraft, people and systems.
Work and pensions
The Government said last year that it would legislate to give the pensions regulator powers, including criminal sanctions, to punish those who deliberately put their pension schemes at risk. If legislation is brought forward it could also contain other measures to provide for a digital interface (a ‘pensions’ dashboard’) enabling people to see all their pension savings and their state pension in one place, to define and regulate Collected defined Contribution pensions and to reform Royal Mail personnel pensions.
It was announced in July that the Government intends to legislate to prevent the misuse of Non Disclosure Agreements and confidentiality clauses in the situation of workplace harassment or discrimination.
Mark Upton, is a freelance consultant on public policy and public affairs.