The State Opening of Parliament will take place at 11.30am on Wednesday 18th May, when the Queen will take to her throne in the House of Lords to outline the Government’s proposed legislative programme for the coming session of Parliament.
Lansons has produced this briefing to preview the Bills that are expected to be announced on Wednesday. The Queen’s Speech is expected to be centred around the theme of “improving life chances”, with Bills expected to be introduced to reform the higher education and schools system, to bring in a new tax offence and to reform the housing and planning system.
Lansons will also be reporting on the new legislation when the Speech is made on Wednesday.
Tax Evasion Legislation
The revelations around the Panama Papers have provided the Government with a renewed incentive to tackle aggressive tax avoidance and evasion.
On 11 April the Prime Minister announced plans to legislate for a new criminal offence aimed at companies that assist with tax evasion. George Osborne recently confirmed in Parliament that this would be in the Queen’s Speech.
The Government subsequently launched a taskforce – led jointly by HMRC and the NCA – to look at the issue of tax evasion. There is speculation that its report, which is expected later in 2016, will be taken forward through primary legislation. This would likely be part of the Finance Bill process, in which case, it would either be introduced as an amendment to the Finance Bill currently before Parliament, or be legislated after Budget 2017.
Work and Pensions Committee Chair Frank Field has urged George Osborne to support the inclusion of a Pensions Bill in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. He states that The Pensions Regulator has expressed its concern about regulatory gaps, allowing potentially unstable master trusts onto the market.
Whether the Government has listened to these concerns will be seen if it is included in the Queen’s Speech. Field has used the case of BHS to support the need for pension reform and modernising the British pension system into the 21 Century.
The 2016 Budget announced that the Government would introduce new legislation that would “speed up and simplify the process for delivering new settlements”.
It was recently reported in Property Week that the details for a new Housing Bill are being thrashed out on the back of the recently passed Housing and Planning Act, in order to give elected Mayors outside of London the power to form Mayoral development corporations. These corporations would be able to take over planning decisions from local authorities in defined areas.
The legislation would also enable local authorities to create “garden settlements”, giving them greater powers to seize land and approve large-scale housebuilding as part of the Government plans to tackle Britain’s housing shortage as well as creating a generation of garden towns.
Business Rate Retention Bill
As part of the Government’s vision for further devolution, a consultation is due in the summer about plans to allow local councils to keep the rates they collect from businesses.
The timing in terms of next steps are still unclear, however the DCLG has already said that primary legislation will be required for 100% business rates retention. This is something that could make an appearance in the Queen’s Speech.
The Government has given a clear signal that it wishes to find ways to improve competition and reduce regulation.
‘Deregulation’ or ‘Competition’ Bills are a regular feature of Queen’s Speeches down the years, often providing a convenient avenue to implement a wide range of small, disparate policy changes.
In January 2016, the Department of Energy and Climate Change published a draft Energy Bill covering measures on supply and switching, smart meters and competitive tendering for onshore electricity transmission.
Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has stated that the primary focus of the Bill would be to increase competition in the energy market and keep costs down for consumers.
The Energy and Climate Change Committee undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and published their report – which overall welcomed the Bill – earlier in May.
Digital Economy Bill
The Financial Times believes that Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, will have its powers boosted by proposals in the Queen’s Speech under a Digital Economy Bill that will also aim to upgrade digital infrastructure and strengthen intellectual property rights.
Legislation is expected to be put forward on Wednesday to improve national broadband coverage and help telecoms customers switch providers, according to people familiar with the plans. Other proposals will help mobile groups improve signal coverage.
The legislation is set to bring in powers for the Government to impose a universal service obligation for a minimum broadband speed of at least 10 Mbps. The proposal could be funded through an industry levy, although the details are still out for consultation.
Cyber Security Bill
There have been rumours circulating around Westminster for some time that the Government is planning to bring forward legislation on cybersecurity, covering government, global commerce, consumer-facing technology and private enterprise, to tackle the problems faced with ensuring security of assets and data online – following the lead of the United States, which has legislated similarly.
The Bill would complement the measures within the Government’s Digital Economy Bill and would allow the Government to implement its cyber security strategy to defend the national interest in an increasingly hostile online environment.
It is widely reported that driverless cars, drones and a proposed first commercial spaceport for the UK are expected to feature in the Queen’s speech. The Department for Transport has said such cutting-edge technologies are crucial to the country’s economy and that its proposals will help deliver jobs.
The self-driving car market is currently growing at 16% a year and could be worth up to £900bn worldwide by 2025. The Transport Bill is also expected to legislate on allowing driverless cars to be insured on ordinary insurance policies.
The spaceport is part of the Government’s plan to increase revenues in the space sector from £12bn to £40bn by 2030, which would mean capturing about 10% of the sector worldwide. The Government previously said it could provide 100,000 jobs and that it would be ready by 2018, but the announcement would give the Government another two years of leeway before operators including Virgin Galactic could potentially launch from the chosen site.
New measures are also expected to better regulate the drones industry. The DfT said it will explore ways to increase growth and innovation in the drone industry for private and commercial use. However, drone regulation in the UK is less strict than in the US, and there have been calls for the Government to tighten the rules are several near misses with aircraft.
After a ‘U-turn’ on plans to force all schools to convert into academies, watered down laws will require academy conversions in cases where it is clear that local councils can no longer support the remaining state schools in their areas. Councils where children are failing to achieve adequate grades in their exams will also see their schools forcibly converted into academies.
Higher Education Bill
The November 2015 Green Paper to reform the higher education sector in England requires primary legislation and is widely anticipated to be outlined in the Queen’s Speech. The main aims of the paper were to ensure that universities deliver the best possible value for money, reward excellent teaching in universities and encourage diversity and choice in the sector.
It is thought that the Higher Education Bill will also allow top performing universities to charge higher fees, in line with inflation, if they can prove that they are teaching well and increasing contact hours. The proposed legislation would reflect the Government’s desire to remove barriers to new private universities, so as to “broaden access and create more competition”.
Care System Bill
There is speculation that the Government will seek to reform the care system. New measures could include greater support for care leavers into adulthood and adoption, including more emphasis on placing children in permanent homes rather than with a distant family.
A crackdown on hate preachers will be announced as the Government steps up its efforts to tackle the “poisonous narrative” of Islamist extremism. Sweeping new laws will ban hate preachers from working with children and other vulnerable groups, in the same way that paedophiles are vetted to stop them being given jobs in schools.
The national criminal records checking service will be reformed so that the records of individuals with convictions for terrorism, or other clear connections to extremism, will be disclosed to education officials, councils, and other employers.
British Bill of Rights
The commitment made by David Cameron for a British Bill of Rights is expected to appear in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday. A consultation on reforming human rights laws will be held in an attempt to make the Supreme Court “supreme”. Britain will remain a member of the European Convention on Human Rights but will curb the influence of the European Court of Human Rights over British law.
Prison Reform Bill
Sweeping new powers for prison Governors to decide how to spend their own budgets, how to deploy staff and the regimes of sanctions for how long inmates can spend out of their cells are likely to be announced in the Queen’s Speech. The plan which is modelled on academy schools, will allow “reform prisons” to take over failing jails nearby.
House of Lords Reform Bill
Changes to the powers of the House of Lords, as recommended by the Strathclyde review, are also expected in the Queen’s Speech. Lord Strathclyde recommended that there should be a new procedure, set out in statute, which would allow the Lords to invite the Commons to “think again” when there is a disagreement on a statutory instrument between the two Houses (rather than peers being required to block them entirely or allow them to progress unamended).