Today’s Queen’s Speech outlined a fairly full legislative programme for the 2013-14 Session of Parliament but nothing, unsurprisingly, that engaged with “religion” as such. Nevertheless, there were several measures announced that will be of interest to the Churches either because they are charities or in relation to their wider pastoral concerns. We have included links to the www.politics.co.uk summaries of the Bills, and other useful analysis are to be found at the BBC and The Guardian.
In addition to the Bills summarized below, five have been carried over from the 2013-13 session, and these were discussed in yesterday’s post. For political anoraks, a more detailed breakdown of the fate of all of the last session’s Bills is to be found here, which shows that whilst only 10 of the 15 full bills announced in 2012 became law , the government actually passed 38 Acts during the 2012-13 Session.
Care for the elderly is a major practical and pastoral concern for some Churches. The main provisions of the Care Bill are as follows:
- to modernise and consolidate the law into a single statute “which is built around the person not the service”;
- to establish a right for carers in England to receive support from their local council;
- to introduce a duty to meet carers eligible needs for support;
- to introduce a new adult safeguarding framework;
- to reform how care and support is funded, including the creation of a cap on care costs which people would pay;
- to simplify the care and support system;
- to ensure that those needing care can move between local authority areas without the fear that their care will be interrupted;
- to give a new legal entitlement for everyone to a personal budget which they can receive as a direct payment if they so wish; and
- to clarify how people will be protected from their care being disrupted if their care provider goes out of business; and
- to introduce new oversight of those providers that would be the most difficult to replace if they were to fail.
The Bill will also contain provisions that are nothing much to do with “care”: principally, the legislative response to the failings at Stafford Hospital. It will also establish Health Education England and the Health Research Authority as non-departmental public bodies. It will apply to England only save for cross-border provisions in relation to care and support. (The Health Research Authority’s co-operation duties will apply across the UK.)
Gambling (Licensing and Advertising)
Currently, remote gambling operators based in the UK are required to hold a Gambling Commission licence while overseas operators are regulated in the jurisdiction in which they are based. The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill (which was not actually mentioned in the Speech) would regulate remote gambling at the point of consumption. All operators selling or advertising into the British market, whether from the UK or abroad, will be required to hold a UK Gambling Commission licence. The new licensing arrangements will also mean that, for the first time, overseas-based operators will be required to inform the Gambling Commission about suspicious betting patterns involving British customers, in order to help fight illegal activity and corruption in sports betting.
Immigration is a major concern for almost all religious groups, both in relation to ministry to asylum-seekers and, more specifically, the difficulties sometimes encountered in getting visas for clergy and students from outside the EEA. The Immigration Bill is intended to stop immigrants from accessing services to which they are not entitled, to make it easier to remove people from the UK and make it harder for people to prolong their stay with what HMG regards as “spurious” appeals. The Bill will also specify that “foreign nationals who commit serious crimes shall, except in extraordinary circumstances, be deported”. How that will fit with the right of abode of EU nationals and the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights remains to be seen.
- the Bill will provide for tougher action against businesses that use illegal labour, including more substantial fines;
- it will would regulate migrant access to the NHS;
- it will prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining UK driving licences; and
- it will require private landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants.
Perhaps most importantly and controversially, it will “ensure that only those cases that raise the most important immigration issues would have a right of appeal”.
The National Insurance Contributions Bill introduces the new employment allowance, announced at Budget 2013, under which every business will be able to employ one worker on a salary of £22,400 or four employees on the minimum wage without paying any employer NICs – which will be of great interest to Churches and charities that are small employers. It will also apply the General Anti-Abuse Rule to NICs (at the moment the GAAR applies only to tax) and strengthen the legislation to prevent the use of offshore employment payroll companies (intermediaries) to avoid employer NICs.
The Pensions Bill (which has implications both for denominations as pension-providers and for wider society) will introduce a single-tier pension system, bring forward the increase in State Pension age to 67 and lay the framework for its regular review. It will also introduce a system for the automatic transfer of small pension-pots and reform bereavement benefits. The Bill will extend to England and Wales and to Scotland. The Bill also extends to Northern Ireland for purposes of amendment to legislation with UK-wide extent, but any such amendments do not deal with transferred matters.
The Water Bill, which arises from the draft Bill in the previous session, seems to be primarily about infrastructure and investment but, most important from a charity point of view, the accompanying briefing says that its proposals include “increasing choice in the retail market by allowing all business, charity and public sector customers to switch their water and sewerage supplier. This would encourage suppliers to offer a better range of tariffs and services for the customer, e.g. one bill for organisations with multiple sites (rather than a bill for every site) or free water efficiency advice”.
The Bill applies to England and Wales, with a small number of provisions extending to Scotland. Those who remember the rows over the imposition of surface-water drainage charges will watch the progress of this with interest. Presumably the intention is that if your current provider charges you ridiculous sums for SWD you will be able to find an alternative provider that will not. But exactly how would that work in practice?
Following on from the “red tape challenge”, a Deregulation Bill will be introduced which will, inter alia :
- introduce measures to reduce or remove burdens on business and civil society
- remove burdens on public bodies and the taxpayer
- repeal legislation that is no longer of practical use
- require non-economic regulators to regard impact of their actions upon growth.
This is likely to exempt the self-employed whose work poses no threat to others from health and safety legislation, i.e. they will no longer be “duty holders” under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Development of this legislation will need to be followed to ensure that PCCs and other “low risk” employers are not put in an anomalous position vis-à-vis any self-employed workers they engage.
And finally . . .
No review would be complete without a comment on the measures that didn’t make it into the Gracious Speech, and the one of most interest to the Churches will be the failure to enshrine in law plans to spend 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on development aid, a Coalition election pledge. The Speech promised that the government would only “set out firm plans to spend 0.7% of [GNI] as official development assistance from 2013”. The Churches are also likely to adopt a high lobbying profile after Lord Falconer presents his Assisted Dying proposals as a Private Members Bill on 15 May.
Some potentially unpopular measures were also dropped: a minimum unit price for alcohol and plain packaging for cigarettes; and lobbyists will be pleased that the proposed statutory register of lobbying firms who influence government policy for their clients is no longer on the agenda. However, those thinking that the “snoopers charter legislation”, aka the controversial Communications Data Bill to permit tracking individuals’ email, internet and mobile text use, is dead in the water should perhaps read Carry on snooping at Heresy Corner which suggests: Sir Humphrey, 1; Nick Clegg, 0.
Some commentators are speculating on the absence on a mention of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill – “the Bill that dare not speak its name” – in the Speech or in supporting documents spelling out the Government’s priorities. Downing Street is reported to have said there was no need for the Bill to be in the Speech since it was a “carry-over” measure introduced midway through the last session. However, so too was the Energy Bill, and the Speech highlighted issues such as easier mortgages and childcare that do not involve legislation.
The potentially popular but legally complex measure which would allow constituencies to trigger a by-election when their MP is guilty of misconduct is also absent, as is a Bill paving the way for an in/out referendum on the EU. The BBC’s Nick Robinson notes that the Speech was completed before, not after, the local elections  and so the measures announced should not be portrayed as a response to UKIP’s showing at the polls, although it may reflect more general concerns in this area.
 The House of Lords Reform Bill was withdrawn as a result of opposition, mainly from Conservative MPs; the Pensions Bill never appeared; and the Banking Reform Bill, Energy bill and Children and Families bill were all carried over.
 He also states that although the Gracious Speech is no longer written on vellum with ink that takes three days to dry so it cannot be amended at the last-minute, the phrase “Going goat” is still used in Whitehall to denote the moment when the Queen’s Speech has to be finalised and sent to the Palace for Her Majesty’s approval.