This year’s Queen’s Speech is, of course, almost entirely overshadowed by the forthcoming EU Referendum and the Cabinet divisions that are accompanying it. But the show must go on, even though the plot will unfold against the commitment, reiterated in the Gracious Speech, to continued constraints on public spending:
“My ministers will continue to bring the public finances under control so that Britain [sic] lives within its means”.
Several pieces of legislation were announced that touch on law & religion to a greater or lesser extent:
- a Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill to prevent radicalisation, promote community integration and tackle extremism;
- an Education for All Bill to expand the academies programme in the poorest- performing local authority areas – though the Government seems to have retreated from its avowed intent to convert all remaining schools into academies, not least because of opposition from the Church of England and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference;
- a Small Charitable Donations Bill to make further reforms to the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme (from which the Churches collectively are probably the major beneficiaries) by simplifying the Scheme and reducing the administrative burden for charities: the details of the Scheme are currently subject to a consultation which has not yet concluded; and
- a Wales Bill, ostensibly “to establish a strong and lasting devolution settlement in Wales’” – though some many critics across the political spectrum, not least among the Welsh Churches, argued earlier this year that the effect of the Bill that was brought forward in the last Session of Parliament would have restricted some of the current powers of the National Assembly for Wales.
It appears that the long-heralded British Bill of Rights will be subject to a further round of consultation, presumably after the EU Referendum. The Government’s explanatory notes say that it will include measures to reform and modernise the UK human rights framework and “better protect against abuse of the system and misuse of human rights laws and would restore common sense to their application”. Further, it “would be based on those set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, while also taking into account our common law tradition”.
There will no doubt be lots more to say when the consultation document appears; but my initial reaction is that when people appeal to “common sense” it usually means that they assume that what they say is self-evident to all right-thinking persons (that is, people who think like they do) and they’re too lazy to do a proper analysis. And if the Bill is to be based on the human rights set out in the ECHR, why do it at all, unless the intention is to remove the right to plead the Convention in the domestic courts? And then there’s the problem of gaining legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament for repealing some or all of a UK Act that affects Scotland. But we’ll see what transpires…