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Queen’s Speech 2015: key elements

Parliament iStock 000002379030XSmall 146x219From the extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants to the establishment of a new Public Services Ombudsman, find out some of the key elements of Bills, draft legislation and other measures relevant to the public sector contained in the Queen’s Speech.

Full Employment and Welfare Bill

  • This would freeze the main rates of the majority of working-age benefits, tax credits and child benefit for two years from 2016/17. Pensioners will be protected, as will benefits relating to the additional costs of disability. Statutory payments, such as statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay will also be exempted.
  • The benefit cap – the total amount of benefits a non-working family can receive in a year – would be cut to £23,000.
  • There would be a new duty on ministers to report on job creation and progress against meeting the Government’s target of 3 million apprenticeships.
  • The Troubled Families Programme would be expanded. Public bodies would be required to provide information to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions so he can meet his duty to report annually on the programme’s progress.
  • A new Youth Allowance for 18-21 year olds would be put in place “with stronger work conditionality from Day 1”. Automatic entitlement to housing support for 18-21 year olds would be removed.

Enterprise Bill

  • The activities of more regulators would be covered to “enable them to contribute to the [Government’s] deregulation target”.
  • Regulators would be required to be more transparent by reporting against their compliance with existing statutory better regulation requirements.
  • The Primary Authority scheme would be extended “to streamline regulation around the country”.
  • A cap on exit payments would be introduced “to end six figure payoffs for the best paid public sector workers”.
  • Reform of business rates appeals would be introduced, “including modifying the Valuation Tribunal powers to consider ratepayer appeals”.
  • The Valuation Office Agency would be allowed to share information with local government “to improve the system for both local government and taxpayers”.

Childcare Bill 

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  • An increased entitlement to 30 hours a week of free childcare (for 38 weeks of the year) would be made available to eligible working parents of three and four year olds.
  • Local authorities would be required to publish information about the provision of childcare in the local authority area, and other services or facilities which might be of benefit to parents or prospective parents, or children or young persons in their area.

Housing Bill 

  • Right to Buy levels of discount would be extended to housing association tenants.
  • Local authorities would be required to dispose of high-value vacant council houses, “which would help fund the Right to Buy extension discounts and the building of more affordable homes in the area”.
  • The necessary statutory framework would be provided to support the delivery of 'Starter Homes'.
  • The Right to Build would be moved forward, “requiring local planning authorities to support custom and self-builders registered in their area in identifying suitable plots of land to build or commission their own home".
  • A statutory register for brownfield land would be introduced, “to help achieve the target of getting Local Development Orders in place on 90% of suitable brownfield sites by 2020”.
  • The neighbourhood planning system would be simplified and speeded up, “to support communities that seek to meet local housing and other development needs through neighbourhood planning”.
  • Other changes to housing and planning legislation that would support housing growth would be given effect.

Energy Bill 

  • Legislative changes would remove the need for the Secretary of State’s consent for any large onshore wind farms (over 50MW). This would in effect devolve powers out of Whitehall by transferring existing consenting powers, in relation to onshore wind, to local planning authorities.
  • This would mean that in future the primary decision maker for onshore wind consents in England and Wales would be the local planning authority. These changes would be supported by changes to the national planning policy framework to give effect to the Conservative manifesto commitment that local communities should have the final say on planning applications for wind farms.
  • These changes would not impact on the planning regime in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • A commitment to end new subsidy for onshore wind farms would be delivered separately, and DECC will be announcing measures to deliver this soon.

Immigration measures

  • Measures would be introduced to control immigration. An offence of illegal working – “making it clear to migrants who have not right to be here that working illegally in the UK is a crime, with consequences for their earnings” – would be introduced.
  • A new enforcement agency would be created to crack down on the worst cases of exploitation.
  • There would be “a clearer bar” on access to services by illegal migrants. The Government would build on the national roll-out of the landlord scheme established in the Immigration Act 2014, “and make it easier to evict illegal migrants”.
  • The principle of ‘deport first, appeal later’ would be extended from criminal cases to all immigration cases.

Trade Unions Bill 

  • A 50% voting threshold would be introduced for union ballots turnouts (and the requirement for there to be a simple majority of votes in favour will be retained).
  • In addition to the 50% minimum voting turnout threshold, a requirement would be introduced that 40% of those entitled to vote must vote in favour of industrial action in certain essential public services (health, education, fire, transport).
  • The intimidation of non-striking workers during a strike would be tackled.
  • A transparent opt-in process for the political fund element of trade unions subscriptions would be introduced.
  • Time limits would be introduced on a mandate following a ballot for industrial action.
  • Changes would be made to the role of Certification Officer.

Education and Adoption Bill 

  • Regional Schools Commissioners would be given powers to bring in leadership support from other excellent schools and heads. The process of turning schools into academies would be speeded up.
  • An inadequate Ofsted judgement would “usually lead to a school being converted into an academy, and barriers would be removed to ensure swift progress towards conversion”.
  • Schools that meet a new coasting definition, “having shown a prolonged period of mediocre performance and insufficient pupil progress”, would be made eligible for academisation. A coasting definition will be set out in due course according to a number of factors.
  • The Education Secretary would be given a new power to direct one or more named local authorities to make arrangements for any or all of their adoption functions to be carried out on their behalf by one of the local authorities named or by another agency. “In practice, this means that the Secretary of State can direct a number of local authorities to have adoption functions carried out on their behalf in order to create regional adoption agencies.”
  • When directing local authorities, the Secretary of State can list which adoption functions the arrangements should relate to. The functions which can be specified in a direction are functions in relation to: the recruitment, assessment and approval of prospective adopters; decisions about which prospective adopters a child should be matched with; and the provision of adoption support services.

Health and Social Care measures

  • The National Health Service’s five-year plan would be backed and investment into the NHS increased by £8bn a year by 2020. This would be used to support amongst other things an increase in the number of GPs, faster access to new drugs and treatments and a greater focus on mental health and healthy living.
  • Access to GPs would be expanded and “further action” would be taken to deliver more seven day access in hospitals.
  • The NHS would be supported in its long-term plan to join up health and social care for patients, and to offer more tests and treatments closer to patients’ home.
  • Access and waiting time standards for mental health services would be introduced.

Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill 

  • The legislative framework necessary to deliver the Greater Manchester deal and other future deals – “both in large cities which choose to have elected mayors and in other places” – would be provided for.
  • Early progress would be made on moving powers out of Whitehall and building a “Northern Powerhouse”.
  • The Bill would provide new primary legislative powers to fulfill the Government’s manifesto commitments.
  • Together with existing powers under the Localism Act 2011, the Bill would also enable the Government to empower towns and counties, building on the programme of Growth Deals which the Government implemented in the last Parliament.
  • The provisions in the Bill would be generic (to be applied by order to specified combined authorities and their areas) and would enable: an elected mayor for the combined authority’s area who would exercise specified functions and chair the authority; the mayor to undertake the functions of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for the area; where a mayor is to have PCC functions, allow the current PCC term of office to be extended until the mayor is in place; remove the current statutory limitation on its functions (currently these are limited to those on economic development, regeneration, and transport); and enable local authority governance to be streamlined as agreed by councils.

High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill 

  • This would give the Government powers to compulsorily acquire or temporarily take possession of land required for the scheme, and construct and operate the railway.

Scotland Bill 

  • This would honour the commitment made to the Scottish people before last year’s independence referendum to transfer significant new powers to the Scottish Parliament, “making it one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world”.
  • The Smith Commission Agreement would be delivered in full.

Wales Bill 

  • There would be a new reserved powers model for Welsh devolution including a list of policies that are reserved to the UK Parliament.
  • Powers would be devolved to Welsh Ministers over consenting for energy developments in Wales up to 350 Megawatts for both onshore and offshore projects.
  • Powers would be devolved to the Assembly over ports, taxi regulation, the registration of bus services, speed limits, and sewerage services in Wales.
  • Powers would be transferred to the National Assembly over Assembly and local government elections in Wales, enabling the Assembly to decide whether 16 and 17 years olds should vote in those elections.
  • Provisions would place the permanence of the National Assembly and the Welsh Government on a statutory footing and enshrine the legislative consent process in law.
  • Control would be devolved to the National Assembly over its own affairs including what it should be called, its size and the electoral system used to elect its Members.
  • The Bill would implement those non-fiscal Smith Commission proposals that are “appropriate to be taken forward for Wales”.

English votes for English laws

  • Changes to the Standing Orders for the House of Commons would be brought forward to “create fairer procedures to ensure that decisions affecting England, or England and Wales, can be taken only with the consent of the majority of Members of Parliament representing constituencies in those parts of our United Kingdom.”

European Union Referendum Bill 

  • This would enable a referendum giving the electorate an in-out vote on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) before the end of 2017.
  • It would make clear that the franchise for the Referendum will be based on the General Election franchise, plus members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar. British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are resident in the UK will therefore be eligible to vote as well as UK nationals resident overseas for less than 15 years.

Extremism Bill 

“As part of a comprehensive new strategy to defeat all forms of extremism, we will legislate to strengthen our powers in a number of areas”:

  • Banning Orders: a new power for the Home Secretary to ban extremist groups.
  • Extremism Disruption Orders: a new power for law enforcement to stop individuals engaging in extremist behaviour.
  • Closure Orders: a new power for law enforcement and local authorities to close down premises used to support extremism.
  • The Government would also be taking forward other commitments to combat extremism: Broadcasting – strengthening Ofcom’s roles so that tough measures can be taken against channels that broadcast extremist content; and employment checks – enabling employers to check whether an individual is an extremist and bar them from working with children.

Investigatory Powers Bill 

  • The Bill would modernise the legislation that covers all investigatory powers including communications data, “where the Government has long maintained that the gap in capabilities are putting lives at risk”.
  • The legislation would enable the continuation of the targeting of terrorist communications and other capabilities.

Policing and Criminal Justice Bill 

  • This would ensure 17 year olds who are detained in police custody are treated as children for all purposes under PACE;
  • The Bill would take forward the policing powers elements of the Review of the use of sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, including: prohibiting the use of police cells as places of safety for those under 18 years of age and further reducing their use in the case of adults; reducing the current 72 hour maximum period of detention; and extending the power to detain under section 136 to any place other than a private residence.
  • HMIC’s powers would be strengthened and its remit extended. This would include giving it powers to acquire information from third parties.
  • Changes to the police disciplinary system would nclude extension of the power to make conduct and disciplinary regulations to include former police officers “so that misconduct cases can be taken to a conclusion, notwithstanding an officer’s departure from the force”.
  • Police and Crime Commissioners would have a stronger role in the police complaints system. Measures would also strengthen protection for police whistleblowers, while the powers of the IPCC will also be change.
  • The Freedom of Information Act would be applied to the Police Federation.
  • Subject to the outcome of a public consultation, improved protection for children would be introduced, “either through amending current duties, introducing a criminal offence of ‘wilful neglect’ or introducing a mandatory reporting scheme”.

Psychoactive Substances Bill 

  • The Bill would make it an offence to produce, supply, offer to supply, possess with intent to supply, import or export psychoactive substances; “that is, anysubstance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect”. The maximum sentence would be seven years’ imprisonment.
  • Substances, such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, food and medical products, would be excluded from the scope of the offence, as would controlled drugs, which would continue to be regulated by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
  • The Bill would focus on the supply of NPS (New Psychoactive Substances) and so would not include a personal possession offence. Specific substances would continue to be controlled under the existing Misuse of Drugs Act legislation (including possession) where they can be identified and their harms can be adequately assessed by the ACMD.
  • This legislation is supported by the Devolved Administrations and the Scottish government and the National Assembly for Wales have published their own reports calling for a blanket ban.
  • The Bill would include provision for civil sanctions – prohibition notices and prohibition orders (breach of the latter would be a criminal offence) – to “enable the police and local authorities to adopt a proportionate response to the supply of NPS in appropriate cases”.
  • The Bill would also provide powers to seize and destroy NPS and powers to search persons, premises and vehicles, as well as to enter premises by warrant if necessary.

Proposals for a British Bill of Rights

  • The Government would bring forward proposals for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. “This would reform and modernise our human rights legal framework and restore common sense to the application of human rights laws. It would also protect existing rights, which are an essential part of a modern, democratic society, and better protect against abuse of the system and misuse of human rights laws.”

Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill 

  • The criteria for automatic disqualification from charity trusteeship would be extended, and disqualification to senior management positions would be extended to better protect charities from the risk of abuse.
  • The Bill would strengthen the powers of the Charity Commission, enabling it to: direct that a charity be closed down after an inquiry; issue official warnings to charities; disqualify a person who is unfit to serve as a charity trustee in certain circumstances; and address some gaps and weaknesses in the Charity Commission’s existing powers.
  • It would also give charities a new specific and simple power to make social investments (pursuing both a financial and social return), along with clear duties when doing so. The social investment provisions were recommended by the Law Commission, to make it easier for charities to undertake social investment.

Votes for Life Bill 

  • This would enable British citizens who are resident overseas to continue to vote in UK elections after 15 years since they were last resident and registered in the UK.
  • The Bill would provide for the secure and accessible registration of overseas electors.
  • It would also contain provisions to make it easier for overseas electors to vote in time to be counted.

Buses Bill 

  • This would provide the option for combined authority areas with directly elected Mayors to be responsible for the running of their local bus services. Details of bus franchising powers would be published “in due course”.

Draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill 

  • This would create an overarching Public Service Ombudsman organisation which would include the functions of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, the Local Government Ombudsman and potentially the Housing Ombudsman.
  • The new Ombudsman would be independent of Government and directly accountable to Parliament. The Bill would establish the relevant powers for the new organisation.

Source: The Queen’s Speech 2015: background briefing notes

 

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