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Four's Public Affairs team analyses today's Queen's Speech

Summary

The central message of the Queen’s speech, which announced 15 new Bills, was building a stronger, internationally competitive economy. Its aim: to deliver growth while “promoting a fairer society that rewards people who work hard”. The Coalition government’s hope is that this pro-business message and cutting red tape will give confidence to the private sector, in particular SMEs, and inject much needed activity into the economy.

The flagship polices in the Speech are, as anticipated, in this vein. The Deregulation Bill will exempt self-employed workers from health and safety laws, whilst the National Insurance Contributions Bill will take out 450,000 employers from paying NICs altogether.

Devolution featured strongly and the commitment to keeping the Union was mentioned by the Queen in the speech for the first time since 1977. The most significant announcement was the reform to the Welsh Assembly which will set five year terms and allow candidates to stand in both a constituency and on a regional list.

Nick Clegg may have described the Queen’s Speech as a programme ‘rooted in the centre ground of British politics’, but a number of more populist measures could be seen to reflect the concerns of Lynton Crosby, the Conservative’s election manager and strategist, about the Party’s polling and rise of UKIP. The latter’s tally of 139 council seats in last week’s English local elections have put David Cameron under more pressure from the Conservative right to fight back, or at least not cede further ground.

Measures like the Immigration Bill, which will limit access to benefits for some non-nationals, are designed to show both the Tory right and the disaffected public that the Conservatives are still on their side. Perhaps not unexpectedly this populism does create some extra red tape: in housing, for instance, the Immigration Bill will require private landlords to check that their tenants are legal residents of the United Kingdom.

Even before the very heavily trailed set of announcements it was clear, though, that the Coalition’s messages were not entirely getting across. The Queen’s Speech has instead faced strong criticism from commentators over what it has failed to do. Most notably, the Coalition has been criticised for failing to stand up to big businesses over plain packaging of cigarettes and failing to introduce a statutory register for lobbyists.

The vast majority of the reaction to the Queen’s Speech from trade and industry bodies was positive. The Association of Train Operating Companies welcomed the Hs2 Bills and said “the inclusion of the HS2 legislation is good news for both passengers and the economy”. While Which? supported the Draft Consumer Bill, echoing much of the government’s messaging: “This is a welcome step towards ensuring that we have consumer laws fit for the 21st century”.

The Immigration Bill received the strongest criticism. Liberty took issue with the responsibility on private landlords to ensure their tenants are legal residents “here will be a new duty on landlords to ensure tenants are here legally – effectively contracting-out immigration control to private individuals and paving the way for racial discrimination”. Dave Prentis the Unison general secretary said “it's a typical Tory tactic to distract attention from the real problems we face by fostering a 'blame immigrants' culture”.

Key announcements include:



Housing


The Immigration Bill will have implications on private landlords – landlords will have a duty to ensure tenants are legally residing in the UK.

The Deregulation Bill will reduce the qualifying period for the ‘Right to Buy’ and ‘Right to Acquire’ from five years to three years. While it will not get a Bill, the Queen stated her Government’s commitment support first time buyers and help “more people own their own home with Government support”.


Transport


The government announced two pieces of legislation to pave the way for Hs2. The Hybrid Bill will provide the Government with the legal powers to acquire the land needed for Hs2 – this Bill, if it becomes an Act, will also guarantee planning permission for the scheme.

The High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill will allow funding to be made available for the planning and design of the second stage of Hs2 – with the intention that this funding will be made available promptly. The Government will be required to report expenditure on the Hs2 programme. Parliamentary authority will be granted to provide compensation for those affected by the construction of the line.


Devolution


The Draft Wales Bill will be introduced to reform the Welsh Assembly. The Assembly will be given five year terms like the House of Commons and there will also be electoral reform allowing candidates to stand for both constituencies and on a regional list. Assembly Members will be prevented from also being MPs.

The Queen mentioned keeping the Union together for the first time since 1977.

The Northern Ireland Bill will provide greater transparency on political donations and make “agreed changes to the institutions” to promote long-term peace in the region.


Personal finance


The Department for Work and Pensions will introduce a Pensions Bill which will introduce a single weekly state pension of £144 per week. The Pensions Bill will also make it more difficult for people living abroad to claim a state pension through their British spouses. As part of their wider reforms to support carers, parents who have cared for children or disabled relatives will be able to build up National Insurance Contributions.  Additionally, the pension age will be raised to 67, to take place between 2026 and 2028.


Gambling


The Gambling (licensing and advertising) Bill will require all operators selling in the British market, regardless if they are based here or not, to have a Gambling Commission license. This will, for the first time, require overseas operators to inform the Gambling Commission about suspicious betting patterns.


SMEs & business


Co-operatives Bill. This Bill will help Britain to build a “fairer economy” by through legislation to encourage more co-operatives and mutuals.

The Deregulation Bill will cut “unnecessary red tape, measures include exempting self-employed workers from health and safety laws and removing a power for employment tribunals to maker wider recommendations in successful discrimination cases.

National Insurance Contributions Bill will cut the cost for employers recruiting by taking 450,000 out of paying National Insurance all together. Every business and charity from April 2014 will be entitled to a £2,000 Employment Allowance. The General Anti-Abuse Rule will also be extended to NICs to tackle “abusive avoidance”.

The Intellectual Property Bill will introduce reforms based on the recommendations of the Hargreaves Review in 2011. Design ownership will be made clearer, reducing costs for businesses – in particular SME’s.  A Unified Patent Court will be implemented; this will allow British businesses to protect their inventions across countries in a single application. Design protections will be strengthened with the introduction of criminal penalties for UK registered designers. 


Consumer Rights


Consumer Rights Bill. The Consumer Rights Bill will extend consumer rights to cover new areas including apps, online gaming and music downloads, the government have described the legislation as a move to make the law “fit for the 21st Century”.  There will also be a simplification of the law, providing greater protection for consumers unhappy with faulty goods. Greater powers will be given to bodies such as Trading Standards to seek court compensation for consumers when consumer law has been breached.


Energy


The Energy Bill will be carried over from the last Parliament.


Social issues


The Dangerous Dog Act will be extended to cover attacks which occur in private properties.

Anti-Social Behavioural Orders will be scrapped to make way for injunctions to be known as “Criminal Behaviour Orders”.

The Immigration Bill will limit access to some benefits for foreigners. The Immigration Bill is also designed to make it easier for the government to deport foreign criminals.

The government also outlined the Health and Social Care Bill – this will give more rights to carers, predominantly in the form of a statutory right to request financial support and greater help from professional carers. If these requests are turned down Council’s must provide a detailed reason why. This will also introduce a cap (£72,000), like recommended by the Dilnot Commission.


Other


Freedom of Information Act. The government announced a slight overhaul of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 – government will have greater ability to refuse requests on the grounds of cost.

Local Audit Bill. The Audit Commission is scrapped with its powers transferred to the private sector, allowing local authorities to appoint their own auditors rather than doing it in house.

Councils will also have red tape cut in the Deregulation Bill – they will no longer be required to produce assessments after designating air quality zones.

If you would like to discuss the information below, and what it means for your company, please do get in touch via jim.dickson@fourcommunications.com or on 0870 626 9000.

 

 

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