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April in Westminster: What's on the horizon

3 April 2017

With the Prime Minister having hit her end-of-March deadline for commencing the Brexit process, the formal negotiating period is now underway. Meanwhile, April sees legislation winding down for the 2016-17 Parliamentary session and speculation growing about what will be in this year's Queen's Speech.

Here, DeHavilland's expert Monitoring Consultants outline the issues to watch in each sector.

Education

The Education sector will be busy this month responding to a new Government consultation on primary school assessments, with teaching unions and other stakeholders having voiced significant interest. Meanwhile, debates over the Government’s school funding formula are likely to continue given disagreement from the Opposition, educational professionals, and even some Conservative backbenchers. The provision of funding for new free schools, including academically selective institutions, is likely to be a particular point of contention.

The Higher Education and Research Bill and the Technical and Further Education Bill are due to have their Third Readings in the House of Lords on 4 April, with the Commons set to consider Lords amendments later in April. Both Bills are likely to gain Royal Assent sometime this April.

As Brexit negotiations start, the status of EU nationals remains a hot topic. Despite the signing of a letter by 20 Conservative MPs asking for foreign students not to be included in immigration figures, the future of academics and students from other EU countries remains uncertain.

Energy and Environment

The long anticipated Green Paper on consumer markets is expected next month. In her speech to the Conservative Spring forum, Prime Minister Theresa May has said she is preparing to intervene in Britain’s energy market to ensure a “fairer deal” for energy consumers. There is speculation that the Green Paper may contain proposals for a cap on prices. Also this month, the Digital Economy Bill is expected to become law. The Bill contains provisions on the sharing of data around fuel poverty.

On 1 April, Ofgem will introduce a price cap on prepayment meters. This is a significant intervention by the energy regulator and comes after an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority.

Financial Services

This month the Pension Schemes Bill progresses towards completion as it enters Ping Pong stage after completing its Third Reading in the House of Commons. In March, amendments made by the House of Lords to introduce measures for greater transparency, member engagement, and clarity on costs were removed at Committee Stage in the Commons.

With concerns over financial fraud rising, anti-money laundering regulations are expected to be a hot topic this month, with the Treasury closing its consultation on the new Money Laundering Regulations whilst also calling for further information on the Anti-Money Laundering supervisory regime.

April will also see the Justice Committee continuing its inquiry into whiplash and small claims limits.

The Criminal Finances Bill is set to continue in the Committee stage in the House of Lords before returning to the House of Commons, whilst the Finance (No.2) Bill will have its Second Reading in the House of Commons.

Pharma and Health

With social care receiving additional funding in the Budget, the Government will be hoping that next month the agenda moves on to more favourable ground, although cross-party criticism of Government policy on the issue makes this unlikely.

Going into April, it’s looking likely the health agenda will be dominated by efforts to improve public health, specifically by reducing the sugar content in food and drink products, via the Sugar in Food and Drinks (Targets, Labelling and Advertising) Bill.

The Health Service (Medical Supplies) Bill continues in "ping pong" with the Lords and Commons amending and sending back the Bill to reach agreement. The Lords amendments are trying to ensure that patients have rapid access to medicines approved through a NICE technology appraisal, but have faced determined opposition from ministers.

Tech and Telecoms

April will see the last throes of the Digital Economy Bill, due to have its Third Reading at the beginning of the month.

The regulator Ofcom has been very busy lately, with activities affecting the telecoms, media and postal services and its work to encourage the BBC to spend more outside London. Meanwhile, the the BBC itself is being lobbied hard by MPs who accuse it of having an ‘anti-Brexit’ bias. Others, however, are pressuring it to remember its impartial foundations.

Meanwhile, Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has secured Channel 4’s continued public sector status, and soon we are likely to hear more about the broadcaster’s move to Birmingham.

Transport

March saw the Government award the South West Franchise to First MTR, a joint venture between First Group and the MTR Corporation. All bidders for the franchise were required to submit options for driver-only operation which could cause problems for industrial relations in the future. More immediately, in April there will be rail strikes across the country as part of three separate disputes over this new methodology.

March also saw the launch of a “superinquiry” into air pollution by four parliamentary committees, increasing political pressure eon the Government to take action. The four committees will be taking written evidence during April. The deadline for written evidence for two other Transport Committee inquiries closed in March: one on Heathrow expansion and one on airspace management. Both issues will be controversial and the Committees could start hearing oral evidence from witnesses during April.

In Parliament, the Bus Services Bill completed its passage through the House of Commons in March. The Bill is expected to enter "ping-pong" in April. The main issues of contention between the House of Commons and House of Lords relate to a proposed ban on local authorities setting up bus companies and whether all local authorities should have bus franchising powers.

In April the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill will continue its passage through Parliament. The Bill has so far proved relatively uncontroversial in the Commons but peers may raise concerns about some of the details of the bill.

April will also see the final full month of campaigning for the Metro Mayoral elections. Six elections will be taking place across England for new Metro Mayor positions and Transport issues are taking a prominent position in the campaigns.

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DeHavilland
The DeHavilland Monitoring Team

DeHavilland's Monitoring Consultants deliver a service tailored to our clients' individual needs, enabling them to cut through the noise, assess changes to the political landscape and conduct bespoke research tasks.