Queen's Speech 2015: Bills, Bills, Bills

29 May 2015

This week the new Conservative Government set out its legislative plans for its first year governing alone. It offered the electorate a menu of proposals first set out in the party manifesto, from the routine to the divisive.

Much to the joy of assorted Conservative backbenchers, the promised EU Referendum Bill will sound the starting gun for months of negotiation, argument and speculation when it receives its Second Reading in the Commons on Tuesday 9 June.

Shadow Leader of the House Angela Eagle picked up on this legislative priority during the first set of Business Questions of the new parliamentary session, when she asked whether the Government had already been forced to rule out treaty change in seeking reforms to underpin an “In” campaign.

With the wording of the referendum question now confirmed, would-be campaigners will have the opportunity to reflect upon their lot. Voters will be called upon to answer “Yes” if they believe in the UK remaining in the EU, it emerged this week, while 16- to 17-year-olds and other European nationals will not be allowed to participate in the vote.

An as-yet unspecified Bill will also be put before the Commons at Second Reading on Thursday 11 June – prompting Ms Eagle to note this “mystery” and ask after its identity, to which no answer was forthcoming.

In keeping with promises strenuously made in the run-up to the 2015 General Election, the Scotland Bill is first in line to commence its passage through Parliament, receiving its Commons Second Reading on Monday 8 June.

The Bill will permit the Scottish Parliament to set Income Tax thresholds, as well as controlling part of VAT revenues and setting rules about Universal Credit payments.

The SNP has been quick to get its teeth into the newly-published Bill, with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon offering the damning verdict that it fell short in “almost every way”, and would fail to implement promised welfare powers. In particular, she expressed disappointment with the retention of an effective Westminster veto over any attempts to repeal the “Bedroom Tax”.

However, the Guardian has suggested that the draft Bill could offer a glimmer of hope to the SNP on another controversial subject, by establishing in law a convention that Westminster must seek consent from Holyrood for legislation relating to Scottish matters. Some have suggested that this could give the Scottish legislature an effective veto over Conservative proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act.

Whilst the Queen’s Speech contained a commitment to developing proposals to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, Prime Minister David Cameron’s failure to include a specific Bill in the speech was a notable omission.

His backtrack on plans to scrap the Act in the first 100 days of Parliament is indicative of the difficulty the Government will face against strong opposition from the Conservative backbenches and those opposite.

With the Conservatives having only won a narrow 12-seat majority, the move can be seen as a delaying tactic designed to give the Government more time to consider how best to approach the project amid opposition from senior Tories.

They include former minister Damian Green and former Attorney-General Dominic Grieve who have argued that a British Bill of Rights would be “reputationally disastrous for this country”. An unnamed Minister has also reportedly threatened to resign over the plans.

The focus for the Government now will therefore be on winning over support from its own benches.

With a consultation process due to begin in September, the Times quotes a Government source as stating that is now more important to get the bill “right, rather than [done] quickly”.

The omission was welcomed by many, including Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti who described it as “heartening” that the Government had “at least paused for thought”.

Leah Miller
Political Analyst

Leah Miller is a Political Analyst within DeHavilland’s Editorial Team and leads on coverage of welfare, education and health issues. A politics graduate from the University of Sussex, she has previously worked for Crisis and the Runnymede Trust.