14 Bills and 4 draft Bills represents a fairly modest legislative agenda – at least in terms of the amount of legislation being brought forward. But if it represents a real change from the previous government’s belief that legislation is the answer to everything, then that’s progress.
Since we’ve got used to successive government’s briefing the press of their plans in advance of occasions like the Budget and the Queen’s Speech, we shouldn’t be surprised that most of the content was expected. There was a time when briefing the press in advance of presenting in Parliament was considered a serious breach of protocol. In 1947 the Chancellor, Hugh Dalton, resigned after telling a journalist what was in the Budget before he gave his Statement to Parliament.
A number of Bills which were announced are things that were included in the Coalition Agreement and so have been in the pipeline for some time. The Green Investment Bank will finally be established to stimulate growth in the green economy through things like renewable energy. Let’s hope it take less time to set up than the four years it took from passing legislation to actually launching (what became) Big Society Capital.
The abolition of the Audit Commission, which was first announced by Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles back in 2010, will herald a new regime of local audits introduced. Budding armchair auditors prepare yourselves…your time is coming!
Quango Bonfire Watch
I suspect Ministers’ appetite for demonstrating their ‘bureaucracy busting’ credentials is unabated, but their plans this time around are fairly modest by previous Coalition efforts. The Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading are to be merged into a new Competition Markets Authority.
Fans of the ‘bonfire of the quangos’ shouldn’t start celebrating yet, as although the Queen’s speech announced the scrapping of two public bodies, we got two new ones to replace them – the Groceries Code Adjudicator and the National Crime Agency. Is this the quango equivalent of a fiscally neutral budget?
More consumer power? Not so much…
A key recommendation of last year’s Independent Banking Commission report, to separate retail and investment banking will be brought forward. This is supposed to make bank bailouts a thing of the past, by keeping the riskier investment banking activity apart from looking after your money. What it won’t do – and what the government shows no signs of wanting to address – are the systemic flaws within our entire financial services sector.
But in a nice piece of tinkering on the periphery shareholders are to be given power to vote on the pay of directors. Although the Queen’s speech would have been agreed a week or two ago, the policy fits with the recent shareholder revolts we’ve seen at William Hill, Barclays and Aviva. Curbing excessive executive pay is no bad thing, but pension fund and investment fund managers already have plenty of influence should they wish to flex their muscles. This Bill will make a vote legally binding, but recent events have shown that when they express their displeasure over remuneration packages the position of the senior executives is practically untenable anyway.
Political hot potatoes
Much of the media spotlight from the Queen’s speech will focus on Lords Reform, probably because it is one of the more prominent ‘fault lines’ running between the Coalition partners. Although I support political reform to strengthen our democracy, I have to say I tend to side with those who feel we have more important things to address right now than something which clearly has little resonance with the public. If we have to choose between having a strategy to get the economy going again and reforming the House of Lords I know which one I’d go for. Having said that, it will be interesting to see how the Coalition manages the inevitable tensions in the coming months. And we’ll just have to wait to see if there’s an economic recovery strategy any time soon.
Another political hot potato will be pensions – reforming public pensions seems far more contentious than raising the pension age to 67 sometime before 2028. But perhaps people will start getting het up about that in a decade or so….or maybe we are collectively accepting of the need for longer working lives.
A Draft Care and Support Bill will, we are told, provide greater choice and more personally tailored services in adult social care. The government’s record in this area is rather patchy (to put it politely) and we will have to examine the detail carefully. But since it’s a Draft Bill, there bound to be plenty of parliamentary thrashing around before it comes close to seeing the light of day.
The introduction of new powers for the Police and the intelligence service to help themselves to your emails, SMS and other personal data online is likely to be met with fierce resistance. I wonder if this will propel the UK Pirate Party into the political mainstream, in the same way that their counterparts in Germany and Sweden have?
Charities to benefit from practically irrelevant new legislation
In a remarkable piece of insignificance….sorry, understatement, the aptly named ‘Small Donations Bill’ will allow charities to claim back tax on donations under £20. Oh and there’s a limit to the amount you can claim back of £5,000.
This follows the government’s decision to limit the amounts that philanthropists can donate to charity in a tax efficient way and the furore it’s caused. George has clearly not ‘given it back’ so much as proffered the sector the loose change from his pockets.