The Best of the Rest: Commentaries on the Government's agenda for the coming Parliamentary year
The Queen has announced Parliament’s legislative agenda for the coming
year, in total raising 15 bills and 4 draft bills, ranging from Banking Reform
to the future of Adult Social Care. The team at ResPublica have collated the
highlights to emerge from the central themes.
Out of the three constitutional bills announced in the Queen’s speech,
House of Lords reform by far attracted most attention, set now to become a key
political battleground over the coming year. The Coalition Government’s draft House of Lords Reform bill published last month, outlined proposals
for a Chamber of 450 members, 80% of whom would be elected and 20% nominated.
ResPublica has been at the forefront of this debate, arguing in the conclusions
and recommendations of the collection of essays, 'Our
House: Reflections on Representation and Reform in the House of Lords', for a ‘hybrid house’ of nominated, appointed and elected peers, which
will move towards representing the interests of the nation, as well as the will
of the electorate. In concluding the essay collection Phillip Blond, Director
of ResPublica, argues:
“Ultimately democracy needs
powers other than itself – and the greatest power besides the will of the
people are the people themselves, their longer interests and their deeper
Charitable giving is also back on the agenda, and likely to generate
much noise in the coming months. The Small
Donations Bill announced by the Queen was welcomed by a number of organisations and
philanthropists across the charitable and voluntary sector. The NACVA
remarked that they were delighted to see the
Small Donations Bill in the Queen’s Speech:
“The measure to
get top-up payments similar to Gift Aid for small cash donations could make a
significant difference to thousands of local charities.”
Hannah Terrey, Head of Policy at the Charities Aid
Foundation, added that a simpler Gift Aid system is needed, not a new Bill: “The Government recognises that Gift
Aid is overly complicated,” adding,“[w]e
agree that the scheme needs to be simplified for donors and charities but it
would be much better to fully modernise the system and ensure it is fit for
future fundraising and digital giving."
ResPublica’s emphasis on the need
to extend cultures of philanthropy and giving on a national scale, are
reminiscent of the recommendations in our report 'Digital Giving: Modernising Gift Aid; Taking
Civil Society into the Digital Age to ease administrative burdens on charities'.
Families and the economy were two major themes to emerge from the
announcements. Linking both together, Zoe
Williams in the Guardian today argued that the proposed flexible measures
regarding maternity/paternity leave could also stimulate growth:
“…maternity leave is actually good for an
economy, since without it women don't return to work or they return much later,
and to different jobs at a lower skills level, wherein the gap itself or a lack
of confidence has whittled away at their CV.”
Banking reforms, the enforcement of competition measures and energy
market reform took the legislative lead for the Coalition. In response to the present Government’s Parliamentary
priorities, Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, forwarded a forceful
“Utility bills, water bills,
the cost of getting to work – that’s what is worrying families up and down the
country. And what have the government got to say about it? Absolutely nothing.
"An energy bill with nothing
to help people struggling to make ends meet. No legislation this year on water.
No legislation on train fares. Nothing to relieve the squeeze on ordinary
Concerns surrounding the forthcoming Energy Bill continue to arise. ResPublica’s
recent Green Paper, 'Re-energising
Our Communities', argues that whilst opening up the energy market to more
than the big suppliers to distribute the concentrated market and stimulate
economic growth, much more can be done to diversify technologies, industries
and the array of ‘energy production assets’.
The Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill was welcomed by a number of retail
consortiums. John Walker, the National Chairman for the Federation of Small Businesses
“The introduction of a Grocery Code Adjudicator should help
provided it is given the power to impose significant financial penalties on
offenders. In addition, it should be able to ‘name and shame’ offenders given
that in many instances, the financial clout of large supermarket chains would
allow them to pay any fines with ease.
Adjudicator’s remit also needs to go further than watching direct suppliers’
relationships with supermarkets. It should have some power over indirect
suppliers’ relationships with supermarkets. Very few farmers deal directly with
supermarkets so if the code is to protect them too, it needs to cover indirect
supply as well.”
The bill will help ensure fairness and ethical practice in the grocery
retail market and allow small retailers to thrive, an objective forwarded in
ResPublica’s report, 'The
Right to Retail: Can Localism save Britain’s small retailers?'
Upcoming reforms to public services will see the development of the Draft Care and Support Bill, which will “provide greater clarity and equity of access to care and support” and
deliver greater choice to recipients of care services and those with personal
budgets. Responding to the draft bill, Stephen Dorrell MP, Chair of the Health
Select Committee, argued
“Too often, failures of care
arise, not because staff are not committed, or even because they are
overloaded, but because the care system was not designed for the modern world;
it is quite simply not fit for purpose. That is why reform is now urgently
required. Not a reform of the management structure, but a reform of the way care
debates and discrepancies in funding, a truly transformative reform of service
delivery is set to carve out the coming Parliamentary year.
ResPublica has formally responded to the Queen’s speech through it's 'The
Coming Year of Parliament' publication.
If you have a
response to the Queen’s Speech, or a response to the responses, please leave a
comment and join the debate.