With the party conferences finished and a General Election on the way next year, the government set out its last legislative agenda for this Parliament on 7 November, in the first ‘King’s Speech’ for over 70 years. Which bills might affect charities or charitable beneficiaries?
The King announced 21 bills, many of which were carried over from the previous parliamentary session. Some are already well advanced through the pre-legislative and committee scrutiny phases and are likely to pass. Others haven’t even been drafted yet and may take much longer to work through the legislative process.
In the background briefing to the Speech, the Prime Minister’s eight-page ‘introduction’ makes numerous claims about the government’s record and plans for the future. The document then summarises the 21 bills within three sections: Growing the Economy, Strengthening Society, and Keeping People Safe. A handful of bills may affect the charity sector or particular parts of it – these are discussed below.
‘Keeping people safe: criminal justice bills and ‘Martyn’s Law’
A number of bills in this section such as the Sentencing Bill, the Criminal Justice Bill, and the Victims and Prisoners Bill aim to increase punishments for certain crimes and to increase victims’ rights. Charities working with offenders or people on probation will want to examine these carefully, and they may be doing so already as some of this legislation was carried over from the previous session. The last of these would create a ‘Victims Code’ that defines ‘minimum levels of service for victims of crime’. This Bill is likely to be important legislation for charities working with victims of domestic or child abuse.
One Bill that has the potential to affect many charities is the draft Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill, known informally as ‘Martyn’s Law’. This originated from campaigners in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena terrorist bombing in 2017. The Bill would ‘require certain venues to fulfil necessary but proportionate steps according to their capacity to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack and reduce harm’. It would bring in new legal duties on ‘qualifying public premises’ to put certain things in place which are intended to prevent terrorist attacks. These include: terrorism protection training, having a senior responsible officer for terrorism risk assessments, and having a security plan.
The draft legislation would create a regulator with powers to register premises, issue compliance notices, and fine organisations that do not comply. It provides for two tiers with different levels of requirements. Premises with the capacity of less than 100 people are exempt. Premises of between 100 and 799 people have a more basic set of duties, and those above 900 capacity have so-called ‘enhanced duties’.
Crucially for the charity sector, and largely as a result of organisations lobbying during the pre-legislative scrutiny stage, there will be a consultation on the ‘standard tier’ (100-799 capacity) in advance of the draft bill being introduced. According to the government, this will help the final legislation ‘strike the right balance between public protection and avoiding undue burdens on smaller premises such as village halls, churches and other community venues.’
‘Strengthening society’: renters reform, livestock exports, and tobacco ban
Few of the rest of the bills in the Kings Speech would seem to have much direct impact on charities, but several will be of interest to those working in specific areas.
The Renters (Reform) Bill continues from the last session. The government says this will mean ‘Renters will benefit from stronger security of tenure and better value, while landlords will benefit from reforms to provide certainty that they can regain their properties when needed.’ It will end no-fault evictions, whilst ‘introducing stronger powers to evict anti-social tenants’. However, this will only happen once new legal processes are in place.
Charities and renters’ groups have campaigned hard to get rid of no-fault evictions, and there was concern that this might have been dropped recently after pressure from landlords, but this appears not to be the case. The government also says it will introduce amendments to ‘make it illegal to have blanket bans on renting to tenants in receipt of benefits or with children’. Charities working on homelessness and anti-poverty causes will want to keep a close eye out for these amendments and formulate their public affairs strategies accordingly.
The Animal Welfare (Live Exports) Bill will ‘ban the export of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses for slaughter and fattening from Great Britain, stopping unnecessary stress, exhaustion and injury caused by exporting live animals’. Animal welfare charities have welcomed this legislation. A Tobacco and Vapes Bill will raise the legal age of sale for tobacco products for one year each year from those currently turning 14 years old. The Prime Minister announced this proposal in his conference speech and some health charities have been campaigning for this type of policy.
‘Strengthening the Economy’: Data Protection and Digital Information Bill
It seems not that long ago that charities were adjusting to the latest data protection rules in the form of GDPR. This Bill is the government’s attempt to revise the system after Brexit. This Bill is already at a relatively advanced stage in the Commons and its description says it will allow ‘businesses to protect personal data in more proportionate and practical ways than under the EU’s GDPR, making them more efficient by eliminating unnecessary paperwork and cutting red tape, whilst maintaining high data protection standards’. The real-world implications of this technical legislation remain to be seen, and the impact may be hard to judge for laypeople until the Bill is passed and the Information Commissioner’s Office starts to issue guidance.
What was missing?
In short, quite a bit. The government’s rhetorical wrapping around the King’s Speech mentioned all kinds of things that weren’t backed up by the details of the legislative programme. However, not all legislation has to be put forward at this time and there could be more bills on the way, but the overall list at this stage seems anaemic. Still, with this being the last session of the current Parliament and an election campaign on the horizon it may be that there will be high demand for parliamentary time and the government thinks this is what’s achievable.
One glaring omission was any legislation on banning conversion therapy, which the Conservative party has long promised. This seems to have been put on hold for now, possibly due to divisions within the government. Also, the draft Mental Health Bill from the last parliamentary session was not announced in the Speech or the briefing and it’s unclear what the government’s plans for this are. This would bring in changes to the Mental Health Act to give people suffering with mental health conditions more control over their treatment, and to improve the rights of those with autism and learning difficulties.
You can find the King’s Speech background briefing here, and if you’re interested in the content of particular Bills as they pass through Parliament, check out this page.