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Everything you need to know about the Government’s proposed Bills

May 14, 2021 10:00 AM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Here's a rundown of the key Bills being proposed by the Government in the Queen's Speech

Sovereign Borders Bill

The bill changes asylum rules, including making claims inadmissible if the person has arrived in the UK "illegally". The government has closed the UK's resettlement schemes, meaning there are no safe and legal routes into the UK. Asylum seekers are being forced to enter the country illegally, then being punished for it, this is inhumane and unacceptable. We should welcome refugees fleeing war and/or persecution with compassion, not treat them like criminals and understand they don't have time to check their plans with the Home Secretary.

Liberal Democrats are calling for a new commitment to resettle 10,000 vulnerable refugees a year, as well as 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children over ten years.

Online Safety Bill

The Bill introduces a new "duty of care" on companies "to prevent the proliferation of illegal content and activity online, and ensure that children who use their services are not exposed to harmful content". While we welcome measures to protect children online the Government needs to do more. Social media should be regulated to ensure harmful content isn't slipping through the cracks and reaching children there.

More education is crucial. Schools need to teach children about these dangers, and how to use social media safely and responsibly. And parents must be empowered to protect their children online - including through digital literacy education, and advice and support for parents on best practice.

It's been almost three years since the Government promised new legislation to tackle online harms. We need this legislation now. Protecting children online has never been more difficult or more important.

Administrative Law Bill

The Government's proposals to restrict judicial review are another Conservative assault on the rule of law. On top of their crackdown on the right to peaceful protest, they are now trying to limit people's ability to hold governments to account through the courts.

Judicial review is working well. It is a powerful tool for individuals to enforce their rights and stop governments from overstepping their powers.

Liberal Democrats will oppose these plans to restrict judicial review and resist the Tories' attempts to undermine the rule of law, which is fundamental to our democratic society.

National Security / Espionage Bill

The Bill requires people working in the UK on behalf of foreign governments to register. It also proposes to "update" the Official Secrets Act to include hacking/electronic espionage. The Bill may also expand treason laws to cover terrorist groups & hackers and require people to justify travel to banned areas or be prosecuted under treason laws.

These proposals do not go far enough to tackle threats to UK democracy. From Russia to China, the Conservatives have failed to take these national security threats seriously. Boris Johnson blocked the crucial report on Russian interference in our democracy from being published for over a year.

Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to make it a national security priority to protect the UK's democratic processes from any threats or interference. That must include the long-promised legislation to establish a public beneficial ownership register of overseas entities that own UK property, powers to issue sanctions against serious and organised crime, a cap on donations to take big money out of politics, and extra funding for the National Crime Agency.

Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy

Violence by men against women and girls is far too prevalent in our society. Too many women feel unsafe walking down their own streets. Our criminal justice system is failing women. Survivors aren't supported properly and too many criminals get away with it.

Our society is letting women down. Women still experience so much harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and receive so much appalling abuse online - threats and intimidation, for daring to have an opinion.

Everything has to change. We must all work to make our communities safer and help women feel safer. The Government must do more to prevent violence against women, as well as to support survivors. No woman should be the victim of these awful crimes. And no girl should grow up in fear of them either.

Employment Bill

The Bill is likely to introduce several new provisions, such as: making flexible working the default, leave for neonatal care, an extra week's leave for carers, extending redundancy protection to pregnant employees and maternity returners and the right to request a more predictable and stable contract.

Liberal Democrats will fight to strengthen workers' rights, especially vulnerable workers in the gig economy. But again we want to see more radical change. To protect employees on zero-hour contracts, we want to set a 20% higher minimum wage for people on zero-hour contracts; and give "zero-hours" and agency workers the right to request a fixed-hours contract after 12 months.

we back the creation of a new "dependent contractor" status in between employment & self-employment, with basic rights such as minimum earnings levels, sick pay and holiday entitlement. This will strengthen the rights of "self-employed" and "independent contractors" attached to a business.

New subsidy control regime

The Government is setting up an independent UK subsidy control system to replace EU state aid rules. The EU trade deal gives the UK the right to form its own subsidy regime, as long as certain broad principles apply (e.g. an independent watchdog is in place). But European companies will be able to challenge subsidies awarded to British rivals in the UK's courts if they believe they violate principles in the agreement.

The Government must urgently provide clarity for businesses and public bodies who are still uncertain about what subsidy rules they need to follow post-Brexit.
The new regime must give UK companies confidence that they won't face litigation from European competitors, and it shouldn't create additional barriers in our trading relationship with Europe.
The UK's new subsidy regime must be part of a broader industrial strategy, that will aim to bridge inequalities, create good jobs, and help small businesses grow.

Building Safety Bill

This Bill will implement some of the other building regulation changes recommended by the Grenfell Inquiry, but that were not included in the Fire Safety Bill

The way the Conservative's acted over the Fire Safety Act was appalling. Many leaseholders have been left with huge bills to fix cladding that should never have been installed on buildings in the first place. Liberal Democrats are calling for an inquiry into the Tories response to the fire safety scandal.

On the 7th May in Poplar, we saw a building with illegal cladding catch fire, nearly four years after Grenfell - the Tories are dragging their feet to put things right.
Liberal Democrats believe that the recommendations of the Grenfell Inquiry must be implemented in full. This includes measures the Tories previously rejected such as requirements on building owners or managers to share information with local Fire and Rescue Service about the building (design, materials of the external walls etc) as well as conducting regular inspections of individual flat entrance doors and lifts and ensuring residents have evacuation and fire safety instructions shared with them.

Registration of Overseas Entities Bill

The Government must take our national security seriously - and launch a proper investigation into the extent to which Russia and Russian money interfers in our electoral process.

Layla Moran MP has called for the Government's recently launched consultation into English football to examine potential regulatory powers to investigate and act on serious issues, such as funding from regimes linked to human rights abuses.

This Bill, initially promised in the 18-19 Parliament, will establish a new beneficial ownership register of overseas entities that own UK property. However, the Government must do more to ensure that proper steps are taken to make sure funding which is linked to human rights abuses around the world is identified.

National Insurance Holiday for Veterans

While we welcome the move that sees veterans in their first year of employment receive a National Insurance holiday it is vital the government increase their support for veterans and their families. From retraining to housing, to mental health, the government must provide these crucial services. We would also stop the service charge and waive application fees for indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

The Government's decision to break a manifesto promise and drastically cut the size of the army means that there may be a significant increase in the number of service leavers in the future. It is vital that support is therefore stepped up in recognition of that possible increase.

Northern Ireland Legacy Bill

The Government plans to introduce legislation specifically dealing with Northern Ireland legacy issues. It has been reported that the Bill could place limits on prosecutions for offences committed by soldiers and paramilitaries before the Good Friday Agreement.

It has long been recognised that it is neither wise nor sustainable to simply draw a line under the past in Northern Ireland. There is too much hurt and too many demands for truth and justice. We believe that Northern Ireland must be able to deal with its past in a manner that promotes reconciliation and which is consistent with a shared future.

The vast majority of those who served in the Armed Forces during the Troubles did so to uphold the law and operated entirely within the law. They acted with honour and integrity and we pay tribute to their courage and sacrifice.

We have serious concerns about the implications for any piece of legislation which might seek to water down the UK's commitments to human rights, the rule of law and our position as a leading voice for these values internationally.

Skills for jobs: Lifelong learning for opportunities and growth

The proposals in the Skills White Paper are far too narrowly focused. In the Bill, we'd like to see a much wider array of qualifications and flexible credentials being made available at all levels.

This Bill would legislate for the proposals in the Government's Skills White Paper including, but not only increasing employers' involvement in skills courses, better tailoring provision to local needs, improving higher technical qualifications and introducing a Lifelong Loan Entitlement.

It is essential that more is done to ensure people at all stages of life are supported to access education and training opportunities.
At the last election, the Liberal Democrats proposed Skills Wallets which would give adult learners access to £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their lifetime. As mature students are likely to be more averse to taking on debt, the Government should look at introducing proposals along the lines of Skills Wallets.

Electoral integrity Bill

The so-called "Electoral Integrity Bill" will make it harder for people to vote by insisting on showing photo ID at polling stations. This change will disproportionately impact people of colour, as well as people on lower incomes and older people. It will rip power away from communities as individuals' democratic rights are undermined.

The Government must not push ahead with any proposal which makes it harder for people to exercise their right to vote, thereby undermines the legitimacy and integrity of our electoral system and weakens our ability to hold the Government to account.

Planning Reforms

When thousands of families are stuck on waiting lists for a home, the government should not be tinkering with planning laws, but providing more homes and jobs through an environmentally friendly programme, with a commitment to increasing the number of social homes being built.

There is also no evidence these reforms will make any difference to the number of homes built, thousands of developments are granted planning permissions, but never constructed by the housing companies.

Planning laws will play a significant role in fighting the climate crisis and instead of focussing on permitted development rights and undermining local authorities, the Government should be directing their energy towards a greener and more socially responsible construction strategy. The Liberal Democrats firmly believe that local voices and community participation are a central part of the planning process, and these proposals plan on excluding those voices at the expense of wealthy developers.

Health and Care Bill

The main objective of these reforms, as laid out in the Government's White Paper, is to better integrate care services by bringing Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) on a statutory footing.

• Carers

The Liberal Democrats are appalled that this white paper makes no mention of the millions of unpaid carers in the UK. We fully support the demands made by Carers UK for Government to include the following provisions in the upcoming bill:

A duty on the NHS to have regard to carers and to promote their health and wellbeing.
Clear and explicit references to carers when there are duties for new bodies to consult.
A carer representative on key decision-making bodies.
Clear inclusion of carers in the Care Quality Commission's proposed new responsibilities around the Care Act 2014.

• Social Care

The Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government not to postpone any further plans to reform social care and engage in cross-party talks now.
For too long people have had to sell their homes to pay for care and more than 1.5 million people are missing out on the care they need. People are stranded in hospitals, unable to leave because follow-up care just does not exist. This is putting increasing strain on the NHS, which does not have the cash to cope.

The cost of inaction is far greater than the vital social care reform that the government keeps running away from. Much of the current cost is falling on the shoulders of the 11.5 million unpaid carers in the UK, whose contribution the current system almost completely ignores. The cost of reform to the Government may seem large but it is a fraction of the true cost to carers and families across the country. It is estimated that they save the Treasury £193bn a year.

• Workforce

With millions now waiting for treatment and waiting times increasing, it is more important than ever that the Government address the workforce crisis facing health and social care. There are tens of thousands of vacancies in the NHS alone and after a gruelling year, many are considering leaving or retiring. The Government needs to get a grip of this crisis and start planning for the long term.

Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to write into law a duty to produce a long-term workforce strategy to address the issues facing the health and social care workforce. This would allow the NHS and health and social care providers to properly plan for the future and provide the country with an accurate measure of the pressures facing the sector.

Bills continuing from 2019-2021

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

The Conservatives' plans to crackdown on protests are dangerous and draconian.

The right to peaceful assembly and protest is a fundamental human right and has always been a crucial part of our democratic society. These new laws undermine that right. They are part of the Conservative Government's anti-democratic attempts to silence any opposition to its policies, and the Liberal Democrats will fiercely resist them.

There are some measures in the Bill that the Liberal Democrats support - such as the Police Covenant to make sure officers get the support they deserve, and changes to rules on disclosing criminal records to help with rehabilitation.

But other parts of the Bill are extremely concerning, such as the Conservatives' crackdown on the right to protest, as well as increases in mandatory sentences that tie judges' hands and don't work to prevent crime. That's why Liberal Democrats voted against the Bill in the House of Commons.

Much of the Bill continues the failed approach of successive governments legislating for and encouraging longer and longer custodial sentences, without any evidence that they deter people from committing crimes or help to improve public safety. This exacerbates the problem of prison overcrowding and must stop.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

The Bill seeks to establish a new research funding agency specifically aimed at providing long-term support for "high-risk, high-payoff" "blue-skies research" - i.e. research in innovations that do not always have an obvious 'real world' application but that have the potential to be ground-breaking.

In the March 2020 Budget, the Chancellor announced that the Government would invest "at least £800 million" in this new agency.

In principle, we are not opposed to this Bill. All steps to increase investment in R&D are welcome. But there are serious concerns about aspects of this Bill concerning transparency, accountability, clarity of mission and its relationship with existing R&D strategy. The SoS must provide clarity about the recruitment process and criteria of the Agency's board and CEO. The Government's blanket ban of FOIs seems unnecessary in terms of reducing administrative burden. And it raises questions as to whether there will be meaningful oversight of its activities. Given the recent Greensill Scandal, the Government must guarantee the necessary reporting and Parliamentary oversight to ensure that this agency won't fall victim to more Tory sleaze.

Finance Bill (formerly Finance (No2) Bill)

The Finance Bill introduced in March to implement the Budget will be carried over the next session to complete its remaining stages. Liberal Democrats strongly oppose the freezing of the Income Tax personal Allowance.
We expressed concerns about the impact of freezing the pensions lifetime allowance on NHS doctors and expressed reservations about the creation of eight freeports in England.

Environment Bill

This Bill sets targets for improving air and water quality as well as biodiversity and also establishes an Office of Environment Protection to enforce environmental standards - replacing the role of the European Commission.

It is shameful that this Bill - first introduced in 2018 when Theresa May was PM - has been delayed so long. Meanwhile, our environment is a risk of damage, because there is no proper enforcement body.
Liberal Democrats believe this Bill needs to be far stronger, it needs to set targets now to improve biodiversity rather than in three years time and needs interim targets similar to the Climate Change Act.
The OEP is also very weak. Liberal Democrats believe that the OEP needs powers to hold the government accountable, including issuing fines, rather than the toothless body proposed by the Tories.

Armed Forces Bill

An Armed Forces Bill has to be passed every 5 years to ensure the Army has a legal basis for its existence. One of the key focuses of the Bill is the Armed Forces Covenant, which fits into an ongoing scheme of work to better support veterans' mental health.

Liberal Democrats welcome the Armed Forces Bill. The Armed Forces play a vital role in the defence of the nation: the government should have a deep sense of duty to properly support service personnel and veterans.
We support the Armed Forces Covenant and ongoing work to support veterans' mental health, as set out in our 2019 manifesto.
More is needed to support our Commonwealth veterans. Liberal Democrats have long called for the government to waive application fees for indefinite leave for members of the Armed Forces on discharge and their families.
Following the Government's decision to break its manifesto promise and drastically cut the size of the army, it is vital that proper support is provided for military resettlement, which will support service leavers and their families.

Draft Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (Repeal) Bill

This bill would repeal the 2011 Act, which fixed the period between General Elections at five years, and transferred power to call an early GE to MPs - if they voted to do so with a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons.

Repealing the Act will mean reverting to the pre-2011 status quo, whereby General Elections could be held a maximum of five years apart, but the Prime Minister has the discretion to call an election earlier.

The Liberal Democrats introduced the Fixed Term Parliaments Act to level the playing field. When a Prime Minister can choose to call an election at a time of their choosing, they can tactically time elections at a period when they're riding high in the polls. Repealing this Bill is another power grab by this Government, which are seeking to give itself an unfair advantage over opposition parties.