The State Opening of Parliament, which marks the start of the new parliamentary session, will take place on 6 November 2007. The key feature of this largely ceremonial event will be the delivery of the Queen's Speech. Despite its name, the speech is not written by the Queen but by the Government and will outline the legislative agenda that they wish to pursue this coming year.
Traditionally the content of the speech, and the Government's legislative programme, is a closely guarded secret until the day it is delivered. However in a move that mirrored his relaxation of the secrecy surrounding the Budget while he was Chancellor, the Prime Minister made an oral statement in Parliament setting out his proposals prior to summer recess. This statement was supported by the publication of a paper "The Governance of Britain – The Government's Draft Legislative Programme". Both moves were aimed at allowing greater consultation on the Government's proposals, but also gives us an insight into the potential key areas of legislative reform in the year to come.
There are a number of key areas which the Government is expected to focus on in this year's speech: education and skills, children in care, security, the constitution, climate change and energy, welfare reform, local transport and businesses. A large number of bills are proposed; including:
- The Education and Skills Bill, which aims to implement the main recommendations of Lord Leitch's Review into the UK's long-term skills needs. These are likely to include a new legal entitlement to free training in basic numeracy and literacy for adults, and legislation to enable the Secretary of State to raise a training levy in a given sector where employers so desire and where it will be of an overall net benefit. The Bill is also expected to include proposals to raise the age at which young people can leave education or training by two years, from 16 to 18.
- The Climate Change Bill, which is intended to create a legal framework for the long-term reduction of the UK's CO2 emissions. It will put in place statutory targets to reduce UK emissions by at least 26-32% by 2020 and 60% by 2050, against a 1990 baseline. The Bill will also establish a Committee on Climate Change to advise the Government on how to meet its targets for the reduction of emissions, with focus on, amongst other things, the optimum balance between domestic action and international trading in carbon allowances. Alongside the Climate Change Bill is the proposed Energy Bill, which is designed to address security of supply problems, tackle climate change and fuel poverty.
- A second Pensions Bill, which aims to implement the remainder of the 'Security in Retirement: towards a new pension system' White Paper's recommendations. The Bill will establish a new personal accounts scheme, allow for the introduction of mandatory employer contributions and require the automatic enrolment of eligible employees into qualifying schemes.
- The Employment Simplification Bill, which is intended to 'simplify, clarify and build a stronger enforcement regime for key aspects of employment law'. Principally, the bill aims to implement the outcome of the Gibbons review of workplace dispute resolution; including repealing the current statutory dispute resolution process and replacing it with a system intended to encourage early and informal resolution of disputes.
For more details on any of these bills, and others that the government intends to introduce in the coming year, see The Governance of Britain – The Government's Draft Legislative Programme.
Kelly Harris is a public law specialist with UK law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn.