The Queen’s Speech – key points for the sector

Today the Queen unveiled the coalition government’s legislative programme for the last session of parliament before next year’s general election.

The annual Westminster event was carried out amid the usual pomp and pageantry, with the new addition of a three-tonne Diamond Jubilee State Coach.

Many commentators who were expecting the final legislative programme to be lacking in content can now spend countless hours discussing the bodywork of the coach, which apparently incorporates more than a hundred fragments from historic British buildings, including wood from the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship, and a piece of a doorway from 10 Downing Street that dates back to 1760.

Despite accusations of a ‘zombie parliament’ over its sparse legislative agenda, there are some points of interest for the sector.

Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill

This is intended to provide additional protection against negligence claims for volunteers and people who offer help in emergencies. The bill is expected to guide judges to take into account whether people were acting in good faith and in order to help communities. In practice, claims against volunteers or volunteer-involving organisations are rare, but concern about liability is widespread. We welcomed this, as anything that can be done to assuage this and ensure people are not discouraged from volunteering their time is good news. We’re in touch with the Ministry of Justice about the details of the legislation and we’re keen to hear your experiences. My colleague Nick Ockenden from NCVO’s Institute for Volunteering Research has written more about whether perceptions of risk deter would-be volunteers.

Draft Protection of Charities Bill

This will give the Charity Commission stronger powers to tackle abuse more effectively, particularly by people who present a known risk. It follows a consultation carried out by Cabinet Office earlier this year. (More on our response to that here.) We’re expecting to see the bill in the autumn, and the good news is that the government plan to carry out proper pre-legislative scrutiny to make sure we get this right. Of course, with all the powers in the world, the Charity Commission still needs the capacity in order to be able to regulate properly, and we know it has been squeezed hard recently.

Serious Crime Bill

This will introduce stronger protections for children who are victims of psychological neglect. It represents a clear victory for Action for Children, who have been lobbying on new legislation to address child maltreatment.

Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill

This is intended to support small businesses and ensure they have fairer access to the £230 billion spent each year in public contracts. Among its provisions, the bill will provide fairer access to public procurement contracts. This follows Lord Young’s proposals to increase small businesses access to public procurement, including abolishing PQQs for lower value contracts and standardising them for contracts above a certain amount. We understand the finer details will be contained within new draft public contracts regulations due for consultation around July. These will also include new EU procurement rules, which among other provisions, will encourage public bodies to split large contracts into smaller lots and increase the threshold below which contracts are free from EU regulation.

The bill will also tackle National Minimum Wage and zero-hours contract abuse. We don’t know the details of the government’s plans on zero-hours contracts yet but any charities employing people on zero-hours contracts will want to be ready to make sure they are compliant when the proposals emerge.

The Campaign for Real Ale also consolidated their reputation as highly effective campaigners as the small business bill includes plans to improve the lot of landlords in pubs tied to breweries.

These are just some of the highlights, and information about other bills announced (including on modern slavery, recall of MPs, and pensions) is available on the Cabinet Office’s website.

Over the next couple of days we will be analysing in more detail what these announcements will mean for NCVO and its members. In the meantime, do let us know what you think.

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Elizabeth was head of policy and public services at NCVO until 2020.

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