What does the Queen’s speech mean for charities?

This year’s Queen’s speech was missing some of the usual pomp and pageantry following the snap election, but there will be plenty for MPs and peers to get their teeth into during the next two years. What does it mean for charities?

Two-year legislative programme

At the weekend the government announced that there would not be a Queen’s speech in 2018 as it wanted to give more time for parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit legislation. Bills fall at the end of each year-long session unless they are carried over, meaning there will be less pressure to push things through quickly. Though some critics have pointed out that this also helps the government avoid a potentially awkward vote on next year’s Queen’s speech.

It is likely however that a significant amount of time will be given over to MPs and peers to discuss the detail of Brexit legislation so this could provide an opportunity for charities to really influence the detail. Following the election, few votes will be a formality in the way they would have been in a parliament with a strong government majority, and given the commitment to allow proper scrutiny, it’s likely parliament will seek to assert itself. It’s particularly worth looking out for votes on programme motions, which set out how much time MPs will have to debate individual bills – MPs often argue they don’t have enough time to scrutinise legislation, but this time they may vote to give themselves more.

Repeal bill

The centrepiece of the Queen’s speech is the repeal bill, which will convert EU law to UK law and allow technical changes to be made to ensure the law operates effectively on the day we leave. These changes will mostly be made through statutory instruments, which require significantly less parliamentary scrutiny, so it is essential that safeguards are in place to ensure that this procedure is only used for technical amendments and not substantive policy changes.

The bill itself is likely to be relatively short, setting out a framework for change rather than tackling the detail, but parliamentarians in both houses will be sceptical of too much power being held in the hands of the executive.

Legislating for Brexit

The repeal bill is only one part of the significant legislative legwork that needs to be done by parliament to ensure that we’re ready for Brexit. Bills on areas such agriculture, fisheries and trade are likely to require significant scrutiny and charities whose work will be affected need to monitor this legislation closely.

The immigration bill will be of interest for a number of charities, particularly those who rely on recruiting workers from overseas. We estimate that five per cent of charity workers are non-UK EU nationals.

A lot of attention has been paid to the negotiations and what will be agreed for those EU nationals currently living in the UK, and we hope that agreement will be reached on this early to provide reassurance to the many EU workers who support the work of charities. But we’ll also need to make sure that our future immigration system allows charities the workers and skills they need to support their beneficiaries.

Brexit is not the only thing for charities

Aside from Brexit, several bills and non-legislative measures will be of interest to charities. Measures on domestic abuse, mental health and the gender pay gap could provide the government with an opportunity to demonstrate an agenda beyond Brexit, and for charities to make sure their voice is heard.

What does this say about where the government is?

The election result and the criticism of the Conservative manifesto means that a number of proposals that proved unpopular with the electorate have been dropped or watered down. Social care proposals – branded as a ‘dementia tax’ during the campaign – are retained, but look like they will be subject to considerable consultation, and there were no mentions of issues such as fox hunting and grammar schools.

It’s clear that the failure of the Conservatives to secure a majority in the election is going to make this a tough parliamentary session for the government, where they will have to fight tooth and nail to get their agenda through. This means that there are big opportunities for charities to influence both the terms of debate and the legislation that is passed.

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Avatar photo Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

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