Having castigated David Cameron for failing to pay attention to constitutional issues and the division of powers enshrined by devolution, the Queen’s Speech requires a similar criticism. Although there was some mention of devolution, including a general promise to ‘work closely’ with the devolved administrations, most of the bills were for England (or England and Wales) only – not that you’d know that from the Speech she delivered (available here).
Many of the commitments made in the Speech have devolution implications. Key among them are:
- A commitment to ‘take forward’ recommendations from the Calman Commission. As no bill is included for consideration in the new session, positive action looks highly unlikely this side of a UK General Election. It will be for the new government – whatever its composition – to implement whatever comes out of the UK Government’s consideration of the Calman proposals. (Interestingly, this was not included in the version posted on the No 10 website immediately after the speech – suggesting it was a late amendment, presumably following extensive argument within government. It only appeared about 30 minutes after the speech was first posted.)
- A commitment to ‘devolve more powers’ to Wales, discussed further in a separate post.
- A commitment to ‘complete the devolution of policing and justice [in Northern Ireland] and to ensure its success’
- a commitment to legislate to ‘halve the deficit’ (over how long a period?), which is likely to have serious effects on any grant funding for the devolved administrations.
- A commitment to ‘publish draft legislation on proposals for a reformed second chamber of Parliament with a democratic mandate’. Will that elected second chamber have a territorial dimension – a recommendation of the Wakeham Commission back in 2000?
In total, there are 15 bills, though two are draft bills so won’t need time on the floor of either chamber. Three more are carried over from the last session, so presumably need less time than a wholly new bill but are priorities to be passed before Parliament is dissolved. The full list is:
Children, Schools and Families Bill
Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill
Crime and Security Bill
Digital Economy Bill
Financial Services Bill
Fiscal Responsibility Bill
Flood and Water Management Bill
Personal Care At Home Bill
Child Poverty Bill – carried over from the 2008-09 session
Equality Bill – carried over from the 2008-09 session
Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill – carried over from the 2008-09 session
International Development Bill – draft
House of Lords Reform Bill – draft
There aren’t many novelties here. All but two of the bills were trailed in the Draft Legislative Programme the Government published before the summer. Those two are the most blatantly political – the Fiscal Responsibility bill and the Personal Care at Home bill. However, several of the draft bills mentioned in the Draft Legislative Programme – dull but important measures like the Antarctica, Immigration simplification, Civil law reform and Animal health responsibility and cost sharing bills – have been dropped. And of course with limited Parliamentary time before a dissolution, it’s questionable whether any of the new bills will in fact get through both Houses.
Of the new bills, only one – the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill – appears wholly free of devolution implications, as it appears to relate wholly to reserved/non-devolved matters. The same may apply to the Energy, Financial Services and Digital Economy bills, though it’s common for bills on such matters to stray into ‘devolved’ areas and so raise questions of legislative competence motions for Scotland and perhaps consultation and framework powers for Wales. The Bribery bill will almost certainly need a legislative competence motion, if it’s meant to apply across Great Britain. The Crime and Security bill probably will too, as the outline given in the Draft Legislative Programme suggested that some provisions would apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and these appear to relate to matters like DNA registers which are not UK-wide.
The Flood and Water Management, Personal Care At Home and Children, Schools and Families bills (as well as the carried-over Child Poverty and Equality bills) all have clear devolution implications. They raise the question of what sort of powers they will imply for the Welsh Assembly Government and National Assembly. They may well also trigger ‘West Lothian’ questions if Scottish MPs vote on them – although they will all have financial implications for public spending in England, so have indirect effects for Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as England and Wales.
In constitutional terms, this is a pretty conservative Queen’s speech, in much the same vein as other Queen’s speeches for the last few years.
UPDATE: The Scottish Government has issued a news release about the Queen’s Speech, available here. The Minister for Parliamentary Business, Bruce Crawford, says that eight of the new bills will need legislative competence motions (as do all three carried-over bills, though these have already been lodged). That’s the maximum number identified in the post above, though what exactly triggers the need for such a motion (or is treated as triggering a motion) depends heavily on the detailed content and drafting of a bill.