In contrast to previous years, the content of this year's Queen's Speech (the first with Gordon Brown as Prime Minister) was not such a closely guarded secret. In fact, Mr Brown outlined most of his legislative programme in a statement to Parliament prior to the summer recess and in a paper entitled "The Governance of Britain – The Government's Draft Legislative Programme".
In addition to the many bills that had been anticipated, one surprise was the proposal to consult on extending the right to request flexible working to parents of older children. While attempts to support a better work-life balance have been welcomed by some, others are concerned by the possible impact on small businesses.
The Queen's speech also featured some UK-wide legislative proposals in areas devolved to the Scottish Administration. Under the Sewel Convention, Westminster will not normally legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament (see Parliamentary E-Bulletin of 6 November 2006). Legislative Consent Motions will be tabled before the Scottish Parliament in respect of the Health and Social Care Bill, which proposes regulatory reform for healthcare professionals, the Climate Change Bill, which would make the UK the first country to introduce legally binding targets for cuts in carbon dioxide emissions and the Dormant Bank and Building Societies Accounts Bill, which would allow the Government to use money in accounts which have not been used for 15 years.
Some of the other bills only apply to England and Wales, such as the Planning Reform Bill, which sets out plans for a separate planning committee for projects of national significance while simplifying the process for smaller planning matters and the Education and Skills Bill, which would require young people to remain in some form of education or training until they reached 18 years.
However, the majority of the proposed bills have a UK-wide application. In particular, debate on the EU Reform Treaty Bill, introduced to enable Parliament to approve the European Reform Treaty which is scheduled to be signed in December, looks set to take up a large chunk of parliamentary time this year. We will be looking at this in more detail in December's edition. Other proposed UK-wide bills with a potential impact on business include the Pensions Bill, containing proposals to automatically enrol eligible workers in a scheme with a minimum employer contribution and the Employment Bill, which aims to create a clearer and stronger enforcement regime for key aspects of employment law.
The 2007 Queen's Speech proposes numerous Bills but it is clear that some of the difficult decisions, particularly in relation to the pre-charge detention of suspected terrorists and party political funding, have been saved for later and it will be interesting to see how Prime Minister Gordon Brown deals with such issues throughout the session.