The government has announced its legislative agenda for the year ahead, in the Queen's Speech. There are 11 bills to be presented to Parliament over the next year and three that have been published in draft form for pre-legislative scrutiny.
Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland)
Small firms will be given fair access to government and other public sector procurement. A register of beneficial ownership will outline who owns and controls British companies. There will be tougher penalties for firms flouting minimum wage rules and "abusing" zero hours contracts. A new statutory code for pub tenancies will be created, with an adjudicator to rule on disputes between publicans and pub owners. Childcare regulations will be made more flexible. Highly paid public sector workers will be prevented from claiming redundancy and returning to the same line of work within 12 months.
National Insurance Contributions Bill (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland)
The way national insurance contributions are collected from the self-employed will be simplified. Revenue and Customs will be given new powers to enforce payments in tax avoidance cases. Targeted anti-avoidance rules will be introduced to determine whether arrangements are designed to avoid or minimise national insurance payments.
Infrastructure Bill (Mostly England)
The Highways Agency will be turned from an executive agency into a government-owned company, with a shake-up of its funding. The process of applying for a development consent order (DCO) for building projects of national significance will be simplified and speeded up. The Homes and Communities Agency will be able to assume control of land directly from other government quangos. Subject to the outcome of a consultation, developers will be able to run shale gas pipelines under people's land without their permission. Energy firms will have to pay a levy to fund a beefed-up market regulator. A new "super agency" for the North Sea will be set up. Construction firms will be able to "offset" the carbon emissions of new homes after they have been built, to meet zero carbon standards due from 2016.
Pension Tax Bill (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland)
People aged 55 and over with defined contribution pensions will be able to withdraw their savings as they wish, subject to marginal rates of income tax and scheme rules. No-one will be required to buy a guaranteed lifetime annuity with their pension pot and all other existing restrictions on accessing entitlements will be lifted. New measures will be introduced to prevent exploitation for tax purposes.
Private Pensions Bill (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland)
New "defined ambition" collective pension schemes will be launched as an alternative to other existing options. This would allow thousands of people to pay into the same scheme and share the risk. All those approaching retirement who have defined contribution pensions will be entitled to guidance. Pending the outcome of a consultation, the government will have the power to ban people transferring out of private and unfunded public defined benefit schemes.
Childcare Payments Bill (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland)
A new tax-free childcare subsidy worth up to £2,000 a year per child will be introduced in the autumn of 2015. All parents with children under the age of 12 will be eligible, if they are in paid work and earn less than £150,000 a year. For every £8 paid by parents towards the cost of childcare, the state will provide a £2 top-up. The existing employer-supported childcare scheme will be repealed.
Modern Slavery Bill (England and Wales)
Existing criminal offences relating to slavery will be consolidated into one piece of legislation. Those convicted of the most serious offences, including trafficking, could get life sentences while others will be subject to restrictions on their movements and activities. The courts will be able to order offenders to compensate their victims, and powers on asset confiscation will be strengthened. An anti-slavery commissioner will be established to coordinate the response of law-enforcement agencies. Victims of slavery who are forced to commit an offence will not be treated as criminals. It will be made easier for the authorities to act when they suspect criminal activities are taking place on board vessels at sea.
Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill (England and Wales)
People who are sued after intervening in emergencies or acting to protect the safety of others will have new legal defences. When considering negligence and breach of duty cases, courts will have to consider the "wider context" of defendants' actions, including whether they behaved responsibly and "for the benefit of society" or had taken "heroic action" to help people in danger with no regard to their own safety.
Service Complaints Bill (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)
The commissioner who investigates complaints against members of the armed forces will be given added powers. A revamped ombudsman will be able to look into whether grievances have been handled properly and to be able to overturn a decision to exclude a complaint. They will also be able to recommend actions to the authorities. New powers will allow charitable donations to continue to be made to organisations supporting the armed forces in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Serious Crime Bill (England and Wales - with certain provisions elsewhere)
The laws on recovering criminal assets will be strengthened. The scope of serious crime prevention orders will be extended. A new offence of knowingly participating in an organised crime group will be created. The possession of "paedophilic manuals" will be made a criminal offence. There will be tougher sentences for cybercriminals and those disabling computer systems. A new offence of causing psychological harm to children through parental neglect will be created. Habitual as well as permanent residents of the UK will be liable for prosecution for female genital mutilation. Those suspected of attending terrorist training camps abroad, such as in Syria, and other acts preparatory to terrorism will be liable for prosecution in the UK.
Recall of MPs Bill (UK-wide)
Voters will be able to trigger a by-election where an MP has committed serious wrongdoing and 10% of their registered constituents have signed a petition over an eight-week period. The "recall" process would be triggered if an MP is convicted of an offence and receives a custodial sentence of less than 12 months and when the Commons agrees to such a process.
Draft Governance of National Parks (England) and the Broads Bill (England only)
It would allow direct elections to be held for key positions in England's 10 National Park Authorities and the Broads Authority, which manages the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. It would enable parish councils to choose their representatives on the authorities from a wider group of candidates.
Draft Riot (Damages) Act Bill (England and Wales only)
The system for compensating individuals and businesses that have been victims of criminal damage and financial loss as a result of riots would be modernised. Subject to consultation, damage to vehicles would be covered, but there would be a cap on payments to very large businesses and their insurers. It would establish a riot-claims bureau.
Draft Protection of Charities Bill (England and Wales)
Subject to the outcome of a consultation, the powers of the Charity Commission would be strengthened to tackle those abusing the rules and presenting a "known risk".
In addition, six bills are being carried over from the 2013-4 parliamentary session. They are:
- Consumer Rights
- Criminal Justice and Courts
- High Speed Rail (London to West Midlands)