Friday, 10 May 2013

Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s Speech sets out the UK Government’s legislative programme for the coming session. Most Bills do not apply to Scotland to any significant degree. This briefing covers the main points of interest.

Immigration Bill: This bill is designed to make it easier to deport people who do not have the right to stay in the UK, and to prevent immigrants accessing services to which they are not entitled. It covers Scotland and in addition to directly impacting on overseas members it will impact on public service staff who have to make the additional checks. This is more about political positioning post the UKIP electoral success in England last week.

Pension Bill: This will introduce a single-tier state-pension system, replacing the current basic state pension and earnings-related top-up from April 2016. The bill will also bring forward the increase in the retirement age to 67 by eight years, between 2026 and 2028. We have covered these changes in the Scottish Pensions Bulletin and it will involve increases in NI contributions for members and employers.

National Insurance Bill: The cost to small businesses of employing people will be cut through a £2,000 employment allowance. This may also help small voluntary organisations. It also aims to stop the use of offshore companies that are sometimes used by companies to avoid paying their National Insurance contributions.

Consumer Rights Bill: Will update consumer-protection laws (including Scotland) so they cover digital purchases such as downloaded music and e-books. Trading Standards will be granted new powers, such as being able to get a court to order a trader to pay compensation when consumer law is breached.

De-regulation Bill: A further attack on workers rights under the guise of reducing the amount of regulation with which businesses, individuals and public bodies have to comply. Measures include exempting from health-and-safety legislation people who are self-employed and whose work poses no risk of harm to other people, and removing the ability of  employment tribunals to make wider recommendations in successful discrimination cases. A Scottish Bill on de-regulation in devolved areas has recently been introduced in the Scottish Parliament.

Overall there is little in this programme to tackle the big issues facing Scotland or the UK. UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “It’s a typical Tory tactic to distract attention from the real problems we face by fostering a ‘blame immigrants’ culture, instead of tackling the huge divide between the rich and the poor. This government should face facts and accept that its policies are not working for the majority of people.”