David Cameron has set out today his plans for the new Conservative Government in his first Queen’s speech. There were no surprises.
Cameron had already signalled his intention to introduce an Enterprise Bill to reduce the regulatory burden on small businesses and create jobs, an Immigration Bill including provision for a new criminal offence of illegal working and bills to reform strike laws, pave the way for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership and devolve further powers to Scotland. However, as anticipated in light of recent press reports, the Queen’s Speech did stop short of committing to a new British Bill of Rights which will replace our existing Human Rights Act 1998. Instead the Government will bring forward “proposals” in this respect, expected to be by way of a consultation later this year.
Key points for employers are:
- A new Immigration Bill will create a new offence of illegal working to catch those workers who have entered the UK illegally or overstayed their leave and fall outside the current provisions. Employers will be informed when a worker’s visa has ended. There will also be a ban on employment agencies recruiting solely from overseas and a consultation on funding apprenticeship schemes by implementing a new visa levy on businesses that use foreign labour. A new enforcement office will be created. See here.
- The personal allowance will be increased to £12,500 “to ensure people working 30 hours a week on the national minimum wage do not pay income tax”. This will be permanent with an on-going commitment to increase the income tax personal allowance to reflect further changes in the national minimum wage.
- The Government is pushing ahead with its Childcare Bill with proposals for 30 hours free child care for three and four year olds. This is to support “eligible working parents” (in contrast to the existing 15 hours free child care which is available to all). This free child care is in addition to the existing childcare voucher scheme and new tax free child care scheme due to be introduced this Autumn.
- In its Trade Unions Bill, the Government will introduce a 50% voting threshold for union ballots turnouts (but retain the requirement for there to be a simple majority of votes in favour). To protect the essential public services (health, education and transport) against strikes, there will be a new threshold that 40 per cent of those entitled to vote must support the industrial action for a strike to be valid, as well as winning a simple majority. See here.
- The Enterprise Bill will aim to cut red tape for businesses by at least £10 billion over the next five years and measures will be introduced to support entrepreneurs and job creation. What these measures will be remains to be seen, although the Government has indicated that we shall not see a return to the controversial Beecroft proposals for no fault dismissals. See here and here. It will however include a cap on redundancy pay-outs in the public sector. The cap will be below a six figure sum – but what that figure will be and who it will apply to will be subject to consultation. See here.
- The EU Referendum Bill will set in law an in out vote as to whether the UK should remain in the EU before the end of 2017. David Cameron has indicated that he is not necessarily looking for a EU exit – but continued EU membership is dependent on the UK negotiating more acceptable terms including reforms to support business growth and job creation and prevent EU migrants coming to the UK as welfare tourists. The report “Cut EU Red Tape” sets out the findings of a taskforce of British business leaders which David Cameron set up in 2013 and which is being used to help drive forward progress. See here.
- There is also a new Extremism Bill which will contain a new set of employment checks enabling employers to “check whether an individual is an extremist and bar them from working with children”.