This briefing provides information on what plans the Government might set out relating to home affairs in the Queen’s Speech, focusing on:
- bills carried over from the 2019–21 parliamentary session;
- bills announced in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech which have not been published; and
- announcements made by the Government which may be the subject of future legislation.
What bills are being carried over to the next parliamentary session?
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
The bill provisions are wide ranging, covering both justice and home affairs matters. On home affairs, proposals include amending police powers and introducing measures to protect police and other emergency workers. The explanatory notes to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, provide further details on what the provisions would do, including:
- doubling the maximum penalty for assault on emergency workers;
- reforming the pre-charge bail system;
- replacing the common law offence of public nuisance with a new statutory offence;
- providing a new offence to tackle unauthorised encampments;
- increasing the maximum penalty for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs; and
- creating two tiers of cautions to replace the existing six disposals.
- House of Commons Library, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2019–21: Background, 12 March 2021
What bills were announced in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech and not introduced?
In the December 2019 Queen’s Speech, the Government announced two home affairs related bills that did not get introduced in the 2019–21 parliamentary session. These were set out in the Government’s briefing to the December 2019 Queen’s Speech.
Foreign national offenders legislation
The Government proposed foreign national offenders legislation to “enhance our ability to deal effectively with foreign national offenders”. It said the bill would be to increase the maximum penalty for foreign national offenders who return to the UK in breach of a deportation order. The Government also said that it may bring in other measures to make it easier to deport foreign national offenders.
The Government outlined plans for espionage legislation, saying its purpose would be to “provide the security services and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to disrupt hostile state activity”. As part of these proposed changes, the Government said it was considering adopting a form of foreign agent registration as well as updating the official secrets acts and treason laws.
Prior to the Government’s announcement, in 2015 the Cabinet Office requested that the Law Commission conduct a review of the official secrets acts. It published its final report in September 2020 and made 33 recommendations designed to ensure that:
- the law governing both espionage and unauthorised disclosures addresses the nature and scale of the modern threat;
- the criminal law can respond effectively to illegal activity (by removing unjustifiable barriers to prosecution); and
- the criminal law provisions are proportionate and commensurate with human rights obligations.
In February 2021, Kit Malthouse, the Minister for Crime and Policing, repeated the Government’s commitment to the plans in response to a written question about the Law Commission’s report, stating:
The Government will be introducing new legislation to tackle the evolving threat of hostile activity by states. As part of this work, we are considering a range of powers, including reviewing the official secrets acts.
What government plans may be subject to future legislation?
Government announcements have suggested that the following issues may become the subject of future legislation.
New plans for immigration
On 24 March 2021, an oral statement made by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, announced a new plan for immigration. She labelled it “the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades” and said that it is driven by three objectives:
- increase the fairness and efficacy of our system so that we can better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum;
- deter illegal entry into the UK, thereby breaking the business model of people smuggling networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger; and
- remove more easily from the UK those with no right to be here.
Alongside the announcement, the Government published a policy statement on the new plan for immigration. It also launched a consultation on the plans that closes on 6 May 2021. Ms Patel said new legislation to implement the policy statement would follow the public consultation.
Proposed changes to British nationality law
During her statement on the new plan for immigration, Ms Patel also outlined proposals to address several historical anomalies in British nationality law. Further detail was set out in the New Plan for Immigration policy statement, in which the Government stated it would be:
- introducing new registration provisions for children of British Overseas Territories Citizens (BOTC) to acquire citizenship more easily;
- fixing the injustice which prevents a child from acquiring their father’s citizenship if their mother was married to someone else;
- introducing a new discretionary adult registration route to give the Home Secretary an ability to grant citizenship in compelling and exceptional circumstances where there has been historical unfairness beyond a person’s control; and
- creating further flexibility to waive residence requirements for naturalisation in exceptional cases. This will mean Windrush victims are not prevented from qualifying for British citizenship because they were not able to return to the UK to meet the residence requirements through no fault of their own.
Amendments to the Modern Slavery Act
In response to a written question in April 2021, the Government referred to a series of measures to “strengthen and future-proof” the Modern Slavery Act 2015. In 2018, the Government commissioned an independent review of the Modern Slavery Act, which published its final report in May 2019. The Government published its response to the independent review in July 2019, which accepted most of the recommendations.
Following this, the Government launched a consultation on proposed changes to the Modern Slavery Act’s transparency in supply chains legislation (section 54). It posed questions on:
- what areas annual statements setting out the steps companies are taking to prevent modern slavery in their operations and supply chains must cover;
- potential features for the new government-run reporting service for modern slavery statements;
- a single reporting deadline;
- civil penalties; and
- the extension of reporting to the public sector.
The Government published its response to the consultation in September 2020. In the foreword, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said:
Today, we will be taking an important step, by committing to an ambitious package of measures to strengthen and future-proof the Modern Slavery Act’s transparency legislation. We will extend the reporting requirement to public bodies to leverage public procurement and address risks in public sector supply chains. We will also mandate the specific topics statements must cover, set a single deadline for reporting and require organisations to publish directly to the new Government reporting service, to empower investors, consumers and civil society to scrutinise the action taken across both the private and public sector.
The Government also set out a summary of its commitments in annex D of its response, stating that “for all measures which require legislative change, the Home Office’s intention is to introduce this when parliamentary time allows”.
A new ‘protect duty’
In February 2021, the Government announced that it would be consulting on proposals for a new ‘protect duty’. This would create a legal requirement for public places to ensure preparedness for and protection from terrorist attacks. It follows a commitment in the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto to “improve the safety and security of public venues” following previous terrorist attacks, such as the Manchester Arena attack in May 2017 in which 22 people were killed.
Several victim’s groups have campaigned for the change, including the Martyn’s law campaign which was established by Figen Murray who lost her son Martyn in the Manchester Arena attack.
The Government’s consultation on the proposals is currently open. It is due to close on 2 July 2021. The Government said that it was considering “how we might use legislation to enhance the protection of publicly accessible locations across the UK from terrorist attacks and ensure organisational preparedness”. The consultation document also noted that currently, there was no legislative requirement to consider or implement security measures at publicly accessible locations.
Tackling economic crime
In March 2021, the Government published its Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, entitled Global Britain in a Competitive Age. The review highlighted a variety of issues, including the problems of economic crime and illicit finance, which it said:
- funds organised crime groups, terrorists and other malicious actors;
- undermines good governance and faith in our economy; and
- tarnishes our global reputation by allowing corrupt assets to be held in the UK.
To address these problems, the Government said that when parliamentary time allows it would tackle economic crime, “including the use of UK corporate structures in facilitating high-end money laundering”. It also said that this legislation “will incorporate reform of Companies House registration and limited partnerships, and introduce a register of overseas entities owning property in the UK”.
Changes to police and crime commissioners
Explaining the background to the announcement, Ms Patel said that the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto had committed to strengthening the accountability of PCCs. She also explained that the first part of the Government’s two-part review into the role of PCCs had been concluded. It found that there was more to be done to explain their role and make their record on crime more transparent to the public. It made recommendations to this effect which would apply to PCCs and mayors with PCC functions (the mayors of London and Greater Manchester hold PCC functions).
Setting out the Government’s plans, Ms Patel said that the Home Office would bring forward a range of measures that would:
- strengthen PCC accountability;
- improve their transparency to the public;
- clarify the relationship between PCCs and chief constables;
- bring more consistency to the PCC role;
- raise professional standards; and
- improve the checks and balances currently in place.
Providing more detail on these measures, Ms Patel explained that new legislation would be needed to implement some of the changes. For example, she said that the Home Office would legislate to amend section 38 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 to make the chief constable dismissal process “more rigorous and transparent”. She also said that the Government would legislate to mandate that each PCC must appoint a deputy (of the same political party) “to enhance the resilience and capacity”. Ms Patel referred to plans to possibly expand the PCC role by transferring fire and rescue authority functions to PCCs in England (the Government plans to consult on this through a white paper).
Ms Patel announced that the Government would work to change the voting system for PCCs, all combined authority mayors and the Mayor of London to first past the post. She explained that these changes would require primary legislation and be brought forward “when parliamentary time allows”.
About part two of the review into the role of PCCs, Ms Patel announced that it would begin after the 2021 elections. The Government would aim to implement any reforms from the review ahead of the 2024 elections.
Fire and rescue reform
In her statement to the House of Commons on 16 March 2021, Ms Patel announced changes to fire and rescue. She argued that further reform was required to respond to the recommendations from:
- phase 1 of the Grenfell Tower inquiry;
- the Kerslake review; and
- Sir Thomas Winsor’s state of fire and rescue report.
Ms Patel announced that the Home Office would be launching a consultative white paper on fire reform later this year. She explained that the Government would use it to set out its reform agenda and explore proposals on fire governance, which include:
- consulting on whether to mandate the transfer of fire and rescue functions to the police, fire and crime commissioner (PFCC) model across England where boundaries are coterminous, unless there is an option to transfer governance directly to an elected mayor;
- consulting on how to address coterminosity challenges, including in the south-west;
- legislating to create operational independence for chief fire officers and to clearly separate and delineate strategic and operational planning for fire and rescue; and
- considering options to clarify the legal entities within the PFCC model.
- Kelly Shuttleworth, ‘Elections 2021: Police and Crime Commissioners’, Institute for Government, 15 April 2021
- Home Office, ‘Home Secretary to strengthen Police and Crime Commissioner role’, 16 March 2021
Violence against women and girls
Between December 2020 and February 2021, the Government ran a consultation on the Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy 2021 to 2024. The aim of the call for evidence was to:
Understand the true scale of violence against women and girls crimes and their impact, the measures which may help identify and prevent these crimes, the extent to which current legislation and services are being used effectively to tackle them, and to identify examples of best practice.
At the time of writing, the Government had not published its response to the consultation so it is unclear if new legislation will be required. The Financial Times has speculated that Ms Patel has “secured a slot in the Queen’s Speech for her strategy on tackling violence against women and girls”, which would focus on improving the low and declining conviction rates for some sexual offences, especially rape.
Cover image by King’s Church International from Unsplash.