Wednesday 18-05-2016 - 14:53
Earlier today the Queen announced the government’s legislation for the year ahead, marking the state opening of parliament. There were 21 Bills mentioned during the speech and we’ve summarised those which will impact on students below.
What is the Queen’s Speech?
Each year, the Queen delivers a speech to mark the beginning of a new parliamentary cycle and to outline the government’s plans for the year ahead by announcing a list of Bills – new pieces of legislation that will adapt, abolish or create laws and the government’s powers.
There were a total of 21 Bills outlined today. Of particular note to students and the sector were Bills concerning Higher Education, Bus Services and Prison and Courts Reform.
NUS President Megan Dunn responded to the Queens Speech, saying: “The government claims social mobility is a priority but the time has come for it to take meaningful action. Some proposals announced in the Queen’s Speech are promising, but now we must make sure the government delivers on its rhetoric of wanting to help the most disadvantaged in our society. HE is facing its biggest overhaul in decades and it’s crucial the government gets this right. The HE white paper revealed a number of concerning proposals and NUS will be fighting against the further marketisation of the sector.”
On the prospect of tuition fee increases, Megan added: “We strongly oppose any further rise to already exorbitant tuition fees, particularly if they are linked to a teaching excellence framework, and we believe new providers must meet strict requirements so students aren’t ripped off.”
NUS’ full briefing for students’ unions is now available online here and we’ve produced a summary of the Bills which will affect students below.
Higher Education Bill: As many expected, plans for the first Higher Education Bill for over a decade were announced. It will focus very clearly on increasing competition and choice within the HE sector, and ensuring greater opportunity for all to continue into higher education. The Bill will focus on making it easier for organisations to get degree awarding powers; linking funding to the teaching excellence framework, rather than student numbers; and, creating new requirements for universities and institutions like UCAS to publish information relating to access and widening participation. Ultimately, this Bill will further the aims of government to make higher education increasingly marketised.
Bus Services Bill: Plans were announced for a Bill to give local councils and mayors greater powers over bus services. This will give students chance to lobby on fares, routes and timetables at a local level with local authorities, mayors and councils able to franchise local services. There is no indication that the Bill will include measures on statutory reduced fares for young people, but the ability to negotiate at local level will hopefully mean students can get a fair deal for transport costs, particularly in light of Area Reviews.
Prison and Courts Reform Bill: There are plans for a swathe of reforms to the UKs prisons and criminal justice system. This will include changes to the provision of education within the prison system, with Prison Governors being given greater powers and freedom to agree their own contracts with education service providers.
Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill: A new Bill to build on the government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy will be put forward. This Bill was announced in last year’s Queen’s Speech but was not published or introduced in parliament.
National Citizen Service Bill: The National Citizen Service will be onto a statutory footing. This will require all schools, academies, private schools and councils to promote NCS to young people.
British Bill of Rights: the government will bring forward its long awaited proposals for a British Bill of Rights. The Queen’s Speech gave little detail about the Bill, which is not expected to be published after the EU referendum, but there is confirmation that it will be subject to consultation. We expect issues surrounding the supremacy of the UK courts and parliamentary sovereignty to continue to be high on the agenda.
Devolution announcements: the government announced they will introduce a Wales Bill, the draft of which was published on 20 October 2015. In particular, the draft Bill proposed giving powers for electoral reform (including lowering the voting age) to the Welsh Assembly, something NUS Wales has been actively campaigning for. The government also reaffirmed its commitments in Scotland and Northern Ireland. They will work to implement the new powers for Scotland in the Scotland Act. NUS Scotland welcomed the new devolved powers, but urged for these to go further than they did. They will be campaigning to ensure the Scottish Parliament use any powers to the full, to ensure positive changes for students. The government will work with the Northern Ireland Assembly to implement the Stormont and Fresh Start Agreements. NUS-USI has called for political stability, but the Fresh Start Agreement does have concerning implications regarding potential austerity measures, which NUS-USI opposes.
We were also anticipating a Skills Bill covering apprenticeships, further education and higher technical education, which was not announced. Ongoing conversations with BIS indicate a Skills White Paper will be published this year. They wish to work with NUS to consult a wide range of students.
What does the above mean for students?
Social reform is at the centre of the Queen’s Speech. There‘ll be big changes at every level of education; from schools to universities and even within prisons. Their full impact on students will become apparent when concrete details of the various Bills are published, but it is clear that we will need to make sure the government delivers on its promises to increase life chances and improve social mobility.
What happens next?
The Queen’s Speech only provides a framework that will guide the government’s plans for parliament for the next 12 months. More detail about what measures will actually be in each Bill will only emerge when the Bill is published – when it is introduced to parliament, and the process begins for debating, amending and passing it into law.
A helpful summary of this parliamentary process is here while more information on next steps – including details of workshops we’re running for SU officers and staff – can be found online in our full briefing.
For further information, please contact Alexander Lee, NUS Public Affairs Officer (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Image: copyright House of Lords 2015 / Photography by Roger Harris. This image is subject to parliamentary copyright.