Interesting Bills in Parliament

The recent clusterf*ck that was the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill (now back with the Commons) made me wonder what other Bills there were going through parliament at the moment which I may also have issues with. So I had a look on the Parliamentary Bills page, and what I found was (in a very minor meaning of the word) interesting.

I’ve listed below those which I found interesting. Most of these are at the second reading stage (see the Passage of a Bill page for more information on the different stages). One interesting thing I found was that a huge number of Bills are due for their second reading on the 28th February. How they can cover so many in one day, and still give each time for a worthwhile debate, I don’t know – maybe people don’t really debate at the second reading, despite it being their first opportunity to do so.

Anyway, I’ve grouped the Bills by subject matter. For those I’ve found interesting, I’ve included some comments/thoughts/whatever.

Civil Liberties and Policing

There are quite a few Bills on the books that deal with policing or may have an impact on civil liberties. The Surveillance of Telecommunications (Judicial Oversight) Bill may improve things, but most of the rest are more likely to have a negative impact.

  • Surveillance of Telecommunications (Judicial Oversight) Bill 2013-14 (Second reading: 28 Feb) The text of the Bill has yet to be published. The given aim is “A Bill to amend the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act 2000 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994 to ensure judicial oversight of the use of material derived from British citizens by means of surveillance of telecommunications; to make provisions concerning the operation of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal; and for connected purposes.” This was sponsored by David Heath (LibDem) who theyworkforyou profile implies is generally pro civil liberties, so we can hope that this may address some of the concerns falling out of Snowden plus the many issues people have raised with the key disclosure requirements in part 3 of RIPA.
  • Sentencing Escalator Bill 2013-14 (Second reading: 28 Feb) This bill is aimed at forcing judges to give greater custodial sentences for second offences. No details are given about what to do where the first offence didn’t result in a custodial sentence. Broadly I’m against removing the ability for judges to grant leeway where there are mitigating factors, so I’m broadly against this Bill at the moment.
  • Sex Establishments (Regulation) Bill 2013-14 (Second Reading: 28 Feb) The bill hasn’t been published yet – this is one of those Bills which could go either way. Sponsored by Diana Johnson (Lab).
  • Face Coverings (Prohibition) Bill 2013-14 (Second reading: 28 Feb) Basically a Bill to ban Niqabs and Burqas in public, and allow private individuals to require their removal in private (e.g. shopkeepers etc). While I can see the need for this where identities need to be confirmed, this Bill is much broader than that. If the concern is that criminals will hide in Islamic garb, then the Bill should also address other ways people could hide their identity – banning more than minimal makeup, the wearing of wigs, fancy dress, etc. I am currently against this Bill.
  • Online Safety Bill [HL] 2013-14 (Committee: TBD) This Bill requires two key things, firstly that all ISPs etc must provide opt-out adult filters, and secondly that any manufacturer of a device “that is capable of connecting to an internet access service and downloading content” must provide customers with a content filtering mechanism.
    I really don’t like the requirement for people to opt-in to ‘adult material’, especially as such filtering is generally overly broad – this concern is for several reasons: 1) there’s no guarantee that even when you opt-in, that all the content filters will actually be removed, 2) there’s no discussion of protection of the list of users who do opt-in – could the Daily Mail get such a list and publish it as a list of “perverts”? 3) the technology doesn’t work, and can be trivially circumvented – and children will be perfectly capable of working out how to avoid any filters, 4) there is no requirement that websites who wrongly find themselves on the adult filter list can be removed from this list, and in fact there’s protections in the Bill to stop people who lose money due to being wrongly filtered from being sued – the use of the phrase “good faith” is imprecise in UK law.
    I also have issues with the requirement for manufacturers to include content filtering – surely this is the sort of thing which can be dealt with in the marketplace? Parents can/should choose devices with content filtering support, but why should I have to pay for functionality which adds to the cost, and could incur all sorts of performance and security penalties?
  • Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill [HL] 2013-14 (Committee: TBD) Raising the age from 10 to 12. Sounds sensible to me – 10 is insanely young.
  • Intellectual Property Bill [HL] 2013-14 (Second Report: TBD) Assorted very specific tweaks to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. I’d need to review the original Act to have any idea as to the actual impact of this – it could go either way.
  • Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2013-14 (Ping-Pong: 4 Feb) See my previous write-up on this.

European Union

There has been an uptick in Bills recently to look at the UK leaving Europe. The key one of these is the bottom in the following list, which requires an in/out referendum before 31 Dec 2017. The EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits) Bill is an excellent idea – actually getting some hard numbers on the question – as long as the results aren’t modified for political reasons. My gut call is that leaving Europe would be a huge mistake.

Parliament

There’s a number of house-keeping Bills going through – many of which are focussed on the House of Lords.

  • Voting Age (Comprehensive Reduction) Bill [HL] 2013-14 (Committee: TBD) Will reduce voting age from 18 to 16. I’m torn on this – as there’s a worry of undue influence by teachers etc. I’m also partially worried that 16 year olds may not be mature enough to make a sensible decision, but there’s no IQ/EQ or similar requirements for adults and evidence suggests many of them vote irrationally, so what the hell.
  • Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Abolition) Bill 2013-14 (Second Reading: 28 Feb) No docs yet – this feels like a political move to me.
  • Prime Minister (Replacement) Bill 2013-14 (Second Reading: 28 Feb) This qualifies the order of succession of the Prime Minister in case of incapacitation. An interesting implication is that there isn’t one already, which is surprising. A specific concern is that 1(5) skips alternative political parties (so if a Tory PM is incapacitated, the LibDem Deputy PM won’t succeed), but that rules isn’t explicitly taken into account in 1(2). Also of note is that if the incapacitation is temporary, there is no mechanism built-in for them to get it back, nor is ‘temporarily’ defined – would any operation under general anaesthetic count? Finally, the actual mechanism of transferral of power, who makes the decision of incapacity, etc also isn’t defined. The devil is in the detail again, and this is one area of law that specificity is absolutely vital.
  • Recall of Elected Representative Bill 2013-14 (Second Reading: 28 Feb) Not published yet, but provisionally I’m for the ability to recall MPs convicted of breaking laws etc.
  • House of Lords (Maximum Membership) Bill 2013-14 (28 Feb) This will set the maximum number of members of the House of Lords to 650 (there are currently around 760), with a maximum of 45 new ones (not incl. archbishops etc) before 1 June 2015. If the number would exceed 650, compulsory retirement will occur based on seniority (i.e. longest in the House), but again excluding archbishops etc and hereditary peers. Overall I’ve no issues with this, although I don’t see why the Lords Spiritual should have any right to have a seat. I’d imagine this Bill should get folded into the House of Lords Reform Bills (below).
  • House of Lords Reform Bill [HL] 2013-14 (Second Reading: TBD) Appears identical to House of Lords Reform (No. 2) Bill (below)
  • House of Lords Reform (No. 2) Bill 2013-14 (Report: ongoing) Adds the ability to resign (I can’t believe didn’t already exist) office, and also allows a peer to be fired if found guilty of a criminal offence of 1 year or more prison sentence. Also can be fired if they don’t attend a single session in a year. Overall I’ve no issues with this, although I would prefer the single session requirement to be more rigorous – a member should need to attend, say, 30% of all sessions, and vote in 20% of all votes (note: an MP who only attended/voted that rarely would likely not survive re-election…)

BBC

It appears there’s a continuing effort in some parts to mess around with the BBC. One area I can agree on is that not paying your licence should be a civil rather than criminal offence. I’m a little concerned with the BBC Privatisation Bill, but as it hasn’t been published yet I cannot comment.

  • BBC (Trustee Election and Licence Fee) Bill [HL] 2013-14 (Second Reading: TBD) Licence fee payers to vote on trustees. Lots more language about penalties for not paying licence fees – this may be due to the move from criminal to civil offence (below).
  • BBC Licence Fee (Civil Debt) Bill 2013-14 (Second Reading: 28 Feb) Make failure to pay the licence fee a civil offence instead of a criminal offence.
  • BBC Privatisation Bill 2013-14 (Second Reading: 28 Feb) Not published yet. Seems to want to create the provision of shares to the populace, but there’s no information on the transferral/sale of them – I’d be very concerned with any bill which could lead to private individuals being able to buy a controlling interest (or even a strong influence) in the BBC.

Defence

  • National Service Bill 2013-14 (Second Reading: 28 Feb) All 18-26 year olds to do 1 year national service, paid at minimum wage, in concert with National Citizen Service. The only exemption is serious disability. Whilst an aim to provide for education, fitness, budgeting, etc are laudable, the overall idea is foolish and will not happen. Issues with this include the poor salary rate, and interruption to either people’s further education or career.
  • Citizenship (Armed Forces) Bill 2013-14 (2nd Second Reading: 7 Feb) Allows the Secretary of State to deem that a former member of armed forces qualifies for UK naturalisation. No requirement though – i.e. just because a foreign national has served doesn’t guarantee them naturalisation. Overall I agree with this Bill.
  • Defence Reform Bill 2013-14 (Second Committee: 3 Feb) Lots of changes to defence procurement – way too complex for a quick analysis by me.

Other

  • Firearms (Amendment) Bill [HL] 2013-14 (Second Reading: TBD) Adds British Transport Policy to list (already populated by Police) – makes sense to me
  • Jobs Guarantee Scheme (Research) Bill 2013-14 (Second Reading: 28 Feb) Requires the government to do some research into short-term guaranteed employment for under-26 year olds who have been unemployed for 1-2 years. Seems sensible to me.
  • Assisted Dying Bill [HL] 2013-14 (Second Reading: TBD) Ability to request assisted dying if terminally ill (probable to die within 6 months). Requires certification by doctor, and declaration by patient. Interestingly no requirement that the declaration be made after being diagnosed terminal, other than the Form of Declaration given in the schedule. Overall I agree with the sentiment of the Bill, but this is going to cause quite a furor.
  • Zero Hours Contracts Bill 2013-14 (Second Reading: 28 Feb) Declares void all zero hours contracts, and requires employers to offer a valid contract as an alternative – sounds good to me.
  • Medicinal Labelling Bill [HL] 2013-14 (Committee: TBD) Mandatory labelling for any drugs tested on animals, at any stage in their development. Which I think is pretty much all of them – so I’m not sure what the point is. This also applies to prescription drugs – so will pharmacies need to also add this info to their labels? Generally don’t see the point of this one.
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