52: The King’s Speech 2023 – how does it affect charities?
The first King’s Speech since 1950 was delivered on 7 November 2023. The speech is significant also because it should be the last one before the next General Election, due by January 2025. The Speech and the background briefing notes set out some detail of 20 Bills and 1 Draft Bill announced (some carried over from the previous session). We consider below what the Government’s proposed agenda might mean for charities.
What isn’t there?
The number of Bills in the Speech is relatively small in comparison to other recent sessions, which is not surprising given that this Parliamentary session may be curtailed by the calling of a General Election. That may or may not explain some apparent absences from the Speech. In the debate on the Speech, Theresa May raised concerns over the omission of stronger measures against modern slavery and a review of the Mental Health Act. Elsewhere there has been criticism over such absences as a ban on ‘conversion therapy’ and an Audit and Corporate Governance Reform Bill. It was also not the place for financial measures with the Autumn Statement following on 22 November 2023.
Bills announced – how might charities be affected?
Despite the shorter number of Bills, there is a still a lot of detail which is likely to be of interest and/or concern to charities. We highlight some below.
Martyn’s law re-announced
Among the Bills to be introduced is the Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill – also known as Martyn’s Law.
This legislation was proposed after the Manchester Arena terrorist attack in 2017. It would introduce a new statutory Protect Duty on owners and operators of certain locations to take proportionate steps to keep people safe from terrorist attack. The proposed law would have a significant impact, applying to premises/events which are open to the public such as schools, colleges and universities, museums, theatres, music venues, exercise and leisure venues, places of worship, hospitals, care homes and child care organisations, among others, as well as to qualifying events (800+ people) held by a charity.
After a consultation in 2021, a Draft Bill was announced in the 2022 Queen’s Speech. It was promoted to a Bill in December 2022, but subsequently moved back to a Draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny.
The pre-legislative scrutiny report, in July 2023, welcomed the overall intention behind the Draft Bill, but cited ‘serious concerns’ about the proportionality of the Bill, ‘especially in relation to the impact on smaller businesses, voluntary and community-run organisations’. It also raised concerns about ‘the unfinished provisions in the Draft Bill, the purpose of the Bill, the regulator and some of the duties required’. Among proposed improvements for the Draft Bill, it suggested provision for ‘mandatory life-saving training’ and ‘statutory standards for the design of new buildings’.
What is now proposed seeks to address those concerns by announcing that there will be a consultation on how the legislation should apply for smaller premises with capacity of 100 – 799 people (premises smaller than that would be excluded).
The Bill as described in the background notes appears to be very similar to the Draft Bill, save for the aspects to be consulted upon. In particular:
- it would require certain venues to fulfil ‘necessary but proportionate steps according to their capacity’ to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack and reduce harm;
- the duties that premises will have will depend on the size of the venue; and
- premises and events with a capacity of 800 or above will be in the ‘enhanced tier’, while premises with a capacity of 100 to 799 will be in the ‘standard tier’.
For premises and events in the ‘enhanced tier’ (capacity 800+), there would be a requirement to ‘take steps to ensure preparedness for, and protection from, terrorist attacks’. This would include those ‘responsible for’ enhanced duty premises or qualifying public events having to notify a new regulator of their premises or event and providing the regulator with a security document informed by an assessment of the terrorism risk. They would also have to take ‘reasonably practicable’ measures that will reduce the risk of a terrorist attack occurring or physical harm being caused (akin to the test in the Health and Safety regime). If the ‘responsible person’ is a body corporate, they must appoint an individual as the ‘designated senior individual’ for the premise or event. In the event of non-compliance, the regulator would be able to issue a maximum fixed penalty of the higher of £18 million or 5% worldwide revenue.
As noted above, for the ‘standard tier’ (premises with a capacity of 100 – 799 people), the Government has announced that there will be a consultation, ahead of the Bill being introduced in Parliament. The consultation is to be aimed at ensuring that the Bill’s measures ‘strike the right balance between public protection and avoiding undue burdens on smaller premises such as village halls, churches and other community venues’.
Given the timescales involved, it seems unlikely that the Bill could be finalised after consultation, introduced and passed in the current session before Parliament is dissolved for the General Election. Labour has welcomed the Bill’s announcement, so it seems likely that the Bill will proceed whatever happens over the next year or so.
If, or when, the legislation passes, the implementation is likely to take some time, not least because it would require the establishment of a new regulator and notification regime.
Given that this law will not be imminent, charities which may be affected should not be unduly concerned yet, but should be aware that it is back on the agenda. Charities which may be affected in the ‘standard tier’ should consider responding to the consultation when it appears.
The Data Protection and Digital Information Bill has been brought back from the previous session. The Bill is stated to ‘create a new UK data rights regime’ post-Brexit which will be ‘innovative and flexible’ while maintaining high standards. It should make it easier for charities to comply with the rules on direct electronic marketing and fundraising.
Other points of note
In respect of other points which charities may want to note;
- working with children – the Criminal Justice Bill proposes, subject to consultation, to introduce a mandatory duty on those who work with children to ‘report concerns’ relating to child sexual abuse;
- victim support – the Victims and Prisoners Bill promises to introduce ‘long-term reforms to the victim experience’. It proposes to do so by, for example, placing the ‘key principles’ of the Victims’ Code in law and introducing an Independent Public Advocate (IPA) to work on behalf of victims of major incidents, such as the Hillsborough disaster or the Grenfell Tower fire;
- violence against women and girls – the Criminal Justice Bill proposes to tackle this by, eg, criminalising sharing intimate images without consent and expanding the offence of encouraging or assisting serious self-harm;
- prison reform – although much of the news around the Criminal Justice Bill has been around tougher sentencing, prison reform charities have welcomed some proposals relating to those sentenced to less than a year serving in the community and an extension of the early release scheme;
- housing and homelessness – charities have welcomed inclusion of tenants’ rights in the Renters (Reform) Bill and reforms for some leaseholds in the Leasehold and Freehold Bill (as well as the absence from the Speech of threatened fines for charities which provide tents to those sleeping on the streets);
- health – the Tobacco and Vapes Bill aims to ‘create the first smoke-free generation’, preventing anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 from being legally sold cigarettes. The Government also states that it is ‘looking at’ new regulations to reduce the appeal and availability of vapes to children;
- Holocaust Memorial – the Holocaust Memorial Bill has been brought back from the previous session to provide for the construction of a Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre next to the Houses of Parliament;
- environment – environmental charities will have noted the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill which will require the North Sea Transition Authority to run an annual process for new oil and gas production licences. The background notes state the Bill’s emission targets ‘will ensure that future licensing supports the transition to net zero’;
- animal welfare – animal welfare charities are likely to welcome the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill, which promises to ban the live export of animals for slaughter and fattening, but will have been disappointed that Bills previously promised relating to kept animals and hunting trophies have not appeared; and
- legal frameworks for emerging technologies – the Speech promised to introduce new legal frameworks ‘to support the safe commercial development of emerging industries’. These include the Automated Vehicles Bill for safe-driving cars, but also examples such as encouraging ‘innovation in technologies such as machine learning’ (in the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill referred to above).
Charities should also be aware that the third phase of implementation of the Charities Act 2022 is due in early 2024. It will bring in changes for land disposals and mortgages, as well as for amending charity constitutions, among other provisions. As can be seen, there will be much for charities to follow in coming months.