Voters are set to be asked for ID at polling stations while the police are in line for more powers to crack down on protests as a raft of legislation was given Royal Assent this week ahead of the temporary suspension of Parliament. Controversial Bills including the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act and the Nationality and Borders Act have been debated during the last year.
Both Houses of Parliament will return on Tuesday, May 10, as several other bills will need to be carried over after the government ran out of time to get them passed. Around a third of the laws promised in last year’s Queen’s Speech didn’t pass in time.
All Bills currently before the UK Parliament are listed on the UK Parliament website in the Parliamentary Business, Bills & Legislation section which also shows what stage a Bill has reached on its passage through Parliament. Bills only become Acts once they have passed all stages of their applicable Parliamentary procedure and receive Royal Assent.
The Manchester Evening News has created a list of some of the laws and how they are set to impact you.
Elections: Photo ID at polling stations and preventing postal vote harvesting
Legislation that requires voters to present photographic ID at polling stations completed its journey through Parliament on Thursday. Critics have suggested that the scale of the problem does not justify the move and have warned that it will hit voter turnout However, the government says the Elections Act “will ensure the electoral system remains secure, transparent and fair for generations to come”.
The new laws will apply to all UK Parliamentary elections, mayoral and council elections and local referendums in England, and Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections in England and Wales. According to government research, 98 per cent of voters already have an accepted form of ID. However, a free voter card will be available from councils for people without one.
An amendment to the bill that would see the list of accepted identification extended to include non-photo documents, such as birth certificates, bank statements and library cards, was rejected by MPs.
Changes to election laws will also see the introduction of new anti-fraud measures for absent voters aimed at preventing postal vote harvesting. Rules will be changed so that people can apply for a postal or proxy vote online through a new system. Local authorities will also be required to provide in-person voters with disabilities with specialist equipment to support them to vote if needed.
The voting system for mayoral and PCC elections will be changed to First Past the Post, meaning that the candidate who wins the most votes in each constituency is elected. In addition, the 15-year limit on British citizens overseas voting in elections will be removed. A new electoral sanction for those convicted of intimidation against a candidate, campaigner or elected office holder will also be introduced.
The government has said it wants the changes under the Elections Act to come into force “within the lifetime of this Parliament”.
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts: Cracking down on peaceful protests and harsher punishments for criminals
The controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act was granted Royal Assent on Tuesday in the final stage of a turbulent passage through Parliament. The bill grants the police additional powers to crack down on disruptive demonstrations – a controversial move which campaigners believe will infringe on people’s right to peacefully protest.
The new laws will make it a criminal offence to cause “serious distress, serious annoyance or serious inconvenience” without “reasonable excuse”. The bill also allows police to impose restrictions on marches whose “noise” could cause “serious disruption” to a nearby organisation.
Opposition MPs and campaign groups made attempts to strip the bill of such powers right up until the bitter end, but they were unsuccessful. However, the government has agreed to conduct a review of the new powers within two years of them coming into force.
Under the new laws, the police will also be granted new stop and search powers to use against convicted knife offenders.
The bill will also overhaul sentencing laws with the maximum penalty for those who assault police or other emergency workers, such as prison officers, fire service personnel or frontline health workers, doubling from 12 months to two years. It also brings into force ‘Harper’s Law’, named after PC Andrew Harper, which will see the introduction of mandatory life sentences for anyone convicted of killing an emergency worker while committing a crime.
Judges will be able to hand down life sentences to dangerous drivers who kill and the act halts the automatic early release of offenders deemed to be a danger to the public. In addition, domestic abuse victims will be given more time to report incidents of common assault or battery and higher maximum penalties, including up to life imprisonment, will be introduced for child cruelty offences. The maximum penalty for criminal damage of a memorial will rise from three months to 10 years.
The Judicial Review and Courts Act has also been granted Royal Assent. According to the government, this bill “delivers on a manifesto commitment to ensure courts are not open to abuse and delay and provides much needed flexibility on the outcome of Judicial Reviews”.
Peers had called on the government to amend the bill to grant bereaved families taxpayer-funded legal representation at inquests involving public organisations, but MPs voted to reject the changes earlier this week.
Animal welfare: A ban on glue traps and fines for poor pet care
A raft of new legislation around animal welfare is set to come into force.
The new laws will ban the use of cruel glue traps, which are used to get rid of rodents. Animals can remain alive for 24 hours or more inside the traps, eventually dying of stress, exhaustion, dehydration or self-inflicted injuries. Wildlife and domestic pets can also get stuck to the traps.
Licences to use glue traps will only be issued to professional pest controllers on an exceptional basis, for example if they are needed to preserve public safety. The ban is set to come into force in the next two years.
Fines for people who fail to provide the proper levels of care to their pets, zoo animals and livestock will also be introduced and a breach of the law could result in a fine of up to £5,000. Under the Animals (Penalty Notices) Act, fines could be handed out to pet breeders who fail to microchip puppies before being rehomed, horse owners who tether animals in a way that neglects their basic needs or a farmer transporting livestock that are not fit for travel.
The government’s Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill has also gained Royal Assent. This will create a new Animal Sentience Committee, which will assess whether government decisions have taken account of the welfare of sentient animals. The committee will publish reports that ministers will then respond to in Parliament. “.
Building safety: Funding for safety repairs on high-rise homes
The government’s Building Safety Bill is aimed at improving building safety standards in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, and helping leaseholders fund repairs due to safety issues in their high-rise homes. Leaseholders will be shielded from paying to fix cladding defects, but may have to fork out for non-cladding works.
Labour attempted to amend the bill so that the amount leaseholders would pay for safety repairs would be capped at £250. But peers rejected the bid.
Under the government’s plans, leaseholders could be required to pay up to £15,000 in London, and £10,000 elsewhere in England, for safety repairs. However, the government has said that leaseholder contributions are fair in principle because they will apply in only a very limited number of cases.
Peers had previously called for leaseholder contributions to be capped at zero, effectively meaning that no leaseholder would pay towards the cost of remediation work, but this was rejected by the House of Commons.
Under the new legislation, leaseholders will also be granted a retrospective right to sue developers for defective works up to 30 years after a home is completed. A new construction products regulator will also be created with the power to remove products from the market.
Marriage: Raising the legal age to marry from 16 to 18
The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act will raise the legal age of marriage from 16 to 18 in England and Wales. The change is being made in an effort to crack down on child brides being forced into marriage.
The current law in both England and Wales states that teenagers aged 16 and 17 are allowed to get married if they have consent from a parent. However, campaigners have warned that this loophole can be used to force people under 18 into marriage.
The new law will also see adults who help to facilitate forced marriages face up to seven years in jail and slapped with a fine. People who take children abroad to get married will also face jail time. Children being forced into marriage will not face any penalties or punishment.
Health and Social Care: A cap on care home costs and ‘joined up’ care
The Health and Social Care Bill has also made its way through Parliament – despite contention over a planned £86,000 cap on care costs and a bid to improve workforce planning in the sector.
Critics of the proposed social care cap had warned the move to count only individual payments towards the limit and not local authority contributions would cost poorer people more in assets than the wealthy. The move is aimed at ending unpredictable care costs by capping the amount anyone would need to pay at £86,000. However, Labour argued that under the changes, “somebody with assets of £100,000 will lose almost everything, while someone with assets of over £1 million will keep almost everything.”
Labour also argued that a national staffing picture was needed to ensure enough staff are being trained in the NHS. However, peers rejected a move to force ministers to publish a report every three years on staffing needs. The government has said steps are already being taken to improve workforce supply and planning in the sector.
The new legislation also aims to deliver more ‘joined-up’ care across the health and social care sector. Every part of England will be covered by an Integrated Care System (ICS), which aims to bring together NHS, local government and wider system partners.
Other measures introduced under the act include safeguarding women and girls by banning the harmful practices of virginity testing and hymenoplasty; introducing regulation of non-surgical cosmetic procedures; and levelling up health disparities in oral health and obesity.
Immigration: Offshoring asylum and a ‘crack down’ on illegal immigration
The Nationality and Borders Bill, which includes plans for offshoring asylum, was eventually passed after a fierce Parliamentary stand-off. The government has already struck a controversial immigration deal with Rwanda, which ministers have defended amid fierce criticism in recent weeks.
The bill will make it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally and allow asylum seekers to be treated differently based on how they entered the UK. Campaigners say the new legislation will have a detrimental impact on people seeking asylum and have argued that asylum should be judged on the dangers being faced, rather than how they have entered Britain.
The government argues that the new laws are aimed at cracking down on people-smuggling networks, and will deter illegal entry into the UK. This will “free up the asylum system so we can better support those in genuine need of asylum through safe and legal routes”, the government says.
Under the new laws, people smugglers will face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, while the maximum penalty for illegally entering the UK or overstaying a visa will rise to four years’ imprisonment. The government also said it will crack down on adults pretending to be children by introducing scientific methods for age assessment.
A number of changes to the bill, including a bid to enable asylum seekers to work if no decision had been taken on their claim after six months, were overturned by the Commons.
The new measures will be implemented over the coming months and into next year, the government said.
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