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Queen’s Speech Briefing Paper

Following the recent Queen’s Speech the summary below outlines some of the policy announcements that are likely to impact the most on Welsh higher education. The full government briefing document is available here.

Responding to the announcements in Wales, Secretary of State for Wales Stephen Crabb said that the UK Government is committed to devolving further powers but the Assembly must also gain responsibility for raising a “significant portion” of the money it spends. Before the announcement First Minister Carwyn Jones spoke of a possible “Celtic Rebellion” against plans to repeal the Human Rights Act, but following the announcement he said that he was “pleased” by the prospect of a new Wales Bill.

Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru’s Parliamentary Leader Jonathan Edwards claimed that the legislative programme poses “real threats” to Welsh interests and that the Wales Bill “reads like a toothless package of powers that sees the Westminster government merely tinkering around the edges rather than bring a meaningful deal to the table.” Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Kirsty Williams concentrated her criticism on plans to reform the Human Rights Act and warned that any attempts at change could have “ramifications” for the devolution settlement.

The Queen’s Speech and possible impact on Higher Education:

  • European Union referendum bill: there is a promise that British citizens will be given an opportunity to vote on its future membership of the EU in a referendum held by the end of 2017
  • Wales Bill: the draft Wales Bill will be published in the autumn, however the proposals for further devolution reflect the plans outlined by Prime Minister David Cameron in the St David’s Day announcement. Further powers are likely to be devolved in decisions over energy projects (including fracking); elections; the number of Assembly Members and the permanence of the Assembly and the Welsh Government enshrined in law
  • Extremism Bill: the extremism bill is designed to “stop extremists promoting views and behaviour that undermine British values”, and further details around bans on extremist speakers at university campuses are expected as part of the legislation
  • Immigration Bill: at present there is no mention of measures specifically directed at students, with the government promising to crack down on illegal immigration and to “control and reduce” migration to the UK more generally
  • Employment Bill: priorities will include creating two million more jobs and three million more apprenticeships over the course of the Parliament. The rise in apprenticeships will be paid for by reducing the benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000
  • Trade Unions Bill: Secretary of State for Business Sajid Javid says it will be a government priority to reform strike laws. It is proposing a ban on strike action unless 40% of all eligible union members vote in favour of industrial action. It also wants to lift a ban on the use of agency staff when strike action takes place.