After the pomp of the Queen’s Speech delivered by HRH Prince Charles, the week afterwards is always a bit flat with votes upon it following five days of debate. It follows a predictable pattern: our side extolling the virtues of the Bills announced, the opposition parties moaning about what they’d prefer. Opposition amendments to the Queen’s Speech are put to the vote and as sure as night follows day, the amendments are voted down. Even though I’ve seen the State opening of Parliament many times, it still impresses as centuries of traditions unfold and are duly respected.
One does wonder though whether we truly need 38 new Bills over the coming year? Some of the Bills reflect amendments to law to counter recent mischiefs that have arisen. This would include the Harbours (Seafarers’ Remuneration) Bill to close the loophole exploited by P&O ferries to fire its local staff and replace them with lower paid contract staff.
It is not uncommon that Parliamentary time runs out and Bills are carried over to the next session. This is true of the Online Harms Bill to regulate the internet. We all want the internet giants to ensure that inappropriate images and content that children should be protected from are taken down, but I do wonder how the requirement in the draft Bill to moderate ‘harmful but legal’ content can possibly be legislated for? As a libertarian Conservative I worry that this may give the providers carte blanche to gold plate interpretations and take down content which should be considered free speech, reasonable argument and opinion but may not in line with a shouty ‘woke’ agenda. Subjectivity is always difficult within legislative interpretation – views of what is ‘reasonable’ will vary.
Just to pick out some of the Bills included that caught my eye. These include the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which will include new planning procedures and will codify the government’s levelling up agenda, an Energy Security Bill which will doubtless extol further costly Net Zero measures upon which I’ll doubtless have concerns, a Brexit Freedoms Bill to make amendments to retained EU law that came over in its entirety upon Brexit easier and quicker, the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill which will finally ban live exports, hugely relevant to Ramsgate.
Brexit issues are back in the news as the government seeks to address the deficiencies of the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP). Many might say that we signed it so we’ve got to live with it but wording within offers its own salvation and I would refer to Article 13(8), the suspension provisions of Article 16 which the EU did reach for during the pandemic with a view to limiting the availability of Covid vaccines to the UK. It cannot be right that the people of Northern Ireland effectively have no voice: they have to comply with new EU rules and taxes with no representative at the table and be subjected to the European Court. This is in conflict with its status in the Union of the UK within the preamble to the protocol and is undoubtedly causing pressure on the Good Friday Agreement which has kept the peace for so long and allowed a new stable prosperity for Ulster. Any who say we’d be breaking international law perhaps haven’t read the texts or simply want to continue their animosity to Brexit through any means. Additionally domestic legislation within the Withdrawal Act under s38(2) reasserts the sovereignty of Parliament to do as it pleases.
As part of the ongoing Levelling Up agenda, I was delighted to welcome Minister Neil O’Brien to Ramsgate. His department has approved a £300,000 grant to Heritage CIC in order to progress works to the Granville Bars on Eastcliff. A beautiful, quirky building with a grand past and I hope a bright future as hospitality, entertainment and creative space. The Ministerial visit also gave me an opportunity, with TDC leader Ash Ashbee, to show Neil the extensive projects around the harbour as part of the £20m grant allocation.