Roundup of legislation for chop amid focus on growth over regulation | Policy
As Westminster is plunged into mourning, below the surface a silent bonfire of legislation smolders. New ministers have already axed a list of forthcoming legislation – and the guillotine hovers above the rest.
Over the past week, Liz Truss announced the end of the bill of rights, the obesity strategy and the capping of bankers’ bonuses, with rumors about the end of gambling reform, the animal welfare bill and online harm bill.
The latest confirmed for the chop is the energy bill, on which Jacob Rees-Mogg told Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) officials to halt all work while the government reviews its priorities. .
The bill contains reforms to boost Britain’s domestic energy supply, but sources say the government is instead prioritizing work on a framework to decouple electricity prices from global gas prices and “localized pricing”, which could lower costs.
All these legislative changes correspond to a model, culturally and economically. First, Truss and new chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng told ministers to focus their efforts on growth-enhancing legislation, meaning anything that might lead to additional regulation is in the spotlight.
Second, there is an urgent need to ensure that Truss throws enough red meat at Tory backbenchers with tax cuts and a war on the nanny state, enough for his critics to put aside their fears that ‘She has just announced £150billion in extra spending to help tackle the energy crisis – the biggest expansion of state support in the post-war period.
A cabinet minister said there was also a question of priorities: ‘There is so much to do, it reduces the real flexibility we might have.’
Some of the shredding is also part of the deals made during the leadership campaign. At his first cabinet meeting, Truss said the government was pausing the upcoming bill of rights, the pet project of ousted justice secretary Dominic Raab. Robert Buckland, who switched sides to support Truss during the campaign, had made it a key request.
Buckland, who held the post before Raab, correctly identified that the bill contained a host of problems and made little difference in solving the government’s problem of how to legally send refugees to Rwanda.
This cynically gave the Tories ownership of the ‘human rights’ appeals laws, rather than being able to blame the former Labor government. The obvious question is whether Truss is prepared to go further and do what the bill did not do – leave the European Convention on Human Rights.
Next on the chopping block is the Obesity Strategy – an official review of measures to dissuade people from eating junk food, which could mean lifting the ban on displaying sugary products at checkouts and making the advertising of certain products on television before the 9 p.m. turning point.
A former minister said: ‘I would put that in the category of culture wars, not policy-making. These are not serious, thoughtful changes. This is the whole tone of the election. But these things can cause a tremendous amount of damage in the process.
Truss has long been a deep-seated skeptic of public health interventions such as the strategy – making headlines as early as 2018 when she accused her ‘macho’ male colleagues of interfering too much in people’s lives.
“The role of government shouldn’t be to tell us what our tastes should be,” she said. “Too often we hear about not drinking too much, not eating too much donuts.”
The other settlement for the chop includes a plan by Kwarteng to lift the cap on bankers’ bonuses – a move that would seem a far cry from populist politics.
But it fits the theme, a bet that voters will reward the Conservatives for economic growth and be willing to ignore some unpopular small measures. It’s definitely a big bet.
It is rumored in Whitehall that other bills are in the crosshairs of ministers. The Online Safety Bill appears to be radically overhauled after strong complaints from MPs, including new minister Kemi Badenoch, about its restrictions on free speech.
The gambling reform white paper was again delayed over the summer and would be the kind of regulatory reform that Truss wants to avoid burdening businesses. However, this would risk causing an uproar. New Treasury chief secretary Chris Philp is a champion of reforms and made it a key part of his resignation letter during the massive walkouts over Boris Johnson’s behavior.
The dismissal of Zac Goldsmith as environment minister has also been talked about over the future of the Animal Welfare Bill, including trophy hunting regulations.
Cabinet sources stress that everything is up for review – and nothing is guaranteed to be safe. “Anything that imposes additional burdens on businesses or appears to be unnecessary interference in people’s lives in times of crisis is on our radar,” one said.