The UK General Election campaign is in full swing and that means all is quiet in Parliament.
Parliament itself was dissolved on 3 May for the General Election on 8 June so no business takes place until a new government is in place, although the government retains its responsibility to govern and ministers remain in charge of their departments. Following the General Election, the Prime Minister will ask Her Majesty the Queen to summon the new Parliament to meet for the first time on 13 June. The first business of the House of Commons when it meets is to elect or re-elect a Speaker and for Members of Parliament (MPs) to be sworn in. The State Opening of Parliament will follow on 19 June.
The most high-profile part of the State Opening, which marks the beginning of the parliamentary year, is the speech read by Her Majesty The Queen which contains the government’s programme of legislation and policies for the coming year (the Queen’s Speech). Then Parliament gets down to its usual business of debating and holding the government to account.
Until the election takes place, politics is in purdah. That means that central and local government needs to avoid making big or potentially controversial announcements. Anything that could be considered too political or might favour one party or candidate over another could fall foul of the rules. There is various guidance available to ensure such mistakes are not made.
So why is this of relevance to mobile phone mast site owners?
Well, the Digital Economy Act was one of a long list of pieces of legislation that were passed right at the end of the Parliamentary session. For those interested, it is now available for everyone to read here.
We had a serious problem with the way that earlier versions of the legislation dealt with how telecoms mast site rents are agreed for wireless infrastructure. It would have shifted valuing land away from a market-based system to a ‘no scheme’ valuation. However, the government amended this making it clear that landowners should be paid appropriately for allowing telecoms operators to use their land in order to strike a balance between property rights and the public benefit.
However, not all measures contained in the Act came into force on the day it was passed. Some sections come into force at the end of a period of two months after the day the Act was passed (i.e. the end of June). ‘Our’ section of the Digital Economy Act will only come into force once the Secretary of State makes a Commencement Order.
A Commencement Order (also known as an appointed day order) is “a Statutory Instrument that brings into force all or part of an Act of Parliament at a date later than the date the Act was passed”. These are generally not subject to Parliamentary procedure and are simply laid before Parliament. In other words, the Commencement Order will go through unless action is taken by an MP or Peer to stop it.
The Order will cover things such as timings but may also provide some transitional provisions or transitory provisions too.
Until the Commencement Order is made we continue to operate under the existing methods and processes for agreeing mast site rents for wireless infrastructure. There is no knowing when the Commencement Order will be placed before Parliament. It could be a matter of weeks after Parliament resumes or it could be longer. Sometimes, they have been known to take years. (The Easter Act of 1928, which established having a date for Easter between 9 April and 15 April, has never been brought into force).
This means we need to maintain a careful watch on Parliament and also to keep close to the relevant civil servants. Both the timing and the content of the Commencement Order will be of importance to us, landlords and others.
It appears that the passing of the Act was only the start of our engagement.