Political Insider: The Queen’s Speech, what can we expect?
With a worrying, albeit predictable set of local election results last week, 10 Downing Street has been focusing heavily on preparations for the Queen’s Speech tomorrow in the knowledge this will be the last legislating session of this parliamentary term.
This follows an intense cross-Whitehall submission process and numerous backbench MPs making calls for a stronger narrative. With political commentators on both the left and right describing this as a Government “in drift”, this will be the single best opportunity for the Conservatives to reset the domestic agenda in the short-term – and stave off any confidence vote in the Prime Minister.
Developing a new political strategy which gets cut-through often requires fresh faces in the leadership of the Party. As such, this Queen’s Speech will need to be both coherent and eye-catching if it is to significantly move the debate on from the succession of publicised scandals that have beset the Conservatives in the past year.
Whitehall departments have already been told which bills have secured parliamentary time – and most bills will be ready for the start of the session, with further tranches expected by the summer recess.
Whilst the Queen’s Speech normally contains in excess of 25 bills – up to 30 are expected this time around – with new legislation including:
- Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill: Replacement for former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick’s failed planning bill
- Social Housing Bill: More powers for renters following proposal published late last year
- Channel 4 privatisation: A key plank of Nadine Dorries ambitions at DCMS
- Brexit Freedoms Bill: Relaxation of existing EU regulations that are currently retained by the UK post-Brexit. There is some debate around whether this will include legislation to deal with the Northern Ireland Protocol
- Energy Bill: New legislation to enact Government’s recently announced energy strategy to wean the UK off Russian hydrocarbons
- New Human Rights Bill: Replacement of existing Human Rights Act; this will include further freedom of speech provisions
- Higher Education Bill: A “lifelong loan entitlement”, allowing people a loan equivalent to four years of university education (£37,000) that they can use over their lifetime to fund technical training
- Draft Mental Health Bill: Overhaul of existing Mental Health Act that will limit powers to detain autistic people and people with learning disabilities – amongst other measures
Carry Over Legislation
At the start of 2023 we expect the following carry-over bills to complete their passage:
- Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill
- Online Safety Bill
- Product Safety and Telecommunications Bill
- Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – may not return due to a fox hunting amendment
After a sluggish start to the year, largely due to political energy being expended on ‘Partygate’ and the response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Government undoubtedly needs to reinvigorate its domestic agenda and address the spectre of the cost of living crisis.
The Energy Bill, required to enact the fundamental shift in energy policy set out in the recent strategy, is key to that but as the Government have admitted it will be a matter of years rather than months before its benefits come to fruition. Levelling up, which despite the rhetoric has in reality been tepid thus far, needs to be turbocharged to keep the Red Wall on side. However, any planning elements will need to be delicately balanced given the growing threat of the Lib Dems across the south.
While legislation with a tangible impact on people’s day-to-day lives may be a slow burner, the Government’s agenda will include some red meat to keep its backbenchers on side. The privatisation of Channel Four is one such example, allied to a refreshed Human Rights Act.
Six years on from the referendum, Brexit is also back on the menu. Briefing and counter-briefing has muddied the waters as to whether the Government will attempt to unilaterally remove the vexatious Northern Ireland Protocol, but it is likely that some other EU regulations will be relaxed or repealed to allow freer international trade and allow the Government to pursue divergence on technology and data policy, for example.
While a fight with the EU on Northern Ireland might be on the horizon, there will continue to be a degree of coordination on dealing with Russia – expect some legislation to tighten up the UK’s current money laundering framework and ability to seize crypto-assets.