Political Insider: Queen’s Speech
Following an impressive set of local and devolved election results last week, the focus for this Queen’s Speech is on introducing measures which will help address voters’ priorities – particularly in the ‘Red Wall’ seats gained in 2019 – and leave the Conservatives well-placed to secure a fifth term in office. Indeed, if the Government calls an election in 2023, this will be the last opportunity to get legislation passed in time for it to count.
The package of 31 Bills includes a number of measures to promote the ‘levelling up’ agenda, designed to deliver on the commitments made in 2019. However, the pledge to merely bring forward proposals on social care suggests that this is one key issue which will remain unresolved in this Parliament.
After Brexit and Covid, Boris Johnson gets to enact his vision for the country
Senior MHP Adviser and Former CEO of Vote Leave Campaign
When MPs are summoned by Black Rod to make their way from the House of Commons to listen to the Queen’s Speech, we are used to seeing everybody from the Prime Minister downwards walk slightly self-consciously alongside their Opposition counterparts through Central Lobby to the House of Lords.
This year, the ceremony was adapted to take into account Covid regulations and social distancing, meaning that Boris Johnson led the smaller than normal number of MPs who made their way through Central Lobby to listen to the Queen.
And the PM didn’t just saunter from the Commons to the Lords, he walked with the determination of someone on the first day of his premiership. For whilst he has been in No10 for almost two years now, and has a Brexit deal, an 80-seat majority and the successful handling of Covid to his name, today marked the unveiling of his legislative agenda, his personal plan to reshape the United Kingdom to his vision in the 2020s.
In a word cloud of the Queen’s Speech, the one phrase that would surely stand out is ‘levelling up’. This isn’t a Government focused on university graduates, it is focused on those who don’t make it to university. This wasn’t a Speech for people who already own their own home, it was for renters and those hoping to get on the housing ladder. And the primary voters targeted are not those living in cities, it was for the vast majority who live in non-metropolitan areas.
There is certainly flesh to be put on the bones of the levelling up agenda – and the Prime Minister has brought in the former top think-tanker, Treasury super-SpAd and now MP for Harborough Neil O’Brien to join it up into a coherent whole – but the key legislative building blocks were contained in the Queen’s Speech today.
Is there more to be done? Of course. Proposals are being brought forward on social care, but will need to be enacted. Early years was rightly mentioned in the Speech, but I didn’t spot any corresponding legalisation.
Once enacted, this Queen’s Speech is more than enough for Boris Johnson to be able to go to the country in 2023 or 2024 and say with conviction that not only did he deliver Brexit, but that he also delivered the improvement to people’s lives he promised back in 2019.
And this is why the fact Boris Johnson walked ahead of Keir Starmer was more than a sign of the times, it was symbolic of the Prime Minister’s dominance of the political landscape.
What’s in the Queen’s Speech?
Education and skills
- Skills and Post-16 Education Bill – to include a lifetime skills guarantee
- Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill – to ensure free speech at universities
- The Government will address lost learning during the pandemic
- Health and Care Bill – to improve technological innovation in the NHS and allow patients to received more tailored care
- Proposals on social care will be brought forward
Economy and business
- Subsidy Control Bill – setting out the UK’s post-Brexit regime for state aid and supporting businesses
- National Insurance Contributions Bill – to create eight new freeports
Housing and planning
- Planning Bill; Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill – to include enhanced rights for renters and modernise the planning system
- Building Safety Bill – to prevent a repeat of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower
- Environment Bill – establishing binding environmental targets
- Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – to increase sentences for the most serious and violent offences
- Judicial Review Bill – to reform the relationship between the executive, legislature and the courts
- Draft Victims Bill – to support victims and address violence, including violence against women and girls
- There will be new legislation to establish a fairer immigration system
- High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill – delivering the next phase of HS2
Technology, science and research
- Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill – to create this new research agency
- Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill – to improve access to 5G and gigabit broadband
- Draft Online Safety Bill – to ensure internet safety
- Electoral Integrity Bill – to ensure the integrity of elections
- Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill – abolishing the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act
- Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concerns) Bill – to strengthen devolved government in Northern Ireland
- Legislation to address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland
Defence and foreign affairs
- Armed Forces Bill – to strengthen the Armed Forces Covenant
- National Insurance Contributions Bill – provides National Insurance Relief to the employees of veterans
- Counter-State Threats Bill; Telecommunications (Security) Bill – to counter hostile activity by foreign states
- Procurement Bill – to reform procurement processes in the public sector
- Dormant Assets Bill; Charities Bill – reducing bureaucracy in the voluntary sector and releasing additional funds for good causes
- Three Bills to promote high standards of animal welfare: the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, Kept Animals Bill and the Animals Abroad Bill
- The Government will address racial and ethnic disparities and ban conversion therapy
Further detail on the measures announced can be accessed here.
While many proposals in the Queen’s Speech were trailed in advance, and the headline themes of ‘levelling up’ and the ‘green’ agenda were to be expected, much of the discussion by political commentators on social media is focusing around two core themes:
1. The absence of any detail on the Government’s plans for social care – with only the vague promise of ‘proposals’ to come forward.
2. The Government’s controversial plans to legislate for voter ID to be required in polling stations at future elections.
There is also a degree of disquiet among some sections of the media around the Government’s plans to reform the right to judicial review, largely seen as a reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to nullify the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament in 2019.
More broadly, despite the inclusion of over 30 bills, some commentators from across the political spectrum have highlighted what they see as a relative scarcity of both detail and ambition in the Queen’s Speech. For example, prominent conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie described it as a “thin” Queen’s Speech, demonstrating that the Government lacked “any big ideas.”