The Queen’s speech, which set out the government’s legislative agenda for the next parliamentary year, was a mix of new plans, long-made pledges and a handful of held-over bills. Here is what it set out – and what it all means, politically.
What is planned: There are six proposed bills intended to make the UK more competitive or otherwise free and liberal in the wake of Brexit, or tailored to post-Brexit trade deals. The flagship is the Brexit freedoms bill, which allows EU rules to be easily removed. Also planned are the procurement bill, financial services and markets bill, data reform bill, genetic technology (precision breeding) bill and trade (Australia and New Zealand) bill.
Why it’s there: In part this is the sheer logistical necessity of changing regulations in the aftermath of Brexit. But the Brexit freedoms bill in particular is intended to remind voters that Boris Johnson got departure from the EU over the line, seen by the Conservatives as a key success.
What is planned: There are seven bills arguably aimed, in part or whole, at stirring up the Tory base, creating headlines in friendly papers and annoying opponents. A public order bill will specifically target disruptive environmental protesters; a media bill will allow Channel 4 to be privatised; public bodies will not be allowed to boycott certain countries. Arguably the key bill would replace the Human Rights Act with a UK bill of rights. The higher education (freedom of speech) bill makes a return from the last parliament. The levelling up bill promises local people “more of a say over changing street names”. Finally, the conversion therapy bill will ban practices aimed at changing sexuality, but not gender identity.
Why it’s there: This is all part of a wider No 10-led strategy to focus on such divisive issues in the hope of shoring up support among socially conservative voters. Whether there are enough of these to win another election, if more liberal Britons become alienated, remains to be seen.
Energy, cost of living and levelling up
What is planned: Two things – a bill setting out Downing Street’s energy security policy, and the much-touted bill to put into law the strategy for levelling up. The latter is described in fairly broad terms, with commitments including the pledge for more devolution in England and, perhaps more appealing to some voters, giving local people powers to shape planning decisions.
Why it’s there: The planning element is fairly clearly aimed at wooing disillusioned Tory voters, especially in the south of England. Elsewhere, it is more of a question, some might argue, of why there is not more focus on the cost of living, even if in part this is because this is an issue which concerns day-to-day policy rather than legislation.
What is planned: In legislative terms, only one thing: creating a UK infrastructure bank to “support regional and local economic growth and deliver net zero”.
Why it’s there: As with the cost of living, critics might point to the lack of much else. The 140-page Queen’s speech briefing document has brief mentions of the climate emergency in terms of foreign aid, but that is otherwise it. The only mention of “insulate” is a promise to jail Insulate Britain protesters.
What is planned: A higher education bill and a schools bill, setting out loans for post-18 education and a funding settlement for English schools.
Why it’s there: Education is a perennial feature of Queen’s speeches. The schools funding settlement has been contentious for some time, and could bring debate.
Housing and planning
What is planned: Once again, given the housing crisis, it is a case, perhaps, of what is not said. There are planned bills to create a regulator of social housing, and a renters’ reform bill to abolish “no fault” evictions. More significant are the “blue wall”-friendly measures to allow more local input into planning.
Why it’s there: There appears no consensus in government about how to build more homes, so improving the lot of renters at least does something. And planning has been a political minefield for many years.
Crime and security
What is planned: Yet another permanent fixture of the Queen’s speech. A national security bill – a delayed espionage bill from the previous session – tightens up official secrets law and will require lobbyists and PRs to register work for foreign states. An economic crime bill, revived after the invasion of Ukraine, proposes giving more powers to Companies House, insisting on better identity verification for those who manage, own or control British companies.
Why it’s there: Most of the crime bills are legislative tidying up; the flagship crime-based bill is the public order bill, seeking to further restrict protest. Critics will note there is nothing aimed at easing the backlog of cases in the judicial system.
What is planned: A mixed bag of more than a dozen bills taking in areas including transport, including a plan for Great British Railways to simplify the privatised rail system and a law specifically aimed at P&O Ferries, mandating minimum employment standards for seafarers. Two bills concern Northern Ireland, and others are even more specific, such as the planned electronic trade documents bill, which puts electronic documents on the same legal basis as their paper equivalents.
Why it’s there: It depends on the bill. Some, such as the rail bill, are the hobby horse of a particular minister (in this case, Grant Shapps). Others simply adapt legislation for a changing world. A few, such as a bill on modern slavery and people trafficking, have been discussed and delayed for some years.