Politics in the UK takes an interesting segue this week as we move from the hustle and bustle of local election campaigns to the more sedate Queen’s Speech and the State of Opening of Parliament.
Left behind are debates around bin collections and potholes, only to be replaced by the pomp and pageantry of Her Majesty’s grand entrance and formal speech to the Houses of Parliament. However, this year’s speech takes on special significance as it will be, for the first time in six decades, delivered by someone other than the Queen. Step forward Prince Charles.
For the uninitiated, the Queen’s Speech is the usually annual showpiece event where Her Majesty sets out the UK Government’s legislative agenda in a speech written for her by UK Government Ministers. Contrast this with Scotland, where it’s the First Minister who outlines the Programme for Government. At this event the Prime Minister has a largely non-existent role in delivering Tuesday’s speech, instead it’s all eyes on the Prince of Wales.
The Prime Minister will, perhaps, be relieved not to be in the immediate limelight following a poor set of local election results and the implications from party-gate still rumbling on. However, privately the Prime Minister and his Government will be eager to put forward an ambitious legislative agenda that seeks to take the focus from the aforementioned and place it squarely on issues of importance to the electorate. Potentially, this could be the final time for this Government to realise its policy objectives before the next UK General Election, which must be held by January 2025.
What might those issues be? It would be inconceivable for the Queen’s Speech to make no reference to the cost of living crisis and we may see some movement around the energy market and bills, for example. However, after persistent confirmation from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor that there were limits to a tax-payer funded solution, any movement may well fall short of expectations.
We might also expect to hear more about the Government’s levelling up agenda and in particular, how this relates to the High Street (the English High Street that is!). New powers to compel landlords to rent out commercial properties and/or to allow local authorities to take control of empty buildings may appear.
If you thought you had heard the last of Brexit, then think again. A new ‘Brexit Freedoms Bill’ is likely to facilitate the removal of EU regulations. And we can’t forget the results of the Northern Irish Assembly elections, which mean it is highly likely the Northern Ireland Protocol and language around upholding the Good Friday Agreement will be addressed.
We also expect to see a new Mental Health Bill and controversial legislation on conversion practices too, as well as other Bills being carried over from the last parliamentary terms, such as the Online Safety Bill.
We should also pay some notice to the Bills not mentioned. The previously proposed Planning Bill and an Employment Bill which intended to strengthen worker’s rights, are likely to be quietly dropped. They may reappear later in more watered down versions, but are not likely in this Queen’s Speech.
Whatever is in, and whatever is out there’s certainly going to be no shortage of talking points both from a policy perspective and the notable absence of the Queen. However, there can be no doubt the contents of the speech will still have an impact.