The Queen’s Speech put forward by Theresa May’s government today contained more proposed legislation than had been expected, presenting a total of 24 Bills, of which eight are related to Brexit. This is a greater number of Bills than is usual in a Queen’s Speech, but another Queen’s Speech is not due until 2019. The Government is therefore putting forward less legislation than would normally be expected over a two-year period.
The lack of a Parliamentary majority creates a fluid and uncertain situation for the government. There is no guarantee that these Bills will pass. However, some legislation may well be used as “wedge” issues in which the Government will seek to put the Opposition Labour party on the wrong side of public opinion. The proposed counter-terrorism review may prove particularly important in this regard.
Eight Brexit Bills
These Bills combine a mixture of the practical and the potentially politically contentious. The agriculture and fishing bills in particular will be potentially popular among Conservative voters as they will free these sectors from EU control.
The Immigration Bill is likely to be controversial. The rights of EU nationals is a matter of vigorous debate. The Labour party wishes to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens’ rights, whilst the Conservatives wish to do this only once there is a reciprocal agreement with the European Union. The Bill will also set out future immigration priorities, another potential “wedge” issue between Labour and the Conservatives.
The Repeal Bill, which will move transfer EU law onto the UK statute book after Brexit, is already politically contentious due to allegations that it gives the government sweeping powers to change the law, so-called “Henry VIII powers,” enabling government to change primary legislation without further Parliamentary scrutiny.
Proposed Customs, Trade, Nuclear Safeguards and International Sanctions Bills deal with some of the practical issues around Brexit.
The Speech contained only the most popular parts of the Conservative manifesto
More legislation has been proposed than was expected from a minority government. The Government’s approach may well be to dare the other parties to vote these measures down. The real risk though will be losing votes on amendments rather than the principle of legislation.
The Bills fall into the following broad categories
Supporting economic development: A Space Industry Bill and Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill clearly look to the economy of the future, as does the High Speed 2 Phase 2a Bill.
Lowering costs for consumers: These will be the most popular government measures and include a Tenants’ Fees Bill, a Civil Liability Bill to lower motor insurance premiums, a Smart Meter Bill to reduce household energy costs, a Travel Protection Bill and a Good Mortgages Bill.
Public Services reform: There will be a Courts Bill to reform the courts system and a Financial Guidance and Claims Bill to combine three financial advice bodies into one and a Patient Safety Bill to set out a framework to help improve patient safety in the NHS. There will also be an Armed Forces Bill committing the UK to the NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defence.
Social reform: The Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill is the only legislation proposed in the field of social reform, but the Government is also proposing reviews on mental health within the NHS, on workers’ rights and combating the gender pay gap.
There are some significant gaps compared to the Conservative Election manifesto
The Conservative party manifesto called for new grammar schools and for the UK to proceed faster on unconventional onshore energy. These proposals now seem to be entirely dropped.
The proposed reform of social care has survived but only as a consultation. Similarly, the Conservatives promised significantly increased new housebuilding, but have only committed to the White Paper published before the election with no new measures.
The status of other controversial measures in the Conservative manifesto, including the scrapping of free school meals, the end of the triple lock on pensions, and the curtailing of benefits such as the Winter Fuel Allowance, are unclear. Some of these may still be put forward in the Autumn Budget.
The full list of non-legislative measures is as follows:
- Brexit: engagement with Parliament, the devolved administrations and business
- Counter Terrorism Review
- Commission for Countering Extremism
- Public Inquiry into the Grenfell Tower Fire
- Independent Public Health Advocate
- Mental Health Reform
- Social Care
- Digital Charter
- Public Finances
- Schools and Technical Education
- National Living Wage and Workers’ Rights
- Tackling the Gender Pay Gap and Discrimination
- Critical National Infrastructure
- Consumer Markets, including the Energy Market
These will move forward as reviews or consultations which may lead to further legislation in due course.
This post was contributed by Stephen Day, Chief Operating Officer and Head of Government and Public Affairs UK. If you would like any further information or detail, please do not hesitate to contact him at Stephen.Day@bm.com.