To Queen’s Speech enthusiasts, the state opening of Parliament this year may have had a slightly different feel to it. Some of the ceremonial formalities were toned down, with Queen Elizabeth II arriving by car instead of horse-drawn carriage and wearing ‘day dress’ as opposed to robes and her crown.
The differences were not only ceremonial; the proposed legislative programme covers the next two years (rather than one) to allow adequate debating time for all Brexit legislation, which unsurprisingly dominated the agenda with a third of the 24 bills proposed.
Despite the apparent differences, outspoken republican and Labour MP Dennis Skinner stuck to his customary heckle, this time urging Black Rod to “get your skates on, first race is at half past two”, a reference to Royal Ascot which began yesterday.
The eight proposed Brexit bills include the Great Repeal Bill, which replaces the European Communities Act 1972, and legislation on immigration, customs, trade, international sanctions, nuclear safeguards, agriculture and fisheries.
A change in tone from the Government was clear, with reference to consulting Parliament, the devolved administrations and business to build the “widest possible consensus” in negotiations.
Conservative manifesto curtailed
Perhaps the most interesting elements of the speech were what it omitted. Against a backdrop of the Conservatives being unexpectedly forced to form a minority Government with a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) still to be agreed, it was no surprise that the Conservative manifesto has been scaled back.
No reference was made to grammar schools, scrapping free school lunches, fox hunting or means-testing the winter fuel payment, while in relation to the so-called ‘dementia tax’, the Government pledged only to improve social care and launch a consultation.
Also absent was any reference to President Trump’s state visit to the UK, however Her Majesty did note she would be welcoming the King and Queen of Spain later this year.
Infrastructure, investment and technology
Legislation that did make the cut from the Conservative manifesto included the Tenant's Fees Bill which would ban landlords from charging letting fees. Measures to “promote fairness and transparency” in the housing market were also promised.
The speech pledged greater efforts to attract inward investment in infrastructure and announced legislation to deliver the next phase of HS2, while a new Modern Industrial Strategy will be carried forward to make the UK a “world leader” in new industries, including in electrical cars and commercial satellites.
The Conservatives’ pledge to cap energy bills was not mentioned, but there was a commitment to “tackle unfair practices” in the energy market. Also notable was the focus on security and counter terrorism with a Data Protection Bill and a new digital charter, while the safeguarding of critical national infrastructure was prioritised.
The hung parliament result of the General Election means that this year’s House of Commons vote on the Queen’s Speech will pose greater risk to the Government than usual. If it is voted down, the resignation of Theresa May and another election would be imminent, but the likelihood is that the DUP will edge the Conservative minority Government over the line, at least for the time being.