Given its timing, today’s Queen’s Speech was always going to be seen as an opportunity for some early electioneering – with the Conservative Party conference earlier this month setting the scene for much of what was included in today’s address to the House of Lords.
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, labelled his Government’s plans “a bold and ambitious domestic legislative agenda for the renewal of our country after Brexit.” Parliamentary arithmetic and ongoing uncertainty mean it’s unlikely many of the 26 bills outlined today will pass any time soon – but the speech has nevertheless provided an insight into the battle lines on which the Conservatives will seek to fight the next election.
Economy and Brexit
The UK’s withdrawal from the EU is dominating parliamentary time and seven pieces of Brexit-related legislation were proposed today, including new regulatory frameworks relating to fishing, farming and trade.
We can expect more Brexit-related business in the weeks to come, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, announcing a post-Brexit Budget for 6 November (providing a deal is struck before the end of this month) – another set piece parliamentary moment that the Government will seek to use to its advantage in the run-up to an election.
For now, the Government has outlined a new immigration bill confirming the ending of free movement.
Property, Planning and Regeneration
One piece of legislation that may well be enacted (whether by this Government or the next one) is the creation of a new building regulator with powers to impose criminal sanctions on those who don't adhere to building regulations. This is promised to be one of the most substantive reforms in 40 years, with Government going beyond its commitment to bring forward all recommendations outlined in Dame Judith Hackitt’s review on building safety.
The announcement comes just two weeks ahead of the report from the Grenfell Inquiry, due on the day before the UK’s anticipated departure from the European Union. The National Housing Federation has recognised this as “an important step” but pushed the Government to provide more support for the sector on the issue of funding remediation and safety works as part of next month’s Budget.
The Government has also proposed a white paper with the objective of unlocking regional potential in England – at times a key theme in modern Conservative policy but seen as sidelined during Theresa May’s administration.
The Government has also outlined what it has called “a bold and ambitious” approach to environmental issues. A new environmental bill proposes legally enforceable targets to cut air pollution, with a new office for environmental protection created to provide oversight. The Local Government Association welcomed the move and proposed united action in the form of “a joint national taskforce led by councils [which] would harness the critical partnership between local and national government”.
Further steps to cut down on plastic usage were also unveiled, along with a further bill relating to animal welfare and a ban on imports of trophy hunting. A new initiative to protect and restore habitats has also been announced.
Pending the outcome of the ongoing independent review into HS2, the Government has promised an announcement on the next steps for the rail project. The Government has also set out plans to end the franchising model next year, replacing it with a greater role for local authorities in setting timetables and fares while private companies continue to operate services.
Also announced were plans for a revamped national infrastructure strategy with the aim of improving digital, transport and energy infrastructure and helping to deliver fast, reliable nationwide broadband – a key rhetorical focus for Mr Johnson.
For now, we await a vote on the Queen’s Speech – which will follow a week of debates. If, as is widely expected, the Government loses the vote, it will be the first time this has happened in almost a century. In normal political times that would signify the end of a government. Of course, we do not live in such times.