The King’s Speech: a first for the King, the last for this parliament  

27 Oct, 2023

The Bills have been decided and the speech is being drafted - businesses need to be agile if they are to shape government proposals.

More weight is resting on the King’s Speech on 7th November than it can possibly bear.  

  • Alongside the Autumn Statement and the Spring Budget, this first Speech of King Charles III’s reign is one of only three remaining set-piece government events guaranteed to command the media’s attention before a possible autumn election. 
  • The Speech is a key opportunity for the Government to demonstrate it still has the energy and initiative to govern and develop policy that makes a difference. 
  • However, No10’s desire for a successful King’s Speech, amidst pressure to inspire the public and the parliamentary party, wrestles with the reality that this is the last session of this parliament. 
  • After 13 years in power, the government will struggle to introduce fresh proposals. The most obvious have already been tabled or heavily trailed; inventing bills to show action or cause trouble for the Opposition can backfire; the large number of bills carried over from the previous session limits capacity; and the session may be curtailed at any time by a general election. All of which constrains the potential for an eye-catching ‘new’ programme.  

How should businesses prepare for this session’s uncertainty? 

What do we already know about the content of the King’s Speech?  

While government departments submitted their legislative bids months ago, the final programme has only recently been decided. This means that some bills will not be ready for a pre-Christmas introduction, jeopardising their chances of success if an election is called early on in 2024. 

The programme must be sufficiently flexible to accommodate a session that could be as short as 16 legislative weeks (in the case of a May election, and March dissolution) or as long as 43 legislative weeks if the Prime Minister waits until the automatic dissolution of parliament in mid-December.  

We anticipate a programme of around 25 bills of varying sizes. Five slots have already been taken for ‘carry over’ bills; 10 additional bills have been trailed in some form. A further bill focussed on illegal migration may also be needed if the Supreme Court rules the Government’s Rwanda policy is unlawful.  

Unusually, we expect some small ‘feel good’ bills that would usually be Private Members' Bills to be brought into the main programme – the prime example being a pedicabs bill, which Nickie Aiken MP has long campaigned for. This will help to bulk out the programme but also reflects that Private Members' Bills are less likely to succeed in an election year.  

Some bills that have been discussed are now less likely to materialise due to ambition outpacing policy development. These include a standalone AI Bill, although amendments to the Data Bill are possible, and the Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill following concerns regarding proportionality. Leasehold and freehold reform had also appeared to be on the backburner despite being long promised, but recent reporting suggest a last minute fight for the Bill will be included in the programme.

Bills carried over from this session  

  • Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill 
  • Data Protection and Digital Information (No.2) Bill 
  • Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill 
  • Renters (Reform) Bill 
  • Victims and Prisoners Bill 
  • Holocaust Memorial Bill (Hybrid) 

Other probable bills 

Autonomous Vehicles Bill – the long-trailed Future of Transport Bill announced in the 2022 Queen’s Speech never materialised. Still, there is significant speculation that there will be a bill to support the roll-out of autonomous vehicles. Measures to support the electric vehicle charging network are currently considered less urgent.  

Crime and Justice Bill – a “hang ‘em and flog ‘em” Bill is almost obligatory for any government prior to an election. This Bill will require mandatory prison sentences for repeat offenders; require rapists and violent sexual offenders to serve their full sentence in prison; impose whole life orders where murder of an adult involved sexual or sadistic conduct; and require offenders to attend sentencing hearings. Sex offenders will also be banned from changing their identities. This bill may also legislate for renting prison cells overseas.  

Energy Infrastructure Bill – the mammoth Energy Bill has only just completed its passage, but a new bill is on the horizon. It is likely to contain new provisions to address the ongoing challenges facing the decarbonisation of the power sector, such as accelerating grid connections and network infrastructure investment. It may also include legislation that will commit the Government to future oil and gas licensing (in a direct political challenge to Labour). This Bill will probably be introduced in the New Year.  

Football Governance Bill – the Government has repeatedly confirmed that it will legislate to establish an independent regulator for football in England. The regulator will be focused on financial sustainability “for the benefit of fans and local communities football clubs serve”, overseeing a licensing regime for football clubs in the top five tiers of the English men’s football pyramid, funded by a levy on clubs “proportionate to their revenue”.  

Investigatory Powers (Reform) Bill – following Lord Anderson KC’s review of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, new legislation is expected to strengthen the investigatory powers of the security and intelligence agencies, law enforcement and other public authorities.  

Media Bill – following pre-legislative scrutiny, this Bill is slated for introduction shortly after the King’s Speech. The draft bill seeks to reform the regulation of public service broadcasting in the UK, more strictly regulate video-on-demand platforms, and address regulatory burdens for commercial radio, as well as radio’s position on voice-activated smart speakers. It also includes the repeal of a requirement that news publishers pay both sides’ costs in any legal proceedings if they are not members of an approved regulator.  

Pedicabs (London) bill – Nickie Aiken MP’s private member’s bill to regulate and license pedicabs in Greater London is reported by the Sun to have made it into the main programme after much persistence. With the London mayoral election in May next year, and the legislation already worked up, this bill is likely to be introduced early in the session.  

Pensions reform – trailed in the Chancellor’s Mansion House speech, primary legislation is needed for consolidation of deferred small pots, which are seen as a drag on the pension system, and for superfund authorisation. There are also other consultations which require primary legislation including the value for money framework for pensions and the duty on trustees to offer decumulation services. This is a decent bill for the back end of a session.   

Offensive Weapons legislation – the Government will impose a ban on zombie-style knives and certain types of machetes, give the police the power to seize and retain or destroy knives found on private property where they suspect that they could be used in serious crime, increase the maximum penalty for the sale of prohibited and dangerous weapons and sale of knives to under 18s, and create a new offence of possessing ‘bladed articles’ with the intention to injure or cause fear of violence.  

Tobacco products bill – a bill to raise the age of sale for tobacco. The potential ban on disposable vapes trailed at the same time as this policy is expected to be implemented using powers in existing legislation should Government decide to proceed. The Government is also consulting on wider vaping regulation including around possible packaging, flavour and display restrictions. It is unclear whether these measures will be folded into the Tobacco Bill or taken forward separately and in slower time. 

Leasehold Bill – long-planned reforms to leasehold ownership in England and Wales. All new houses in England and Wales will have to be sold as freehold properties and the system for the extension of existing leases will be reformed, with the standard extension increased from 90 years to 990 years. Reforms will also cap ground rents and give leaseholders more control over managing their building and service charges. The bill is likely to appeal to 10 million leaseholders in England and Wales, and is said to be ready for early introduction.  

What next?   

With a general election looming, a bill’s chances of making it onto the statute books are reduced. Bills introduced before Christmas are highly likely to become law. Even if there is an early general election, we understand that so long as they have made it to committee stage in their second house, they will be candidates for wash-up.  

Businesses with pressing legislative issues, need to be agile and engage quickly, ensuring that the issues they most care about are surfaced as early as possible. They must not rely on the later stages of a bill to raise amendments. To stand a chance of an issue being dealt with effectively it must be on the radar of Parliamentarians as early as possible. In the Commons, that means signalling that there is an issue at second reading and targeting amendments for Report Stage, and in the Lords being ready for the first day of Committee.  

In tandem, businesses should start to plan now for the first session of a new parliament. The next King’s Speech will happen within weeks of a General Election and, while there are often a lot of housekeeping bills to provide some padding at the start of the session, there is usually a good effort to get politically salient bills into parliament within two weeks. Labour is preparing draft bills, and officials will also be examining the details of what has been announced.  

*This blog was updated on 30/10/23 following reporting on the Leasehold Bill.

This blog was written by Specialist Partner Nikki da Costa. Previously, Nikki was Director of Legislative Affairs in No 10 for two Prime Ministers – Theresa May and Boris Johnson.

To find out more about how Flint can help you navigate the risks and opportunities of these developments, get in touch.    

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