Whitehall has been working towards a May Queen’s Speech for almost a year. The date has been announced – 10 May – and many bills have been trailed and there is an outline programme ready to go, but political changes within No 10 have created uncertainty. How should business prepare?
- This will be the last major legislating session of this parliamentary term – after an intense cross-Whitehall bidding process
- The Queen’s Speech gives the Prime Minister an opportunity to reset his domestic agenda and rally MPs in a formal vote of confidence in him and his programme.
- A great many bills have been promised or hinted at. We set these out below.
- This piecemeal approach has caused issues for a strong narrative. Key will be how to sell a programme that currently lacks cohesion and political energy.
- Adding measures to boost salience is hard at this stage. It will be easier for the new political operation in No 10 to remove measures to ensure coherence.
- MPs are likely to be consulted in advance, despite the leak risk and, post-partygate, have considerable influence.
What are the implications of a May Queen’s Speech
As the current parliamentary session wraps-up Whitehall is preparing for a Queen’s Speech on 10th May. It will herald the last major legislating session of this parliamentary term. A final, fourth, session is now more likely than not to begin next May, but it will be vulnerable to truncation by a General Election. It is also unwise to leave politically important bills to the last session: this risks backbench rebellions, criticism for not having legislated sooner, and/or distracting from the electoral narrative.
By placing the Queen’s Speech immediately after the local elections, the government has a springboard off good results, or – more usually – away from bad results, refocussing media and public attention on the national agenda and the government’s programme.
What is happening in government now?
The bidding cycle for the next legislative session began last summer. With one or two notable exceptions - DCMS and BEIS – most departments were told in February which bills have secured parliamentary time. Most will need to be ready for the start of the session, with a further wave in June and July, another in the autumn, and a final wave at the start of 2023 for carry-over bills (that will complete their passage in the following parliamentary session).
At this stage the focus in No 10 should be on how to sell the Queen’s Speech, but there appears to still be some question marks over the programme. There is a new belief in No 10 that government should be legislating less, not least because the Lords are struggling under the weight of this session which has caused handling problems.
While the speech tends to be dry and apolitical as is appropriate for the Sovereign, the briefing pack will contain a foreword from the Prime Minister and set out everything the government thinks is important - both legislative and non-legislative measures. This will be a major test for the revamped No10 political and media operation – can they present a programme that is coherent and persuasive to MPs and Conservative voters?
How should business prepare?
The next couple of months are critical for influencing the final form of bills: it is far easier to achieve changes prior to introduction than during the passage of a bill. Ministers will be working through handling and concession strategies, identifying the issues which will attract the greatest scrutiny and what amendments they might offer to quell backbench rebellions, or avoid a defeat in the Lords. Usually at least a couple of legislative and non-legislative concessions will be developed for each area with an eye to a two-house strategy, presenting both opportunity and potential risk. Understanding the government’s thinking on each issue is essential. Finally, building support in both the Commons and the Lords in advance of the introduction of legislation is essential – bills can move fast and mobilising parliamentarians from a standing start is hard work.
What do we already know about the content of the Queen’s Speech?
Typically, there are around 25 bill slots in a year-long session, the majority being small and medium sized bills. As a parliamentary term wears on it becomes much easier to predict what will be in the next session as previous commitments pile up. This can make it hard to find new eye—catching measures and pitch it as a ‘new’ programme.
The following measures have all been trailed in some form, although the new political operation in No 10 may wield the red pen. In our view the programme is already packed.
Bills carried over from this session
- Online Safety Bill
- Product Safety and Telecommunications Bill
- Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill
- Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – may not return due to a fox hunting amendment
Likely new bills
- Animal Welfare (Animals Abroad) Bill to tackle animal cruelty and support conservation efforts overseas, including a ban on trade in hunting trophies and the domestic sale and advertising of experiences overseas that are cruel to animals.
- Bill of Rights to ‘revise and replace the Human Rights Act’, strengthen the role of the UK Supreme Court interpreting the European Convention of Human Rights, and tackle incremental expansion of rights.
- Brexit Freedoms Bill / Regulatory Reform Bill to make it easier to amend or remove ‘retained EU law’. Will include some measures identified by the Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform.
- Carers’ Leave Bill to deliver neonatal leave and carers’ leave. These measures would have been in the long-promised Employment Bill. However, the scope of such a bill would be huge and in Flint’s view is now unlikely to happen.
- Competition Bill to bolster the Competition and Markets Authority, enhance consumers’ rights and put the Digital Markets Unit on a statutory footing. Could also tackle audit and corporate governance measures. A cumbersome bill lacking political salience and alternative is a standalone Digital Competition Bill, however speculation over the weekend suggests this too is in question.
- Counter-state Threats Bill announced as part of the 2021/22 Queen’s Speech but has not yet materialised. Expected to reform the Official Secrets Acts, create a Foreign Influence Registration Scheme, and give security services new powers.
- Data Bill to reform the data laws that the UK inherited from the EU (codified in the GDPR and Data Protection Act) with a focus on supporting innovation and reducing unnecessary barriers. Expected to be a UK-wide bill to ensure devolved nations measure data in the same way (e.g. health statistics).
- Energy Bill is likely to be wide-ranging, with new market mechanisms to drive investment in low-carbon technologies, and powers to require owner occupiers to make their homes more energy efficient. The Bill will also be viewed as a response to ever growing concerns about the cost and security of energy supplies.
- Economic Crime Bill will be a broad bill, supplementing the recent Transparency and Enforcement Act. It is said to be a ‘very substantial piece of legislation’ and will include reform of Companies House and limited companies, powers to seize crypto-assets from criminals and information sharing on money laundering.
- Financial Services Bill to refresh the financial services regulatory framework to create an ‘open green and technologically advanced financial services sector that is globally competitive and acts in the interests of communities and citizens'.
- Free Trade Agreement Bill(s) for those new trade deals which require further primary legislation.We anticipate that the first bill could also include changes to the Trade Remedies Authority.
- Infrastructure Bank Bill will establish the Infrastructure Bank as a statutory body as promised in the 2021 Budget.
- Leasehold Reform Bill to improve transparency and fairness for leaseholders and freeholders and make it easier to buy a freehold or extend a lease. DLUC will struggle to manage so many existing commitments and may need a single omnibus bill or to take some bills, such as this one, into the final session.
- Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill covering devolution measures, a government duty to report annually on the levelling up missions, and elements from the now dead Planning Bill to support regeneration in less prosperous places, potentially compulsory purchase powers and support for reusing brownfield land. Has the potential to include other miscellaneous DLUC and government measures.
- Media Bill needed to proceed with changes to the ownership model and remit of Channel 4 but could also cover reforms to the public service broadcasting framework, prominence of public service broadcasters on smart TVs, tightening of regulation of video-on-demand services, and potentially address concerns around media pluralism and sustainability. If the Channel 4 measures are abandoned, could be wrapped into a Digital Competition Bill dealing also with the Digital Markets Unit legislation, although weekend speculation suggests this Bill will move to the final session.
- Mental Health Act (Reform) Bill to give people greater control over their treatment, and to reform the process for detention, improve care and treatment while someone is detained, and give them better support to challenge detention if they wish. Long planned and a candidate for pre-legislative scrutiny.
- Nature Bill to legislate for elements of the Government’s response to Julian Glover’s Landscapes Review, including changes to structure, purpose and powers of National Park Authorities, the Broads Authority and AONB Conservation Boards. It is also expected to look at further protections for species and habitats.
- Private Rented Sector Bill to introduce Decent Homes Standard in the Private Rented Sector and explore a National Landlord Register, as well as ‘other measures’ to reset the landlord-tenant relationship, including ending section 21 “no fault evictions”. White Paper is now due making legislation this session ambitious.
- Procurement Bill to consolidate and streamline the 350+ EU- derived regulations and make procurement regime quicker, simpler and easier to use, allowing more freedom for suppliers and innovative partnerships with private sector. The Bill was announced in the last Queen’s Speech but has been delayed.
- Social Housing Reform Bill to improve the quality and regulation of social housing, give residents performance information so that they can hold their landlord to account and ensure that when residents make a complaint, landlords take quick and effective action to put things right.
- Transport Bill to give Great British Railways (GBR) powers and duties to plan the use of the railway network. Will also cover further measures needed for the roll out of zero emission and autonomous vehicles, and potentially those for future of flight, ports regulation and remote operations regulatory sandboxes.
- Conversion Therapy Bill (draft) to build on existing criminal laws to make it a specific offence to provide talking therapy with the intent to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Final form currently subject to debate.
- Victims Bill (draft) building on the foundations provided by the Victims’ Code to improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system. The consultation concluded in February, and the government has confirmed that it will be given pre-legislative scrutiny first.
Nikki da Costa is a Specialist Partner at Flint. Prior to Flint Nikki served as Director of Legislative Affairs in No 10 for two Prime Ministers – Theresa May and Boris Johnson.