This Queen’s Speech today will be remembered as much for what laws were missing as the unfortunate absence of The Queen.
With Her Majesty missing the most important constitutional event of the Parliamentary calendar for the first time in 59 years due to mobility issues, her heir, the Prince of Wales gave the speech to a packed House of Lords.
Gone were the days of demure morning suits and masks, as featured in the last State Opening of Parliament. Post-pandemic bling is back in fashion. Wearing his Admiral of the Fleet uniform, it will take Royal commentators several weeks to identify each of the medals that adorned his chest.
The Government outlined 38 Bills, but commentators were quick to highlight laws that did not make the cut including employment rights, the removal of transgender people from the conversion therapy ban and the ending of foie gras and fur imports after a Cabinet rebellion.
“There are tough times ahead and we need competence now, more than ever.”
After several key local and by-election losses to the Lib Dems and following months of meeting with MPs, the Levelling Up Secretary has now decided to scrap plans to reform planning rules in England and merge it into the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill.
Bills Dropping Like Flies
Dropped were bills including an Employment Bill, first announced by the Government in 2019. A pretty sensible bill to improve workers rights including protecting pregnant women and new mothers from unfair redundancies – a problem that has shamefully increased following the pandemic.
General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Frances O’Grady fired an early warning shot of what is likely to be in tomorrow’s headlines, declaring the Government has “turned its back” on workers.
O’Grady said, “no Employment Bill means vital rights that ministers had promised – like default flexible working, fair tips and protection from pregnancy discrimination – risk being ditched for good.”
What was in the Queen’s Speech?
An Energy Bill – to build up to eight new nuclear power stations, increase wind and solar power
By far the biggest issue on the doorsteps at the local election. 77-year-old Elsie who is forced to travel on buses all day just to stay warm broke the nation’s hearts a few weeks ago. Building new nuclear reactors is welcomed, but long overdue. To be fair to the Government, this is something that should have been looked at under the previous Labour Government, but this does not mean there is a get out of jail for the Chancellor over short-term solutions.
A British Bill of Rights – replacing the Human Rights Act
Touted for many years as an opportunity to take back control. Opponents largely state this will turn the legal sector into one of the world’s most well paid.
Brexit freedom bills – repealing hundreds of pieces of EU legislation in UK law
An opportunity to placate backbenchers who believe that the majority of the UK’s economic ills are still caused by EU red tape. Opponents wonder whether genetically modified animals for human consumption are going to be palatable for the British dinner plate.
A Schools Bill for England – clamping down on truancy, reform the schools funding system and increasing the powers of education watchdogs such as Ofsted
Welcome news to those advocates of a fairer funding formula for schools. Most shire Conservatives have long complained that their often-leafy suburbs receive less money per head than poorer inner-city schools. Teaching unions will be delighted with the news that education regulators are to receive more powers – expect a strike or two in the runup to a General Election. Book your childcare now to save disappointment.
Let’s hope the Government considers the support for SEND pupils following the outline of its consultation.
A Media Bill – allowing the controversial privatisation of Channel 4
Why scrap laws to enhance the rights of pregnant women and replace measures with the privatisation of Channel 4? Such a good idea. Watch Gogglebox for full analysis.
A Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – giving local leaders powers to replicate London-based powers and devolve decision making to a local level
Now, this is a winner. The Government’s flagship policy designed to devolve decision making to communities that know what is best for their area. Long have Conservatives defined their ideology as ‘localist’, however there has not been much to show for it. The Government has a big majority and can make some truly radical changes in local government.
If there was one clear message at the local elections for both the major political parties, Westminster isn’t working. Good news comes in the form of Mr Gove’s measures – locals know best.
A draft Mental Health Bill – designed to overhaul existing powers
For years the Government has tried to schedule time to reform mental health legislation. The whole country should be extremely upset if the Government drops this for a “lack of Parliamentary time”. This would mark the first big change to mental health laws in four decades.
A Transport Bill – aiming to “simplify the railways” and ensure a better and more reliable service for passengers
Seems sensible – but a set of new powers to help build the Crewe to Manchester leg of HS2 will not bring back the leg to Leeds. For MPs who live to the east of the Pennines, they will want to demonstrate what levelling up means to their constituents. Therefore, the rapid delivery of improved rail connections is going to need to be a priority ahead of the next General Election.
There is no LGB without the T
The Government privately admits that they have got this one wrong, however they are now stuck with trying to define a new term for a u-turn on a u-turn, followed by a u-turn.
The Government committed to banning “abhorrent conversion therapy practices intended to change sexual orientation.” BUT, it will not include trans for multiple and well documented reasons.
MPs of all colours were straight out of the Commons to Westminster Hall waving placards to support a trans-inclusive ban. With 58% of Conservative voters supporting a ban on conversion therapy, this is going to be a difficult sell to many voters.
The Bill is clearly on death row, few expect the Government to give precious time to something that will be so controversial. Keep an eye out for a canny LGBT+ MP or ally with a Private Members Bill. If the Government does bring forward legislation – expect a torrid time in the Lords where a rebellion is forming the scale of which even Emperor Palpatine never saw.
Whenever the Government tries to reset their agenda after a roasting by the electorate at a local election, there is a feeling that they are on the back foot.
Even though Keir Starmer has had a bad week, the public still think the Government is about as competent as General Custer – that is why the stakes are so high.
This will be the last Queen’s Speech before the General Election and frankly there is not much in the Queen’s speech that will get the electorate salivating. It reminded one Conservative MP of a disaster relief plan. Get through the next Parliament, keep our heads down and hope the electorate still think Labour are a bunch of metropolitan remainers.
There are some clear own goals – dropping plans to enhance the rights of pregnant women? Cabinet rebellions over the import of foie gras? Thank goodness the Government remembered to include the privatisation of Channel 4 – the big issues of the day, eh…
However, in all seriousness, the Government can demonstrate that they can deliver on levelling up and improving attainment within schools. They can authorise the construction of new nuclear power stations. For a government entering the final few months before a General Election, they need to demonstrate how these policies are going to benefit their communities and families.
There are tough times ahead and we need competence now, more than ever.