For only the third time in her reign the Queen didn’t deliver the Queen’s Speech on May 10th. Instead, it was Prince Charles who delivered the Queen’s Speech, setting out the Government’s legislative agenda for the next Parliamentary session. Delivered just a few days after the Tories suffered hundreds of seat losses in the local elections, this Queen’s Speech is designed to help the Government face the immense challenge of rebuilding its reputation, following months of negative headlines and a worsening economic landscape.
Whilst Boris Johnson has set out a legislative agenda which he hopes will provide the Conservatives with an election winning platform, the success of the Queen’s Speech was also judged in how it will deal with immediate concerns for the Government – notably the burgeoning cost-of-living crisis.
A major focus, unsurprisingly, was the Government’s so-called Levelling Up agenda. Perhaps stemming from a desire to win back voters following last week’s poor election results, mentions of Levelling Up in the Speech focused on proposals to regenerate local high streets. Whilst the cause is certainly admirable; it serves as a sticking plaster over a gaping wound given cost-of-living issues. A better-looking high street will have limited benefit if shop owners cannot afford to keep the lights on, or potential customers don’t have the disposable income to spend.
Brexit backers in Parliament will be delighted to see the Government pushing on with several pieces of legislation allowing for the repeal or replacement of EU rules on insurance, wholesale markets, data protection and procurement. The Government will also take on wide-ranging powers to repeal ‘retained EU law’ – meaning that Ministers can repeal laws inherited from the EU via secondary legislation. Although opposition parties are eager to avoid repeating the Brexit wars of 2019, there will no doubt be deep unease at the lack of scrutiny involved with designing, and legislating for, some of the UK’s follow-on regimes. The Bill of Rights, in particular, will be a key battleground.
The Financial Services and Markets Bill will be a particularly large piece of legislation on the agenda during this new parliamentary session. Among the lengthy list of measures expected are new objectives for the financial regulators to ensure a greater focus on growth and competitiveness as set out in the Future Regulatory Framework review, the revocation of retained EU law on financial services with a view to replacing it with a UK-tailored approach, including on Solvency II and reforms to the rules that regulate the UK.
In such a wide-ranging agenda – some key areas and anticipated reform has fallen by the wayside. The Government has received considerable backlash from Trades Unions over the lack of Employment Bill – which was expected to have provisions including flexible working rights and protections against pregnancy discrimination.
Although lacking in some areas, few could argue that this legislative agenda is not far-reaching and with several Bills that could have substantial impacts on future of the UK. But the real test of the legislation will be how it fares when it reaches Parliament, with several big fights over law and order, UK-EU relations, and economic support in the offing. Given the packed agenda in this legislative programme, this could well be one of the last major opportunities for the Government to signal its priorities before electioneering starts in earnest.
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