The annual Queen’s Speech is taking place today, and the Queen will be absent for the first time in 60 years, due to on-going mobility issues. When Prince Charles opens Parliament for the first time, he will take her place, and began by saying that the Government will “drive economic growth to improve living standards.” This speech will detail 38 new measures that the government is attempting to pass. I’ll go over the most important ones that will affect the public in this blog post.
One of the most crucial bills is giving police powers to prevent disruptive yet peaceful protests. The government will introduce new offences to prevent protestors from “latching on” to infrastructure, increase stop and search powers, and make it unlawful to block transportation projects in an effort to reinstate provisions that were thrown out by the House of Lords in January. Tactics used by protest organisations Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain, and Just Stop Oil are among the those will be targeted under the public order law. It’ll be seen as part of Johnson’s strategy to bolster his premiership with proposals that will appeal to Tory hardliners.
Other bills include a bill to give local officials more flexibility to address deteriorating high streets. Local residents will have more say in planning decisions, as part of a limited set of reforms geared to avoiding enraged Tory supporters in Tory heartlands by causing a building boom. Developers will pay a “locally fixed, non-negotiable charge” to fund infrastructure such as schools and new roads under a levelling-up and regeneration law.
A Brexit measure aimed to make it simpler to adopt carried-over EU legislation, as well as promised legislation to address P&O Ferries’ publicly criticised attempts to violate minimum-wage law, will be among the new laws. The law gives ports the authority to deny entry to ferry services that do not pay seafarers an equivalent of the national minimum wage while in UK seas.
Two key new bills will resurrect Theresa May’s long-delayed plans to ban “no fault” section 21 evictions for tenants, though the bill also promises to strengthen landlords’ rights of possession by introducing new and stronger grounds for repeated incidences of rent arrears and reducing notice periods for antisocial behaviour. There will also be a law to regulate social housing to combat rogue landlords.
Although the accompanying news releases mention the measures the administration has already done, like the temporary energy bill refund, the speech contained few new initiatives to directly address the cost-of-living crisis. The Covid-19 outbreak and vaccine launch, as well as Vladimir Putin’s savage invasion of Ukraine, the UK’s delivery of weaponry to Kyiv, and the sanctions system, Johnson claimed the country had “risen to challenges with no precedent in recent history.”
Further initiatives to help with rising living costs were only mentioned briefly in the address. In his opening remarks, Johnson warned that more action to deal with the cost-of-living crisis will come at a cost. “Growing the economy, safer streets, and supporting the NHS to clear the Covid-19 backlogs,” is the speech’s priority Johnson added in his speech.
However, the Queen’s speech gives the government enormous leeway to pursue “wedge issues,” such as limits on judicial challenges and a new British bill of rights to replace the Human Rights Act. A measure prohibiting public entities, such as councils, from enacting their own boycott policies against countries with which they disagree. According to the speech, the new bill of rights will “maintain a correct balance between individual rights, our important national security, and effective government, increasing freedom of speech.” A measure to prohibit homosexual and lesbian conversion therapy will also be introduced, although it will not apply to transgender persons. A measure is also being submitted to start the sale process for Channel 4.
In addition, the Treasury will introduce a new financial services and markets bill, which will change City regulation to “ensure a greater focus on growth and international competitiveness.” Rishi Sunak wants the UK to be a leader in emerging fields like cryptocurrency, but he may face questions about whether he is pursuing a Singapore-on-the-Thames-style deregulation that could jeopardise financial stability. A new accountability agency, Great British Railways, would be established under a transport bill, with contracting powers for passenger services and government-set targets and budgets.
All these new bills appear to be a desperate power play by Boris Johnson to court Tory voters, like several of his government’s recent actions. This posh ceremony feels a little hypocritical to those who are affected by the Government’s brutal energy price rises, as millions of people struggle to live with growing energy bills, with many having to choose between food and fuel. It all feels like a diversion from the main issue, with measures being introduced that don’t address any important issues. Only time will tell if Boris Johnson has managed to scam his way into another term in office by miraculously turning his support around with all his absurd bills and policies.
Tahir Shahab Khan
Managing Director of Law Lane Solicitors