King’s Speech 2023: Last Chance Saloon?
Photo Alastair Grant / PA wire
With the King’s Speech representing the latest in the series of “last [insert event here] before the general election”, there is a lot riding on this small, but potentially mighty, legislative programme.
While it is true to say the Autumn Statement and Cabinet reshuffle later this year will hit more of the headlines with voters, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are hamstrung in what they can deliver with constrained public finances, meaning this legislative programme represents the last opportunity to demonstrate to voters that this government has a long term vision for the country, picking up on the points made by the PM at this year's party conference.
The challenge for the government, however, is being able to present themselves as the option for change, with fresh ideas and a long-term vision, in a parliamentary session that is so short they are unlikely to be able to deliver many of the long-term announcements the PM announced earlier this year.
If we look at the amount of parliamentary time available to the government between now and the election, assuming the election falls around this time next year, the main thrust of the work will happen between January and mid-July.
In terms of meaningful time, the government only really has between January, and mid-July to finish its programme for government. While 6 months may seem a long time, we shall lose around 5 weeks of this time for various periods of recess and public holidays. Furthermore, government business is traditionally only conducted between Monday and Wednesday in Parliament, with Standing Orders protecting Thursdays and the occasional sitting Friday for backbench business.
So, what can we expect to hear when His Majesty delivers the speech on Tuesday morning?
We are expecting around 20-25 Bills to be announced in the programme, with 5 already taken up by Bills “carried over” from the previous session. In addition, there will be a Finance Bill, and some legislative time take up with government approved Private Member’s Bills, known as handout Bills. This leaves room for between 10 – 15 government Bills.
Of the remaining legislation, some will not be controversial, and will be warm “nice to haves” that the Conservatives can point to in the general election campaign as a demonstration that they have the best interests of the country at heart. This legislation will likely carry cross party support however, and so is unlikely to face legislative difficulties. One area we might expect to see legislation of this kind is transport, and in lieu of the extensive Trasport Bill we were expecting in the last session, there may be a smaller Transport Bill that will cover numerous DfT areas such as electric scooters, autonomous cars, and regulations around pedicabs. Similarly, there will be areas that require technical non-controversial reform, such as a Pension Reform Bill, which will implement the commitments made by the Chancellor in his Mansion House speech to streamline the pension system and return better outcomes for fund holders. Additionally, following the Prime Minister’s pledge to increase the legal age of sale for tobacco products, we will almost certainly see a Tobacco Bill brought in to make this part of the current PM’s legacy.
Finally, this leaves the more challenging Bills. The first things that we are likely to see introduced this side of Christmas are the headline Bills that the government will want to ensure they can get across the line before the pre-election wash up begins. These Bills will likely be political in nature and the government will attempt to appeal to their base and create firm wedges between themselves and the Labour Party. Appealing to current and would be home owners, the government are due to introduce a Leasehold Reform Bill, ensuring all new homes in England and Wales are sold as freehold, current leaseholders will have their standard extension extended to 990 years, as well as limits to ground rents and service charges. While there is still some way to go, this is likely in response to Labour’s ambitious conference announcements on houses and new towns.
Next up is justice and we can expect to see Conservative Ministers seeking to appear tough on crime, banning offensive weapons and a Justice Bill aimed at ensuring the worst offenders serving more of their sentences and repeat offenders receiving longer minimum sentences.
On immigration, depending how the Supreme Court rules in the coming days, the government may have to introduce further legislation to tackle illegal immigration, should it lose its legal battle of its plans to deport people to Rwanda. This will give the government a convenient get-out clause for why it has been unable to achieve its plans to “stop the boats”, announced by the Prime Minister at the start of the year.
Finally, looking to energy and climate change, the government will look to legislate on some of the proposals it made last month with an Energy Infrastructure Bill. This could include some potentially less controversial measures to improve the national grid and reduce the delays for renewable projects to connect to the grid, as well as measures to commit the government to new oil and gas drilling licences.
While we are in no doubt that this speech will be slim in nature, this does not mean it is insignificant. This will be the programme of change that the Conservatives will take to the public next year, and it marks and important moment for the Conservatives and Labour alike. SEC Newgate’s Advocacy team will be covering the King’s Speech next week with a briefing landing in your inboxes with Tuesday’s newsletter.