Yes ma’am: the Queen’s Speech (in brief)
With the first half of 2017 resembling what might conservatively be termed a less than settled political landscape (I refer you to exhibits 1 and 2: the triggering of Article 50 and the recent snap election) we can at least look to our mainstays of the administrative calendar for some routine amongst the unexpected.
A prime example occurred on 21 June: the Queen’s Speech.
The Queen’s Speech – but it’s not Christmas?
Well, quite. This, however, isn’t just a queen’s speech but the Queen’s Speech.
The annual Queen’s – or King’s – Speech forms part of the State Opening of Parliament, which itself marks the formal start of the new parliamentary year (fun fact: it is the only regular occasion when the three constituent parts of parliament – the Sovereign, House of Lords and House of Commons – meet).
It takes a while but after a procession from Buckingham Palace, some door slamming and a bit of lordly heckling (admittedly more polite than you might expect at the cricket) the Queen delivers her speech from the Throne in the House of Lords. Of course she does.
The main purpose of the speech is to set out the proposed policies and legislation that the government hopes will be approved by parliament over the coming year. Don’t let the name fool you – the speech might be read by the Queen but it’s actually written by the government.
I’m with you so far – so what does 2017 have in store?
More than 20 bills were referred to in this year’s speech. Some key points include:
Brexit: unsurprisingly, much intended legislation relates to the UK’s departure from the EU. Leading the way is a repeal bill to, you guessed it, repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and transpose current EU laws into UK law. Other Brexit bills relate to customs, trade, immigration, fisheries, agriculture, nuclear safeguards and international sanctions.
National security: following recent events the government intends to review current counter-terrorism strategy, including police and security service powers and custodial sentences for terrorism-related offences. The speech also confirmed the government’s intention to initiate a full public enquiry into the Grenfell tower fire.
The economy: new bills relate to the next phase of high speed rail and ‘new industries’ including electric cars and commercial satellites. It is the 21st century, after all.
Consumer and information bills: these include an increase to the National Living Wage, a draft bill that would prevent the charging of letting fees to tenants and a new data protection bill giving young people the right to demand that social networks delete any personal data they shared before turning 18.
Updating the courts: a new court bill will stop the direct cross examination of domestic violence victims, by their alleged abusers, in family courts. It also aims to ‘modernise the court system’ by introducing new digital services, in relation to debt recovery by businesses, and allowing some offenders of less serious criminal offences to plead guilty, accept a conviction and pay a penalty online.
Got it – so these will all be new laws, right?
Not exactly. Inclusion in the speech is no guarantee that a bill will pass. Plenty of planned bills have failed due to opposition whilst others, not in the speech, can be proposed and passed at a later date.
Nevertheless, in addition to noting which policies don’t appear to have found their way into the government’s agenda after all, the Queen’s Speech remains a helpful indicator as to the government’s game plan for the next year.