The function of the Queen’s Speech is, traditionally, to provide a clear outline of forthcoming legislation and Parliamentary activity. This was hoped to be a Bill to set the tiller of the ship after the turbulent waters of the General Election and provide reassurance to all those on board. This speech, however, will be viewed with as much interest in its contents as its absences. Furthermore, there are questions as to whether the speech will pass through the Commons without a majority as Conservative talks with the Democratic Union Party (DUP) are seemingly at an impasse.
The Prime Minister, Theresa May, set a conciliatory tone for her introduction, stating that “the Government will respond with humility and resolve to the message the electorate sent.” Certainly, this would explain the absence of the more contentious aspects of the Conservative Manifesto policies. The most high profile absences were fox hunting, the dementia tax, energy cap, or financial services reform. The Speech will next take place in 2019 (provided the Government stays in place) to provide sufficient time for the Brexit bills to pass, fitting with the Article 50 negotiations.
The dominant focus of the next two years will be Brexit with no fewer than eight bills – however the details of these will only emerge as negotiations with the EU progress. The speed, order and breadth of these are entirely reliant on the negotiations now taking place in Brussels and depend on the negotiating skills of Brexit Minister David Davis.
Seeking to strengthen the UK’s hand as a global leader of industry and technology as we move away from EU trade, there was a raft of legislation designed to leverage the country’s position. The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, commercial satellites Space Industry Bill and the next phase of HS2 will all be brought forward to leverage the UK’s position as it seeks to raise its profile.
While much of the social reform elements of the Conservative Manifesto were lambasted, the Queen’s Speech included some watered down measures. The Prime Minister identified that the Brexit result was a “…profound and justified expression that our country often does not work the way it should for millions of ordinary working families” – and significant proportions of the legislation are clearly designed to address these concerns. From the introduction of the Smart Metre Bill, and non-legislative measures to help tackle unfair practices in the energy market to help reduce energy bills, cost and money management are a core competent, with protections for tenants from fees, and the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill consolidation public financial advice. There will also be elements of the Courts Bill ending some cross examination by victims of domestic abuse, and increases to NHS patient safety legislation.
However, the question as to whether the Queen’s Speech will pass is still in question. The agreement of the DUP to help the Conservatives pass the legislation is not yet confirmed and failure to pass would cause a crisis for the Government. The last time this occurred was in 1924 when Stanley Baldwin’s King’s Speech was voted down, and Labour took power as a minority Government for a few months. The Fixed-Term Parliament Act (2011) could put paid to that. Some Labour and Liberal Democrat peers believe the Salisbury Convention, which normally protects manifesto pledges from being voted down by the House of Lords, does not apply because the Prime Minister has failed to win a majority of seats in the General Election.
At the time of writing Downing Street had failed to refute that Salisbury Convention is still in place and questions continue to be raised about the support for the Government to pass crucial legislation determining the future of the UK outside the EU. The subsequent days will be turbulent for the beleaguered Prime Minister and these votes will determine whether she continues her premiership for years, months, or perhaps even weeks.