In her 67th State Opening of Parliament, the Queen set out the government’s priorities for the year ahead, announcing a package of 31 new bills.
Here are six of the most important pledges.
1) The “levelling up” agenda
The pledge: “My government will strengthen the economic ties across the union, investing in and improving national infrastructure. Proposals will be taken forward to transform connectivity by rail and bus and to extend 5G mobile coverage and gigabit capable broadband.
Legislation will support a lifetime skills guarantee to enable flexible access to high quality education and training throughout people’s lives.
Measures will be introduced to ensure that support for businesses reflects the United Kingdom’s strategic interests and drives economic growth. Laws will simplify procurement in the public sector. Eight new freeports will create hubs for trade and help regenerate communities.”
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Analysis: Unsurprisingly, the issue that received the greatest attention in this year’s Queen’s Speech was the PM’s so-called “levelling up agenda”.
The government has promised a Levelling Up White Paper later this year, detailing how “bold new policy interventions will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country as we recover from the pandemic”.
Setting out a few of the policies that are likely to be at the heart of this review, this passage of the Queen’s Speech details bills including: the High Speed Rail Bill, which will authorise the next phase of HS2; the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill, which will extend 5G mobile coverage and the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which is designed to enable lifelong learning.
Providing what the PM described as the “rocket fuel” to level up the country, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill will extend the student loan system to those who want to study at local further education colleges, meaning that all adults will be entitled to four years’ worth of loan support for training or education that can be taken at any point in their life.
2) Fixed term parliament act
The pledge: “My Government will strengthen and renew democracy and the constitution.”
Analysis: If passed, the bill for the Repeal of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act would end the set five-year term between elections and give the Prime Minister the power to call an election early if advantageous.
The prime minister has not had full control over the timing of an election for a decade, since the Cameron-Clegg coalition passed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
The power to choose the timing of an election could give Johnson a major advantage over Sir Keir Starmer – who would potentially have less time to turn around his fortunes with Labour after a disastrous set of local election results.
3) ID cards
The pledge: “Legislation will be introduced to ensure the integrity of elections”
Analysis: If passed, the Electoral Integrity Bill would require voters to produce photographic ID when casting their ballot for the first time. It would also limit the number of postal ballots an individual can hand in.
Speaking to the BBC after the speech, Gillian Keegan, the apprenticeships minister, said identification is a routine requirement and insisted that the new ID would not cost voters anything.
But opposition figures are already up in arms over the proposal, claiming the policy is unnecessary and would disenfranchise thousands of vulnerable voters.
David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, accused the government of prioritising “voter suppression”, while Baroness Jones from the Green Party told the BBC that the Bill tries to provide a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist because “there is no fraud”.
4) Planning reforms
The pledge: “My government will help more people to own their own home whilst enhancing the rights of those who rent. Laws to modernise the planning system, so that more homes can be built, will be brought forward, along with measures to end the practice of ground rents for new leasehold properties.”
Analysis: This passage refers to the Planning Bill, which is likely to be one of the most contentious pieces of legislation in this session of Parliament.
If approved, a new traffic light system will be introduced, with London and the rest of the UK divided up by local councils into areas designated for ‘growth’, ‘protection’, or ‘renewal’.
Growth areas will see current planning restrictions largely swept away. Instead, automatic outline planning permission will be granted for applications for new homes, as well as shops, offices, schools, and hospitals, so long as they meet local planning rules.
The Bill is designed to make the planning system “simpler, faster and more modern” but it has already attracted considerable opposition from Conservative MPs, who fear it could allow significant new developments in their constituencies against the will of local people.
5) Police, crime and sentencing
The pledge: “Legislation will increase sentences for the most serious and violent offenders and ensure the timely administration of justice. Proposals will be brought forward to address violence, including against women and girls, and to support victims.”
Analysis: The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was introduced in the last session of Parliament but has been carried over. It has not yet had its line-by-line scrutiny in the Commons or passed the Lords.
The Bill is a mammoth piece of legislation that includes major government proposals on crime and justice in England and Wales.
The Bill has already generated dozens of “kill the bill” protests because it gives police the power to shut down “disruptive” protests and impose time limits on protests, as well as increasing fines for organisers who breach the rules.
6) Social care
Pledge: “Proposals on social care reform will be brought forward”.
Analysis: Despite pledging to overhaul social care funding on the steps of Downing Street as he entered Number 10 in 2019, the PM failed to set out clear plans to do so in the Queen’s Speech.
Last week Johnson said the government would say something about this “in the course of the next few months”, but the government briefing accompanying the speech just says it will bring forward proposals in 2021.
The lack of social care proposals has been met with anger from across the political spectrum. Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, told Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s an incredible worry for people. It’s a lottery. You don’t know, that could be you. I think in a civilised society we should find a way of taking away that worry.”
The lack of proposals has also triggered anger and frustration from within the social care sector. Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group, told The Guardian: “Yes, social care was mentioned in the Queen’s speech but in reality, the government was just paying lip service to the reform that is now so long overdue. If the government is so committed to reforming social care, as the prime minister and other ministers keep telling us they are, then we need to see it happen.”