The build up to this year’s speech has been unique. The political landscape has been dominated by the EU Referendum and bitter conflict both within and between parties.
The Government has also been forced into a number of u-turns thanks to stirring backbenchers and an assertive House of Lords. Business as usual in Westminster has all but ground to a halt.
The Government has thus chosen to introduce 21 new Bills, reflecting the lack of progress in recent weeks. However, few of the proposals are new and there is very little to cause controversy at this fragile time. Here are the top 5 Bills you need to know about:
1. Life chances and social mobility were themes underpinning the new legislation introduced, shifting the focus to domestic policy and continuing the Government’s ‘One Nation’ approach. The Prisons Reform Bill will overhaul education and mental health services for prisoners, and Governors will be handed more autonomy over their estate. This is hardly a contentious flagship policy - much of it was announced last year – a sign that the Government is treading very carefully indeed. The Government has placed prison reform at the heart of the speech, thus being seen to extend a hand of friendship to Justice Secretary and prominent Brexiteer Michael Gove.
2. Education with be reformed further, implementing the education white paper published in March aimed at extending Academisation and updating the National Funding Formula. In the Higher Education sector, new Universities will improve choice and competition in the market, and an added focus on teaching excellence will be rewarded with the option to further raise tuition fees.
3. A Modern Transport Strategy will be introduced, to further encourage innovative autonomous and electric vehicles, as well as the construction of a civilian spaceport. A Digital Economy Bill will also spread innovation and improve technological infrastructure, with a legal right to high speed broadband for every household. All of these are reforms first proposed in the last session of parliament.
4. A Counter Extremism Bill aimed at preventing radicalisation and building a more resilient society will also be brought forth, including a ban on extremist preachers. National Citizen Service will be placed on a statutory footing to further strengthen communities.
5. The Queen announced further constitutional reform, with proposals for a British Bill of Rights to be brought forward. However, this is expected to be based largely on the current Human Rights Act and is hardly ‘red meat’ to placate the Conservative backbenches and restless Brexiteers. The Government will implement the Scotland Act and work towards a settlement for Wales, while making further progress in the Stormont House agreement for Northern Ireland.
Carried over from the previous Parliament is the Policing and Crime Bill, Investigatory Powers Bill, and High Speed Rail Bill. Plans announced at the Budget for a levy of sugary drinks and uplift in homebuilding will also be brought forward.
The message is, for now, steady as she goes. Even though much has been kicked into the post-referendum long grass, the threat of internal conflict and a leadership challenge within the Conservatives will make governing very difficult. Labour can focus on effective opposition as their leadership worries are for now subdued, which might see this steady approach to government rapidly sunk.