Eighteen months ago, Boris Johnson won a landslide majority of 80 seats at the general election. However, no one could foresee the horrendous impact COVID-19 was about to have on the world, inhibiting not only social life, but the ability for the Government to progress with its policy programme. The country needed other priorities to take centre stage.
Against the backdrop of COVID comes the 2021 Queen’s Speech and the 31 old and new policies contained within it. As the impact of the pandemic appears to wane – especially in the UK – the Government clearly wants to move on and concentrate on enacting its manifesto commitments from 2019.
Last week’s local elections saw a continued realignment of British politics with the Conservatives cementing their electoral success in Labour’s former heartlands in the Midlands and the North and winning a massive majority in the Hartlepool by-election, taking the seat for the first time in its history.
While this clearly puts the Prime Minister in a position of strength there are underlying political imperatives that the legislative programme will need to address. Those former Labour voters who have migrated via the EU referendum and Brexit Party to the Tory Party, will want to see a real improvement to their lives. This means better jobs, access to transport, schools and the health service.
The Prime Minister must now move beyond the rhetorical phase of ‘levelling up’ – the term the Conservatives employ for its regional agenda along with “Get Brexit Done” during general election campaigning – and into the implementation phase. Today’s speech provided an insight into how far that thinking has gotten.
A bill to create eight new freeports in England was announced, while a major planning bill to change the system in England so that communities must designate land as either protected or ready for development will make its way to parliament in this session.
Further levelling-up plans included a post-Brexit state-aid regime, which ministers have been briefing will be “nimbler” than pre-Brexit regulation and allow them to step in to save jobs. The Government will also bring forward a Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, to provide the skills people need for well-paid jobs and opportunities to train throughout their lifetime.
In addition, a Leeds-based infrastructure bank and confirmation of a next phase of HS2 between Crewe and Manchester rounds off the list of legislation designed for regional prosperity. Many of these reforms are likely to be included in the ‘Levelling Up White Paper’ which he been teed up for publishing later this year. Tory MP Neil O’Brien will advise the Prime Minister on how to deliver and measure these policies.
Those working in England’s built environment had more to look out for in today’s list of policies. Included in the Queen’s 2019 speech and published in draft form last July was the Building Safety Bill, a piece legislation designed to introduce a new system for regulating the safety of high-rise buildings and inspecting buildings under construction. It undeniably comes with a significant nod to 2017’s Grenfell disaster, yet there was no mention of those caught in the current cladding crisis.
The Government also failed to outline a social care bill. A reference to social care reform being brought forward paled in comparison to Boris Johnson’s bold words of his plan to “fix social care” after his election win. A health and care bill however will implement the proposals set out in the NHS reform white paper published earlier this year.
Elsewhere, the Government looks set to carry over a number of other policies from parliament’s last session, such as The Environment Bill, a much delayed post-Brexit piece of legislation for protecting nature, and the controversial Policy, Crime, Sentence and Courts Bill, which was the subject of the ‘Kill the Bill’ protests. Expect, that to be heavily debated in the Commons and potentially amended following the backlash witnessed a month or so ago.
One can also expect push back from the opposition to the proposed Electoral Integrity Bill which will see voters required to carry photo ID to the polling stations for future elections. The move has been described by some commentators as designed to draw the ire of the liberal metropolitan elites rather than meet any specific fault in the electoral system.
See below for the full list of legislation put forward or click on the briefing document for more information:
- Planning Bill
- Building Safety Bill
- Renters’ Reform Bill
- Freeports Bill
- Telecommunications (Security) Bill
- Subsidy Control Bill
- Professional Qualification Bill
- Skills and Post-16 Education Bill
- Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill
- Environment Bill
- Animal welfare (sentience) Bill
- Health and Care Bill
- Adult Social Care reform
- Mental Health Act reform
- Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
- Online Safety Bill
- Victims Bill
- Equalities Bill
- Judicial review Bill
- Freedom of Speech Bill
- Electoral Integrity Bill
- Borders Bill
- Foreign national offenders legislation
- Espionage Bill
- Registration of Overseas Entities Bill
- Armed Forces Bill
- National Insurance holiday for employers of veterans Northern Ireland Legacy Bill
- Procurement Bill
- Fixed-term Parliaments Acts 2011 (Repeal) Bill