Apart from the pomp of a state occasion, the main purpose of the State Opening of Parliament is for the Queen to outline her Government’s legislative programme for the rest of the Parliamentary Session.
The Queens Speech, which will be the 66th for Queen Elizabeth, the 2nd for Boris Johnson since he became leader of the Conservative party and the 1st since they won a stonking 80 seat majority in December last year, giving them the power, in theory at least, to drive pretty much anything they want through Parliament.
It’s expected that around 25 new bills with much of the focus on post-Covid recovery. Bills will include changes to planning and state aid rules to boost the economy and measures to reform the health service and plug many of the gaps that followed the fracturing of the health service following the 2012 Health and Social Care Act.
The political imperatives for the speech will drive levelling up agenda and we can expect more on the creation of freeports and lower tax areas designed to stimulate regional economies. In addition, there will also be legislation to enact Dominic Cumming’s dream of a ‘high-risk high reward’ research agency.
For anyone interested in politics and public policy this represents ground zero in the Westminster calendar. Despite everything we’ve seen in the press in recent weeks, about access to the WhatsApp of ministers and senior officials, this is where the real process of lobbying begins. This is the point where the Government explicitly sets out what its priorities will be and begins the process of drafting, debating and then enacting legislation. When an organisation wants to influence or amend legislation it is generally too late by the time it gets to the House of Commons, and you can shut the stable door once it reaches the Lords, so now is the time to act.
For every piece of legislation outlined in the Queen’s speech, a departmental bill team is put in place with ministerial oversight. The key to shaping policy, therefore, is to understand the priorities and objectives of the Government and communicate your messages with the bill team; showing how you will either help achieve those objectives or how an unintended consequence could present a barrier. Engaging at this stage means that you can frame the issue in a way that considers your concerns and in advance of the consultation phase of legislation.
That doesn’t mean to say that other tools of lobbying such as building alliances, meeting MPs and petitioning ministers aren’t important, they are, it’s vital to build support for your position. But the fact of the matter is that once a bill gets to Parliament the Government of the day is unlikely to accept an amendment from the opposition and will only amend a bill if it wants to ensure the bill’s function or add elements to it as policy evolves.
This kind of approach is welcomed by officials as it represents a transparent engagement with industry and provides them with a broad range of information which makes policy-making more effective and irons out any wrinkles in advance.