In context: Queen's speech
The UK Government’s legislative programme for the next year was delivered on 11 May. The big focus was rebuilding after coronavirus, with Boris Johnson saying the government would “turbo-charge our economic recovery in every part of our country”.
The speech also included commitments from the pages of the 2019 Conservative manifesto as the government looks to get on with its pre-pandemic agenda.
However, the speech was also light on detail in some key areas.
What was in the Queen’s speech?
The speech included plans for 33 new pieces of legislation the UK Government will hope to push through Westminster over the next 12 months. Much of this related to “levelling up” the UK post-Brexit, such as the plan to extend 5G mobile coverage, increase the number of freeports and establish the Advanced Research and Invention Agency. In addition, the government intends to publish a “levelling up white paper” and a national infrastructure plan.
Other long-awaited announcements were the Building Safety Bill (in light of Grenfell), the delayed Environment Bill, the plan for post-Brexit immigration legislation and a ban on gay conversion therapy (subject to consultation).
The government is also going to push on with the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, introduced earlier this year, which would place restrictions on protests among other measures. It sparked ‘kill the bill’ protests two months ago.
And then there is also the Electoral Integrity Bill, another contentious move that could see voters having to prove their identity before being able to vote in future general elections.
What wasn’t in the Queen’s speech?
The biggest omission from the speech was social care. Despite Boris Johnson announcing he had a “clear plan” to resolve funding issues in the sector in July 2019, no such plan has been forthcoming. Indeed, the only mention of social care in the Queen’s speech was that reform proposals would be “brought forward” – despite the pressures placed in the sector in the last year.
Meanwhile, Labour was particularly critical of the delay to legislation to improve workers’ rights post-Brexit. The party warned the government had “no plan” to tackle job insecurity, low pay or unfair working practices. Downing Street has said an Employment Bill will be brought forward “when the time is right” but it has been left out of the speech this year due to the impact of the pandemic. Johnson previously committed to the legislation amid fears leaving the EU would water down worker protections.
How does the legislative programme affect Scotland?
Of the 33 bills announced, 15 will apply in full in Scotland, including legislation on telecommunications, veterans, procurement and border control. A further 15 will apply only partially north of the border.
For example, the plan for voter ID will apply to general elections in Scotland but not to local or Holyrood elections. This means you may be asked for your driving license or passport to vote for your MP, but not your MSP or councillor.
Meanwhile, social care is fully devolved in Scotland but the lack of clarity around funding for services in England will impact Scottish Government’s plan for a National Care Service. Any changes to the funding of social care south of the border will impact the Barnett consequentials which come to Scotland through the block grant. Without a commitment to seriously increase cash for the sector, it seems unlikely Scotland will be able to pursue an NHS-style service for social care.
What was the response?
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said the UK Government would “focus entirely on recovering our economy and our public services”. He also said Scotland would benefit from direct investment from government and from the trade deals being sought with countries around the world.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, responded with calls for a new independence referendum. He said the speech proved Scotland was “on a completely different political path” and a fresh plebiscite would allow it to “make the long-term changes needed for a strong recovery and a fairer country”.