The Queen’s speech: What’s in it and what it means for charities

After 28 months we have finally had the (typically annual) Queen’s speech, which was unusual in many other ways. Aside from the usual announcements on what the government intends to do, it offered a clear signal that an election is on the way, and what issues are likely to form the backbone of a Conservative campaign.

Why now?

You don’t have to have a crystal ball to know an election is on the way. So why have the government set out their legislative programme, when it may only end up covering a couple of weeks and Black Rod could be banging on the door of the House of Commons again before the year is out?

The short answer is politics: the government has an opportunity to get coverage for its programme ahead of an election, so we shouldn’t be that surprised that they have chosen to do so, despite the inevitable concerns that will be raised by the opposition.

So ultimately what we saw today was the Conservatives taking the opportunity to set out their agenda, without too much opportunity for others to challenge it. They do however now face scrutiny in parliament, and even the prospect of losing the vote on the Queen’s speech.

What’s in it

Any doubt that this was a pre-election event was dispelled by the briefings that the speech would put law and order centre stage. You can also see the path to a campaign where the Conservatives focus on getting Brexit done while improving public services, and neutralising damaging 2017 issues around the environment and animal welfare.

Brexit

There wasn’t much new in this section, with the government still aiming to leave the EU on 31 October, and pass a series of required bills setting out new legal arrangements. These Brexit bills have been repeatedly delayed due to concerns they will be amended by MPs to restrict the government’s options on Brexit, so it’s hard to see any progress being made before either Brexit or an election takes place.

The speech also reiterated the government’s approach to ending freedom of movement and setting out new processes for EU citizens who intend to stay in the UK.

Health and social care

The prime minister has already spent much of his early weeks in office setting out the importance of the NHS, and so it was unsurprising to see mentions of new hospitals and investment (the details of which are disputed by some), as well as a strengthening of the Mental Health Act.

Adult social care also got a mention, though the promise to bring forward ‘substantive proposals to fix the crisis in social care’ is another that charities shouldn’t expect to be met in the short-term.

Environment

The speech outlined some more details of a new environment bill. This will set out legally binding targets in areas such as reducing plastics, restoring biodiversity and clean air and water, as well as setting up a new regulator to replace oversight from the EU.

As well as aiming to close the productivity gap, a national infrastructure strategy will also focus on climate change and how the UK can achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Domestic abuse bill

As part of a package of measures aimed at victims of crime, the domestic abuse bill has been carried over from the previous session. The government has also committed to consulting on a new ‘victims’ law’ in early 2020.

Devolution

A white paper will be published on extending English devolution. It includes plans for more devolution deals, more mayors, and levelling up the powers between mayoral combined authorities. Again this is unlikely to make much if any progress before an election is called.

What it means for charities

The speech will now be debated, and will form part of the political tension over the next week, amid speculation that the government will be the first to have a Queen’s speech rejected by parliament since 1924. However, the key issue remains whether the government can secure a Brexit deal that will get through parliament, and if they don’t whether they will request an extension as required by law.

While Brexit will dominate any election campaign in the next few months (even if a withdrawal agreement is secured), expect the Conservatives to focus on what they see as bread and butter issues around investment in public services, being tough on crime, and protecting the natural environment.

If an election is agreed, there is a period known as ‘wash-up’. This allows for the parties to rush through non-controversial legislation that has not completed the legislative process. In particular watch out for the domestic abuse bill to be subject to this procedure, after it initially fell during the prorogation that never was.

While some have speculated that the next election will be fought on Brexit, the Queen’s speech points to the fact that it won’t quite be the only show in town, as in 2017. So there is an opportunity for charities to champion and fight for the issues they care about when an election does come. The new electoral commission guidance on the Lobbying Act should give charities more confidence they can do so.
 

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Chris Walker Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

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