Queen’s Speech 2021
Boris Johnson has laid out his plans to “create a stronger, healthier and more prosperous nation” after the coronavirus pandemic with more than 30 new pieces on legislation unveiled in today’s Queen’s Speech. As part of a strong focus on enacting the Prime Minister’s manifesto commitment to “level up” the country, there are a number of bills on improving skills and education, as well as around housing and the environment.
But crucially there is once again no concrete plan on how to reform social care, despite Johnson pledging to make it priority when he entered Downing Street almost two years ago.
Reading out the government’s legislative programme in the House of Lords this morning, the Queen simply said: “Proposals on social care reform will be brought forward.”
Explaining the bills included in the speech, the PM said with the help of the vaccination programme allowing the country to exit lockdown, "we cannot simply return to the way things were".
Johnson said as the UK gets back on its feet “we will turbo-charge our economic recovery in every part of our country, increasing and spreading opportunity” with the publication of a Levelling up White Paper.
He promised to “make the most of our new found Brexit freedoms”, as well as “turn Britain into a science superpower”, protect the union and strengthen democracy and free speech.
The PM added that the pandemic "has shown – if there was any doubt – that deep wells of talent, kindness, ingenuity and resourcefulness exist in every village, town and city of the United Kingdom”, and his government’s task is now to mobilise that and unleashing the country’s full potential.
Here are the bills included in the Queen’s Speech:
Health and Care Bill
The bill will “lay the foundations for a more integrated and efficient health and care system”, which the government says will enable staff to “focus on delivering the best possible treatment and care for their patients and giving the NHS and local authorities the tools to level up health and care across England so people can live healthier, longer and more independent lives”. It will also put the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch on a statutory footing to deliver a fully independent national body to investigate healthcare incidents, and will form part of the wider NHS Catch-up and Recovery Plan.
Despite repeated claims there would be a plan to enact longterm reform to adult social care since Johnson became PM in 2019 (and several governments before that), there is once again no concrete legislation on the issue. The government simply says: “We will bring forward proposals for social care reform in 2021 to ensure that every person receives care that provides the dignity and security they deserve.”
The creation of a new Office for Health Promotion will work across government to improve health with an increased focus on delivering greater action on prevention, as well as tackling obesity, air quality, smoking and drug misuse.
Mental Health Act Reform
Following the White Paper on reforming the Mental Health Act published in January, the government plans to give people greater control over their treatment “and receive the dignity and respect they deserve”, as well as reforming the process for detention, change the law around how people with a learning disability or autistic people are treated under the act and make key improvements to how offenders with acute mental disorders are managed. The government adds that “these reforms also seek to address the disproportionate number of people from black and minority ethnic groups detained under the act”.
Levelling Up White Paper
A key plank of this government’s election campaign, there are again no firm legislative proposals to back it up, and the MP Neil O’Brien has recently been appointed as an advisor to oversee this process. The white paper will “set out bold new policy interventions to improve livelihoods and opportunity in all parts of the UK as we recover from the pandemic, grasping the opportunities of Brexit”, with a focus on improving public services, giving more access to skills, and increasing infrastructure spending.
Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill
The brainchild of Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings, the new ARIA agency will fund “high-risk, high-reward research”, to enhance the UK’s research and development offer and “help cement the UK’s position as a global science superpower”.
National Infrastructure Plan
The Spending Review 2020 committed £100billion of capital investment in 2021-22, and the new UK Infrastructure Bank will launch later in the spring to help deliver these ambitions. Headquartered in Leeds, it will be able to deploy £12billion of equity and debt capital and £10billion of guarantees, and is expected to support more than £40billion of infrastructure investment overall.
Skills and Post-16 Education Bill
The government says this legislation will “transform access to skills across the country to ensure that people can train and retrain at any stage in their lives”, as part of a plan to get people into higher quality, higher-skilled jobs. It will enable people to access flexible funding for Higher or Further Education, deliver the PM’s new Lifetime Skills Guarantee and strengthen the powers of the Office for Students.
The replacement for the Erasmus programme, which allows students to spend a year studying abroad, the government says this new international educational exchange scheme will have a worldwide reach, unlike its EU-focused predecessor, and “will give young people across the UK, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, the opportunity to work and study globally”.
Subsidy Control Bill
This will implement a domestic subsidy control regime to “reflect our strategic interests and particular national circumstances”, to provide a legal framework within which public authorities make subsidy decisions now the UK is out of the European Union.
This will consolidate and streamline the 350+ EU-derived regulations and make the UK’s procurement regime “quicker, simpler and easier to use, allowing more freedom for suppliers and the public sector to innovate and work in partnership with the private sector”.
Professional Qualifications Bill
This will create a new “bespoke framework for the UK to recognise professional qualifications from across the world” which will make sure employers can access the right professionals where there are shortages in particular industries.
National Insurance Contributions Bill
This will provide a relief for employers of veterans and for the self-employed who receive NHS Test and Trace Payments, as well as help deliver the government’s commitment to establish a number of Freeports in England.
The bill will create a “simpler, faster and more modern planning system” to replace the current one that dates back to 1947, as part of plans to build more homes and deliver infrastructure projects more quickly. The government says it “will bring forward reforms to deliver a fairer and more effective private rental market in England”, but the Renters' Reform Bill from the last Queen’s Speech appears to have been quietly dropped.
Rail and Bus Reform
The government will publish a White Paper containing proposals to transform the railways with “new contracts that will get trains running on time”, as well as introduce modern ways to pay and “end the complicated franchising model”. The government will also table a High Speed Rail (Crewe – Manchester) Bill to provide the powers to build and operate the next stage of HS2. The National Bus Strategy for England “will deliver better bus services for passengers across England outside London”, and £120million will be spent this financial year on the commitment to introduce 4,000 zero-emission buses.
Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill
The bill will support the installation, maintenance, upgrading and sharing of apparatus that enables better telecommunications coverage and connectivity, such as extending 5G mobile coverage and gigabit-capable broadband. It will also ensure that “smart consumer products, including smartphones and televisions, are more secure against cyber attacks”, by requiring manufacturers to meet minimum security standards and create powers to investigate cases of non-compliance.
Draft Downstream Oil Resilience Bill
This will address threats to the security of the UK’s fuel supply by providing the government with tools to build resilience in the downstream oil sector, identify risks of disruption to the market and implement effective and proportionate contingency plans, as well as ensure if a key asset is sold, the “new owners are financially and operationally capable of keeping fuel supplies flowing”.
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
The controversial legislation introduced earlier this year is being carried over, with measures including tougher sentences by ending the automatic release at the halfway point for serious sexual and violent offenders. But it will also include proposals “balancing the rights of protesters with the rights of others to go about their business unhindered”, which led to widespread protests of their own. The government says it will also refresh the Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy to “better protect women and improve outcomes for rape cases”.
Draft Victims Bill
This will place the “simplified and stronger set of rights for victims” set out in the new Victims’ Code on a statutory footing, and set expectations for the standard and availability of support for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.
New Plan for Immigration Legislation
The government says this will “increase the fairness and efficacy of our system” to better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum, while deterring illegal entry into the UK, breaking the business model of criminal trafficking networks, and enabling “those with no right to be here to be removed more easily from the UK”.
Counter-State Threats Bill
This will give the security services and law enforcement agencies the tools to tackle the evolving threat from hostile activity by foreign states and foreign actors, and will see the Official Secrets Acts of 1911, 1920 and 1939 reformed to keep pace with modern threats. The UK will have a Foreign Influence Registration Scheme to help combat espionage, and the government is considering updating treason laws to criminalise other harmful activity conducted by and on behalf of states.
Telecommunications (Security) Bill
This will give the government new powers to boost the security standards of the UK’s telecoms networks, ensure their long-term security and resilience and minimise the threat of “high risk vendors”.
Draft Online Safety Bill
Ministers say this “will make the UK the safest place in the world to be online” whilst simultaneously protecting freedom of expression. They will introduce “ground-breaking laws to keep people safe online” and build public trust by making companies more responsible for their users, and designate Ofcom as the independent online safety regulator.
Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill
This will ensure leaseholders of new, long residential leases cannot be charged a financial ground rent for no tangible service. Instead these will be set in law as a ‘peppercorn rent’ level (the legal term), meaning nothing more than a literal peppercorn can be sought from leaseholders, and fines of up to £5,000 for freeholders who try and charge for ground rent.
Building Safety Bill
The long-awaited bill off the back of the Grenfell Tower disaster will strengthen the regulatory system for building safety, change industry culture and introduce rigorous standards by establishing the Building Safety Regulator and implementing the recommendations made in the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, led by Dame Judith Hackitt.
There will be a new stringent regime for buildings of 18 metres or seven storeys or more, a system of Accountable Persons and Dutyholders to make and keep a building safe, a new homes ombudsman and simplifying the complaints process, and most importantly make “provisions to support the removal of unsafe cladding”, though campaigners say the moves do not go far enough to protect tenants.
Dormant Assets Bill
This will expand the existing Dormant Assets Scheme into the insurance and pensions, investment and wealth management, and securities sectors, and potentially unlock around £880million of additional investment for social and environmental initiatives across the UK.
This plans to address a range of issues in charity law “which hamper charities’ day to day activities” by implementing the majority of the recommendations in the Law Commission’s 2017 report ‘Technical Issues in Charity Law’.
Catch up plans
In the wake of the pandemic the government is seeking to help pupils catch up on lost education, get through the backlog in the courts and judicial system, and reduce waiting times for those who missed out on hospital treatment for diseases other than Covid-19.
Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill
This plans to ensure equal treatment for all members within each of the main public service pension schemes, after the courts ruled the government’s plan to allow those closest to retirement to remain in “final salary schemes” discriminated against younger members. It will also increase the mandatory retirement age for the judiciary and put judicial allowances on a firmer legal footing.
This will set legally-binding environmental targets, restore nature and biodiversity, tackle air pollution, establish an independent Office for Environmental Protection, cut plastic use and revolutionise how we recycle. It will secure long-term, resilient water supplies and wastewater services, and ensure companies undertake due diligence to protect ecosystems such as the rainforest from illegal deforestation.
Animal Welfare Legislation
There are three pieces of legislation coming on this issue; the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, the Kept Animals Bill – which will end the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter, tackle livestock worrying, prevent the keeping of primates as pets, improve standards in zoos, crack down on puppy smuggling – and the Animals Abroad Bill which will ban the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals abroad and end the advertising of “low welfare experiences abroad”.
Armed Forces Bill
The Armed Forces Act 2006 will be renewed, including enshrining the Armed Forces Covenant in law, and continuing the programme of modernisation to make “them fit for the threats of a more competitive age and the opportunities of a Global Britain”. The government is also investing over £24billion more in defence in cash terms over the four years from 2021-22, and is pledging to implement the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.
The government has committed to “ban conversion therapy, ensuring abhorrent and coercive practices are prohibited”, but will disappoint those hoping the measure would come in shortly as they are launching another consultation to “hear from a wide range of voices on how best to protect people”.
Electoral Integrity Bill
One of the most controversial pieces of legislation in the speech, the government say the bill fulfils its “manifesto pledges to tackle electoral fraud, prevent foreign interference and to make it easier for British expats to participate in elections”. But the plans to make voter ID compulsory at polling stations has been widely criticised for potentially leading to vote suppression.
Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill
This is meant to “strengthen academic freedom in higher education in England”, and will include “ensuring that academic staff feel safe to question and test received wisdom and put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without being at risk of losing their jobs, privileges or promotion”. They will create a new role of Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom at the Office for Students, with a remit to champion freedom of speech and academic freedom on campus, and responsibility for investigations of infringements of freedom of speech duties in higher education which may result in sanctions and individual redress. Individuals will also be able to seek compensation through the courts if they suffer loss as a result of breach of the freedom of speech duties.
Judicial Review Bill
This will “protect the judiciary from being drawn into political questions and preserve the integrity of Judicial Review for its intended purpose”.
Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill
This will repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, “reinstating the constitutional principle that the Government of the day has the confidence of Parliament and is able to seek a fresh democratic mandate when it is needed”, prompting speculation Johnson may look to call an early election before the next scheduled one in 2024.
Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concerns) Bill
This is meant to strengthen Northern Ireland’s institutions, making them more sustainable and resilient by implementing aspects of the New Decade, New Approach deal. These include reforms to the sustainability of the institutions, updating the Ministerial Code of Conduct and reforming the Petition of Concern mechanism.
The government said they “will introduce legislation to address the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland”. But there is anger that no specific bill has been brought forward, with former veterans minister Johnny Mercer – who resigned over the issue last month – tweeting that his successor promised legislation would be in the Queens Speech. “At some stage, we must fulfil our promises to our Veterans,” he added.
Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions
These plans “will stop public bodies from imposing their own approach or views via boycott, divestment or sanctions campaigns”, such as the one imposed against Israel. The government has argued this is “divisive behaviour that undermines community cohesion”, and there are “concerns that such boycotts may legitimise anti-Semitism”.
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