The King’s Speech 2023 – What to expect

The King’s Speech will be King Charles III’s first as Monarch, although he previously stood in for Queen Elizabeth II when she was ill back in 2022. It is also Rishi Sunak’s first as Prime Minister, and potentially his last.

The State Opening of Parliament and King’s Speech gives the Government of the day the opportunity to outline its legislative plans for the parliamentary session and given that 28 January 2025 is the last possible date for a General Election this is likely to be the last session of this Parliament.

Whilst the speech is likely to cover a few policy areas, the Government is not required to introduce all the legislation outlined, nor is it prohibited from introducing other legislation not mentioned in it. An example of this would be the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill which was introduced only a few weeks after the Queen’s Speech despite not being previously mentioned.

Other significant policy areas may not need legislation at all; for example, the decision on scrapping large parts of HS2 was permitted under existing legislation which allowed for the project but did not require that it was completed, meaning that repeal legislation may not be required.

Likewise, in other areas such as artificial intelligence, the Government has set out its approach to regulation, and although it does not intend to introduce legislation at this stage, they may seek to put the high-level principles on a statutory footing.

CARRY OVER MOTIONS AND HYBRID BILLS

The House of Commons Library reports that five carry-over motions have been agreed for this session, giving the Bills an additional year to receive royal assent, as well as two hybrid Bills. The Renters Reform Bill was introduced but not given a Second Reading.

  • Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill – a bill to reform data rights and the powers of the Information Commissioners Office
  • Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill – a bill on consumers rights and protections for digital markets
  • Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill – a bill to prevent public bodies and councils from campaigning against, sanctioning, or boycotting a foreign territory.
  • Renters Reform Bill – a bill to reform the rental market, including abolishing ‘no-fault  evictions’
  • Victims and Prisoners Bill – a bill to put the Victims Code on a statutory footing, to state minimum levels of service for victims of crime.
  • Holocaust Memorial Bill – a hybrid bill to allow for the building of a holocaust memorial and learning centre in Victoria tower gardens.
  • High Speed Rail (Crewe to Manchester) Bill – a hybrid bill to authorise the building of HS2 between Crewe and Manchester.

Legislation announced in the Queens Speech of 2022, but not introduced in the last session, include a Conversion Therapy Bill, Modern Slavery Bill, and Transport Bill.

WHAT IS EXPECTED?

One of the key announcements at the recent Conservative Party Conference was the Prime Minister’s pledge to raise the legal age at which an individual can buy cigarettes by a year each year, but more recent messaging would suggest something on amending net zero targets and the introduction of some legislation which is tough on crime.

From a Northern Ireland perspective, observers will be listening out for any measures specifically aimed at addressing the political hiatus at Stormont or any UK-wide measures which will be implemented from Westminster.

  • Phased smoking ban.

The speech could include legislation to implement the gradual smoking ban announced by the Prime Minister at this year’s Conservative Party conference. Under the plan, the legal age to buy cigarettes in England, currently 18, would automatically rise by one year every year.

  • Leasehold reform

Housing Minister Rachel Maclean has confirmed that a Bill to phase out some leaseholds in England and Wales will be in the speech and it is expected to ban leaseholds for new houses and change the standard lease extension from 90 to 990 years.

  • Football Regulator

The Government had committed to establishing a new regulator for English football in February, meaning the introduction of more stringent tests for the owners and directors of clubs as well as mechanisms to prevent any breakaway leagues, such as the proposed Super League which caused outrage in 2021.

  • Crime and Sentencing

New measures which could be included are plans to give judges in England and Wales more powers to force criminals to attend their sentencing hearings, expand the circumstances in which judges must hand down a whole-life order for certain types of murder and apply them to criminals who are yet to be sentenced.

The Government has also said it wants to introduce mandatory jail terms for certain other offences including shoplifting, and possibly introduce legislation that would see short sentences of less than one year being served in the community rather than prison.

  • Net Zero

The Government has already introduced a new narrative around their approach to net zero targets and, in keeping with a tone which is on the side of the motorist, the Government may introduce legislation to make it more difficult for local councils to introduce 20mph zones or new ULEZ zones.

  • Hunting trophy ban

The Conservatives previously committed to this during the last election and a new bill to ban the import of hunting trophies into Great Britain could appear in the speech.

  • Anti-boycott bill

The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, would ban public bodies from boycotting Israel. It has nearly completed its journey through the Commons but some MPs have spoken against it, arguing it is unnecessarily restrictive and could enflame community tensions.

  • Oil and Gas licensing

Various media reports suggest a new Bill could be introduced which would force Ministers to run an oil and gas licensing round every year – something designed more as a trap for Labour (who have said they would block new licenses if they win the next General Election) than a practical piece of legislation given that this generally happens every year anyway.

  • Media Bill

The draft Media Bill, published by the government on 23 March 2023, is expected to be formally announced as part of its legislative programme in the King’s Speech, outlining plans to reform the regulation of public service broadcasting, radio and online streaming.

  • Terrorism Bill

The draft Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill, published on 2 May 2023, is also expected to feature in the speech. This Bill (also known as Martyn’s Law) will introduce security requirements for certain public venues and locations.