The King’s speech is part of the state opening of parliament. It is delivered by the monarch, though written by the government, and sets out the government’s priorities for the coming parliamentary session. The 2023 speech was held on 7 November 2023 and opened what will be the final session before the next general election.
The speech included 21 bills, of which six have been carried over from the previous session, and two had been previously published in draft form.
What bills were ‘carried over’ from the last parliamentary session?
Bills that are introduced in one parliamentary session but did not complete all their legislative stages can continue into the next parliamentary session if a ‘carry-over motion’ is passed. Seven bills introduced in the last session have been carried over, of which six are appeared in the King’s speech. These are:
- Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill – a bill to reform data rights and the powers of the Information Commissioner’s 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 Victim’s Code on a statutory footing, to state minimum levels of service for victims of crime. It also reforms rules around parole and marriage and civil partnerships for certain prisoners.
- 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.
A bill being carried over is not a guarantee it will remain a government priority and continue to progress (the government could also continue to pass a bill despite not including it in the King’s speech). For example, the High Speed Rail Bill, was not included in the King’s Speech despite it being carried over, as the government has decided not to complete the section of the project covered by the bill.
What draft legislation was already included in the King's speech?
Occasionally the government publishes bills in draft form to allow for scrutiny before it is formally introduced into parliament. There are three draft bills that the government published in the 2022–23 parliamentary session, and two were included in the King’s Speech. These are:
- Media Bill – a bill to reform the regulation of public service broadcasting, radio, and online streaming
- Terrorism (Protection of Premises Bill) – a bill (also known as Martyn’s Law) to introduce security requirements for certain public venues and locations
The Media Bill has undergone pre-legislative scrutiny by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which published its report in September. Additionally pre-legislative scrutiny on the Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill was completed by the Home Affairs Committee on 27 July. The government is yet to respond to these reports. A third bill published in draft last session was the Mental Health Act Reform Bill, a bill to reform the Mental Health Act (1983). This was not included in the King’s Speech, but the speech did include a commitment to increase funding for mental health.
The government also included plans to bring forward legislation on rail reform but only in draft. It is unlikely, therefore, that this legislation will be introduced before a general election.
What other policies were brought forward?
The government has also announced its intention to legislate to implement its other policies and priorities. There were 12 other bills included in the speech:
- Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill – A bill to ban the export of live animals.
- Arbitration Bill – A bill to reform the laws on arbitration in England and Wales.
- Automated Vehicles Bill – A bill to establish a legal framework for self-driving vehicles.
- Criminal Justice Bill – A bill to reform policing and justice around digital-enabled crime, child sexual abuse and grooming.
- Football Governance Bill – A bill to establish an independent football regulator.
- Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill – A bill to amend the Investigatory Powers Act (2016) to change how intelligence agencies can use data, and judicial oversight of their powers.
- Leasehold and Freehold Bill – A bill to reform how leaseholders are able to extend their leasehold or buy their freehold.
- Offshore Petroleum Licencing Bill – A bill to extend oil and gas licencing for the North Sea
- Pedicabs (London) Bill – A bill to regulate pedicabs in London.
- Sentencing Bill – A bill to extend prison time for certain serious crimes.
- Tobacco and Vapes Bill – A bill to ban smoking for those born after 2008, and prevent the availability of vapes for children.
- Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill – A bill to aid the UK’s accession to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
Some of these bills are the result of a long policy process. For example the Football Governance Bill follows a fan-led football review and white paper. Others follow recent commitments from Sunak at Conservative Party Conference this year, such as the smoking ban.
Is the King’s speech binding for the government?
No. The government is not required to introduce all of the legislation it proposes in the King’s speech – nor is it limited to just what appears in it. For example, in the last parliamentary session the government introduced the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill just a few weeks after the Queen’s speech, despite it not appearing in that speech.
In other policy areas the government may decide that its policy priorities can be implemented without legislation. For example, Sunak’s high-profile cancellation of part of HS2 rail will not require legislation, as the laws already passed gave permission for the Department for Transport to build the line, but did not require that it is built. The government may pass an act to repeal the HS2 legislation to avoid uncertainty, but this would require committing to legislative time – and debate – which the government may want to avoid in favour of other priorities.
Additionally in areas like artificial intelligence, the government has set out its approach to regulation, but does not intend to introduce legislation at this stage.
How might the upcoming general election influence the King’s speech?
This King’s speech is likely to be the last before the general election. The final parliamentary session before an election is generally when a government has the least political capital, and so there may be difficulties passing bills in more controversial areas. Bills cannot be carried over into a new parliamentary session following the dissolution of parliament ahead of the election, so any legislation introduced will need to be passed before then.
With this in mind, the government will likely want to avoid difficult or contentious legislation that could slow down its ability to pass its wider legislative agenda. Bills that have been proposed in the past did not appear in the Kings speech. These include the Mental Health Bill, and other bills from the last Queen’s Speech, such as the Conversion Therapy Bill and the Transport Bill.
This King’s speech was also an opportunity for the Conservative Party to pitch its priorities ahead of a general election, and proposed legislation could serve to indicate policy areas the government wants to campaign on. The legislation requiring an annual process for issues licences for extracting North Sea Oil could become a dividing line with Labour. The focus on the criminal justice system, for example, through tougher sentencing for criminals, might also indicate that the Conservatives intend to focus on crime as a key policy area to campaign on ahead of the general election.
The previous Queen’s speech included 31 bills and five draft bills, of which parliament passed 43 over the course of the 18-month session. undefined This figure includes all public government bills passed in the 2022-23 session. It does not include hybrid bills, private bills, or private members bills. With this being the final session before a general election a shorter list of legislation (20 bills and one draft bill) is normal. Over a five year parliament the final session tends to see less legislation passed. The number of bills in the speech does not necessarily indicate when an election will be called. The October 2019 Queens speech included more than 20 proposed bills: an election was called within two weeks.