06 November 2023

The King’s Speech: What is it and what will be in it?

06 November 2023

Sentencing reforms, a smoking crackdown and a move to phase out leaseholds could all be included in the King’s Speech, which Rishi Sunak promised would offer long-term decisions, not “short-term gimmicks”.

The state opening of Parliament will also make history, with Charles set to give the first King’s Speech in seven decades to mark the start of the next session of Parliament.

Here are the key points ahead of Tuesday’s constitutional ceremony.

– What is the state opening of Parliament?

It marks the start of a new parliamentary session and normally takes place annually with MPs, peers and the monarch all in attendance at the Palace of Westminster.

A key component of the ceremony is the King’s Speech, where he sets out the legislative programme for the coming session. The King has no role in setting the legislative agenda, but reads out the list on behalf of the Prime Minister and the Government.

The event is known for its unique customs, some of which date back to the 17th century, as well as the pomp and ceremony that greets the monarch upon their arrival at Parliament.

The sight of Black Road banging on the door of the Commons is one of the best known traditions, as is the taking of one MP “hostage” to secure the safe return of the monarch.

But beyond the royal fanfare, it will offer a key insight into the priorities for Rishi Sunak and his ministers in the short window before the next general election – expected at some stage next year.

– What is going to be in the King’s Speech?

There is usually a lengthy list of planned bills within the King’s Speech. This year is a little different, with a range of planned legislative reforms due to be read out by the King – although not all of them will necessarily come as a surprise.

– Leasehold reform

It has already been confirmed that plans to “phase out” leaseholds will be in the King’s Speech. Housing minister Rachel Maclean confirmed that the much-delayed reform of the home ownership model would be brought forward, but there have been signs that the proposals may be less ambitious than initially pitched by ministers.

The reforms come following mounting concerns about practices in the leasehold sector, including over the levying of hefty charges and a lack of transparency.

The plans are set to include banning new leasehold houses so that all new houses are freehold from the outset. This may differ for flats, where ministers are believed to be planning to deliver a reformed commonhold system.

– Criminal justice

Among Tuesday’s announcements are expected to be plans to force convicted criminals to be in court for their sentencing.

The proposal has been welcomed by some victims’ families, but has also raised questions about how practical such a move would be. It will still be left to judges’ discretion as to when a defendant should be compelled to attend.

A new Bill could also seek to see fewer offenders receiving short-term prison sentences, with low-risk individuals instead receiving community orders.

It comes amid longstanding concerns about overcrowding in full-to-capacity prisons in England and Wales.

Ministers will also likely legislate to ensure judges are required to impose the most severe penalty in the UK’s criminal justice system to the most depraved killers, with exceptions only in extremely limited circumstances.

– Smoking

Rishi Sunak may use the speech to introduce a law that would stop children who turn 14 this year and those younger from ever legally buying cigarettes or tobacco in England.

The plan was announced in a Tory Party conference speech a few weeks ago. A personal passion for the Prime Minister, it was hailed by health campaigners as a critical step towards creating a smoke-free generation

– Oil and gas licences

The Government plans to mandate annual oil and gas licensing in the North Sea.

Pitched as necessary for energy security, it would require the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) to invite applications for new production licences on an annual basis.

The move is likely to spark criticism from climate campaigners and has already been met with scepticism from Labour, which has committed to not allowing any more exploration licences in oil and gas if it takes power.

– Football regulation

Football governance reform could be included on Tuesday. Plans for a new independent football regulator were confirmed in February, with the body set to have “targeted powers” to step in and resolve how money flows from the Premier League down the pyramid.

Legislation would be required to bring this into effect, so it may emerge in the King’s Speech.

– Is everything in the King’s Speech new?

No. This year, seven bills will be carried over from the last session to complete their passage in the next. This includes the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill and the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

The Renters (Reform) Bill which had provoked the ire of some Tory MPs, will also return. It had been intended that this would include a ban on “no-fault” evictions, but it emerged last month that it is now unlikely to be enacted before a series of improvements are made in the legal system.

The Holocaust Memorial Bill will be brought back as well. It was introduced after plans to build a memorial centre in Victoria Tower Gardens, situated next to the Houses of Parliament, ran into difficulties over a 1900 law requiring the land to be used as a public park.

The Bill intends to update the legislation, removing the legal obstacle that has prevented the project from going ahead.

It would also give the Government powers to use public funding to build and operate the centre.

The Economic Activities of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill is another making a return in the next session. The Bill implements a ban on public bodies imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against other countries.

– What is not in the King’s Speech?

Sometimes, it is worth noticing what has been dropped or not included in the King’s Speech.

Legislation to ban conversion therapy is now not expected to be included, in a blow to campaigners. It has also prompted concern among some Tory MPs, including senior figures Alicia Kearns and former minister Dehenna Davison.

The Government has previously committed to ban the practice – which seeks to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity – but there have since been years of delays and U-turns on aspects of the plan.

A Bill on the construction of the HS2 rail line between Crewe and Manchester will also not materialise, after Mr Sunak cancelled the project’s northern leg during the Conservative Party conference.

– Who else will be speaking tomorrow?

Alongside the King, a “humble address” motion will kick off several days of debates – usually four or five – among MPs, which ends with a vote.

Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will be among those leading the debate.

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