Perhaps to his own surprise, today the Prime Minister witnessed the pageantry and pantomime of the latest State Opening of Parliament after winning a majority in the House of Commons. The Queen’s Speech, the centrepiece of proceedings and read in the House of Lords, presented the legislative programme of an all-Conservative government for the first time since Euro 1996 and the heady days of Britpop.
26 Bills will be brought forward, with four focused on the devolution of power – another strong indication of how the governance of the UK is changing, propelled by the unprecedented rise of the SNP).
Prominent among the Bills were the following:
EU Referendum Bill – The Bill will pave the way for an in/out referendum by 2017 at the late
Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill – Following the rejection of the idea of elected city mayors in 2012 by nine English cities, the government is reconsidering how to put more power in the hands of local communities. Greater Manchester will lead the way, electing a mayor in two years. George Osborne’s first speech after the General Election was about the so-called Northern Powerhouse and this is a key initiative. Devolution will be strengthened in other ways too, with a Buses Bill promoting more integrated regional transport, for example. Further devolution Bills for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also be brought forward.
Housing Bill – Plans to extend the right-to-buy scheme to over one million social housing tenants in England are a key feature of the Bill, which has alarmed housing associations. Help for first-time buyers includes proposals for 200,000 discounted starter homes for under-40s.
Enterprise Bill – As part of steps to help small businesses the government plans to improve the system of business rates ahead of the 2017 re-evaluation.
HS2 Bill – The government’s commitment to HS2 has not wavered and legislation is facilitating delivery, with work due to begin in 2017.
Energy Bill – Transferring power for large onshore English and Welsh wind farms to local planning authorities is an important element of this Bill.
The Speech, which described the Conservative’s ‘one nation approach’ in the introduction, nevertheless comes at a time when the government faces some significant and rapidly expanding storm clouds on the horizon. Legislation has still not been brought forward to scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act, following significant cross-party concern and despite the huge dismay of some of the Conservative supporting press. With a very small Commons majority and a minority in the House of Lords, the issue of ‘Europe’ is set to determine the fortunes of another Conservative Prime Minister.