Queen’s speech: ‘building back’, but not necessarily better
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Marc Bloomfield
Description: Parliament (iStock_sedmak)
The background briefing notes to the Queen’s speech, delivered on 11 May 2021, suggest a great deal of building – but unfortunately not in relation to safe, secure, affordable homes. The contents divide into specific headings of building back: better, safer, fairer, greener and stronger. Key proposals include:
Jobs and economic recovery
Later this year, the government will publish a ‘landmark Levelling Up white paper … [setting] out bold new policy interventions to improve livelihoods and opportunity in all parts of the UK’ (page 30 of the briefing notes). This will build on actions that the government is apparently already taking to level up across the UK.
Protecting the UK and individuals
Here we find the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the New Plan for Immigration. The aim of the former is to ‘[c]ut crime, better protect the public and support our police with new powers and tougher sentences to tackle serious violence’ with ‘new powers to stop highly disruptive protests [and] tackle unauthorised encampments’, and to ‘improve the efficiency of justice by modernising our courts and tribunals’ (page 81).
As we know from the last 11 years of austerity, no amount of new powers will achieve these aims without more funding in the justice system. Worryingly, the government suggests it will support criminal court recovery by ‘removing outdated or unnecessary procedures and hearings’ (page 85).
A new Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy will be published, which the government says will help it to better target perpetrators and support victims. When fewer than 1 in 60 rape cases lead to a charge in England and Wales, there is a lot of work to be done.
The New Plan for Immigration will see measures brought forward to ‘establish a fairer immigration system that strengthens the UK’s borders and deters criminals who facilitate dangerous and illegal journeys’ (page 91). It will, the government says, deliver ‘the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades – a new, comprehensive, fair but firm long-term plan’ (page 91).
Improving and increasing opportunity
The priority here (again) for the government is to ‘help more people to own their own home’ (page 113). There will be new laws to modernise the planning system, so that more homes can be built, and establish a new building safety regulator. Meanwhile, the cladding issue remains live and unresolved.
Renters' rights will be ‘enhanced’ but no bill is proposed, just a promise to publish the response to the Housing Act 1988 s21 consultation and a white paper in the autumn. On the day of the Queen’s speech, the shadow housing minister, Lucy Powell MP, tweeted that instead of what’s needed, ‘we've got a developers’ charter which will see communities sidelined’.
Building a greener and cleaner UK
The government will ‘invest in new green industries to create jobs, while protecting the environment. The UK is committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and will continue to lead the way internationally by hosting the COP26 Summit in Glasgow’ (page 125 of the briefing notes).
The main benefits of the Environment Bill will be the setting up of a new, independent body that will hold all public authorities to account on environmental law, and improving air quality by fighting air pollution.
Strengthening the union and the constitution
The government contends that it will ‘strengthen and renew democracy and the constitution’ through the Judicial Review Bill (page 145). The main elements of the bill will (subject to the outcome of the Judicial Review Reform consultation) be:
Allowing the court to use suspended quashing orders in judicial review cases. The court would be able to suspend, for a specified time, the effect of an order quashing a decision or action.
Reversing the Cart judgment,1R (Cart) v Upper Tribunal [2011] UKSC 28. which made certain decisions of the Upper Tribunal reviewable by the High Court. The government claims this has ‘given rise to numerous spurious cases challenging Upper Tribunal decisions’ (page 145).
The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill will repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 and reinstate the constitutional principle whereby the government of the day is able to ‘seek a fresh democratic mandate from the British public when it is needed’ (page 147).
The Electoral Integrity Bill will, the government says, ‘[d]eliver manifesto pledges to tackle electoral fraud [and] prevent foreign interference’ (page 141) by requiring identification to vote in a polling station.
Beating COVID-19 and backing the NHS
As we exceed a staggering 150,000 deaths from coronavirus in the UK, it seems a little late for the government to be proposing to ‘beat’ COVID-19 over the next year. Nevertheless, additional funding is to be found to support the NHS and legislation made to ‘empower the NHS to innovate and embrace technology’ (page 20). Proposals on social care reform will be brought forward and the Health and Care Bill will include provisions to improve the oversight of how social care is commissioned and delivered by placing integrated care systems on a statutory footing across the UK. There will also be changes to the Mental Health Act 1983.
 
We should be worried. Woven into the Queen’s speech are 30 bills that will reduce the power of the courts to hold ministers to account, make voting more difficult for poorer voters, control when a general election will take place and curtail our right to protest about any of it.
 
1     R (Cart) v Upper Tribunal [2011] UKSC 28»

About the author(s)

Description: Sue James
Sue James is CEO of LAG. She was previously director and housing solicitor at Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre and a founding trustee at Ealing Law...