Acton Institute Powerblog

Explainer: What was in the Queen’s Speech of December 2019

On Thursday, December 19, 2019, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II delivered her 66th Queen’s Speech. The speech – which followed her last Queen’s Speech by just two months – set out the policy agenda of the newly emboldened Prime Minister Boris Johnson for this term of Parliament.

For an explanation of the Queen’s Speech, which opens every session of Parliament, see this article. Today’s speech, which made reference to more than 30 pieces of legislation, touched on the following topics:

Brexit opens an era of global free trade: Her Majesty said that Boris Johnson “will bring forward legislation to ensure the United Kingdom’s exit” from the European Union takes place on January 31, 2020. Previous deadlines had been set, only to be repealed by Members of Parliament who voted Remain. Pending legislation will establish the date in law. Johnson will then seek a “free trade agreement that benefits the whole of the United Kingdom” with the EU and “other leading global economies.”

Immigration reform: Leaving the EU’s Schengen Area means the end of free movement from the nation’s remaining 27 members to the UK. Johnson will institute “a modern, fair, points-based immigration system” to “welcome skilled workers from across the world.” He has often touted Australia’s system as a model. During the campaign, he said that the people of the UK are not “hostile to immigration at all” but “want it democratically controlled” in order to “bear down on migration, particularly of unskilled workers who have no job to come to.”

Tax cuts for working people: The speech vowed to raise the National Insurance threshold. Johnson had proposed exempting the first £12,000 of income from contributions to the insurance scheme. This would save taxpayers roughly £480, according to the Resolution Foundation. Johnson had proposed a variety of tax cuts, including raising the income one could earn before rising into the top tax bracket and a £6 billion corporation tax cut, but he abandoned them after public backlash.

Workplace flexibility and a higher minimum wage: The government will “encourage flexible working,” including introducing an “entitlement to leave for unpaid carers.” The proposal will likely extend the current process, which allows people who work for the same employer 26 weeks to ask for time off, making employer permission the default. The NHS has already taken steps in this direction.

This will improve his party’s standing with female workers, who cite greater work-life balance as the most desirable quality in a job. However, Johnson’s good intentions may backfire if a regulation causes women to have lower wages than they wish, or convinces employers to hire fewer women. (Some 40 percent of managers admit not hiring women to avoid having to grant paid maternity leave.)

Johnson also plans to hike the National Living Wage (to £10.50 an hour, or $13.66 U.S., according to a proposal from Chancellor Sajid Javid). National minimum wage rises are associated with job loss and disproportionately harm businesses in “economically weaker” areas, according to Canada’s Fraser Institute.

Spending increases: The Johnson administration would increase spending by boosting NHS spending (by £33.9 billion, according to previous proposals) and increasing education spending per pupil (by £14 billion). Despite the spending spree, the government promised to keep “borrowing and debt under control.” However, Johnson’s proposals were extravagant enough that the moderator of his debate with Jeremy Corbyn turned the Conservative Party’s rhetoric against him, asking if Johnson had discovered “a magic money tree.”

Greater government intervention in the housing market: It is also concerning that Her Majesty said, “My Government will take steps to support home ownership, including by making homes available at a discount for local first-time buyers.” The government proposes to give first-time buyers and “key employees” a 30 percent discount off their first home. This expands the existing Help-to-Buy program, instituted by David Cameron, which has raised house prices. Nearly two-thirds of all recipients said they could have afforded to purchase their home without the program. However, the UK’s nine largest housing firms made £2.3 billion from the program.

Environmentalism: The Queen’s Speech committed the government to “net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050” and to curtailing the export of “polluting plastic waste” to non-OECD members. One writer summarized that government documents aimed at meeting the 2050 deadline “calls on the government to reduce the consumption of meat, to find ways to ‘reduce demand’ for travel, especially flight, and to limit the amount of energy consumed in homes and businesses.” Existing government proposals would “impose huge costs on the poorest households and have a detrimental impact on our living standards,” wrote Darren Grimes of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Fighting enemies, foreign and domestic: Boris Johnson vowed to crack down on criminals and terrorists. After the perpetrator of the most recent London Bridge terrorist attack, Usman Khan, slipped through a Labour-era mandatory release program, he promised “the most serious violent offenders, including terrorists, serve longer in custody.” He promised harsher sentences for those charged with “knife possession.” The Queen’s Speech also included a victory for President Donald Trump, pledging the UK to “spend at least two per cent of national income on defence.”

Repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act: The 2011 bill, passed by the Coalition government, guaranteed that Parliament would sit for fixed, five-year terms, unless two-thirds of MPs voted to hold an early election or a measure of no-confidence passed and was not repealed within 14 days. Before that, the Prime Minister could dissolve Parliament (with royal consent) and call an election at any time of his or her choosing. “[S]trategically timed opportunistic elections have allowed governing parties to realize an average vote-share bonus of just under 6 percent and seat-share bonuses of 12 percent, doubling the probability that the Prime Minister survives in office,” according to one estimate.

The Queen’s Speech contained the usual caveat that “other measures will be laid before you,” so as not to limit the government to the issues enumerated.

It also concluded with the religious sentiment, “I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.”

You may watch the full Queen’s Speech here:

The official text of the Queen’s Speech is as follows:

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons.

My Government’s priority is to deliver the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on 31 January. My Ministers will bring forward legislation to ensure the United Kingdom’s exit on that date and to make the most of the opportunities that this brings for all the people of the United Kingdom.

Thereafter, my Ministers will seek a future relationship with the European Union based on a free trade agreement that benefits the whole of the United Kingdom. They will also begin trade negotiations with xc

The integrity and prosperity of the United Kingdom is of the utmost importance to my Government. My Ministers will work urgently to facilitate talks to restore devolved Government in Northern Ireland.

My Government will embark on an ambitious programme of domestic reform that delivers on the people’s priorities. For the first time, the National Health Service’s multi-year funding settlement, agreed earlier this year, will be enshrined in law.

Steps will be taken to grow and support the National Health Service’s workforce and a new visa will ensure qualified doctors, nurses and health professionals have fast-track entry to the United Kingdom. Hospital car parking charges will be removed for those in greatest need.

My Ministers will seek cross-party consensus on proposals for long term reform of social care. They will ensure that the social care system provides everyone with the dignity and security they deserve and that no one who needs care has to sell their home to pay for it. My ministers will continue work to reform the Mental Health Act.

A modern, fair, points-based immigration system will welcome skilled workers from across the world to contribute to the United Kingdom’s economy, communities and public services.

My Government will bring forward measures to support working families, raising the National Insurance threshold and increasing the National Living Wage. To ensure every child has access to a high-quality education my Ministers will increase levels of funding per pupil in every school.

Measures will be brought forward to encourage flexible working, to introduce the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers and to help people save for later life. New measures will be brought forward to protect tenants and to improve building safety. My Government will take steps to support home ownership, including by making homes available at a discount for local first-time buyers. My Ministers will develop legislation to improve internet safety for all.

My Government is committed to a fair justice system that keeps people safe. My ministers will establish a Royal Commission to review and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice process. New sentencing laws will ensure the most serious violent offenders, including terrorists, serve longer in custody. New laws will require schools, police, councils and health authorities to work together to prevent serious crime. My Government will ensure those charged with knife possession face swift justice and that the courts work better for all those who engage with them, including victims of domestic abuse. Legislation will be brought forward to support victims of crime and their families. Measures will be developed to tackle hostile activity conducted by foreign states.

My Ministers will bring forward measures to ensure that every part of the United Kingdom can prosper. My Government will invest in the country’s public services and infrastructure whilst keeping borrowing and debt under control; maintaining the sustainability of the public finances through a responsible fiscal strategy. My Government will prioritise investment in infrastructure and world-leading science research and skills, in order to unleash productivity and improve daily life for communities across the country. It will give communities more control over how investment is spent so that they can decide what is best for them.

To support business, my government will increase tax credits for research and development, establish a National Skills Fund, and bring forward changes to business rates. New laws will accelerate the delivery of gigabit capable broadband. To ensure people can depend on the transport network, measures will be developed to provide for minimum levels of service during transport strikes.

My Government will continue to take steps to meet the world-leading target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It will continue to lead the way in tackling global climate change, hosting the COP26 Summit in 2020. To protect and improve the environment for future generations, a bill will enshrine in law environmental principles and legally-binding targets, including for air quality. It will also ban the export of polluting plastic waste to countries outside the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and establish a new, world-leading independent regulator in statute.

A Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission will be established. Work will be taken forward to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

My Government will continue to invest in our gallant Armed Forces. My Government will honour the Armed Forces Covenant, which will be further incorporated into law, and the NATO commitment to spend at least two per cent of national income on defence. It will bring forward proposals to tackle vexatious claims that undermine our Armed Forces and will continue to seek better ways of dealing with legacy issues that provide better outcomes for victims and survivors.

My Government will work to promote and expand the United Kingdom’s influence in the world. An Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review will be undertaken to reassess the nation’s place in the world, covering all aspects of international policy from defence to diplomacy and development. My Ministers will promote the United Kingdom’s interests, including freedom of speech, human rights and the rule of law. My Government will work closely with international partners to help solve the most complex international security issues and promote peace and security globally. It will stand firm against those who threaten the values of the United Kingdom, including by developing a sanctions regime to directly address human rights abuse, and working to ensure that all girls have access to twelve years of quality education.

Members of the House of Commons

Estimates for the public services will be laid before you.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

Other measures will be laid before you.

I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

 

(Photo credit: UK government. Open Government Licence v3.0.)

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.