King Charles III delivered the first King’s Speech since 1951, against a backdrop of challenging geopolitical crises, a rising cost-of-living crisis, and the new frontier of Artificial Intelligence. Analysts were eager to gauge whether King Charles III would maintain the tradition of political neutrality, given his history of environmental activism.
The State Opening served as a platform to outline the Government’s priorities for the year ahead, laying out a legislative agenda for the United Kingdom. The King’s Speech presented a total of 21 bills, with 16 of them receiving specific mention during the address.
The Government’s focus on the housing crisis led to the introduction of a bill to reform the leasehold market. This legislation empowers leaseholders to acquire their freehold, granting them more control over their homes and ending “punitive” service charges. While not explicitly mentioned in the speech, anticipated policy changes include capping ground rent at 0.1% of the freehold value.
Furthermore, renters can anticipate improved security of tenure and fairer treatment, in alignment with the now-postponed UK Renters (Reform) Bill. This bill intended to introduce substantial changes in the rental market, including a no-fault eviction ban and restrictions on rent increases. The bill mandated landlords to seek possession of a rental property through a section 8 notice, with a court hearing unless the tenant vacates voluntarily. While the bill reached its second hearing in October, concerns about the overloaded court system prompted a delay. The Government recognises the need for comprehensive court reforms before proceeding, leaving both landlords and tenants uncertain about the rental market’s future.
Efforts to balance the rights of landlords and tenants include a bill aimed at reducing the delay between a private landlord serving notice for anti-social behaviour and eviction, as well as broadening the range of anti-social behaviour activities that can lead to eviction.
The Government’s key priorities include combatting inflation, currently at around 6%, and addressing the cost-of-living crisis by supporting the Bank of England in reducing inflation. This collaborative effort with the central bank seeks to decrease public sector debt and alleviate financial burdens on the public.
Additionally, the Government expressed its commitment to regenerating towns and giving local communities more control over their areas. This involves improving transportation networks in the North and Midlands, also known as ‘Network North’ a replacement for the northern leg of HS2, which was scrapped at the Tory Conference.
Energy and Zero-Carbon
A nod to the King’s keen interest in environmental reform, this was the first part of the speech that detailed upcoming legislation.
The Government’s environmental agenda centred around securing energy independence by “reducing reliance on volatile energy markets and hostile foreign regimes”.
The Government will grant new oil and gas drilling licenses in the North Sea while simultaneously facilitating the transition to net-zero emissions by 2050, attracting investment in renewable energy sources. The Government emphasised its dedication to ensuring a transition that does not “unduly burden households” and by also reforming the energy grid. However, specifics on how and where these reforms will occur were left out.
The King’s Speech also underscored the importance of supporting developing countries in their transition to green energy. There were no discernible signs of emotion from the King’s body language on the environmental agenda.
The speech introduced an Advanced British Standard (ABS) into a unified qualification system, intending to reduce the number of poor-quality degrees and promote high-quality apprenticeships. Although details are not clear, pupils will be required to study four other subjects along with maths, and implementation is not expected for another decade.
The Government emphasised the importance of promoting trade and investment through a bill fostering cooperation with rapidly growing regions and dynamic economies.
The Government’s healthcare agenda pledges to reduce waiting lists and deliver on the NHS workforce plan. Considering the ongoing healthcare professional strikes over the past year, legislation has been proposed to raise the minimal service levels to protect patients.
To create a ‘smoke-free generation,’ proposed restrictions on the sale of tobacco will focus on ensuring that those under the age of 14 cannot purchase cigarettes and limiting the sales and marketing of e-cigarettes to young people.
Significantly, mental health services will receive a record level of investment, signalling a commitment to improving mental well-being.
Digital Market and Artificial Intelligence
A matter close to Sunak’s heart, seeing as his last big meeting before the State opening was with Elon Musk, AI and technology was symbolised as an important step for the country’ economy to grow and position the UK as a global leader. The Government aims to lead global discussions to develop safer regulations for artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, and new competition rules for digital markets. The speech also mentioned the upcoming state visit by the Prime Minister of South Korea, a leading AI and technology economy.
Israel – Gaza War
The King’s Speech reiterated a strong commitment to combatting anti-Semitism and preserving the memory of the Holocaust. A forthcoming bill will support the creation of a national Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens. The speech also expressed the Government’s stance on the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict, advocating for humanitarian support to Gaza while standing with Israel and promoting peace in the Middle East.
Notably absent from the King’s Speech was a proposed bill introduced by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, which aimed to prevent British public bodies from boycotting Britain’s allies, notably Israel, and blocking public bodies from going against the Government’s foreign policy. The bill faced considerable criticism, with backbenchers threatening to rebel.
Law and Justice
Already-announced proposals will mean murderers convicted of horrific murders will be expected to complete whole life orders while rapists and other serious sexual offenders will not be let out early from prison sentences.
Other measures include giving police the power to enter a property without a warrant to seize stolen goods, such as phones, when they have reasonable proof that a specific stolen item is inside.
The Government’s priorities, as outlined in the King’s Speech, focus on addressing critical issues, improving citizens’ well-being, and positioning the United Kingdom as a global leader. Nonetheless, some critics and opposition figures have expressed concerns about the Conservative Government’s ability to present substantial new ideas to engage voters effectively, with the Opposition calling for a General Election sooner rather than later.
7th November 2023