Will the 2023 King's Speech sustain the Conservative Leadership?
Today, 7 November 2023, in a landmark address, King Charles delivered the first King's Speech since ascending the throne. It outlined the Government’s upcoming legislative plans, including ongoing Bills that will be carried over into the next parliamentary session, and new Bills focused on politically divisive issues, to draw clear lines between the major parties ahead of the 2024 General Election.
Indeed, it is clear that the Conservative Government has tried to make bold pledges, intended to reel in core supporters back to the base. We have therefore highlighted below the most significant Bills likely to have the biggest impact on businesses.
Likely to be at the centre of next year’s general election, the Government has tried to allay housing concerns from homeowners, landlords and renters. Attempting to ease pressures within the housing market, the speech referenced a number of Bills which should be closely monitored by developers and property management alike.
- The Leasehold and Freehold Bill is intended to implement a ban on new leasehold houses, new measures on ground rents, and regulation covering property management schemes.
- The Renters (Reform) Bill looks set to provide renters with greater security of tenure and better overall value for money.
Energy, oil, and gas
Scrutiny of the UK’s transition to net zero will continue post Speech, with the announcement of a new oil and gas bill further eroding the Government’s narrative of championing net zero roll out, giving the Labour Party an open goal.
- The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, arguably the most controversial announcement of the speech, will see new annual licenses for oil and gas projects in the North Sea. In a distinct divergence from current plans, the Conservatives have used the opportunity to dissuade any concerns on the cost of living associated with Net Zero. Labour has categorically said it would not grant any new licences if it were to get into government.
Since the UK left the European Union, the Conservative Government has utilised every opportunity to reinforce the promises of the 2019 General Election, highlighting the benefits the UK can now embrace as a result of leaving.
- The Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill will see the implementation of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) that the UK has already joined. Approximately 99% of goods exported to CPTPP countries will, as a result, be eligible for tariff-free trade, and there will be a significant reduction in tariffs on imports too.
- The Data Protection and Digital Information Bill looks to reform regulations around GDPR, previously brought in by the EU. Recognising science and technology can unlock wider economic growth, the new Bill aims to balance both prosperity and safety in a challenging sector.
In a continued effort to re-establish itself as a conscientious party, the Conservatives’ new project is to bring in a phased smoking ban. With broad political consensus on the risks of smoking, efforts to bring in such a ban may not face much opposition. A ban such as this would be unprecedented for the UK and thus may be open for businesses to influence and drive any regulation.
- The Tobacco and Vapes Bill will see the legal age of buying cigarettes in the UK rise by one year, every year, with the goal of creating a smokefree generation. This bold new legislation will mean anyone born after January 2009 will be legally unable to buy cigarettes.
Notably absent from the King’s Speech were discussions surrounding Great British Rail. In its place, the Government reiterated plans to invest in Network North which will see £36 billion invested in the North and the Midlands to improve rail journeys between important economic hubs. Re-prioritising personal autonomy and the value of “everyday” travel, focus on Network North and the Automated Vehicles Bill establishes the Government’s current stance away from connecting the country on a broad scale.
- The Automated Vehicles Bill provided an opportunity for the Government to assert their commitment to technological innovation by adopting a legal framework for self-driving vehicles. This move will be welcomed by automotive manufacturers that have been staunchly pushing for the introduction of such legislation.
As to be expected, the UK’s position on the international stage was a strong theme to come through the speech, signifying the Government’s ongoing attempts to position the UK as a world leader in several sectors. Following the AI Summit last week, the speech further reinforced Sunak’s goal to establish the UK as a leader in tech. The Government also used the opportunity to publicise its intention to host The Global Investment Summit, the European Political Community, and the Energy Conference, as well as reinforcing its longstanding commitment to strengthening NATO and supporting Ukraine during Russia’s invasion.
21 Bills were addressed during the King’s Speech, but in light of the upcoming general election, the extent to which these legislative objectives will be fully addressed remains to be seen. Where some agreement can be found between the Government’s approach and Labour’s longer-term goals, some of these Bills may be successful, but it would be naïve to mistake today’s speech for a concrete roadmap of the new policy landscape.