The King’s Speech contains 21 new pieces of legislation including proposals to introduce tougher sentencing laws, a ban on the sale of cigarettes and measures to increase oil production in the North Sea.
There will also be bills to reform the leasehold property system and introduce a new system of governance for football.
The address, written by the government, claimed the plans would “change this country and build a better future”.
King Charles has delivered the UK’s first King’s Speech in 70 years, setting out Rishi Sunak’s legislative plans for the upcoming year.
As part of the prime minister’s pledge to make “long-term decisions for a brighter future”, he set out plans to eventually ban cigarettes and new leaseholds, as well as to drill for fresh oil in the North Sea.
This King’s Speech – likely the last before a general election – is perhaps the prime minister’s biggest chance to win over voters before he and other party leaders publish their manifestos.
The King paid tribute to his mother the late Queen’s “legacy of service and devotion” as he conducted the state opening of Parliament for the first time as monarch.
The PM’s focus, according to the King, is on “increasing economic growth and safeguarding the health and security of the British people for generations to come”.
He said the government will “continue to take action to bring down inflation, to ease the cost of living for families and help businesses fund new jobs and investment”.
New oil and gas fields
Across the political spectrum, politicians wants to bring in policies which reduce the UK’s reliance on foreign regimes for energy, following the war between Russia and Ukraine, which has driven up the cost of oil and gas.
In a bid to “strengthen the United Kingdom’s energy security”, the government will bring in the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, which will support the licensing of drilling new oil and gas fields in the North Sea.
It may have hurt the King to announce this policy, given his outspoken support for reducing the human impact on the planet and reducing climate change.
Prime Minister Sunak says new oil and gas drilling will help the country transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, without adding “undue financial burdens on households”.
This claim has been disputed by climate groups, including Greenpeace which draped the PM’s house in black fabric in protest at the announcement of new oil and gas fields.
After controversially scrapping the northern leg of high speed rail (HS2), meaning the line will no longer go beyond Birmingham, the PM announced ‘Network North’ as its replacement.
King Charles said the plan will “deliver faster and more reliable journeys between, and within, the cities and towns of the North and Midlands, prioritising improving the journeys that people make most often”.
The prime minister has previously said £36 billion previously ring-fenced for HS2 from London to Manchester would instead be allocated to Network North.
He said that means “every region outside of London will receive the same or more government investment than they would have done under HS2”.
The PM has long talked of plans to force youngsters to study mathematics until they are 18, and he hopes to achieve that by overhauling the post-16 education system.
He will scrap A-levels and swap them with a new qualification called the Advanced British Standard (ABS).
The ABS will be a qualification “that takes the best of A-levels and T Levels and brings them together into a single qualification”, the Department for Education (DfE) said, however it is not expected to be fully implemented for a decade.
Along with maths, pupils will be required to study four other subjects.
The King said it will “bring technical and academic routes into a single qualification, adding: “Proposals will be implemented to reduce the number of young people studying poor university degrees and increase the number undertaking high quality apprenticeships.
An eventual ban of cigarettes
The PM has previously announced plans to stop children who turn 14 this year – and those younger – from ever being able to legally buy cigarettes or tobacco in England.
Anyone born on or after January 1, 2009 – in effect anyone who is 14 or younger now – will not legally be able to buy cigarettes in England during their lives, as the smoking age is raised by one year every year, meaning they will never catch up.
Mr Sunak said the move would mean “a 14-year-old today will never legally be sold a cigarette and that they and their generation can grow up smoke-free”.
The government hopes it will lead to up to 1.7 million fewer people smoking by 2075, and has the potential for smoking to be phased out completely among young people as early as 2040.
Smoking will not be criminalised and the phased approach means anyone who can legally buy cigarettes now will not be prevented from doing so.
However, older people may have to carry ID if they want to buy cigarettes in the future.
Plans for a new independent football regulator were confirmed in February, with the body set to have “targeted powers” to step in and resolve how money flows from the Premier League down the pyramid.
King Charles said the Football Governance Bill will “safeguard the future of football clubs for the benefit of communities and fans”.
Law and order
The government, King Charles said, will introduce policies which “keep communities safe from crime, anti-social behaviour, terrorism and illegal migration”.
already-announced proposals to mean killers convicted of the most horrific murders should expect whole life orders, meaning they will never be released, 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 new Criminal Justice Bill will include widely trailed measures to ensure reasonable force can be used to make offenders appear in the dock to face their victims for sentencing, or risk having up to two years added to their jail term.
It will also make being in a grooming gang an aggravating feature for sentencing, meaning tougher punishments for ringleaders and members.
The Sentencing Bill will mean a whole life order will be handed down in the worst cases of murder, with judges having discretion to impose a shorter tariff only in exceptional circumstances.
The legislation will also ensure that rapists and serious sexual offenders serve the whole of their sentence behind bars, without being released early on licence.
A Victims and Prisoners Bill will give ministers the power to block parole for the worst offenders and ban them from marrying in prison.
All 21 laws announced in the King’s Speech
Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill
Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill
Automated Vehicles Bill
Digital Markets, Competition, and Consumers Bill
Data Protection and Digital Information Bill
Draft Rail Reform Bill
Tobacco and Vapes Bill
Leasehold and Freehold Bill
Renters (Reform) Bill
Football Governance Bill
Pedicabs (London) Bill
Holocaust Memorial Bill
Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill
Economic Activities of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill
Criminal Justice Bill
Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill
Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill
Victims and Prisoners Bill
Responding to the speech, Jamie Peters, climate coordinator at Friends of the Earth, said: “If there was a prize for political posturing, Rishi Sunak would win best in show. The King’s speech offered few surprises and very little of substance in yet another display of clickbait politics. His continued obsession with undermining green policies is out of step with voters of all stripes who want to protect the environment for future generations and left nothing to inspire hope among the millions of people facing another winter of sky-high energy bills.
“With the cost living crisis deepening and the climate and nature emergencies accelerating, Sunak could have used this moment to set out strong laws to boost the economy, cut harmful emissions and bring down our energy bills for good. Instead, the Prime Minister chose to side with the fossil fuel industry by offering more hand-outs – even if largely symbolic – at a time when so many people are struggling to make ends meet. The fact remains that more North Sea oil and gas will do nothing to reduce bills or improve energy security.
“Aside from this blatant injustice, recent polling tells us that delaying vital climate and environmental action remains deeply unpopular. The PM has preached pragmatism, but it’s his lack of long-term thinking and misjudgment of the public mood that could cost him dearly at next year’s election.”
Damon Anderson, UK MD at Employment Hero, added: “This King’s Speech was a huge missed opportunity to address the multiple crises facing the small business sector. There’s a reason small business confidence remains underwater and this speech will do little to change that.”
“Small firms across the board have a cash flow problem. Costs for energy, labour, and capital are up, while consumer spending has softened. We don’t expect the Government to fix all of these problems, but there are some practical steps it could take to keep the engine-room of the UK economy humming.”
“Late payments are a persistent issue for smaller firms, costing each firm £22,000 on average and the wider economy £2.5 billion. The Government says it wants to fix this, but action since it first called for submissions in 2018 has been minimal – legislation is needed, and it is needed in this Parliament, not the next one.”
“Another huge issue for smaller firms is attracting and retaining staff, with our recent survey showing 89% of SMEs unable to match salaries offered by larger organisations. There is no easy fix here but the Government could be doing more to make employing people at smaller firms as easy as possible.”
“Retailers will be pleased to see increased sentences for shoplifting, which has reached epidemic levels, but the Government could do far more to help the UK’s largest private employer. The continued refusal to consider VAT refunds for foreign tourists mean that stores in Paris and Milan are able to offer retail tourists far better deals than us. We’re hoping to see some movement on that in the Autumn Statement later this month.”
Also commenting on the King’s Speech, Mark Littlewood, Director General of the free market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “The King’s Speech was an opportunity to reset the agenda, yet has proven little more than heavy on intervention, light on liberalisation. While the government promised to ‘make long-term decisions to change this country for the better’, these announcements risk perpetuating Britain’s nit-picky overregulation, high tax, and low growth economic model.
“The new football regulator and digital markets interventions could repel investment into some of Britain’s most successful and innovative sectors. The phased smoking ban strips away personal choice while presenting an enticing business opportunity for black market sellers. The banning of so-called ‘drip pricing’ for airlines risks passengers paying more for services they do not need.
“New trade agreements, including joining CPTPP, will give consumers more choices and provide opportunities for British businesses. Expanding North Sea oil and gas licences is a welcome step towards lower energy costs, but it can only go so far. But without a fundamental shift in economic thinking, we are on the path to another lost decade of economic growth.”