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The King’s Speech

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The State Opening of the UK Parliament took place on Tuesday 7 November 2023. The State Opening marks the start of a Parliamentary session at the UK Parliament. Sessions usually last around a year and usually begin and end in the spring.

This blog provides an overview of the King’s Speech and focuses on its potential implications for Scotland.

“Difficult but necessary” decisions

This is the first year where King Charles III made the opening speech as Monarch. His Majesty stated that against the “significant long-term challenges” faced by the UK from COVID and the war in Ukraine, his “Government’s priority is to make the difficult but necessary long-term decisions to change this country for the better.”

The 2022-23 session of Parliament was longer than usual given the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the accession of King Charles III. The last session started on 22 May 2022. A previous SPICe blog on the 2022 Queen’s Speech is available. A general election is expected in 2024, and as such, this is likely to be the final session of this Parliament.

A general election must be held no later than January 2025. Under the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022, the maximum length of a Parliament is five years. The current Parliament first met on 17 December 2019 and will dissolve automatically on 17 December 2024 if it has not already been dissolved.

What primary legislation will be introduced in the UK Parliament this session?

Twenty Bills and a draft Bill were detailed in the King’s Speech, although six of these were introduced in the last session and have been carried over (these are Bills which the new session of Parliament will continue to scrutinise). The UK Government publishes background briefing notes which give full details on the UK Government’s legislative programme as set out in the King’s Speech. The twenty-one Bills (and their expected territorial extent) are:

  1. Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill (United Kingdom)
  2. Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill (United Kingdom and some measures Great Britain only)
  3. Automated Vehicles Bill (Great Britain)
  4. Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill (United Kingdom) (*carried over)
  5. Data Protection and Digital Information Bill (United Kingdom) (*carried over)
  6. Media Bill (United Kingdom)
  7. Arbitration Bill (England and Wales with possibility of Northern Ireland)
  8. Draft Rail Reform Bill (UK wide with most measures applicable to Great Britain)
  9. Tobacco and Vapes Bill (England and Wales)
  10. Leasehold and Freehold Bill (England and Wales)
  11. Renters (Reform) Bill (England and Wales and apply to England) (*carried over)
  12. Football Governance Bill (England and Wales)
  13. Pedicabs (London) Bill (England and Wales but measures applicable to Greater London only)
  14. Holocaust Memorial Bill (England and Wales) (*carried over)
  15. Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill (England and Wales and Scotland)
  16. Economic Activities of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill (United Kingdom) (*carried over)
  17. Sentencing Bill (England and Wales)
  18. Criminal Justice Bill (England and Wales with some measures applying to Scotland and Northern Ireland)
  19. Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill (United Kingdom)
  20. Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill (United Kingdom)
  21. Victims and Prisoners Bill (England and Wales) (*carried over)

How does what was announced relate to Scotland? 

A number of the Bills announced are expected to contain provisions that will apply to Scotland. In some cases this is because the proposed legislation relates to a reserved matter (e.g. trade). Where the legislation relates to a devolved matter, the UK Government has indicated that the territorial extent of some provisions of the Bill will extend to Scotland. 

The UK Parliament retains authority to legislate on any issue, whether devolved or not. However, the Sewel Convention means that the UK Parliament does not normally legislate on devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

Bills likely significant to Scotland

Eleven of the twenty-one Bills outlined in the King’s Speech apply to Scotland. The Bills which were not carried over (i.e., those which had not been introduced in the last session) are discussed in more detail below.

Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill (United Kingdom)

Scotland is a significant producer of oil and gas. The sector supports 196,000 jobs and is a significant contributor to Scotland’s gross domestic product. The burning of fossil fuels produces greenhouse gas emissions, which have unequivocally caused global warming’. The briefing notes explain that the purpose of this legislation is to:

“strengthen the United Kingdom’s energy security and reduce reliance on volatile international energy markets and hostile foreign regimes. This Bill will support the future licensing of new oil and gas fields, helping the country transition to net zero by 2050 without adding undue burdens on households.”

The briefing notes set out the UK Government’s commitment to climate change targets and to achieving net zero by 2050. The rationale for legislation also includes the UK’s continued reliance on oil and gas even post 2050. The briefing notes state:

“Data published by the Climate Change Committee shows that the UK will continue to rely on oil and gas to help meet its energy needs even after the UK reaches net zero in 2050; this will include the use of gas for power generation with Carbon Capture Usage and Storage.”

Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill (United Kingdom and some measures Great Britain only)

On 31 March 2023 it was announced that the UK Government had substantially concluded negotiations on the UK’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

The CPTPP is a free trade agreement between Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam. It was signed in Chile in March 2018.

SPICe has published a briefing on the CPTPP and what membership means in practice for the UK.

According to the UK Government, the Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill “will ensure the UK can meet international commitments under the CPTPP when the UK accedes”.  It will do this by:

  • Facilitating the CPTPP parties’ greater access to the UK’s government procurement market.
  • Enhancing regulatory cooperation between the UK and CPTPP parties on conformity assessments.
  • Bring the UK’s approach to geographical indications (GIs) into line with the CPTPP’s approach.
  • Expand copyright protections so performers from CPTPP parties are covered.

The UK Automated Vehicles Bill (Great Britain)

The UK Government’s position is that this legislation will:

“unlock a transport revolution by enabling the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles. It will cement the UK’s position as a global leader in this high tech and high growth industry and deliver one of the world’s most comprehensive legal frameworks for self-driving vehicles, with safety at its core.”

The briefing notes detail the potential for growth in the sector – a UK market of up to £42 billion and 38,000 skilled jobs by 2035. This, the UK Government says, builds on the sector which, between 2018 and 2022, generated $475m of direct investment and 1500 new jobs.

The Bill will implement the recommendations of the review of self-driving vehicle legislation which was carried out by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission. The automated vehicles joint report was published in January 2022 and was laid before the UK Parliament and the Scottish Parliament.

Media Bill (United Kingdom)

The headline in the briefing notes indicate that this Bill aims to “support the creative industries and protect public interest journalism.” The legislation would repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which, the UK Government states, “if commenced, could have a chilling effect on the freedom of the press.”

The legislation would also “modernise the ‘mission statement’ for public service TV”.

Draft Rail Reform Bill (UK wide with most measures applicable to Great Britain)

The UK Government published its White Paper ‘The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail in May 2021. The UK Government’s position is that pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill will “provide Parliamentarians and experts across industry the opportunity to review and test the legislation in draft. This will allow for a swifter passage through Parliament when the legislation is brought forward.”

The briefing notes indicate that the draft Bill will bring the management of the network and commissioning of services together in a new public rail body

The notes explain that some changes do not require primary legislation and are already being delivered, for example, simplifying fares and ticketing, including ‘pay as you go’

Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill (England and Wales and Scotland)

This Bill “will ban the export of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses for slaughter and fattening from Great Britain, stopping unnecessary stress, exhaustion and injury caused by exporting live animals.” Live exports for slaughter ceased in practice in 2021, but this legislation would create a permanent ban on live animal exports. The briefing notes state that live animal exports could not be banned whilst the UK was a member of the EU.

Live animal exports will continue to be permitted in other circumstances, for example, for breeding.

Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill (United Kingdom)

This Bill will “update the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 to deliver the urgent changes needed to protect the British people, enabling the intelligence agencies to keep up-to-date in tackling a range of evolving threats and accelerating technological advancements that provide new opportunities for terrorists, hostile state actors, child abusers and criminal gangs”.

According to the UK Government, the Bill will consist of “limited and targeted reforms to the 2016 Act” and will “not create new powers but, instead, recalibrate certain elements of the current regime to ensure that it remains fit-for-purpose to respond to modern threats”.

Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill (United Kingdom)

The aim of this Bill is to introduce measures to “protect public premises from terrorism in light of the Manchester Arena attack.”

The Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill (also known as Martyn’s law) will seek to ““improve the safety and security of public venues and keep the British public safe from terrorism”. The Bill will seek to achieve this by requiring:

“certain venues to fulfil necessary but proportionate steps according to their capacity to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack and reduce harm. The duties that premises will have will depend on the size of the venue. Premises and events with a capacity of 800 or above will be in the enhanced tier, while premises with a capacity of 100 to 799 will be in the standard tier.”

Carried over Bills

There are three Bills which extend to Scotland which have been carried over from the last session of Parliament. Legislative Consent Memorandums have been lodged by the Scottish Government for two of these Bills and the Scottish Parliament is considering them.

The UK Government does not feel that the need for legislative consent is triggered by provisions in the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.

One to watch

The UK Government plans to introduce a Tobacco and Vapes Bill to create a “smokefree generation”. The legislation will effectively ban people born on or after 1 January 2009 from ever being able to buy cigarettes. In addition, the Government plans to “reduce the appeal and availability of vapes to children – while ensuring that vapes remain available for adult smokers to quit” through regulation.

The briefing notes indicate that:

“The Bill will extend to England and Wales and apply to England. However, the Government is working closely with the Devolved Administrations to understand their legislative intentions following consultation and to support them should they choose to implement these measures.”

This legislation is likely to have UK Internal Market Act 2020 considerations. The United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 (UKIMA) established an internal market regime for the UK and two market access principlesto protect the flow of goods and services in the UK’s internal market. In relation to goods:

  • The mutual recognition principle provides that goods that have been produced in, or imported into, one part of the UK and comply with relevant requirements there, can then be sold in any other part of the UK without adhering to different regulatory requirements in that part.
  • The non-discrimination principle sets out that the sale of goods in one part of the United Kingdom should not be affected by restrictions that discriminate against goods from another part of the United Kingdom.

UK Ministers are able to make regulations to create exclusions from the market access principles.

Sarah McKay and Iain McIver, SPICe Research