The Queen’s speech sets out the government’s plans for the coming year, in particular what legislation it plans on introducing and is hoping parliament will agree to. This year’s speech, delivered by the Prince of Wales due to the Queen’s health, covered a wide range of policy areas and included wider areas of focus – such as the war in Ukraine – that will be on the government’s agenda.

Levelling up

One key piece of legislation that will shortly be introduced to parliament is the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. This will pass into law some of the measures the government has already committed to, and will likely also include proposals to reform the planning system and give local councils more powers.

While this is part of a strategy to address economic disparities across the UK, the measures are part of longer-term plans and will not make an immediate impact on the challenges household finances are currently facing. When two of the new powers highlighted are giving residents more say on changing street names and easing rules on al fresco dining, this agenda appears to lack ambition.


Bill of Rights

The government has previously committed to replacing the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights and consulted on planned reforms, so legislation is anticipated to come before parliament soon. This reform is not necessitated by Brexit, and the UK will remain a party to the European Convention of Human Rights. The proposals have been criticised for increasing the government’s power in relation to the courts, but they also could provide for strengthening of freedom of expression – ensuring it is only restricted in limited and exceptional circumstances.

However, the government’s approach to free speech is inconsistent. While it would seem they are protecting freedom of speech, in this bill and in the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, in other areas the government are simultaneously eroding it. The Online Safety Bill will create a requirement for tech companies to restrict legal but harmful” content, the parameters of which will be set by government ministers and are open for future amendment. Additionally, after passing the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act just weeks ago which created new powers for the police to stop protests and marches – and potentially encompassing street preaching – the government are proposing a Public Order Bill which will further restrict the right to protest.

Brexit opportunities

The government intends to pass legislation to make it easier for them to reform areas of law it retained when we left the European Union and EU law was transferred into UK law. The government have not stated which pieces of law it will change and what freedoms and opportunities it will lead to, but claim it will lead to cutting £1 billion of EU red tape and will assert parliament’s sovereignty.

While the Northern Ireland Protocol has attracted much attention in recent days following the elections to the Northern Ireland assembly, it was not mentioned in the speech, with only a passing commitment to the Good Friday Agreement. However, it is possible that the government could still pursue legislation to alter the Brexit agreement.

Schools Bill

One area that the Evangelical Alliance will be keeping a close eye on are proposals in the Schools Bill to address children not in school”. This could include a register of all children in home education and measures to close illegal schools. While safeguarding measures are welcome, it is vital that concerns previously raised at education regulation extending into wider settings – such as church or Christian ministries that provide focused teaching on issues of faith – are not ignored in expanding the scope of Ofsted’s reach.

Conversion therapy

As expected, the government reiterated its intent to introduce legislation to ban conversion therapy. The notes expanding on the announcements make two things apparent. First, that the proposed legislation will apply to sexual orientation and not to whether someone is transgender. This was the outcome of the double U-turn a couple of months ago and appears to still be the government’s intent. Second, the proposals addressing sexual orientation appear not to have changed from those announced in the autumn which were subject to a consultation. In the Evangelical Alliance’s response to the consultation, we set out our support for measures that ended abusive practices but raised many questions about the workability of the government’s plans, and how they would ensure that the freedom of churches and individual Christians to provide pastoral and prayer support would not be restricted.

Cost of living missing

There was no bill aimed at addressing the cost of living. Where this is mentioned in the supporting materials produced by the government, it is either to refer back to measures already put in place (for example council tax rebate and increases in the minimum wage and National Insurance thresholds) or pointing to longer term plans that – if successful – would take many years to lead to increased prosperity. Pressure is rightly mounting on the government to take more immediate action to address the pressure on household finances. Despite denying any plans for an emergency budget, income tax could be cut sooner than next year as currently planned, the £200 loan on energy bills could be turned into a grant, or VAT cut.

The Evangelical Alliance will be looking in detail at the legislation that follows on from the Queen’s speech and the policy priorities that the government pursue.