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The Queen’s Speech: What’s there, what’s not and why it matters

John Coleby takes a look at the Queen's Speech and analyses the contents and the gaps

It’s a cliché that a week is a long time in politics. As this one draws to an end, our focus will rightly be on the Brexit deal. However, the week began with the opening of a new session of Parliament and a Queen’s Speech in which the Government set out its plans for the coming year.

A major focus for the speech was the criminal justice system. Legislation was promised that will lengthen prison sentences and introduce measures to improve conditions in prisons and support ex-offenders. As many churches commemorate Prisons Week, it will be important for Christian organisations working in prisons and with ex-offenders to be able to share their perspectives. Other legislation includes new obligations for public bodies to share information around serious violence and increase legal protection for police officers.

A further area of action was the environment, which has primarily been in the news recently due to the actions of Extinction Rebellion. The speech promised a new Environment Bill, which will create an Office for Environmental Protection to challenge the Government on its commitments. The Bill will also restrict single-use plastics and give new powers to local councils on environmental issues. On this, you may be interested in this article about the Christian case for creation care.

We should also consider a couple of things that were not mentioned in the speech. For example, despite a commitment for the UK to take a leading role in global affairs, defending its interests and promoting its values,” the speech was not specific on issues such as religious freedom. Thankfully, this was challenged by Rehman Chishti, the Prime Minister’s new Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, in the debate in the House of Commons that followed the speech. In response, the Prime Minister promised that: We will stand up for religious freedom in all our doings, and in all our foreign policy.” 

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As with much else in the speech, it remains to be seen how this works out in practice – particularly as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office seeks to implement the Truro review. We must remain in touch with our elected representatives on this issue, particularly as challenges intensify for our brothers and sisters in Christ in regions such as Syria and Turkey. We will highlight opportunities to do this as they arise.

A more welcome omission from the speech was that this is the first Queen’s Speech since 2014 that does not mention extremism”. Previous governments have repeatedly promised new powers, but this has failed to gain traction because this term is difficult to define. Indeed, many have expressed the fear that any such new powers would be misused, including against Christians and other religious groups. It is true that the Commission for Countering Extremism has just issued its first report, and we will be covering that in more depth in due course. But the greater reticence displayed now by the Government should be welcomed. 

And of course, we cannot expect the speech to contain a detailed plan for the next few days, never mind months. Indeed, many of the proposals within it have not been engaged with very much, as few people appear to believe that this Parliament will last very long. However, if we have an election soon it will be these issues, and not just Brexit, on which your MP will be representing your view. So keep an eye on how your MP responds to the speech, and to other debates. Find out more about how to do that here.

Whatever happens with Brexit, the above topics will be worth engaging with in the months ahead. Some will certainly appear in any General Election, as well as the more definite London Mayoral election due next year. With this in mind, we should all join with the final line of the Queen’s Speech, and commit our leaders to God: I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.”

About the author

John began working at the Evangelical Alliance in 2016, focusing on issues of debate in parliament that are relevant to evangelical Christians in the UK. Before this he worked as a research assistant for the Church of England Bishop of Coventry, supporting his work in the House of Lords and his focus on freedom of religion or belief and global reconciliation. He holds a BA in Theology and an MPhil in Judaism and Christianity in the Graeco-Roman world, and he remains very interested in biblical studies and inter-religious dialogue. He also teaches English to speakers of other languages at a class run by his church.

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