Queen's Speech: Brexit and NHS among priorities as justice royal commission is announced

30-bill legislative programme includes measures to develop new immigration rules and post-Brexit trade plans

Photo: PA

By Richard Johnstone

19 Dec 2019

Placing NHS spending plans in law and implementing the legislation needed for Brexit are among the plans in a 30-bill strong legislative programme announced by government for the year ahead.

The Queen’s Speech has set out proposals for what the prime minister, Boris Johnson, called “an ambitious programme of domestic reform that delivers on the people’s priorities” as well as details of the legislation to implement his Brexit bill.

Leaving the EU on 31 January is the “government’s priority,” the Queen said yesterday in the House of Lords.

“My ministers will bring forward legislation to ensure the United Kingdom’s exit on that date and to make the most of the opportunities that this brings for all the people of the United Kingdom,” she told MPs and peers. “Thereafter, my ministers will seek a future relationship with the European Union based on a free-trade agreement that benefits the whole of the United Kingdom. They will also begin trade negotiations with other leading global economies.”


The EU (withdrawal agreement) bill will implement in domestic law the withdrawal agreement which has been agreed between the UK and the EU, according to the government, and set up the post-Brexit transition period “to give businesses and citizens time to prepare before it ends on 31 December 2020”.

Six of the remaining pieces of legislation announced in the speech are related to Brexit.

They are: an agriculture bill that will develop the farming subsidy system to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy; a fisheries bill to provide the legal framework for the UK to operate as an independent coastal state outside the Common Fisheries Policy; a trade bill to both transition EU trade agreements into UK law, and to formally establish the Trade Remedies Authority; a financial services bill to “ensure that the UK maintains its world-leading regulatory standards and remains open to international markets after we leave the EU”; an immigration and social security co-ordination (EU withdrawal) bill to end free movement and lay the groundwork for an Australian-style, points-based immigration system from 2021; and a private international law (implementation of agreements) bill intended to maintain the UK’s ability to deliver justice across borders on civil and family matters.

On public services, an NHS funding bill will implement a pledge to increase NHS funding by £34bn in cash terms by 2023/24 – although the figure is estimated by fact chekers Full Fact to amount to a £20.5bn increase once inflation is taken into account.

The government also confirmed that it is considering recommendations from NHS England for legislative changes that would remove barriers to the NHS Long Term Plan.

A briefing on the plans said: “government welcomes the NHS’s leadership of this work, and all the input from people across the health and care system".

“The government is considering the NHS’s recommendations thoroughly and will bring forward detailed proposals shortly. This will include measures to tackle barriers the NHS has told government it faces," it added.

Also on healthcare, a medicines and medical devices bill will develop a post-Brexit drug licensing regime, including “making it simpler for NHS hospitals to manufacture and trial the most innovative new personalised and short-life medicines”. The health service safety investigations bill will form an independent Health Service Safety Investigations Body to investigate patient safety concerns in the NHS.

The Queen also confirmed plans to “seek cross-party consensus on proposals for long-term reform of social care”. The government briefing said an additional £1bn will be made available every year to 2024, and that cross-party talks “will ensure that nobody needing care will be forced to sell their home to pay for it”.

Other planned health reforms include changes to the Mental Health Act to “reform the process for detention, improve care and treatment whilst someone is detained and give them better support to challenge detention”.

Elsewhere in the speech, the Queen announced a royal commission on the criminal justice system.

This will be the first royal commission to look at the operation of the justice system since the 1991-1993 Runciman Commission, which recommended the establishment of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. It will also be the first royal commission for any policy area since the 1998 Royal Commission on Long Term Care for the Elderly, led by Lord Stewart Sutherland, that recommended that personal and nursing care (but not accommodation costs) should, like the NHS, be free at the point of use. The plan was not taken forward by the then-Blair government.

Other legistation announced yesterday includes:

  • A counter terrorism (sentencing and release) bill to increase sentences for the most serious terrorist offenders, including a 14-year minimum for the worst terrorist offenders
  • A separate sentencing bill will change the automatic release point from halfway to the two-thirds point for adult offenders sentenced for serious violent or sexual offences, matching the earliest release point for those considered to be dangerous
  • A serious violence bill will place new duties on a range of agencies across sectors including local government, youth offending, health and probation to put in place plans to prevent and reduce serious violence within their communities
  • A sentencing (pre-consolidation amendments) bill will put the Law Commission’s sentencing code revisions, consolidating sentencing procedures in England and Wales, into law
  • A police powers and protections bill will establish a police covenant, mirroring protections for the armed forces
  • prisoners (disclosure of information about victims) bill will ensure that when the Parole Board assesses prisoners who have been convicted of murder, manslaughter or taking indecent photographs of children, they will take into account any refusal to diclose certain details of their crimes
  • A divorce, dissolution and separation bill will aim to reduce conflict within the divorce process by removing, among other things, the option to contest the decision to divorce and a requirement to make an allegation about the other spouse’s conduct 
  • domestic abuse bill will create a statutory definition of domestic abuse, which can include emotional, coercive or controlling and economic abuse, and establish the role of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner in law
  • An extradition (provisional arrest) bill will enable a police officers to people who are wanted for serious crimes that took place in certain foreign countries, without having to apply to a court for a warrant first

Under a supporting workers and families heading, the following legislation is promised:

  • An employment bill to support flexible working and extend unpaid carers’ leave entitlement
  • A renters’ reform bill will enhance tenants’ security and abolish “no-fault” evictions
  • A building safety bill will implement the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s post-Grenfell review of building regulations, while a fire safety bill will implement the relevant legislative recommendations of the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry phase 1 report
  • A pension schemes bill will develop a legislative framework to introduce pensions dashboards to give people more information about their savings

Promised infrastructure investment and devolution legislation includes:

  • An air traffic management and unmanned aircraft bill to ensure that legislation keeps pace with technology in the sector, including drones
  • A High Speed Rail 2 (West Midlands-Crewe) bill will provide powers to build and operate the next stage of HS2, dependent on the results of the ongoing review into the rail project led by Doug Oakervee.

The government also pledged legislation to protect passengers in the event of an airline going bust by reforming the airline insolvency process, in light of the collapse of Thomas Cook, and legislation to make “any strike against a rail employer... unlawful unless a minimum service agreement is in place”.

“We will consult on how best to implement this in a proportionate way, including ensuring that sanctions are not directed at individual workers, and how this would interact with the wider industrial relations framework,” the briefing said.

A national security and investment bill is intended to give the government powers to scrutinise and intervene in business takeovers and mergers to protect national security.

On proposals for English devolution, the document said: “We will publish a white paper setting out our strategy to unleash the potential of our regions, which will include plans for spending and local growth funding. It will provide further information on our plans for full devolution across England, levelling up powers between mayoral combined authorities, increasing the number of mayors and doing more devolution deals.”

An environment bill will, among other things, formally establish the Office for Environmental Protection to develop UK pollution and biodiversity rules outside the EU. Legislation will also be put forward to ensure that the spending for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham complies with Treasury spending rules, as well as providing details of transport work and security.

Specific legislation is also pledged to provide compensation both to those affected by the Windrush scandal and by the collapse of Thomas Cook. 

Finally, the speech gives an insight into the forthcoming Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review.

Promised to be the “the deepest review of Britain's security, defence, and foreign policy since the end of the Cold War”, the No.10-led review will aim to develop a key part of Britain’s post-Brexit foreign policy

“The previous National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015 set an overall direction, objectives and priorities to which the UK’s national security community have been working ever since. The world has moved on since 2015, bringing new opportunities and challenges and exposing the need for an approach that is more fit-for-purpose," the briefing said.

Among the areas that the review will look at is “how we reform Whitehall to support integrated policy-making and operational planning across departments and agencies”. It will also examine “the entire procurement process used by the armed forces, intelligence agencies and other security forces”.

It has recently been reported that the prime minister’s top adviser, Dominic Cummings, is considering an overhaul of the way the Ministry of Defence spends its money. Cummings has previously described the MoD's multi-billion pound procurement spending as "disastrous", though a defence insider told The Times: "We have an early 20th century system for a 21st century world. It requires review, but that should be carried out by people with expertise in procurement rather than in politics.”

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