With the EU Referendum campaign finally kicking into gear, one could be forgiven for forgetting anything else was going on in politics.
Indeed, the drama of the In-Out vote looks set to dominate the agenda for the next four months – a fact seemingly confirmed this week when the Times reported that the Government was planning to postpone the Queen’s Speech.
“Ministers have been told the launch of the coming year’s legislation, scheduled for May, will not take place until after the referendum on June 23”, the paper informed its readers, attributing the change to a desire to “clear the decks” for the membership vote.
The paper also offered the tantalising prospect of another reshuffle, with the Prime Minister predicted to make a post-poll purge of his Eurosceptic colleagues, though he could still offer advancement to younger voices advocating “Out”.
The decision to delay the announcement of a new legislative agenda reflected both the dominance of the EU debate and the prospective need to introduce new legal measures based on the outcome of the vote.
As with the Scottish Independence Referendum before it, it is difficult to predict exactly what technicalities would arise in the event of a Brexit, but the campaign is sure to be peppered with speculation about the challenges and opportunities either scenario could provide.
That said, the administrative show must go on, and the following week the same paper produced fresh reports that the Prime Minister had now relented on the planned delay and would be bringing forward the speech in late May, after the devolved elections.
This change of mind was reportedly motivated by a sense that Mr Cameron was losing control of the EU Referendum campaign.
Amidst all this drama, the shape of the speech to come has already gradually begun to emerge. Media reports have detailed some of the measures ministers are expected to bring forward as they embark on their second year of majority rule.
Lined up so far for next year’s legislative programme, according to the Times, are proposals for prisons reform, further health devolution and anti-discrimination protections. Other possible measures to be brought forward include a pledge to include mothers on marriage certificates.
The prisons proposals were fleshed out by the Prime Minister in a speech in early February, when he declared that the Government would follow on from its decision to create six reformed prisons with new freedoms for “innovative” governors by bringing forward a Prisons Bill. This new Bill will be designed to “spread these principles across the rest of the prisons system”.
Another potential feature of next year’s legislative programme is yet another Energy Bill, in light of the draft legislation published without significant fanfare by the Department of Energy and Climate Change in January. In addition to improving competition in the energy market, the proposals are designed to support the rollout of smart meter technology, which is due to take place in the next few years.
And in early March, newspaper reports highlighted the Government's intention to bring forward new legislation to end "blame culture" in the health service by supporting NHS whistleblowing and facilitate medical professionals coming forward about mistakes in care.
On 10 March, the Financial Times highlighted a new Bill designed to liberalise higher education. The proposed legislation would reflect the Government’s desire to remove barriers to new private universities, so as to “broaden access and create more competition”, paving the way for “a new generation of higher education providers”.
Elsewhere, other indications have been trickling out during the course of Parliamentary business over recent months. On 10 February, Culture and Digital Economy Minister used a debate on mobile infrastructure to inform the House that the Government was intending to create a Digital Economy Bill, which would bring forward changes to the Electronic Communications Code first attempted without success during the passage of the 2015 Infrastructure Act.
A Buses Bill promised in the last Queen’s Speech remains to be delivered, and is widely expected to emerge in the coming months. It remains to be seen whether it will join the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill at the tail end of the 2015-16 session.
Thematically, overall, the Government can afford to pursue its interests relatively unmolested as it floats through the first years of fixed-term majority rule. In addition to a mooted plan to curb the powers of peers, leaders are reportedly already preparing to pack the House of Lords with yet more whippable Conservatives as a means of avoiding some of the dramas that have haunted the passage of this year’s Bills.
The FT has reported that the 2016 Queen’s Speech will carry a theme of “life chances and opportunities” designed to improve social mobility as the Prime Minister looks to cement his legacy during his second term in office.
If recent legislative trends are anything to go by, politics watchers can expect one or more relatively rhetorical bills, designed more as a means of meeting manifesto promises or serving campaign themes than as instruments of technical virtuosity.
And, speaking of instruments, those in the know about the proclivities of contemporary politicians would do well to keep their eyes on the passage of Secondary Legislation, where substantive and controversial changes are increasingly made. The planned change to the BBC’s Licence Fee to cover on-demand viewing provides one such example, but other controversies are sure to command the comment pages and raise the wrath of Labour’s frontbench warriors, if only during the weekly wonkery of the Business Question.
DeHavilland will be producing a Queen's Speech Speculation Document in the run-up to the 2016 Queen's Speech, featuring details of all the expected contents of the speech. For further information, please get in touch.
As Senior Political Analyst at DeHavilland, Anna Haswell leads on financial services policy, as well as covering media issues. In her capacity as Content Marketer, she is also responsible for DeHavilland's briefings and analysis output, working across teams to ensure relevant messages reach current and prospective clients alike. She is a graduate of the University of Oxford and Goldsmiths, University of London.