The King’s Speech 2023: the countdown to the general election begins

The King’s Speech held on 7 November opened what will be the final session before the next general election. It sets out the UK Government’s priorities, in the hope of engaging voters and differentiating the Conservatives' ambitions from those of Labour.

The Speech included 21 bills, six of which were carried over from the previous session and two had already been published in draft form. We expect most bills to receive Royal Assent and become law next year if they are published before Christmas.

The growth of the economy, strengthening civil society and public safety were the themes at the heart of this year’s Speech. As the speech might be considered light on legislation to support business and commerce, all eyes will be on the Autumn Statement on 22 November which will outline the UK Government’s position on tax and public spending.

  • Data Protection and Digital Information (No.2) Bill – a bill to reform data rights and the powers of the Information Commissioner’s Office.
  • Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill – a bill on consumer rights and protections for digital markets.
  • Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill – a bill to prevent public bodies and local councils from campaigning against or boycotting a foreign territory.
  • Holocaust Memorial Bill (Hybrid) - a bill to allow for the building of a holocaust memorial and learning centre in Victoria tower gardens.
  • Renters (Reform) Bill – a bill to reform the rental market, including abolishing ‘no-fault’ evictions.
  • Victims and Prisoners Bill - a bill to put the Victim’s Code on a statutory footing, to state minimum levels of service for victims of crime.

The draft legislation already included are:

Media Bill - a bill to reform the regulation of public service broadcasting, radio, and online streaming services

  • Published in draft form on 29 May 2023, the Bill will repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. Although never enabled, this legislation required media outlets to pay all legal costs in libel cases, regardless of who won, if they were not members of an approved regulator.
  • All the provisions in the Bill apply to the UK, except for the repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which applies to England and Wales.

Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill – a bill (Martyn’s law) to introduce security requirements for certain public venues

  • Published in draft form on 2 May 2023, the Bill aims to keep people safe from terrorist attacks by introducing proportionate security requirements for certain public venues and events.
  • The UK Government intends to publish a consultation before introducing the Bill to Parliament to ensure that its measures strike the right balance between public protection and avoiding undue burdens on smaller premises.
  • The Bill applies to the UK.

The new bills are:

Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill – a bill to ban the export of live animals

  • Strengthens the UK Government’s commitment to animal welfare following the Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Act 2023.
  • Seeks to introduce a permeant ban on the export of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses for slaughter and fattening from Great Britain – which was previously prevented under EU rules.
  • Aims to reinforce the UK’s position as a world leader on animal welfare standards and has been welcomed by industry stakeholders.
  • The Bill applies to England, Wales and Scotland.

Arbitration Bill – a bill to reform laws on arbitration in England and Wales

  • Simplifying the procedure for challenging arbitral awards on substantive jurisdiction.
  • Extending arbitrator immunity against liability for resignations.
  • Clarifies the law governing arbitration agreements.
  • The Bill applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
We are pleased to see that the Government has prioritised the Arbitration Bill in its legislative agenda. Legislators will now be able to implement the Law Commission’s well received recommendations to reform the Arbitration Act 1996. These proposed targeted reforms will ensure that London remains a leading forum for the resolution of commercial insurance, and other, arbitrated disputes.

Automated Vehicles Bill – a bill to establish a legal framework for self-driving vehicles

  • A Transport Bill did not feature in the King’s Speech despite being promised in last year’s Speech.
  • The Bill will “set a rigorous safety framework for self-driving vehicles” and create new organisations responsible for self-driving.
  • Traffic Regulation Orders in England will also be digitalised, and the data will be used to create a digital map of the road network.
  • The majority of the measures apply to Great Britain apart from the Digitalising Traffic Regulations Order measure which applies only to England.
Having helped shape the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 and engaged with government and Law Commission consultations on self-driving vehicles that have followed, we welcome the announcement of an Automated Vehicles Bill. We are pleased to see safety is front and centre of the Bill and rightly so in ensuring public confidence in this emerging technology. One issue notable by its absence in the briefing note (but may still be in the Bill or related legislation) is how access to in-vehicle data will be ensured to key stakeholders. Further detail on this will be welcome, as ready access to such data is crucial for insurers and the police in determining where liability lies in the event of a crash.

Criminal Justice Bill – a bill to reform policing and justice around digital-enabled crime

  • Introduces tougher sentencing for serious crimes and repeat offenders and stablishes powers to transfer prisoners in and out of England and Wales to serve their sentence abroad.
  • Introduces a mandatory duty on those who work with children to report concerns relating to child sexual abuse. This will be subject to consultation.
  • Increases the maximum penalty for sale of dangerous weapons to under 18s.
  • Creates a criminal offence of possession of a bladed article with the intent to cause harm. This follows a consultation published in April 2023 on new knife legislation.
  • The Bill applies to England and Wales. Certain provisions also apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Draft Rail Reform Bill – a bill to create a new arm’s length body to bring infrastructure and passenger operations together

  • The only draft bill included in the King’s Speech, the Bill aims to modernise rail including by setting up the new Great British Railways public body.
  • As a draft bill, it is likely lower down on the Government’s priority list and unlikely to make it onto the statute books in this parliamentary session.
  • The Bill applies to the UK.

Football Governance Bill - A bill to establish an independent football regulator

  • The regulator will have powers to monitor and enforce clubs’ compliance with financial regulation, club ownership and fan engagement.
  • The Bill applies to England and Wales.

Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill – a bill to extend oil and gas licencing for the North Sea

  • Aims to safeguard the UK’s domestic energy supplies, make the UK more energy independent and facilitate the transition to net-zero.
  • Supports jobs across the UK, along with adding £16 billion to the economy each year.
  • Provides for annual rounds of oil and gas licencing to increase certainty for the domestic oil and gas industry and bolster investor confidence.
Notably, the Bill differentiates the Conservatives from Labour which opposes new North Sea oil and gas drilling. It is therefore likely be a high priority for the Government ahead of the next general election.

Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill – a bill to change how intelligence agencies can use data

  • Updates the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 to allow intelligence agencies to adapt to a range of evolving threats and technological advancements.
  • Aims to tackle new opportunities for terrorists, hostile state actors, child abusers and criminal gangs.
  • Expands the oversight regime to support the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to effectively carry out their role.
  • Reforms the notices regime to help the UK anticipate the risk to public safety posed by the rolling out of technology by multinational companies that precludes lawful access to data.
  • The Bill applies to the UK.

Leasehold and Freehold Bill – a bill to reform how leaseholders are able to extend the leasehold / buy their freehold

  • Bans leaseholds for new houses, but not new flats.
  • Empower leaseholders and improve leaseholders’ consumer rights.
  • Builds on the Building Safety Act 2022 to ensure freeholders and developers must fund building remediation work.
  • Enshrines the earlier statement by Michael Gove, Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, “to end this feudal form of tenure and ensure individuals have the right to enjoy their own property fully.”
  • The Bill applies to England and Wales.
This news will be welcomed by leaseholders looking to extend their long residential leases, especially those with less than 80 years remaining on their leases who will benefit from the abolition of “marriage value” in the valuation process thus reducing the insurance premium they pay. However, for those hoping for fundamental change to the leasehold system of property ownership, the Bill will be a disappointment as the ban on leasehold ownership does not extend to flats which make up the vast majority of leasehold properties in the UK.

Pedicabs (London) Bill - A bill to regulate pedicabs in London

  • Enables Transport for London to introduce fare controls and a licencing regime for pedicabs.
  • Ensures that pedicab drivers undergo criminal record and right to work checks.
  • The Bill extends to England and Wales, but measures will apply only in Greater London.

Sentencing Bill – a bill to extend prison time for some serious crimes

  • Mandates the courts to impose a Whole Life Order where such an Order is currently the starting point, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
  • Ensures those convicted of the most serious sexual offences will serve their custodial term behind bars and are not released early on licence.
  • Makes it more likely short sentences for lesser crimes are served in the community.
  • The Bill applies to England and Wales.

Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill – a bill to aid the UK’s accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement

  • This post-Brexit Bill comes after comes after the UK agreed to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in July 2023.
  • The Bill applies to the UK, except for the measures relating to technical barriers to trade and geographical indications which apply to Great Britain.

Tobacco and Vapes Bill - a bill to create a smokefree generation

  • Raises the age of sale of cigarettes by one year each year so that children born on or after 1 January 2009 will never be able to be legally sold cigarettes.
  • Restricts the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes to minors.
  • The Bill extends to England and Wales.

What was missing from the Speech?

There was no mention of audit reform and corporate governance, pension reform or AI regulation.

The UK Government previously committed to bringing forward legislation to establish a powerful new Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority (ARGA) to replace the Financial Reporting Council (FRC). Draft legislation was laid before Parliament in July 2023 although it was withdrawn just three months later after a consultation with businesses raised concerns about imposing additional reporting requirements on listed and private companies. There was no mention of this bill despite a cross-party group having called on the Prime Minister to press ahead with an Audit Reform Bill in the Speech.

A bill published in draft last Parliamentary session but not included in the King’s Speech was the Mental Health Act Reform Bill. Although mental health reform was a commitment in the last two Conservative manifestos it is now unlikely the UK Government will carry out such reforms.

In addition, the absence of an AI Bill in the Speech underpins the Government's proposal for a 'pro-innovation' framework for the regulation of AI, as set out in its AI White Paper published in March 2023. This approach relies on collaboration between government, regulators and business, to avoid placing onerous pressure on business. Instead, the intention is to take a proportionate and flexible approach to regulating AI as the technology develops.

At the recent AI Summit, the UK Government demonstrated a desire for global leadership. It is noteworthy that the UK indicated it does not plan to introduce legislation to regulate AI, notwithstanding the international context where the EU, US and China (amongst others) are already implementing regulation to address the risks of AI.

Striking a balance between promoting innovation and ensuring responsible AI development is one of today’s most important issues and requires global cooperation. It is, therefore, encouraging that The Bletchley Declaration on AI safety - signed by 28 countries and the EU – advocates transparency, accountability and safety as the opportunities of AI innovation are taken.

What next?

It is not mandatory for the Government to deliver all of the bills in the King’s Speech. Nevertheless, from a political standpoint, the Government will want to be seen to commit to its legislative agenda.

As the 2019 Conservative manifesto has largely been delivered or abandoned, many of the bills announced in the King’s Speech are linked to new policy areas. Crime and energy are now central to the Government’s 2023-2024 priorities.

Bills cannot be carried over to a new parliamentary session after the dissolution of Parliament ahead of the general election. The bills introduced in 2023-2024 will therefore need to receive Royal Assent before the election to become law.

The next election must take place by 28 January 2025. However, with many speculating that it will take place sooner, and with the Conservatives trailing in the polls, it will be a race against time for the Government to fulfil its promises.

Related items:

Read other items in Professions and Financial Lines Brief - November 2023

Read other items in Commercial Brief - November 2023

Read other items in London Market Brief - February 2024

Related content