The Queen’s Speech sets out the Government’s legislative and policy proposals for the forthcoming parliamentary session. This article focuses on:
- bills carried over from the 2019–21 parliamentary session;
- bills announced in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech that have not yet been introduced; and
- policy announcements made by the Government that may be the subject of future legislation.
What bills are being carried over to the next parliamentary session?
Telecommunications (Security) Bill
A carry-over motion was agreed in the House of Commons on 30 November 2020. This allows the Telecommunications (Security) Bill to continue its progress through parliament after the end of the 2019–21 session. The bill was first introduced in the House of Commons on 24 November 2020. The bill completed its Commons committee stage.
The explanatory notes to the Telecommunications (Security) Bill state the bill would do several things, including establishing a telecommunications security framework and new security duties on public telecommunications providers. The bill would also increase Ofcom’s regulatory powers and introduce new national security powers for the Government.
The bill takes forward the Government’s commitment in the UK Telecoms Supply Chain Review Report 2019 to introduce a new security framework for the telecoms sector in the UK.
- House of Commons Library, Telecommunications (Security) Bill 2019–21, 6 April 2021
What bills were announced in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech and not introduced?
Online Safety Bill
The Online Safety Bill has not yet been published.
On 24 March 2021, the Government confirmed in a House of Commons debate on online anonymity and anonymous abuse that the bill would be “ready” in 2021. Matt Warman, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, was unable to provide precise timings, but said that the Government was working “closely with Ofcom to limit the implementation period to as short a period as possible”.
Following the 2019 Online Harms White Paper and accompanying public consultation, the Government provided an overview of the bill in its full government response to the consultation in December 2020. It said that the bill would introduce a new regulatory framework to establish a duty of care on companies to improve the safety of their users online. This would require applicable companies to prevent the proliferation of illegal content and activity online, and ensure that children using their services were not exposed to harmful content.
An independent regulator would be responsible for enforcement of the duty of care and overall regulatory framework. The Government confirmed that Ofcom would be the regulatory body.
The bill follows a Conservative Party 2019 manifesto commitment to “legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online”. The manifesto said that the Government aimed to protect children from online abuse and harms, and to protect the most vulnerable from accessing harmful content.
The Law Commission is currently considering reforming communication offences to help protect victims from harmful online behaviour. Once the commission has published its final recommendations, the Government said that, where appropriate, it will consider using online harms legislation to bring the Law Commission’s recommendations into law.
What government plans may be subject to future legislation?
This section considers government announcements that may be the subject of future legislation or policy measures in the new parliamentary session.
Fan-led review of football
The Government announced the terms of reference for a fan-led review of football on 22 April 2021. This will examine the potential for changes in ownership models, governance, financing, and how to give supporters a greater say in the running of football. The review will also consider the need for an independent football regulator.
Tracey Crouch (Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford) will chair the review. The Government stated that final recommendations will be used to determine next steps, which may include legislative proposals.
During a House of Commons debate on the European super league proposal, Jo Stevens, the Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, welcomed the review but raised concerns about the length of time taken for the Government to launch it.
A commitment to set up a fan-led review of football governance was included in the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto. Following recent announcements made for the proposed European super league, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said in the House of Commons debate that he had “no choice” but to move quickly and launch the manifesto commitment of a fan-led review.
Review of Gambling Act 2005
In December 2020, the Government launched a review of the Gambling Act 2005 (the 2005 act). The Government said it wanted to ensure that the regulatory framework of gambling can “protect children and vulnerable people, prevent gambling related crime, and keep gambling fair and open in the digital age”.
The 2005 act sets out how gambling in Great Britain is regulated. It covers several areas, including arcades, betting, casinos, gaming machines, society lotteries, and online gambling. It also provides the legal basis and functions of the Gambling Commission, which regulates the sector.
A call for evidence on gambling in Great Britain was launched as part of the review. This ran for 16 weeks, closing on 31 March 2021. The review and call for evidence considered several aspects of the gambling sector, including:
- online protections for players and products;
- advertising, sponsorship and branding;
- the Gambling Commission’s role and powers; and
- age limits and verification.
The Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto pledged to review the 2005 act because it believed it was “increasingly becoming an analogue law in a digital age”.
Other gambling announcements
In January 2021, the Government proposed an increase to the Gambling Commission’s fees from 1 October 2021. The Gambling Commission is publicly funded; however, its main income derives from fees that holders of operating and personal gambling licences are required to pay. The Government’s proposals include an increase of the annual fees for certain licences. In its consultation document, it said that this would enable the commission to “continue to recover its costs and tackle new challenges in regulation, including increasing technological developments and changes to the market”. The consultation closed on 25 March 2021. The Government is analysing feedback and is expected to make further announcements.
In September 2020, the Government also launched a separate call for evidence on loot boxes in video games. The Government described a loot box as a feature in video games containing randomised items in which the player does not know what they are going to get until they have opened the box. The purpose of the call for evidence was to gather information on the use and impact of loot boxes, including their impact on video games users and any evidence of potential harms. The call for evidence closed on 22 November 2020. The Government said that this call for evidence would support the wider review of the Gambling Act.
The Government launched a £5billion ‘Project Gigabit’ on 19 March 2021. This followed the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto commitment to bring “full fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025”.
The Government’s Project gigabit: phase one delivery plan states that it is targeting a minimum of 85% gigabit-capable coverage by 2025. Amongst other things, the document outlines a strategy to make local, regional and cross-regional contracts available for broadband networks to bid for.
The phase one delivery plan followed a technical consultation, Planning for Gigabit Delivery in 2021, that the Government published in December 2020. This sought views from local and devolved governments and telecoms providers on the Government’s proposals.
In addition to the phase one delivery plan, the Government has also launched a call for evidence on improving broadband for very hard to reach premises. It aims to gather evidence to assess how to improve broadband in remote and isolated locations. The call for evidence closes on 11 June 2021.
Strategic review of public service broadcasting
In November 2020, the Government announced the appointment of a public service broadcasting advisory panel. This panel would form part of the Government’s strategic review of public service broadcasting. The panel’s terms of reference state that it would advise the Government on key policy issues relevant to the future of public service broadcasting, including:
- whether the concept of public service broadcasting is still needed;
- how public service broadcasting should be delivered in an age where media consumption is diversified, including considering the roles of organisations and platforms, including the future role of Channel 4 Television Corporation; and
- whether the legislative and regulatory framework for public service broadcasting needs amending.
In a Government response to a written question on the public service broadcasting advisory panel, it confirmed that, as of 9 March 2021, the panel had met twice. It was expected to meet a total of six times over the course of a year. There is no fixed end-date for the panel’s work.
TV licence evasion
In response to a written question about TV licences and older people in March 2021, John Whittingdale, the Minister of State for Culture, said the Government remained concerned about the existing criminal liability for TV licence evasion. He described the criminal sanction as “increasingly disproportionate and unfair”. He said the Government would keep the issue under review. Lord Botham (Crossbench) has recently written to the BBC calling for a commitment that no over-75 year olds will be prosecuted for TV licence evasion.
The Government held a consultation on the potential decriminalisation of TV licence evasion in early 2020. This considered replacing the criminal sanction with a form of civil enforcement scheme.
In January 2021, the Government published its response to the consultation. No final decision on decriminalisation was made. It said that the issue would remain under active consideration whilst more work is done to understand the impact of alternative enforcement schemes.
Reform of charity law
On 14 September 2017, the Law Commission published a report on technical issues in charity law. This made several recommendations, including a draft charities bill.
In March 2021, the Government response to the Law Commission report on technical issues in charity law accepted the majority of the recommendations. A statement made by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Baroness Barran, said recommendations the Government accepted included measures concerning:
- simplifying the processes by which charities can amend their governing documents;
- reducing the costs and simplifying the rules governing disposals of land by charities;
- enabling charities to use their permanent endowment for social investments;
- helping charity incorporations and mergers; and
- providing trustees with certainty about costs before the Charity Tribunal.
The Government said it would look to implement the recommendations when parliamentary time allows.
Culture and sports: funding for Covid-19 recovery
In March 2021, HM Treasury’s Budget 2021 set out additional funding measures to support sports and culture. Government commitments include:
- providing £300 million to extend the culture recovery fund to support national and local cultural organisations in England;
- providing £90 million to support government-sponsored national museums and cultural bodies in England;
- extending the £500 million film and TV production restart scheme for six months to 31 December 2021, in order to support the UK screen production industry;
- providing a sport recovery package of £300 million to support major spectator sports in England; and
- providing £1.2 million to mitigate the financial effects of Covid-19 on the UEFA women’s euro football competition and to deliver a tournament in England in 2022.
The Government has already provided several funding measures to support the sports and culture sectors during the pandemic.
Nigel Huddleston, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, responded to a written parliamentary question on sports and coronavirus in March 2021. He said that some sports clubs had been able to access other government measures to support businesses, for example tax reliefs, cash grants and employee wage support.
Freedom of speech
The Government published a National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists on 9 March 2021. It said it would shortly issue a call for evidence to understand the volume and type of threats and abuse against journalists.
The plan’s objectives are to: ensure the safety of journalists operating in the UK; reduce the number of attacks on and threats issued to journalists; and ensure those that are responsible for such are brought to justice. The plan comes after a National Union of Journalists survey in November 2020 and several reports that found a large proportion of journalists had experienced abuse and attacks whilst working.
The Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto included a commitment to “champion freedom of expression and tolerance, both in the UK and overseas”.
In February 2021, the Government also announced proposals to strengthen free speech at universities.
- House of Lords Library, Queen’s Speech 2021: Education, 5 May 2021
On 12 March 2021, the Government announced plans to publish an artificial intelligence (AI) strategy during 2021. Amongst other things, it said that the strategy would focus on the growth of the economy through widespread use of AI technologies.
The AI Council—an independent expert committee that advises the Government—published the AI Roadmap in January 2021. The Government said it would consider recommendations from the council, as well as views of industry, academia and civil society.
This follows a Conservative Party manifesto 2019 commitment to “focus our efforts on areas where the UK can generate a commanding lead in the industries of the future”.
Cover image by Glenn Carstens-Peters from Unsplash.