THE most notable aspects of the King’s Speech were its omissions, campaigners and charities have said in their reactions to the Government’s legislative agenda for the coming year.
Failure to introduce an expected ban on conversion therapy and the absence of a “big, bold move” to tackle the cost-of-living crisis were highlighted in their reactions after the state opening of Parliament on Tuesday.
It was the first time in his reign that the King has opened Parliament. Last May, he took the place of his mother because of her ill health (News, 10 May 2022).
The speech, read by the King but written by the Government, confirmed that new licences for North Sea oil and gas extraction would be granted, and would “reduce reliance on volatile international energy markets and hostile foreign regimes”, while codifying rules that require future licensing that “supports the transition to net zero”.
In September, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announced plans to delay several targets, such as banning new petrol and diesel cars, and was criticised by faith leaders including the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and the C of E’s lead bishop on the environment (News, 27 September).
On Tuesday, Oxfam’s senior climate-justice policy adviser, Chiara Liguori, said that King’s Speech was a “missed opportunity for the Government to set out a clear vision for a fairer future and sends the wrong signal just weeks before the King is set to deliver the opening address at the UN Climate Summit, COP28”.
The proposed Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill would serve only to “lock in more emissions and won’t reduce energy bills for people struggling to heat their homes”, Ms Liguori said.
The chief executive of the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, also described the King’s Speech as a “missed opportunity”.
“Millions of children live in poverty and many others face massive delays to access support to help their mental health, and almost a million children are regularly not in school. Today the Government had the chance to show the leadership we need to tackle these issues and change children's lives,” he said.
Although the speech included the assertion that the Government would “take action to bring down inflation, to ease the cost of living for families and help businesses fund new jobs and investment”, there was little indication of how any of the Bills announced would do this.
In an introduction to the published documents, the Prime Minister wrote that inflation had fallen from 11.1 per cent in October 2022 to 6.7 per cent in September, and argued: “The long-term decisions we’ve taken over the last year haven’t always been easy, but they are paying off.”
CAMPAIGNERS and MPs have vowed to keep fighting for a ban on conversion therapy, after the long-promised policy was left out of the King’s Speech.
Last month, it was reported that plans to ban conversion therapy were going ahead, after years of contradictory messages about the imminence of such a law (News, 20 October). In the days before the King’s Speech, however, it was again hinted that introduction of the ban would be postponed.
On Tuesday, the Conservative MP Elliot Colburn told the Church Times that the decision was “totally wrong, but it’s not over yet”, and suggested that Parliament would attempt to get the ban passed even without support from the Government.
“We now know there’s a Criminal Justice Bill coming, and this is an opportunity to get this into law. We will use every possible mechanism in Parliament to deliver on our promise and finally end this heinous practice in the UK,” he said.
Jayne Ozanne, a lay member of the General Synod and campaigner against conversion therapy, said that the King’s Speech “confirms my worst fears for the LGBT+ community in Britain. . . We are now witnessing the serious rollback on rights and protections that many have feared. . .
“To break your flagship promise to a community that has seen a significant rise in hate crime is a total moral failure. To do so after five years of posturing, with minimal engagement with victims of ‘conversion therapy’, shows just how callously the government treats LGBT+ lives,” she said.
Among other announcements in the speech was a Bill to enable the construction of a Holocaust memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Palace of Westminster.
The plans have previously been supported by the current Archbishop of Canterbury along with Jewish and Muslim leaders (News, 9 August 2019).