Queen’s Speech – the constitutional highlights

This year’s Queen’s Speech is the second under the Coalition and the 57th of Her Majesty’s reign, the full text of which can be found here. While the emphasis of the government programme appears to be to ‘reduce the deficit and restore economic
stability’ this is a speech that outlines some potentially monumental constitutional changes. 

Succession

The speech notes that the  ‘…government will continue to work with the 15 other Commonwealth realms to take forward reform of the rules governing succession to the crown’. Building upon the Perth agreement between Commonwealth Realms in 2011, the speech alludes to the plans to end male preference primogeniture, allow those who marry Roman Catholics to remain in the line of succession and reduce the need to ask permission of monarch for a marriage to only the six closest in line to the throne. 

While relatively uncontroversial, such moves will require the amending of several key constitutional laws such as the 1689 Bill of Rights and the 1701 Act of Succession. 

Individual Voter Registration

The shift away from household registration is noted.‘Legislation will be brought forward which will introduce individual registration of electors and improve the administration of elections.’ Such moves seem broadly welcomed though issues surround how this is to be achieved effectively, particularly so the new Parliamentary constituency boundaries are fair and representative of the number of people who live there.  

House of Lords Reform

Perhaps more controversial are the government’s plans for House of Lords reform that are dividing opinion across all benches. Commentators are already noting that the wording of this year’s speech ‘A bill will be brought forward to reform the composition of the House of Lords’ is less specific to that of 2010 that stated that ‘Proposals will be brought forward for a reformed second House that is wholly or mainly elected on the basis of proportional representation.’

This speech reiterates the Coalition’s commitment to Upper Chamber reform but seems to leave an element of ambiguity as to what a reformed Lords would look like. Subsumed as this speech is to economic affairs the lower emphasis on constitutional reform is a reflection of the current ‘double-dip’ recession as much as it is to a seeming need to shift focus away for a potentially divisive issue for the Coalition partners. 

Nevertheless House of Lords reform remains on the agenda and The Constitution Society will continue to keep abreast of all developments on this important topic. 

The Devolved Administrations 

‘My government will continue to work constructively and co-operatively with the devolved institutions’ notes the desire of the government to maintain good relations with the devolved administrations despite the difficult climate. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all have devolved administrations in which neither of the Coalition partners have a stake in government. The Welsh Labour Party, currently running a minority government  of the Assembly, ran a successful local election campaign focusing on opposition to the UK government, while the SNP’s push for Scottish secession could entirely change the nature of the United Kingdom as we know it. 

The relationship between Westminster and the devolved administrations will continue to develop, while The Constitution Society is currently analysing the legal consequences of Scotland going it alone.