Reflections on the King’s Speech

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The road to Buckingham Palace lined with British flags and trees

King Charles has opened parliament for the first time as monarch in the first King’s Speech in more than 70 years. Academics from across the College of Social Science reflect on the government’s key priorities set out by the king.

Crime & Justice

Proposals for tougher sentences raise concerns about exacerbating the strain on an already overburdened and overcrowded prison system, potentially resorting to ethically questionable practices like renting prison spaces abroad. Moving prisoners abroad risks removing individuals from their support networks, with little empirical evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of harsher sentences in reducing crime. Furthermore, the suggestion to require some individuals (convicted of serious sexual offences) serve their full sentences in prison introduces complexity to an already convoluted sentencing system, and raises the issue of what support people will receive after release as they will presumably be released without license conditions and therefore no probation support. The presumption against sentences of less than one year appears promising, as short sentences have been shown to be unhelpful in reducing offending or addressing the causes of crime.” Dr Anna Kotova, Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology

“A comprehensive approach to tackling crime is essential, emphasising multi-agency collaboration that involves early interventions and cooperation with schools, social workers, GPs, and health visitors. This approach is critical for preventing the emergence of new and intricate forms of crime, such as child sexual abuse. Simply granting additional powers to the police is insufficient. Another important aspect to consider is delving into the root causes of crime and enhancing efforts to reduce recidivism through more effective sentencing strategies.” – Dr Juste Abramovaite, Department of Economics


Network North

“Network North is not a new announcement and there is no new detail in the King’s Speech, previous announcement of the abandonment of HS2 gave confusing details about the replacement activity. Local policy makers don’t know whether the Network North will add more value environmentally, capacity wise, or economically. Places should have continuity of decisions, and access to the business case and rationale for changes, so they can plan for the future and maximise the impact of key national investments.” – Associate Professor Rebecca Riley & Alice Pugh, City-REDI

Self-driving vehicles

“Today’s King’s Speech set out plans for an Automated Vehicles Bill, which will create a regulatory framework for the rollout of self-driving vehicles, implementing recommendations from Law Commission reviews.  Safety and legal protection lie at the core of this legislation.  However, the claim that the bill will “cement the UK’s position as a global leader in this high tech and high growth industry” warrants some scrutiny.  Vehicle manufacture is likely to be chiefly electric, so ongoing concerns about battery production capacity in the UK and EU trade tariffs remain.  Claims for wider productivity gains across the economy are also made – which may be true, but job losses in transport sectors are somewhat glossed over.” – Professor Donald Houston, City-REDI / WMREDI

“His Majesty stated that ministers will introduce new legal frameworks to support the safe commercial development of emerging industries, such as self-driving vehicles. This is a welcome step since there are important benefits associated with automated vehicles such as reduction of traffic incidents by eliminating human error as well as increasing productivity, by allowing people to work whilst traveling. However, one downside is that this technology might be expensive at the beginning, therefore, it is unlikely that this will be accessible to the population for personal use. In addition, once the technology is available at wider level, problems such as traffic and congestion might continue.” – Dr Magda Cepeda Zorrilla, City-REDI


“A UK bill to reform the housing market can affect both the rental and purchase markets simultaneously through a range of measures. It can enhance affordability in the rental market by introducing rent controls or stabilization policies, protecting tenant rights, and promoting the development of cost-effective rental housing. In the purchase market, the bill can simplify entry into homeownership by offering incentives to first-time buyers, supporting affordable housing projects, and reforming leasehold arrangements to lower costs for leaseholders. In summary, a well-structured bill can strike a balance, catering to the requirements of both markets and tackling concerns related to affordability and accessibility for renters and potential homeowners.” – Dr Anandadeep Mandal, Department of Finance

Conversion therapy

“The UK Government’s omission of a ban on conversion therapy in the King’s Speech is part of a pattern of systematic neglect of LGBTQ+ people in the UK. When LGBTQ+ people do appear in government policy agendas,  this is often as a part of a fearmongering campaign that seeks to divide the electorate and distract from huge systemic failures in its macroeconomic policy. Nowhere was this clearer than at the recent Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.” – Dr Patrick Vernon, Department of Political Science and International Studies

“The decision whether to include a ban on conversion therapy for LGBT+ people in the King’s Speech is likely to have been a difficult one for PM Rishi Sunak. To choose not to include a ban in the King’s Speech, as he has done, opens him up to criticism for failing to live up to his promises. This criticism will come from LGBT+ Conservatives, as well as from civil society organisations and MPs from other parties. However, to pursue a ban would have undoubtedly led to charges of hypocrisy, given the much-publicized comments about trans people made at the Conservative Party Conference. The decision not to go forward with such a ban is undoubtedly disappointing for LGBT+ people and allies alike. Trans people are currently experiencing high levels of fear about a prospective rollback of existing protections under the Equality Act, such as Steve Barclay’s plans to ban trans women from being treated on female hospital wards. Therefore, some members of the LGBT+ community may be feeling relieved that such plans were absent from the King’s Speech, even as they remain concerned about the lack of legislation surrounding conversion therapy.” – Dr Ash Kayte Stokoe, Department of Political Science and International Studies

“Conversion therapies represent dangerous and discredited practices, with severe consequences for mental health, human dignity, and the economy. These harmful practices have been unequivocally condemned by major counselling and psychotherapy bodies in the UK and internationally. The government’s own 2018 National LGBT Survey revealed the alarming fact that 5% of respondents had been offered conversion therapy, with even higher rates among trans individuals. In a time where hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people, especially trans individuals, are on the rise, it is incumbent upon the government to take decisive action to protect them from this abhorrent practice. Ongoing delays, U-turns, and broken promises by the government only exacerbate this burden and reveal a callous disregard, as Stonewall aptly put it, for the safety and protection of LGBTQ+ people. This neglect is especially alarming for those who may be particularly vulnerable to these harmful practices, such as those in children’s social care or from religious backgrounds. It is high time for the government to act decisively to eliminate conversion therapy and safeguard the well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals.” – Dr Willem J Stander, Health Services Management Centre

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham.

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