Downing Street Dismisses Claims That Rishi Sunak's King's Speech Is "Empty"
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer lead MPs through parliament for the King's Speech (Alamy)
Some restless Tories have complained that Rishi Sunak's King's Speech lacks substance, with one senior MP saying it is "empty". But Downing Street has defended what was included in the Prime Minister's agenda between now and the general election.
No.10 sought to dismiss claims by opposition parties, echoed in complaints from some critical Conservative MPs, that Rishi Sunak's legislative agenda for the next year is "thin".
The Prime Minister's plans between now and the next general election, which must be called before the end of 2024, were read out in Parliament by King Charles III on Tuesday.
Sunak has put pledges to toughen punishment for the most serious crimes and make it easier to grant licences to drill for gas and oil in the North Sea at the heart of his agenda, as he tries to reduce the Labour Party's large, double-digit leads over the Tories in the opinion polls.
The agenda, which will be debated by MPs until early next week, contains 21 Bills – a mixture of new pieces of legislation and some carried over from the last parliamentary session.
Speaking to reporters this afternoon, the Prime Minister's official spokesperson sought to argue that Sunak's legislative agenda was not unusually small.
They said that the number of bills announced by the monarch in the House of Lords on Tuesday was "in line" with the average since 2010, and added that in the 2014 Queen's Speech, set out by then PM David Cameron at a “similar stage in the parliamentary session”, the number of bills announced was 12 – nearly half the number brought forward by Sunak.
But a number of Tory MPs are not convinced.
Some bemoaned to PoliticsHome that while the King's Speech may not have been light in terms of the number of Bills contained within it, it didn't contain a great deal of substance for them to sell to voters as they try to avert defeat to Labour. One former secretary of state and senior Tory complained it was "empty".
A Conservative backbencher, meanwhile, said the King's Speech left them feeling that there is "a lot riding on the Autumn Statement" later this month, when Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will set out the government's economic policies to accompany the King's Speech. Sunak and Hunt are under pressure from swathes of Tories, including former PM Liz Truss and a number of ex-Cabinet ministers, to slash taxes.
No 10 has also today faced questions about a number of proposed pieces of legislation which didn't make into Sunak's plans for the next twelve months. A long-discussed plan to ban conversion therapy did not appear, for example. Neither did a Mental Hill Bill which has been endorsed by senior MPs like the former Conservative Cabinet minister Robert Buckland.
Sebastian Payne, Director of centre-right think tank Onward, said that while there was a "great range of reforming legislation" in the King's Speech, ministers now needed to lay out "an ambitious economic message on the cost of living and public services to cut through on the doorstep" and improve the Tory party's electoral prospects in 2024.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe