Queen’s Speech 2021: Tories unveil plans on free speech, policing and voter ID

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Government sets out plans for the next term of parliament.

The government has unveiled plans for the coming parliament in a Queen’s speech that combined interventionist economics with openly populist moves in areas such as free speech, policing and voter ID.

The 26 proposed laws unveiled in the monarch’s brief address, which the government writes for her, contained no particular surprises. The bulk of the measures were either already in progress or widely briefed in advance.

As expected, there is still no formal plan to reform social care, despite Johnson’s pledge to do so in his first speech as prime minister. The speech simply said proposals on social care “will be brought forward”, with no detail or timetable given.

“My government’s priority is to deliver a national recovery from the pandemic that makes the United Kingdom stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before,” she said. “To achieve this, my government will level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom, supporting jobs, businesses and economic growth and addressing the impact of the pandemic on public services.”

There will be a health and care bill, but this is to enact a planned shake-up of the NHS by Matt Hancock, the health and social care secretary, which will give ministers more power over the health service in England. There is also a pledge to tackle obesity, a personal aim of the prime minister after he blamed his weight for his serious bout of Covid.

A series of bills cement Johnson’s centralised and infrastructure-heavy post-Brexit economic approach, one aimed at holding the support of voters in former Labour heartlands in the north of England and Midlands.

A subsidy control bill will set out new state aid rules, while other planned laws would mark out the next stage of the HS2 rail link, from Manchester to Crewe. Another would extend high-speed broadband and 5G mobile coverage. There would be moves to create eight new freeports, a flagship elements of Johnson’s post-Brexit economic offering.

There would be changes to planning laws, with the intention of making homebuilding more straightforward, a move openly briefed by No 10 as aimed at creating millions more property-owning Conservative voters.

Planning Bill: The government wants to modernise the planning system so more homes can be built and more people can own their own home. It also said it wants to enhance the rights of renters. Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill This will ensure leaseholders of new, long residential leases cannot be charged ground rent “for no tangible service”.

Building Safety Bill: A new Building Safety Regulator law will be established to ensure tragedies like Grenfell “are never repeated”.

“Rigorous” safety standards for construction products will be introduced and a “clearer path” to redress for homeowners.

Another appeal to voters in former Labour areas would be a new bill on further education, setting in place existing proposals to improve the sector, and give people the chance to study at any point in their life.

UK committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050: The Queen says the government will “invest in new green industries to create jobs, while protecting the environment”.

“The United Kingdom is committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and will continue to lead the way internationally by hosting the COP26 Summit in Glasgow,” she says.

She says legislation will set binding environmental targets – the Environmental Bill – and legislation will also be brought forward to ensure the United Kingdom has, and promotes, the highest standards of animal welfare (Animal Welfare Bill, Kept Animals Bill, Animals Abroad Bill).

The Queen says that the United Kingdom will host the G7 Summit and lead the global effort to secure a robust economic recovery from the pandemic.

“My ministers will deepen trade ties in the Gulf, Africa and the Indo-Pacific,” she says.

Ministers remain sensitive to criticism about the impact on millions of the world’s poorest people of a cut in UK aid spending, the speech said the government “will continue to provide aid where it has the greatest impact on reducing poverty and alleviating human suffering”.

“My government will uphold human rights and democracy across the world. It will take forward a global effort to get 40 million girls across the world into school.”

Inequality and conversion therapy plans explained: The government said “measures” will be brought forward to address racial and ethnic disparities. It also said it will move to ban conversion therapy entirely, with new funding, expected by this summer, to support victims.

Strengthened democracy: The Queen says her government will “strengthen and renew democracy and the constitution”.

She says a law will be introduced to ensure the integrity of elections, protect freedom of speech and restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts with the Electoral Integrity Bill, Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, Judicial Review Bill, Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill. 

Her Majesty says her ministers will promote the strength and integrity of the union and that measures will be brought forward to strengthen the devolved government in Northern Ireland and address the legacy of the past with the Northern Ireland Bill.

There will be a controversial plan for a bill guaranteeing free speech in universities, which could allow speakers who are disinvited to sue for compensation.

Restore power to choose election date: Boris Johnson is to go ahead with plans to restore the power of the prime minister to choose the timing of general elections.

A Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier today, will repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA) which led to Commons deadlock over Brexit.

Voter ID: The Queen said, “legislation will be introduced to ensure the integrity of elections”. This is a controversial reform which will mean photo ID would be needed in order to vote. Labour call the plans ‘cynical and ugly’ arguing those on low incomes and from ethnic minorities are less likely to have ID. Yet it was originally a Labour policy to have National Identity Cards, in March 2006:
After several defeats in the House of Lords, a compromise was reached and the Identity Cards Act became law. In 2010 the Tories and the Lib Dems carried out their threat to scrap the scheme during their Coalition government.

Environment Bill explained: This will set binding environmental targets after the UK committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 ahead of hosting COP26 in Glasgow this year.

It will also set out commitments to restoring nature and biodiversity, tackling air pollution, cutting plastic use and will “revolutionise how we recycle”. An independent Office for Environmental Protection will be created.

Dormant Assets Bill: An additional £880 million of dormant assets will be released for social and environmental initiatives.

Safety and security: The Queen stated the government will introducing measures to increase the safety and security of its citizens. She says legislation will increase sentences for the most serious and violent offenders and ensure the timely administration of justice with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Proposals will be brought forward to address violence, including against women and girls, and to support victims – the Draft Victims Bill.

She says measures will also be brought forward to establish a fairer immigration system that “strengthens the United Kingdom’s borders and deters criminals who facilitate dangerous and illegal journeys” with the New Plan for Immigration Legislation.

She continues: “My government will lead the way in ensuring internet safety for all, especially for children [Draft Online Safety Bill] whilst harnessing the benefits of a free, open and secure internet.”

Northern Ireland (Minister, Elections and Petitions of Concerns) Bill, Legacy Legislation explained: The first bill will give Northern Ireland’s devolved government more powers. Under the second bill, legislation will be introduced to address the legacy of the Troubles to deliver “better outcomes for victims and survivors”. It will end investigations into the past as part of the government’s commitment to veterans.

Armed Forces to get biggest spending increase in 30 years: The Queen announced the government will provide “our gallant Armed Forces with the biggest spending increase in 30 years, taking forward their programme of modernisation and reinforcing the United Kingdom’s commitment to NATO”.

She says ministers will “honour and strengthen the Armed Forces Covenant”, placing it in law with the Armed Forces Bill.

The Queen says that measures will also be introduced to provide National Insurance contribution relief for employers of veterans with the National Insurance Contributions Bill.

Countering foreign hostile activity: A law will be introduced to counter hostile activity by foreign states with the Counter-State Threats Bill and Telecommunications (Security) Bill.

“My ministers will implement the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy,” she says.

New Plan for Immigration Legislation explained: The government will put forward plans for a “fairer immigration system” that also deters criminals facilitating “dangerous and illegal journeys”. It will enable the government to remove “those with no right to be here” more easily.

National Insurance Contributions Bill explained: Eight new freeports are to be built to create “hubs” for trade and to regenerate communities, the government said. Employers in freeports will get National Insurance contributions relief. The relief will also be introduced for employers of veterans and for the self-employed who receive NHS Test and Trace payments.

Opposition Party responses

The Greens

In a response to the Queen’s speech, Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, said the government’s plans for the climate crisis did not match the scale of the challenge. She said:

The prime minister’s talk about building a strong recovery from Covid will take us down the road to disaster unless it is a green recovery, focused on decarbonisation, creating sustainable businesses and jobs and accelerating the path to net zero.

The government also has to abandon the fixation with growth and recognise that prioritising GDP growth above all other measures is what is fuelling the climate and ecological crises. The warnings are coming thick and fast that we have to change our approach, moving to an economic model which prioritises wellbeing and the health of people and planet.

Lucas also described the plans to require voters to show photo ID at polling stations as a “blatant attempt at voter suppression [that] comes straight out of the US Republicans’ playbook”.

SNP

In his response to the Queen’s speech Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, said:

Boris Johnson has completely failed to deliver the investment and change required to build a strong, fair and equal recovery. Instead the Tories are imposing the long-term damage of austerity cuts, Brexit and a power grab against Scotland’s will.

The Tories are repeating the same mistakes they made after the last economic crisis, by forcing through damaging cuts that are threatening Scotland’s recovery. Instead of building a fairer society, the Tories are entrenching inequality and pushing people into poverty by imposing a public sector pay freeze, cuts to universal credit, and an “efficiency review” of public services.

Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats have issued this verdict on the Queen’s speech from Sir Ed Davey, the party leader. He said:

We must rebuild as a fairer, greener and more caring country in the aftermath of Covid. So it is crushingly disappointing that the government’s plans will fail on every account – still failing small businesses and the self-employed, still not rising properly to the climate challenge and still ignoring millions of people caring for loved ones at home.

Their planning reforms will rip powers away from local people and communities in favour of wealthy property developers, threatening our environment and treasured green spaces. Their cruel asylum plans will stop people fleeing violence and persecution, from seeking sanctuary in the UK. And long delayed reforms to social care have been pushed back into the long grass once again, despite the pressures we have seen on care homes and carers this last year.

Boris Johnson has utterly failed to deliver an ambitious programme to respond to the real challenges people are facing after this terribly difficult year.

As of yet 3hours on, nothing from the Leader of the Labour party Sir Keir Starmer.

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