Saturday, December 4News That Matters

From house building to voter ID – what’s in the Queen’s Speech

The government has set out its legislative agenda for the new parliamentary session in the Queen’s Speech today.

Its usual pomp and ceremony was scaled back drastically due to the COVID-19 restrictions that remain in place.

It was also the Queen‘s first major public ceremonial duty since the death of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.

This is what was in the speech, setting out the government’s promises for the new parliamentary session:

queens speech

Education and skills

A focus on education and training for older teenagers and adults is among a series of new bills to “revolutionise” the adult education and training system.

The promise of a “lifetime skills guarantee” is central to Boris Johnson‘s plans, as the prime minister has pledged to put “rocket fuel” into his “levelling up” agenda.

Fresh legislation will seek to change the student loan system to give every adult access to a flexible loan for higher-level education and training at university or college.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will also be given greater powers to intervene in colleges seen as failing to meet local needs.

The government has also said it will prioritise children’s early years and will commit to address “lost learning” during the pandemic.

Queen's speech announcements

Employment

The prime minister has promised to bring jobs and skills to “red wall” areas (traditional Labour-voting seats taken by the Tories at recent elections) so people no longer have to leave their home towns in search of prosperity.

With the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill, the government is promising the “fastest ever increase” in public spending for research and development.

An advanced research agency will be established if the bill is voted through.

And it will bring forward plans to create and support jobs, as well as improve regulation.

A National Insurance Contributions Bill will see eight new freeports being 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.

Queen's speech announcements

Economy

The government is planning an advanced research agency as it promised the “fastest ever increase” in public spending for research and development.

An advanced research agency will be established if the bill is voted through.

And it will bring forward plans to create and support jobs, as well as improve regulation.

Domestic UK subsidy controls will be introduced under the Subsidy Control Bill to reflect the UK’s “strategic interests” and to drive economic growth.

A Procurement Bill will be introduced to “simplify procurement in the public sector” by streamlining the more than 350 EU-derived regulations, the government said.

It said the bill will make procurement quicker and easier, and allow more freedom for suppliers and the public sector to work with the private sector.

And a new Professional Qualifications Bill will create a framework for the UK to recognise professional qualifications from across the world so employers can access professionals where there are UK shortages, the government said.

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

“Unnecessary bureaucracy” will be reduced to support the voluntary sector and so additional funds can be released for good causes.

Queen's speech announcements

Crime

A Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to give police in England and Wales more powers to curtail protests will feature despite vociferous opposition to it in recent months.

The return of the controversial Bill comes after being shelved as demonstrations took place over concerns it would curtail the right to protest.

It will increase sentences for the most serious and violent offenders, and ensure justice is carried out in a timely manner.

A Draft Victims Bill will put forward plans to address violence, especially against women and girls, and to support victims.

Queen's speech announcements

Online safety

A Draft Online Safety Bill will be introduced to make the internet safer, especially for children, while protecting freedom of expression.

External threats

A Counter-State Threats Bill will be introduced to give the security services and law enforcement agencies the tools to tackle hostile activity by foreign states, the government said.

And a Telecommunications (Security) Bill will ensure the “long-term security and resilience” of the UK’s telecoms networks and minimise the threat of “high-risk vendors”.

Queen's speech announcements

Environment

New legally binding environmental targets are also expected to feature in the speech.

An Environment Bill will set these out ahead of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow later 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.

Queen's speech announcements

NHS and healthcare

Additional NHS funding will be provided for the COVID-19 vaccination programme to continue.

Under a Health and Care Bill, the government is promising to introduce legislation to “empower the NHS to innovate and embrace technology”.

It will allow patients to receive “more tailored and preventative care, close to home”.

Obesity and mental health will be two of the main focuses, with junk food adverts banned pre-watershed on TV – and entirely online.

The government will then introduce legislation to require large food businesses to calorie label their food.

The Health and Care Bill will include provisions to improve the oversight of how social care is commissioned and delivered.

The government wants to ensure there is greater integration between health and care services by placing Integrated Care Systems “on a statutory footing across the UK”, so there is more power and autonomy in local systems.

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‘Integrity of elections’ law promised

Social care

There is no commitment to reforming adult social care just yet, with the government saying reforms will be “brought forward to 2021”.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said at the weekend that a plan will be “heading for the statute books” by the end of the year.

It is expected to include a cap on how much people will need to pay for social care so they do not have to sell their homes to pay for it, and a long-term plan to reform the sector.

Queen's speech announcements

Inequality and conversion therapy

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.

Queen's speech announcements

New homes, renting and building controls

The Planning Bill aims to modernise the planning system so more homes can be built and more people can own their own home.

The rights of renters will be enhanced under it.

The Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill will ensure leaseholders of new, long residential leases cannot be charged ground rent “for no tangible service”.

And 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.

A Building Safety Bill will introduce a new regime of safety regulations and inspections for buildings under construction in the aftermath of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.

Queen's speech announcements

Immigration

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.

Queen's speech announcements

Transport

In a bid to “strengthen the economic ties across the union”, the government wants to invest in and improve national infrastructure.

Proposals for rail and bus links between Crewe and Manchester will be taken forward.

Queen's speech announcements

Measures to tackle voting fraud

The Electoral Integrity Bill would require identification to vote in a polling station and would remove the 15 year limit on the voting rights of British expats.

MPs and civil liberties groups have hit out at plans to require voters to provide proof of identity when casting a ballot, with Labour describing them as “cynical and ugly”.

At the moment, people only have to walk into a polling station and give their name and address to vote.

End to fixed-term parliament

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act introduced under David Cameron, which creates a five-year period in between general elections, is set to be repealed and the prerogative power to call early elections will be brought back.

Separate judiciary

The Judicial Review Bill will protect the judiciary from being drawn into political questions.

Queen's speech announcements

Northern Ireland

A bill will give Northern Ireland’s devolved government more powers, while another will address the legacy of the Troubles to deliver “better outcomes for victims and survivors”.

It will end investigations into British soldiers during the Troubles as part of the government’s commitment to veterans.

Animal welfare

Better standards of animal welfare will also feature in the speech, including tougher penalties for animal cruelty.

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 will be announced, which will increase maximum prison sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years.

An Animal Sentience Bill will give vertebrates (animals with backbones) the right to have their feelings recognised in law, while legislation to stop live animal exports and ban families from keeping primates as pets, is also expected.