Saturday, December 4News That Matters

New laws in Queen’s Speech will put ‘rocket fuel’ into PM’s levelling up agenda

New laws to fulfil Boris Johnson’s promise of helping to give people the skills they need throughout their lives will form a central part of the government’s legislative agenda for the next year.

The prime minister has promised to put “rocket fuel” into his “levelling up” agenda with the introduction of new laws – to be outlined in Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech – to build on his “lifetime skills guarantee”.

What to expect from the Queen’s Speech – and watch and follow live coverage from 10.30am on Sky News, online and the Sky News app.

File photo dated 19/12/2019 of Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales sitting in the chamber ahead of the State Opening of Parliament by the Queen, in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London. The Queen is to carry out her first major public ceremonial duty since the death of the Duke of Edinburgh when she attends a scaled back Covid-secure State Opening of Parliament on Tuesday
Image: The Queen will be joined by Prince Charles for her first major public ceremonial duty since the death of Prince Philip

A focus on education and training for older teenagers and adults will be among a series of new bills – reported to number more than 25 – to be unveiled on Tuesday as part of the state opening of parliament.

The Queen’s Speech is also expected to include new laws allowing post-Brexit reforms to government procurement and state aid, a shake-up of the planning system, a bill to repeal the fixed-term parliaments act, new rules on asylum, legal protections for Northern Ireland veterans, and measures to tackle voting fraud.

Meanwhile, a number of other bills will also be carried over from the last parliamentary session – which ended last month – to the next session.

These include the Environment Bill and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

To fulfil the prime minister’s promise of a “lifetime skills guarantee” – made last year – the new Skills and Post-16 Education Bill to be announced on Tuesday includes:

• A new student finance system to overhaul the current student loans system, which will give every adult access to a flexible loan for higher-level education and training at university or college, useable at any point in their lives
• Employers will have a statutory role in planning publicly-funded training programmes with education providers
• More government powers to intervene in colleges that fail to meet local needs

Members of the House of Lords and guests in the chamber ahead of the State Opening of Parliament by Queen Elizabeth II, in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London.
Image: There will be restricted numbers in the House of Lords this year due to COVID. File pic

Mr Johnson said: “These new laws are the rocket fuel that we need to level up this country and ensure equal opportunities for all. We know that having the right skills and training is the route to better, well-paid jobs.

“I’m revolutionising the system so we can move past the outdated notion that there is only one route up the career ladder, and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to retrain or upskill at any point in their lives.”

Ahead of the Queen’s Speech, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has put pressure on the government to deliver a “rescue plan” for the NHS following the COVID pandemic, to give details on “long-promised” social care reforms, and to take action on inequalities and violent crime.

Sir Keir said the new legislative agenda “must set out transformative and credible change, with a clear plan to get Britain working”.

“That means a Queen’s Speech that ensures good jobs, good pay and good prospects in and spreading opportunity across the country,” he said.

“We must seize this moment to create a brighter future for the whole country.”

Keir Starmer leaves his London home
Image: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on the government to set out details on ‘long-promised’ social care reforms

The Labour leader said the last 11 years of Conservative government had seen “lots of rhetoric and the endless promise of jam tomorrow”, adding: “That must now be turned to action.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Queen’s Speech will be jam-packed” with measures to “level up” the country.

He said the government remained committed to reforming adult social care, describing it as an “incredibly important area”.

“We will be bringing forward a long-term plan for reform of social care. As we come out of COVID, so we can return to delivering on those manifesto commitments that we made,” Mr Hancock said.

“We have seen the importance of social care through this crisis. That has strengthened the need for reform, the need for integration with the NHS.”

The state opening of parliament will be the Queen’s first major public ceremonial duty since the death of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.

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She will be joined at parliament by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, but there will be no carriages and the Queen – in day dress and hat – will travel from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster in a state Bentley.

Inside parliament, the Queen’s Speech will be a pared-back event due to COVID restrictions, with MPs and peers having to wear masks throughout unless exempt.

All those present will have to take a COVID test beforehand and only be allowed to attend if they have a negative result.

There will be only 74 people in the House of Lords chamber – including the Queen, Charles, Camilla, House of Commons’ Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Meanwhile, 34 MPs and peers will watch from the Royal Gallery.

Among the COVID-enforced amendments to the usual ceremony is that Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland will not hand the speech – setting out the government’s legislative agenda – directly to the Queen but he will place it on a table instead.

Conservative MP Marcus Jones has been chosen to be the MP ceremonially held hostage in Buckingham Palace while the Queen attends the Palace of Westminster on Tuesday.