Prince Charles made an appearance at the State Opening of Parliament today, filling in for his mother to unveil the Conservative government's plan for the United Kingdom. The Queen today missed the ceremony for the first time in 59 years, which was explained by mobility issues.
The heir to the throne outlined the government's plan in 38 laws for the year ahead. These include the privatisation of Channel 4 and the banning of conversation therapy for everyone except transgender people.
A new bill will also sweep away EU law in a so-called "Brexit Opportunities Bill". There will also be a bill that will permit UK ports to block ships that fail to pay their seafarers the minimum wage in the wake of the P&O Ferries scandal, the Mirror reports.
There will also be laws to extend powers to scientists allowing for more GM foods. There will also be rules to crack down on the hacking of smart TVs and fake reviews on websites.
In a controversial move, there will also be a return of plans to criminalise protestors who lock themselves to gates. Although there are long-term plans to improve energy security, there is no immediate law for the cost of living crisis, with the government instead saying it will offer more help "if needed".
Dan Paskins of Save the Children said: “Families we work with are skipping meals, rationing their power and taking on unsustainable levels of debt. But again, instead of taking serious action ministers have buried their heads in the sand.”
Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said: “With 38 bills but no direct help with spiralling costs, this speech was a far cry from what struggling families needed to hear today.”
Boris Johnson also cruelly snubbed workers by failing to promise an Employment Rights Bill - despite years of promises. Ben Harrison, Director of the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, said “vital opportunities have been missed”.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Prime Minister promised to make Britain the best place in the world to work. But he has turned his back on working people. Today, bad bosses up and down the country will be celebrating.
“No employment bill means vital rights that ministers had promised – like default flexible working, fair tips and protection from pregnancy discrimination – risk being ditched for good." Angry campaigners blasted Boris Johnson for again failing to outline plans to ban trophy hunting imports.
The long-promised ban was again missing from the Queen’s Speech - despite ongoing Tory promises to stop the sick trade. Eduardo Goncalves, of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, said: “This is starting to feel like Groundhog Day.
“The Government promised to ban British trophy hunters from bringing home their sick souvenirs three years ago. It did it again after the 2019 general election, again last year, and now here we are yet again.”
Sweeping away EU laws
A Brexit Freedoms Bill will allow the government to sweep away swathes of EU law without consulting Parliament on all the detail.
It’ll allow ministers to “amend, repeal or replace the large amounts of retained EU law” without an Act of Parliament.
Instead there’ll be secondary legislation which can’t be amended and sometimes isn’t scrutinised by MPs before passing at all.
Government insiders insist many of the EU laws would never have been Acts of Parliament if they were passed in the UK.
But Greenpeace UK's head of politics Rebecca Newsom said: “When it comes to our environmental standards, a levelling down may be on the cards. All too often, bonfires of so-called 'red tape' end up incinerating vital green rules to protect wildlife.”
There will also be a Financial Services and Markets Bill , "cutting red tape in the financial sector" after Brexit. And data protection "red tape" will be scaled back too under a Data Reform Bill. And a Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill will allow changes to procurement rules as part of those post-Brexit trade deals.
Energy security - but no immediate cost-of-living help
An Energy Security Bill will allow the energy price cap to continue past 2023, and try to bring down the costs of heat pumps.
It’ll also enable the “first ever large-scale hydrogen heating trial” ahead of a 2026 decision on whether to roll it out more widely.
But there’s no immediate help for the cost-of-living with briefing notes instead listing what the government has done already.
The notes add: “We will be ready to take further steps, if needed, to support households.”
Ban on conversion therapy - but not for trans people
A Conversion Therapy Bill will ban “conversion therapy practices intended to change sexual orientation”.
This will partially fulfil a Tory pledge that was first made by Theresa May in summer 2018.
There will also be Conversion Therapy Protection Orders, which could remove the passports of those at risk of being taken abroad.
But the ban will not cover trans conversion therapy after a government U-turn that has enraged some LGBT+ campaigners.
The government said: “Recognising the complexity of issues and need for further careful thought, we will carry out separate work to consider the issue of Transgender Conversion Therapy further.”
Registers of home-schooled kids
A Schools Bill will be brought forward to overhaul England's schools, with crackdowns on truancy.
There will be compulsory registers for home-schooling to track down "ghost children" who fell through the cracks during the pandemic.
The Bill will allow councils to establish their own academy trusts and ask their schools to join them by 2030.
Ofsted will be given stronger power to crack down on illegal schools and funding for schools will be reformed under the plans.
It is also expected to include plans for a 32.5-hour school week, boosted targets for Maths and English skills and a "parent pledge" to inform mums and dads if their children are falling behind.
Trying to put flesh on the bones of ‘levelling up’
A Levelling up and Regeneration Bill will attempt to fulfil Boris Johnson’s great manifesto pledge of 2019 but it’s still vague.
It says levelling-up involves “improving economic dynamism and innovation to drive growth across the whole country, unleashing the power of the private sector to unlock jobs and opportunity for all.”
In practice this means “laying the foundations” for all of England to have the “opportunity” to “benefit from” a devolution deal by 2030 - plenty of caveats there. These include a new combined authority model called the County Deal.
There would be a new “non-negotiable levy” from house builders to pay for schools, GPs and roads.
And councils will get new powers to force the owners of boarded-up shops to let them out under “rental auctions”.
But other plans will be derided as tinkering round the edges - like residents getting more say over changing street names, and ensuring Covid al-fresco dining continues.
Planning reforms are also largely dropped, with the speech instead saying the current system will be “strengthened and digitised”.
Pulling back from the brink on Northern Ireland
Despite a veiled threat to do so, there is no planned Bill to override Boris Johnson’s 2019 Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.
The DUP are refusing to help form a new government in Stormont until the PM’s Northern Ireland Protocol - which slaps EU checks on some goods traded within the UK - is overhauled.
However, the issue of Troubles prosecutions will be revisited after years of heated debate.
A Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will establish an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery to probe Troubles deaths.
People will get immunity from prosecution - but after protests this would let people off for crimes, this will only be for “individuals who cooperate with the new Commission”.
There will also be an Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill to deliver a “new cultural framework”.
More private sector involvement in railways - and self-driving cars
A Transport Bill will fulfil the Tory pledge to create Great British Railways , one body to oversee rail contracts.
But at the same time it will “expand” the role of the private sector, “introducing new passenger service contracts focussed on getting the trains running punctually and reliably”.
There is also the threat of “efficiencies and economies of scale across the rail sector”.
Meanwhile the Bill will introduce new laws allowing self-driving cars and rolling out more electric car charge points.
Elsewhere a High Speed Rail (Crewe-Manchester) Bill will continue the framework to get HS2 to Manchester… but only by 2041, and the line to Leeds has been binned off.
And the Procurement Bill will reform rules on councils using private firms for work, which will be welcome to some but could raise concerns of privatisations by the back door.
Genetically-engineered fruit and veg
Genetically-engineered food will be produced in the UK under new Government plans to “deliver on the promise of Brexit”.
The new Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill aims to make food more nutritious and reduce our reliance on pesticides.
The Bill will allow gene-edited plants to be treated differently to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
GMOs have strict rules that only one is grown commercially in the EU. But genetic-engineering is said to pose fewer risks.
Experts believe gene-editing has the potential to improve the sustainability and productivity of farming and animals could also be less vulnerable to disease.
The use of gene editing had been hampered by a European Court of Justice ruling in 2018 that technology had to be regulated in the same way as genetic modification.
Privatising Channel 4
A Media Bill will put the legal bones on the government’s controversial pledge to privatise Channel 4 after 40 years of public ownership.
It will also once again pledge to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 - which would have imposed punitive sanctions on certain newspapers not signing up to a certain regulator in the wake of the Leveson inquiry.
Scrapping treasured Human Rights laws
Once again the Tories pledge a new British Bill of Rights. This time it doesn’t explicitly pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act but it's understood that could happen as part of the process.
The Bill vows to “establish the primacy of UK case law” over that from Strasbourg. And “UK courts can no longer alter legislation contrary to its ordinary meaning” under the Bill, the government says.
It will also “guarantee spurious cases do not undermine public confidence in human rights so that courts focus on genuine and credible human rights claims,” according to the government.
All this will be viewed by campaigners as a fresh assault on the right to bring legal actions against the government’s policies.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO, said: “Scrapping the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a narrower, meaner Bill of Rights will make it even harder for ordinary people to challenge mistreatment at the hands of the state."
Lifelong loans - but you’ll pay through the nose
A Higher Education Bill will bring in a Lifelong Loan Entitlement.
Adults can get a loan equivalent to four years of post-18 education (£37,000 in today’s fees) that they can use over their lifetime for a wider range of studies, including shorter and technical courses.
But it comes after interest rates were jacked up - and repayment thresholds lowered - on student loans, leaving graduates paying more.
The government is also bringing back the controversial Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill to ban student unions ‘no-platforming’ speakers, and the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Bill to ban public bodies from boycotting (for example) Israeli goods if the UK government hasn’t taken the same stance.
Renting and social housing reforms
A Social Housing Regulation Bill will give more powers to a regulator to “intervene with landlords who are performing poorly on consumer issues, such as complaints handling and decency of homes”.
It could also “inspect landlords to make sure they are providing tenants with the quality of accommodation and services that they deserve”.
Meanwhile a Renters Reform Bill restates the government’s long-unfulfilled pledge to scrap “no fault” evictions - after more than a fifth of renters did not end their last tenancy by their own choice.
Benefits and minimum wage
A Harbours (Seafarers’ Remuneration) Bill will let ports “ultimately refuse access to ferry services that do not pay an equivalent to the National Minimum Wage to seafarers while in UK waters.”
This is designed to tackle a loophole that says seafarers can be paid under UK minimum wage, after the P&O Ferries scandal. A consultation opens today.
Meanwhile a Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill will be the legal framework for a long-awaited reform to expand fast-tracked benefits for the terminally ill, from six months before possible death to 12 months.
But Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Workers and communities are suffering. We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis and a recession is looming. So where is the programme to address these issues head on? Where are the laws to stop profiteering and prevent attacks on workers? Where is the help for the millions who are already faced with the shocking decision of whether to heat or eat?”
Stopping the hacking of smart TVs
The Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill will force "manufacturers, importers and distributors of smart devices to comply with minimum security standards".
This means putting up measures to ensure smart devices can't be hacked as easily. The government said in the first half of 2021 alone, there were 1.5 billion attempted compromises of connectable products, double the equivalent 2020 figure.
- Non-Domestic Rating Bill: Shortens the business rates revaluation cycle from five to three years from 2023.
- UK Infrastructure Bank Bill: "We will complete the establishment of the UK Infrastructure Bank, utilising its £22billion financial capacity" to help achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050.
- Electronic Trade Documents Bill: "Put electronic trade documents on the same legal footing as paper documents, removing the need for wasteful paperwork and needless bureaucracy".
- National Security Bill: A previous pledge to reform espionage laws and make foreign agents in the UK register themselves. But it's thought the register of foreign agents won't be in the first form of the law, as No10 admits it's a "complex area, we need to take time to get it right". The PM's spokesman also couldn't commit that “everything will be published”.
- Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill: "will crack down on illicit finance and strengthen the UK’s reputation as a place where legitimate businesses can grow."
- Modern Slavery Bill: "Strengthen the protection and support for victims of human trafficking"
- Online Safety Bill: Was previously promised but didn't make it through in time. Introduces a duty of care on online companies, making them responsible for protecting users and tackling illegal content
- Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill: Banning the exports of livestock for fattening and slaughter, tackling puppy smuggling by reducing the number of pets that can travel under the pet travel rules; introducing a new pet abduction offence.
Some vital reforms are only proposed in ‘draft’ form meaning they won’t actually be made law by this time next year.
Given they include help for victims, terror attacks, mental health and the like, this lack of action is likely to enrage campaigners.
They are the Draft Victims Bill, Draft Protect Duty Bill, Draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill, Draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, and Draft Audit Reform Bill.
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